The degradation machine is running

Jean Guéhenno

Jean Guéhenno was a French essayist and intellectual known for his unwavering commitment to freedom and truth during a period when both were under severe threat. In the midst of World War II, France had become an eerie silhouette of its former self, ruled by a government that had chosen to collaborate with the Nazi occupiers. Against this backdrop of betrayal and moral decay, Guéhenno chose a path of silent resistance: refusing to write for the press or publish under the watchful eye of the German censors, he instead kept a secret diary in which to chronicle life in an oppressed society. In 1947, three years after France was liberated, Guéhenno’s diary was published for all to read.

The Diary Entry

November 3 [1942]

In the midst of this frightful silence in which we are obliged to live, ignorant of everything, where the mere attempt to learn something is almost considered a crime, deprived of the right merely to call into question the lies the newspapers try to impose on us every morning, I think of the efforts we make to think more or less clearly and to be “citizens.” These efforts seem to me an absolute duty. Premature efforts, my friend B . . . says, to console me. But there are dark hours when I doubt that the time of being citizens will ever return. The degradation machine is running, and what an output it has! Perhaps men will soon have forgotten those fifty to a hundred years during which, thanks to some kind of miracle, they thought they could and should try to live in truth and clarity. 

Further Reading

Jean Guéhenno’s diary was originally published in 1947 as Journal des années noires, 1940–1944. In 2014 it was published by Oxford University Press with the title, Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris, translated and annotated by David Ball. The diary entry above is reprinted with permission.


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