Saturday, June 09, 2012

Two Men Who Changed The World, And Two Men Who Didn't

"The problems of Canada are not problems caused by Canada, they are the effects of the foreigner causes, the communists and the Jews." The crowd of men encircling the speaker at the Montreal public house were fixated with the unquestionable certainty the wirey Adrien Arcand embodied. "It is not from our own hands that our country is being torn asunder, but it is the immigrants, it is the immigrants that are taking our jobs, bankrupting our economy, and diluting the Canadian culture."

Michael Horner sat at a table, his third empty glass of beer before him. He was surrounded by three other friends and co-workers who were just as riveted to the man at the center of the room. Introduced as an editor and founder of a new political movement, Adrien Arcand was statuesque, his frame and features, like his thin mustache thinly etched on his upper lip, were finely sharpened, yet the passion in his eyes and voice more than compensated for the lack of vivacity in his appearance.

Though Horner voted in the recent 1930 general election, he wasn't often inclined to politics. He was nevertheless enthralled with Arcand's speech, catching himself muttering the occasional yes as he listened. Arcand's words, his ideas ignited something in Horner. Sitting there he glanced at his friends' faces, all in differing levels of intoxication and interest. Johnson's eyes were bright, he hadn't taken a drink since Arcand started speaking. Mitchell had an intense look of thought on his face, half hidden by his large mustache and hand on his chin. Dernier was visibly agitated, staring at Arcand with his fists clenched and a newspaper crumpled before him.

And just as Horner's eyes returned to Arcand, the speaker waved his fist proclaiming that Canada must unite, unite in truth, unite in strength against the Jew, for now or never. In the brief moment that followed, the crowd was silent as if they reached a precipice of some mountain, about to look at what new country and untold fortunes were now revealed to them.

The men at Horner's table didn't even notice their colleague stand up, but turned as Dernier shouted, "You're a lunatic. An idiot." Horner sat there stunned, as if the room was being shaken. "You're nothing but a mouthpiece. Getting rid of Jews isn't going to make Canada great, getting rid of men like you who don't do a thing will."

Arcand's eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed on Dernier, "And you produce much, besides lies?" Pausing, looking at the crowd, and seeing they expected more, Arcand leaned forward his mouth opened, but was cut-off.

"The world is getting smaller, but it is still too large for small men like you to succeed in spreading hate." Dernier spoke in a more comfortable louder tone, confidence only rising as businessmen at a neighbouring table banged on their table in accordance.

Adrien Arcand looked down, his eyes scanning some invisible script, murmurs in the crowded room becoming more audible. Michael Horner sat back against his wooden chair, a gaze of awe on Dernier as the man gave a nod to his table as if to excuse his outburst and sat back down.

Arcand paused for another moment, and then continued, with more than a slight change in his intonation. As he went on the crowd slowly lost interest. It wasn't long until others began to shout and heckel, albeit more anonymously. Arcand's composure became more and more haggard, ending his speech prematurely by just walking off the platform flustered. He left the pub with his two compatriots, muttering he wouldn't do it ever again.

"The problems of Germany are not problems caused by Germany, they are the effects of foreign causes, the communists and the Jews." The crowd sat enthralled by the pale yet energetic speaker at the German public house. At one table sat four men, three of which took keen interest in the short man with a peculiar mustache who, though early in his career as a political activist, spoke extremely well and passionately of the need for a united and strong Germany. The fourth man at the table, agitated, sat with his hands clenching the arms of his chair grating his teeth until he couldn't take it anymore. So focused on the speaker was his friends that they didn't even notice that he stood up, and walked away.

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The above is fictional, but Adrien Arcand was very much real and was very much a fascist leader in Canada. The idea that Arcand was possibly similarily publicly rebuked early in his career making him disenchanted with grassroot organizating, a method upon which Hitler greatly relied, is just one of many possible explanations for his movement's failure.

Perhaps the tendency of North Americans to speak their mind, possibly preventing the rise of populist demagogues, may also offer one of many explanations why fascism never enjoyed as much success here as it did in Europe.

Lastly, the story hopes to offer a simple yet history changing lesson: it's not whether you stand up or not, it's what you do after that matters.

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