Telling Tales

BY MANDY BALDWIN

We live in a time of great deceit, because we live in a time of denunciation – which is what happens when people are encouraged to tell tales to the authorities. Tale-telling is tediously endemic now, as it always is under despotisms, but these days, denouncers don’t have to sneak into an office under cover of darkness to do the dirty.

It’s so easy – all those moist little fingers busy at the ‘report’ button – and those who indulge, kidding themselves that by trying to wipe away someone they disagree with, they are helping society, are acting in a long, un-admired tradition.

A lot of people don’t understand that to denounce, in deference to the establishment ethos of the day, is foolish, because ‘establishments’ are far more temporary than the word suggests.  And when they have crumbled, as they inevitably do, what remains is human nature, which loathes the snake in the grass which can’t bite but slithers off to tell a bigger snake where it can find a meal.

Those who live openly don’t want to know that a beady-eyed denouncer is watching, waiting for vengeance for any perceived slight.

The names given to the denouncer aren’t desirable ones: snitch, rat, weasel. From play-ground cry-bullies who are cat-called “tell-tale-tit!”, to great literature, to films, to religion; from insane, blood-drenched Madame Defarge in Tale of Two Cities, via the creepy, swivel-eyed pervert informer in Charlotte Gray, right down to Judas Iscariot,  the betrayer is despised as long as he or she is remembered: which is generally not a fraction as long as those who they unintentionally make martyrs and celebrities of.

Even those who use the information given, tend to despise the denouncer.  One Gestapo officer sent to Hamburg during WW2 to take reports of ‘anti-German’ behaviour, was so sickened by the line of excited denouncers which stretched from halfway down the street and up two flights of stairs to his office, that he wrote despairingly in his diary that he’d rather be posted East – and at 6pm each evening, would step outside onto the landing to bellow “F*** off!” at those eager to share why they suspected Frau Schmidt was sleeping with a Pole, or Herr Schwartz was listening to the BBC.

Around 1 million French people betrayed their neighbours to Occupation Forces between 1941 and 1945, not realising that France would soon be freed, soiling their national identity forever:  and after centuries of being known for heroism, dash and verve, have still not recovered their image.  Denouncement was – and is – collaboration.

I used to live in a pretty little town in southern France, called Le Barcares.  There was a long stretch of beach, backed by pine-woods which were planted in the 1960s.

If you go there, walk carefully in the woods, because half buried among the sandy soil are traces of masonry, remnants of a concentration camp built especially for the ‘foreign volunteers’ who paid local guides to take them from Spain, over the Pyrenees,  to small towns where they expected to be delivered to groups of Maquis, but were instead handed over to Gestapo, or Milice, while the denouncers received another fee.

There were seventeen such camps along the beautiful southern French coast – and thanks to denouncers who thought what was then, would always be, over 10,000 young idealistic men and women from all over the world died in the one at Le Barcares alone.

There is a memorial to them on the beach – a vast pillar of white, lit at night with the colours of the tricolour, and surrounded by a beautiful garden of red and yellow flowers – the ‘blood and gold’ of Catalonia.  Each year, a solemn ceremony of shame and remembrance is held by the townspeople, and the area is known as the ‘Jardin Des Etrangers’.

But the denouncers who weren’t summarily dealt with by the Resistants died in exile along with their families because, I repeat – nobody likes a tell-tale.  And there are no monuments built or flowers planted to honour them.

This fate is far more inevitable than that the current ‘overlords’ will remain in situ, glad of your collaboration.

So when your pulse quickens at the thought of spoiling someone’s day – or career, or reputation, or relationships, or life – by denouncing them with a few little clicks, remember that you are actually promoting and validating those you attack, while you, yourself, scuttle into the shadows and obscurity.

If you are lucky.

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