Today’s posting concerns the film ‘The Battle of Algiers’. For those readers who wish to watch before they read anything, here is a link for it.
The film concentrates on the failed attempt by an Algerian resistance movement to liberate Algeria from France, specifically on the urban front of Algiers, with the resistance performing constant hit and run attacks on French forces, even civilians. The French forces in turn regularly use questionable methods such as torture to combat the guerrilla warfare.
One particular story in the film that is very powerful to watch is when three of the resistance’s female members carry bombs to civilian locations: a bar, a dance club, and an airport. During the scene, the camera pans over the soon to be victims (they die), among them children.
It is a film without heros. There is no clear protagonist, the closest contenders are an illiterate brute and the French Lieutenant Colonel who is introduced halfway through the film. No one is worth rooting for. The French clearly oppress those around them (if the difference in the city quarters are anything to go by), but those they oppress are not much better.
This is a time of burgeoning hope, and plans for a future bright with economic promise and free from the specter of war. World War II was over and unlike the years following the treaty of Versailles, the international community did not seem intent on punishing the German people. Determined to eliminate the conflicts between European countries that had led to war in earlier years, in 1950, French foreign minister Robert Shuman introduced a plan to consolidate the production of coal and steel between France and Germany. This plan would make war between the two rivals almost impossible. (Mak, In Europe, p.626)
The Shuman plan formed the European Coal and Steel Community that would include Germany, France, Italy, and Benelux. Originally designed to prevent economic rivalries, Shuman’s long-term goal was the creation of a network of countries that would allow for the most efficient use and fair distribution of the world’s resources. (Mak, p.627) The European Coal and Steel Community was the first step in a long journey through the years that led first to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957. The EEC in turn, paved the way for the eventual creation of the European Union (EU).
Formation of the EU and the debut of the Euro are milestones in a process that is never ending. Maintaining peace and economic prosperity requires devotion and unceasing vigilance. When discussing the EU, Jean Monnet is quoted as saying, “From the very beginning we were interested in more than coal and steel…: it was about a revolution in international relations” (Mak, In Europe, p.628)
The year 1956 marked an important year in world history and “Cold War” politics, especially in Soviet-controlled Hungary. What started as a simple student protest in Budapest in the fall of 1956 escalated into a nationwide resistance which included people from all walks of life: farmers, workers, students, etc. Students began the protest with the hopes of expanding personal freedoms for people in Hungary. However, as the student protest collided with workers leaving their jobs and soldiers in their barracks, it quickly escalated from a small demonstration into a full anti-Soviet uprising. Initially, the Soviet Union believed that peacefully allowing the protesters to continue their demonstrations might quell their rage. However, these Soviet hopes were dashed when the protesters tore down and destroyed a statue of Stalin. When the uprising failed to burn itself out, the USSR felt forced to use its military to stop the protesters. Despite initial resistance from USSR troops, the uprising was eventually stopped. What resulted from the uprising was a change in “Cold War” politics. The Soviet Union felt that they needed to stop uprising in their Warsaw Pact countries if they were to control these communist countries. These demonstrations were also foreshadowing of the 1968 uprisings and protests; both sets of uprisings showed that what starts as a small resistance can snowball into a massive uprising that becomes impossible to control.
In the decades after World War II, the world community became divided along socio-economic systems: on one corner, there was the United States trying to pull the world towards capitalism and on the other there was the Soviet Union attempting to pull Europe towards communism. While everyone feared the prospect of another world war, these major powers continued their intervention in other countries’ affairs in a modernized version of colonialism; the Marshall Plan and the Warsaw Pact served to assert their influence over nations facing economic and/or political crisis. The struggle is often depicted as a, non-physical, intellectual and technological battle but it is important to recognize that that was not the reality- people starved, were murdered, imprisoned for political reasons, they revolted, and reshaped their nations in a hope to rise from the rubble and ashes of post-war Europe. In Prague, Czechoslovakia, the revolution of February 1948 led to the installation of a communist government modeled after Stalin’s USSR with purges of political opponents and subjugated groups; Czechoslovakia managed to maintain their sovereignty in this manner. “The Cold War was a forty-year battle of threats, of economic sanctions, of words and propaganda… It was a textbook example of a long-lasting and extremely successful policy of ‘containment’,” but one can’t help but wonder if Europe would have done better without the intervention by the US and the USSR; if finding their own path would have enabled enduring stabilization of Europe (Mak, p.589). President Truman believed that “’Without the Marshall Plan, it would have been difficult for Western Europe to remain free of the tyranny of communism,’” but doesn’t the imposition of a conditional system of aid present the same form of tyranny through the partial suppression of sovereignty (Mak, p.590)? “’The world and history are not as simple as children often imagine. It’s as complicated as love’” (Mak, p.601).
