A puncture can change your life. In Louis Malle’s film Lacombe, Lucien (1974), the young peasant Lucien is rejected by his former schoolteacher who runs the local resistance organisation he wishes to join and then, returning home by bicycle, gets a flat tire. Seeking help in a nearby farmhouse, he finds himself among a band of carousing militiamen, collaborators sworn to eradicate La Résistance. He denounces the teacher, becomes a local boss of the militia, and is finally shot by resistance fighters.This much-quoted moment of chance is the starting point for the book Aurais-je été resistant ou bourreau? (2013) by literature professor and psychoanalyst Pierre Bayard, which translates as ‘Would I have been a resister or a collaborator?’ As historians, and indeed as citizens, we assume that we would have made the right decision during the Second World War, given what we know about its horrors. The myth developed by General Charles de Gaulle in 1944 – that the French overwhelmingly behaved patriotically, rallied behind his leadership, and liberated the country themselves – persuades us that we would most likely have resisted Nazi Germany. A myth, however, is designed to unify a people and legitimate its rulers, not to tell the truth. As a young lecturer at Oxford 35 years ago, I remember looking round my college’s governing body, composed overwhelmingly of conservative middle-aged men, and wondering what they would have done if Britain had been occupied by the Germans. I concluded that most of them would have collaborated.
Tag Archives: History
After the Manchester massacre… yes, and after Nice and Paris, Mosul and Abu Ghraib and 7/7 and the Haditha massacre – remember those 28 civilians, including children, killed by US Marines, four more than Manchester but no minute’s silence for them? And of course 9/11…Counterbalancing cruelty is no response, of course. Just a reminder. As long as we bomb the Middle East instead of seeking justice there, we too will be attacked. But what we must concentrate upon, according to the monstrous Trump, is terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. And fear. And security. Which we will not have while we are promoting death in the Muslim world and selling weapons to its dictators. Believe in “terror” and Isis wins. Believe in justice and Isis is defeated.
Over five centuries after the Age of Discovery, we all know a long historical cycle is ending. The Decline of the West is shorthand for a tangle of immense complexity – directly proportional to the ascent of the century of Eurasia integration, driven by China’s New Silk Roads.
Every time I dig deeper into the Decline of the West, I have to go back to the roots. And that means – echoes of Stendhal, Keats, Nietzsche — a Journey to Italy. I had recently engaged in an extended dialogue with Machiavelli in Florence. This time, the French presidential election was looming – widely billed as the “civilized” West facing a crucial crossroads.
After its titanic civil war, can Syria remain a united state? And if it does – if Syria can be put back together again – how do you repair its people?
These are not idle words when, across the border, the people of Lebanon have again been marking the mournful anniversary of the start of their own civil war in 1975. The dead of Lebanon, like the dead of Syria, have been buried and resurrected by journalists and politicians. At the end of the Lebanese Civil War we reckoned 150,000 had died. Two months ago, a young Beirut activist suddenly came up with a figure of 200,000. What happened to the extra 50,000? And then last month, the figure rose again in a local newspaper to 250,000. What happened to the extra 100,000?
“WHY DO THEY hate us?”
It’s a question that has bewildered Americans again and again in the wake of 9/11, in reference to the Arab and Muslim worlds. These days, however, it’s a question increasingly asked about the reclusive North Koreans.
Let’s be clear: There is no doubt that the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea both fear and loathe the United States. Paranoia, resentment, and a crude anti-Americanism have been nurtured inside the Hermit Kingdom for decades. Children are taught to hate Americans in school while adults mark a “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month” every year (it’s in June, in case you were wondering).
Well, it’s now Trump’s moment of masculinity. Will he – or will he not – have the guts to call the 1915 Armenian genocide a genocide? A small matter for a guy who’s shooting from the hip across the Muslim world, you may say. But he congratulated the Caliph Erdogan on winning his dictatorial referendum and I doubt that Trump has the courage to offend him this month by telling the truth about the slaughter of one and a half million Armenian Christians during the First World War.
