Showing posts with label warfare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label warfare. Show all posts

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Doors are either open or closed

This little book—written by a local priest, Joseph Parsus (aged 84 today)—provides a detailed history of the Résistance in the vicinity of the village of Malleval, in the valley of the Isère to the south-west of Grenoble. Among other things, it describes tragic events at Choranche towards the end of July 1944, when German troops moved down from Presles to Pont-en-Royans. Their rule of thumb was simplistic. If the front door of a house were open, the house and its occupants didn't interest them. On the other hand, if the door were closed, then the occupants clearly had something to hide, so the house was promptly set on fire.

At the start of the 19th century, there were two houses on the banks of Gamone Creek. Notarial documents of that period, in the departmental archives at Grenoble, use the ancient Gallo-Roman term mas (derived from the Latin verb manere, to reside, as in mansion) to designate both houses. On that fateful day when the Nazis swept down alongside Gamone Creek, the door of the house up the road was closed. Here's a photo, taken today, of the remains of a kitchen wall:

Concerning the house that I own today, its front door had been left open. And, thanks to that trivial criterion, I'm able to live here today, in the ancient stone house, in the company of my dog.

Talking of my dog (which I do constantly), I'm obliged to admit that Sophia has a distinctly storm-trooper attitude towards lizards. Normally, she's totally uninterested in the colony of lovely little lizards that inhabit the stone wall in front of the house. But, if ever a tiny reptile happens to hide innocently behind her wicker basket, Sophia changes instantly into search-and-destroy mode. She stands there tensely, wagging her tail and barking, hoping that her would-be enemy is going to come out of hiding, so she can pounce upon the harmless little beast. Often, in this situation, I intervene by raising the back of the basket a little, enabling the lizard to scamper away into the grass or stones, where Sophia immediately loses its trail.

I often reflect upon the likely relationship, once upon a time, between wolves and dinosaurs. OK, specialists are going to tell me that they never existed on the planet Earth at the same time. But I prefer to imagine that they did. It's possible that wild wolves were in fact quite fond of dinosaurs... as friends, that is, not merely as meat. But woe betide any dumb dinosaur that tried to hide behind a tree...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Digging up the past

In Australian military history, the battle at Fromelles, in northern France, on 19 July 1916 was particularly murderous. Before the end of that deadly day, 5,500 Australians were either killed, missing or wounded. In 2008, mass graves of several hundred Australian and British soldiers were discovered here. A few weeks ago, a project was initiated, aimed at excavating the remains and reburying them at an official site.

The following photos are by Michel Spingler (AP Photo). The first one shows French veterans of a later war waiting for the mechanical shovel to get into action, with green tarpaulins separating the scene from a Christian church in the background:

The second photo shows two Australian officers standing on the sidelines as the excavation gets under way:

To my mind, the operation that consists of digging up an amorphous mass of unidentifiable remains of victims of an absurd battle that took place 93 years ago, in order to rebury them elsewhere, is totally senseless, indeed surrealistic. The aims of this curious project do not happen to correspond to any of my personal convictions concerning the sacred nature of human life, the horrors of warfare, or the respect that our societies owe to the descendants of the victims. Are there still naive people who would like to imagine that the war of 1914-18 was, in some macabre sense, "great"? In any case, it is not by dislodging the unrecognizable remains of victims of an ancient war, whom none of us knew personally, that we shall reduce the risk of new conflicts. This energy should be devoted to more urgent challenges.

Monday, April 20, 2009

For donkeys like us

This afternoon, I found this poster pinned onto a billboard advertising donkey excursions in the village of Beauvoir-en-Royans:

When I was a youth in Australia, I often saw this banner advocating cooperation... then I forgot about it, even though I now have a pair of donkeys who behave as indicated in the upper half of the poster. As I mentioned in my recent article entitled Donkeys and dog dishes [display], I've got into the habit—since my donkeys have been training me well—of giving them dishes of tasty factory food from time to time (in fact, less and less often nowadays, since they romp in pastures of lush green grass and weeds). Well, if ever both donkeys decide to attempt to eat in the same dog dish (which they often do, for strange reasons), the resulting violence is in no way a reflection of the charming harmony in the final scenes of the poster. On the contrary, there's a brief conflict characterized by flattened ears (a sign of anger), hefty kicks with rear hooves, and spilt food.

Maybe I should print out a glossy enlargement of the poster and show it to Moshé and Mandrin. Within five minutes, they would no doubt tear it to shreds, stomp on it and maybe even eat it. Now, that's a pity, because it's an excellent poster, which conveys a clear message for uncooperative donkeys... like us humans.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

French navy versus pirates

It's reassuring to learn that the French frigate Nivôse has succeeded in capturing eleven pirates off the coast of Kenya.

This French frigate is part of the Atalante task force set up by the European Union with the aim of combatting piracy in that region.

This morning, I read an interesting article in the US press that summarizes the various methods that might be adopted by merchant vessels to protect themselves against heavily-armed pirates. The basic premise is that merchant ships are not allowed to carry lethal arms... for many obvious reasons. One of the most promising anti-pirate techniques consists of installing remote-controlled fire hoses capable of washing off anybody who tries to scramble up the flanks of a vessel. Another solution would consist of installing an electric fence all around the vessel. Then there are a lot of science-fiction gadgets that are theoretically capable of deterring invaders without actually killing them. But by far the best solution of all consists of calling upon the services of a navy, because they've got all the right goods to deal with attackers. That, after all, is what navies were designed to do.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Commemorating horror without pride

There are two ways of looking at commemorations of warfare and related events.

• First approach. You sanctify proudly all those on your own side, be they winners or losers. This will then allow your national leaders to ramble on mindlessly about their "pride" in the sacrifices of their fellow countrymen.

• Alternative approach. You decide once and for all that, in warfare—past, present and future—there are neither winners nor losers, only absurd horror.

If ever there were a global conflict that was won by nobody, with no cause for pride on either side, it was the so-called Great War. Indeed, the alleged loser was back in force, two decades later, plunging Europe into a still greater holocaust.

Here in France, I'm impressed by the role of television in drawing attention to the absolute stupidity and horror of war. It's not necessarily TV of the ordinary kind that families might watch. Sometimes, you need to be equipped technically to receive specialized history channels. Also, you have to want to see such stuff.

Many of my compatriots, on the other side of the planet, declare that they have "pride" in what took place, during the so-called Great War, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. I ask these folk: Has television enabled them to realize, in depth, what's concealed behind this silly expression of so-called pride? Maybe not.... for two reasons:

• First, the scope and depth of Aussie TV are appallingly limited. I witnessed this poverty during my visit to Sydney in 2006. Viewers spend their time watching sport and commercial junk interspersed with publicity. I gained the overall impression that the TV phenomenon in Sydney had little in common with what I think of as normal television here in Europe. So, we might envisage Australians as deprived TV viewers... at least as far as serious historical documentaries and associated debates are concerned. Their blinkered media infrastructure prevents them from seeing what the outside world has to say about many issues.

• Second, here in Europe, the relevant TV programs concerning the 1914-1918 conflict never talk of any "pride" attached to the countless deaths. Would-be "pride" is a ridiculous construct of purely Aussie origins, associated with parochial Anzac mythology. And I'm pleased to see that this bloated myth, which infected my childhood, is being examined at last under a microscope.

There cannot possibly be any kind of pride in the horrendous slaughter that characterized the Great War, only sadness.