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Gifts for progressives – Part 1: Brian Hanley on books and films of the year… December 22, 2009

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Film, History, Irish History.
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A seasonal guest post from Brian Hanley…

Readers of the Cedar Lounge Revolution seem to enjoy stories about splits, factional disputes, bitter rivalries and occasional violence: If so then Henry Martin’s Unlimited Heartbreak: the Inside Story of Limerick Hurling (Collins Press) should be right up their street. It was certainly the most enjoyable read of the year for me.

In Dublin’s Stephen’s Green there is a fountain dedicated to the ‘Save the German Children’ campaign. I’ve occasionally wondered why there was such a campaign and what motivated those who set it up and consequently I found R. M. Douglas’s Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtiri na hAiseirghe and fascist ‘new order’ in Ireland (Manchester) very illuminating. Based on an exceptional primary source, the personal papers of Gearoid O Cuinneagain, the founder and leader of Ailtiri na hAiseirghe, Douglas makes a very strong case for the attraction of fascist and anti-democratic ideas in the Ireland of the 1940s. He also suggests, and I tend to agree, that early news about the brutality of Nazi rule in Europe made little impact on public opinion here.

Staying with the Second World War, I saw the French film Army of Crime this autumn. Not to be honest, the greatest movie ever made, but certainly a great story about the role of immigrant fighters in the resistance in Paris. The occupation authorities made much of the ethnic origins of what they labelled the ‘army of crime’ many of whom were Eastern European Jews, Spanish and Italian anti-fascist refugees or Armenian communists. After I had seen the film I thought Tommy Tiernan might benefit from repeated viewing of it (and why is it that twenty years ago comedians who made fun of immigrants, Gypsies and Jews were usually called racist but now they are considered cutting edge?) Anyway, Army of Crime did inspire me to seek out The Resistance: the French Fight Against the Nazis (Simon and Schuster) by Matthew Cobb, which provided a warts and all overview of the role of the Resistance in all it’s varieties. It also opens with a great quote from Resistance veteran Pascal Copeau:

‘A word to young historians- when we read your studies about our underground world, they appear a bit cold. Without wishing to be pretentious, you should not be afraid of dipping your pens in blood: behind each set of initials you describe with academic precision, there are comrades who died.’

A lot of discussion on Irish revolutionary politics talks about the importance of the ‘Fenian tradition.’ An interesting collection of essays was published this summer, edited by Fearghal McGarry and James McConnel entitled The Black Hand of Republicanism: Fenianism in Modern Ireland (Irish Academic Press) and while not agreeing with all the conclusions presented within it, the book paints a very vivid picture of a fascinating movement.

As I write the Catholic Church are ducking and diving in order to avoid the consequences of decades of abuse while several more horrific cases of sexual violence are in the news. I intend to read Diarmaid Ferriter’s Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland (Profile) over the holidays, if only to try and gain some perspective on all of this.

Finally I’ve always thought that Ken Loach’s films which were political with a small ‘p’ worked more than his polemics (hence Kes was a lot better than Hidden Agenda). So I really enjoyed his Looking For Eric this summer, which brought back a lot of good memories and featured a few familiar faces. Unfortunately those memories are now tinged with sadness as a good friend and comrade from those days died suddenly during September. Slan Dave, you won’t be forgotten.

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1. EamonnCork - December 22, 2009

Brian, you’ve probably seen them already but the ultimate French Resistance artefacts are The Sorrow and The Pity, Marcel Ophuls’ four hour documentary about the effect of the war on one French city, full of great characters, moral ambiguity, betrayal and bravery, and Jean Pierre Melville’s epic fictional movie The Army in the Shadows. It’s a breathtaking work and would make a good companion to the Cobb book. I saw Army of Crime, Guediguain who made it is often called the French Loach with all the advantages and drawbacks that entails.

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2. Brian Hanley - December 22, 2009

Thanks Eamonn. I haven’t seen them but I will seek them out now. The French Loach…I see what you mean.

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3. EamonnCork - December 22, 2009

By the way, would you have, or happen to know anyone who has, any books on the Italian Red Brigades? The few works in English there are seem to be either out of print or priced insanely on Amazon and Alibris. If anyone on CLR has anything on the Brigate Rosso, I’d be a grateful recipient and would get it back to you pronto.
I envy you seeing both the Ophuls and the Melville for the first time. The former is to a certain extent an exercise in debunking the heroic view epitomised by the latter yet, like all good stuff, they are also much more complex than that. I’d be interested to know what you make of them.

