Fashions of killing

Fashions change. It pleases us greatly to review quaint old styles of cars, clothes, and killings in old films. For example, in the 30’s and 40’s killers didn’t take careful aim with their pistols, gripping the gun with both hands, as the procedure is depicted in action movies of today. No, the villains and heroes alike just pointed their pistol from the waist, while angrily staring down their opponent. In the classic film "Casablanca", both the Nazi officer and Bogey got rid of their opponents using this rather inaccurate but psychologically impressive method.

Hence, as it happened in the autumn of 1939, it is not at all surprising that of the altogether six shots that my mother fired from a distance of less than 2 meters, only three hit their mark. And even worse – of these three bullets only one was lethal. In hindsight, this less than satisfactory result may be deduced from the killing fashions of her day and some elementary geometry.

For simplicity, let us assume that the barrel of a small pistol is 10 cm long. Holding the weapon at waist height and being in an agitated state of mind, as my mother surely must have been, the end of the barrel was probably wobbling sidewise left and right by as much as 2.5 cm, a total of 5 cm. At the distance of 200 cm, this movement of the barrel’s line of sight is enlarged 200/10 = 20 times, if we apply the theory of similar triangles. 20 times 5 is 100, so the pistol was aimlessly pointing at all points along a stretch of 100 cm, while the adult body of my father, the target, was merely some 35 cm wide. Thus, with a hit-probability of 35/100 = 35 percent, her 3 hits out of 6 must actually be considered a rather fortunate outcome.

All this was of course of minor importance in the general picture of things. Hitler had just subdued the western half of Poland and started rounding up Jews and other undesirables. Simultaneously the eastern half of Poland was being overrun by his newly found friend Stalin, who rounded up his particular undesirables, among them the 22 000 Polish officers who were soon to be shot at Katyn. And he was preparing himself to devour his share of the European cake that the two totalitarian friends had cut up among themselves – Finland and the Baltics. However, the general picture is not what catches your eye, not when you are just a pixel in the middle of it. As it happened, my sole business at the time was being a pixel in the greater picture.

Meeta Teetsmann, née Roht, my mother, was a slightly built, good-looking brunette of principle and ethics. Shooting my father was a direct consequence of her ethical outlook on matters. On her deathbed, when she passed away at the age of 91, they found her last reading material – moral works by Immanuel Kant and Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz. Being unwavering in her ethical approach to life and the dispensation of death soon turned out to serve Meeta's career exceedingly well. Nor can I say that the killing of my beloved father affected my own pursuit of happiness in any way, other than in a decidedly positive direction.

My father, Lembit Teetsmann, had spent the last few years in London, at the London School of Economics, putting finishing touches to his doctoral dissertation. He was tall and beloved, like most fathers, though I hardly knew him. Daddy Lembit had firmly secured my love by sending me a series of fascinating gifts – a kit for pasting together a paper model of the ocean liner Queen Mary, coronation memorabilia from the coronation of King George VI, a rubber-powered model aeroplane, a gramophone recording where his pleasant voice told me miscellaneous nice things. He had unquestionably earned my love.

Back in 1217, things didn't look particularly good for Lembit either. Actually, to cite Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae:

Et cognovit Veko, frater Roboam,
Lembitum et persequutus est eum et occidit eum,
tollens vestimenta eius,
et ceteri caput eius amputantes detulerunt secum in Lyyvoniam.

As this is written by Henricius in a somewhat pedestrian medieval Latin, it might not strike you as an artful verse, fit to describe the death of a Hero. What it says in effect is that after having recognized him, some individuals "killed Lembit and took his clothes, while others cut his head off and then brought it along to Livonia".

Like beauty, heroism lies mostly in the eyes of the beholder. Our chronicler and narrator Heinricius, a German warrior monk affiliated with the Teutonic Order, was hardly a man to be taken in by Lembit's leadership of the long and bloody Estonian resistance to the Christian German Knights.

It was different for Estonian parents some seven centuries later. They named their sons "Lembit", by the thousands. U-boats were named "Lembit", as well as icebreakers, furniture companies and various consumer products. He got his head amputated, but his name was truly marching on.

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