Thursday, April 16, 2020

French hostility toward the Anglo-Saxons

From a review by R. W. Johnson of Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016 by R. T. Howard:

Johnson writes, “In De Gaulle’s view of history – a European history – England and France had struggled for supremacy for the best part of a thousand years.  For most of that time France had been the dominant power, but now its great empire wasn’t just overshadowed but outmatched by the even greater British Empire.  For De Gaulle France was not itself if it was not the leading power in Europe.  By 1941, however, the opponent was no longer Britain” it was ‘les Anglo-Saxons’.  Asked what was the most important international development of recent times, De Gaulle replied: ‘The fact that the Americans speak English.’”

I recall once French fellow in a forum years ago.  He owned a books store, can’t remember where, and can’t remember his name, but we used to argue about the relative merits of France and the U.S.  He knew English and was on an American forum, but he despised the U.S. and perhaps England as well, I don’t recall.  I had read an interesting article in Foreign Affairs and recommended it to him, implying that it would provide a more accurate view of the U.S. than he seemed to have.  He rejected the idea.  He had no wish to understand the U.S. more than he did.  He didn’t quite challenge me to learn more about France, but at some point he became disgusted with our forum and perhaps especially me and disappeared. 

The referenced review appears in the March 16, 2017 issue of the London Review of Books.  Johnson entitles his review, “Danger: English Lessons” and draws attention to De Gaulle’s and other’s interest in advancing French over English in the modern world.  “Howard quotes Gerard Prunier, an adviser to the French Government, who claimed that ‘the Anglo-Saxons want our death – that is, our cultural death.  They threaten our language and our way of life, and they plan our ultimate Anglo-Saxonisation.”

“When De Gaulle ordered US bases out of France, Lyndon Johnson angrily demanded to know if that meant digging up the graves of American soldiers who had died in the liberation.”  My impression is that many of the French at the time wouldn’t mind digging up the graves and sending the bones back to us.  Many French saw the second front that Stalin had been pleading for, Operation Overlord, as merely the occupation of France by a new set of oppressors.

In reading of these events, we perhaps don’t want to spend much time dwelling upon Churchill’s sadness over the loss of the British Empire, but De Gaulle was even more committed to reacquiring the French Empire.  I read histories of France’s pitiful efforts at Dien Bien Phu and in Algeria.  Many Americans, probably, would lose all sympathy for the French upon learning that Algeria after WWII would have been delighted to be considered part of France as equal citizens, but the Colons would not hear of it and so there was a war.  The Colons were driven out and Algeria eventually became independent. 

Perhaps here the French book seller would take offense at Americans who blithely assumed that democracy and equality ought to prevail throughout the world and that Britain and France ought to willingly give up their former colonies.  What right did the U.S. have to insist upon such a thing, especially when Eisenhower took up in Indo-China where the French left off not to preserve it as a colony, but to “prevent its becoming a Communist puppet.”  “As if,” the French scoffed and saw only hypocrisy. 

There is plenty of room to build a variety of arguments to support a variety of opinions.  After reading the above article in the LRB, I checked back through the recent editions of Foreign Affairs to see if there were any recent Gaullist-type efforts to advance French supremacy in Europe, but couldn’t find any.  And yet, I suspect, many of the French, even today are hostile toward Britain and the U.S. for reasons much like De Gaulle’s.  They don’t see the Vichy period in the same way we do.  De Gaulle, who spent the bulk of the War in Britain wanted to get past the Vichy period as quickly as possible.  Most Frenchmen, it seemed to be implied, were really in the resistance. . . but not so much anymore, becoming with Germany the “big two” in the EU – the EU whose capital is in French-speaking Belgium. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sequestered Reflections

    I’ve drifted all the way to
    Eighty-five without ever
    Drawing a conclusion,
    Conclusions such as Leopardi
    Derived from the thousands of
    Books in Maldanado’s library
    Which he precociously absorbed

    Apparently deducing afterward
    Firm conclusions about mistakes
    God made, chief among them
    Leopardi’s hump rendering him
    Capable of falling in love three
    Times but not appearing such
    As to receive reciprocity which
    Was determined by the God in
    Whom he no longer believed.
    I’m not sure how many it's been
    For me, not sure anything quite
    Qualified until I met one not as
    Fearful as the Italian but just
    As firm in her own convictions

    Which held God blameless
    Despite her illness while I
    Drifted into grief and might
    Have leaned Leopardi’s way
    Had I not as the kaleidoscope
    Paused seen the smile of the
    Shy Being’s own conclusions.               

