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Common Knowledge 9.1 (2003) 29-36
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In Memory of Virtue
Patrick Day was a professional philosopher (ex-Shrewsbury School; ex-Magdalen College, Oxford). I used to meet him in the George and Dragon or the Jolly Potter to talk about Wittgenstein, whom he did not care for; Iris Murdoch, whose philosophy was too literary for his taste; Richard Cobb, with whom he was at school; and J. L. Austin, whom he revered. One of the topics Patrick wrote about in his declining years was hope.
Hope is to be discerned in my mother's terse comments in her diary, even if it is a peculiar form of that necessary virtue, for the concept of hope, philosophical or otherwise, is broad enough to include my mother's stout resistance to despondency, her firm resolution not to be defeated, and her refusal to give way to self-pity. I wonder if that degree of hopefulness in the face of helplessness does not also allow us to use the word dignity. I am, however, not keen on the idea of dignity. Usually those who are said to have it do not know the meaning of the word and have no inkling of the idea. I think my mother had it, although she was not in the least dignified, and I believe Patrick in his last days, when he was very far from being dignified, indeed when he was to speak the truth in a pitiable state, had it. People are too ready to speak of "dignity in defeat"; I am endeavoring to avoid doing so. It is a phrase too often used when nothing else comes to mind. My mother was not defeated by life. Patrick was not defeated by death. I do not know where my mother's dignified refusal to be bowed down came from, where she got the strength for it. I do know that Patrick's unbowing to the inevitable [End Page 29] stemmed not from any philosophical set of beliefs but from sheer good manners. Perhaps it was good manners on my mother's part also. Only the ill-mannered whinge about the human condition.
It was in the George and Dragon, a few months before his life became restricted to a walk around the garden across the road from his flat, that Patrick told me about visiting Dachau in an American army jeep in May 1945. A few days later, he told me about another visit that had made an equally powerful impression on him. It also was in an American army jeep, put at Patrick's disposal by the same accommodating colonel who had provided him with jeep and driver to take him to Dachau. Patrick at this time was in MI6 and jeeps were, so to speak, at his disposal. The second outing was to Kaufbeuren on July 3, 1945. I quote from Henry Friedlander's masterly work The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution:
The Bavarian state hospital at Kaufbeuren best illustrates the matter-of-fact brutality that pervaded the institutions implementing "wild" euthanasia. Headed by Valentin Falthauser, Kaufbeuren and its branch at Irsee served as a transfer institution prior to the stop order and thereafter as a center for "wild" euthanasia. It also housed a children's killing ward. Late in April 1945, American troops occupied Kaufbeuren but, placing the state hospital "off limits," did not interfere with its operation. For two months, the institution was able to function without change "less than half a mile from the Military Government, C.I.C., and M.P. Headquarters in this idyllic Swabian town." Only on 2 July, after rumors had reached military offices in Munich, did American soldiers enter the hospital and discover "a wholesale extermination plant." The American investigators were shocked by the sight that confronted them. Kaufbeuren had continued to function as a killing center even after the end of the war. On 29 May 1945, "fully thirty-three days after American troops had occupied Kaufbeuren," the staff killed a child in the children's ward for the last time, and...