Thursday, July 16, 2009

Smooth Operator

Nah, this post doesn't have much relevance to Sade's 1985 single detailing the life of a cold-hearted, jet-set gigolo nor removing noise from data. So if a search engine brought you to this remote corner of the Web by error ...

"No place for beginners or sensitive hearts When sentiment is left to chance. No place to be ending but somewhere to start."

Europe between 1938 and 1945 was no place for beginners or sensitive hearts, so Winston Churchill tasked "The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare," or the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to pry it back from the Third Reich. The average life expectancy of SOE agents serving in occupied territory was six weeks despite their extensive training.

Etienne and Violette Szabó during their honeymoon

Some SOE agents were particularly ungentlemanly--they were women. Section F of the SOE employed 39 female agents in occupied France. Thirteen never returned. Of those, Violette Szabó, who volunteered as an agent after her husband Etienne was killed at El Alamein, is most likely the best known. Szabó, the second woman to receive the George Cross, was beaten, raped, starved, and eventually executed and cremated at the Ravensbrück concentration camp with three other female SOE agents shortly before it was liberated by Allied forces.

If you're like me, avoiding the noise about important issues of the day such as a universal health care "right" that "the rich" are going to pay for, there's relief and lessons to learn from history. Then, rather than working and paying taxes, one can take solace in some Violette Szabó-inspired movies, books and even a video game, Violet Assassin.

I don't think Gervase Cowell, an ex-MI6 officer and British Special Forces Club historian, had Violet Assassin or morphine in mind when he told Queen Elizabeth II, "I help the old to remember and the young to understand."

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