Friday, October 10, 2008

Anglo-American-phobia and Francophilia

Here we are in the throes of a tight election, and I am reading about France after World War II. Why? The present day American Left grew to a large extent out of the French Left, and one of our candidates, Barack Obama, is a Leftist. Notice the present day parallel: Obama wanted to withdraw in defeat. The French Left understands what it means to be defeated, and, emotionally, so does the American Left. It is not comfortable winning – except in elections.

In reading Past Imperfect, French Intellectuals 1944-1956, I noticed when Judt refered to France’s Anti-Americanism, as often as not he used the term “Anglo-American.” In other words, France wasn’t just opposed to or fearful of America. It was opposed to and fearful of England as well, and it grouped them together in their metaphors.

Judt writes on page 264, “Jean Galtier-Boissiere spoke for many when he [in 1945] compared France to a human bait dangled before the German crocodile by her allies: ‘But this time we really almost got eaten, and the hunters took their time in pulling us from the monster’s jaws.’”

Being American, that metaphor struck me as absurd. We Americans were not like hunters who stuck the French out as bait. We barely got into that war. We had to be pressured by Churchill and lied to by Roosevelt before we could be induced to mount an army to come to Britain’s aid. But so if I move out of a strictly American perspective and move into an Anglo-American one, then Galtier-Boissiere’s metaphor makes a little more sense. Anglo-America took its time, in a manner of speaking, before getting its act together and deciding, ever so slowly to come to France’s aid. I note also that the American Generals wanted to attack the Germans in France at once, but Britain talked them into starting in North Africa and then working their way up through Italy. Most arm-chair generals say that Britain had the right of it. The American army wasn’t ready to take on the German army in France as soon as they got there, but what would Galtier-Boissiere have thought about the decision to start in North Africa?

Being an arm-chair general myself, I believe Britain was correct, and that we weren’t ready to take on the Germans right away. Also, Britain can hardly be accused with any seriousness of a conspiracy against the French. It was swept up in the same pacifistic delusion as France, and it was by the narrowest of margins that Hitler failed to conquer Britain as well. If Galtier-Boissiere was intending to be taken literally, then he was ignorant of the histories of both Britain and America prior to WWII, and that is possible.

We learned that after the U.S. and British forces drove the Germans out of France, many in France were worried that we wouldn’t leave. We, in this case, being not just the Americans but the British as well. Why is that? We can’t find a plausible answer if we look strictly at French/American relations; which weren’t all that bad prior to WWII. But France had a long history of warring against Britain. France got along much better with Russia. The Russian upper classes in the 19th and early 20th centuries loved the French, and though one might observe that this upper class was largely killed off by the Soviets, the Soviets admired much about the French Revolution; so they continued their affinity with France even after 1917, and France with them.

Thus, many in France thought it would have been better if they had been liberated by Russia. They probably now realize in an objective way that wouldn’t have been true. They would have been much worse off, but they, many of their intellectuals, prefer the emotional idea of a Franco-Russian rapprochement. It is more satisfying than the actual reality: being rescued by a pompous Montgomery and an arrogant Patton.

“. . . bitterness was universal, so great was the fall. What does it mean now to be French? Asked Etiemble in August of 1946: ‘Seen from a distance, we are just forty million losers.’ The fact that it was the Western allies who had rescued the French from the grip of Nazism made things worse, not better. Despite the heroism of the Resistance and the best efforts of General Leclerc, the French felt doubly humiliated, by 1944 no less than 1940. Sartre was among the first to notice this, describing in the very months of France’s liberation how ‘in the space of five years we have acquired a formidable inferiority complex.’ Indeed, the rise of Sartre coincided precisely with the eclipse of France, and there is some elegance in this, since Sartre was nothing if not the philosopher of his own inferiority, as an intellectual and as a man, truly the thinker best suited to speak for a nation whose emotional condition he came closest to representing in his own troubled person.” [from page 257]

FURTHER COMMENT: I am also reminded of the view of James Cone (the Black Liberation Theologian who influenced Obama’s pastor) that the only way a White Person can be saved is to admit his guilt. He may not actually be guilty in a forensic sense. He may not even be aware of his guilt initially, but he needs to be convinced of it emotionally and then confess it. He then needs to do penance by helping black people from then on. Surely this is something Sartre would have understood and appreciated.

Lawrence Helm

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