Who is our ‘Other’?

In Arthur Miller’s play “Incident at Vichy,” six men and a teenage boy are being held captive in an empty warehouse, having been rounded up by Gestapo troops. They are to be examined to determine whether they are Jews.

They are a diverse group — a painter, a physician, an electrician, an actor, an old man, even an Austrian prince. Together they ruminate on why they are here, what fate awaits them. One by one, they are summoned by guards to a small office to be interrogated and physically examined.

At one point, the physician LeDuc accuses the prince of hating Jews, a charge the prince vehemently denies, and LeDuc replies:

“Until you know it is true of you, you will destroy whatever truth can come of this atrocity. Part of knowing who we are is knowing we are not someone else. And Jew is the name we give to that stranger, that agony we cannot feel, that death we look at as a cold abstraction.

“Each man has his Jew,” LeDuc continues. “It is the other. And the Jews have their Jews. And now above all you see that you have yours — the man whose death leaves you relieved that you are not him, despite your decency. And that is why there is nothing and will be nothing — until you face your own complicity with this . . . your own humanity.”

It is the other. It is the one whose death leaves us relieved that it is not our own, despite our decency.

Such dialogue illustrates Miller’s considerable gifts as a playwright. Ponder what the character LeDuc as just said.

Two days ago, a 29 year old man, tall, athletic build, wearing a yarmulke, was attacked in New York City by a group who knocked him down, punched and kicked him, pepper sprayed him, hit him with crutches, shouting anti-Semitic statements. Why? He is not like them. He is the other.

Across the nation, violence against Asian Americans increases daily. But 63 Republicans voted against legislation aimed at curbing anti-Asian hate crimes.

In my World War II childhood, I watched as some of our neighbors stopped patronizing a local laundry operated by a gentle Chinese American couple and a small grocery run by an aging German gentleman. These local business people were seen as different, not like us. The other.

Through the voice of the character LeDuc, does Arthur Miller argue that by virtue of our own humanity, we are complicit in such acts?

Are we?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s