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A couple of theories about what to do in response to Covid-19

On my smart phone just now appeared: “Berlin district mayor defends deliberate coronavirus infection.  Berlin District Mayor Stephan von Dassel defended his decision to ‘almost deliberately’ get infected with the coronavirus. . . ‘I was ill longer than I thought. . . and thought I’ll be a bit sick for three days and then I’ll be immune – I can’t catch it and won’t pass it on to anyone, but it was a lot worse than I imagined . . .”

This crossed my mind as well, but I rejected the idea at once.  I try my best to avoid ordinary flu and have no interest in acquiring something comparable just to become immunity.  If I catch it, so be it, but I’m definitely not interested in volunteering. 

In the April 2, 2020 issue of the London Review of Books is an article entitled “Too early or too late?subtitled “David Runciman on political timing and the pandemic.”  Runciman writes, “only one politician has actually cited the actions of the mayor from Jaws as a model for crisis management, and it isn’t Trump.  Boris Johnson used to tease audiences by suggesting that ‘the real hero of Jaws was the mayor, a wonderful politician.  A gigantic fish is eating all his constituents and he decides to keep the beaches open.’  Usually Johnson would end his riff by admitting: ‘OK, in that instance he was wrong.  But in principle we need more politicians like the mayor.’” 

Perhaps it isn’t quite what Boris Johnson believes, but after reading of all the people thrown out of work, threats of impoverishment, even starvation, it occurred to me to wonder whether the approach that seems to be adopted almost world-wide, that of staying home, might in the long run kill more people than the virus.  After all, the gigantic fish didn’t actually eat all of the mayor’s constituents.  Anticipating that not working will kill more people in the long run, we could assume that the Covid-19 will be comparable to ordinary flu.  People die from that is well; so let’s individual stay home if we need to, otherwise work, work, work.  For if we run out of food because farmers, middlemen, and sales people are staying home and the hand-to-mouth people start dying off at a faster rate than Covid-19 victims are now, a few months from now Boris Johnson (if that is what he has been worried about) may seem prescient – or would so seem if he hadn’t backed away from anything that extreme.”

However, the “assumption” in the preceding paragraph may be wrong.  The Covid-19 may be much worse than ordinary flu . . . at least a blog entry, also included in April 2, 2020 issue of the LRB, and entitled “Quaresima, Thomas Jones reports from Orvieto” seems to suggest that it is.  His article is a list of days, beginning “Fifteen days ago: 2706 people in Italy had at this point tested positive for SarsCoV-2; there were 443 new cases; 276 had recovered; 107 were dead. . . “  He then describes whatever was going on 15 days ago. 

Jones article ends “Today: 33,190 positive; 4480 new cases; 4440 recovered; 3405 dead.  This issue of the LRB goes to press on Thursday, 19 March . . . This issue is dated 2 April, two weeks from now.  The day after that, in theory, schools in Italy are set to reopen.  But everyone knows that won’t happen. . . .”

Jones article is pessimistic.  We should sequester ourselves as he and his son are doing because people are dying out there and the risk is high that if we go out ‘there,’ that we will die too.  3405 dead out of 33,190 that tested positive is a little over 10%.  We have all heard that Italy has had a higher rate of deaths than any other nation.  But the Covid-19 is a new phenomenon.  How can we be sure that our nation won’t have percentages as high as those being reported from Italy?

It may be that the next wave of Covid-19 in Italy may kill a lower percentage of victims, but would we want to follow the advice of a “hypothetical mayor of Jaws” on the basis of such an assumption?

My smart phone just informed me that in Germany they are considering testing everyone to get better statistics; which makes good sense since we have been told that some people get it and barely have any symptoms at all.  If such cases are entered into the statistics then the death rate “might” end up comparable to that of ordinary flu.