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Allied occupation of France post WWII
February 16, 2005 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Ted Rall's posted his 1991 thesis on the allied occupation of France during and after WWII. A nice jumping off point for the historically minded.
posted by alan (27 comments total)

 
Insert off-handed discrediting remarks about Ted Rall

here:
VVV
posted by shawnj at 11:42 AM on February 16, 2005


When I read passages like...
" The U.S. atavistically jeopardized the French economy by deliberately devaluating the franc and attempting to force the French to bear the costs of their own liberation. Allied armies distributed U.S.-printed occupation currency, an act which the Gaullists perceived as a snub to national pride that even the Germans had not imposed. The U.S. annulled French laws without appropriate action by a French legal body, imposed military courts on civilian offenses, enforced martial law, confiscated both public and private property, enacted censorship beyond wartime exigencies, dissolved political organizations and retained Vichy collaborators in office."
...I'm tempted to ask: so what? What's the problem here? This was 1944; the US was in the throes of liberating France from the Nazi's--in many areas, a very collaborationist France--and he's actually bitching about their wounded pride because of the printing of temporary money? Oh, those mean old Americans. And here we are 14 years later and he's still flogging that horse.

I'm interested to read what someone with a much better grasp of American military history and Vichy-era French history thinks of his paper. But it doesn't change the fact that Rall is a real piece of work. I suppose I could be overly-sensitive here, but a guy who hits his literary high-water mark by tarring the widows of 9/11 victims as greedy media-whores just weeks after the attacks doesn't augur well as a serious historian.

And FYI, since it's probably pertinent to this paper, Rall has a French parent, dual citizenship with France, and voted in the most recent French elections for that notorious "right-winger" with whom he disagrees on "just about everything"...

No, not Le Pen. Jacques Chirac. Seriously.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:09 PM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]


I'm just trying to think what it would be like to try and win a war against the Germans when the newly liberated country behind you was erupting in civil war between the Resistance and the Free French. Somehow I think martial law and military government was justified at the time.

Oh, and, Free Dirty Danny!
posted by anthill at 12:15 PM on February 16, 2005


It's not that I have a problem with Rall's politics or anything. I don't really care about them, honestly. It's just that Ted Rall is a total cock.
posted by Josh Zhixel at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]


I have a problem with him. He takes up valuable square inches that could go to funny cartoonists.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:46 PM on February 16, 2005


Get a grip folks. The thesis isn't about wounded pride, it's about exploring some of the reasons there is resentment to US foreign policy. And reprinting it is about putting that into context with events in the middle east today, and what kind of repercussions might occur from policy decisions. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, can't you see the validity and import of such a discussion?

As for him being half-French... WTF?!! Should we be suspicious of all-American historians who write about French-American history?! OMFG! They MUST be so biased we can't trust what they say! Come ON. Does it not matter that he graduated with honors from Columbia in a degree with history?

Yeah, I think Rall was wrong in his actions on the whole Dirty Danny thing. But everyone makes mistakes, and in the grand scheme of things, I kind of think this pales compared to, oh, say, Iraq. Plus, I think Ted's paid a lot for that mistake. But I won't defend him on it.

As for Rall being a cock, thank God for that. We could use a few more molotov-tossing types on the left so that the right doesn't have a monopoly. Every day I see a new Rall cartoon, whether I agree with it or not, I thank God someone out there has the balls to push the envelope. I also thank God for Peter Kuper who tells it straight and does so with such gorgeous art. There's a time and a place for art that is controversial, and I can't think of a better time and place than here and now. I'll take that kind of thought-provoking cock (from any political persuasion) over hordes of 'well-meaning' and 'safe' types any day of the week. Much of the time his art ISN'T SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY. Comics aren't all about being funny, or making you feel good. If they were, I wouldn't bother with them.

I highly recommend his collections, My War with Brian, 2024, and Generalissimo El Busho. Also his book To Afghanistan and Back. Agree or disagree, he backs his opinions up with a lot of contextualized facts. Which is more than I can say for a lot of people.
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:16 PM on February 16, 2005


This is an interesting topic. Occupation and liberation can be an ugly, touchy business. The perfectly black-and-white stories of WWII that we grew up on can usefully be challenged without losing one's moral compass.

