Impopular Culture

Impopular Culture

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Coming at the world from an unexpected angle, far too fast to stop.

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

NewsPosted by Pelotard 2015-11-19 12:35:11

Today’s song is visual.

When we watch this now, it seems a bit... camp, almost. Bit of melodrama. But it was filmed in 1941. France was occupied, and it looked like the war was in the balance. Most of the extras in this scene were actual refugees from France. Their tears were real.

There’s been an article doing the Internet rounds today where the Marseillaise was seen as a bit too jingoistic for the current situation. While there might be some merit to that argument, the article writer gets it completely wrong a bit down the line, when he’s saying that ”If you are descended from migrants it’s hard to hear this and still feel that you are part of the ‘enfants de la Patries’ rather than those invading ‘féroces soldats’.” Because both this song, and the modern French definition of citizenship—in essence, what it means to be French—were created during the French Revolution. And the French idea of citizenship differs quite a bit from what we think of in the UK, Germany or Sweden.

In France, citizenship is viewed as an act of will. You become French by wanting to be French, by embracing the ideals of ”liberty, equality, and brotherhood”. The US view of citizenship works much in the same manner. You swear allegiance to the flag and the Constitution: to ideals, not to a ruler, a vaguely defined ”nation” or a particular group of people.

US society does have a problem with racism. But nobody who was even remotely on the same planet as the average human would ever claim that Will Smith or Colin Powell were in any was « less American » than Tommy Lee Jones or Madeleine Albright.

On top of that, France and Frenchness is nowhere near as clearly defined as it might appear from the outside. (“Wherefrom does your intimate knowledge of France stem,” I hear you ask. “From studying the damn language for six years,” I reply haughtily. I even prefer speaking French to English when I travel in the Maghreb, as 1) more people there speak French than English, 2) they can hear immediately that I am not, for a fact, French, and so they infer that I make an extra effort to make myself understood, which tends to make a favourable first impression.) There are still today quite a few people in France who will vehemently oppose any suggestion that they speak a language called French; they speak Occitan or Provençal. (And don’t even get me started on Italy—it has been claimed that there was no such thing as an Italian language until most people could watch national TV transmissions in the 60s, where they spoke Italian instead of the local language, and no real concept of Italianhood until Mussolini forced one upon them.)

And it is precisely by upholding these ideals, the ones created and spread by the French revolution, that the French (and, for the most part, other Europeans) have responded now. The guilty are those who perpetrated the crimes in Paris, including those who planned it, and those who aided and abetted it. Not the up to maybe 6 million French Muslims who didn’t. Not even the millions of people terrorised into aiding them in Syria, as most of them undoubtedly feel they don’t have much choice, what with ISIS holding guns to their heads.

And if we back up to the clip from Casablanca, that’s pretty much how the fallout from WWII was handled. And for what it’s worth, I think that could serve as a blueprint for how to deal with this situation. Not that I think my opinion counts for much. Hey, I’m a translator. You can count on me for the tricky words, but when it comes to tricky political solutions, I elect people to handle them for me.

So, what did they do in 1945 that I think was so brilliant? Why did Germany succeed, but Iraq turn into something that was worse than when they started?

Firstly, the Allies had decided that they would accept nothing but unconditional surrender. Remember, this was not only before the concentration camps had been liberated, but before many of them had even been built; this was only one year almost to the day after the Wannsee Conference, when the Shoah was engineered. The Allies did not want a situation where anyone could claim that Germany had not been properly beaten.

Secondly, they dealt with the Nazi administration by due process of law, as far as that was possible. While the matter of jurisdiction was difficult from a strictly legal point of view, it was widely recognised that the Nazis had invented crimes so monumental that nobody had even thought of naming them; still, it was impossible to see them as anything but crimes. But, and this is important, it was clear that the main responsibility lay with those who had planned and overseen the crimes; those who had participated enthusiastically were also punished, but to a lesser degree, while most Germans were regarded as having been coerced or maybe just fooled into cooperation. (And the diligent student of history will note that the infamous “only obeying orders” excuse was, in fact, a referral to the most popular management fad of the time, the “leadership principle” that stated that underlings would only become inefficient if they worried over the Why and Wherefore of their orders; they should leave all the worrying to their superiors. Many US companies are run that way to this day. For the rest of us, it’s comparable to waving our ISO documents in the face of the prosecution.) Only those who could be proven to have committed crimes were punished. We do individual responsibility; collective responsibility is for barbarians and Nazis. So while there were punishments meted out, the vast majority of Germans were acquitted; in a way, forgiven for their crimes.

And thirdly, we have the point that was lacking completely in Iraq. The Marshall plan. Originally, the plan was to transform Germany into a country focused on agriculture, with no heavy industry at all. This idea was soon abandoned, and instead, money was poured into the economies of Western Europe. In essence, US money rebuilt much of what the war had destroyed.

This is what the US failed to do in Iraq. Sure, money was poured into the country, but much of it went to “security measures”, and most of that was swept up by American companies providing training to military and police. That’s what you get if you ask the military what people need. It’s like asking the IT staff at your office if they maybe need more computers. Maybe the Iraqi would have wanted a hospital or two, instead of what amounts to little more than well-meaning slogans.

So, the last point is: build basic housing, schools, hospitals. It might look expensive, but it’s really nothing compared to the cost of the next war that you’re avoiding. Because today, the US-led coalition is remembered in Iraq for everything they smashed, while the Germans, by and large, remember the Allies for everything they rebuilt and, as opposed to the aftermath of WWI, for not being sore. Instead of a generation growing up embittered among the ruins, and joining the next madman who comes along, they could grow up remembering someone saying to them, “We’re really, really sorry about your Dad, and we know that he was a good man, but forced to fight us by evil men. Here’s a school for you so you can catch up with what you missed during the war, a hospital so that we can help your sister, and a flat where you can live with your mother.”

Hey, it’s gotta be worth a try. The other way didn’t work.

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