Archive for November, 2014
The death of a French Environmental Rights Activist, Remi Fraisse, at a protest of Sivens Dam, France, has recently sparked protests in many European cities. On October 26th, Fraisse was found dead with wounds to his back that the case prosecutor attributes to one of the many police flash bang grenades used against the protesters. The mood has escalated and has ignited a “kill one of ours, kill one of yours” attitude, specifically for the protests in Nantes and Toulouse France, and is beginning to erupt in smaller cities all over the country.
On the evening of November 8th in Rennes, France, my bus sat at a standstill for 10 minutes in traffic, which was unusual for this time of the day. Suddenly everyone on the bus was told to disembark two full blocks from our intended stop. As I looked ahead, through the line of traffic, I saw at least 20 police vehicles surrounding La Place Republique, and I noticed there were at least 10 more stuck in traffic behind me. As I walked closer to the scene I took note of the helicopters flying overhead and the slew of news reporters and journalists. Among this crowd were 50-75 SWAT team members in formation waiting in the center of the square. There were scores of other officers blocking other roads and all of them were equipped with shields, bullet proof vests, and pepper spray. From where I stood, I also noted that there was an immense number of teenagers/young adults who saw the situation as a chance to take a “selfie” in the interest of being hip and receiving social media kudos. Many were positioning themselves the backs of the SWAT team members, a comical show of pseudo-support instead of actual participation, essentially not taking the situation seriously.
As it began to rain I noticed that the stores in the surrounding area were all on lock down, so I sought refuge under a roof of a public toilet building to the side of the main square. A man next to the building shouted something incomprehensible and dozens of people began to repeat after him. The group, rather substantial by now, then began to advance towards the closest group of SWAT team members. I quickly skirted my way out of the crowd and watched as the protesting group lobbied raucous boo’s in concert with the sirens of the police cars. The crowd then began to throw garbage and shout obscenities at the police. Throughout the course of an hour, I watched the group push back the SWAT members two blocks while several members of the protest were pounding on doors and windows of surrounding buildings like drums.
As Americans in Missouri continue to protest the killing of Michael Brown by police officers, French youth have risen to the occasion to express their discontent with the same issue. However, instead of the geographically isolated protests of the United States I am witnessing a country-wide response to the unjust death of Remi Fraisse. Dozens of schools and universities have been closed due to the overwhelming response of the youth. When I came to Rennes, the last thing I expected was to be caught up in a monumental protest that could ultimately shape the future of France.
Jessica Santilli is currently a student at Nazareth University in Rochester, NY, but is spending this semester abroad studying French at Rennes University 2 in Rennes, France. She will graduate in 2016, hopefully with degrees in Art, Illustration, and French. She is the sister of current Can the Man writer Spencer Santilli.
At the end of October I spent several days in France and witnessed a lifestyle and environment at the complete opposite end of the spectrum from what I know. Being there, and being involved with Can the Man, I noticed things vastly different from what I assume most people would see. I was paying attention to my sister when she told me that in order to clean up the smog in Paris public transportation was made free and driving was restricted to days based on license plate numbers. The heavy cloud of choking smog cleared up in a few weeks. That led me to wonder, what would that ever happen in the United States? Limitations on driving would not be likely because it is our “freedom” to be able to drive in any way we want. However the greatest social differences I made note of were the entirely opposite policies between the USA and France on the issues of fast food and cigarettes.
In the United States we are used to our greatest athletes like Lebron James or Peyton Manning sponsoring obesity. James, a representative for McDonalds, can be seen in any number of televised commercials. For chrissakes, McDonalds is one of the premier sponsors for the fucking Olympics of all things. In France, fast food—in fact almost all food advertisements—I saw had a disclaimer at the bottom which read something to the tune of, “Be sure to eat plenty of vegetables!” or “Remember to exercise daily when eating these foods.” I was blown away by reading this, and then began to look around at the people surrounding me. There were hardly any people I would consider to be obese. Coming from the United States, land of taco flavored chips and chip flavored tacos, this was astounding. Yet, when surveying my surrounding’s I also noticed another distinct difference between American health consciousness and the one I was witnessing in France.
Everyone smoked cigarettes, or at least it seemed that way. Men and women, old and young were puffing away at one of the most prevalent global killers in civilized human history. Now, as America has appeared to turn the corner on cigarette smoking, France is continuing to fiendishly smoke without even near the same regulations that they propose on eating fried food. How is it that a recycle-friendly, diet-aware, and petrol-preserving country in the EU can still maintain the theory that cigarettes are not a serious problem? As someone who has recently tried to quit, after six years of habitual smoking, this was not something I expected to see. Walking around the ten century old grounds of a French Chateau while inhaling continuous second-hand smoke wasn’t really the grand vision I had.
This trip was my first in-depth look at another part of the world and an entirely different culture. There are endless ways that I enjoyed theirs more, but there were also plenty of things I missed, even in six days. I missed having a tall glass of water with plenty of ice and eating anything other than bread for breakfast, to name a few. I am already looking forward to planning another trip across the pond, and will continue to reflect on the differences I witnessed until then.
During World War II, far away from the main fronts, behind closed walls in mainland China, a gruesome experience unfolded. The Unit 731 was a biological warfare development program led by Japanese researchers. Officially, the unit’s main job was to work with water purification but it was doing something completely different behind the scenes.
The main headquarters of the unit were in the city of Harbin, in northern China. This unit was based in China and not on Japan’s home soil for a very simple reason: the abundant number of human guinea pigs available for experiments.
The unit’s main mission was to help develop biological weapons that could kill hundreds of thousands of people. In order to achieve these goals, they did not shy away from savage methods.
Right after Unit 731 started its activities, thousands of people were kidnapped (mostly native Chinese but also Koreans, Russians, and Americans) and transferred to the facilities where they were locked in small cages. In these cages, they had to sit and wait until they were chosen for study. Many would never come back again. They would be subjected to ruthless experiments in unnecessarily brutal “research.” People were murdered in order to “study” how they suffered; victims bled and screamed in pain before death became a fact. Much of the research focused on infections, viruses, and diseases. Members of Unit 731 knowingly infected prisoners with some of the worst diseases in existence, including bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid, anthrax and tetanus, and more—to study how their bodies responded to the treatment. After they were infected they performed vivisections without any painkillers on the patients in order to study how the diseases spread.
The experiments performed were so inhumane that they raised eyebrows even with high ranking Japanese officials, but nothing happened until World War II was over.
After Japan’s defeat, the most logical thing would have been for these crimes to be made public and for an investigation to follow. But that wasn’t the case. Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur proposed to not prosecute Japanese people involved in Unit 731 for war crimes in exchange for all the data of the experiments. The Japanese agreed and thus one of the cruelest crimes of the 20th century was hidden away from the public. Some of the people involved in the experiments from Japanese side continued to have long, fulfilling careers in education or even government. Even Shiro Ishii, the mastermind behind the Unit 731 went on to be a consultant at Fort Detrick, a biological weapons program in the USA, while Suzuki Shunichi, another member of the unit, became Governor of Tokyo. To this day the 3,000 victims of their horrific acts never received an official apology from the Japanese Government.
Note: Donna Saddler is a Contemporary History student at the University of Leicester. In 2015 she will do a study trip to Harbin, China to interview survivors of the Unit 731 about their ordeal and document the wrongdoings. For more information please check out www.unit731.org.