Memory and Mimesis: Legacies of War, Violence, and Occupation in Decolonizing Europe

AHA Session 189
Society for French Historical Studies 4
French Colonial Historical Society 3
Saturday, January 6, 2018: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level)
Darcie S. Fontaine, University of South Florida
Darcie S. Fontaine, University of South Florida

Session Abstract

This panel will explore the intersection of two foundational phenomena in modern European history as experienced by those living in the metropolitan centers of France and the Netherlands: namely, the German occupation of Western Europe during the Second World War and the process of decolonization. Influential scholarship has proposed that “the memory of resistance” and “multidirectional memory” of Nazi atrocity in the age of decolonizing conflict helped foster European support for indigenous independence movements. The three papers on this panel all suggest that the reality was rather more complicated: over the course of decolonization, remembrance of World War II’s multiform violence was mobilized by different French and Dutch actors toward many diverse political ends, some of them pro-colonialist. Even for staunch opponents of empire, comparative invocations of past German crimes had complicated effects – obscuring, for example, long legacies of racism and repression on the part of other European powers. What is more, the loss of colonies could help entrench limited and partial commemorative idioms for thinking about the Second World War.

On this panel, the papers by Foray and Kuby are both centrally concerned with the ways in which enduring memories of local anti-Nazi resistance and pro-Nazi collaboration between 1940 and1945 continued to inform imperial policies and practices for decades to come. Foray focuses on the intersectional memories mobilized in late-1940s Dutch military propaganda proclaiming the country’s duty to restore “order and peace” and “liberate” the Indonesian people from Sukarno’s tyrannical rule, demonstrating how such calls disconcertingly echoed both the German occupiers’ recent rhetoric and, at the same time, the language of opposition to it. Kuby, meanwhile, considers how the particular French mode of remembering some World War II-era “camps” while forgetting others shaped government policies of political internment in the Algerian War (1954-1962) as well as anticolonialist strategies for countering such repression. Like Foray, she shows that highly selective schemas of memory centered on Hitler’s aggressions against “patriots” were key to the ways that Europeans forged and understood the violence of late colonialism. Nord’s paper complements Foray’s and Kuby’s work by demonstrating that this process also worked in reverse. Here, President de Gaulle’s particular understanding of French imperial nationhood and its role in a decolonizing Europe informed French commemorative practices and the memorial to the martyred French resisters of World War Two, inaugurated just as France’s sub-Saharan African colonies negotiated their independence.

Collectively, these papers contribute to our understanding of the complex, evolving legacies of war, occupation, and decolonization in Western Europe, and they open a conversation about the continued politicization of violent histories in post-war societies.

See more of: AHA Sessions