In May 1940 the army of Adolf Hitler’s Germany invaded France and within days occupied the country. The French government was left basically intact, though a number of ministers, including the prime minister, resigned. The quisling, Petain, was sworn in as president, forming a pact with the German forces that allowed for ‘occupied’ and ‘non-occupied’ zones within that nation.
Many French men and women went ‘underground’, forming a guerrilla fighting force that became known as the Maquis, or French Resistance. They harried both the German army and its infamous offshoot, the Gestapo. Many innocent French civilians paid with their lives when the Gestapo took revenge for the killing of Germans by the Resistance.
The Maquis were sworn to liberate France and drive out the occupying German forces. Their struggle lasted four years. Eventually, the French resistance became so successful that Paris was virtually cleansed of the occupying forces before the Allied military arrived there in August 1944.
It is assumed by many that the Resistance was a raggle-taggle of French citizenry roughly banded into one loose unit, but in fact it was composed of over twenty separate organizations. Not all had similar ideals, but they were united by one common aim, to drive the Germans out of their country.
All of this is now history, yet there is an uncanny similarity between the occupation of Iraq by American forces, and the invasion of France by the Germans in 1940. Cynics will argue there are differences, and let’s be honest, no two situations are ever exactly the same. Admittedly, France was not controlled by a dictator pre-1940, but given the now obvious fact that the deposing of Saddam Hussein was more excuse than reason for the occupation of Iraq in 2003, that can hardly be considered an issue.
While some patriotic Americans may jib at any suggestion of similarity between the German army and US forces, and will probably slaver with rage at the idea of private contractors like Blackwater USA, CACI International Inc, and Titan, standing comparison with the Gestapo, nevertheless in both cases there are correlations that admit scrutiny.
History tells us the German army was little different from any other military unit. It contained a mix of human beings, some of whom took advantage of wartime to commit atrocities, while others were happy to attempt winning the hearts and minds of the people.
The Gestapo, however, were in a different league altogether. They held supreme power and were untouchable by any laws. In that sense at least, they held similarities with the Blackwater ‘contractors’ and other private US security organizations operating in Iraq. These same contractors have been responsible for guarding Iraqi detainees and ‘interrogating’ prisoners behind closed doors. It seems likely they were heavily involved in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The recent events involving Blackwater USA and the deaths of eleven Iraqi citizens should be taken as a warning of what can happen when private armies are given free rein in a war zone. Blackwater and its compatriots may not yet have reached that premier atrocity-league held by the Gestapo, but if the actions of these gun-toting, law-immune, Rambo-impersonators are not curtailed, they may one day be vying for that top spot.
Today in Congress, Erik Prince defended the actions of his Blackwater employees. He would, wouldn’t he? Is it unfair to compare him to the Nazi Gestapo head, Heinrich Himmler? Most would say so, but again there are similarities. Prince is a right-wing fundamentalist Christian who believes God is on the side of America. Himmler believed a ‘Supreme Deity’ had chosen the German people to rule the world.
It took Himmler’s twisted mind to fashion both reason and methodology for exterminating the Jewish people. How twisted is the mind that can correlate Jesus Christ and a lawless private army of trigger-happy mercenaries?
The occupying forces of 1940’s France were headed by a German chancellor whose party, the Nazis, held the highest number of seats in the government, by democratic election. Using a process of public scare-mongering, whipping up anti-Communist hysteria, and broadcasting the threat of paramilitary (terrorist) violence, Hitler was able to seize the reins of power, enact new legislation to secure that power and by so doing effectively hamstring the other parties and lawmakers. He then began a process designed to ensure Germany ruled the world by military force.
Does all this sound a trifle familiar?
Surely the wives and mothers of German soldiers considered their menfolk heroes? Of course, they didn’t have yellow ribbons to stick all over their cars. Are the Iraqi ‘insurgents’ any different from those gallants of the French Maquis? Both fought to overthrow forces occupying their country.
In Congress today, Erik Prince talked of ‘bad men’ attacking his employees in Iraq. Whether they are bad or good surely depends on one’s perspective. Unless, of course, like Erik Prince, one is absolutely God-given certain that right is on one’s side.
The problem is it’s easy to believe that to be the case. Perhaps we should stop to consider whether our own perspective can ever be “right” for everyone.
For, in truth, it never can.
For more on how Blackwater and Co have effected the lives of Iraqis, read THIS REPORT by Leila Fadel of McClatchy Newspapers – and weep.
Filed under: Un – certainties