Posted by: Dan | April 11, 2017

Mandating Passivity: On Liberalism, Loving Enemies, and Punching Nazis

Alex and Louis Grave

These are the faces you want to remember from this post.

1. The Butcher of Lyon

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past. ~ William Faulkner

Towards the end of Hotel Terminus, Marcel Ophuls interviews Ute Regina (or is it Regine?) Messner.  It is difficult to discover anything about Ute or her husband Heinrich (Heini?) or their family.  Their presence on the internet is practically nil.  I was able to find only one undated photograph of them together in Bolivia.  One wonders what Heinrich was doing with the German community in Bolivia but no answers are forthcoming.  What one finds about Ute are references to one or two documentaries and in a few press releases related to her presence at her father’s trial.  About Heinrich, I could find nothing.  Is he the Austrian Olympic skier of the same name, about whom one can only find records of his ski results and nothing at all about his personal life?  That Ute was reported to live at an Austrian ski resort at Kufstein, where her husband worked as a teacher makes this a tempting proposal.  When Heinrich Messner, the alpine skier, retired from professional skiing, he taught at a ski school, but Wikipedia says this school was at Steinach am Brenner in the Austrian province of Tyrol (a one hour drive from Kufstein) so it is hard to know what to make of this, if anything.  Were this to be a Borgesian tale, and perhaps in a way it is, one could also mention a Reinhold Messner – another mountaineer from the Italian Province of South Tyrol (which, one soon discovers, may be the same place as the Austrian province of Tyrol), whose picture, speaking at an event nine years ago in the Kufstein Arena, can also be found online.  Reinhold’s father, Josef Messner, like Heinrich Messner, is reported to be a teacher.  I could find no pictures of this Josef (was Josef one of Heinrich’s names?), although I did discover a Franz Josef Messner who, of all things, was a leader of anti-Nazi resistance in Austria and who, after being betrayed, was sentenced to death in the gas chamber at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

In her interview with Ophuls, Ute Messner is fashionably dressed in the more subtle manner I associate with the very rich.  I suspect that, in her time, she was a conventionally attractive German woman with long blond hair and Nordic features.  The black and white footage doesn’t reveal the colour of her eyes.  I imagine them as blue.  Ophuls tries to ask her about National Socialism in relation to the Third Reich, but she prevaricates.  She asks what National Socialism is, can it be defined, it’s a term that gets thrown around so much but what does it actually mean, can anybody point at something and say, this, there, that is National Socialism?  She asks all of this seriously.  She presents the matter as if it is a struggle that has long involved her, as if it has no foreseeable resolution, no matter how hard she tries.  But now, forty years after the war, it seems that she can’t get her mind around National Socialism as a thing that was and, who knows, perhaps it wasn’t after all.  This, at least, seems to be the implication of her questions although she does not say this (perhaps she imagines such things are unspeakable outside of certain circles) but several other Germans, from former officers in the Wehrmacht to civilians, ask similar questions of Ophuls when the topic of National Socialism is raised.  Many people, both French and German, also repeat the point that all of this took place forty years ago (why are you asking me now to dig up things that are better left buried?).  When asked about how her father raised her, Messner speaks of a man who showed great affection to her and the other members of her family.  Their household was full of singing.  Both her father and mother played classical music on the piano.  They were a cultured family.

Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

Bolivia, Undated

Klaus, Ute, Heinrich.

Ute Regina Messner’s father was Klaus Barbie, a member of the Gestapo and an SS-Hauptsturmführer, in charge of searching out and crushing the French resistance in Lyon (which was a stronghold of the resistance) for about two years.  He is most famous for torturing one of the key leaders of the Resistance, Jean Moulin, who was trying to unite the various factions of the Resistance into one body, until Moulin succumbed from his wounds.  However, approximately four thousand everyday, regular, French men, women, and children, died because of the tortures Barbie supervised and in which he participated.  His methods of torture were especially brutal.  One woman tells Ophuls about how Barbie skinned her dad alive before immersing his head in a bucket of ammonia.  Others have reported that Barbie trained an Alsatian named Wolf to sexually assault women.  Ophuls never mentions this.  Perhaps this, too, is unspeakable.  And I think that it is—not only unspeakable but unthinkable.  And yet it was and now this combination of words exists.

(Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?)

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Your friends are dead and you are going to join them.”

(Denn das Schöne ist nichts als des Schrecklichen Anfang.)

“What is there to regret?” he asked.  “I’m a committed Nazi.”

(Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.)

“And if I had to be born a thousand times over, I would be a thousand times what I have been.”

Cruelty has always gone hand-in-hand with war.  Another survivor in Ophuls’ movie tells the story of two young members of the Resistance who were captured by French collaborators and who had their eyes gouged out, the sockets filled with living bugs, and then the eyelids sewn shut.  After the end of the occupation, French kangaroo courts stripped, shaved, and sexually violated French women who had lived the high life dating German officers and soldiers during the occupation.  But Barbie’s cruelty was particularly sustained, particularly unnecessary, particularly sadistic, and particularly large in scale.  For these reasons, he has become emblematic of the National Socialism of the Third Reich itself – the National Socialism his daughter seems to have so much trouble understanding or describing or accepting as a thing that was embodied and practiced and believed by people, people, Papa, Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon.

But labels ebb and flow, signifiers fill and empty, flags rise and fall, and, even before the German surrender, Barbie had been in contact with the British and the Americans seeking to exchange his talents as an interrogator with a demonstrated ability for getting the results desired by the higher-ups (Hitler awarded him the Iron Cross First Class for his accomplishments in Lyon) for a change of employer.   The British picked him up first but he quickly transferred to the Americans where, after serving the Germans for two years in Lyons, he served a further three years in Europe helping the Americans annihilate or imprison Communists in Germany and Austria.  He was also particularly successful as a spy and interrogator among the French whom the Americans feared had been especially infected with Communism.  Former spies told Ophuls that many SS Officers, German spies, and members of the Gestapo switched over to working for the British and American secret services and most of them saw their efforts as one fluid continuation of the war they had already been waging under the flag of the Reich. Both the British and Americans report that Barbie continued to be remarkably successful in his work – and a perfect gentleman to his peers and superiors (the word “gentleman” is constantly applied to Barbie by his friends, neighbours and even the hired help who assumed he was a “nobleman,” both in title and in character).  However, the French were pressuring the Americans to hand Barbie over to them.  By 1950, the Americans decided Barbie’s usefulness in Europe had come to an end and so, with the assistance of the Vatican, they shipped him to South America.  While in South America, Barbie engaged in many endeavours, including working with the CIA (and the West German BND) to assist with arms trading, money laundering, and the establishment of the Bolivian “Cocaine Dictatorships” of Hugo Banzer and Luis García Meza Tejada.  He may have also repeated his Jean Moulin feat by assisting in the capture and assassination of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  It was not until 1983, at the age of seventy, that he was extradited to France and charged with crimes against humanity (the statute of limitations for all other crimes in France, including war crimes, had expired).  By this point, he had spent more than forty years torturing and killing people (why are you asking me now to dig up things that are better left buried?).   He grew increasingly wealthy and influential doing so in the government services of five different nations, although after he transferred from the Reich to new employers, the Americans became and remained his main handlers.  And so it turns out that this gentleman-sadist, this death-machine, this affectionate father who trained dogs to rape women, is as emblematic of America’s “Freedom and Democracy” as he is of National Socialism’s “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer.”

It therefore comes as no surprise to learn that, when it came to baking, it is Mrs. Regine Barbie – from whom Ute Messner gets her middle name – who teaches the Bolivian housekeeper – who says of the Barbies “I have never known such nice people or anyone who treats an employee better” – how to bake – not Jews, like the forty-four Jewish children Barbie had sent from an orphanage at Izieu to the ovens of Auschwitz, but – apple pie.

Abu Ghraib

Quiz Kid Donnie: “And the books says, ‘We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us.'”

2. A Personal Digression

Nazi punks, fuck off! ~ The Dead Kennedys

I first encountered the idea of punching Nazis somewhere between 1997 and 1999 when friends of mine, who were deeper into the punk rock scene than I, became involved with a network called ARA (Anti-Racist Action).  ARA groups had popped up in various cities across North America since the ‘80s when they got tired of neo-Nazi boneheads trying to take over the punk and hardcore scenes, while appropriating the skinhead aesthetic (originally being a skinhead had nothing to do with being a neo-Nazi, which is why some old school punks – those who are old enough to remember – still maintain the “bonehead/skinhead” distinction).  People involved in ARA were willing to smash it up with the neo-Nazis and use physical force to keep boneheads out of the scene, out of the clubs, and away from an environment that many people were deliberately cultivating as a place of welcome for all people regardless of how you looked, who you had sex with, how many holes were in your clothes, and how fucked up you or your family were.  For the most part, I think that ARA were quite successful in these efforts to keep the punk scene free of Nazis.  The Nazis were bashed out of the punk scene and (for the most part) didn’t come back.

