History


Since the events of September 11th, 2001, the picture of security around the world has undergone wholesale change at least in the public’s perceptions. However, we in the West seem to constantly be skating on the edge between true security and the illusion of security, often pulled to the latter by some not-so-intelligent politicians who merely want to get re-elected. As a result, our fear has generally also manifested itself as xenophobia, in one way or another. A case in point would be the naturalisation laws in Switzerland: you cannot apply for citizenship until you have lived there for at least 12 years. There are few nations that have more stringent rules in this area; in fact, no European nation surpasses Switzerland in this regard. In many ways, Switzerland is one of the most progressive nations on earth, especially with respect to citizens who live abroad being allowed to vote in federal elections. This goes for several nations.

But those same states seem utterly backwards in other ways. Again, a case in point is Switzerland, which in its last federal election re-elected the Swiss People’s Party, increasing their hold on the Federal Council. They ran a despicable campaign, including inflammatory posters depicting white sheep kicking black ones off the Swiss flag. They were nearly all defaced with a single word: shame. Nevertheless, the SPP’s power base is generally in the rural areas, and their immigrant concerns and other issues like joblessness and the economy, appeal to people who feel uncertainty about the future.

Unfortunately, this is spreading, mostly in Europe, which is so used to being a community of nations of emigrants and now must reconcile itself being one of immigrants, but also in North America, where politicians’ fear-mongering runs rampant in the new 24-hour news cycle.

Is the world soon going to be at war with itself? Are we already? And how do economics fit into all of this?

I want to be an adult! No, wait…..I just want to live without responsibilities, but with all freedoms. And excuse me: my youth is not a form of social deviance! It would be so nice to just live and do as little or as much as I want, without having to worry about bills, and not having to do any work (that means anything I don’t actually *want* to do).

Alas, this is not to be. Society has not been built that. But one thing that struck me as I began reading my textbook by Reg Bibby was that a lot of young people keep saying that governments should listen to them because they’ll be running things soon. Bibby astutely points out that this is not so, they get added to the system which is already in place and is inherently inter-generational. Okay, so that’s not a reason to listen to young people. But frankly, I would advocate a policy of listening to them just for their differing perspectives.

Youth is still idealistic and much further removed from the system. True, they have less education, so they might have less useful ideas because they’re simply so outlandish. But what about the one in hundred ideas that is so simple and such a perfect solution but would never be thought of by the older generations?

And by the way, just because you have more formal education and are older, doesn’t mean you know best: thanks to the older generations, we get to try to fix the planet that they started killing.

Appreciate it. Really.

Seriously, this is from one of my textbooks for my Modern Germany history class. Omer Bartov wrote an essay for the monograph we’re reading, called “From Blitzkrieg to total war”, and he made some rather interesting connections between Blitzkrieg and real-time war reporting and consequently with our subsequent complete apathy. Blitzkrieg was largely a form of psychological warfare and as such made tremendous use of the newer media technologies, like movie reels, television, photos etc. Especially the visual media were a very important component of the waging of Blitzkrieg by the Nazis against the rest of the world.

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“Since Blitzkrieg is essentially part image and part reality, its two fundamental components are military action and media representation.” Most damningly, he later goes on to note, “If Blitzkrieg was the first war to blend modern images and technology, to sell itself as a media event, war in the post(modern)war age has become even more immediate and direct, happening right in front of our eyes, yet simultaneously reinforcing our sense of complete detachment from the events unfolding on the screen, since they are, precisely due to their being broadcast in real time, so far from us that they can never touch our actual existence. Hence, live reporting breeds indifference, not compassion, detachment or empathy. We take it as a given that the war out there and our own reality are connected only through the television screen, and that the connection can be severed at any moment we choose by pressing a button.”
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Ouch. That one hurt. Unfortunately, it also really rang true for me. Maybe it’s not Hitler’s fault (I only used that to get you to read this, sorry), but the consequences of Blitzkreig seem to be ongoing and very current. What creeps me out the most about this, is that the Allies weren’t without their own version of Blitzkrieg and the inherent psychological terror that inflicted on the targeted populations.

What have we become?

I actually wanted to write this quite a bit earlier, since this happened during Reading Week, but I didn’t get to it, mostly because things didn’t shape up the way I expected. In any case, this was such a cool experience that I just had to add it to this little forum.

On the Thursday of Reading Week, my mother and I went to Helena, Montana to see some friends, Phil and Laurie. Phil has early-onset Alzheimer’s and Laurie had a conference in town for three days. She didn’t quite feel comfortable being away from Phil for three-quarters of the day, and we hadn’t seen them in a while anyway, so we headed down for some fun and shopping.

Phil’s a former political science professor at Carroll College and since poli.sci. is one of my areas of study (not to mention interest), we generally have some interesting conversations, but this time he suggested that we could go see the legislature in session. He had given us a tour of the legislature buildings, but the buildings were empty. Apparently, the lawmakers in Montana only meet to pass laws every two years. Weird, huh?

Anyway, we went on Friday and got there at about 2:00 or 2:30. Purely by chance, we ended up in the Senate gallery first. They went through a few laws which were utterly boring, and thankfully also had no discussion. But then, the greatest thing happened. Senator Dan Harrington put forward a bill for second reading from the judiciary committee. That part’s not so interesting, but what really floored me was that it was a bill to ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY IN THE STATE OF MONTANA. And then there was discussion. A whole hour of it!

