Friday, September 26, 2008

Collaboration trials, French, American, and Russian

The French:

On page 58 of Past Imperfect, Tony Judt wrote, “Of the approximately 10,800 executions without trial that took place in France during the course of the Liberation, 5,234 had already happened before the Allied landings. Some of these had been preceded by a trial (about one-quarter of them), but most were exercises in summary judgment, by no means all of them the work of genuine Resistance units. By setting up, within the limits of contemporary moral and military situation, a formal basis for judgment, the French authorities of this period sought to take punishment out of the hands of autonomous and often competing organizations and return it to the State. In this they were reasonably successful. Official trials for collaboration or treason were held from 1944 until the beginning of the 1950s; and tribunals, courts of justice, and the high court would eventually sentence to death nearly 7,000 people (3,900 in absentia). Of these, fewer than 800 were eventually executed.

“In addition to those prosecuted for treason or collaboration, a further 50,000 government employees were ‘investigated’ at the Liberation, of whom 11,343 lost their jobs or were otherwise punished. But most of these would eventually return to government service following the amnesties of January 1951 and August 1953. . . In general, the amnesties, the first of which was declared in 1948, reduced rather rapidly the number of people who stayed in prison. An initial 32,000 by December 1948, to 8,000 by the following year, and to 1,500 by October 1952. At the end of the Fourth Republic, there remained in French prisons just 19 persons sentenced for their wartime activities or writings.”

The Americans:

From page 4 of Joseph McCarthy by Herman: “The best and most generous estimate is that during the entire decade of the red scare, ten thousand Americans lost their jobs because of their past or present affiliation with the Communist Party or one of its auxiliary organizations. Of those who lost their jobs, two thousand worked in the government . . . A grand total of 108 Communist Party members were convicted under the antisubversion provisions of the Smith Act, which Congress passed in 1941 . . . Another twenty Communists Party members were imprisoned under state and local laws. Fewer than a dozen Americans went to jail for espionage activities . . . Exactly two were sentenced to death for conspiracy to commit espionage: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.”

The Russians:

From Page 5 of Herman’s book: “. . . three and a half million people . . . according to the KGB’s own official numbers, were arrested and sent to the gulag . . . from 1935 to 1941. . . the total number of human beings executed, exiled, imprisoned, or starved to death in those years comes to ten to eleven million.”


We observe that officials, or self-appointed representatives of the state punished collaborators in numbers and severity commensurate with the threat to the state. America was threatened least and punished least. France was threatened more severely and punished more harshly than the Americans. Russia was threatened most severely and punished monumentally.

To elaborate, The Communist threat against America was somewhat difficult to understand at the time. Only in retrospect can we say that the threat was severe, that it cost American lives, and that it put America in serious jeopardy. The Cuban Missile crisis, for example, would never have occurred if our American traitors had not jump-started Russia’s nuclear weapons program. But at the time, McCarthy and members of HUAC and other anti-communist agencies sounded as though they were believers in a bizarre and fictitious conspiracy theory. Many were impatient with our “collaboration trials” and resented the climate of opinion that infringed upon their civil rights. (see and )

Even in retrospect we chafe under the fact that we were “inconvenienced” during that period. It doesn’t change anything for us to learn that the threat was real. We didn’t like all that restrictive and suspicious activity. We still hate McCarthyism, and as evidence, we are actively resisting any additional inconvenience, tying the hands of those trying to track down terrorists as much as we can.

The USSR had their Collaboration trials before the Second World War. They were in the most danger of all because they were trying to established a state based upon the idealistic dreams of Marx and Lenin. Such a state never before existed in history, but the Soviets believed that it could exist and set about making that belief a reality. There was considerable resistance in the USSR. Today in the West many of us shake our heads that they could have been so foolish as to imagine such a system could work; and there were plenty in the USSR in the period we are talking about who shook their heads as well. These were declared collaborators, or potential collaborators, with the Capitalistic West, and shunted off to the Gulag or worse. If you get rid of all those who think your dreams can’t work, then all those who remain will support you . . . or so the Russian leadership believed – at least officially.

In France many those who lived with the active collaborators during the Vichy period went to work as soon as possible killing them off. Some question whether their motives were justice or revenge, but perhaps it was both. Perhaps it is always both. As French authorities began taking control of post-War France, the summary executions stopped and formal trials took their place. Even these were fairly harsh to begin with, but after the anti-collaborationist frenzy wore itself out, the French became more tolerant of those who merely did what they needed to survive.

Now look at the three of us today. We in America think everyone should like us and are surprised that they don’t. In France, De Gaul and Chriac sought to build France or at least the EU into a buffer against the potential threat of the U.S. (Were they worried about another American occupation? See )

And as soon as the Russians began to gain a little self-confidence after the fall of the USSR, they resumed their suspicious ways. The USSR has fallen, but everyone in power today grew up under that system. It is all they know. Yes, the West claimed to intend to treat them as just another Capitalistic country, but look at what the EU is doing? They are gobbling up one former Soviet SSR after another. Does that sound like they intend to be the Russians’ friends? Definitely not to leaders like Putin.

To a large extent, we are what we’ve been. We are not the same.

Lawrence Helm

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