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What’s Your Climax?

France, 1940. Our nation is paralyzed and shocked when Nazi armies roll over the border in a few days destroy the allegedly invulnerable proud French army. Almost overnight France is occupied by a racist, gloating Wehrmacht singing its surprise victory over its traditional soft, liberal, corrupt enemy.

The shock is so great it’s too early for effective resistance. You must think of your own survival.

The Germans are notoriously thinskinned and vindictive and take reprisals against disagreeables.

People are so depressed and German victory seems so inevitable that resistance seems useless.

But slowly it begins with what the French call refus absurde (“absurd refusal”) just simply refusing to accept that the Nazis would win and even if they did it’s better to fight back, somehow.

Many résistants often spoke of some “climax” when they saw an intolerable act of injustice, or bizarre stupidity, after which they could not longer remain passive.

Gradually the defiance instinct takes organizational form. It’s not easy to put together a fighting coalition of liberals, conservatives, communists, socialists, anarchists, Catholic nuns and priests, military officers and students.  Key is an open mind to embrace attitudes one personally disagrees with.

Feeling their way into the dark resisters improvise. Small cells, networks, guerrilla tactics, creating an underground newpaper.  Barricades come later now is for the hard unromantic grind.

In the 1940s it took a foreign army to liberate France with the help of resisters like Camus and Samuel Beckett.

Trumplandia is not wartime France. Yet many of us behave as if we’re in a newly Occupied America because that’s how it feels.

Jumping the gun? An exaggeration? A misuse of historical model?

We’ll see.

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
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