Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hard-hitting post-war zest from Tony Judt

I left my copy of The Historian's Craft home today; what a blochhead! Instead, I'll offer one of many provocative passages from Postwar, Tony Judt's history of Europe since 1945 (and I still have almost 700 pages left to read, so expect more):
"Writers and journalists, having left a written record of their wartime allegiance, came off worst. Highly publicized trials of prominent intellectuals--like that of Robert Brasillach in Paris in January 1945--provoked protests from bona fide resisters like Albert Camus, who thought it both unjust and imprudent to condemn and execute men for their opinions, however ghastly these might be.

"In contrast, businessmen and high officials who had profited from the occupation suffered little, at least in western Europe. In Italy the Allies insisted that men like Vittorio Valletta of FIAT be left in place, despite his notorious engagement with the Fascist authorities. Other Italian business executives survived by demonstrating their erstwhile opposition to Mussolini's Social Republic at Salo--and indeed they
had often opposed it, precisely for being too 'social.'"
I like this passage for several reasons, not least the zest with which Judt wrote it. As for its politics, I wonder what crime writers including Didier Daeninckx and Andrea Camilleri would think of it. Would they, like Camus, protest the execution of a man whose politics they surely abhor?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Jim Benn said...

Ideas are what started the Second World War. So I don't see a problem with those who promoted horrible ideas - like the murder of all captured Resistance members for one - paying the ultimate price.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Pace Tony Judt, I don't think Brasillach and his ilk were tried and/or executed for holding horrible opinions. No, they were haled into court for aiding the enemy in time of war. Camus' view of the issue as a whole is only really apparent in his private communications. The issue was a perilous one for many, many French people who could have met the same fate. Of course, Camus knew who those people were in the literary field -- authors, journalists, and publishers -- and there was a plethora of them in other arenas. So many, indeed, that the one objection that might be made to the trial and fate of Brasillach and a few others was that they were scapegoats. I think Camus' public protests re the trials was much informed by that. The matter was, shall we say, delicate. Sartre is the prime example of those who were so nervous in this period that they invented wholesale fictions about their work as resistants. Sartre did nothing. Had he been tried for doing nothing, I suppose he could have put up the defence of philosophical conviction.

With regard to the last paragraph of the quotation, it's a bit odd. Judt writes of businessmen who profited from "the occupation", but then cites Italian cases. Mussolini's Italy was an ally of Germany, and Italy was not invaded until later in the War. People such as Valletta were with Mussolini from the get-go. Better to have cited French examples, and to have mentioned also the impunity of German business magnates, notably the ones who were pleased to have put at their disposal forced labour.

Upon the liberation of France, de Gaulle managed to persuade the allied high command to let ramshackle French troops march triumphantly into Paris as if they were responsible for the liberation. There is more crap in this whole business than in Shanghai's sewerage system. De Gaulle knew, as Camus knew, that if the truth of what went on among the French in occupied France, let alone in Vichy France, were pursued, the country would become schismatic. And so, the French 'army' marched into Paris, a paltry number of collaborators were tried (while a considerably larger number were dealt with in fittingly Draconian manner, but unofficially and very privately), and the country thus held together. To achieve that, even the resistance movement had to be mythologized. I remember from the 1950s and 60s television dramas about the intrepid 'Maquis', a term that became synonymous with 'French Resistance Movement'. The little matter of French resistance groups that killed any Jews they happened to come across was left unmentioned until academic works on the whole subject of France in the War began to appear many years later.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, I think, though I'm not sure I can cite evidence for the proposition, that scapegoating was implied in Judt's discusison Brasillach. He also notes that Brasillach was both gay and Jewish, at the least the former fact of which his prosecutors made ample use. He elsewhere notes the difficulty of finding grounds for legal action for treason and such against people who were working in the service of a legally constituted government.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jim, I confess that I had not heard of Brassilach before picking up Judt's book, so I'll have to reserve judgment in this case. I would suspect that a fuller explanation of Judt's thought on this might be found in a book he wrote on the politics of retribution in the war and its aftermath.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Peter, I sincerely hope Judt did not write that Brasillach was Jewish. He was not, and described himself as a moderate anti-Semite, whatever the hell that's supposed to mean. His comments on Jews didn't seem moderate to me. The argument to questionable grounds for legal action against people in the service of a legally constituted government is irrelevant in this case. Brasillach was a journalist always, and had no sort of government position. What "legally constituted government" is Judt referring to? RB was in Paris, in occupied France. There, the Vichy Government held various mandates re administration, but those were allotted to it by the Germans and officials had to act in consonance with Nazi policies, e.g., the French police rounding up Jews. RB scorned Vichy because it divided France as a nation-state, and welcomed its eventual occupation by the Germans.