I never joined up with ARA at that time – I was too heavily caught up in State- and Church-sponsored nonviolence and thought that any kind of subjective violence was ever and only wrong.  I suppose where I sided with some elements of the Church (the Anabaptists and other pacifists) over the State, was in thinking that the legality of the violence wasn’t the issue.  I did not think legal violence (war, for example) was okay and illegal violence (punching a neo-Nazi) was not okay.  I thought all forms of violence were wrong.  By 2009, I had changed my mind about that and, on multiple occasions, I masked-up and wore the black in order to participate in actions where violence was considered an appropriate tactic to use against fascists and white supremacists who were trying to extend their influence in various neighbourhoods in Vancouver.  Generally, the police showed up to ensure that no harm was done to the massively outnumbered white supremacists and assisted them in fleeing from they very real threat of overwhelming physical force.  These Nazis also generally did not return… although white pride and white power movements continue to proliferate in “Canada’s Bible belt” just outside of Vancouver .  For example, in 2010, members of a white power group called Blood and Honour bombed the home of ARA members.  Other Blood and Honour members set a Filipino man on fire on Commercial Drive in 2011, and I suspect that many people these boneheads and neo-Nazis have now joined up with the Soldiers of Odin who are aggressively making their presence felt in Vancouver and in other Canadian cities.

However, all along the way, in my professional life, I have frequently had clients who identified as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other members of organizations that support White Pride (it should be noted, for example, that the most famous 1%er biker gang in North America does not permit people of colour to patch in as members and this kind of thing is endemic to biker culture which also glorifies a Nazi aesthetic).  Many of these people have been outspoken in their views, with swastikas tattooed on their hands, or the SS symbol on their necks or legs, various runes paired sometimes with a celtic cross, the Iron Cross, or the numbers “88” and “14” somewhere visible on their bodies (“H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, making “88” is an abbreviated version of “Heil Hitler” and the “14” refers to these fourteen words penned by David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”). But I did not mask-up and wear black or prepare for violent confrontations with them.  I believe that I treated them the same as my other clients, held them to the same expectations as my other clients, and, in general, sought to affirm their dignity and worth as human beings who, at the end of the day, might benefit from gentleness, love, and assistance with self-identified areas of need.

So, in my own life, at the same time but in different contexts, I have gone out to both fight and love Nazis.  And I have done this as a person who was once committed to a staunch pacifist position but who is now committed to a diversity of tactics.  I mention all of this because I want to emphasize that the ideas of both punching Nazis and loving enemies (in the context of both individuals and groups associated with white pride) are not new ethical dilemmas for me.  They are things I have thought about, and lived out in my own small way, for a number of years.  In other words, for me, this is neither a new nor a purely hypothetical matter.

3. Good Night White Pride: The Punch that Launched One Thousand Memes

“Hail Trump!  Hail Our People! Hail Victory! ~ Richard Spencer

In the quote above, from a speech delivered on November 19, 2016, Richard Spencer, the fellow who coined the term “alt-right” back in 2008, draws upon the Nazi terminology of Führer (national leader), Volk (people), and Seig (victory).  When he made this proclamation, several people in the audience raised their arms in a Nazi salute.  Speaking this way, undeniably mimics the addresses made at the 1935 Nazi Party Congress at Nuremberg (documented in Leni Riefenstahl’s film, Triumph des Willens).  And Spencer, too, comes close to making a Nazi salute but, instead, raises his glass for a toast.  Because, you see, Richard Spencer wants it be very clear that he is not a Nazi.  Nazi, he says, is an historical term.  It’s “unhelpful” today.

“German National Socialism is a historic movement of the past.  It arose at a very particular time and had particular motives and ideas and policies and styles, and those aren’t mine.”

Like Ute Messner, Spencer prevaricates but, rather than turning National Socialism into something so vague and devoid of content that it lacks any meaningful or real presence (in Germany, in her home, in her dad, in her), Spencer goes the opposite direction and makes National Socialism something so specific and concrete that it can ever only have existed at one moment in the past and never again.  Instead of being a Nazi, Spencer says that he supports identity politics for white Americans and Europeans.  He favours “peaceful ethnic cleansing” and runs articles with titles like “Is Black Genocide Right?” on his website.  As for other labels, well, Spencer asserts: “I am not a supremacist… I just love my people.”

