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Vive the Amnesty, Monsieur!
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, translation by Simon Green

Here a member of the Resistance... There a member of the Resistance... Of course! Wonderful!... But what about us? What about me? Getting the card and the diploma and the medal? A brazen, preposterous idea?... Certainly not! Did the Resistance members of Siegmaringen ever exist? And how!... I've no wish to hurt anyone's feelings, but if I compare myself with the ones who helped themselves to everything in my home, I say they're going a bit far! Let's forget about it! Let iniquity triumph! I proclaim an amnesty!
     But maybe we didn't do too badly either? "Members of the "Resistance of Siegmaringen"... no messing around, professional, and hard hitting! Compare the resistance movements and tell me which of them went right to where the enemy lived and told the Teuton monster what they thought, as the battle raged, just when all the armies of the world came marching through their guts?... in the midst of phosphorous hurricanes... and the monster being quartered limb by limb... It's easy to stick your oar in when you're in London, Brazzaville, Irkoutsk, and make unpleasant cracks that get the whole planet gasping, and give them hard-ons till seventh heaven... and then come bouncing back with "mad courage now that danger's flown!" Anything goes, anything's possible in Irkoutsk, Brazzaville, London... Siegmaringen is something else! Oh, completely different I tell you!... I'm a bit of an expert on it... only Rebatet can understand. All the others babble on, wank-off, hoax you... They're as far from Siegmaringen as they are from Mars. None of them I know-who've been calling me this, that and the other thing-would have lasted even a week at Siegmaringen... Far too doltish, oafish, cackhanded... And there's even less time in Denmark. All these little punks drunk on their jumbled up idiocies would have been posted as "missing" before their two-week trial was up.
     A Danish prison a branch of the Ritz? "Ferdinand had a bit of luck!" I'd've liked to have seen those creeps inside one! They'd've been swiftly kicked out of that Ritz-Prison, and from the shores of the Baltic ... that those dummies call a kind of "Cte d'Azur!"
     "Experience, that dark lantern, lights only he who bears it." Let's drop it! What remains, what we may be sure of is that we'd deserve the card if only for Siegmaringen. It wouldn't have been undeserved like so many were! No one cheating! So I was going to write out my petition (I have nothing to lose, everything has been taken away from me) but here's the problem, who should I address it to?... To Mr. De Gaulle himself?... To Cardinal Muselier?... to Churchill? Knoukou?... To the illustrious not-so-working-class-as-all-that Thorez? All these people, I'm wary of them, would ask me the whys and wherefores... You mustn't waste a minute of their time. The grounds for the petition: In that Siegmaringen did attend a meeting of town hall officers, top-ranking fuhrers from South-Wurtenberg, and Ambassadors, and in that he did propose the creation of a society to be named "The Friends of Pre Lachaise"...
     "Can you prove this?"
     "I certainly can."
     Naturally I had proof, testimonies. I found witnesses. But what would happen if I get them accused of getting their courage back? Of not being good?... Of not being cured?... Of being recividists incarnate? Of wanting more of the same? I can see the risks. It would be like my bringing a court action to have my apartment and manuscripts returned!... Folly!...
     "Seeing as you're so ingenious, honest and devoted, have them vote us all a general amnesty!"
     Obviously, it's like squaring a circle... The only really practical idea!... Is wiping the slate clean! Totally! With no general amnesty I can't produce a single witness. And there goes my card!... God knows if France (I'll note this in passing), the most luminous, humane, and generous of countries, gets a hard-on for the Rights of Man, and if she takes as many as she can of the world's persecuted-colors, sects, races-into her gardens, farmyards, faculties and beds!... They send in petitions by the thousands asking for more! From '44 to '57 ten petitions a day!
     Do you have a little Wallach who was given a slap and is suffering? Let's have him! Let's have him!... A Paoum witchdoctor who hasn't digested an undercooked and over-bearded missionary? Send him along! Send him along!... List after list, incessant lists of illustrious names coming to the rescue of the little Wallach who got a slap... From the Theater, the Arts, the Sciences, all the Academies band together to relieve the honest Paoum's stomach with the missionary lying heavily on it... But since '44, that's thirteen years, I've never seen a single list of signatures calling for a general amnesty... As if it were damn-well impossible for the French to think of anything else except how to be even more wicked and indestructibly ferocious towards their fellow countrymen facing adversity!...
     Oh when it comes to Pollacks they shed nothing but tears!... Volapuks, crypto-Wallachs, Mexican Carabes... They lose sleep at the thought that these arch-foreigners could be going without. But that Dubois, Duraton and Vergogne have been rotting for ten, twenty years in the bottom of a dungeon, doing hard Labor the devil knows where, why, no one gives a hoot!... which appeases consciences, sleep and the Rights of Man. I tell myself that Ferdinand, called up in 1912, born in Courbevoie, 75 percent disabled, awarded a medal before De Gaulle got his, still has a bit of duty left. Once the movement is under way I'll slip off, he can be the president of it and everything!... I have to admit I can't think of anyone more qualified... He earned 27 million francs from his memoirs... not as much as La Windsor, but nonetheless... He didn't suffer very much during the Occupation... He can't be very embittered... As his name is Charles he could model himself on the earlier one, Charles V, who on his return to Paris set France's mind at rest: "The King knew nothing of it, knows nothing of it, will know nothing of it." That would have been magnanimity. It's still not too late.
     Total amnesty! a general one! It's too bad, but what's done is done! We can't bring back the dead, not these ones, nor the others, nor the dead of Verdun, nor Bbert the cat... Amnesty, Forgetfulness, Vacations... Send hate on a holiday!
     What a beautiful picture that paints! I'm working myself up to fever-pitch, feverish old fossil that I am. I could also be making a blunder... De Gaulle won't be very happy with me being so familiar. I could perhaps imitate Charles Floquet: "Long live the General, Amnesty!" But I think that what would please him most is a reading of an excerpt from the Encyclopedia... the big 1900 edition. The passage that concerns him also concerns his ministers. Let them give us some pleasure at last, do something else besides just voting in new taxes and complicating our vital index:
     "Amnesty is one of the necessities of all governments. There come times when an inflexible society has grave drawbacks and could even endanger the state itself. Such a need for pacification arises within the country that it is in the interest of the Authorities to heed the voice of clemency and to make a peace treaty."

     I won't speak of Algeria, I won't talk of "the sick mother" surrounded by quarrelsome children... De Gaulle is aware of it, Mends France too. They know but they're staying out of sight... I could go to Rome, to see Ben Gouriou, or to the Pentagon... Nasser looks quite bright... I'd go anywhere, let them call me anything, I'm used to it.
     Oh, you're quite right! But Long Live the Amnesty! When you've become a narrow, tremendously ancient old thing you have only one idea... all around you night has already fallen... But a little lamp perched high atop the Eiffel Tower can see it... that faint hope...
     Vive the Amnesty, Monsieur!

     (1957)

Email: follandgreen@hotmail.com

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