On Saturday November 17, La Jeune Politique sat down with Minister for Veteran Affairs, Kader Arif. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Arif talks about the importance of keeping the memory of veterans alive. In the first part, he talked about his political career.
You are the Delegate Minister for Veterans Affairs. What does this entail?
It is a Ministry with a rather large budget, around €3 billion, 95% of which is intended for the veterans pensions, as a recognition for all the men and women who fought for the French Republic, for those who are still alive, but also for the widows and widowers, or for specific reasons: people who were deported, who suffered from the Nazi barbarism, etc.
I have the ambition to take this Ministry away from its image of being turned towards the past. [In France, the Ministry’s name is “Anciens Combattants” meaning Former Combatants.] I really like the English word “veteran.” It better suits my vision, which is more anchored in the present and the future. There are still memories alive, at least regarding World War II, the Algerian War, the Korean War, and the following international missions the French Army was involved with. We need to make the best possible use of this memory that is still alive in our veterans blood.
We just celebrated November 11 [the celebration of the end of World War I], which is now only a memory set in stone, since there are no more survivors from this war. No matter how beautiful the stones are, nothing can replace a living memory. We will soon celebrate the centennial of this war, but in the meantime this Ministry does not only look towards the past, but is also in the present because our soldiers are coming back from Afghanistan. They are becoming veterans, though some of them are only 23, 24 or 25.
There is a whole question about the link between Army and Nation. I regret the national military service was suspended because it was an important step in the youth’s discovery of citizenship. We do not have that anymore. Now there is a “Day for National Defense and Citizenship” and we have to ask ourselves how to do things around this day, how to reinforce it. I think that, in the life of young people, a citizen’s path is important to create a link to the Nation and with the Army.
We sometimes have a negative image of National Defense but it is one of the central missions of the State, a structural canvass for the Republic. I am profoundly impressed by the republican ingredient in all these dimensions. It means that we always need to be in capacity to see that recognition. In particular, I just evoked these soldiers fallen in foreign operations, some of them very young. For others, we have to create a future with professional career changes; for some wounded soldiers, we have to know how to support them.
My work also includes the celebration of commemorations, the duty of remembrance of national unity. Two big events are going to be the centennial of World War I between 2014 and 2018 and the seventy-year anniversary of World War II, with some celebrations already happening this year. Next year we will raise the question of Home Resistance to the Nazi occupation and remember famous names like Jean Moulin and many others, I would say invisible, unknown elements who fought then. We will also celebrate the National Committee of the Resistance on May 27 1943, which crosses all political families. The post-war period was such a structuring movement, which influences us still, and we have to keep these values.
There also are a few big policies in action: I am working on some more typical Defense matters with which the Minister of Defense trusts me.
Regarding November 11, there was a debate in France about the change in the meaning of this day from the celebration of the end of World War I to a day of commemoration for all those killed for the Nation…
This was the first November 11 which commemorated all those who fell for France. But there was indeed a controversy on which I publicly expressed myself. I do not support the idea of having a kind of “Memorial Day,” such as it exists in the United States, a day that would gather all military commemorations. I think that November 11th should carry this as the President of the Republic did this year with a focus on the fallen soldiers in Afghanistan this year.
But France is a country where dates exist and we must respect those dates. Each history, each moment in history has its own particularity and I do believe we must preserve this. I do not support the idea of a single Memorial Day because everybody needs to find himself in a specific commemoration and I think it is the best way to show respect to the fallen. It is an important decision for me.
I also took advantage of the occasion to answer a very French controversy about the “executed as an example” during World War I. I recognized as “fallen for the Nation” a soldier who was represented in Kubrick’s movie Paths of Glory. He was executed in more than dramatic conditions: after fighting for seven days and seven nights on the front, he was taken prisoner by the Germans, managed to escape, and found his way back to the French lines. And then a martial court decided he was a traitor. He was executed, handcuffed to a pear tree and his stretcher. I redeemed him and gave him the mention “Dead for France.” It was the best way to honor his memory and his family, some of which are still alive in his village.