Among all the cities of Europe that fell under the Nazi boot in the Second World War, the loss of Paris touched a raw nerve among those who fought the German war machine.
Paris was no Stalingrad, fought over from house to house, nor was it the victim, like London, of merciless aerial attack. It stood as a symbol of culture and freedom — of what had been lost to the Nazis and what must be regained for the world.
When Paris fell to the Germans on June 10, 1940, it truly seemed as if, in the words of an earlier British foreign minister, the lights had gone out all over Europe.
By August, 1944, the Allied armies including a sizable Fighting French force under General Jacques Leclerc, was fighting its way across France. As town after town was liberated, Free French leader Charles de Gaulle met with General Eisenhower.
Allied forces were at the River Seine, yet no effort was being made to go into Paris. “I don’t see why you cross the Seine everywhere, yet at Paris and Paris alone you do not cross,’ de Gaulle told the Allied commander.
The truth was that the Allies preferred to by pass Paris, only taking the city later, after the Nazi armies had been finally smashed. It would take the divergence of four thousand tons of supplies a day to feed the hungry five million of the French capital.
In Paris, a Communist-led Paris Liberation committee saw things differently. Its leaders wanted to present de Gaulle with a fait accompli: a new Paris Commune, a capital that would be forced to accept Communist rule.
When the Resistance began its uprising in Paris, no one knew how the Germans would react. German commander, General Deitrich von Choltitz, had orders from Hitler to leave the city “a field of rubble.”
It took a secret mission by a Gaullist sympathizer who carried word to U.S. General George Patton that Paris was descending into civil war to force the issue. Eisenhower finally gave the go-ahead, and Leclerc’s Free French began the march on Paris.
At dawn on Friday, August 25, 1944, Simone de Boivoir was up at dawn to see Leclerc’s soldiers march down the avenue d’Orléans. “Along the sidewalks, an immense crowd applauded … From time to time a shot was fired; a sniper on the roofs, someone fell, was carried off, but no one seemed upset, enthusiasm stamped out fear.”
That night, General de Gaulle addressed France from the l’Hotel de Ville, the city hall of Paris:
“Paris! Paris outraged! Paris broken! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by its people, with the help of all France, of the France that fights, of the eternal France!”
There would be no Paris Commune. De Gaulle and the Allies had arrived in time
A few months after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Information Agency produced a commemorative film, Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. The narration concluded with these words:
Some day, there will come a time when the early 1960s will be a very long time ago.”
In 2013 the world will note the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death — November 22, 1963 — and today, the early 1960s are truly a very long time ago.
And people still ask: What would the world be like today if Kennedy has escaped death on that fateful day in Dallas?
Writers of “virtual history” – where the what ifs of history are examined to find alternative outcomes to real events – have produced books envisioning a world where the Nazis won World War II, and an America where the South won the Civil War.
On the wall of my office hangs the papier-mâché matrix from which the front page of The Toronto Telegram was printed the day of the assassination. The headline reads, KENNEDY SHOT, DIES. Each time I glance at this now historic artifact the thought is renewed in my mind: “What if Kennedy had lived?”
The pursuit of this thought led me into the arena of virtual history, and has resulted in my new, short e-book, “Kennedy After Dallas: JFK’s Return to the White House for an Epochal 2nd Term.”
While I am admirer of John F. Kennedy and revere his memory, I have not attempted to portray an idealized version of the man, free of faults and absent of mistakes.
In speculating on what might have transpired had Kennedy not been killed, I have built on the historical record of his administration to project the logical outcome of policies set in motion by JFK before Dallas.
For example. JFK had shown considerable skepticism about the wisdom of U.S. military policy and had expressed his apprehension about the consequences of another Bay of Pigs or Cuban missile crisis.
For example, there was the time when he walked out of a meeting of his National Security Council as it debated the merits of a preemptive first strike on the Soviet Union. “And we call ourselves the human race,” he said later to his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk.
If Kennedy had lived, history would have unfolded differently. Our narrative sets out the alternative reality that would almost assuredly come to pass had fate allowed JFK to return to the White House after Dallas.
Across a range of areas — foreign policy, civil rights, civil liberties, outer space — JFK set in motion attitude and ideas that would after his death come to be accepted as conventional wisdom.
“The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city.” he says in Years of Lightning/Day of Drums. It was a recognition of an unwelcome truth in a demonstration of realpolitic that has been unmatched by any succeeding president.
Vietnam, of course, was the greatest challenge of the Kennedy years and those that followed. Would he have done things differently if he had lived?
Vietnam was already a divided country when Kennedy took office in 1961. The old French colony of Indochina had been cut in half – communist and non-communist – at the Geneva peace conference of 1954.
In a debate in the Senate that year, young Senator Kennedy set out the view that would guide his future presidency. It would be “dangerously futile and self-destructive,” he declared, “to pour money, materials and men into the jungles of Indochina without at least a remote prospect of victory.”
