Marty Peretz links to this Daily Mail account of an exhibition of photographs taken in wartime Paris which is, for obvious reasons, a matter of some debate in France. And yes, the photographs are shocking. Just not in the way in which either Peretz or the Mail seem to think they are. The Mail headline, subtle as ever, is "Oh what a lovely war! The dazzling photos of innocent Parisian fun that make the French so ashamed" while Marty titles his post, "What the Nazi Occupation of France was Really Like".
Here, for instance, is a photograph of three mademoiselles relaxing in the Luxembourg, circa 1942. How, the Mail wants us to ask, can these young Frogs be so blithe and innocent and carefree while their country is occupied y Nazi Germany and most of europe is ablaze? Isn't it just disgusting?
Well, maybe so but if you think that then you have a remarkably low disgust threshold. God knows a good deal of France's wartime history is dismal, depressing, often shameful stuff. But there's little to nothing about it that is especially French beyond the fact that it took place in France. By which I mean that we should be neither so complacent nor so arrogant as to suppose that Britain (or, for that matter, the United States) would have been vastly different in comparable circumstances. A bit better, we may cross out fingers and hope, but not much more than that. We can say there'd have been no British Drancy but it's a brave man who makes so bold a claim with any confidence based upon more than John Bull's bluster.
It's a simple thing really, but life under occupation must, one way or another or somehow, go on. Most people have little alternative but to make the best of a dismally bad lot. What else is to be done? Those of us who never experienced the humiliation and shame and ghastliness of occupied europe are not actually best-placed to sit in absolute judgement upon the collective failings or weaknesses of people whose lands were occupied by tyranny.