Content Warning: This article goes into war crimes, PTSD and abuse; if these subject matters would trigger some thoughts or feelings that you’d rather not deal with, please avoid this article and stay healthy.
What do we feel when we feel hatred? Not just the ol’ “I’m throwing a tissue on the floor cause I’m angry and I don’t want to break anything expensive” type hatred: the more insidious, malignant hatred that you don’t think about until it boils up and releases like steam from a kettle. You whining in tears in the same high pitch, hoping somehow it’ll empty you of your heated contents.
As someone with privilege, and quite a few of them (thank you), I often find myself in these outbursts of misery and anger towards things that seem so naive and obvious. I can think to myself, “I fucking hate capitalism, global warming, sexism, racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, etc…” and by the end of it, nothing’s changed. My anger becomes insurmountable, leaving me helpless and realizing how little one individual like me can do, yes, even with all that privilege (thank you).
I hate injustices. Yet the world I live in uses justice to perpetuate the things I hate. Fuck the Police: a thought that pops up in my mind when I see those in blue, carrying their batons like the epitome of big dick energy and overcompensation. On my American side of the family every male I know of (except for one cousin and myself) has spent time or is currently enlisted in the military. The first time I visited Asia was this summer in Vietnam and on the first day there I received this message from my mother:
“Hi Jérémy, also, just remember also that your grandpa spent 3 years of his life in Viet Nam and never was the same afterwards. If you could have a few moments where you think of him and send up some good vibrations to the fact that you are the first member of the family who is in Viet Nam since he came back so many years ago!”
The consequence of this message was that every time I was soaking in the incredible (although worryingly polluted) landscapes of Vietnam, perhaps catching my breath as I sat upon the stinging heat of mountain tops in Ha Long Bay, I couldn’t help but picture a sky clouded with metal death machines transporting soldiers like my grandfather who couldn’t possibly imagine what was to greet them on the ground floor.
Other times I didn’t even have to leave it to my imagination. Visiting three museums dedicated to teaching the ways France and the United States treated Vietnamese people served as visceral reminders of what many men blindingly (or for racist or anti-communist reasons) inflicted in the name of justice. I saw the prison cells that Vietnamese people were thrown into where they would be shackled by their feet and only visited for torture sessions. I saw the immediate effects of Agent Orange projected on a screen in a museum partly staffed with those who had to deal with the genetical aftermaths… it’s rough, it’s vile, it’s saddening and it’s absolutely infuriating.
With that text message comes a legacy that I had to deal with when travelling throughout Vietnam. Even though the United States lost the war and Vietnam became independent from France, I was the one who was able to go visit Vietnam, as a wealthy European tourist able to take complete advantage of the poverty and cheapness of Vietnam. Oh! Here’s that privilege I was talking about before! (no, seriously, thank you, it’s too much) And like before, my hatred for the soldiers and officials representing my countries and the way they left Vietnam in shambles in order to continue the capitalist neocolonization of Vietnam’s cheap labor and exploitable resources…. DID NOTHING! I went there, spent my money, got an amazing unforgettable trip out of it and nothing changed.
Educating myself on the history of the country I was visiting, especially vis-a-vis its relation to my past, certainly helped me comprehend the things I hate, made me more aware of the injustices that had been perpetrated, and hopefully shed a light on the reasons as to why these were done. However, there wasn’t a workshop I could go to called “7 smalls things you can do to fix an entire country’s past” because, apart from the obvious white savior complex of that workshop, some things just can’t be fixed. And so that hatred just sits there. You want some tea? ‘Cause just writing this has me releasing so much steam.
What about the perspective of my grandfather? When he dropped down from the plane his world “never was the same afterwards”.
It is often said of hatred that it is bred out of fear. Fear of the unknown. Imagine seeing a shadow lurking in the corner of an empty street, vaguely illuminated by the dingy lights put there to make you feel safe at night. As you approach this shadow your mind starts to give it the contours of a human figure. The area you’re walking through is known for being dangerous and there is evidence of this, whether it be the broken down, tireless cars with bloodstained seats or the needles that you avoid stepping on as you walk forwards, slowly and uncertainly approaching what could be your final destination. At this point, the fact that your mind rationalized the shadow into a human figure led you to jump to certain conclusions that will try to make you feel safer. Your hand is searching for the keys, pepper spray, gun, etc… in your pockets and gripping firmly on it as you finally reach the corner.
If these were the jungles of Vietnam, and you were an American soldier like my grandfather, there is a chance that the shadow would come pouncing down as you then engage in a fight for your life. The stench of death would surround you at every turn. When you’ve heard stories time and time again of sudden death coming to your friends, fellow soldiers and even the lieutenant that wouldn’t stop breaking your balls, you start to constantly worry about it happening to you. Coming back to a “normal” world can still be like having to walk through your old neighborhood and only being able to feel like you’re going through that dark alleyway full of inconspicuous shadows. Your fear of that unknown enemy, in an unknown country, actively defamiliarizes you from your own home.
