The EU

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Columnist Alex Beam talks about bystanders in the G Section of today's Boston Globe.  Titled "The BSO's tainted donor," the item talks to philanthropists who have had questionable relationships in the past.  In the Beam column the focus is on the the late Florence Gould.

Mr Beam's column, written in the form of an informative book review, starts with professor Jeffrey Mehlman and his article on former BSO conductor Charles Munch's activities in wartime Paris, but moves on to Frederic Spotts' recent book, The Shameful Peace:  How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Nazi Occupation.

There is no getting around the fact that the Germans occupied Paris from the Summer of 1940 through to the Summer of 1944.  Probably many, in the beginning, thought it was the end of the world and decided to make a deal with the devil in order to survive.  They went from bystander to collaborator--collaborator to some degree.  Two of my artistic favorites, Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf, were so compromised.

I hear from time to time the term innocent civilian.  Innocent children I believe, but if one follows the Declaration of Independence, there are no innocent civilians.  That doesn't make it easy.  We should all hope to be Corrie ten Boons, but who knows how one will act in the event?

But think how terrible the event was.  Six million Jews killed and plans to kill all the Jews in Europe--eventually in the world.  This kind of a campaign is something that should not be tolerated.  And if you think killing 12 million Jews would be bad, what about the other 30 million people to be displaced or murdered under Generalplan Ost.  When we think of the Holocaust we should remember that if the Allies hadn't stopped the German War Machine, the killing would have just gotten worse, and for those who were judged to be not "Aryan," it would be in line for eventual extermination.

It is for this reason that we need to think about those who are our artists and intellectuals and rich donors, but who let themselves be compromised.  Columnist Alex Beam offers no solutions and neither do I.  However, I do believe that in times of trouble each of us should work to be as close to a responsible citizen as possible, be it New Orleans during Katrina or Paris during the WWII Occupation.  Some will fail and some will succeed.  It is incumbent upon those who fail to admit the same and to honor those who succeeded, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.

There are no innocent bystanders

Regards  --  Cliff

1 comment:

The New Englander said...


I loved this post -- of course, it's way too easy to look back on something and just say "Well, this is what I would have done" and just take some super moral high-road with perfect 20/20 hindsight. But obviously there were Vichy supporters in France and the colonies, and there were also plenty of Americans who supported or at least condoned slavery prior to our Civil War.

The best way to answer the "What would you really have done?" question is just to answer this: "What are you doing now?" The modern examples you cited are good..and if people are skittish about sending money away to charities or whatever, here are some ideas -- teach a kid how to read, volunteer to coach a team, donate food or money to soup kitchen, etc.

Also, as to the *innocence* thing, this comes up a lot with U.S. foreign policy. People use hindsight to stake their position and try to capture moral high ground. Take Iraq for example -- I don't really give a damn what someone thinks about what we should've done in 2003, but I care a lot about 2009. But still, people try to frame the entire discussion around the 'but we shouldn't be there anyway' line to gain some type of innocence, when really they were probably a bystander at best.

As I love to say, it's hard to make policy and it's easy to throw spitballs (..cue up the Teddy Roosevelt 'man in the arena' quote)..