A Glance at the Past to Understand What the Future Could Bring For Those Who Never Knew War :
This Episode May Open The Eyes Of The Americans To Know How To Chose Their Leader.
Almost seventy years since the end of WWII and by seeing all the change, we experience today in the United States. Almost nothing has changed in the behavior of the human being except that most government changes, but in reality nothing has changed except that the prosperity of the nations became once visible and now seem to disappear from our eyes.
Human being became less aware of their life and of their fellow peers. I can state that today government and the media has more to say than the citizen. Despite, the so called freedom of expression. Members of government including the president once elected, it forget the people who elected them. They ignoring the reject and the unhappiness of the people. I recall after WWII and during the few month were the administration was still absent. The people had to manage alone, I felt for the first time the human freedom. The people where more compassionate and had more understanding towards their town people. This freedom that we felt, didn’t create any anarchy.
Unfortunately something has changed in the human being fabric, many people lost a member of the family and some wounded people became handicapped physically and emotionally. New face appears in our town who came from other destroyed villages. The number of widows and orphans increased. We could feel the sadness in their eyes. Now I, like many others wondering where our new government is leading us. Are we going to pass new experiments at the expense of the new generation? Are we going to learn another way of life? What the difference between the German Nazis who follow the orders of Hitler and the people who follow blindly the law, without consideration of the human dignity and without any compassion.
What are we going to leave to our children and grand children? When an entrepreneur make mistake he has to pay his due, by loosing his house or his business or his reputation. When a government makes mistake what is going to loose. The money lost is not even his money. Lately I learned a new expression called: “Stimulus” Can a small entrepreneur get also a stimulus? In order to survive and keep his business alive? The answer is no! This time even the European government didn’t follow Obama suggestion to use the stimulus to create job by believing that stimulus has created job in his administration.
The entire world looked up to America with hope and expectation and now everyone is skeptical about the progress America pretends to accomplish. Europe for the first time have learned a lesson. Where is the American intelligence and creativity.? Is our spirit paralyzed by our new government? The CBO is saying that our debt became unsustainable. It is scary to know that America the strong nation on earth is falling apart or trying to succeed where all Europe have felt.
I Brought a small episode of my experience during WWII this was seventy years ago, to enable the reader to understand why I am writing these lines below. I cannot believe that the Americans would want to watch America's greatness disappear with empty words and bluff. I know that they are better than that. I saw their tenacity and their courage in the battle during WWII.
An episode in WWII
When the battle moved away from our town we found another apartment which was not entirely destroyed. This apartment was located near the train station, and the railroad tracks ran parallel to our bedroom walls. Needless to say our nights were not very quiet. Freight trains were the only ones allowed to run; they carried American soldiers to the battle area of Bizerte, where the Germans had given ground but were still holding on to this port city in an ultimate attempt to save whatever they could from being captured by their enemies.
The inhabitants of our town who had fled during the bombardment were gradually returning to their town. People were entitled or took for themselves the right to live in abandoned houses, or whatever was left of them. A relatively normal life set in again. Gradually the stores reopened, with nothing to sell, but this gave the people an opportunity to see each other again after a long period of time.
Meanwhile the British soldiers cleared the ruins, retrieving from the debris corpses impossible to identify. A foul smell spread over the whole town. Streets were strewn with furniture, doors and broken windows, but not for long - since anyone could grab a piece of wood to fill up an opening in a house or shelter, or use it to make a semblance of a door or a window frame. No thought was given to appearance or color, as long as the lumber could serve a purpose.
Ration tickets appeared. Our town got food through the American military trains. In order to get a piece of bread, one had to stand on very long lines every day. My father found a solution to this problem. He made an agreement with the baker who gave us fresh bread; in return for our bread, my father made shoes for his large family.
