A trip in the Wayback Machine

Since it is slowly becoming obvious that the Bush Administration will accomplish what the Nazis couldn’t (be forgiven for committing war crimes); it seems concomitant to find some other topics for columns to be posted online.  It would be best to come up with topics which will be previously untouched but will proved a “Eurika!” moment/reaction with this site’s regulars.

One hypothetical question which has always been a concern for this columnist has been:  “If you could travel back in time to anyplace to see history happen; where would you be going when (not if) they actually invent and activate the “Wayback Machine”?

At this point we direct readers’ attention to the comments section below.

For this columnist, the first response has always been:  I’d go to Paris to watch the Liberation during WWII occur.

We used to work with a guy who was, according to the judgment of  the other workers, very boring.  We made a specific effort to get to know him hoping that he would have some hidden trove of memories that we could get him to share.  We’ve always been anxious to hear the experiences of the men who fought in WWII.  When this fellow mentioned the Army, we hauled out our verbal questionnaire form.  What theater of operations, what unit, what time frame, etc.

The guy didn’t offer any spectacular possibilities for combat stories.  He had been wounded in action but it wasn’t life threatening.  Then he proved my point by dropping a game winner:  while he was in a military hospital, he and a nurse who spoke French went AWOL and snuck into Paris three weeks after the Liberation.  He succinctly reported “We had a good time.” 

The highlight, according to his reminiscences,  occurred when he went into one of the best restaurants and ordered up a “once in a lifetime” dining experience.  When the bill wasn’t presented, he asked for it.  The waiter explained that it was impossible to present a bill to a member of the very same Army that had Liberated Paris.  Sweet.

One might assume that living in Berkeley wouldn’t offer much possibility for finding some vicarious material for flashbacks to the aforementioned historical series of events that transpired in August 1944.  Thanks to some items found in the Berkeley Public Library book store, such an assumption would be misguided.

In a copy of “By-line:  Ernest Hemingway,” we found (on pages 382 – 3):  “We ran through the road where the munitions dump was exploding, with Archie (his driver), who has bright red hair, six years of regular Army, four words of French, a missing front tooth, and a <em>Frere</em> in a guerrilla outfit, laughing heartily at the noise the big stuff was making as it blew. . .  .

“We were going downhill now, and I knew that road and what we could see when we made the next turn. . . .

“‘Yeah,’ I said.  I couldn’t say anything more then, because I had a funny choke in my throat and I had to clean my glasses because there now, below us, gray and always beautiful, was spread the city I love best in all the world.”

A day or so later, in “Wayward Reporter:  The Life of A. J. Liebling,” we found (pages 4 – 5): “For the first time in my life and probably the last, I have lived for a week in a great city where everybody is happy.  Moreover, since this city is Paris, everybody makes this euphoria manifest.”

We’ve read some of the articles that Albert Camus wrote for <em>Combat</em>, the resistance newspaper, but were surprised to find that Liebling had written a book that critically evaluated the journalism produced in Paris during the Occupation.  Where the heck are we ever going to find a copy of “The Republic of Silence”?  Now we have a reason to go to bookstores.

Somehow George W. Bush thought that the troops he sent into Baghdad would get the same tumultuous reception that the Parisians gave to the American troops who arrived in Paris in 1944.  Unfortunately, Bush miscalculated.  Bush ultimately came off looking like a guy standing in the rain watching his girlfriend and her husband boarding a train that was leaving Paris.

When we started flipping through a recently acquired copy of “Anthology:  Selected essays from the first 30 years of The New York Review of Books,” we came across Bruce Chatwin’s piece titled “An Aesthete at War.”  It tells about the life of Captain Ernst Junger who won Iron Crosses in both World Wars. 

Part of fact finding for our imaginary time travel trip had been a reading of “Is Paris Burning?” many years ago.  “An Aesthete at War” mentions that General Speidel “forgot” the order to V-bomb Paris.  How did we miss that bit of trivia?  It seems that Paris was doubly lucky to survive the Liberation relatively unscathed.  We also just read (In Joseph Harsch’s book about covering WWII?) that the night they left Paris, the Germans did send some airplanes on a bombing raid over Paris’ outskirts.

Junger loved war, but he also loved Paris.  According to Chatwin’s article it seems likely that Rush Limbaugh would cherish Junger’s book about WWI titled “Storm of Steel.” Apparently, if you like war; you will love Junger’s book “Storm of Steel.”  A guy who was wounded 14 times in World War I and then fought again in World War II would be the kind of guy Uncle Rushbo would urge all American kids to emulate.  Uncle Rushbo would agree with the warmonger aspect of Junger’s personality and it isn’t hard to imagine the fat man also wishing for an alternative history where Paris was leveled by the retreating German Army. 

It seems that Dick Cheney will never stand trial for war crimes and that time travel back to the days when the Americans were “the good guys” will never be perfected, but a columnist can dream, can’t he?

Chatwin delivers an occupation era quote from Madame (Mrs. Paul) Morand:  “For me the art of living is the art of making other people work and keeping pleasure for myself.”  (Does Uncle Rushbo need a motto for his radio program?)

Now, we’ll pry the disk jockey away from his transistor radio (where the True Oldies Channel delivers a limited dose of time travel) and have him play “The Last Time I Saw Paris (the song was inspired by the fall of France),” “Paris vor Hundert Jahren” and Waylon Jenning’s song, “He Went to Paris.”  (What?  You were expecting “As Time Goes By”?  The boss don’t like to hear that song.)  It’s time for us to go do some fact finding about the new John Cusack movie with the intriguing title “Hot Tub Time Machine.”  Have a “filled with those events which alter and illuminate our times” type week.

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