vice premier

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July 23rd 1951: Philippe Pétain dies

On this day in 1951, French military officer and former head of the Vichy government, Philippe Pétain, died aged 95. Born to a farming family in 1856, he joined the French army in 1876 and rose through the ranks slowly in the years before World War One. However, his successes in the war catapulted him to national fame. Pétain’s most famous victory was leading the defense of Verdun, which made him a national hero in France and resulted in his becoming marshal of France in 1918. In the postwar years he held a number of political offices, finally being appointed vice premier in 1940 as France faced attack from Nazi Germany. Pétain called for an armistice, which ceded large parts of France (including Paris) to the Nazis. Pétain, as ‘chief of state’, ruled the remainder of the country from Vichy; the authoritarian Vichy government collaborated with Germany, even introducing anti-Semitic legislation banning Jews from certain professions. Pétain himself, though indeed reactionary, favoured neutrality over even closer collaboration, trying to maintain relations with the Allies. As the war progressed, Pétain’s influence waned and French resistance mounted against Vichy collaboration, and he was taken to Germany when the Allies landed in France. After the end of the war, with France free from German rule, the ‘hero fo Verdun’ was tried and condemned to death for treason. His sentence was commuted to life in solitary confinement, and Pétain remained imprisoned in a fortress on the Île d’Yeu until his death in 1951.

Protest Culture

So Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with China’s Vice Premier at my university today to talk about 100Strong and US-China exchange programs, which is pretty cool. But there was a pretty big protest going on outside the building because of his presence. Which is fine, obviously - staging a protest is a right that we’re accustomed to and it’s a good way to flex political expression. However, the protest happening today was against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Now, I totally get protesting the pipeline and the fracking that will go along with it. But you do realize that the Secretary of State is the one inside the building? It’s not like the people behind the pipeline project are there. Secretary Kerry literally cannot do a single thing either for or against the project, and he has a lot of more important shit to worry about (China, Iran, etc).

Look, I’ll say it again: protesting is great. It’s an amazing tool for social change - think the March on Washington, the student Vietnam protests of the 70s. But sometimes protest culture can get out of hand, and unfortunately the only thing really hurt by this is the cause itself. Occupy Wall Street is a perfect example of this. Some of the original ideas behind the protest were great: highlighting corruption on Wall Street and income inequality is an engaging and sympathetic cause. But Occupy exploded and became more about the act of protesting, professing so many “objectives” and causes that it lost all meaning. This was only exacerbated by its dispersion throughout the US - as someone who lives in DC, I walked past the “Occupy K Street” version that was happening in Farragut Square. It was a joke. Just an ugly, sketchy, grimy set of dirty tents roped off in the middle of what is usually a lovely grassy area, full of crooked signs and people who stared at you as you walked past. What was the point of that?

That’s what I’m trying to say here, I guess. As soon as Occupy became a buzzword, it lost a huge amount of whatever power it might have had - and when it became a punchline, well. The same can be said about this random Keystone protest today. People seem to think that any big-name government official will be the perfect setting because of the instant publicity. But what’s just as important as publicity is relevance. You know what protests would have been relevant today? Iran’s nuclear program. Involvement with Syria. NSA information gathering. But today’s protest was totally irrelevant. And unfortunately, that irrelevancy won’t be reflected on the over-eager college students - it will reflect on the anti-fracking, anti-Keystone XL movement. Flexing your growing political muscles is all well and good, but NOT when you could be hurting the movement you’re trying to promote.