Saturday, June 14, 2008

France Bashing

Received the following from our 47 yr old son.

A group of Americans, retired teachers, recently went to France on a tour. Robert Whiting, an elderly gentleman of 83, arrived in Paris by plane. At French Customs, he took a few minutes to locate his passport in his carry on. 'You have been to France before, monsieur?' the customs officer asked sarcastically. Mr. Whiting admitted that he had been to France previously. 'Then you should know enough to have your passport ready.' The American said, 'The last time I was here, I didn't have to show it.'

'Impossible. Americans always have to show their passports on arrival in France !' The American senior gave the Frenchman a long hard look. Then he quietly explained. 'Well, when I came ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day in '44 to help liberate this country, I couldn't find any Frenchmen to show it to.'

I'm sure it was an innocent sharing of "humor", but it hit my hot button and I told him so, sharing a bit of history with him.

While France bashing became vogue under this inept administration, the details of history make us look less than stellar compared to 1940's France.

Yes, the Germans did indeed invade and conquer France with 136 divisions, 2,600 tanks and 3,200 aircraft, defeating the French military, and driving the British Army's 10 divisions into the sea at Dunkirk. They occupied only 1/2 of the country, and the first two years of occupation were "benevolent" by Nazi standards. Immediately after the fall of the French Govt, the Resistance began to grow. Accurate numbers are not available, except for the German records of Resistance members captured and imprisoned. That was about 56,000 over 4 years, of whom about 1/2 survived. The Resistance was a number of individual groups, all working to thwart or drive out the Germans. It is estimated that on D-Day, the Resistance numbered some 250,000 and about 100,000 members assisted the Allies landing at Normandy. Eisenhower is said to have opined that without this assistance, the landing might have failed. By the end of 1944, it is estimated that there were some 1.2 million Resistance members.

Many factors are said to have contributed to the lack of a more violent initial general resistance to the German occupation. First was the belief by many French that help was on the way from their old allies, the US and Britain. Of course, Britain was preoccupied with its own survival in 1940, and the general population of the US couldn't care less about France. The somewhat benevolent nature of the occupation in the beginning helped generate a "patience", reinforced by the belief that the Vichy govt was free to work out a "plan" and the Allies could be expected to help. Of course, while Vichy France was not occupied, the German intelligence network knew everything that was going on, and the Vichy govt quickly learned this and the consequences of resistance.

Summarizing the Resistance in terms of the general French population (40 Million), there was about 0.5% of the population in the Resistance on D-Day, rising to some 2.5% within a few months.

On 9/1/91, 19 men attacked the US armed with boxcutters. No divisions, no tanks, and just 6 highjacked airplanes. These 19 people stirred up such a great level of fear in the American population that they willfully surrendered many of their Constitutional rights and supported an invasion of another country out of fear of a third or forth rate dictator and weapons he did not possess. A general "war on terror" was launched. The main forces in this war were the Army and Marine Corps. On 9/1/01, they represented 0.4% (active and reserve) of the population. Seven years later, these forces still represent 0.4% of the population, and it has taken extreme measures (Lower standards, big signing bonuses, raising max enlistment age to 42, etc) to maintain that level of manning. In short, the numbers of people "answering the call" following 9/11/01 has been nothing like the 2.5% figure of 1944 France.

The French were wrong in thinking the US would immediately come to their defense in May 1940. Indeed, we did not enter the war until 19 months later, and then only after we were attacked by the Japanese.

The French were right in saying that Saddam posed no WMD threat to anyone, nor was he a major player in 9/11 or any other Al Qaeda operations.

So, how do you justify French bashing??

Just needed to vent.



FDChief said...

The mindless ranting about "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" that went on from 2001 to 2004 - i.e., from 9/11 until it became obvious that the French (old colonialists and no fools regarding the mysterious East) were correct about the meatgrinder we'd stuck our collective weenie into - both amused and irritated me. Anyone who thinks the French, inheritors of a thousand year history of war, civil bloodshed and massacre, are some sort of poncy Kumbaya singers wasn't paying attention in high school history. Or, for that matter, was bothering to remember Verdun, where something like 1 million Frenchmen wre ground to hamburger in history's most pointless war.

The French still remember that war, and consequently are understandably unwilling to spill French blood and expend French treasure on another, much less a pointless colonial farrago such as the occupations of failed Middle Eastern states. How sad that e couldn't understand this.

Aviator47 said...

FDChief: "How sad that he couldn't understand this."

He did when I responded, and was appreciative of the history lesson. He was just doing what folks do - passing on a "joke" he received from a co-worker without any serious thought.

In the years following WWII, well into the 50's literature and Hollywood presented a significant amount of material about the valor of the French Resistance. Numerous Allied veterans wrote memoirs recalling the French people who put their lives at risk to protect them. Human interest articles still pop up from time to time about ETO vets who return to France to thank French people who aided them directly. And, of course, these French offered that aid at the risk of their lives.

