Friday, February 18, 2011

Europe's humiliating history

Still thinking about how "most" European thinkers think the U.S. should learn from European history, I resumed reading Rousso's The Vichy Syndrome, History and Memory in France since 1944, and ran across the following:

"Paris! Paris humiliated! Paris broken! Paris martyrized! But Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, by its own people with the help of the armies of France, with the support and aid of France as a whole, or fighting France, of the only France, of the true France, of eternal France."

You didn't know the French were part of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944? Indeed there were. 177 of them landed as part of a British force, but 177 were not sufficient to validate the words of De Gaulle quoted above. What De Gaulle described was not historically true, but what De Gaulle accomplished by uttering these words was historically significant. He created a myth that France had freed itself by its own efforts. The myth described France as only those who resisted the Germans in France or joined De Gaulle outside of France. Petain's Vichy France had never been legitimate.

Could the French who lived through those Vichy years accept De Gaulle's words when they knew from personal experience that what he said was not true? Yes, they could and in fact did. For toward the end, after it was clear that the Germans were going to lose, most in France did at least some little token thing to support the Resistance and could fit that thing no matter how small into De Gaulle's myth.

Rousso writes that 1944 to 1954 represented a "mourning phase." From 1954 to 1971 the French simply didn't talk much about the Vichy period -- as though it hadn't been all that important. Between 1971 and 1974 the myth was shattered and after that the French became obsessed with Vichy.

COMMENT: Is there anything we in the U.S. should learn from this portion of European history? I think there is and I hope we've learned it well enough. The first and most important thing we should learn is that we shouldn't listen to our anarchists and pacifists. Such people sapped France's will to defend itself against the Germans in World War II. The second thing is that we should practice with the most advanced weapons we can develop. The idea that those who join the military and learn to use these weapons are "war mongers" should be rejected. If we believed our soldiers are "war mongers," if we stopped building weapons, and stopped practicing with them, then we could become like France was prior to the German occupation.

French thinkers abetted the anarchism and pacifism that resulted in the Vichy disaster -- not all French thinkers to be sure, but enough. They were in the magazines and news and people listened to them. If you naively think we don't need to do all that much as a nation to defend our interests, you will find American thinkers who will support your thinking. Soon you won't understand how any reasonable person could disagree with you. But when I back away to learn from European history I see that same thing going on in France before the Germans attacked them. The French had no will to defend themselves because their thinkers had undermined that will.

About this time someone will point out that America has no nation as potent as Germany was in 1940 in a position to invade us. But we had equivalent thinkers in the U.S. prior to World War I. We didn't have anarchists or pacifists in the percentages France had them, but we had isolationists; and we were not as prepared as we could have been when the Japanese bombed our fleet in Pearl Harbor. They went on to invade the Philippines which was an American protectorate, and they invaded islands that would put them in a position to attack our ally, Australia. Many American lives were lost in those early days of our war with Japan because we didn't think we needed a very big Army or Marine Corps. We also didn't think they needed modern weapons. We didn't think they needed elaborate medical support. We didn't think they needed special clothing or medicine and thousands were crippled by trench foot, malaria, or dengue fever.

No comments: