Tuesday, May 11, 2010

French resistance


            The OED has for "Liberate" "To set free, set at liberty; to free, release from (something)." 

            The French "resistance" didn't seriously threaten the German forces in France until after D Day.  Frenchmen sitting on the fence, not willing to turn upon the Germans until and unless it became clear that they were losing, began to hop off on the side of the allies.  It was clear that Germany had failed to defeat the Russians and would ultimately lose their war after the defeat at Stalingrad (Feb 1943), but what did that mean for France?  The French weren't certain, but after the successful landing on French soil on June 1944, there seemed little doubt.

            However, were the Allies interested in liberating France or in defeating Germany.  Stalin kept urging the Americans to start a second front.  What occurred in North Africa and in Italy wasn't all that impressive to Stalin, but finally a second front, serious enough to impress Stalin, was established in June of 1944.  When we think of Stalin's demands, the concerns of the Vichy French; who were not demanding a second front or even requesting liberation diminishes in importance. 

            One can always find a representative of just about any position.  The French Resistance wanted "liberation," but not the larger number of French people who got along well with the Germans during the Vichy period.  So how much credit do the allies deserve for liberating Vichy Frenchmen who didn't want to be liberated?  Not much, I suppose, but after D Day, the number of dedicated Vichy dropped dramatically and the number who belonged to the Resistance grew in inverse proportion.  That was rather ignoble of the Vichy French we might think -- better to stand before a firing squad or the guillotine with defiant words on one's lips than slink off to the Resistance and hope that one's new allegiance cancels out, in everyone's mind, one's craven behavior during the time of the Germans.  And, interestingly, Beevor and Cooper in Paris, after the Liberation, 1944-1949, tell us that during  the epuration sauvage many late night assassinations were of collaborators, but others were by collaborators killing off those who could testify against them. 

            "On his return from prison camp, Baron Elie de Rothschild remarked to the old family butler, Felix, that the house must have been very quiet under General Hanesse's occupation.

            "' on the contrary, Monsieur Elie.  There were receptions every evening.'

            "'but . . . who came?'

            'The same people, Monsieur Elie.  The same as before the war.'"  [Beevor & Cooper, pp 133-4]

            One may be inclined to think that Britain and the US were France's "natural allies," but only if one forgets the French period of anarchy and the subsequent Surrealism, Dada, etc.   Britain and the U.S. seemed to much like "the establishment," too much like what the French intellectuals were reacting against.  Sartre believed he could know nothing beyond himself, at least not for sure, but on the assumption that others were like him, it would be a good thing, he thought, for everyone to band together in the Communist Party.  Others, perhaps, had their own reasons, but Communism became very popular in France in the post-war period.  The Russians, at least, had never "occupied" France as the allies had.

            Francis Fukuyama argued that the end of history had occurred, and influenced by the Russian (Communist) but French citizen Kojeve argued that it was Hegel who was right about that end and not Marx.  The "end" was Liberal Democracy (aka Capitalism) and not Communism.  France today seems as Liberal-Democratic as the rest of Europe and the West, but they "resisted" all the way.  And perhaps "resistance" is a logical outgrowth if their earlier "anarchy."  Anarchy after all "resists" organized forms of government, and while France hasn't quite done that, they have give the appearance of resisting still, as though they have made of the term "resist" an intransitive verb.


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