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4. Ramzi Nohra - December 22, 2009

Brian
If you are interested in stories of occupied france you may be interested in “The Great Game” by Leopold Trepper. He was a polish communist jew (not exactly a great combo in occupied france) who ran a soviet spy ring called “red orchestra” predominantly in France during WWII.

He was jailed by Stalin after the war but later freed.

I have to say its pretty hard to get hold of, so my recommendation is of limited value! However I found a few copies in a second hand bookshop a couple of years ago.

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5. Jim Monaghan - December 22, 2009

After the war there were a number of German children fostered in Ireland. A family I know did so.
This is not necessarily linked to pro German views. I believe there was some research done a number of years ago on this.
My gift to myself was Patenaude’s “Stalins nemesis”
My XMass film treat will be “Mesrine”.
Oh I see Buber-Neumans book “under 2 dictators” in Books upstairs. She was handed over by Stalin along with 100s ofanti-fascist refugee as a present to Hitler during the Nazi-Soviet pact.
My mother told me that she did not believe the stories about the Nazi atrocities until America entered the war. She was a little cynical after WW1.
Oh you should read “The confession” by Artyur London. Who faced the death penalty in Vichy and in 1952 in Stalinist Czechoslovakia. His later “crime” was proved by the fact he fought in Spain.

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6. Jimmy McNulty - December 22, 2009

Why so defensive JIm? It’s am Xmas list. The trouble about the WW1 atrocity stories was they turned out to be true, the Germans did kill thousands of Belgian civilians in 1914-15.

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7. Jimmy McNulty - December 22, 2009

I knew I had read this somewhere: from John Horne and Alan Kramer, ‘German Atrocities 1914: a History of Denial.’

‘The German invasion of France and Belgium was from the beginning linked with stories of atrocities committed against civilians. These stories became grist for Allied propaganda, in turn were denounced as lies by Germany, and eventually were submerged in the far more hideous atrocities that accompanied WWII. But as Horne and Kramer, historians at Dublin’s Trinity College, demonstrate in this seminal book, German behavior in the first weeks of the Great War was more than a passing episode. Using a remarkable range of printed and unpublished sources, many of the latter only recently available, the authors show that the German army killed over 6,500 French and Belgian civilians between August and November 1914. The atrocities began when poorly trained and poorly disciplined troops reacted to the shock and anxiety of battle by interpreting the rear-guard resistance of French and Belgian soldiers, and their own uncontrolled firing, as the acts of guerrillas. Instead of restoring order in their own ranks, junior officers themselves succumbed to delusion and authorized near-random large-scale shootings of civilians. Since German army policy imposed draconian collective penalties for insurgency, senior officers receiving reports of large-scale partisan activity responded by ordering its ruthless repression. The partisan myth thus took on a life of its own, independent of a reality that consisted of no more than a few isolated acts of civilian resistance. As time and rhetoric blurred memories, politics and the need to heal the wider wounds inflicted by the Great War were responsible for downplaying or dismissing charges of atrocities.’

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8. ec - December 22, 2009

EamonnCork

The recently reissued semiotexte compilation of materials from the period of Autonomia has a lot of interesting material about the Red Brigades. It is quite an incredible publication overall.

http://www.semiotexte.com/authors/marazzi.html

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EamonnCork - December 24, 2009

Thanks a million. I’d never heard of this publisher before but there’s tons of good stuff here. I tried to make a resolution last year to buy as much as I could from independent publishers, bookshops etc. rather than feeding the maw of Amazon and then musing sadly about why all the great old independent music and book shops I used to love (RIP Collets, Compendium, Dobells, Mole Jazz in London) have closed down. It’s not a bad idea for anyone who buys a lot of stuff on the net

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9. michael rodrriguez - December 22, 2009

great site and some nice information

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10. Peter Hart - December 22, 2009

Very interesting list and comments, but even more interesting how a discussion of xmas presents can involve so much suffering and horror (Limerick hurling included, no doubt). I can’t wait to see Army of Crime – a terrific story indeed, except for the terrible ending. For a real jolt of adrenaline, check out the trailer on youtube – right up there with the English trailer for Baader-Meinhof.

And happy holidays to all at CLR.

