Casablanca: Freedom through Song, Part I

After entry of the US into WWII, Warner Brothers released the classic Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  One scene in Casablanca offers a magnificent juxtaposition with the Bavarian pub scene from The Mortal Storm (1940) discussed in the last post.  The place is similar:  another restaurant– Rick’s Cafe Americain.  Also similar is a cast of Nazi officers, stirring up song (this one “Die Wacht am Rhein.”)   But the similarities end there, when one man, Victor Laszlo, tells the orchestra to play the “La Marseillaise.”  A thrilled and grateful clientele all rise spontaneously and triumphantly, drowning out the Nazis’ song.

Watch here:

If Laszlo hadn’t done what he did, what then?  Chances are everyone would just sit around sulking.  Until the Nazis could stir up enough folks to sing along with them to the point that theirs seemed the majority view.  Morale would continue to plummet.

It’s the little acts of resistance that add up to make the biggest difference.  These acts plant seeds in others, creating a cascade effect.  Sad to say, it’s the power mongers of the world who seem to know this better than the rest of us do.  That’s why they insist on our silence as a way station on their road to total control.  So let’s not hide our light.

“The Mortal Storm:” First, Imposed Silence, then Mandatory Enthusiasm

When power elites are pushing an agenda, the first step is to silence the opposition.  Political correctness is a tool that manipulates the universal human fear of being socially smeared in order to squash dissent.  PC begins by teasing out a spiral of silence that causes people to perceive majority approval for an agenda — even when it doesn’t exist — so that they remain silent instead of expressing opposition.

But that’s just the first step.  PC agendas cannot withstand scrutiny or open debate.  They get poor mileage and need lots of fuel.  So, at a certain point the silencing of dissent is just not enough to keep the illusion going.  That’s when power elites will ratchet it up and enlist your enthusiasm and approval.  And it’s mandatory.

A fascinating illustration of mandatory enthusiasm is in the clip below from the 1940 movie “The Mortal Storm,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan.

Begin watching at the 2:00 mark:

When faced with this type of cascade of human madness, we have two choices, according to the story:

1. Safety through retreat, which is really a trap, because it only feeds the cascade and makes the problem worse;

2. Courage, which forces us to confront the evil, and allows us a fighting chance in defeating it.

Part of the fallout of PC is that it tears apart families and life long friendships.   At one point in the movie, the character Freya says to Martin: “You’re the only friend I have left and the only one I can talk to.  I’ve never felt so all alone in  my life.”

And that’s the aim of  any power-mongering force:  to separate dissenters from any source of support — from friends, from family.  To make sure they have no one they can talk to.  That message from the “The Mortal Storm” is timeless and urgent.

By the way, during the 1930’s Hollywood bowed to pressure from Nazi Germany and avoided any negative portrayals of the Nazis.  “The Mortal Storm” was the first time this pact had been breached before US involvement, and it resulted in a German boycott of MGM.   (If you’re planning to watch the whole movie, here’s a quickie review of its shortcomings: I wish it was more cohesive and had more natural dialogue in several of the scenes.)

Another interesting aside is that after WWII you’d be hard pressed to find an average German who claimed to be a willing member of the Nazi party.  It seems the old line about being “on the right side of history” can often serve as a manipulative and empty slogan.

Communism always means too much power in the hands of too few people. Always.

Cathy Young just published a sterling rebuttal to an all-too-recent apology for communism, the ideology responsible for the brutal murders of over 100 million people.  Please read her article in today’s Real Clear Politics.  You can also read the breathtakingly mindless — or soulless — article to which she responds, which appeared last week in Salon.com.  The latter is a bit less mind-numbing to read once you’ve digested Young’s excellent essay.

When I was studying the realities of communism, especially the crimes of Stalin, I concluded that cruelty and terror are inevitable under that system.   Not just probable or possible.  Inevitable.  Built-in.  It leads to the kind of barbarism that’s probably impossible to grasp even if you’ve lived in it.

As with all totalitarian systems, communism relies on driving people apart by isolating and atomizing them so that they are not able to trust their neighbors or even their family.  It relies on a spiral of silence — the fear of speaking truth.    Just ponder this observation by Pascal Fontaine who wrote about Cuba in the Black Book of Communism:  “The surveillance and denunciation system is so rigorous that family intimacy is almost nonexistent.”

The communist system absolutely requires the centralization of power.  And since personal relationships get in the way of that power, the State meddles ceaselessly, sowing distrust and ill will, often through enforced scarcity of goods and services,.  Think of it as misery with little if any hope for company.

And since the people most driven to raw power are also the most ruthless, in a system without checks and balances power usually ends up concentrated into the hands of one strongman.  Terror is a given because it’s just too much power in the hands of too few people who are invested in perpetuating their power.  Even passive resistance is viewed as a threat.

One can only wonder why there has been a revisiting of communism in recent times.  Why the apologies?  Is it ignorance?  Or is it something else?  Is there a drive for power, a sense of investment in that system that makes it attractive to some?  I’ll explore those questions in future posts.

In the meantime, please visit the Global Museum of Communism, a project of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  It’s an amazing interactive website that helps us to never forget the those who died and suffered so much under communist regimes.