Lazy Luddite Log

23.2.09

Resistance

I have always been interested in the topic of resistance to totalitarian regimes and of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. That interest has been awakened by my having seen Valkyrie the other day. In part my own half German background has contributed to this interest in our recent and troubled history. More importantly my abiding fascination with the nature of humanity as a whole has driven my focus on the issue of the rise and fall of the Third Reich because there are lessons in it for all of us. I think it is particularly important now that that whole era is receding into the shadows of the past and many are now ignorant of it.

There was a time – in my youth – in which everyone had some sense – however simplistic - of what the Nazis were and what they did. That was because World War II was still an important part of popular fiction and dramatisations. For some time however the topic has been off the agenda of popular culture. Now it seems to be back and we will be seeing a number of movies focusing on that time with Valkyrie as the first to hit cinemas.

I am one of those who is a bit wary of Tom Cruise movies. However Cruise can act well and can appear in decent movies. Valkyrie is a case-in-point. There is an excellent supporting cast including the fantastic and versatile Bill Nighy. I have never been a huge fan of war movies but Valkyrie is more of a spy movie if anything. The focus is on the intrigue and suspense of the upper echelons of the Third Reich surrounding the last of several assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler.

For ages I have known that the Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (played by Cruise) attempted to kill Hitler using a briefcase bomb in the Wolf’s Lair military bunker in July of 1944. What is new to me is that the assassination attempt was simply part of a much bigger plan to overthrow the Nazi Party and the Schutzstaffel (SS) by activating an existing military contingency plan (Operation Valkyrie) to use the reserve army to put down any attempted coup-de-tat. The movie focuses on all the delicate ins and outs of an operation in which timing is everything and (as one character remarks) military operations never go to plan.

The setting has an authentic feel and some of my favourite scenes are ones involving incidental characters. In particular the typing pool of the telegraph office which must convey orders all over the Reich is shown many times as command and counter-command are issued and the tension mounts.

Ultimately however I am interested in other forms of resistance than those depicted in Valkyrie. The military figures involved were in the best position of anyone in Germany to overthrow the Nazi regime both in the sense of the power position they were in and in the sense that they were warriors accustomed to dangerous decision-making. What interests me more is those civilians who resisted the regime even if they never had any hope of success.

Resistance took many forms in Germany. At one end of the scale was attempting to kill Hitler. At the other end was small acts like that of an ordinary shopper ensuring she was over-laden with bags so as to never have to give the Hitler salute. How effective such acts of defiance are depends on ones criteria. An assassination attempt will definitely have an immediate effect. Preserving ones own sense of independence in the face of totalitarian control of all aspects of life may only be worthwhile once the regime is gone and civil society needs dedicated citizens to resurrect it.

Resistance in Nazi Germany was fragmented and scant. It came from Germans of very different walks-of-life from soldiers like Colonel von Stauffenberg to clerics like Dietrich Bonhoeffer to entrepreneurs like Oskar Schindler. The story however that interests me the most is that of The White Rose

The White Rose were a youth group – a handful of Munich uni students and a few supportive academics who for several months during 1943-44 produced and distributed pamphlets condemning the Nazi regime on moral grounds and calling for a return to human rights and the rule-of-law (rather than the arbitrary use of power that existed under the Nazis). These pamphlets were distributed in several cities and drew the attention of the Gestapo. Eventually the regime discovered who the White Rose were and most participants were executed.

One of the prime-movers of the group was Sophie Scholl whose story has been dramatized in a recent German film (which I must get my hands on). She was twelve at the time the Nazis abolished all political opposition. She was a teenager while Jews, Roma, queers, the disabled, and political dissidents were persecuted and killed. A background of oppression was the norm in her society and yet the defining activity of her young adulthood was to oppose and condemn that regime (for which she was executed at the age of 22). The contrasts markedly for me with Von Stauffenberg who was 26 as the Nazis came to power.

I think that resistance is “better late than never” but it seems that the best time to resist oppression is at the smallest indication that it is happening rather than once it is entrenched. There were all sorts of factors that contributed to the rise of the Third Reich that make it difficult to say that Germans should have known better. Changes can happen in incremental ways and then once the full implications of those changes become clear it may be too late to challenge them (safely).

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Nonetheless I think the more one has a sense of the signs the better one can prevent oppression from taking root. There is still plenty of it in the world today so limiting it is still as important now as it was last century.

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13.2.09

Yarraman Creek


This entry is fifteen years in the making. At the time I started I never knew what blogging was. All I knew was that I was intending to tell the story of a how a freeway development affected a playground of my childhood.

All my life our family street directory displayed in pale dotted lines the “proposed Scoresby Bypass” which would pass though the paddocks at the bottom of our street. But then nothing ever seemed to happen and I regularly went on walks past the paddocks and over the Yarraman Creek to the remnant bushland beyond. In my fantasy-steeped teens I even dubbed the area my ‘Grey Woods’. It was a fantastic land of bush and billabong and the burnt husks of dumped cars left by the Creek.

Then in 1994 as a young adult I decided that the talk of the long-proposed freeway would one-day come to pass and so I took a film camera for a walk and documented much of the area (known as the Fotheringham Reserve). It was my intention to do the same thing once more when finally the freeway came our way.

In the meantime I got actively involved in the Australian Democrats and we were part of the campaign opposing the freeway development (a sparse network of environmental and public transport advocates). The then Senator Lyn Allison produced a pamphlet on the issue which I letterboxed in the neighourhood on both sides of the Yarraman Creek in Noble Park and Dandenong West. My recollection is that the pamphlet got zero response. The freeway development itself was very popular and had a lobby behind it which included local councils along the proposed route and the very influential RACV.

By 2005 the construction of what was now named the Mitcham-Frankston Freeway was underway and I returned with a camera (still using film) and prints from the original roll of film. I did my best to replicate the same positions and directions in taking photos. Finally last year (2008) I returned one more time now that the freeway was completed (I call it 'freeway' despite the tolls because a freeway is defined by its lack of intersections inhibiting traffic-flow). Once more I had a camera and past prints and once more I replicated the same shots as best I could.

The set of photos I present on-line are the best photos from those three rolls of film that have been converted to disc. The focus of these photos is to show how much has changed. I opposed the freeway development but am placated somewhat by the fact that much of the remnant bushland walk is still pretty much as it was. In our area the freeway has pretty much just replaced paddocks so I can live with that. Mind you the freeway walls are bloody ugly – I refer to them as The Berlin Wall. Take a look and note the changes (including how much greener it was in the past compared with now).

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