On the whole, food was insufficient. My father loathed the idea of a black market; as for me, I saw nothing wrong with it. The local authorities could not supply our needs, while the Americans benefitted from a surplus of goods. It could not hurt them if one were to think of taking a small portion away from them, I reasoned. I thought it was rather silly to respect the law considering the dire conditions under which we lived. Therefore I decided to make a deal with the Americans. I visited the colonel who was in charge. He thought to give me chocolate or chewing gum, but boy as I was I refused to take it. I told him that I wanted to chat with him. From story to story, he mentioned the word food. Knowing that they did not have fresh vegetables and wine, in turn I mentioned them just to see if he reacts in any way. The words vegetables and wine attracted his attention. Suddenly he became serious and asked me if I had access to these products. My face lit up, as before the war I worked with my uncle who was in charge of all kind of products and I knew his sources. I enjoyed the barter business but kept it secret from my father, only my mother was informed. My technique was simple, but people had to trust me. The French citizens had special wine stamps. I would get the stamps for wine from the locals and promise them corned beef and other foods in exchange.
Luckily our town was the last stop for all trains carrying Americans to Bizerte. That made it easy for me to barter the wine and obtain food, clothing, blankets and even dollars - a currency new to me, since I was seeing it for the first time in my life.
My business became so successful that I soon needed a place to store all the goods I was accumulating. I made arrangements with an old French woman whose husband was serving in the French army. The couple had a huge empty warehouse next to the station, and in exchange for its use I gave her chocolate, cookies and canned food.
Soldiers soon found out about this warehouse and every day they would line up, exchanging their belongings for eggs and wine. As soon as the trains were gone, the inhabitants of my town would come to pick-up new supplies.
Unfortunately the police discovered my black market business, searched the premises and occupied my warehouse. I was furious! I could not find any justification for their behavior. Why did they prohibit me from making my deals? I was not hurting anybody. Quite the contrary, I was helpful to the refugees who could not find anything anywhere else, neither food nor clothing. In addition, wine was very important to the soldiers who went to the front, just as important as food for those who were lacking it. My prices even varied according to the monetary means of the individual customer. The poor, for example, were not expected to pay for anything. Therefore I was furious, but I did not panic, being somehow confident that the situation could be arranged.
After all, the American colonel did indeed appreciate my services. I visited the colonel in his freight car which he used as an office. I was in tears when I told him the whole story. He listened to me very carefully and tried to calm me down by assuring me that everything would turn out all right. He then called ten soldiers and ordered them to go and free my warehouse, an action that went far beyond my fondest hopes and expectation. By now I had stopped crying, and I followed the ten soldiers. I was certainly well on the way to getting back my belongings. However, things were to become rough. The soldiers did not bother to give any explanation to the French policemen guarding the warehouse. They simply grabbed them by the neck and pushed them out, ordering them to leave me in peace. The policemen complied sheepishly but threatened to take their revenge as soon as the Americans were gone.
The colonel was nice to me, and sometimes we would spend hours together. His help was greatly appreciated. I even had two soldiers standing guard at the entrance to my warehouse, and this allowed me to work without worries.
Being prosperous in my work did not make me selfish, not at all. I really felt for these soldiers who went to the front to fight for our freedom. I respected and admired their logic and their love for justice. And no sooner did a train leave the station than I found myself praying for them. But in the evening, trains would return filled with wounded soldiers, and that made me sad. I would recognize faces that I had seen a few days earlier. With all my heart I offered them free wine or fresh water, that I carried from a public fountain, if they so desired. All the soldiers knew me. I also gave them coats and capes made from blankets I had received from them. I was able, fortunately, even to recognize the voices of some of the soldiers whose faces were covered with bloody bandages. Although the station was guarded, I could walk in and out freely - which made the station master envious of my privileges.
