Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Old article worthy of a new look...

I was doing some research for Tren Blindado and came across an article in Slate by Paul Berman. It's an old article from 1997 but worthy of a read. Here's a notable excerpt. Emphasis mine.

...What is glory? This: an absolute commitment to your own principle, whatever it may be--the kind of commitment that expresses itself in only one way, by a willingness to kill other people on its behalf, and to be killed in turn. A commitment, finally, to defeat. For victory is always partial and compromised, but defeat and death are total and grand. Victory is secular; defeat is sacred...

There is a precedent to the Che cult. It was the cult of Napoleon in the 19th century, a young man's craze that went on for generations--the craze that Stendhal described in his character Julien Sorel in The Red and the Black and Victor Hugo in his character Marius in Les Misérables. In the 19th century, intelligent people in France knew perfectly well that Napoleon had embodied the worst aspects of the French Revolution, had betrayed the revolution's democratic ideals, and had spread death and fire from Spain to Moscow. Yet those same clear-thinking people found ways of separating Napoleon's horrors from his glamour. They would say: He was wrong, but he was great. It was a question of glory--of his having risen in the world, and having killed his thousands, and having failed spectacularly, and not having flinched. It was the appeal of death--doled out, and accepted. And so the cult of Napoleon was, finally, a cult of the tomb.

In 1821 Napoleon was murdered--he was poisoned--while in the hands of his enemies, far away from home, just as Che was murdered in 1967. It took 19 years to bring Napoleon's remains back to France, compared to 30 years for Che. Napoleon's reburial took place on Dec. 15, 1840. People who should have known better found the ceremony moving. Victor Hugo, who stood among the crowd, dutifully recorded, in a poem on the occasion, that Napoleon had been wrong--that Napoleon had tried to conquer with the sword instead of with the mind. Yet a few lines later, Hugo wrote, his Bonapartist blood pounding:
May the people forever keep you in their memory, Day as beautiful as glory, Cold as the tomb!
So in the Cuban tropics, too, there has just now been a day as beautiful as glory, cold as the tomb.

And because the cult of glory feeds on defeat and not on victory, we can be sure that, like the passion for Napoleon in the last century, the passion for Che will disappear no time soon. Not in this generation, not in the next.

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