Posts Tagged ‘integrity’

The Song That Rallied a Nation, Won the War, Changed My Politics and Got Me the Girl

January 29, 2013

5F3A (2)

December, 1941. French Morocco is infiltrated by Nazi Germany. It is also the last outpost for passage to America and freedom for European refugees. The Germans are met with bitter resignation by the people who long to be released from an oppressive yoke. In a night club owned by a cynical American, Rick Blaine (who “sticks his neck out for nobody”), German officers with beer steins swinging, triumphantly sing their national anthem to a full but emotionally subdued house. Then underground leader, Victor Laszlo, approaches the band demanding that they play La Marseillaise. The band members look to Rick, who silently nods his approval (and in a defining moment sheds his passive non-involvement) and they begin to play. Laszlo starts to sing alone at first, but others join in. Soon their patriotism drowns out the Germans. At song’s end, the house is crowded with cheering patrons. This scene never fails to put a lump in my throat or bring a tear to my eye.

Most of these actors/extras were real life refugees from an dictatorial regime that had spread terror throughout Europe. When singing La Marseillaise, they were not acting. They sung with conviction, determination and hope. The viewer can feel the emotion. The first time I saw it, my life changed. No longer apathetic, I saw the pivotal role America played in the hope of other nations, both then and now. Though oppression still exists in various forms…

It is said this film did more for the Allied war effort than any other piece of propaganda. American audiences saw what fascist maltreatment looked and felt like. If our efforts had been lackluster before, they gained momentum after the release of Casablanca. By the end of 1943, the war had reached a turning point in favor of the Allies. Casablanca won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Years later I would meet and marry my French-Canadian sweetheart, relocating to Ontario. Ironically, I am now an American outside of my own country with a French-speaking wife, who is of a minority here. Occasionally resentment and prejudice rears its ugly head, but La Marseillaise raised an undaunted spirit in me that we both gladly share.

I found that love, like freedom, knows no boundary. Hope lifts the downhearted and is contagious. Justice, honor, morality and heritage are things that need preserving, even in Canada.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

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