Sunday, April 5, 2009

To Be a Fly on the Wall: Thoughts About Enemy Propaganda

Before and during World War Two, my father used to enjoy following the news from all angles. He liked to hear all sides. When he got older, he liked to be able to project himself into the mindset of opponents. Although ideologically opposed to labour unions, one of his fondest recollections from his years in business was negotiating with an Italian labour union. At the time he was negotiating with the union, it was politically allied to the Italian Communist Party, which was the second largest political party in Italy.

When looking at the Europeans during World War Two, I like to know what they were thinking, what shaped their thoughts. What was life like for the Christian neighbours of my grandparents?
Like my father, I like to be a fly on the wall, to listen to talk from the other side. Are religious and political truths a triumph of right or wrong? Or is our political vision an accident of our birth place. America is Christian. The Middle East is Muslim and India has a Hindu majority. I like the idea of being a Jew, of transcending the accident of my birthplace and swimming against the tide. I try to respect that in others, to emulate people who do not run with the herd, who will state forthrightly what is unpopular and be friends to the unhip and the downtrodden.

One story that saddened me was of a Jewish kid who had all Christian friends. He had a birthday party a couple of years after the Nazis came to power. Not one friend came to his party. What force facilitated such lockstep conformity. I ask myself an uncomfortable question. What if Hispanics or African Americans were the target group? Would I keep my kids home from the party? Would I pass the test?

There was a group of French Protestants known as Huguenots who suffered bloody persecution in France . Wikipedia describes the frightening extent of Huguenot persecution in the following paragraph about the St Bartholomew's Day massacre

In what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 23 August3 October 1572, Catholics killed thousands of Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns in the weeks following. The main provisional towns and cities experiencing the Massacre were Aix, Bordeaux, Bourges, Lyon, Meaux, Orleans, Rouen, Toulouse, and Troyes. Nearly 3,000 Protestants were slaughtered in Toulouse alone. The exact number of fatalities throughout the country is not known. On the 23 - 24 August, between about 2,000[1 and 3,000 Protestants were killed in Paris and between 3,000 and 7,000 more in the French provinces. By the 17 September, almost 25,000 Protestants had been massacred in Paris alone. Outside of Paris, the killings continued until the 3 October. An amnesty granted in 1573 pardoned the perpetrators.

There was a village, Le Chambon Sur Lignon in central France of 5000 people. During the war, at great risk to themselves, the villagers rescued about 5000 Jews. There was not one betrayal to authorities of rescuers or rescued. Everyone acted in unison. Their motivation was loyalty to their Huguenot ancestors. They felt that the history of their faith and people mandated compassion to anyone being persecuted for their faith.

It's hard to know who will pass the tests of life and history. As Christians across Rwanda collaborated in the Rwandan genocide, it was Muslims who emerged from that dark chapter in Rwandan history with their honour intact. Where Muslims around the world bring shame to Islam with persecution of Christians and other non Muslims, the actions of Rwanda's Muslims brought honour to their faith in the eyes of those they rescued. The Chicago Tribune reports as follows of the collaboration of Christians in the genocide and the contrasting nobility of Rwanda's Muslim community.

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the head of Rwanda's

Seventh-day Adventist Church, is on trial, charged

with luring Tutsi parishioners to his church in

western Kibuye province, then turning them over to

Hutu militias that slaughtered 2,000 to 6,000 in a

single day.

The day before the massacre, Tutsi Adventist clergy

inside the church sent Ntakirutimana a now-famous

letter, informing him that "tomorrow we will be killed

with our families" and seeking his help. Survivors

report that he replied: "You must be eliminated. God

doesn't want you anymore."

At the same time, Rwanda's Muslims--many of them

intermarried Tutsi-Hutu couples--were opening their

homes to thousands of desperate Tutsis. Muslim

families for the most part succeeded in hiding Tutsis

from the Hutu mobs, who feared entering the country's

insular Muslim communities.

Yahya Kayiranga, a young Tutsi who fled Kigali with

his mother at the start of the genocide, was taken

into the home of a Muslim family in the central city

of Gitarama, where he hid until the killing was over.

His father and uncle who stayed behind in Kigali were


"We were helped by people we didn't even know," the

27-year-old remembers, still impressed.

Unable to return to what he considered a sullied Roman

Catholic Church, he converted to Islam in 1996.
The Muslims of Albania also offered refuge to Jews fleeing the Nazis. They considered it to be a matter of national honour to provide refuge and hospitality.

Why do some people become rescuers and others become collaborators? I don't know. Is the answer to be found in scripture or in the human heart?

It seems that an essential ingredient of good citizenship is the willingness and ability to judge the government against the yardstick of faith. One must be willing to walk the lonely mile in violation of the law in service to a higher calling. This is not a decision to be made glibly. It is not likely to merit applause at the time that it is made. To the contrary, it means being willing to be shunned and roundly condemned by the timid majority. On the other extreme, "civil disobedience can be invoked glibly. It is a delicate balance to respect the law and yet realise sadly that it must be broken.

Below is a Vichy French cartoon that uses American cartoon characters such as Popeye and Mickey Mouse to skewer the Allies. Rather than any particular political principal, it focuses on the danger of bombing raids to the average Frenchman. The Vichy French tried to present their ideology not as one of craven collaboration but as the "National Revolution" I am also presenting a video of Vichy propaganda stills set to the Vichy anthem.

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