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One was a cousin of my grandmother. She was a very autonomous woman, raising her two daughters alone like a general. One of her daughters had a Jewish friend, and the friendship lasted even in the yellow Star of David on clothes times. And it happened that the Jewish friend's family and the mother came together, and the naive Jewish husband was murmuring something about how they will survive this somehow. Which my autocratic relative countered by declaring that 'f*ck no, you idiot, you will hide here in my house!' - and so it happened, the family was successfully hidden for a year, and survived (unlike the house - it was bombed out at the end when luckily everyone was downstairs, my relatives turned wealthless overnight).
I only learnt of this story a year ago.
The other small hero I will briefly tell about was a Polish Jew who joined the Red Army and helped a Russian squad as guide/translator. The most tragic part of my family's WWII history, which I will not detail here, was when the front washed over my family's homeland, and the female and child members of the family unsuccessfully sought a hiding in the woods. The squad of said Pole was the first Russians my family saw in this sorry story, and it happened that the squad leader - who was totally drunk - started shooting in the kitchen of the forestry house. It was this Polish Jew who tore the weapon from his hands (we don't know if this 'insubordination' had any result). He later also had valuable advice about how best to behave vis-a-vis the Russians, when they occupied the house under German fire.
I learnt of this only a few years ago, when we discovered a diary book my grandmother wrote to two relatives orphaned during these events, a book she wrote just after the events for handover when they grow up, but in the end decided against it.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
I once had a hero named Ahmed Shah Massoud, whom I learned about throw a journalist friend of the family when we were living in Taschkent (Uzbekistan). This journalist was a good friend of Massoud, and had at times accompanied him as a freelance during the resistance to the Soviets.
I remember one night in college, some time later ... I had arrived at this binge-bar frat-type occasion with an Afghan hat and had screamed for people to listen to what was going on in Afghanistan. At the end of the night, about two dozen of us were hollering "Masssouuuuuud". Ahhh the respect I had for the man.
The man was far from perfect (aren't we all). Yet, whatever mistakes Massoud may have made (like at times joining with the fundamentalists to fight the invaders), he was a man of honour and a true Afghan freedom-fighter.
Massoud was killed 2 days before 911, and our journalist friend, Marc Brunereau, died in a swimming pool 5 days before 911 (he would never go to the pool though, as he didn't know how to swim very well, this was the type of incident to make you wonder about conspiracy). Doctors concluded that he died of an embolism, a result of a schrapnel wound he had received a couple of years ago when bombed in Taloqan while accompanying Massoud. His death was very sad for his wife which we were close to, she informed us at the time that she couldn't really tell us about any suspicions she had, as the French secret service had hinted to her that her life may also be in danger. But his death was also sad for the world of free reporting, as the NATO operation in Afghanistan followed and he would have been one of the handful of honest foreign journalists that knew Afghanistan inside out, with contacts everywhere.
Today apart from a few UN-patrolled areas Afghanistan is firmly struck in the Dark Ages, with warlords and Taleban guerillas holding real power, and Mad Max-style Americans fighting the latter, and no one cares because the country has a 'government'.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
This is just to describe the guy. Not all soldiers are maniacs. This one is a sensitive, smart person, who believes that the army should be first and foremost a force used to ensure peace, not to wage war (I know that the fine line between both these concepts can be blurry, but basically I'm just insisting that he's a really good guy). He once said that he would take up arms and rebel, should Le Pen be elected.
Well, he's been sent to Herat because he's studied Pashto and Farsi while in the military (but not through the army, he went during off-hours to the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, a 210-year old university in Paris that specialises in rarer languages, and excelled there).
He sends occasional emails from Herat about what's going on there (he's stationed on some Italian military base). The first thing that struck him when he got there, was that a lot of the soldiers never even leave the base. He, however, gets to leave, visit schools, hospitals, act as a translator. The second thing that struck him, is that Afghans are incredibly polite in the way they deal with foreigners. They ask questions in a light way, without ever trying to embarass you, they mark long pauses in conversation, to let you gather your thoughts. A remarkable people, basically. He is something of a popular figure in Herat, as each time he opens his mouth dozens if not scores of people gather around him, amazed that finally a foreigner speaks their language (no one else does!!). These gatherings however get his officers really anxious. The kids ask a lot of questions, like "is it true that in France you can live with someone without being married?". But of all the questions he's had so far, the one that really made him feel like crying, was this one that an old man asked him: "is it true that the streets of Paris smell like perfume, that planes fly over to drop perfume over all the streets?". It made him feel like crying because this naive, innocent take on life, was both fantastic and sad. He answered "no, paris is polluted, it's a lovely city, but reeks of car exhausts".
The other day he was invited to a girl's school. And he sat on the school's koran (you know, korans are usually placed on folded-up wooden resting gadgets, that look like chairs). The girls laughed and said "ah sir, you shouldn't sit there, that's the Koran!". He, of all people, should have known. He is highly knowledged in their culture, knows all their poets, everything about their religion ... but even he, almost made a very offending mistake. If he can do such a thing, imagine what the average Joe Schmoe who's over there with a gun can do ...
I have more heroes than I can count. I always admired my grandfather, who fought in the South Pacific, for not caring about the fact that he was a veteran. He didn't want medals or ceremonies -- just to go home and move on. He hates war and has opposed every US war since WWII, saying that everything after the second war was unnecessary and stupid (I agree).
Keynes is, of course, a great hero of mine, not because of anything particularly heroic in terms of war and peace, but because of his ideas and his optimism about mankind, and his commitment to ending the world's major economic problems. His stand against public opinion for Germany -- opinion which he later helped to turn around -- after WWI, and his blistering attacks against the American, British and French leaders at Versailles remains something I admire greatly. History might have been less bloody if others had listened to him.
Having now read more about him, Lord Dowding places high on my list, because of his critical role in the Battle of Britain and (by extension) the larger war. The American government had given up and assumed London would fall. Dowding proved them wrong in winning what has got to be one of the most incredible battles in human history. Had the RAF lost, America might have never joined the fight.
Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
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