Archive for the ‘World War II’ Category

The Future of International Law (1945)   Leave a comment

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“During the inter-bellum and throughout the war which began in 1939, innumerable articles were published in the daily press and periodicals denouncing international law, whose beautiful rules were consigned to remain only on paper as two wars, with increasing atrocity and devastation, raged throughout all corners of the world. However, if any accusations levelled at international law came from jurists, they were not only ill-founded and glib, but increasingly rare. As for opinions from non-legal quarters which decry the ineffectiveness of international law, they can be considered entirely justified, but it is not the juridical character of the law which is at fault, rather the present state of that law which has failed on account of ambitions, egos, and a lack of mutual understanding among states, which must ultimately carry the blame.

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On the face of it, this shelf-parched, soft-bound tome, written in France during the Second World War, did rather well to survive thus far. I recently saved it from the oblivion of a book depository in Aquitaine. The year and location of its publication, the identity of its author, the subject and content, the small number of the imprint and even the quality of the paper it is printed on are all testament to the unlikelihood of its existence let alone the likelihood it may have anything of note to say to the modern reader. La Souveraineté Des États et L’Avenir Du Droit International (“The Sovereignty of States and the Future of International Law”) was written by my great-uncle Marek Stanisław Korowicz, whose story I have documented here previously. Marek, a professor of International Law, represented Poland at the League of Nations in the interwar period, specialising in the complicated sovereignty of the disputed territory of Silesia, with its Polish, German and Czechoslovak claims.

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Marek after his defection from the Polish People’s Republic United Nations delegation in New York (September 1953)

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When World War II broke out, Marek made his way east (visiting my father and grandparents briefly in Lwów), before escaping through Romania and making his way to France. There he joined the Polish 5th Rifle Regiment and fought with the French Army until its surrender. Already a fluent french speaker, he joined the intellectual underground, producing books and pamphlets denigrating the rise of fascism and communism. As he would later describe in his book W Polsce pod Sowieckim Jarzmem (“In Poland Under the Red Yolk”), he made the fateful decision to return to Poland in 1946 to recommence his work as a professor. He is best remembered for his dramatic escape from the Polish People’s Republic in 1953 by renouncing his diplomatic credentials to the United Nations in New York.

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Cutting through the unopened pages with a paper-knife holds a specific fascination, not only for the light it shines on the personal circumstances of Marek in occupied France, but also for the aptness of its theme. That a man whose expertise is International Law should be going back to the drawing board in the midst of a brutal war in which every edifice and instrument of law seemed to have failed, and failed spectacularly, perhaps shows the tenacity of his choice of profession; but knowing as I do that he had lost his parents, siblings, and cousins in that war, had been living in exile and in fear of arrest, and within two years is going to return to his Polish homeland to discover that any hope of a just society there based on the rule of law will be crushed by a Soviet policy of political interference, administrative manipulation and the threat of military force makes the pages turn with a fatalism that stems from this reader’s qualified omniscience.

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The final page notes that this book was written in Chambéry and Grenoble between March 1943 and March 1944. Marek was then working with the resistance movement. Following Italian occupation, the Germans invaded Grenoble in September 1943. The self-styled capital of the Maquis witnessed a year of sabotage, ambush, and brutal retaliation before the Germans finally withdrew on 22nd August 1944.

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Marek survived the war in the French underground. As he was all too aware by the time he published this book in 1945, with the war finally at an end, the toll his own family had paid for being Jewish, or Polish, or educated would become tragically clear. His father had been successful Jewish lumber merchant Joachim Kornreich. Although Marek adopted the Polish surname Korowicz from the start of the Second Republic in 1918 and became a Catholic through marriage, his choice of profession and not his ethnic origins could very well have resulted in his extra-judicial murder if he had not managed to escape from occupied Poland in 1939. That was in fact the fate of his brother and fellow professor, my grandfather Henryk Korowicz who was murdered in Lwów in July 1941 along with 24 of his colleagues.

