Thursday, October 30, 1986

KBOO 30 October 1986

This International Year of Peace was marked in an unusual way last month by the Australian Foreign Ministry. It sponsored the showing in Canberra of a film about a great French woman, Irène Laure.

Entitled ‘For the love of tomorrow’, the 43-minute film traces the life of a patriot whose deepest wish was to see Germany wiped off the face of the earth but who became a reconciler, doing probably more than any other single person to bring Germany and France together after World War II. It is the moving story of a private citizen who for the last forty years has held no official position but has been welcomed into the world’s chancelleries through her strength of character and commitment and firm belief that forgiveness not revenge must become the motor of international affairs.

It is the story of a veteran Socialist with a great distrust of the United States who now has a vision of what this country is meant to do for the world. It is also the story of a personal journey from class war to a profound faith in God. ‘One day classes and class barriers will be abolished,’ she says, ‘and together we can all become workers for a new world.’

The Australian Foreign Minister Bill Hayden welcomed the cabinet ministers, senior public servants, church leaders and diplomats from 33 countries who attended the showing in the National Library. The 24 heads of mission present included the Ambassadors of the Soviet Union and China, the Ambassador of Israel and the Secretary of the Libyan People’s Bureau, and the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio of the Holy See. Most of the 265 who attended stayed on afterwards. The film was introduced by the former Australian Minister for Education, Dr. K.E. Beazley, and his wife, Betty. ‘The film shows clearly, ‘ said Dr. Beazley, ‘that the significance of Madame Laure’s work lay in its answer to hatred. Hatred may produce revolution or reaction but it will never produce renaissance. What occurred in the relations between France and Germany was a renaissance, so much at variance with the trend of 200 years. Irène Laure broke old moulds. She could begin the process of peace because she began where she had been wrong. Madame Laure attributed the word wars to the fact that we are all defeated by evil. She has devoted her life to assisting in the process of being delivered from evil.’

The Beazleys emphasized Irène Laure’s role not only in the reconciliation of Europe but also in aiding the peaceful attainment of independence by Morocco and Tunisia. They spoke of her challenge to Australians, already years ago, to be concerned for the future of China and the other nations of the Pacific.

An Eastern European ambassador commented afterward, ‘We must look to the future. Madame Laure did look to the future as well as the past.’ The Lebanese representative said, ‘No wonder it was put on Lebanese television. It is what is needed.’ One senator bought a copy of the video ‘For the love of tomorrow’ as did the head of a teachers’ training college. Another senator said she would like more time to ‘discuss the implications.’

In this age when the fear of war seems to invade our consciousness more than ever before, when peace groups proliferate and many people are only too keen to repent of other’s sins, Irène Laure may have something important to say to us. It was noticeable last year as the anniversaries of World War II were celebrated that there were still many who were not willing to forgive their enemies of the war, who preferred to scratch at old wounds. Yet here is Irène Laure, just a few years after the war, prepared to go to Germany in a new spirit, addressing thousands all over the country. ‘For weeks my heart ached when I spoke. But I made peace,’ she says, ‘Why,’ she asks, ‘are we ready to pay the price of war in lives and money and yet not to pay the price of peace?’

That price was, of course, a high one. Irène Laure did not go to Germany to share that she was forgiving the Germans, No, she went to ask the Germans to forgive her. Yes, that’s right. A leader of the resistance movement in the South of France who had seen her people and her friends persecuted and killed asked the Germans for their forgiveness for her hatred. ‘I realized that hatred, whatever motive lies behind it, is always a factor that creates new wars,’ she says, ‘If I had continued as I was, I should have spread hatred right through my own family. My children would have started off hating the Germans, then the bosses, and who would have been next?’

The human apportionment of blame leads us to take sides, to say that so and so or such and such country must first put things right. Irène’s approach was that we must start with ourselves and put our part in the wrong right.

In a fine biography of Irène Laure published to coincide with the release of the film, her marking experience is summed up in her own words: ‘I had a great hatred of the Germans. Facing facts I was right. I suffered a lot from the war and I hardened myself so I should never weep again, even when I heard one of my sons had been tortured, I did not weep. I hardened my heart and said, ‘they’ll pay for it.’ They did pay- but I felt ashamed and I asked their forgiveness, because no nation makes war alone.

‘I asked forgiveness for myself and for the mistakes France has made. It is hard, very hard, but if you do that then you know complete freedom and you can contribute to the freedom and peace of the world.’

I am grateful to the Australian Foreign Minister for his choice of Irène Laure as a role model for this International Year of Peace. Indeed, if peace is what the Nobel Peace Prize is supposed to be given for, then she has more convincing credentials than most for that honor.