Cliquez pour lire ma tribune sur lemonde.fr
Today was supposed to be the day when I would tell all my friends and colleagues I will be running the Berlin marathon this September to raise money for Oxfam.
I wanted to tell you why I decided to run for an organization whose work I have supported for some years now. This post was supposed to give you a sense of the enthusiasm and trepidation with which I will be training and racing over the next few months to support Oxfam’s humanitarian work. I will hopefully get the chance to do this again later.
But over the weekend, disaster struck in Nepal. As I am sure you all know, an earthquake devastated this impoverished country, destroyed its limited infrastructures and the old city of Kathmandu. As I write, the death toll has already passed 3,600, thousands more have been injured, and tens of thousands find themselves homeless, desperate for shelter, food, and the basic necessities we all take for granted.
The Oxfam team in Nepal has been assessing humanitarian needs and a team will soon fly out of the UK to provide clean water, sanitation, and emergency food supplies.
I don’t just run for Oxfam to demonstrate my commitment to their values or my solidarity with all of those who suffer from poverty and disease. I support Oxfam because they are there when disaster hits as it did in Nepal this weekend. They work hard and effectively to respond to critical emergencies like this one. But they cannot do it alone. They need us, all of us, and whatever we can give to help their relief operations.
If you want to help, you can use the JustGiving page I just set up in preparation for my marathon:
Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.
Thank you very much in advance!!
Rebuilding European Lives. The reconstitution of urban communities in interwar France and Belgium (1914-1939).
Paper presented at the “Recreating historical cities after WWI” Conference, Kalisz (Poland), 16-17 April 2015
In July 1998, in Noyon, a medium-sized town in northern France, construction workers pulled down the decayed community hall and chopped down the acacias which had stood there since the 1920s in order to make room for a brand new leisure centre. The street sign was also taken down; until then, the plaque indicated:
“Place de Béziers, marraine de guerre de Noyon”
(« Béziers square, to the war god-mother of Noyon »)
This was the last testimony of the particular bond that used to tie Noyon and the town of Béziers, in southern France, that in March 1920 had decided to “adopt” her in a spectacular move designed to state its commitment to the recovery of a town which had been entirely destroyed after the German invasion of 1914. In that way, the “ville-marraine” had pledged its financial aid towards the recovery of the town and to foster the link between the two towns by organizing charity fêtes and civic rituals.
The acacias were not replanted and the plaque never put back in place. 80 years after the Armistice of 1918, the memory of a distinctive feature of the post-WWI reconstruction had faded away as collective memory and historiography seem to collude in oversight.
At the end of 1920, the President of the French Republic awarded its highest distinction, the Legion of Honour, to J.P. Morgan, Jr., senior partner of the American finance company, J.P. Morgan & Co., in recognition of services performed for the French government during the First World War. Indeed, the importance of J.P. Morgan & Co that was regarded as the main commercial and financial agent of France and Britain in America has for long been acknowledged by contemporaries and historians alike. They have stressed the major role played by the New York firm in the funding of the war effort and economic reconstruction which followed the Great War. In the very same year, the American Committee for Devastated France, founded and chaired by Anne Morgan, the sister of J.P. Morgan, Jr., received the Gold Medal of French Reconnaissance for the work being done in favour of the ruined areas of northern France. This work had previously won her the Croix de Guerre in 1918. In 1932 Morgan even became the first American woman to be appointed a Commander of the Legion of Honour.
The fact that the latter distinctions and the work done by Anne Morgan, is usually passed over in silence in the historiography of reconstruction betrays how exclusive an emphasis has been put on the financial and economic dimension of the post-WWI recovery of the devastated areas in Belgium and France. However important, this traditional focus on the responsibilities assumed by the Allied states and financial institutions has actually led scholars to overlook the significant role played by a host of initiatives and organizations which, originating in the civil societies of the Allied nations and prompted by infra-national, imperial and international solidarities, lent its distinctive features to the post-WWI reconstruction of western Europe.
Relatively neglected the social history of the reconstruction of France has not been wholly ignored of course. While the French countryside and its agriculture have been meticulously researched, the reconstruction of urban communities has mainly been studied from a local perspective, thanks to the efforts of local historians, archivists and museums intent on preserving the memory of a key episode in the modern history of their regions. Likewise, Anne Morgan’s contribution might indeed have been forgotten without the efforts of local historians and of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Historians are also dependent on the efforts of other social scientists who, from the fields of geography, architecture, urban planning or heritage studies, have studied the urban reconstruction from their own, often technical and professional, perspective. Tellingly, the few historians to have published on the matter have done so in other disciplines’ journals. There remain, therefore, significant gaps in our knowledge that this project proposes to address.
For many, the guns of August 1914 seem like a story from long ago. Sepia-toned images of dusty, musty relics, mustached gentlemen in pinstripe pants, and ladies in near floor-length skirts dominate images in popular culture. Yet, surprisingly, those who witnessed civilization unraveling at the seams were very ‘modern’ and through their memoirs, letters home, and correspondence with Washington, they convey similar attitudes and concerns that we would recognize today. For the men and women in the U.S. diplomatic community in France, as elsewhere in war-torn Europe, their unique, front row seats to events ensured that they had a rendez-vous with history.
What was it like to experience war on the front lines while representing a neutral nation? How did the actions of the U.S. diplomatic community impact foreign public opinion of the United States? What role did African Americans and women play in the United States’ neutral response prior to 1917? What were the tensions between diplomacy and neutrality, and how did the 1914-1918 experience change the U.S. diplomatic corps and the conduct of U.S. diplomacy—and how does it inform our actions today? How did the media coverage of the war change European opinion of the United States—and Americans—and how did U.S. reporters’ accounts of war-torn Europe alter the way American culture viewed the larger world? In what ways did the war experience change the world in which we know it? What were the elements that we’d still recognize today?
The centennial of the First World War offers us the opportunity to reexamine events and better understand how the world was irrecoverably altered over the course of four years. Join us as we discuss findings in the Office of the Historian’s recent “Views From the Embassy” project and contextualize it into the larger picture of the era—and its impacts today.
For more information on the WWI project, please visit the project’s website.