To boot, in his articles, RB called for collaboration and later explicitly wrote in support of Nazi policies. He called for the execution of all resistants, all left-wing politicians, and even of Georges Mandel, a conservative in earlier French governments, but a Jew, and Mandel was indeed murdered by that most repugnant of collaborationist outfits, the Milice. Was this not instigation to murder, and successful? Even the accusation that the prosecution used his sexuality against him during the trial is arguable. What this refers to are allusions rather than explicit references to his homosexuality, and the problem is the words and phrases cited as evidence of this are also words and phrases that RB himself used in his pro-Nazi writings. Thus, whether these were subtle allusions to his sexual practices or outright allusions to his own verbiage is pretty well impossible to say. I cannot give details, for all my papers are stored while my apartment is painted, but a substantial book on the RB trial came out in, I think, 2000. It wouldn't be too hard to track it down, and it might be the best place to seek clarification of what seems to me a complete mess here. Unless that very book was Judt's main source re RB, in which case it wouldn't get us much forwarder.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The fault is entirely mine; I confused with Brasillach with another figure to whom Judt had referred (and, yes, I knew R.B. was an anti-Semite.

The legally constituted government comment referred to Italians and Mussolini's Fascists, if I recall correctly. I fear my muddled recollections do Judt no credit.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Is the book to which you alludeded The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach? Judt does not cite it, though its publication year appears to slip just within the chronological range of Judt's sources.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

That is it, Peter. I just googled it and, this being an academic work and reviews thus being of considerable importance, I immediately clicked on a review from the NYT web pages. I'm very glad I did, for it proved to be a review in itself of the first water, written by a professor French history. Alice Kaplan, the book's author, is herself a professor of French literature, but that qualifies her well to tackle some of the crucial literary questions the RB case evokes. Anyway, that review is itself well worth a look, and may well suffice if you don't wish to pursue the matter so far as to read Kaplan. Just google the title of the book + New York Times, and it should be there third from the top.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks. I had found a review by Richard Corliss in Time (presumably the film critic Richard Corliss) whose title was something like "Executing a Man for His Words."

I should add that Judt, whom I have represented so poorly, is, in fact, alive to French humiliation and self-delusion immediately after the war. Also worth exploring is the idea that French stumbled into a position of power in Europe a few years later, only by the accident of Great Britain's holding back from taking a leadership position in early European unification efforts.

By god, the war and its aftermath is an intimidatingly vast subject.

August 24, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Phil

Dont worry Judt gets stuck in to all the collaborators in all the countries. For a 1 volume history of post war Europe in the period there is really no equal.

Over the summer I read Artemis Cooper's post war Paris book that I liked quite a bit too. Good stuff on all the trials, the role of Sartre, Camus etc. Forgotten the name of that one - she wrote it with her husband the famous historian whose name I've also forgotten...

Cant go to google or I'll lose this comment, so I guess I'll leave you none the wiser...

August 26, 2014  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Thanks, Adrian.

I appreciate your reference to Cooper's book -- I didn't know about that one. Finding it will be no problem.

August 26, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you could have opened a new tab or window to do a search that would have turned up this: Paris After the Liberation, 1944-1949 . I see that Artemis Cooper also wrote a book about Patrick Leigh Fermor, which may be why you like her.

Last night I finished Judt's section on how various countries rebuilt their political systems after the war. There is much good stuff there, too. But I am most impressed in an era of micro histories, Judt took on a project on such a scale. Having read Alistair Horne's book on the the Franco-Algerian war relatively recently, I knew how messy that subject was, and I was stunned at how Judt had to sum it all up in just a few pages. (And "sum up" is apt. Judt used Horne's book as a source._

August 26, 2014  

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