Less than three months before his death, Kennedy told newscaster Walter Cronkite: “In the final analysis it’s their war. They’re the ones who have to win it or lose it. We can help them, we can give them equipment, we can send our men out there as advisors but they have to win it. The people of Vietnam against the communists … I don’t think the war can be won unless the people support the effort …”
There was a quicker and cheaper way out of Vietnam than that which was finally followed by the United states. I am convinced JFK would have found it, and Kennedy After Dallas describes how it might have come about.
A reviewer of my book has challenged me on what Kennedy would have done to inquire into the attempt on his death. The reviewer suggests he would have gone all out to find out who was behind the actions of Lee Oswald Harvey, and suggests it might have been Lyndon B. Johnson. I do not accept that judgement, not because I think Johnson incapable of leading such a murderous mission, but because I believe Kennedy’s commitment to the sanctity of the American political system would have deterred him from seeking such an earth-shaking explanation.
Kennedy had a strong fatalistic streak. On the day after the settlement of the Cuban missile crisis, he told his brother, “This is the night I should go to the theater.” He left on his desk a slip of paper on which he had written a line from a prayer of Abraham Lincoln: “I know there is a God – and I see a storm coming. If he has a place for me, I believe that I am ready.”
The thirtieth anniversary of the enactment of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms — ‘les trente glorieuses” as the French would put it — offers an opportune moment to recall how the concept for this nation-changing statute first developed in the mind of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
The process is explored in the second volume of the three-part biography of Trudeau, Trudeau Transformed, by Max and Monique Nemni. This volume builds on the revealing details of their first book, in which Trudeau is shown as the willing prisoner of an orthodox Catholic upbringing, reared in a society dominated by the most reactionary elements of his church. The result is a cloistered personality nourished by fascist-like sensibilities, grounded in a survivalist philosophy that saw Quebec as the only “pure” society in North America, in need of constant defense from Protestant godlessness.
That Pierre Trudeau broke free of this stultifying environment is well-known. He left his comfortable upper class home in Montreal to study law at Harvard, went on to take political science and law in Paris, and worshiped at the feet of Harold Laski, the Jewish Marxist who influenced a generation of future leaders by his teachings at the London School of Economics.
After London, Trudeau traipsed around the world — to Israel, India, China, Cuba et al — traveling not in the first class comfort he could well afford, but with a rucksack and just enough cash to get him from point to point. In writing of this period of his life, the Nemnis point to it as experiences as evidence of a desire to absorb lessons from cultures other than his own. He was not an idle dilletente, they argue, but a dedicated student of the politics and economics of the lands through which he journeyed.
In 1950, Trudeau found himself back in Montreal with the firmly fixed idea that he would become a “statesman” who would liberate his people from the subjugation he now realized they had suffered under reactionary leadership. It was not a matter of his abandoning Catholicism; he no intention of doing so and never did leave the church. He remained so faithful, in fact, that while working in Ottawa, now a man past his thirtieth birthday, he applied to Church authorities for permission to read certain social and political works from the Church’s index of forbidden books.
Trudeau was surely transformed by his education and world travel. He chose to take a job with the Privy Council (the secretariat to the Cabinet) in Ottawa because he wanted practical experience in the working of Canadian federalism. He had by now rejected narrow nationalism as the preferred route for Quebec and saw in federalism the opportunity for his people to grow to heights beyond what might be achieved in their home province.
Trudeau’s first public appearance in support of the idea of a charter of individual rights came on May 8, 1951, when he went before Prime Minister St. Laurent and other government leaders as secretary of a committee urging such a measure. Their effort was in support of a Senate recommendation that Canada adopt a declaration of human rights modeled on the declaration recently proclaimed by the United Nations. That didn’t happen, because no one at that point had figured out how to get agreement of both the federal government and the provinces to make a change to Canada’s constitution, then embedded in the British North America Act. As the Nemnis write:
Nine years later, on August 10, 1960, the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker adopted a bill of rights. But this was only a federal law, which could easily be amended. It was not until thirty-one years later, in Ottawa on April 17, 1982, that a beaming Pierre Trudeau looked on as Queen Elizabeth ratified the repatriated Constitution, enshrining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As he dutifully took the minutes at the meeting in 1951, could Trudeau have imagined that the Charter would one day be his most important contribution to Canadian history?
The thirty years of the Charter have seen a historic shift in the weight of individual rights vs government mandates. Innumerable cases have been argued before the courts on Charter issues, and repressive laws have been struck down or modified as a result. The Charter has far from unanimous support; there are those who see it as an invitation to social anarchy, benefiting only those who would abuse convention to pursue reckless behaviour. Hardly convincing arguments.
The Charter was not, of course, the only act of statesmanship of Pierre Trudeau’s career. He brought in the Official Languages Act, worked for a Just Society, promoted multiculturalism as a foundation stone of modern Canada, and in repatriating the Constitution made Canada a fully independent nation.
As Max and Monique Nemni conclude, “Whether we revere him or revile him, the fact remains that today’s Canada is the Canada of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.”