Asparagirl, so Rall voted for Chirac. What's your point? Are you saying he should have voted for Le Pen? Abstained? Committed seppuku on the spot?

On preview: what the_savage_mind said in the first 2 paragraphs. The paper is most usefully discussed on its own merits, not by saying extraneous stuff on the order of "Well, Rall can't draw".
posted by Turtle at 1:32 PM on February 16, 2005


what the_savage_mind said.

(i've been thinking of The Spanish-American "War" myself, especially in terms of postwar agreements and our control of Cuba's natural assets, etc, for decades afterwards.)
posted by amberglow at 1:40 PM on February 16, 2005


Ted Rall is his own worst enemy. He crafts a fine argument with fact, but then he craps all over it with hyperbole and Chicken Little screaming.

Asparagirl- Sure, wounded pride seems small and petty in comparison to the Nazi regime. However, what should be and what is are two different worlds. France had been a world power for hundreds of years, and Britain's eternal rival. To have a former British colony, one that they helped liberate, pull them from the fire was embarrassing. America's actions were very logical and for the better of both America and France, but the French still lost face. So, whether it's right or wrong, it's still a factor in Franco-American relations. Rall's French heritage makes it easier to sympathize with the French point of view. While it's difficult to sympathize with wounded French pride for many Americans, understanding why it is so can help with diplomatic relations. Basically, you can't fight immaturity with immaturity.

Now, your beef with his attack on the widows of the WTC attack, that's where Rall gets ridiculous. He's out there, but he still brings up a few valid points if he can stay calm.

I bet he's got the hots for Coulter.
posted by Saydur at 1:58 PM on February 16, 2005


If you're already into the Spanish-American War, amberglow, pay specific attention to the Philippine War and what kind of atrocity went on under America's attempt at colonialization. It was the first genocide of the 20th Century. Savage enough that Mark Twain began a round-the-clock, vicious assault on his government.

On the Damned Human Race, a collection of his work that has some brutal pieces revolving around that conflict, is a phenomenal read. I read it for the first time in 2002. As I watched the lead up to the Iraq War I could only shake my head in disgust... everything Twain had written about was coming to pass again. Everything. Here's a relevant excerpt, though I recommend getting the book.

There's no coincidence that the nations posing the greatest threat to the US toda in terms of fundamentalist-based terrorism, Iraq/Iran/Indonesia/Philippines, all had until fairly recently American installed or backed dictators. America followed Britain's lead on these guys, and it's biting us in the ass now. Saddam (Colin Powell under Reagan was instrumental in the decision to keep giving chemical weapons to Saddam after we knew he was using them on Kurds), the Shah, Suharto, Marcos. Repressive, savage despots, one and all. Who ground their people under them with American backing. Leading to MASSIVE resentment.

In Iraq/Iran, it's a chain we're continuing. The CIA, at Churchill's behest, perpetrated a coup against Mossadegh, the first democratically elected leader in Persia's history. At that time, Persia was not on track to become a fundamentalist theocracy. in fact, its nationalism was of a democratic bent. They brought back the Shah, who was Saddam-level bad, or worse. The CIA then trained his feared Savak, perhaps the most brutal secret police in history. Certainly a contender. A few decades under this, and the mullahs were able to take over. So then we backed Saddam. Again at Britain's recommendation. In order to check Iraq. Look how great that worked out. And all that policy came about thanks to the motherfucking Dulles Brothers, who are the ideological forebears of today's Neocons like Wolfowitz and Perle. Short term 'solutions' to pressing energy needs that have disastrous long-term results for America's safety. Yay, Progress!!!
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2005


sonofsamiam and the_savage_mind are both only half-right.

sonofsamiam:Ted Rall is brilliant, and he used to be brilliantly, darkly funny.

Unfortunately, at some point in the last few years, he became a bitter, angry caricature of his former self. His current work isn't worthy of your praise, the_savage_mind. It outright sucks most of the time.

The essay is interesting, as it dates from his earlier, more thoughtful period. He's always been out to expose hypocrisy and corruption, but as the essay shows, he used to be thoughtful and nuanced about it. I hope that Rall eventually regains his senses, but I doubt he will.
posted by casu marzu at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2005


Meant to say Saddam was used to check Iran, not Iraq.