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11. kevin brannigan - December 22, 2009

If you enjoyed ‘Army of Crime’ have a read of this article.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/nov/16/france

Not sure if there is a book out about ‘The Brigade Nord Africain’ and the Paris Gestapo. But if there is I’d love to know about it. Reminds me of the black lads involved in upholding apartheid in South Africa.

Anoter book well worth a read is ‘Football and society in pre partition Ireland’ completly slipped under the radar. But a great and very informative read.

http://books.google.com/books?id=bB5SrdeaXv4C&dq=football+and+society+in+pre+partition+ireland&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=FYGf9x13Z1&sig=x1bc0052IthfvjjSOH0jam8IJX0&hl=en&ei=hwMxS9ijNsO2jAfX5PzRAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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12. WorldbyStorm - December 22, 2009

Great responses from you all. Much appreciated.

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13. Starkadder - December 22, 2009

Is this “Peter Hart” the same gentleman who
wrote “Mick: the real Michael Collins” ?

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Peter Hart - December 22, 2009

Yes, that’s me, although I’m not responsible for the sub-title (mine was: the Making of Michael Collins).

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D.J.P. O'Kane - December 27, 2009

Hi Peter! Pass on my new year’s greetings to Dr. Whitaker, please!

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14. WorldbyStorm - December 22, 2009

Good stuff. Always nice to know our commentors. That’s not really a word, but I think it should be!

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15. Remi Moses - December 22, 2009

Looks good

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16. Chris Hazzard - December 22, 2009

Army of Crime is a fascinating film, its always a humbling experience to watch or read the stories of the resistance.

Slightly off topic i know, but Ive just finished reading ‘Evolution of the GAA: Ulaidh, Éire agus Eile.’ Finally a great analaysis of the GAA that doesnt get bogged down in the typical when failing to even cast a glance northwards. Its thought provoking analysis of the GAA in a mostly ulster setting is a welcome Christmas present for anybody who is sick of hearing about the Jackeens and Kerrymen rivalry!

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17. Tomboktu - December 22, 2009

They wear the politics rather lightly, but the detective novels by Donna Leon do engage with contemporary “issues”.

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18. Seán Ó Tuama - December 22, 2009

Being a Dublin hurling supporter all my life (I was actually there as a fairly young boy the last time Dublin was in an All Ireland hurling final in 1961), I can identify with an “Unlimited Heartbreak” title in a book on hurling even though Dublin repaid my support this year to a considerable extent. My choices in sport as in politics tend to be minority ones, although in soccer I support Celtic.

Living abroad, it can be difficult to keep up with books on Irish history and politics. But two history books I got in the last year or so by Micheál Ó Siochrú were excellent, although I am an amateur in this area . Both “Confederate Ireland: 1642-1649, Four Courts Press, 2008″ and “God’s Executioner:Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, Faber & Faber, 2008″ strike me as both readable and a rigourous combination of theory and empirical research.

He shows that an Irish historian can be rigourously empirical without being “revisionist”. I personally believe that total objectivity in history is something worth striving for but ultimately impossible, but these are a good example of how a historian can deal well with a period that is both complex and strewn with a political minefield of value judgements.

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19. Mickhall - December 25, 2009

The Great Game is a fantastic book, Trepper was a remarkable character, like many of those who served Stalin overseas in the intel field he was not welcomed back home. The way the Polish Stalinists on the orders of their masters in Moscow used racism against Trepper and other communist Jews would have made old Adolf proud, the bastards. To say Trepper was like a cat with nine lives would be an understatement, amongst others he managed to outwit the Abwehr and the NKVD and lived to tell the tale.

This is a must read book and there are not that many of those.

By the way if you are interested in this period of the occupation, another guy who had nine lives was the English criminal Eddie Chapman, the book ZigZag which covers his wartime adventures and is a rollicking good read, although I doubt had a political thought in his head. The book seems unbelievable yet true, or so I have been told.

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20. Baku26 - December 30, 2009

Not sure if it has been mentioned already but there is also a book on “The Red Orchestra” by VE Tarrant published by Arms and Armour.

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21. Ramzi Nohra - December 30, 2009

Thanks Baku and Mick.

I think I will get the zigzag book. Its been recommended by a few people.
Will see how easy it is to get the RO book by Tarrant.

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22. The Death of Peter Hart « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - July 24, 2010

[...] series of posts on Coolacrease but who knows? He commented here, on issues ranging from history to Christmas presents to his support for keeping open the swimming pools under threat in [...]

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