It was utterly fascinating and equally for and against. And so very respectful. It was really amazing, even though it was obviously an issue that raised people’s passions the aura of mutual respect in the chamber never changed. A lot of points were raised that I had never thought of before myself, most interestingly that their neighbour to the East, North Dakota abolished the death penalty in 1973 and they currently have a lower murder rate than Montana does. Another Senator made the point that we don’t have a justice system (I say we because I’m still an American, unfortunately, but I think this goes just as much for the Canadian system), we have a legal system, and it is inherently unequally applied to people.

It finally went to vote, and the Yeas had it by 6 (27 to 21 Nos). It was so great and amazing, and I wanted to celebrate when the vote was recorded. My mum started clapping, but no one else did, so I made her stop. The Chairman of the Senate has the right to clear the gallery at any time, so I didn’t want to chance it. It was totally cool.

After that, we moved on into the gallery for the house of representatives and took a quick look. It was bigger (more representatives than senators) and more ornate, less enclosed. That made it noisier, but no less impressive. We didn’t stay there terribly long, because we ended up staying in the Senate longer than expected. When we left we went through the Senate gallery again, which was completely empty, because they were all in recess for dinner. I heard singing coming from somewhere, so I followed it.

There’s a dome in the middle of the building, a lot like the Capitol in Washington D.C., and it’s acoustically amazing. The dome is over an atrium of sorts, so you can look down onto the first floor from any level, and look up into the dome from the ground floor. There was a choir standing under the dome, singing a capella. It was beautiful. We were on the third floor and there was a bit of a lip sticking into the void, so we went down one floor to get a better look. When we were there, we had the choir in front of us, and the view of the Helena Valley behind us (which is gorgeous in and of itself). It was absolutely amazing.

What was rather interesting to me that I didn’t mention before were the people who were sitting in the Senate gallery watching the proceedings. They were all cold as ice, utterly divorced from the proceedings, but I noticed that most of them were lobbyists. And it sounds silly, but I could feel the currents of power up there, as much as I could on the Senate floor. Admittedly small currents, since it’s only the Montana State Legislature, but nevertheless. I wouldn’t mind being a lobbyist for one of the many worthy causes out there. Being able to affect lawmakers for the better would be a great thing. Almost as good as a power-broker, though that’s not a job that you can exactly apply for.

Another interesting thing happened on the way out of the building, after the youngsters were finished with their lovely tunes. We ran into the Chairman of the Senate, who apparently is a former student of Phil’s (and surprisingly young and good-looking). Phil introduced us, like a good host, and when this guy (I can’t remember his name anymore) found out we were down from Alberta, he was completely enamoured. Apparently, they don’t get paid nearly as much in Montana as the MLAs in our fair province and they don’t get benefits either. He kept saying how much he loved Alberta and would love to be an MLA. Made me laugh. Yeah, right. He’s an American, and one who’s proud to be, so I’m sure he would never move, even if he had the opportunity. But the thought’s nice, I guess :-)

He also told us that the bill would have to go to a third reading, and assuming it passes that as well, it will then go to the House for them to deal with. He figured it would be another few weeks, but it may have been decided by now. Though I would have thought to hear about it on the news, considering our close proximity. I hope that doesn’t mean that it’s been defeated. I’m waiting on tenterhooks now.

Here’s hoping…

Wow. Let me just say that again: Wow. On Tuesday evening, The Lark opened at the University Theatre at 8 pm. Wow (yeah, I said it again). The Lark sounds like a silly, weird, off-beat and completely non-mainstream play. And it kind of is, but it’s also the story of one of the most famous women in human history: Joan of Arc.

In a slightly offbeat staging, The Lark examines the process by which a woman who was venerated by a whole nation, from the sovereign to the meanest peasant, came to be condemned as a heretic and witch. As I’m sure you know, this young woman was burned at the stake, mostly just because she refused to conform to what society and the Church thought she should be.

There are some clear parallels with what occurred in Vichy France during the Second World War, and some clear parallels with what occurred in the US in the 1950s and 1960s during McCarthyism. Or at least, that’s what the director’s notes told me. I didn’t make all of those connections, and I’m not unaware of those two newer events, being a history major, but even without those additional levels of understanding and layer, it was still a great play.

The performances were utterly convincing and completely drew the audience in, especially that of Yvonne Maendel, who played Joan. But she was by no means alone, everyone on the stage contributed to the greater whole, like any good live theatre. I was also impressed by Scott Williams, who plays Warwick, a Brit. He never once loses his impressive British accent. Kudos. The rest of the cast are too numerous to name, and my memory is not up to remembering all of their names, but trust me, they rocked. And their work was surprisingly uplifting in the end, though I must confess, they made me cry. No lie, ask my mum, she was sitting next to me.

Suffice it to say, in my not-so-humble opinion, you should really go see it. It runs every night through Saturday at 8 pm at the University Theatre. They’re looking for ushers still, so you could even see it for free (trust me, ushering is the easiest gig ever). Call 329-2616 or go to the Box Office on the 5th level for more info and to get tickets. There are a few left, but like I said last time, don’t leave it to the last minute, that’s always a bad idea. They’re open every weekday 12:30-3:30 pm and always one hour prior to a ticketed performance.

This is touching, thought-provoking and by turns quite funny. If you pass on this one, it’s your loss…poor you *shakes head sadly*

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