Oh and hey, I forgot Saudi Arabia and Egypt in that list. The two countries who provided all the terrorists for 9/11. Support of those repressive regimes, which keep the majority of their citizens poor and uneducated (thus pushing them into the arms of the mullahs), does nothing but evil. Both towards the citizens themselves, and towards America's safety interests.

Sorry to get long-winded. It's just so damned obvious that American foreign policy could use a hell of a lot more investigation. Even if you drop the whole Ideals aspect to it (which I would never do) and approach it from pure Realpolitik.

casu marzu, I'll agree with you that Rall isn't as funny as he used to be. But I'd also suggest that with what's going on these days, it's much harder to be funny... it is in fact very hard not to just be foaming at the mouth. There comes a time where maybe you just can't find humor in what's happening around you. In your (Democratically elected?) name.
posted by the_savage_mind at 2:35 PM on February 16, 2005


casu marzu, I'll agree with you that Rall isn't as funny as he used to be. But I'd also suggest that with what's going on these days, it's much harder to be funny... it is in fact very hard not to just be foaming at the mouth.

The Daily Show seems to do it fine quite regularly. And arguably with better results.
posted by tittergrrl at 2:39 PM on February 16, 2005


It's only harder to be funny now if you've completely lost your sense of humor. Go back and look at Rall's cartoons from the nineties. A lot of those cartoons are funny as hell and are just as relevant today. Problem is, he doesn't write them anymore. He's been too busy beating the Generalissimo El Busho gag to death for the last four years.
posted by casu marzu at 3:00 PM on February 16, 2005


Rall's still occasionally funny and the "WTC widows" comic was brilliant. Ever since that comic was published, liberals have been afraid to say that they like him. Well, I like him.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:18 PM on February 16, 2005


My point is that Rall's personal take on US involvement in French politics might be colored a bit by the fact that he is both 1) a French citizen who 2) actually calls someone like Chirac right-wing, and thus he's on the fringes of not just US but also French political debate.

And whether it's France or the Phillipines, looking back at past military occupations so we can learn from them and put those lessons to good use in Iraq sounds peachy keen. But it would be better if Rall's aim were, say, to help the US have something of a graceful eventual exit from the country and leave behind a more stable and more free society with fewer of our previous foul-ups, as opposed to merely trying to dig up more ammo to play his favorite game of bash-the-Americans. (In other words, the idea is a good one, but I don't entirely trust his motives.)

The problem is, this college history paper probably isn't the one to use to make that comparison. Rall seems to feel that the US committed a list of mistakes and sins in France that were not only egregiously bad, but self-evidently bad. We're not about to learn from our history if the only things he can point to for our edification is "can you believe what jerks they were for not sucking up more to either the Gaullists or the Communists and favoring native governmental groups who were likely to be pro-American". There's only so much an occupying force can or should do to help the natives save face; I mean, wasn't letting/prodding French troops be the ones to retake Paris enough? Or helping build up De Gaulle as a national hero? Or the Marshall Plan, under which France received $2.7 billion? Because according to Rall's paper, that apparently didn't blot out the horrific pain of insensitive monetary graphic design.

And if we're going to play the "compare Iraq to past conflicts and see what we learn" game--which, again, isn't a bad idea--may I suggest these articles (the first one by John Dos Passos) from 1946? They seem to have some relevance to the way Iraq was covered in the media in 2003-2004, or Afghanistan in 2002.
posted by Asparagirl at 3:18 PM on February 16, 2005


Asparagirl: Chirac IS right-wing, and not only for French standards. His Gaullist party is affiliated with the European People's Party, which federates all EU conservatives. He is for a strong defence (remember the nuclear tests?), a lean welfare state, economic deregulation and tax cuts. Even Dubya's "compassionate conservatism" shtick could well have been inspired by Chirac's own paternalistic campaigns against the "social fracture". His wife is known for her piety and he wraps himself in the flag regularly. It's just the French flag, not the American one. He's certainly to the right of Tony Blair, whose Labour party is affiliated to the Party of European Socialists...
Because the left went divided into the first round of the latest presidential elections, in the second round French lefties (Rall included) found themselves in the unenviable situation of having to choose between a right-wing (and corrupt) candidate in the person of Chirac, and an actual fascist in the person of Le Pen. Chirac won 80% of the vote, but a majority of those voters did it while holding their noses, just like Rall...
posted by Skeptic at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2005


I mean, wasn't letting/prodding French troops be the ones to retake Paris enough? Or helping build up De Gaulle as a national hero? Or the Marshall Plan, under which France received $2.7 billion?

