Well all try. You succeed.
I disagree with a lot of women on a lot of things. The list need not detain us… I have detailed my objections to various kinds of gender politics in plenty of other venues, as well as right here. But one of the things on which I find I disagree most with women is their choice, if given a choice, between two competing male heroes in your typical straight people drama.
I think I was in high school when my dad, who taught me much of what I know of history, bought me tons of books, and can recite the Roman Emperors and their years of reign as a party trick, rented Casablanca for our family to watch.
I love my father, but he nearly ruined the movie by interjecting, it seemed every five minutes, “This is the best line!!” Yes, Dad, they are all the best line. The dialogue in Casablanca is fantastic, and I love to write and read dialogue.
One of my favorite exchanges in Casablanca is when Rick meets Victor Laszlo. “I congratulate you.” “On what?” “Your work.” “I try.” “We all try. You succeed.”
First, I am so glad I am not Ingrid Bergman right there attempting to find a large potted plant in which to hide while she figures out what to do. I’ve been in a lot of awkward situations including past, present and future lovers, but this one takes the gin-soaked cake.
Second, when I saw Casablanca for the first time and many times there after, I never got why she was torn at all. Who would even contemplate leaving a Resistance hero for a guy who runs a saloon?
It was many years later and now many years ago, in my very late twenties, when I was sitting on my luggage in the Los Vegas airport and I finally understood, for a flash of a second, why Ilsa thought about staying with Rick.
Suffice it to say that I got off my luggage, got on my much delayed flight, and went on with my life. What made me realize why Ilsa might have stayed with Rick was that someone who loved me very much encouraged me to go far, far away, to live the life was supposed to live, even though that might mean never seeing him again.
Since then and before, I have never doubted that if I were Ilsa, I would stay with Victor Laszlo.
But here’s the thing. I wanted to BE Victor Laszlo.
I didn’t want to be the most beautiful woman ever to come to Casablanca. I wanted to be the person the Nazis hated the most. The scenes I loved were not the ones where Ingrid Bergman, amazing actress that she was, breaks down in womanly tears as she is torn between two loves. Who cares about that? I love the scene where Victor tells the band “Play La Marseillaise" In this clip, the narrator who claims that Casablanca is his favorite movie of all time (I’m with you, except Star Wars!), says, “Casablanca is about the condemnable nature of neutrality in the face of evil.” I did not know this, but many of the actors in the scene were refugees who fled Europe during the takeover by Nazi Germany and ended up in Hollywood.
Casablanca is one of few films about a war to have been made during the war. As a long time student and sometimes teacher of history, I have always been fascinated by how we make post facto narratives about wars.
I remember when I was a kid how various narratives would come up, thought experiments would be made, as we studied World War II history. We Southern kids in North Carolina decried the cowardice and ignorance of those Christians who turned away as Jews were put in ghettos and eventually murdered. Other kids would say, “I’d be one of the Christians (I lived in North Carolina in the 80’s, we were mostly Christians) who hid Jews!” We all had great ideas about our bravery when we were nowhere near being tested. I spent hours reading concentration camp literature and figuring out strategies for surival. Perhaps I was not the most cheerful of kids, but I managed to make my way. Look, my mom was a librarian. I had access to a lot of books!
I spent my childhood and college years studying the time period when antisemitism reached the point we all know it reached. I see that happening again now. It scares me.
There was a “protest” outside a Jewish owned falafel shop a few days ago. It was not peaceful. Everyone from Governor Shapiro to the White House has denounced it. Here is an article about it.
I am afraid, and I hate being afraid. I am warned not to speak out, not to publish, not to put a Menorah in my window. But silence is complicity.
It is quite possible for people of conscience to mourn the deaths of civilians while unequivocally condemning the premeditated brutality of Hamas, not only against Israelis and other non-Israelis who were murdered or taken hostage on October 7, but against their own people whom they use as human shields. This strategy is not new. It is aimed at winning international sympathy, and it is understandably effective.
Where I live there are many “Ceasefire Now” posters. There is a monument to Gazan dead in the park where I walk every day, and I commend those who made a non-violent, not hate filled expression of their sadness and concern. There is literally no recognition of Israeli death. There are no posters of hostages. If I put some up, would they be ripped down? Maybe I’ll find out. But I am afraid for my safety. There are no Hanukkah decorations outside. Are we all afraid that people will attack a peaceful religious celebration?
I hate being afraid.
One thing I’ve learned in ten years of PTSD is that what happened isn’t the worst part. The aftermath of living in fear is the worst part. When your world narrows because you are afraid. When you become afraid to go out, afraid to express yourself, afraid to make friends because you don’t know whom you can trust.
I made a decision to stop letting fear rule my life some time ago. When I lost a dear young friend to suicide, I realized I have to live life being true to myself.
So I will write. I will speak out against antisemitism and yes, I will speak out against hatred of Israel. I am happy to read articles and engage in dialogue with those who are concerned for all human life. I don’t have a conversation with those who want to destroy the state of Israel.
While it seems that some are delighted to join with the Nazis in the basement in that scene in Casablanca, I’m glad there are still people who are willing to call antisemitism what it is, call out the international community on their refusal to condemn Hamas and demand the release of ALL Israeli hostages, call premeditated rape a war crime, not “resistance,” and stand up to the universities that are allowing harassment of Jewish students.
In many different ways, there are still Victor Laszlos in this world. Through the magic of the internet, I’ve gotten to know quite a few. Thank you. You know who you are.
I’m heading into town to get my phone fixed (my problems with technology are legendary, and have nothing to do with geopolitics as far as I know.) I’m going to stop by the restaurant that was attacked and get some hummus and express my support. I can do little things to help. Maybe I can do big things.
Rick said, “We all try. You succeed.” I don’t think we all try. I think that many of us try in whatever ways we can. I am sad when I see my friends tortured between their conscience and their obligations. I often want to write what they can’t.
Rick said, “We all try.” But Yoda said, “Do or do not do. There is no try.”
I’m going with the little green guy on this one.
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