Barbie and Spencer

Two men who loved their people.

The Vichy Collaborators also were not Nazis.  In fact, the French Aristocrat, Christian de la Mazière, whom Marcel Ophuls interviews in The Sorrow and the Pity, notes that the Vichy officials looked down on him and treated him with contempt when he signed up to join the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne on the Eastern Front.  This was an all-French (alt-French?) division of the SS.  These same Vichy Collaborators who, like Richard Spencer, were not Nazis, followed the Nazis’ orders and, on July 16-17, 1942, rounded up approximately thirteen thousand Parisian Jews for deportation to various death camps.  The Nazis had said that Jewish children under the age of sixteen were not to be included in this roundup (named the Vél’ d’Hiv Roundup, because the Jews were warehoused in the Vélodrome d’Hiver before being deported) but the French Prime Minister, Pierre Laval, who, like Richard Spencer, was not a Nazi, decided to also include four thousand Jewish children for “humanitarian” reasons—Laval reasoned it was in the children’s best interest not to be separated from their parents.  These children, the youngest of whom was eighteen months, were sent to Auschwitz, after being separated from their parents at prior internment camps, by French officials who, like Richard Spencer, also were not Nazis.  In 1995, Jacques Chirac said sorry about that and, in 2012, Francois Hollande said ditto.

But on January 20, 2017, Richard Spencer got punched in his not-Nazi head and, later on, punched in his not-Nazi face while celebrating the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.  Attacks on Spencer have continued.  On April 9, 2017, it was reported that Richard Spencer “got his [not-Nazi]ass kicked” (and glitter bombed!) while trying to flee a rally in a cab.  He reportedly told the cab driver that he thought that those who had masked-up and donned the black were going to kill him.  This was a rally Spencer had organized because he believes that America should have a good relationship with Bashar al-Assad and shouldn’t be interfering in Assad’s business in Syria.

Naturally, Conservatives have been appalled by all of this Spencer punching, and have suggested that it is the anarchists, the antifascists, and other members of the so-called radical Left who are the true fascists because they are using pre-emptive violence to stifle free speech.  Such remarks are usually followed by a call for an increased police presence on the streets, further militarization of the police, changing laws to make different forms of protest illegal, and an utter disregard for the class-based racialized violence of policing, along with the violence that Richard Spencer teaches, or the fact that an alt-Right supporter shot (with a bullet from a gun) an anti-racist organizer in Seattle on the same day that Richard Spencer was twice punched in or around his not-Nazi face, and this alt-right shooter was allowed to walk out of the police station without being charged (as of the end of last month, charges had still not been laid).

The Liberal response is stereotypically Liberal.  Unlike the questionable affinities of many Conservatives, Liberals generally strongly dislike Nazis and are concerned about calls for heightened surveillance or policing.  However, in a manner comparable to Conservatives, they tend to argue that political positions are not mapped on a straight line but on a circle – thus, on the side of the circle opposite that of Liberal centrism, the “extreme Left” is situated immediately next to (bleeding in and out of) the “extreme Right.”  Liberals have also resurrected concerns that the radical Left hasn’t learned from the failures of communist experiments, or the observation that oppressed peoples, who successfully deploy the same tactics as their oppressors, frequently go on to repeat atrocities similar to those once committed against them.  Therefore, violence, they emphasize, while remaining acceptable as a last resort in a situation calling for self-defense, is never an appropriate response to what some have described as Spencer’s “passive ideology.”  We may dislike Spencer, we may disagree with all he says, but we should never hit him.  Having learned from the horrors of the Second World War, it’s as if the Liberals are now rewriting the words of Martin Niemöller and saying, “First they came for the architects of black genocide, and I did not speak out.” It’s almost as if the first punch is being treated as a new Kristallnacht and each meme, a broken window.

This, after all, is the apex of Liberalism – to be able to live together with people with whom we personally or politically disagree.  In such a situation, no individual or group of individuals can ever elevate itself above the Rule of Law and, most importantly, the hegemonic claim that the Rule of Law gives to the State regarding violence.  To do this is considered “thuggish” and a tactical error that plays into the hands of the Conservatives (or the alt-Right), vindicating the claims they make about the Left and strengthening their ability to mobilize.  On this point, Liberals from a range of professions – ethicists, theologians, political commentators, historians – are in agreement.

