occupations - the Sorrow and the Pity

A few years ago, there was a deal of noise around the reissue of the Battle of Algiers – Pentagon honchos had a special showing, policy wonks and pundits got to review the film (showing why they shouldn’t review the film) and, in fact, there were things in the Battle of Algiers that have happened in Iraq – although there is nothing quite like the Battle of Baghdad that we are seeing now, with ethnic cleansing going on inside the city while outside, the Sunni insurgency is turning the screws inch by inch to turn off the city’s services. The more valid comparison might be to the Paris Commune.

However, a film that is just as relevant to the occupation in Iraq is the Sorrow and the Pity. I know that now, because I watched the Sorrow and the Pity for the first time two days ago.

The German occupation of France was spread out over 3 years – much like the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The first occupation was covered by a collaborationist government – much like the second. The first occupation involved resistance to the occupiers, which was labeled terrorism by the occupiers – much like the second (there is a fascinating interview with a former German soldier who tells the story of a German troop, passing by a group of peasants, who – as soon as the troop goes by – unsheathes weapons and kills fourteen of the Germans. And he says, these peasants wore no uniforms. They had no stripes on their sleeves. They were terrorists, and how do you deal with people like that – shades of Americanspeak in Iraq! Shades, actually, of the discourse put about by Israeli officials last summer about Hezbollah. Invading forces are always aggrieved that they have to institute a policy of slaughtering civilians – so much simpler to once and for all devastate a uniformed army. If the occupied aren’t going to cooperate, what are you going to do?). The first occupation also involved a boom in the capital city – while the Germans were stealing as much of the French economy as possible, there was sufficient spending in Paris that the upper middle class had a blast. The race track opened, theater tickets were selling at a premium, there were fashionable dresses on the backs of fashionable gals. Similarly, the second occupation involved a two fold economic fact – mass and stark unemployment, on the one hand, and a boom in consumer goods in Baghdad, on the other hand. Fleeing into Jordan, a middle class Baghdadi family can now take with them quite a few electronic gadgets they could never have purchased under Saddam, or at least under the sanction regime.

It was also interesting to see how the curve of resistance inevitably goes upward. The odd American notion that the occupiers will be resisted less each year comes out of some woozy notion of occupying Germany in 1945. Actually, most occupations have a pretty predictable schedule – the occupation becomes more and more unpopular the longer it goes on. To quench that unpopularity, the occupiers have to become harsher and harsher – they have to engage, at the very least, in discrete ethnic cleansing. A one hundred or two hundred year occupation – say, the occupation of India by the British – requires periodic repressions, plus – in the Indian case – the fragmentation of the former powers, and terror famines.

The two most fascinating characters in The Sorrow and the Pity are the former French nazi, Christian de La Mazière, who is one of those plausible French fascists, and the two peasant resisters, Louis Grave and his brother, Alexis. Both were socialists, of course. The movie was shot within a memory frame close enough to the actual events so that the nonsense about the Communists really not being the backbone of the resistance hadn’t been spread about by the inheritors of the bourgeois indifference or collaboration in France. The notion that the Communists were fighting for the Soviet Union is as laughable as the idea that the British were fighting to make America a hyper-power – but, of course, the reactionary crap spewed out first by the ‘New Philosophers’ and then by a generation of ‘moderates’ has engulfed the period in a very fake revisionism.

France, we are often told, horribly betrayed the Jews who had fled to the country. This is very true. What is elided, here, is that they fled to France partly because the Communist dominated Popular Front initiated the most wide open refugee policy in Europe in the thirties – vastly more wide open than the U.S., which virtuously made it as hard as possible for fleeing Jews to gain entrance, and of course gave no refuge to fleeing Spanish Republicans, etc., etc. So there were, numerically, vastly more Jewish refugees caught in France when the country fell to Hitler. Britain, which could easily have accommodated them in the thirties, of course refused them entrance as much as they could. Varian Fry, the American who, as France fell, saved as many Jews as he could, sending them to the U.S., was reproached by his American superiors at the time and persecuted by the McCarthyites in the early fifties. The U.S. simply grudges refuge to the persecuted – at the present time, for instance, doing all it can to keep out Iraqis who have been stupid enough to trust Americans, and who are fleeing the dental drills of Bush’s friend Hakim’s Badr Brigade. Other countries – Jordan, Thailand, Kenya – scattered throughout the third world have, in the past fifty years, had to set up huger refugee camps and, out of their few resources, support them – but the vastly wealthier Americans never do things like that.


Brian said…
But...But....We are the light of the world , roger. The mostest and the bestest country which everyone wants to be. Your recent posts are calling into question American Exceptionalism, which is the true religion of 95% of the political class. Treason, I say.