“My Dear, Perhaps You Have Already Observed That In Casablanca Human Life Is Cheap”

Chilling words from the fictional Nazi character Major Strasser to Ilsa Lund in the classic 1942 movie Casablanca. The movie was filled with propaganda to stir the western world in its war effort against Nazi Germany, along with digs against the hypocrisy behind truth and justice of that era. Casablanca has steadily gained popularity such that it is now judged to be one of the “best” films ever produced.

The fictional characters Signor Ferrari and Rick Blaine, the “look out for myself” businessmen in Casablanca. Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) later has a change of heart and finds his conscience. There are modern-day examples of these characters that we meet in everyday life. Ones who will not lift a grass blade for their society unless it has some benefit to them.

In real life we also meet many Captain Renaults (played by Claude Rains, to the right of the Strasser character) who are willing to play on the side of the devil as it provides perks such as a prestigious title, power, and the chance to exploit the vulnerability of those beneath them. Captain Renault had the pleasure of seducing women in exchange for their right to freedom on the Lisbon plane.

Rick Blaine, in an earlier part of Casablanca has no problem standing by as a desperate man, Signor Ugarte (played by Peter Lorre) begs for his help while not receiving any. Another reference to the “life is cheap” theme of the movie.

Casablanca shows how Rick Blaine, apathetic to the plight of many desperate persons, makes huge money in his casino and restaurant, in obvious reference to those wicked times and not too different from some events of today.

In juxtaposition to the weak characters, Casablanca also introduces us to the brave and moral character of Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid). A meeting here with the weak and selfish Rick provides a glimpse of the difference between those with true heroism and those whose heroism fails to ignite.

Victor Laszlo takes charge of the band and causes an uproar in Rick’s restaurant in Casablanca. The movie demonstrates that true heroism is not always successful, nor easy, but was achieved by many men and women (our parents, grandparents and great-grand-parents) who gave up their lives for a just cause.

Casablanca’s relevance in today’s society is that It is a reminder that the Major Strasser’s of the world can return to threaten our freedoms, and even our lives.  Many Europeans did not dream that the glorious war that erupted in the late summer of 1914 would become so brutal and deadly. Then, when it appeared that peace would prevail, an even more sinister uprising occurred with the likes of Benito Mussolini, Francesco Franco and Adolf Hitler, leading the way into the second world war. As the last few veterans of that terrible time have slowly passed away their voices, that would have provided us with wise counsel, speak only in soft whispers, beneath their inscribed tombstones, where few bother to stoop closer and listen.

We have a choice about the world we wish to live in and pass on to our children. That choice started yesterday as it affected what occurred today. We have history to guide us, should we choose to review it. However, history is not without its untruths as those who wrote it determined what it would say. So there must also be a Sherlock Holmes within us to separate truth from fiction in an honest and unbiased way.

Above all, we must remember what it is that we need to remember on Remembrance Day. While we are told we must remember the courage and dedication of those who fell to protect our freedom, that is not the case. Above that, the greater importance is to remember how and why we came to the position where all those courageous and dedicated men and women had no choice but to lay their lives down for us all.  These were not some mythical, super-heros, they were ordinary persons like you and I. Decisions were made by a few that led to the deaths of millions, and may do so again.

We cannot continue to play in the band, not missing a note, while our ship steadily inches over the waterfall, while fearing to stop our fellow players who dutifully play on. Tapping each other on the shoulder to disrupt the music and suggesting that we should all ask our captain to change course is not such a radical idea.