Once, at dinner with a friend and his girlfriend in Paris, we stumbled into a conversation about the books we liked. After dancing around the classics and all our intellectual signaling was done, we moved to the “lower” books that spoke to our baser needs. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was brought up and I mentioned it’s main merit: that this was a “page turner”, though it left much to be desired, in terms of depth.
The girlfriend immediately corrected me. It wasn’t so much that, but rather the book itself spoke of hidden currents in Europe. It exposed the lie that during WWII it was only the Germans who had carried out race-based atrocities and any non-German collaborators were long dealt with, when this was not the case. In France and elsewhere there was a collective guilt that had not been properly dealt with. It’s amazing how some people can voice something already in your mind—something that hadn’t yet been formulated into a thought—and almost rearrange your worldview.
Her clear-eyed observation was a point I’d been trying to make over and over to neoliberal friends back home. I’d come to abhor how liberals all seemed to think of Europe, and especially France, as some liberal bastion because of their welfare states, public transportation, stance on the Iraq war, and the general ability of many Europeans to point out the atrocities of America. Never mind that, like most cowards, many don’t and didn’t have the courage or self-awareness to voice the faults of their own countries. But my point, that these places were still essentially cruel, still post-colonial, and still imperial—only held back by ability—was usually ignored.
In fact, before this dinner I’d had a conversation with some Parisians who wanted the gypsies to be removed from their country, who wanted them gone because “they serve no social purpose.” Frightening words, these, that they must think the Nazis were somewhat right about some of the people they erased. Frightening words, these, because it is very easy for us Americans to accept when some injustice is raised and money is named as the only social purpose that matters. Frightening words, these, when highlighted by what has happened—those attempts to ethnically cleanse France of gypsies.
The entire refugee crisis—whose causes Europe partially shoulders—has further highlighted this undercurrent that the girlfriend mentioned, and which few of these countries have tried to deal with, historically speaking. I didn’t expect much from any of these countries, or the majority of their people—or those in power at least—but their reaction saddened me nonetheless. No help, France. Instead they bulldoze refugee camps and pay Turkey not to send more, making sure those who suffer are simply sealed in hell while Europe concern trolls from their gunboats. This, of course, applies to us as well, all too willing to cause the refugee crisis, but not willing to help.
Funny thing is in both the US and Europe the specter of WWII hangs strong. But our lessons learned have us worse equipped than ever: instead of seeing that turning away refugees was something to be ashamed of, something to learn from, we’ve embraced it, listening to only fools who think—or at least believe, from the evidence of their actions—that only Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima et al. have lessons for us and not in terms of learning from our mistakes but something to laud, almost a sick cult, this: a belief that only through fire and burning the flesh of others do we gain redemption. Almost as if only the Nazis held lessons to be taught.
“As it was - so shall it be”, one might say, but I have no time for such nihilism. I think that the underlying belief in ethnic cleansing, in baptism by fire, is indicative of a vile undercurrent that runs in our societies. It is imperative to fight this.
And so it goes, but I do hope that my liberal friends learn not to hold Europe in too high a regard, and certainly not France, despite their current status as liberal poster child (Macron winning and all).
No, in the coming days and years we’re going to have to create some new models to follow, we’re going to have to reach across the Atlantic, but only to those who agree with us. A woman I know in Norway spoke to me of the good people there working harder—harder than I, I must admit—to get to know refugees, to help them, to help the downtrodden in every society, really. Because the people against these acts of humanity, no matter how nice, or more importantly how powerful, are Nazi-derivatives and must be stopped lest we take “they don’t provide a social function” to its logical conclusion.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @nlowhim