Nuremberg is usually associated with the Nuremberg Trials. These trials were to make top SS officers pay for the war crimes committed in Nazi Germany. Twenty-four SS officers were put on trial and found either guilty, they were sentenced to death or prison, or they were acquitted. One person that many people remember is Rudolf Hess whose mental state was a constant question throughout the trials. He would say things that made no sense and could not remember certain people or events. Click here to see his mug shot and some other pictures of the Nuremberg Trials. A shocking fact about the trails was that, “within five years, almost all SS physicians…were back at work” (Mak 580-1). Many SS officers went back to government positions that they had held before. The purpose of these trials was to show the horrors that happened during World War II by Nazi SS officers. These trials set of policies for International Laws and organizations like the United Nations. There were many key points in the trails. To look at some of the key moments, click here to view a video.
In 1943 and 1944, the Allied Commanders decided that bombing of the German cities would be escalated. These massive bombing campaigns would be organized to break the morale of the German people, to cripple their production abilities, and weaken the German War Machine making victory for the Allies easier. The big cities were targeted to be flattened, Berlin, Emmerich, Rees, Xanteen, Wesel, Worms. The British and Americans then carried out their campaigns, the British by night and the Americans by day. Relentless round the clock bombings took place in Germany with extreme devastation. Thousands upon thousands of German civilians were killed in the bombings, and the Allies had almost planned for it to be that way. They had wanted the German ability to rebuild and remanufacture to be halted and cut off, and civilian casualties were the way to obtain this upper hand. One such example of mass devastation of a city aside from Berlin is the town of Dresden. When the British and Americans began the bombardment at 10pm, a massive firestorm began to rage. As the townspeople began to come out of their scorching hot bomb shelters, the second wave commenced. Then the third followed as people below frantically tried to evade the destruction. The winds being pulled in from the surrounding area of Dresden during the fire was so strong, it was designated as hurricane force winds. The fire in Dresden would last for several days, and the destruction of the town was almost total. This bombing campaign of the Allies caused widespread annihilation of the German towns and of its people, and some towns such as Dresden still remember what it was like to live through the night of fire.
“It was a lovely, quiet Sunday, we were having lunch, and suddenly we heard machine guns and the loud buzzing of planes.” Protecting the bridge into Oosterbeek to gain a better access to Arnhem was a key military position. Such an important entry into German territory, so much was invested in this paratrooper drop to clear the way for tanks. So much on the line that everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The British troops landed with the wrong radio equipment, this attack needed complete communication with both Americans and the Poles. British troops were fighting against the tougher opposition while the Americans had a cake walk. All this going on, and General Patton is waiting with his tank division. The original landing spot was supposed to be next to the bridge and before the jump, the spot was moved across the ways. “The Brits just lay there, along the lines of: ‘what do we do now? their radios didn’t work, their plan wasn’t working either, and then they proved unable to improvise. They fought bravely, no doubt about that, but they didn’t seem very experienced to us.” Needless to say the attack was a failure and the Allies had to look for a different way into Oosterbeek.
Berlin, the current capital city of Germany, is place that is rich with world history. With a population of 3.5 million people, Berlin is Germany’s largest city and is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union.
Following Geert Mak and his novel, “In Europe”, Berlin becomes the main topic of the passage in the context of World War II. “What sounded yesterday like drumming in the distance has today become a constant pounding. You breathe in the noise of the cannons. The ear grows deaf, now you hear only the reports form the heaviest-caliber guns. It’s no longer possible to tell where the sound is coming form. We live inside a ring of gun barrels that is drawing tighter by the hour.” (Mak, In Europe, p. 568) – this passage picks up in the context of the Battle of Berlin, the final major offensive event of the European Theatre of World War II. The passage regarding Berlin is marked with the suicides of Hitler and his followers and the unconditional surrender of the city of Berlin.
Benounville, The site of one of the most strategic and deadly operations taken in the Second World War, the tide of the war is about to change as the Allied forces set up for their massive assault into France. Almost 3 million men are assembled for the assault on Normandy, troops from England, America, Canada, Polish, French, New Zealand, Australia, and other members of the British Commonwealth. A total of almost three million men had assembled on the southern tip of England. On the first day of the invasion 4,500 men were killed. With this massive incursion into France the allied forces gain a foothold in continental Europe and begin the push towards Berlin
Today it’s not about Mak. It’s about Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. I have decided to concentrate on the last chapter, The Story of Ten Days.
With the Eastern Front steadily getting closer to Germany, those in charge decided to force-march many of the prisoners to a different location. The author had scarlet fever and was one of those declared too weak to go. With the Germans gone Auschwitz was ‘looted’ by its own prisoners, but there was barely anything. Starving men were fighting ‘over the last handfuls of putrid potatoes’. Men were relieving themselves wherever they pleased, especially in the snow, the only source of water. Levi also helped take care of some of those who were sick once the Germans left (it was the sick hut they left him in). He says that sharing food was ‘the first human gesture among us.’
There is a powerful fictional account of the Holocaust in Frederick Forsythe’s novel The Odessa File. Here is the link. The account starts at the bottom of page 17.