In short, both the scholarly and popular record refute the "Whiting" story. Yet, it only took a small pack of mongrels, Rove, Bush, Cheney, Rumsnamara and their like to twist the story of a brave people into an internet joke to serve their own cowardly ends. Mongrels who never volunteered to put their lives at risk for the greater good of others. Mongrels who's first actions, when we came under "attack " by a squad sized element, were to tend to their own safety. And this cowardice was duly emulated by the bulk of the population and reinforced with re-election.

I am sure our son was simply passing a "joke". I am also sure that Mr Rove and company were pleased as punch to see this joke come into existence, and even more pleased to see it spread. It was a falsehood that supported their basic lies and schemes.



basilbeast said...

Great post Al, and comments too.

Let's also not forget French aid in the Revolutionary War, as well. We probably could have prevailed without their help, but the conflict doubtlessly would have been much longer, and who knows what would have popped out then?

The French did try to violently hold on to their far-flung colonies, Vietnam among others, where French culture left an indelible mark.

Just wondering, has a McDonald's or Kentucky Fried with "Freedom Fries" showed up in Hanoi or Saigon yet?


bg said...

I see one more thing worthy of mention in the story. Something very typical of Americans today. A certain sense of entitlement.

I am sure Al is right on the money that much of the prejudice is based on ignorance of history. I appreciate the historical facts Al threw out about the resistance, very interesting and puts things into perspective. But I don't think this story is really about Americans' ignorance of history or perspective. I think it is about an American society who still feels entitlement to gratitude for something that was done generations ago, just as Americans today feel entitlement in so many other things.

Perhaps it goes both ways. Perhaps, and this may be a stretch, I am admiringly ignorant of French society, there is a small sense of entitlement by the French as well. As Basil reminded us, the French were critical in the creation of our nation. Possibly we have two nations who look at each other as being entitled to more respect than what they feel they get from each other, resulting in the friction that we've seen.

Aviator47 said...


I do think there is a sense of entitlement underlying that joke. I also think that stunts such as "Freedom Fries" and remarks such as "Old Europe" help to fuel it. But I also think that there is also a strong element of using this to obscure the questionable nature of our actions.

Were we fighting for our freedom or against an existential threat, I could see a basis for a level of emotion towards any country that merely turned its back on us. OIF was a war of choice, based upon a justification that was seriously questionable at the time and proven to be false, after the fact.

We "came to France's rescue" not because the Germans invaded France, but because Japan attacked the US. Indeed, the Battle of Britain raged , and we provided material support, but still did not join the war.

Now, once we were provoked by Japan, there is no question that we pursued our role in the war with vigor and sacrifice. But look at the timeline. We were the last "Ally" to come to the table, as far as putting the lives of our forces on the line.

That said, I remain quite proud of our nation's behavior in the 20th century. The 21st is off to a rocky start, but we've only squandered 7 or 8% of it so far.


J.D. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J.D. said...

At the time France fell, our military was smaller than the British contingent that was sent to France. The only reason Britain did not fall soon thereafter was the English Channel. And we had the Atlantic - And France knew this in September 1940 when she declared war against Hitler. Many in France feared a loss - and declared war against Hitler anyway. Many in France feared that even if they won, there would a bloodbath on the scale France had suffered in WWI - and declared war against Hitler anyway.

And we did not. We never did - Nazi Germany declared war on us instead.

France lost, and that was a terrible military defeat, but France's decision to declare war on Hitler in full view of the risks she faced, sharing a border with Hitler and no Channel or ocean to hide behind, she declared war on Hitler anyway, something that dictator was trying to avoid so he could wage war in the east. Instead he had to occupy most of Western Europe, tying down tens of thousands of troops even before he invaded Russia (I think Americans understand quite well these days the cost of occupying a hostile nation).

That is something rarely mentioned in America - that France declared war on Hitler, not the other way around.

And every time I hear some right-wing fucknut saying "we liberated France" blah blah blah, I ask them what unit they served in and where in France they fought. You should see the confused and startled reactions of 25-year old College Republicans to that question. Then I ask them "well, did you serve in the US military at all?" Of course they never did.

We fought the British twice. We fought the Germans twice. We fought Italy once. We fought Japan once. We never fought France. But we did fight on the same side as France in both World Wars, and without French assistance we would never have won our own Revolution and would not exist today.

The people of France gave us the Statue of Liberty at a time when France and the United States were the only western nations that were republican democracies, governments of, for, and by the people. Perhaps at that time we were the only two such free and self-governed nations on the planet.

And our Revolution sparked the French one - and even today the ideals of the French Republic are shared by our own - in a written constitution, unlike Britain (still a monarchy).

