Friday, November 11, 2016

Lest We Forget: Resistance is Possible (despite what the Borg say)

I must admit that I have a tough time with much of the sentiment that prevails around Remembrance or Armistice Day, so much patriotism and pride in military sacrifice -- which I value, yes, but also question. So much of the sacrifice that resulted in the Armistice celebrated each November 11th, the sacrifice of so many young lives in the horridly futile, pointless waste that was World War I appals rather than uplifts.

But especially living where we are now, here in Bordeaux where perhaps one of every twenty streets (perhaps more?) commemorates a Resistance fighter or an important military date or a citizen who was deported to the death camps of the Second World War,  Remembrance seems a valiant and important effort.  Yesterday, after five annual visits to Bordeaux, we finally got ourselves to the Centre Jean Moulin, a museum dedicated to the resistance movement against the occupying German forces.

As I mentioned last post, we've been watching Un Village Fran├žais, an excellent TV series that recreates/imagines (with guidance from a respected historian on this period) life in a French village under occupation, the forces that draw some to collaborate, others to begin resisting in various large or small ways. Walking through the Centre Jean Moulin yesterday, it was all too easy to recognise the historic (i.e. "real life") models for the fictionalised characters in the yellowed newspaper clippings pinned to the wall.  I stopped to make a frustratingly poor sketch of the printing press we'd just seen in an episode (hidden in a basement, absolutely contraband, it's used to reproduce clandestine tracts protesting the occupation).  . .  And the Englishman who parachuted into the woods in an early episode might have worn boots like the ones above, designed so that the shaft that kept the lower leg warm in the air could be ripped away to leave a normal-looking shoe more conducive to escape.

I still have reservations about any glorification of military sacrifice, although I'm grateful for those who have made those sacrifices to my benefit.  Right now, though,  I'm particularly grateful for reminders that resistance to wrongheadedness or to downright evil is possible, even when that resistance puts one at odds with one's neighbours and, more significantly and intimidatingly, with the State.

And yesterday, as I told the woman staffing the rather quiet, apparently under-budgeted Centre Jean Moulin, I was very grateful for the important work many caring volunteers have obviously done in the decades since the end of the Second World War. . . .

Lest We Forget. . .

Thanks for all your comments on Wednesday's post written after I heard the results of the US election. Much as they warmed and encouraged me -- solidarity! -- I have to be honest and say that I was overwhelmed at the thought of answering them all carefully. And then -- and I hope this is okay -- I realised that the comments don't require a response. They are entirely sufficient, each one and every one, without my response. I'm so pleased to have elicited them and to have provided space for them, but I don't think this is really about me, and not just because it's too much physical and emotional work, I'm going to leave them stand just as they are. But do feel free to answer each other, as some of you are already. I think I've said as much as I can in the post. Thanks for understanding.


13 comments:

  1. It's interesting that you perceive the annual commemoration as including patriotism and glorification of sacrifice. I think the tenor of the commemorations is rather different in Europe to North America. Certainly in Scotland I would say that the prevailing mood at these events has always been intense sadness and a wish for it never to happen again. I was at the National Museum of Scotland today during the 11 am silence. I have to say that as I stood for the silence I cried, and I noticed several other people fishing out handkerchiefs. Every village in Scotland lost young men in both world wars, particularly in the slaughter of WW1. Often a whole generation of young men wiped out from the community. The memorial in Bristol this year includes 19,000 small shrouded figures laid out in long rows in a green space in the city centre. Nineteen thousand. The number killed from Bristol on the first DAY of the Somme offensive. http://www.bristolpost.co.uk/thousands-of-bodies-laid-down-in-shrouds-of-the-somme-display-in-college-green-bristol/story-29884894-detail/story.html

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  2. Linda, please don't extrapolate from my personal politics and reservations to a general tenor of commemoration here. Absolutely, there's much sadness. The statistics of Canadian soldiers killed or irrevocably wounded in WWI was astonishingly high considering our population at the time: almost 61,000 killed, over 170,00 terribly wounded. But this undeniably led to greater autonomy for, and international recognition of our nation as more than just a junior colony.
    My thinking around WWI's sacrifice is not so dissimilar to that in Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est" -- hence my extreme wariness around commemoration of war sacrifices in general. I have visited that huge graveyard at Dieppe and wiped away tears at the engraving "Known Unto God" and at others declaring the death of 18-year-old boys made men for a few months to be cannon fodder. . . Big topic here that I'm not interested in debating on the blog, quite honestly, because I don't think I could manage the necessary subtleties and the listening required on both sides. For the moment, though, I'm inspired by those who find ways to resist evil, who refuse to stay complacent.

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    1. I can understand that you don't want to steer your post towards a general discussion of commemoration. However, just to say that thinking further about your reply to my comment, I can see that there is a risk of complacency even in the genuinely sorrowful annual commemorations. They become woven into the traditions of a country is what in Britain can have a slightly Home Counties tinge (there's a facet of British life for you to explore, if you aren't already familiar with the Home Counties). The question is indeed, as you say, more how to resist evil, how to act.

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  3. When I was in college, I spent a summer in Belgium. My hoodie (sweat jacket, it was called then) had a Canadian flag on the sleeve. Several times over the summer, older women would approach me and say, "thank you" to me, a young Canadian. "We remember," they said, "how the Canadians liberated us." This was in the late 1970s. That generation has mostly passed away. I think of this at every Remembrance Day.
    I think it would cast a different light on Remembrance Day to see the commemorations in France and other parts of Europe. Here, we are thankfully, so distant from the war.

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    1. Lorrie,I find this deeply touching,it brings tears to my eyes
      Dottoressa

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    2. I've heard versions of this story from many travelers and it's moving every time. Clearly, that Canadian sacrifice made a decisive difference for good in WWII. The November 11th Armistice of 1918, sadly, followed a huge Canadian (and international) sacrifice with much foggier gains... as with too many wars.

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  4. Lovely quote from Leonard Cohen's Anthem in the comments on your last post. Deeply saddened by the passing of this wonderful Canadian. Beyond this I will not extrapolate or pontificate!

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    1. Such a loss, although he lived a good life and left us much beauty behind.

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  5. I remember finding Normandy very moving. Somehow it made the experience of war real for me in an utterly new way. So different in Europe where the horrors of WWI and WWII were experienced directly on home soil. These days, the U.S. feels much like it felt in the '60's, so undoubtedly more opportunities will arise to resist evil and to avoid complacency.

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  6. I feel so sad thinking about both WW- so many young people gone or injured- and find Remembrance Day very moving-so wonderful to remember and pay respect,wishing, something like that,never to happen again.
    November is a sad month here too,we remember The Fall of Vukovar,conquered city- symbol of resistance-, and a lot of men,women and children killed,injured or lost in the war 25 years ago
    Dottoressa

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    1. You've had to be so much closer to war than perhaps the majority of my readers. I have to hope that we never catch up to you in that experience.... I know you share that hope. xo

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  7. No , remembering the deaths of so many from every part of Europe, the Commonwealth and America isn't glorifying war .
    It's just showing respect for their passing and their families' loss .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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