Simple and guileless I was and probably still am. My American college in Paris was a great place to meet the world. I had classmates from all around the world and, all of us, as freshmen owned our own share of naivete. We were all of an age when we could likely be no other way. Our age was, however, at a turning point where the world was opening up and our ideals would be put to the test. I am speaking of the middle 1970’s and most of us were 18-20 years old.
The college regularly invited guest speakers to our grand salon. This was an elegant room with huge windows that opened up to Avenue Bosquet, a major tree-lined avenue. With windows open to allow for a bit of a free breeze, we one day welcomed Sir Oswald Mosely. All I knew of this man was his name and that he was the founder of a British Fascist Union. He was British to the core, yet living outside of Paris in a self-imposed exile.
I pause to wonder now how many of my fellow students knew of him. It is possible I was the only naïve student there, but somehow I doubt it. Mosley wore a beautiful dark blue double-breasted suit, which was set off by white French cuffs and white hair. To me, he looked impressive and his use of language was superb. He spoke of dogfights over the English Channel and said that it was common for the victor to throw a wreath from his cockpit to honor the valiant loser. Mosley explained that if circumstances were different, the other would have also thrown a wreath. His point was that dogfight can only have one winner and each fighter held a deep respect for the other. This made an impression upon me as I think of it some 47 years later.
Years later, of course I learned of my naivete as regards Sir Oswald Mosley. He was an impressive man, for sure, but not the kind of guy I would have applauded had I known what I know now. Of course, he had his admirable side as, for example, his service to the Parliament and to the British military. He was a dedicated husband and father to five children the last whom, Max, died only this year.
The downside was his intense denial of the Shoah, the Holocaust. His post-war analysis blamed the Allies for its constant bombing and bodies were burned in gas chambers, he claimed, to fight against typhus outbreaks. Mosley tried to minimize photos of places like Buchenwald and Belsen while he tried to support Hitler by saying that he did not know what was going on. Under all of this was his anti-semitism. The Shoah was to be blamed of the Jews who were “a considerable disaffected population” (en.wikipedia.org).
Back in 1975, I did not know this about Oswald Mosley. I was naïve, ignorant as could be. But now, having researched the Shoah for many years, I find it hard to believe that such an intelligent and well-spoken gentleman could deny it. My naivete was challenged by my own experience in later years. I am still naïve about many things, but not about the Shoah. Years have passed and I am left with my double view of Mosley. From one perspective, he was an intelligent, committed-to-an-ideal man. The other perspective offers an image of someone who denied reality on the basis of anti-semitism. Maybe that was his naivite at the time? He, to the best of my knowledge, did not talk about the holocaust on that breezy Parisian late afternoon.
It’s scary to think about and to realize how naïve people, like me, can be. That’s why learning should be a life-long goal. An earlier blog of mine makes the point that no one can know everything. However, naivete is not necessarily the product of the lack of knowledge or experience, but perhaps more so the product of an unwillingness to be engaged in the world around us. This being said, Oswald Mosley may have been more engaged in his own mind, that in the world.