I hadn’t seen Casablanca in several years when I started this little essay, save for the clip of the Marseillaise which I always pull up on Bastille Day (but before that horrible attack in Nice). I watched it again on a flight back from the US a few weeks ago, though, to make sure my notes made sense.

As we get to know Rick Blaine, the facts of his life come in drips. We learn that he lives by his own code which is honourable but not in the most conventional sense, that he’s carried a torch for a woman he never expected to see again, and that he’s on the run from the US for an arms-related issue. (This is tricky because what we learn from Laszlo is that he fought in Spain on the side of the Loyalists. Is that sufficient to put him on the wrong side of the US? We don’t really know the reason he’s on the run.

He’s anti-fascist on principle, and seems to thrive where there’s little in the way of order.
Having been in Paris at the time of the initial occupation, he packed up for French-administered Morocco and set up Rick’s Cafe Americain, expecting he’d be able to do business there for the duration. The Americans hadn’t taken sides and didn’t look set to do so.

The movie came out in November, 1942, so about a year after US entry into the war. But when precisely does it take place? We get one hint: in a stupor, Rick asks his friend Sam ‘If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?’ only to receive the answer, ‘My watch stopped.'(What is the nature of their relationship? They’ve been together for several years, and Sam is something more than an errand runner, pianist, and drinking buddy, but he’s those things too.)CasablancaJP

Having identified the ‘beginning of a beautiful friendship’ with the French police captain, we can guess that either the next day or the day after that, Casablanca will hear the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Rick will be back in the war.

As we near the 75th anniversary of US entry into World War II (and shortly after that, the 75th anniversary re-release of the film), we find ourselves on a similar precipice. There’s a whole lot of war going on, but we’ve not formally declared World War III. Does Brexit signify that the UK (the Untied Kingdom?) will enter hostilities with Turkey and Russia on a different side than the US and the EU? For example.

In 1991, I was oh so certain that we wouldn’t get out of the 20th century without another great war. I think I figured that by the time I turned 50 we’d be at the other side of it, not just getting ready to enter it. But, as I’ve argued elsewhere (and not originally), we’ve spent the last century fighting the ongoing skirmishes of WW1. Alliances shift, but we’re still keen to be at war. Just because we can’t picture an Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran today doesn’t mean equally strange alliances aren’t afoot. In that category of unintended consequences (you know, everything that’s going on in the Middle East that was predicted in 2002 in some form or another), the results of the Brexit referendum are just all of a piece.

Every time I skim social media, there’s a link to some new atrocity (all the places we’re bombing or the bombing of which we’re financing) or case of legislative poor judgement (today’s example is France banning the burkini – let’s alienate all the people we really don’t want to alienate, shall we?). Each one leads me to the conclusion that the war is just going to get closer even if we don’t declare it. Happily sat in relatively unharmed Nederland, I can claim my own neutrality. At what point to I have to declare which side I’m on?