I've noticed that it is very much de rigueur to mock the French these days. Jonah Goldberg, whom one would suppose would look inward for someone to mock, does this regularly. It is considered good sport on Free Republic and a personal survey of friends and acquaintances reveals a great deal of contempt on their part for all things French.
The recent success of Jean-Marie Le Pen has provoked an outpouring of rage from all the usual left wing suspects, and astonishingly, from some Jews. Justin Raimondo seems to be the only one to see the irony in this. In a world where Muslims are attacking synagogues and beating Jews in the street, it is with a sense of wonder that I consider the Jewish resistance to Le Pen whose sin is to oppose having his country swamped by those same Muslims.
To understand Le Pen, it might help for folks to read Jean Larteguy's classics, The Centurions and The Praetorians, which chronicle the French Paratroops and their fight against the communists in Indochina and Algeria. One may criticize le Paras (and their comrades in the Foreign Legion) but to mock their military prowess is a sin. Le Pen was a soldier in the elite 10th Paratroop Division which should tell anyone all they need to know about him. Algerie Francais was the rallying cry in those days but those days are gone and now it's the Algerians who are conquering France!
I remain astonished that people mock the French as reluctant soldiers good only for surrendering en masse. I suppose I should know better, public schooling being what it is these days. Perhaps we should try a history lesson and consider some contradictions in the American mentality.
There was only one possible reason for the US to enter World War I on the side of the allies, and that was out of a sense of loyalty to France, not the miserable English who once again were committing piracy on the high seas. Lacking far sighted diplomats we failed to see that this would inevitably harm even those for whom we supposedly went to war. You see in those days, Americans still had a sense of history — we remembered who had helped us gain our independence from the hated British. Our troops arrived in France and the headlines blared "Lafayette, we are here!"
These were the same French people who had sent us the gift of the Statue of Liberty, and upon whom we had modeled our army and much else. French was indeed, the primary foreign language taught at West Point for many years for the simple reason that France was considered the military power of the world. Waterloo only enhanced the glory of France, much to the astonishment of the English who claimed the battle as an "English Victory" even though they contributed but a fraction of the troops on the field. The French won the glory, the Germans won the battle, and the British took the credit.
There would have been no victory at Yorktown (and no United States) had not Admiral de Grasse's fleet and Rochambeau's soldiers arrived in time to seal the blockade and trap the British Army. (Rochambeau would later die in combat fighting for Napoleon at the Battle of the Nations — Leipzig, in 1813.)
The gallant Lafayette struggled against the horrors of the French Revolution when it convulsed into the Terror and continued to strive to bring freedom to his country, even when the fat king, Louis XVIII, was enthroned by Allied bayonets.
There is no denying that the original ideals of the French Revolution were greatly influenced by what the soldiers had learned fighting beside us in our own struggle for freedom. After the initial purges and disorder the French Army had gradually morphed into a force to be reckoned with — throwing back the Austrians, Prussians, Russians, and English, sometimes simultaneously.
The Allied coalitions who warred on France were all financed by England, a country that had a stake in making the world safe for despotism, coupled with a reluctance to spill English blood.
Can military history be discussed with a mention of "The Corsican Ogre," the great Napoleon? Yes he was the first of the modern dictators, and ultimately he suppressed hard-won civil liberties and drowned Europe in blood. Yet until 1808 he was more sinned against than sinning. His despotic powers in no way exceeded those of Franz, Alexander, Wilhelm, and the mad king George III, none of whom mitigated their rule with anything like the Code Napoleon which at least insured a level of civil liberty far ahead of that of any country in the world except America. Napoleon, despite his political battles with the Pope, restored the Catholic Church in France which had been suppressed during the excesses of the Terror. America was his ally and we purchased Louisiana and much else from him.
In 1808 when Napoleon foolishly invaded Spain, he bought his country much misery. Until then, the Napoleonic Wars were wars of aggression against the French, initiated by despotic monarchs alarmed by the French concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity. The French Army, hardened by the wars of the revolution, was the finest fighting force the world would encounter before 1940 and Napoleon was the master who made such brilliant use of that tool. Corrupted by power, Napoleon betrayed his people and his soldiers with his wars in Spain and Russia, but this in no way detracts from the glory his soldiers achieved on the battlefield.