As to your first two points I'd say no (not that my opinion means much) since letting/prodding them to retake Paris does not erase attempting to keep them from running their own country, and since it is well known that Roosevelt tried very hard to tear down Charles De Gaulle. As for the Marshall Plan, I dunno. I'm not disparaging it, but with any people, including Americans, it's easier to remember the harm others have done to you rather than the help.

As Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson testified, without the French and the huge risks they took (they bankrupted themselves in the effort), there would be no USA. And before anyone says they did it for selfish reasons... the US entered WWII for selfish reasons, and rebuilt Europe for selfish reasons. In both cases, the outcomes were good things, notwithstanding that. But again, it's human nature to focus on the hurt.

Beyond that, it's a fallacy that people shouldn't offer criticisms if they don't have a solution for a problem caused by not listening to their criticisms. The paper was written in 91. Moreover, there was no lack of intelligent, educated, professionally respected people who made similar (and other) comments in the lead up to the Iraq War. About how we would have to occupy it, in effect, and that would lead to no good outcome. It's just that these people weren't given remotely equal airtime when it came to the issue of the war. Intelligence agencies alone, including both MI6 and the MOSSAD, had key people saying there were no signs of WMD in Iraq, and that not only were Hussein and Al Quaeda not friendly, they were enemies. Plenty of people knew that the vacuum that would come after an invasion would likely result in the fundamentalist theocracy of Iran gaining major sway in Iraq's future, which seems to be coming to pass. So those people, who were trying to yell and get attention and say 'Hey, wait a second... this course of action is INSANITY'... they aren't responsible for fixing the mess now. There IS no fix. The point of reprinting this paper is, at best, to say 'Hey, look! If we look at history and at the facts without being completely blinded by ideology, maybe we can make some useful predictions!' At least that's how I see it.

As for you use of Dos Passos, who was talking about media coverage? What does that have to do with anything here? If anything, the media coverage was far too willing to take the Pentagon at its word on how things were before the war, how they were going during, and what would happen after. There's no competition in how biased the MSM was between uncritically pro and uncritically anti. Once again, the Spanish American War and the Philippine Occupation are much closer... with Hearst and Co. filling the papers with propaganda screaming that you were either with us or against us, and if you were against the war you were a traitor. Even if we were talking about the media coverage, I'd hardly choose Dos Passos for your argument. If you are indeed arguing that coverage was unfair towards official American policy. Since Dos Passos was a dyed-in-the-wool anti war, anti-colonialist, anti empire (whether clothed in the trappings of Fascism or Communism) writer and human being. There's no way he'd be defending the execution of the Iraq Fiasco.
posted by the_savage_mind at 3:59 PM on February 16, 2005


Oh no, Dos Passos would definitely be anti-war. Completely. My point in bringing up those two articles is that we'd like to be able to look at the past (Civil Affairs in the occupation in France) and learn from our mistakes (or "mistakes") there and apply that knowledge to the present.

That's fine, but if we start doing that "comparing Iraq" exercise, it can certainly apply to other aspects of the war, like how we perceive it in its immediate aftermath (1946 vs. 2005), and how that perception may be very flawed or even biased in directly analogous ways.

Skeptic- whoa. I'm sorry, your points make excellent sense, but my brain is still having a hard time with the Chirac-is-a-right-winger idea, and specifically with the idea that he's to the right of Tony Blair. It seems like Sarkozy is constantly being set up (in the media, at least) as the face of the (non-fascist) Right in France, not Chirac. But I sit corrected.