In all of this, as with most Liberal conversations about less-legal practices of violence, there is a considerable moral elitism at play.  Those who do not use violence are held up as morally superior (one commentator, making reference to standard revisionist histories of the American Civil Rights Movement also quotes Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high”).  Ultimately, it is the language of love and practices of love to which the Liberals lay claim.  Liberals are the most loving, the most welcoming, the most accepting people and this is most explicitly revealed in the ways in which they love their enemies (if not in their hearts then at least by not punching them in their not-Nazi faces).

All of these arguments – both Conservative and Liberal – have been around a long time and have been pretty solidly discredited (in my opinion) so I’m not going to repeat the work of those who have already done that.  Instead, what struck me as I was thinking about this was how the Liberal approach essentially elevates passivity to the position of the most ethical action one can perform.  The most ethical thing a person can do when confronted with a not-Nazi-but-might-as-well-be-Nazi ideologue is… nothing.  And the doing of nothing is taken to be the greatest expression of love.  Love and tolerance, expressed in the doing of nothing, these are the great Liberal virtues.

Of course, this passivity is not entirely inactive.  Some actions are permitted, perhaps even encouraged (let’s have a conversation about it, write to your Congressperson or Member of Parliament, maybe coordinate a peaceful protest in conjunction with the local law enforcement) but the most important point is to never do anything beyond that which is already permissible.  From the Liberal perspective, there is no need to challenge the boundaries of permissibility or fight in order to have those boundaries redrawn.  However, all of the permissible options are permitted precisely because they will not fundamentally change the trajectory that has taken America from slavery and the genocide of Indigenous peoples, to the hiring of Klaus Barbie as a government employee, to Richard Spencer prophetically hailing the victory (Seig Heil, in German) of the man who became the 45th President.  Furthermore, these options are all things a person can choose to do or not do, like going out of town for the weekend or binge watching a series on Netflix.  They are not, in themselves, a certain kind of lifestyle or even threats to other kinds of lifestyles.  They are, in other words, spectacular actions – alternative ways of feeling good about doing nothing.

As I was thinking further about this, I began to wonder if passivity is also at the core of the Liberal project because the Liberal, situated comfortably in the wealthier propertied classes, wants to have that wealth and property left alone.  The Liberal wants the rest of us to respond to him or her passively.    While willing to flirt with Others, and play games to demonstrate how different he or she is from the Conservative, the Liberal essentially wants nothing to be done that will actually upend his or her privilege in any fundamental way.  However, because, unlike Conservatives, the Liberal is haunted by the claim that property is theft, the memory of slavery, an awareness of the new Jim Crow, and the ongoing presence of colonization as well as the exploitation of the global poor and the destruction of the world by the Corporations whose products the Liberal enjoys, the Liberal encourages us not to punch Nazis because he or she knows that if we start punching Nazis, Liberals might start getting punched, too.  Ultimately, when Liberals speak about tolerance, they express their desire that we tolerate them – and leave their property alone.  When Liberals speak about passivity and love, they are ultimately expressing the desire to be left alone to love themselves.  The variation on Niemöller (“first they came for the architects of black genocide, and I did not speak out”) is more prescient than first imagined.  There is, in fact, a direct line from these architects, to the Conservatives, to the Liberals, and it isn’t very long, and while there is a difference between the man who wants you to watch as he rapes and murders your child and the man who kills your child from afar by hoarding wealth and buying products from the company that poured toxins into your child’s drinking water, the difference isn’t as significant in the eyes of the parent left behind, who speak not of love and tolerance but of love and rage.

Liberals preach passivity as love because Justice carries a sword and she is blind (to white tears), she is blind (to Liberal sensitivities), she is blind (to the good intentions with which we have paved this hell).  She is blind and already her sword is raised.  But Liberals and Conservatives are never more united than when they are concerned that the sword is going to fall.  I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing they will not do in order to try and prevent that fall.

4. Loving Enemies, Punching Nazis

So now that I see where I am
I see race still determines
The blessed from the damned
And the greatest of all historical shams
Is believing you cannot do something you can

So it’s love, love and rage
Soon be the day
They sang as they swayed in the pews
Sang with love, love and rage
Soon be the day as they joined up to pray
~ Mischief Brew

