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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Myth of French Wimpdom

It is always dismaying to see how people latch on to a concept that appeals to their biases, and they hang on to it for dear life ever afterward, without ever giving it the scrutiny that would show it to be the nonsense that it is. There are many such concepts, and a popular one right now is the belief that the French are a cowardly lot and pushovers in war.

As far as I can figure, this notion dates back to the Second World War, when, after a few weeks of fighting, the French surrendered to the Nazis and had to be liberated four years later by the Allies, primarily the Americans.

This short-sighted view of things is what comes of living in a country with a relatively brief history and the great, good fortune of being securely protected by three oceans and a neighborhood composed entirely of small non-belligerents. Unlike France, the U.S. has never had to exist cheek by jowl with the likes of Germany, Great Britain, and other nations during their days in the sun. The French detractors remain comfortably ignorant of history books, which would tell them how the powerful and organized German war machine rolled into France not once but three times starting in 1870, each time inflicting tremendous damage, with World War I being the worse. On that occasion the French, helped by the British, did not capitulate but instead stopped the Germans in their tracks, at the cost of having most of the rest of that nightmare of trench warfare being fought on French soil, causing them to lose a whole generation of men, not to mention the tremendous damage done to their property and their constitutions. So, when Hitler tried to orchestrate a repeat performance just a few years later, the French understandably were not up for it and chose that time to take their chances on being occupied instead.

Meanwhile the idea of an American rescue of the French has holes. The Russians can argue that they were more responsible for that, saying that if they hadn't bloodied the huge, efficient, and incredibly powerful German armies so badly on the Eastern Front, in a large number of battles that in size, viciousness, and casualties dwarfed anything that happened on the Western front, the Allies might today still be waiting to push the Germans out of Normandy.

Also the many brave deeds of the French guerillas during the German occupation, the Resistance, shouldn't be overlooked. Surely it must take more guts to fight an occupying power that isn't shy about inflicting reprisals tenfold than does being part of a large army that is on the move.

The history books would also show detractors that the French quite often have been terrors in their own right. Edward Gibbon tells of how much trouble the Romans had in trying to subdue the Francs. Let's not forget Charlemagne, who grabbed parts of what would become Germany, in building his empire, and a little later, in 1066, Normans from France landed in Britain, made mincemeat of the English, and took over.

Closer in time, one need only look at the French armies of the late 1700's and early 1800's. As if the Revolution only whetted their appetites for blood and sharpened their knives, led by Napoleon they rolled over much of Europe, with a side trek to Egypt, taking on everybody in sight and usually defeating them. They even attacked the Russian behemoth and did something that eluded Hitler. They occupied Moscow for a short while, before "General Winter" sent them back home.

The idea that the French are wimps took on new life in the last few years as a result of disgust at their refusal to follow GW Bush into Iraq. But the fact is that if its leaders had taken French experiences seriously, the U.S. would've been spared the grief and humiliation that it has suffered in Vietnam and in Iraq.

The bravest man in a squad is always picked to be the point man, and the French unintentionally played that role for Americans by waging the two colonial wars in which they fought tooth and nail to hang on to IndoChina and to a place much like Iraq, Algeria. They failed, not because they were cowardly and weak but because their adversaries were so determined, wily, and justified. Now, in Iraq, partly because of this faulty view of the French, the U.S. again finds itself derriere-deep in the second of the same type of yellowjacket holes that so painfully ensnared the French and that they now wisely avoid.


Blogger andante said...

Carl, you're precisely right.

The current bunch of French-bashers don't know history - they only associate the French with providing fine wines and foods for "elites", and therefore contempible.

10:54 PM  

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