Bizerte was finally liberated. But, the railroad traffic had not slowed down. Soldiers were now going to Italy to fight, but still traveling through Bizerte. We would get the news over the radio, or by way of the wounded soldiers who came back to us. Numerous trains carried Italian prisoners; they seemed to be happy that the fighting was over for them. I realized that the Italians do not like fighting. For many centuries, the Mediterranean has had a beneficial influence on its neighboring nations by imbuing them with peaceful feelings. The long reign of the Greeks and Romans belonged to an ancient past, during which that sea was tormented. But these warriors have disappeared, exhausted by their ambitions. The Mediterranean seemed not to tolerate hostilities, it loves the calm. The year round sunshine, its lazy waves, its sweet winds and its purifying fragrance contribute to its serenity.
The martial spirit prevalent among the Middle Eastern nations hardly matches the symbol of the Mediterranean, it will not endure - the Blue Sea will again serve as a link between its coasts that hold such a variety of nations, with their different political and religious backgrounds. Nothing can resist this Blue Sea. When foreigners first come upon it, they are seduced by the atmosphere emanating from it, and picked-up by the people who are friendly and hospitable by nature. The Mediterranean is overflowing with love and generosity; she nurtures a multitude of people. One cannot resist her charm and beauty; her golden, finely-sanded beaches are universally appreciated. One feels transported into another world. Germans, Americans and British have also had contact with all her benign qualities, but sadly under unfortunate circumstances. Even France gave up in face of Tunisia's peaceful spirit, where the women have no other ambition than to cherish their children, nourish them and wrap them in their love and the warmth of their heart.
Any nation with a propensity for war, upon discovering the Mediterranean for the first time, is fated to lay down its arms. Like all the other nations, they will be seduced and will make it their duty to contribute in maintaining her charming power. In our time, for example, Tunisia has a remarkable diversity in its population; Arabs, Berbers, Europeans live together in peace and harmony without regards to their color or origin. The Mediterranean infuses them with feelings of union and peace.
Because of the wartime environment, the black market in our town had become a free market. The police accepted the movement and had become my customers. At City Hall, one could follow the daily moves at the front by the position of a straight thread stretched out on geographical maps. The city was filled with soldiers. I loved to talk with the Americans, who introduced me to their country, and liked to show me pictures of their spouse, their children or their fiancée. Their words carried a mix of enthusiasm and nostalgia. They shared with me their projects. I encouraged them to chat. Obviously they liked to talk about a happy future. In this way a warm human tie had been created between the soldiers and me. It was sad to think that, upon an order from their government, they were forced to fight abroad, leaving behind what was dearest to them and that they were uncertain whether they would ever find again their country and their loved ones.
I developed the same type of ties with the Italian and German soldiers who, although they were held as prisoners in the mill located near the station, in the evening hours had the freedom to walk around among the American soldiers and our inhabitants
I was not at all shocked by this mingling of soldiers who were actually enemies. They did not differ much in their way of thinking. They shared the hope of seeing the end of the war, so that they would be able to go back home again to their families. I realized that there was no difference in the looks and the behavior of both the victorious and the defeated. They all wanted peace and the chance to lead a normal life. They realized that by killing the enemy they were killing members of their own human species and, by the same token, were killing themselves. They all revered the same God, ignoring the fact that God does not take part in the atrocities, the massacres and the blind destructive acts committed by men.
On Sunday morning, Americans, British, Germans, Italians and French attended the same service in our church. They all sang the same hymns, in different languages. They felt like brothers and were convinced of the stupidity of war and of the moral suffering it brings about. Only such men are able to draw the conclusions of fruitless warfare. Only these men can remember that they shared common thoughts and hopes. Only such men can build a new world in which the human race will live in peace.
The Germans taught me how to play the harmonica. I discovered the song "Lili Marlene" for the first time, and I found it soft and soothing. To its melody, I visualized huge green forests in Germany and tall blonde women with blue or green eyes.
My strongest wish then was to some day visit all the homelands of the different soldiers, since each of them praised his own as the most beautiful.
Some of our inhabitants behaved hatefully to the Germans, whom they called "boshes." I disapproved of my fellow citizens, since I believed in loving my neighbor, and banishing hatred. In my eyes, apart from their language and uniform, the soldiers were not different from each other.
Copyright Emile Tubiana