For those who mock the French defeat in 1940 it might pay to consider what the French did to the Prussians in 1806! There has rarely been a more complete victory than that achieved by the French at the twin battles of Jena / Auerstadt. The blitzkrieg that followed took Prussia down in approximately the same time frame as Nazi Germany took down France in 1940. They did it without motor vehicles or tanks which considering the pace of warfare in those days is truly astonishing. In 1813 the Prussians repaid him in kind, having learned the lessons of warfare the hard way. The Germans have always been fighters but it is fair to say that Napoleon's Grande Armee taught them to be soldiers.
One studies this time period and it becomes all too clear that the victors write the history. The battles in Spain were a sideshow yet well over half the English language books written on the Napoleonic era chronicle either the Peninsula War or the battle of Waterloo. Yet even at Waterloo the actual number of British troops was barely fifteen thousand. Those folks like to fight by proxy.
Which brings me to my point: why do we consider England a natural ally, and France virtually an enemy? In our revolution and again in 1812 we were fighting as allies of France against the hated British! It was the British who despised us and tried to topple us and contested with us for Maine and Oregon and mocked us as backwoods hillbillies, unworthy of a place in the family of nations.
It was Britain who tricked us into sacrificing one hundred thousand of our best men in that horror called The War To End All Wars. It was the English who conspired with the traitor Roosevelt to involve us in World War II. And it has been the English who have lead the charge to open the gates of civilization to the Islamic immigrants who now threaten to subsume us, not be feeble acts of terrorism, but by sheer numbers.
So we make fun of France for losing so ignominiously in World War II, forgetting that the French had literally lost an entire generation in the First World War II and had little left to give. Feeble as France had become, they none the less went to war against the fearsome Wehrmacht because their ally Poland was in danger. Surely there is some honor in that?
Now France is again in trouble because the French ambassador to London complained that the world was being drawn into war over a "shitty little country." Since that country happens to be Israel — there has been a huge outcry against the alleged anti-Semitism of the French. Yet France was one of the first countries to give Jews full rights as citizens. Not to mention the harsh fact that the key part of the statement is quite literally true. Whether the war is the fault of the Israelis or the Arabs is hardly the point — the world is on the brink of war and that cannot be disputed.
M. Le Pen actually supports Israel's right to defend itself yet is called anti-Semitic simply because he is a member of the political right! How convenient it is to forget that the pogroms of the twentieth century were manifestations of left wing politics — to those who think only in sound bites I remind you that Nazi stands for "National Socialist Workers Party!"
So we have the hilarious contradiction of the press whose minions slander the French as anti-Semitic when they criticize Israel and again when they condemn the mass migration of Arabs into the French heartland. The attacks on Jews in France have all been perpetrated by Muslims. Le Pen wants to stop Arab immigration — thus he is an anti-Semite! Warning! Warning! This does not compute!
There is a certain charm to the French character that cannot be denied. There is a story of the Cold War, when the Soviets had released a new and fearsome tank. Everyone was panicking and it was determined that information must be obtained. The Americans launched a satellite for the purpose of tracking this beast, at a cost of millions. The British sent an SAS team into East Germany — they broke into a tank and stole the manuals — for the cost of a replacement lock. The French were more civilized about the whole thing. Their military attaché called his Soviet counterpart: "I've been hearing about this fascinating new tank — may I see it?" The Russian took him on a guided tour and let him drive the darn thing!
Where else in the world do the people eat and drink like it matters, yet retain those infuriatingly slender waist lines? Who else would have canceled an important diplomatic event with the Iranians, simply because the Iranians objected to the French tradition of having wine with their meals? Is it possible that the traditions of a Western country might actually matter? The French thought so. Contrast this with Walter Mondale's hilarious farce of a performance at a political rally for Hispanics, where he ate his tamale, wrapper and all, claiming it to be among his favorite foods! Some folks might call that pandering.
Can a freedom-loving Johnny Reb like me be a fan of Jean Marie le Pen? After all, despite his fearsome reputation with the limp-wrested aficionados of political correctness, he is far to the left of me. Yet a man who wishes to preserve his own country's culture and history cannot be all bad — I share those beliefs and wish him the best. My real question is when will an American politician stand up for us? Is our Republic and our history not worth defending? We certainly can't count on that ridiculous Senor Bush!
Yes I have my moments when I find the French quite as annoying as everyone else seems to. But what a dull world it would be without them. And now I must get back to work — I'm laboriously translating a French military history, The E'popee Napoleonienne, one chapter at a time. It's a fascinating exercise and French is after all, the language of soldiers!
May 4, 2002