I believe that the Liberal position fails both as a means of fighting Nazism and as a means of loving enemies.  It does neither well but I suspect Liberals are not well-equipped to know this because they have no interactions with Nazis.  They do not actually provide care to individuals who identify as Nazis or as not-Nazis who look and act and talk and fight and fuck like Nazis.  They also do not respond to the call-outs made to gather the critical mass needed to fight Nazis in the streets or at rallies and other public events.  Instead, they create theories and pretty stories about inclusivity, tolerance, and love outside of the context of meaningful, personal engagement with those about whom they theorize.  For Liberals, Nazis are a concept, an image on a television, a meme on the internet, something nearly unimaginable that still, somehow, exists out there.  Critical ethnographies, even when performed by such scholars of tolerance as Raphael Ezekiel, tend to reinforce this othering of Nazis.  They are fascinating character studies to be read by bourgeois scholars and students living in enclaves far removed from the environments of which Ezekiel speaks.  Such characters, who have no contact with the personal and daily lives of these readers, may not be all that likeable, but they can be tolerated.  After all, all you have to do to tolerate them is nothing.

However, Nazis and not-Nazis like Richard Spencer are much more than characters in a study or memes on the internet.  They are human beings and, as human beings, how one might best respond to them can vary greatly from situation to situation.  It is precisely this understanding of the humanness of all parties that makes Marcel Ophuls’ documentary, The Sorrow and the Pity, so remarkable (a humanness, it should be noted that is not used to justify or excuse anything but that is, nonetheless, ubiquitous).  From unapologetic SS Officers, to collaborators, to members of the resistance, to general members of the public who tried to be as uninvolved as possible in everything, Ophuls paints a picture of people, people like you and I, people like our children, people like our parents and neighbours, responding in all the many different ways that people respond to the world into which they have been thrown.

Of all the people interviewed by Ophuls there are two brothers, Alex and Louis Grave, who are particularly… well, it’s hard to describe them without sounding trite.  I would say that it is impossible not to fall in love with them.  Gruff old farmers, living simply after the war, they combine strength with gentleness, conviction with understanding, and wisdom with the ability to discern the serious from the humourous.  Louis tends to take the lead in the conversations.  Alex is much more quiet.  During the occupation, both brothers had organized a small group of people to fight against the Nazis.  Someone from their community betrayed them.  Louis was captured and sent to Buchenwald.  After the occupation ended and they returned to their home, Louis learned the name of the person who had betrayed him and learned that this person was still a neighbour to him.  He chose not to take revenge.  One day, a police officer takes him to the police station and says that he will bring Louis the man who betrayed him and Louis can do anything he wants to that man, but the police officer will not tell him the man’s name.  Louis says he already knows the name of the man and tells it to the police officer who finds it inconceivable that Louis has known this and done nothing the whole time.

“What’s the use? If I had wanted to get even, I would have by now.  You never forget.  It stays engraved in your memory… But what can you do? Nothing.”

Revenging himself upon his neighbour, Louis concludes, cannot change his past.  And what can it contribute to his present?  So he takes no revenge.

“It’s not my temperament” he says.  “When one has been beyond the scope of all justice, what good will it do to take justice into one’s own hands, or even to turn things over to the ‘official’ justice?”

For Alex and Louis Grave, there was no contradiction between fighting, shooting, and killing Nazis, and leaving their neighbour to farm in peace.

How one goes about fighting and loving a person is very different than how one goes about fighting and loving an idea.  An idea cannot be punched in the face—a person can be.  An idea cannot receive assistance finding a stable source of income—a person can.  Depending on the context in which one is engaged, both of these can be morally commendable actions.  Therefore, over against the detached Liberal valourization of passivity, I say love and punch Nazis in the face.

Coda

André Malraux: “The female camp commandant rides her bicycle alongside a column of prisoners on their way to work.  She gets off, walks up to a prisoner and slaps her face, perhaps for being out of line.  The latter, leader of a Resistance network and aware of the consequences of what she is about to do, slaps the SS woman back with all her strength.  The whole column gasps.  SS men and women lash out wildly with their whips.  They set the dogs on the prisoner, but her blood is trickling all over her feet, and instead of biting her, the dogs lick it up, as in the Christian legends.  The SS, not so sentimental, drive the dogs away and beat her to death.  The tears flow silently down the cheeks of the prisoners standing there at attention.”

Marcel Ophuls in conversation with Andrew Sobanet: “So [after The Sorrow and the Pity was released] these journalists went to see the Grave brothers.  And they ask Louis, who of course is the main Grave brother.  They ask Louis, that wonderful man, if he had seen the film.  And his answer was, “Are you bullshitting me?  Do you think I have the time or the patience to go and look at a four-an-a-half-hour film?” And I think that’s fine.”

Qoheleth: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

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