What comes with defamiliarization is the inability to rationalize your thoughts. You can’t turn the shadow into a human you can defend yourself from or a country where you can visit a museum to learn. Defamiliarization is like the stench of death in that eerie Vietnamese jungle that hopefully none of us can relate to. And if you can’t rationalize your fears, then the anger that comes from it has nowhere to go but within. Hatred is felt in such an abstract way that my grandfather might’ve had the constant thought of “I hate death”, which unlike any of my hatreds, has no solution. When hatred like that is felt in the pits of stomachs jostling about with the army rations of a poor Carolina farmer or being chased away by the ecstasy dissipating in mine, sometimes you get nothing out of it.
In season 6, episode 10 of Bojack Horseman, entitled “Good Damage”, the character Diane is trying to write a book of essays about the sad events in her life, about the trauma that her family and fellow classmate Jessica left her with. Every time she tries to finish the first chapter Diane either gets confronted by her deepest fears and insecurities or just absentmindedly writes a side book about Ivy Trans, Food Court Detective. By the end of the episode she is unable to work on the series of essays but can’t allow herself to give up. Talking to her friend and manager Princess Carolyn (yes, her name is actually Princess, she’s also a pink cat) Diane says:
“If I don’t write my book of essays now, I never will!”
Also Diane: “I have to, because if I don’t, that means that all the damage I got isn’t good damage; it’s just damage. I’ve gotten nothing out of it and all those years I was miserable was for nothing. I could have been happy this whole time and written books about girl detectives and been cheerful and popular, and had good parents. Is that what you’re saying? What was it all for?”
This point about sadness perfectly encapsulates the crushing realization that sometimes hatred isn’t healthy, I know, it’s crazy. But let’s see how Princess Carolyn and Diane talk it out just a little bit more:
Princess: “I… [sighs] I don’t know, Diane. All I know is that this book about the girl detective is fun. I liked it. I like thinking that my daughter could grow up in a world with books like that. Or if my daughter’s not a reader, a lucrative film adaptation.”
Diane: “When I was a little girl, I thought that everything, all the abuse and neglect, it somehow made me special, and I decided that one day I would write something that would make little girls like me feel less alone. And if I can’t write that book…”
Princess: “Then… then maybe write this other book.”
Hatred is also an emotion, a passionate one. What Princess Carolyn is offering to Diane is a way to focus the insurmountable amount of passion she feels into something that actively rewards her by being fun. I’ve had friends who after going abroad on humanitarian missions have expressed feelings of guilt at the joy it brought them in helping those in need. As if by taking pleasure their act of kindness had become perverted by selfish intentions. Diane feels guilty about abandoning her book of essays and Princess Carolyn is there to tell her that the book that makes her happy is not only the healthy option but can also be impactful in ways that still matter.
Hatred is just as useful a tool in our lives as any other. When we divert our hatred from overlapping titanesque issues and find small challenges whose solutions can be implemented into our daily lives, we transform that hatred from being an abstract boogeyman and turn it into an individual and familiar problem. Take climate change for example. You lie in waste; your anger churns in your stomach like waves crashing against the literal islands of trash floating around in the ocean. You can’t collect all the garbage in the ocean yourself and just fling it into space Futurama style, so how could you ever make this personal when the issue is so grandiose? Instead of lamenting over the amount of waste produced by the entire planet you can find ways to reduce waste in your life that benefits the planet. Making sure to finish as much food as you can before throwing it away could yield some interesting impromptu leftover dinners. Another solution could be to recycle. Oh wait. Some countries, mostly those with a lot of privilege (fuck them), just send all their recyclable waste to impoverished countries to be burnt up in illegal dumps.
What kind of ethics and ideologies did these countries and companies have when they sent my grandfather across the world to fight the Red Scare? My mother was given an early draft of this article and we had a chance to discuss my grandfather’s involvement. She revealed to me that my Grandfather got cancer from exposure to Agent Orange. It took me by complete shock, that this man I had spent so much of my life disavowing ended up being a victim to the whims of greedy capitalists. When I think about the massive oil industries that have kept climate change away from the public discourse for over 30 years my hatred rises but instead of thinking about how I can’t personally take down a multi-million dollar company I reach out to others in this shared fear of our uncertain future and the hatred for those whose actions in the past led to such a problem existing in the first place.
Having people around you that both understand and feel the hatred you’ve poured in their cups creates a unified voice that can make a real change. Even though small individual action can’t solve issues because our leaders and wealthy fuck it up (like recycling), holding those in power accountable and having an upsurge of motivated angry people might create a world where recycling does help: a world where radical changes sparked by the passionate masses has all but death dealt with.