The Destructive Nature of Nationalism: A “Dreyfus” Affair
April 27, 2016
Although he may not want to admit it, Quinton Tarantino magnificently depicts the destructive repercussions of nationalism. The ideology of nationalism versus that of globalism continues and is as hotly contested today as ever. Inglorious Basterds highlights the treachery behind the Nazi nationalist movement that facilitated the irrational, spreading paranoia throughout the land. The film exemplified how nationalism taught the masses to have pride in their country, its successes and their race but at the same time brainwashed the people to succumb to the will and control of the Nazi party.
Nationalism, in its worst form, serves as a pretext for a group of self-interested individuals to take control of the masses to carry out their own agenda. At least that is true of the nationalist movement that followed World War I in Germany. The Nazi propaganda machine stirred up the masses to believe that the German people were the superior race and that their problems should be blamed on others, specifically the Jews. Through this approach, the masses ceded control and power to the leadership. The leadership then took over the military to carry out their agenda.
Let us begin with the most blatant and negative aspects of nationalism, as depicted in Inglorious Basterds. Shoshanna Dreyfus is a Jew who escapes the infamous Col. Landa, also referred to as “The Jew Hunter.” In Germany during 1941, Shoshanna and her family seek refuge with one of their neighbor dairy farmers during a period of widespread anti-Semitism. The nation of Germany calls on its people to kill all Jews on sight or capture them and have them transported to the infamous concentration camps. When the German farmer providing refuge for Shoshanna and her family confronts a threat to his own family’s safety, he begrudgingly relents and confesses that he is indeed harboring Jews under the floorboards of his home. Landa commands his men to open-fire on the defenseless family, successfully killing all but Shoshanna who miraculously and perhaps by fate manages to survive and escape.
Interestingly, Shoshanna’s last name “Dreyfus” refers to the contentious political scandal of the late 19th century in France when anti-Semitism began to spread. It was a time when the French also harbored a hatred for Germans. When the French army discovered there was a German spy in their ranks, blame was quickly deflected from the real culprit and onto Captain Alfred Dreyfus. It was his Jewish ancestry that made him an easy scapegoat. It was a period of insatiable French nationalism, which made it much more palatable to simply point the finger at a Jew. Despite his impeccable record of achievement and high ranking position, he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to ten years on Devils Island.
Not until a few years later did Emile Zola, a prestigious and renown French writer, become interested in Dreyfus’s case and start to investigate. Since Dreyfus was charged and found guilty by military tribunal, all records were under seal and kept hidden from the public. Zola used his prestige as a writer to seek out information, thus taking advantage of everyone’s inner desire to converse with a celebrity. To his surprise, he found that all the evidence against Captain Dreyfus was fabricated by the French Government. The real spy was of the Catholic faith, which caused the French government to fear the repercussion of alienating a large group of church members by charging one of their own. Zola posted his findings in a newspaper article titled “Jaccuse” which translates “I accuse you.” This was the first major confirmation of anti-Semitism in France.
“J’accuse” I Accuse You!
The exposing of anti-Semitism in France resulted in the emergence of many leaders in the Zionist movement- most notably, the emergence of Theodor Herzl. After the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl commenced his own Zionist nationalist movement and called for the reclaiming of Palestine, now known as Israel. Through his leadership, there was a mass exodus of Jews from France and into their “Holy Land.” It was the view of many Jews that Judaism had its own culture, people, and pride and that they should have their own country. The movement grew rapidly. Not even Herzl could have foreseen the explosive nature of this movement and how it would one day evolve. This movement developed into one that is “somehow more superior, more highly accomplished, more ethically motivated than other countries.” (Laqueur 14)
This story of underestimating one’s enemies is one repeatedly told to characterize the Nazi attitude. It is the same story of Shoshanna’s transformation from weakness to supremacy, all right under the nose of the Germans.
Shoshanna Dreyus owns ‘Le Gamaar Cinema’ with a new identity and new life. Nazi Germany uses cinema to advance chauvinistic agenda. Nazi Germany makes full use of Propaganda
In 1945, four years after both the massacre of Shoshanna family and the Nazi’s encroachment into France, we find Shoshanna operating a movie cinema she inherited from deceased Aunt Ida. Assuming the identity of Emmanuelle Mimieux, Shoshanna runs this Parisian cinema in accordance with the strict rules of German law. This law required all film showings to run under a genre promoting German supremacy. Forced to promote Germanic ‘propaganda,’ Shoshanna manages to stay under the radar and makes a new life for herself.
Why does Col. Landa allow Shoshanna to escape with her life when he could have easily had his men chase after and capture her as she flees into the woods? Landa is asked this very question in the original script, in which he responds that she poses no real threat; she is of an ‘inferior race’ and can’t possibly survive on her own nor will anyone extend help. His elevated views of himself as a German proves as another element that pairs wonderfully to the ignorance that is ‘radicalized nationalism.’
This tendency to substitute logic for blinded ignorance and unwarranted self-confidence finds linkage in the very propaganda that the German leadership is wanting to instill. Those who are gullible enough to believe the messages portrayed in the theatre put themselves at a serious disadvantage. Messages included some, but not limited to: the glorification of health and strength, the Romanization of war and comradeship, the importance of blind obedience and heroic sacrifice and the central concept of Fuhrer worship. This was all invaluable in cementing the Nazi ideology firmly into the German conscious. (Welch 7). They sheepishly succumb to a heightened sense of entitlement that no force is greater or superior to their own.
Frederick Zoller, the star and national hero in Nation Pride, is an example of the sense of entitlement born by nationalism. As the German soldier who kills 250 enemy soldiers in the matter of three days, Zoller becomes a household name throughout France and Germany for his military exploits. Not only is he a national hero, he is also the star in Nation’s Pride, a film made to honor Zoller for his contributions to the Nazi regime. He becomes accustomed to his celebrity and lifestyle. He gets what he wants. He finally faces his biggest reality check when he is exposed to our beloved Shoshanna Dreyfus.