His name may not be a household word, but Joey Smallwood ranks as one of the most durable figures in Canadian nation-building — our last “Father of Confederation” and the first Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Joey Smallwood died 20 years ago, on December 17, 1991, just a week shy of his 91st birthday. He’d had an epic life, spanning all but the last decade of the 20th century. He is being remembered in Newfoundland mostly for his almost single-handed achievement in winning his people’s consent to throw in their lot with Confederation in 1949.
I’ve always been intrigued with this remarkable character, and I always learned something new about Joey whenever I went to Newfoundland. I’ve collected the gleanings — together with material from countless interviews, articles and books written about Joey, into a new biography I have just finished writing.
Joey Smallwood: Schemer and Dreamer, will be published in August 2012 by Dundurn Press, in their Quest biography series. Here’s a bit of a peek:
“The physical grandeur of Newfoundland and the splendour of its nearly thirty thousand kilometer coastline, the irrepressible character of its people, and its wealth of resources make it a land like no other. The label of The Rock fits the place well, and in few other places in the world could a man like Joey Smallwood, driven by impulsiveness, self-assurance and blind faith, have overcome such obstacles and attained such heights of power as he did here.
“Geography, ethnicity, language and religion have produced a Newfoundland that for most of its history has stubbornly resisted the pull of mainstream North American culture. From Inuit migrants of four thousand years ago to the Beothuk hunter-gatherers killed off by white settlers in the nineteenth century, this often inhospitable land has drawn ocean voyagers from time immemorial. The Vikings were here a thousand years ago with their short-lived settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows, today a World Heritage Site. The English, French and Portuguese fishermen who followed in the wake of John Cabot’s 1497 “discovery” treated the waters of Newfoundland as nothing more than a vast cauldron teeming with fish, ready for the taking.
“The Newfoundland into which Joseph Roberts Smallwood was born on December 24, 1900, was a country that still lived by the cod, its great ocean resource that the Fishing Admirals of Great Britain, along with adventurous sailors from many nations, had plundered for more than three hundred years. Generations of Newfoundlanders lived out their lives in tiny outports nestled on the rocky shores of countless fjords and bays that indented the island’s coast. Descendants of mostly poor working class families from the south of Ireland and the west of England, their men fished the icy waters from small dories that either went out on their own, or were launched from Banking Schooners miles offshore. Equipped only with hand lines and small nets, they returned with plentiful catches that would be smoked and dried, ready for shipment to overseas markets. For thousands of Newfoundland men, the only variation in this dangerous and bitterly hard way of life came in the sealing hunt that drew fleets of boats to the Icefields every Spring, an equally hazardous and uncertain undertaking.
“Over all this during Joey Smallwood’s early years reigned a thin lawyer of mercantile society, concentrated in the grubby, ramshackle and makeshift seaport of St. John’s, whose twenty thousand or so inhabitants boasted of it being the oldest European settlement in North America. Its harbour was filled with vessels from Europe, the United States and Caribbean. Its main business street, Water Street, was paved with stone but most streets were nothing more than dirt passages lined with small wood frame buildings. The more successful merchants were raising handsome homes on outer streets like King’s Bridge Road. They sent their sons to Bishop Feild College, an Anglican boarding school on Colonial Street that was the only decent academic institution on the island. In time, it would produce fifteen Rhodes Scholars and an alumnus that would include Joey Smallwood, a student there for five years, his way paid by a generous uncle.
“This was the Newfoundland that together with its mainland territory of Labrador, faced the crucial choice in 1948: to continue with Commission government, to reclaim its status as a self-governing Dominion and perhaps throw in with the United States – if the Americans would have it – or to join in Confederation with Canada.
“Into this maelstrom of uncertainty stepped Joey Smallwood, proffering a dream of unimagined wellbeing and security to a people rich in the traditions of home, family and church, but bereft of the affluence by then common in the postwar world. Like other young men of colonial upbringing, Smallwood had gone abroad to work and learn, and returned home determined to make a difference. For Newfoundland, Smallwood came to believe, economic betterment and democratic rule would be found in union with Canada. In pursuing this goal, he showed himself guilty of the excesses of all men carried off by grand ideas: absolute belief in the rightness of his mission, the conviction that he alone could fulfill it, and the illusion that he would earn the undying gratitude of his countrymen for his efforts.
“Twenty years after Newfoundland joined Canada, the Prime Minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau, said of Joey Smallwood that he had “changed the destiny of a people, and thereby carved his mark on history.” Today, the Newfoundland and Labrador that Trudeau in 1969 described as “a distinct society” (well before the term was applied to Quebec), has transformed itself into an energy power whose economic strength is the envy of the rest of Canada. In examining the life and legacy of Joey Smallwood, one has to ask: How much of Newfoundland’s present day confidence can be laid to what he set in motion? Or did his eagerness to throw in with Canada, combined with his autocratic rule and reckless spending on schemes of doubtful value, lead Newfoundland astray? These are some of the questions to which this book seeks answers. We set out to find them in the thicket of facts, myth and legend that has grown up around the mystique of the man remembered as Canada’s last Father of Confederation.”