There are episodes in Western history when the majority, perhaps suspicious of “others” among them, force non-comformants to wear labels. The yellow star in Nazi Germany identified Jews who might otherwise have passed unnoticed on the streets. Shops along those same streets announced “Juden” in their windows next to the baguette or chop or haberdashery they might otherwise have sold to an unsuspecting customer. Jews wore the yellow Star of David, as homosexuals, rapists and pederasts wore pink triangles; in concentration camps the complex code of single and double triangles in multiple colors identified the deviant, the miscreant, the scapegoat and allowed them to be codified, counted, above all controlled.
Nazis may have taken their cue from improved inquisitorial methods of Franciscan and Dominican orders during the 13th century. Religious heretics—Bogomils in eastern Europe, Waldensians in the Low Countries and Cathars in southern France—wore a yellow cross to distance and isolate them from the general population. In both situations—Nazi Germany and the Medieval Inquisition—labels were a certain path to impoverishment, imprisonment and death.
War has never been of any interest to me, especially the American Civil War and WWII. I can’t tell you why; perhaps it was the total lack of “What-did-you-do-in-the-war-daddy?” stories. The Cathar heresy, however—perhaps because it wasn’t a full-blown armed conflict—was the subject of The Yellow Cross, a history by Rene Weis, a book I read at least eight years ago, and The Good Men, a novel based on the same historic documents, published soon after. Is it easier to engage evil when it affects a handful of identified historical characters and more difficult in cases where the target is essentially faceless, a class or a caste or a category?
Student projects during the last five years have now and then brought evil to the surface in Agincourt. There was the Black man, falsely accused of rape. Convicted and then set free, he took revenge, not on the people involved, but on the courthouse where the trail took place. That fire in the spring of 1966 was the event linked to Gordon Olschlager’s courthouse design in the 2007 exhibit. Oddly, the story followed the design, rather than preceding it. The evil, in this case, is comparatively faceless: the false accusation, the defendant’s jury of peers. As if…
I’ve imagined my share of deviance, but my less-than-admirable characters are merely eccentric. Consummate evil may exist in my world, so perhaps I’ve tried to insulate Agincourt.
What interests me today are the labels we willingly wear. The T-shirt, button, bumper sticker, yard sign or facebook posting that self-consciously links us with the Tea Party or atheism or the NRA or animal rights. I’ve made those choices, so how can I fault them in others.