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Marek dedicates the book to his parents whom he was not to see again. Eighty-year old Joachim was beaten to death by German soldiers in Lublin in 1939. Joachim’s wife Gisela disappeared into that charnel house of human slaughter where international law had been most ineffective.

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“To the memory of my Mother and my Father, murdered in Poland by the German occupier.”

 

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SATAN V HITLER   Leave a comment

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Bullet-ridden slogan, FYR Macedonia, on the road to Belgrade 2000

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In war we grow up quickly. In war, time appears to last longer. Moments can last a lifetime. So too can careers be made in a single moment; for war is an opportunity for the quick-witted. Advancements and promotions happen more quickly and unexpectedly in the blaze of battle than in the slow meandering predictability of peacetime. War in a paradoxical way makes things less complicated. There we are offered life in black and white. We prioritize through the necessity of self-preservation and scorn indecision and long term planning. The chaos of change finds unexpected rulers. And in the twilight of war, a prospective ruler has, in order to move from the military to the political, only to paint himself a ‘freedom-fighter’ and let the blackened image of his defeated enemy serve to contrast the radiance of his own brightness. Hitler was that moral foil. He has remained the dark touchstone of European politics for over seventy years now and shall remain that way for much time to come. He is the sunless end of the dark spectrum but it is difficult to find an answer why. Did he kill more than any other leader? Did he cause more suffering? Was he crueller? Madder? Less human than any other? The prosaic answer is probably not. Comrade Stalin and Chairman Mao can be accused of wiping out more of their own populations than Hitler killed enemies (as unpalatable as such blood algebra is to their respective victims). Cruelty has no bar, and even Hitler’s xenophobia and race-baiting have seen analogies in countless smaller and less ‘meaningful’ clashes from Rwanda to Yugoslavia, Darfur to Dili. What makes Hitler special is not his spectacular brutality but the unanimous recognition of him, by the Giants of Yalta, as the most brutal, the greatest evil. In moral terms the Pandora’s Box that was opened during World War II needed to be closed again and the denigration of Hitler absolved many sins which weren’t only his. Hitler became, somewhat bizarrely, a continent’s scapegoat. Anti-Semitism, ultra nationalism, authoritarianism, and mystical and science-fiction politics were prevalent throughout Europe in the twenties and thirties. That fact is often conveniently forgotten by European nations who are brought up convinced that they were victims, those who ultimately defeated Hitler. Hitler equals evil. They are therefore the divinely-ordained custodians of moral rectitude.

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The moustache and raised arm are instant symbols of tyranny. Protesting George W Bush’s visit to Uruguay, Montevideo 2007.

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This nervous gloss on history may have been a psychological necessity, a way of burying the dark deeds of humanity in the ceremonial cremation of a symbolical incarnation of those deeds. Perhaps it reflected an aspiration to be simply better people, by putting what was ‘too much’ behind them. However, those who leap-fogged to power in the wake of World War II, would rule with remarkable longevity, in East and West, under Soviet tutelage, under American protection, or as independent islands of authoritarianism. And their rule was built upon a cracked plinth of treachery and wishful thinking.

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Great Satan, former US Embassy/’US Den of Espionage’, Tehran.

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Western politics decry the deliberate indoctrination of free peoples by state-sponsored ideas. Propaganda is a dirty tool left to Goebbels and the Communists. And yet the illusion of an absence of propaganda in a liberal society can be as dangerous as the obvious existence of propaganda in a restrictive society. The West may disingenuously belittle the propaganda of the Iranian revolution or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, as though it were devoid of its own propagandas. As though the internet precludes dictatorships, and the sins of our rulers have evolved into minor ones. When a Revolutionary Guard, asked his opinion of America’s intentions in the Middle East, decries Great Satan’s meddling, we see this biblical invocation as a schoolboy production of an infantile propaganda. As though we are punishing the country’s rulers for their lack of tact, rather than the repression beneath which their tactlessness fails to hide. And yet the only difference between us is that we, in the West, have moved from the Religion of the Ideal to the Religion of the Real in order to dress our grand designs and ignoble intentions. When we are confronted by an enemy, we don’t call him Satan, we call him Hitler.

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