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The Act of Killing

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Posted on Sep 23, 2013
Facebook/The Act of Killing

A screenshot from the movie “The Act of Killing.”

By Chris Hedges

(Page 2)

These same human bonds, along with the same schizophrenic self-delusion, can be glimpsed in photographs of off-duty Nazis in the book “Nein, Onkel: Snapshots From Another Front 1938-1945,” or in the photographs of off-duty SS camp guards at Auschwitz. One of the pictures in the Auschwitz album shows the SS leadership, including the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoess, and Dr. Joseph Mengele, who carried out inhuman medical experiments on children, in a raucous “sing-along” on a wooden bridge with an accordion player at Solahutte, an SS resort about 20 miles south of Auschwitz on the Sola River. Mothers and children not far away were being gassed to death, some of the 1 million people murdered at Auschwitz. And it is this disquieting moral fragmentation, this ability to commit mass murder and yet to see oneself as a normal, caring human being, that Oppenheimer astutely captures. The bifurcation between work and life—a bifurcation that many in the U.S. military, today’s fossil fuel or health insurance industry or Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs also must make—allows human beings who exploit, destroy and kill other human beings to blot out much of their daily existence. 

“I killed every Chinese I saw,” Congo remembers as he tours the Chinese area of Medan in a car. “I stabbed them all! I don’t remember how many, but it was dozens of Chinese. If I met them, I stabbed them. All the way to Asia Street, where I met my girlfriend’s dad. Remember, I had two motives: crush the Chinese and crush my girlfriend’s father, so I stabbed him, too! Because he was Chinese too! He fell into a ditch. I hit him with a brick. He sank.”

“Killing is the worst crime you can do,” says one of Congo’s former associates. “So the key is to find a way not to feel guilty. It’s all about finding the right excuse. For example, if I’m asked to kill somebody, if the compensation is right, then of course I’ll do it, and from one perspective it’s not wrong. That’s the perspective we must make ourselves believe. After all, morality is relative.”

Congo patiently explains to Oppenheimer his technique of garroting his victims with a piece of wood, a pole and wire, a technique he adopted to avoid the mess of excessive bleeding.

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“There’s probably many ghosts here, because many people were killed here,” he tells Oppenheimer as they stand on a rooftop at one of his former murder spots. “They died unnatural deaths—unnatural deaths. They arrived here perfectly healthy. When they got here they were beaten up. …”

Congo crouches and puts his hands over his white, curly hair to imitate the last moment of his victims.

” … And died,” he goes on. “Dragged around. Dumped. In the early days we beat them to death. But when we did that blood spurted everywhere. It smelled awful. To avoid having blood everywhere, I used this system.”

He holds a piece of wood, about two feet long, and long wire.

“Can I demonstrate it?” he asks.

He secures the wire by wrapping one of it around a mounted pole. A friend, whose hands are behind his back, sits on the floor near the pole. Congo loops the wire around his friend’s throat. Standing several feet away, Congo pulls lightly on the wood, attached to the other end of the wire, to show how the victim was killed.

“I’ve tried to forget all this by listening to good music,” Congo says when he finishes his demonstration. “Dancing. I can be happy. A little alcohol. A little marijuana. A little—what do you call it?—Ecstasy. Once I’d get drunk, I’d ‘fly’ and feel happy. Cha cha.”

He begins to dance on the rooftop in his white pants and white shoes.

“He’s a happy man,” his friend says.

“We shoved wood in their anus until they died,” Adi Zulkadry, a death squad leader, says later in the film as he is shown shopping in a mall in the capital Jakarta with his wife and daughter. “We crushed their necks with wood. We hung them. We strangled them with wire. We cut off their heads. We ran them over with cars. We were allowed to do it. And the proof is, we murdered people and were never punished. The people we killed, there’s nothing to be done about it. They have to accept it. Maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better, but it works. I’ve never felt guilty, never been depressed, never had nightmares.”

In one scene a film crew member, his raw emotion broken by nervous laughter, says his family was on the receiving end of the terror.

” ... If you want a true story, I have one,” the crew member volunteers. “Tell us,” Congo responds, “because everything in this film should be true.”


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