And for all the rudeness of the French official asking for a passport, I didn't hear that he was arrested by the French version of "Homeland Security" and held without access to lawyers or even to call his family. I didn't hear that his laptop was downloaded by Homeland Security to inspect it for anything the government didn't like (that happens today upon entering the US), nor was he fingerprinted, nor was he accidently placed on a terrorist watch list and treated as a dangerous man simply because he happens to share a name with one of the million or so "suspects" on that list.

That is how we greet those going through our airports. If you have ever been through a "random secondary screening" by the TSA, after you have been herded like cattle, shouted at to "move along" by TSA agents, with your shoes off and your belt off and passed through security in the first place just to get on the plane, you would much, much prefer a snide French customs agent making impatient remarks as you look for the passport you should have had out for inspection already, and you would thank him and marvel at the efficiency of the French, a terrorist target since at least the late 1960s.

FDChief said...

"That is how we greet those going through our airports."

Damn, JD, how'd ya know what I was thinking?

When we returned from China with our little daughter we were informed that we would need to go through the "non-US" documents line (since she was travelling on a PRC passport). We stood in the motionless queue with the other fussing babies and sagging grandmas and watched the Americans zip through for about an hour. Finally we got to the booth, where one of the rudest U.S. officials snippily informed us that we SHOULD have gone through the other line, the long wait and intrusive questions and fingerprints and photos being only for scary and dangerous foriegners like Japanese and Hong Kong Chinese...

The TSA/HS staff were the most abrupt, least helpful and most unfriendly U.S. government officers I have ever encountered. If the average foreigners' typical encounter with Americans outside TV is with these people, no wonder they hate our freedoms...

Aviator47 said...

Back before we moved here, there was a TV news piece on passing through the US/Canadian border at the Peace Arch, on the highway in Blaine, WA.

It began with the pre-shift briefing to the officers staffing each country's entry booths. Briefly, the opening comments:

Canada: "Well, folks, keep in mind that the impression you make in welcoming our visitors is the first impression they will get of our country. Make it a good one".

US: "OK, folks, keep in mind that during your shift, you be on the front line protecting our country from terrorists, criminals and other undesirables coming onto our soil. Be alert."

Now, granted, this was done with the knowledge that TV cameras were present. Still, there is a bit of an attitudinal difference in the two approaches, wouldn't you say?

Anonymous said...

Great thread!


Publius said...

I'm with Seydlitz. Really a neat and timely thread from Al. A very good reminder of who our true friends are in a very lonely world.

The French, who are very much like us, have always been our friends, something we've kind of forgotten in recent years. The key to our problems with them is that very similarity: describe a Frenchman and you're describing an American. In many respects, they're more like us than are the Brits. So are the Irish and the Scots.

I think FDChief's reminder about the French's losses in WW1 and others' exploration of their experiences in WW2 explains a lot about their aversion to being involved in questionable wars. They've also got Vietnam and Algeria to serve as good reminders about the follies of colonial wars. How can one blame them for having learned the lesson? Would that we were so smart.

The French have been our friends since our Revolutionary War, and I don't see where that situation is going to change. What a lot of our politicians don't like about the French is that they're not rollovers like so many other allied nations. The French are kind of like your prickly older brother, the one who keeps reminding you of how you fucked up and what you should do to improve. That older brother isn't going to salute you and say, "yessir, boss," when he thinks you're off base; nor will the French. It's no wonder dimwits like Bush and his ilk in our government don't like the French: they're constant reminders of our own failures.

Last year, my wife did a trip to Europe with a gaggle of women. The Italians, Brits and Belgians treated them like shit. The French were friendly and welcoming.

J.D. said...

Publius, great comment. But I think there is another reason the Bushies (to include Sen. John McBush) like the British and hate the French.

I think it is because the Brits still have a monarchy and institutionalize inherited wealth and power in their government, while the French chopped off heads and are a republic, with a declared aim - in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and in their national motto - that includes and makes very important the notion of equality.

The French actually have less social mobility than the British these days (and we have the least - you are born rich in America you will die rich, born poor and the odds are you will die poor). But their national identity - and the avowed purpose of their republic - includes an aversion to inherited wealth and power. So, once, did ours - "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." But not these days. Our republic is facing extinction, like all republics before it - and like most of them, because we forgot what it was all about in the first place. I hope the election of Obama can change things, but we shall see. Cicero had the same fears - and he was right. The authoritarians won in his day, and they are dangerously close to winning in our own.

In short, Bush prefers "God Save the Queen" to "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity."

To use the terms from the days of our Revoution, he and his right-wing supporters are Tores, not Patriots, and they are waging a counter-revolution against everything America once stood for.

J.D. said...

"Tories" not "Tores."

sheerahkahn said...

It should be noted, for whatever it's worth, that America up till 1941 was still doing the covert assistance program due to the issue of neutrality...which I suspect was one Germany's goals...keep America neutral as much as possible.
If Japan didn't get her skirts all up in a bunch and attack PH, it's quite possible,and probable that America would've never entered the war.