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  • Yehoshua Paul

1943 - The Little Prince

1943. The Allied leadership gather at the Anfa hotel in Casablanca, Morocco to plan their strategy for the next phase of World War II. The conference is attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and the French Resistance leaders De Gaulle and Henri Giraud. Giraud is backed by the United States and De Gaulle is backed by Great Britain. Neither of the resistance leaders particularly likes each other, but the conference calls for the two of them to jointly lead the French Resistance forces. Two days after the conference ends, Jean Moulin, a high-ranking resistance member, persuades the three main resistance groups in southern France – Franc-Tireur, Liberation and Combat – to unite under De Gaulle’s leadership.

Meanwhile, the Milice française (French Militia) is created by the Vichy government. The Milice are a political paramilitary organization with 29,000 members who are given the job to hunt down the French resistance movements and round up Jews for deportation. They are commanded by Joseph Darnand, and the oath administered to all those who join requires them to commit to work for the destruction of the "Jewish leprosy" in France, the Gaullists and the Communists. It takes a while before the Nazis agree to arm them.

The Milice have a lot of work. Two weeks after they are established, the Service du travail obligatoire (Compulsory Work Service; STO) is created, requiring most able-bodied French men to be shipped off to Nazi Germany to work in forced labor camps. At least 40,000 men flee into the countryside and become resistance fighters. They call themselves the Maquis, and while initially focused only on evading becoming slave labor, hardline policies (“Kill them all”) adopted by Fritz Sauckel, the person in charge of rounding up victims for German factories results in them joining the more organized resistance, under the undisputed leadership of De Gaulle.

De Gaulle is then joined by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who after publishing The Little Prince, departs the United States for Algiers to fly with the Free French Forces and fight for the Allies.

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944) was a french writer, poet, journalist, aristocrat and pioneering aviator. He began his career by failing his final exams at a preparatory naval academy, twice, and this resulted in him studying architecture and performing odd jobs until he joined the army as a basic rank soldier. While serving in the army, he took private flying lessons and these got him transferred to the French Air Force, where he served for several years. Eventually, due to family pressure, he left the air force to become engaged, but it didn’t work out and in 1926 he became an international postal-flight pilot, one of the pioneers in the field. 1926 was also the year Saint-Exupéry published his first novella, The Aviator, in a literary magazine, and this sparked his career as a writer and journalist. Night Flight, which he published in 1931, marked him as a rising star in the French literary world, and his career in both fields was now established.

When Germany invaded France, Saint Exupery flew a French Bomber against the invading forces. After France signed the armistice agreement with Germany, Saint-Exupery went into exile to the United States with the hope of convincing the United States to enter the war. His wife Consuelo, joined him there several months later. During his stay in the United States, the French wife of one of his publishers convinced him to write The Little Prince with the goal of calming his nerves and competing with Mary Poppins. After completing the book, he returned to fight in the war, despite being above the age limit.

Prior to his return, the Vichy government unilaterally promoted Saint-Exupéry as one of its members, much to the author’s shock. In addition De-Gaulle, publicly implied that Saint-Exupéry supported Germany. Depressed, the author began to drink heavily and his health deteriorated. Shortly afterwards, he disappeared over sea, while flying on his ninth reconnaissance mission. An unidentified body in a French uniform was recovered, and buried, but no one really knows what happened to Saint-Exupéry.

Today, Saint-Exupéry is considered a national hero in France thanks to his literary works which posthumously boosted his status. He is best remembered for his lyrical aviation writings, such as Night Flight and Wind, Sand and Stars, and his bestselling novella The Little Prince, which has been translated into over 300 languages and dialects, and still sells over two million copies annually.

The Little Prince is narrated from the perspective of a French pilot who opens the story by reminiscing about his potential childhood career as a cartoonist which he gave up after adults advised him to stop focusing on elephants swallowed by boa constrictors. This lack of encouragement resulted in the narrator becoming a pilot, a pilot who has now crash landed in the Sahara desert and needs to fix his plane before he dies of thirst and hunger.

As he is working on his plane, the narrator is visited by a young boy who asks him to draw a sheep. After several false starts, the narrator draws a sheep in the box, which is what the boy had wanted all along. The narrator and the boy become close friends. We learn he is the Little Prince who used to live on a tiny asteroid with three volcanoes and several plants. Maintaining the asteroid is hard work, and if the little prince wasn’t careful he risked his asteroid being overrun by baobab trees.

Following a dispute with a rose, the Little Prince decides to leave his home and explore other planets each inhabited by a single adult whose behavior is completely irrational from the prince’s perspective, until he eventually gets to Earth where he encounters some animals and even more irrational adults. The animals teach him important lessons, while the adults are even more incomprehensible, which makes a depressing sort of sense.

First of all the book is absolutely beautiful. The writing is poetic with a childlike innocence that manages to deliver some very deep and profound messages. The illustrations are beautiful, and I can see why many people are moved by this book. My only criticism of this book is that is written for children as we imagine them, and not how they actually are. It’s hard for me to put my finger on specific examples that illustrate this, but I feel as though the childlike criticisms expressed by the narrator and the little prince would be incomprehensible to children today and children then (who were a lot tougher than today’s children). This doesn’t mean that the book can’t be enjoyed by adults, though because as I said, the book is beautiful.

USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses dropping supplies to the Maquis in 1944.

The Omer today is kindness in kingship. When thinking about what was going on during this year, it was really hard for me to spot any kindness to discuss, only petty politics and cruelty, too much cruelty. The Little Prince serves as a reminder why kindness is needed in all our interactions with others, and it is kindness that will give us friendship and love. And what about kingship? In the world in which adults are kings, in 1943, kindness is lacking. In a world in which children like the Little Prince ruled, I suspect things would be much nicer. Unfortunately those types of children are rare, as even children fight. However, I suspect the damage they’d cause would be a lot less, and it would be easier for them to make up, so yeah I’d give them a chance. Next election, I’ll vote for whichever party establishes a maximum age of 9 for getting elected. Who’s with me?

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