Casablanca's 70th Anniversary: Same World, Different Wars
Casablanca. This iconic film celebrates a 70 year love affair with her public, from America to Morocco, across Europe and around the world, this year. Star-crossed lovers, a terrifying war, and refugees fleeing oppression seeking stability and escape.
How far we have come since World War II. The astonishing technological advances in space travel, science, medicine, and even how entertainment and news are consumed, and the sheer availability of -- and access to -- information, is breathtaking. The world is more cynical now and great love affairs are viewed with ever more skepticism, as competition to achieve reality television-worthy attention seems to pervade the consciousness rather than love or intimate affairs. Consume whatever media you like, there is little in our modern buffet of choices to eclipse the messages this film delivered.
Perhaps Casablanca is more important today than it was all those years ago, when good versus evil was the fight, and everyone agreed genocide was worth ending and tyrannical oppression was too. Foreign policy was nuanced when there was room for nuance and strong, clear, and proactive when it needed to be. We also had a Department of War back then.
In the film Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, and her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinreid) arrive in unoccupied Morocco where the French and many Europeans have fled the increasing reach of the Nazis, for fear of being collateral damage in the Holocaust. There she reunites with her former beau, Rick Blaine, played by Humphrey Bogart. Bogart and Bergman sear the screen with their chemistry. The power of war to tear apart lovers, friends, and neighbors is virtually equal to unite the same. The movie provides a stirring reminder.
Listening to my late grandmother's stories about huddling around a radio for news during the war, to my father (who was a small child then) talking about neighbors helping neighbors with food, with caring for children, with laundry, with everything, reminds us that in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks America united in such a way. Even as political debate corroded political affiliations, the people still found a way to support our men and women in uniform.
There have been many calls for inquiries. For investigations. For answers. Every war prompts discussion and evaluation, but back in Casablanca, the film and the very real city today, there are lessons that need re-teaching. There were refugees fleeing there in the film. People with nothing but the items they could carry.
In today's Casablanca, there is a bustling economy and a culture informed by more than a thousand years of commerce, immigration, assimilation, political, and cultural transformation. There are former refugees from Tindouf, Algeria. They await a moment where they can reunite unexpectedly with their lovers and families and friends at Rick's Cafe. Instead, the world scarcely notices the approximately 70,000 Sahrahwi refugees imprisoned on Algerian soil, even though the United States and others have been openly advocating for their freedom.
As the holidays approach, it seems worth mentioning that the iconic films made 70 years ago often communicated something real. Casablanca wasn't propaganda, it was about identity. About love, sacrifice, choices, responsibility, and individual liberty. It was an affirmation of all those things and more. It was a reminder that those things are worth fighting for. It was also a reminder that some are not able to fight for themselves, and that when the vulnerable need a voice, people of good conscience find a way to give it to them.
With a full heart, my prayers include the Sahrahwi imprisoned in refugee camps this holiday season. And even as I will surely fall in love with Humphrey Bogart all over again, I will hope for others to have that moment as well. Because there really is little so wonderful as knowing another person (or country) has got your back.