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Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Sétif: these three paths of horror did not interrelate…

Translated Wednesday 9 September 2015, by Adrian Jordan

Bertrand Ogilvie, professor of political philosophy at Paris-VIII Saint-Denis university, psychoanalyst. 1945, year of historic swings.

The American army’s release of the first two atomic bombs over the Japanese towns of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945 - a first in the history of warfare - immediately seemed, quite rightly, to be a pivotal event. A view from a single perspective prevents a clear overview of other events and, in any case, makes it difficult to seek an explanation for them. That is to say, why such and such events are contemporaneous, or why they share the same roots. 1945 is full of profound and terrifying historically pivotal points. The opening-up and liberation of the extermination camps, the Sétif, Guelma and Kherrata massacres, and the incineration of tens of thousands of bodies in lime kilns, by the French army in Heliopolis... and others. For a young collegian in the 1960s, it seemed as though certain symbolic names were not mentioned together, nor by the same people.

Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Sétif, these three paths of horror did not interrelate, they seemed to belong to unrelated fields. Well, to be able to comprehend what they each possess that is specific and unmistakable, it would be necessary to set them in a common field which would allow us to grasp their apparent differences.

The dominant ideologies fell into two fields: the general horrors of war led to the suppression of the notion of linking these heterogeneous fields. How could the anti-Nazi resistance orchestrate massacres in Algeria, how could the allied liberators refuse to bomb the death camps in Europe yet arbitrarily annihilate civil populations on the other side of the world, without military need, but for geopolitical factors? For these questions which remain unanswered, today we substitute more convenient questions: totality of evil, perils of uncontrolled science and technology, clash of cultures... Not much politics all in all. Now if the “incomparable” events nevertheless have a common feature, currently hidden from us, which would make them contemporaneous, it is that they have led us to definitively reject the idea that state violence is the act or the extension of politics.

To the contrary, our legacy from that period and those events, is the onerous task of having to consider politics as being nothing but the mask of institutional violence, currently dormant, which threatens to erupt at any moment.

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