Missives from Paris — April/May 2022
#1: The simple argument:
- If you are opposed to abortion rights because you are “pro-life,” do you make an exception for rape victims?
- If no, you’re a monster. If yes, you’re a hypocrite.
#2. Paris: Social Memory and Social Amnesia
Cemeteries memorialize—and are a good place to remember. At Paris’s famed Pére Lachaise cemetery some French and international celebrities are interred and memorialized – for example, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Jim Morrison. There are also some powerful memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, including a memorial to the children killed in the Nazi death camps.
It took the French a long time to acknowledge their role in the Holocaust. Between 1940 and 1944 the collaborationist Vichy government, with the help of the railroads and other major institutions, transported 76,000 Jews, Roma, and communists to extermination camps. Until 1980, post-war French governments claimed that the Vichy government was not part of the history of the French nation state, an extraordinary stretch of denial.
The French have caught up in recent decades. There are Holocaust memorials in various parts of the city, including Pere Lachaise. Walking downhill from Oscar Wilde’s tomb towards one of the exits one confronts a series of memorials – for those who died at Buchenwald, for those at Auschwitz, and more. Powerful sculptures.
Philosopher George Santayana wrote the memorable line: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
That’s why the acknowledgement of a nation’s sins (or an individual’s) are so important. The French national anthem may call for “sang impur” (impure blood) to water the country’s fields but Holocaust memorials remind the French and all of us of the atrocities that result from “othering.”
This is why it is important for nations to pressure Turkey to acknowledge the massacres of Armenians in the 1890’s and the eventual genocidal campaign of the Ottoman Empire against Armenians that began in 1915. The Turkish government denies this history. This is dangerous for Turkey and its neighbors.
The U.S. has never come to terms with its history of genocide, slavery, imperialism and invasions. The Vietnam War ended almost fifty years ago, after the U.S. invasion and massive bombing campaigns killed over a million in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. There is a Vietnam Memorial in D.C. that honors Americans who died fighting that unjustifiable war. There are no memorials for the victims of American aggression. This has been dangerous to the U.S., its neighbors, and countries around the world. It will be dangerous as long as the U.S. is an unrepentant military superpower–and the same applies to other superpowers, actual and would-be.
#3. French Election and National Anthems—somebody get re-write!!
Macron defeats LePen 58-41%.
Once again, progressives and liberals get to celebrate avoiding a greater disaster. Five years ago it was 66-34 between Macron and LePen.
The Marseillaise played at the victory celebration at the Eiffel Tower and on TV. It’s as catchy a tune as any national anthem. You know it. You may have seen Victor Laslo lead the crowd at Rick’s Café Américaine in Casablanca. It is stirring.
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !
Bravo… wait, what are those last two lines? “May impure blood water our fields.” Yikes. They play this at the Olympics?
Many national anthems have martial origins—see the Star-Spangled Banner. But “sang impur” is more problematic than “conquer we must when our cause it is just.” After the Nazi obsession with pure-blooded Aryans and the French collaboration with genocide, “sang impur?” What does this mean to the Far Right? To France?
The history of French imperialism/colonialism and racist justifications in Africa, the Americas, and southeast Asia has led to migration into France from French-speaking members of those former colonies. In many neighborhoods the racial diversity is impressive. But for LePen and others on the right, this immigration is a great threat. LePen would ban headscarves—not the ones from Hermes; you know, THOSE headscarves. France for the French. Make France great again. As if the immigrants were not France, not a vital part of the economy and culture. LePen and the Right offer a reactionary nationalism, a return to how things used to be.
The Russian national anthem contains these lines of manifest destiny:
From the southern seas (!) to the polar edge
our forests and fields are spread out.
You are the only one in the world! You are the only one –
the native land so kept by God!
You are the only one? Nationalism breeds malignant narcissism. Russia has narrow access to the Black Sea but Ukraine and Moldova block some of the juicy parts.