Will shut up now and fetch some coffee, which should be a relief to us all. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 4:37 PM on February 16, 2005


Sorry for misunderstanding, asperagirl. I read that the wrong way, it seems. i understand what you are saying and agree. Comparisons only work so well, and can generally only serve as pointers. You do, in fact, have to do the work to make them apply fully to a more contemporary situation. But I do think they can be quite instructive as to pointing out what kinds of things to think about.

Me, I'm going to pass out now. It's super late here. And I've spoken waaaaay too much, for which I apologize. Been fun though.
posted by the_savage_mind at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2005


it's about exploring some of the reasons there is resentment to US foreign policy.

The French resent the U.S. because they are a bunch of pussies militarily and are ashamed that the U.S. had to bail them out. Twice.
posted by Doohickie at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2005


Please tell me that's a joke, Doohickie. My sarcasm detector is on the fritz. If not, please investigate the truth.
posted by dame at 7:32 PM on February 16, 2005


I don't think the French are pussies, by any means -- they perpetrated the Battle of Algiers, for Marianne's sake, a brutal counterinsurgency effort that makes what we're doing in Iraq look tame. (Well, I hope so, anyway.)

The French are pissed -- let's take it as a point of argument that they are -- for a number of reasons. They're pissed because WWII marked the end of their significance as a great power, and their colonial empire (in the case of Algeria, stretching back to Napoleon's day). They're pissed more specifically at the US for a broad range of reasons: for our "having to bail them out", to some extent perhaps, but also for our training the Viet Minh, who eventually kicked them out of Indochina; for Suez, which kicked them out of the Mideast; for foisting NATO and the UN and English as a diplomatic language on them. They're a proud people, let's face it, and they didn't like being bound up in a system we built largely to our own liking. They were forced to be chummy with old enemies Britain and Germany.

Now, the irony is that France is still a third Western power after the US and UK. It's the only other military that has real power projection capability, and the only one that actively uses it (e.g. various interventions in W Africa). The truth is we recognize their sphere of influences there and don't say boo when they act as they please. (I dunno -- maybe that burns the French most of all, that we won't fight them, heh.) But this means that more than other European powers they have potential points of common interest and of conflict with the US that are not shared by other EU members, who all long ago gave up such pretensions if they ever had them. The UK is happy enough to kowtow to the US lead because they have that "common heritage" thing to fall back on. The French don't feel that same face-saving safety net.

Anyway, I don't really blame them for being skeeved at us on a regular basis.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that the US had plans in place to create an occupation government in France. Rall somewhat glosses over this, but at the time those plans were made, we could not be certain that we would even be able to completely and effectively occupy France. After '43 or so the tide turned but we were also fighting a mad, if brilliant, general. A coup in Germany and a junta or civilian figurehead suing for peace would have made things a lot more difficult for us, politically -- perhaps even more especially if they made a separate peace with Stalin. There were still scenarios where an unoccupied Axis remained unconquered. We didn't know how the liberated French would lean. (Would that we had distrusted Chalabi as much as DeGaulle.) Hell, we didn't know that D-Day wouldn't turn out like Dieppe.

Keep in mind that the history of the French involvement up to this point was decidedly ambiguous. It wasn't flowers and roses, there, either. The French Fleet escaped from the Nazi occupation to Oran in Algeria; but they wouldn't surrender to the Allies, hoping to be neither fish nor fowl, so we had no choice but to bomb it. That's how fucking proud the French were. When we invaded North Africa, we weren't entirely sure that it would go well, and indeed some French troops fired on the Allied forces here and there (especially the British) and had to be subdued. So the experience we had wasn't one of unrestrained optimism. It was only after a long period of building confidence in DeGaulle, the Free French, and the Maquis Resistance that we became prepared to trust him (after all, many French considered him a traitor).
posted by dhartung at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2005


Also, anyone interested in the cultural underpinnings of Franco-American misunderstandings should check out Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong. If I remember correctly, it does a good job of dispelling the "French rolling over and not fighting the Germans" canard.
posted by dame at 9:36 PM on February 16, 2005


Some excellent points and links, Dame. I've got another one for any mouthbreathers out there who want to jump on the 'the French are cowardly pussies' bandwagon. It ought to be called "you don't have a clue about military history, do you?" and it's right here.