A man wants what he can’t have. Zoller pursues Shoshanna because he sees her as a challenge; she is beautiful, intriguing and something that he can’t have. Just as Hitler provided incentives to win over the people of Germany, Zoller provides incentives in hopes of wining over Shoshanna. Though he showers her in kindness and favors, he came up short everytime. He is unaware that he fought for the very cause that had her family brutally slaughtered in front of her. His pursuance of her resulted in him changing the location of his film premiere to her cinema, in hopes to bolster up her cinema and bring in profit. This act of huge kindness, he was sure will win her over.
In their last confrontation, Zoller finally gets the message that Shoshanna doesn’t want anything to do with him after she tells him to leave, adding “Are you so used to the Nazis kissing your ass, that you’ve forgotten what ‘no’ means?”
When it finally becomes apparent that she has no sense of gratuity for his efforts, he responds just as Hitler responds when he is met with opposition; he resorts to violence. He is unable to admit defeat and when he enters the projector room during the premiere, we see a new and different side of Frederick Zoller. It becomes obvious that Zoller feels entitled to Shoshanna, or any girl really, when in reality he deserves nothing from her. His heightened sense of entitlement is just another example of unwarranted arrogance brought on by a radicalized nationalism.
Make no mistake, German propaganda films played a major role in ensuing nationalistic attitude. As written in Propaganda and the German Cinema, cinema was utilized as part of an all-out cultural and ideological onslaught on the German people. There was much value on films. Doctor Joseph Goebbels, the Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, has his spectacular debut Nation’s Pride play at Shoshanna’s very own cinema. Inglorious Basterds proves historically accurate in its depiction of Joseph Goebbels life having monumental influence as he monopolizes the value of films on Germanic society, specifically in molding the majority point of view.
Though it is not only the Nazis that realize the true power of propaganda, many nations are guilty of using it to advance their own agendas. Of the many ‘favors’ Zoller uses in an attempt to win Shoshanna, his most notable is his moving of the premiere to her smaller, more intimate Parisian cinema. What he doesn’t realize is that by bringing this attention and attendance to her theatre where she has been forced to advance the Nazi agenda, she can finally ensue her own.
With the help of Marcel, Shoshanna’s black lover, she successfully schemes the burning down of her own theatre. The two are both victims of Germanic injustice and reflect through their commonalities and commit a selfless sacrifice in order to reach absolution not only for themselves, but for ancestors beyond them. In other words, they are both willing to give their own lives for the betterment of humanity. This depicts the true beauty behind diversity.
To those who joined the party, Nazism was attractive because of its promise to create a conflict-free community of people. Though Sir Isaac Newton proves, “Every action has its equal opposite reaction.” A conflict-free community is obviously not conflict-free when conflict-orientated when certain people and ideas must endure pain and suffering as to attain such result. Alas, when Hitler’s vision that such “community” would withhold the two elements of nationalism and racism, he embodies a leader of great hypocrisy and deceit. For the Nazis, this idealized community could never see the light of day ‘unless it was based on racial purity’ (Gellately 4). It is their pride in this homogenous society that they all share in their customs and beliefs. In doing so, they isolate themselves from an array of opinions and ideas while simultaneously putting their own people in serious danger.
Their pride in their “Aryan society” provides reason they were unable to make steadfast alliances. For example, when their so-called ally Italy started heading south, Hitler abandons them. Hitler also betrays his Russian ally, Joseph Stalin, when he invades Russia in 1941’s Operation Barbarossa. Despite signing a political and economic pact between the two nations, Hitler’s personal desire for world domination proved too alluring to honor his agreements. Luckily for the sake of the allies, Hitler’s egotistical tendencies are one of the keys to bringing down this unscrupulous zeitgeist.
Now Playing: Cat People (Putting Out the Fire) — David Bowie
Just as Alfred Dreyfus is exiled from his home under false accusations of the anti-Sematic French government, Shoshanna is exiled from her home because of anti-Sematic Germany. As Tarantino plays David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting out the Fire),” we watch the transformation into a much more dominating and determined Shoshanna Dreyfus. This song wonderfully marks her date with destiny. No longer is she to-be underestimated. By burning down the Nazi regime, Shoshanna finally extinguishes the flame that has troubled her all of her life.
“Well it’s been so long
And I’ve been putting out fire
putting out fire
One should never underestimate the power of human perseverance and determination. Just as Shoshanna flees to France seeking refuge, her ascendency into a role of superiority proves just as unforeseen as Palestine’s rise into superiority. She surpasses all expectation, and it is because of her ethically bound morals and keen insight that she manages to bring down the Nazi regime. Shoshanna represents the Zionist movement, as she doesn’t call for a complete overtaking of the German government nor to establish a land where she reigns supreme. She simply wants a place of her own where she can feel safe. Though when it became true that there be ‘no political alternative,’ she rises to the occasion, making the biggest sacrifice a person could make. Her death is Shoshanna’s absolution and the epitome of Zionism; a legacy that lives on forever.
“Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.”
The Jewish State by Theodre Herzel 1896”
Laqueur, Walter. A History of Zionism : From the French Revolution to the Establishment of the
State of Israel. New York: Schocken, 2003. Print.
Gellately, Robert, and Nathan Stoltzfus. Social Outsiders in Nazi Germany. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton UP, 2001. Print.
Inglourious Basterds. Universal, 2009.
Herzl, Theodor. Der Judenstaat. Leipzig and Vienna: M. Breitenstein’s Verlags-Buchhandlung,
Welch, David. Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933–1945. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.