Political Philosophy

“A terrible responsibility”: In today’s U.S., patriotism is essential — but not easy

Robert Zaretsky read

In early July 1942, a 30-something French Jewish woman and her parents, having fled occupied France months earlier, disembarked in New York City. While the parents were still unpacking, the daughter began to write letters to friends, acquaintances, even strangers to help her return to France.

How Simone Weil taught us to confront a world poisoned with lies.

To an English officer she heard on the radio discussing France, she poured out her heart in near-fluent English.

“It is a very hard thing to leave one’s country in distress,” she Weil wrote. “Although my parents, who wanted to escape antisemitism, put a great pressure upon me to make me go with them, I would never have left France without the hope that through coming here I could take a greater part in the struggle, the danger and the suffering of this war.”

Simone Weil, the author of the letter, then tried to sell its recipient — as she had dozens of others — on the idea of creating squadrons of unarmed French nurses who, garbed in white and led by Weil, would be parachuted onto battlefields to tend to the wounded. Though the idea never got off the ground, Weil did manage to get as far as England toward the very end of that year, and join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French movement. . . .

Forward (July 3, 2022).