Some excerpts: I'm talking about the American Revolution. If you're a true American patriot, then this is the war that matters. Hell, most of you probably couldn't name three major battles from it, but try going back to when you read Johnny Tremaine in fourth grade and you might recall a little place called Yorktown, Virginia, where we bottled up Cornwallis's army, forced the Brits' surrender and pretty much won the war.

Well, news flash: "we" didn't win that battle, any more than the Northern Alliance conquered the Taliban. The French army and navy won Yorktown for us. Americans didn't have the materiel or the training to mount a combined operation like that, with naval blockade and land siege. It was the French artillery forces and military engineers who ran the siege, and at sea it was a French admiral, de Grasse, who kicked the shit out of the British navy when they tried to break the siege.


Or how about those WWI pussies? WW I was the worst war in history to be a soldier in. WW II was worse if you were a civilian, but the trenches of WW I were five years of Hell like General Sherman never dreamed of. At the end of it a big chunk of northern France looked like the surface of the moon, only bloodier, nothing but craters and rats and entrails.

Verdun. Just that name was enough to make Frenchmen and Germans, the few who survived it, wake up yelling for years afterward. The French lost 1.5 million men out of a total population of 40 million fighting the Germans from 1914-1918. A lot of those guys died charging German machine-gun nests with bayonets. I'd really like to see one of you office smartasses joke about "surrender monkeys" with a French soldier, 1914 vintage. You'd piss your dockers.

Shit, we strut around like we're so tough and we can't even handle a few uppity Iraqi villages. These guys faced the Germans head on for five years, and we call them cowards? And at the end, it was the Germans, not the French, who said "calf rope."


In regards to WWII: This was the WEHRMACHT. In two years, they conquered all of Western Europe and lost only 30,000 troops in the process. That's less than the casualties of Gettysburg. You get the picture? Nobody, no army on earth, could've held off the Germans under the conditions that the French faced them. The French lost because they had a long land border with Germany. The English survived because they had the English Channel between them and the Wehrmacht. When the English Army faced the Wermacht at Dunkirk, well, thanks to spin the tuck-tail-and-flee result got turned into some heroic tale of a brilliant British retreat. The fact is, even the Brits behaved like cowards in the face of the Wermacht, abandoning the French. It's that simple.

Golden oldies: Tours, 732 AD: The Muslims had already taken Spain and were well on their way to taking the rest of Europe. The only power with a chance of stopping them was the French army under Charles "the Hammer" Martel, King of the Franks (French), who answered to the really cool nickname "the Hammer of God.

and then there was the guy who gave all of Europe (especially Germany and Britain) nightmares. Repeatedly.

Napoleon... Jena, Oct. 1806: just a quick reminder for anybody who thinks the Germans always beat the French. Napoleon takes on the Prussian army and destroys it. 27,000 Prussian casualties vs. 5,000 French. Prussian army routed, pursued for miles by French cavalry.

You ... guys might want to remember that the French under Napoleon are still the only army ever to have taken all of continental Europe, from Moscow to Madrid. I could keep listing French victories till I had a book. In fact, it's not a bad idea. A nice big hardback, so you could take it to the assholes running all the anti-French-military sites and bash their heads in with it.

posted by the_savage_mind at 12:38 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]


...pay specific attention to the Philippine War and what kind of atrocity went on under America's attempt at colonialization. It was the first genocide of the 20th Century. Savage enough that Mark Twain began a round-the-clock, vicious assault on his government.
On the Damned Human Race, a collection of his work that has some brutal pieces revolving around that conflict, is a phenomenal read. ...

I'll look for it, the_savage_mind--thanks! (i love Twain--we need someone like him today)

And reflexive French-bashing is just dumb. We have so much in common.
posted by amberglow at 8:19 AM on February 17, 2005


Thanks for all the great posts everyone. dhartung, a funny note at the end of the wikipedia entry for the British sinking the French fleet at Oran: Churchill noted to a colleague that the French at Oran finally fought "with all their vigour for the first time since the war broke out".

Of course Churchill is well known for talking like an ass. But to Britain's credit, it's not really fair to blame the British Expeditionary Force for getting the hell out of France when they did. Without French support for their supply lines they were cut off.
posted by anthill at 10:17 AM on February 17, 2005


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