After all, Bill Clinton didn’t call it a genocide. Nor did George Bush. Nor did Obama. They all promised they would before they were elected. But my guess is that Donald Trump will be as cowardly as them, bowing towards the sensitivities of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wretched generals, those of them who still have jobs after Erdogan’s post-attempted-coup purge of the last nine months.
I call it the Kekulé Problem because among the myriad instances of scientific problems solved in the sleep of the inquirer Kekulé’s is probably the best known. He was trying to arrive at the configuration of the benzene molecule and not making much progress when he fell asleep in front of the fire and had his famous dream of a snake coiled in a hoop with its tail in its mouth—the ouroboros of mythology—and woke exclaiming to himself: “It’s a ring. The molecule is in the form of a ring.” Well. The problem of course—not Kekulé’s but ours—is that since the unconscious understands language perfectly well or it would not understand the problem in the first place, why doesnt it simply answer Kekulé’s question with something like: “Kekulé, it’s a bloody ring.” To which our scientist might respond: “Okay. Got it. Thanks.”Why the snake? That is, why is the unconscious so loathe to speak to us? Why the images, metaphors, pictures? Why the dreams, for that matter.A logical place to begin would be to define what the unconscious is in the first place. To do this we have to set aside the jargon of modern psychology and get back to biology. The unconscious is a biological system before it is anything else. To put it as pithily as possibly—and as accurately—the unconscious is a machine for operating an animal.
Talk to Bashar al-Assad’s enemies, and they’ll tell you he’s to blame for every man, woman and child who has been killed in Syria. That’s 400,000. Or 450,000. Or 500,000. The figures, so carelessly put together by the media, the UN and the various opposition groups who naturally want the statistics to be as high as possible, now embrace 100,000 souls who may – or may not – be still alive. But death tolls have nothing to do with compassion. They are about blame, about culpability.
And the claim that Assad is responsible for every one of the dead rests on the notion that he ‘started the war’. In his case, this means that the arrest and torture – and in one case, reported killing – of a group of schoolchildren who had written anti-regime graffiti on a wall in the southern city of Dera’a, was the ignition switch for the mass opposition rallies and subsequent armed uprising which has devastated Syria. In the case of Dera’a, Assad realised the seriousness of the event – he fired the city governor and sent his deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad to see the families. Too late.
In the aftermath of the attacks of 11 September 2001, amid the grief and rage that followed the toppling of the World Trade Center, President George W Bush did not declare war on Islam. “These acts of violence against innocents,” he told Americans in the week after 3,000 people were killed by Muslim terrorists, “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.” The war that Bush went on to declare soon thereafter was not against a religion, but against “terror” – and within that baggy term, he focused on al-Qaida, “a fringe movement”, in Bush’s words, “that perverts the peaceful teaching of Islam”.Sign up to the long read emailRead moreBush’s tact may have been caused by a short-term desire to rein in attacks on American Muslims (and others mistaken for them, such as Sikhs) in the wake of 9/11. But it also served the longer view of the president and his advisers, who believed that the Muslim world, much like everywhere else, was capable of being improved by exposure to democracy, free market capitalism and individual freedoms. In this regard, Bush’s views were in line with the then-influential “end of history” thesis proposed by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama in 1989. With the end of the cold war, Fukuyama argued, it was only a matter of time before western liberal democracy was recognised everywhere as the best form of government. By the turn of the century, the belief that we were witnessing “the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to western liberalism” was never more widely shared, and it lay behind one of Bush’s professed goals in invading Afghanistan and Iraq: to shepherd the Muslim world towards the universal ideology of liberalism.
A distanza di 23 anni, la conoscenza del genocidio compiuto dagli estremisti hutu contro i tutsi – di cui sono state vittime anche numerosi tra i cosiddetti hutu moderati – non è ancora diventata patrimonio comune. Il trascorrere del tempo, in teoria, potrebbe avere una funzione positiva: l’enormità del massacro, la sua dinamica complicata, la storia precedente e le cronache successive, richiedono studi e analisi approfondite. Ma la sensazione è che il passare degli anni giochi contro la costruzione di una memoria collettiva di quel genocidio. La stessa giornata istituita dalle Nazioni Unite per ricordarne l’inizio, il 7 aprile, sembra appassionare sempre meno.