Friday, August 20, 2004

De Gaulle Still a Scoundrel 60 Years On

A week-long series of events began today to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Paris. Here are a few sites to visit:
60eme anniversaire de la Libération de Paris — the mayor's office has set up this site with brief histories and other info about the events of that day.

Mission du 60eme anniversaire des débarquements et de la libération de la France — The Defense ministry has set up this site which contains a program of events occuring in Paris to commemorate the Liberation. There were a number of events to-day and Sunday there will be a ceremony marking the deaths of the Francs-Tireurs Partisans who were rounded up and shot by the Germans in the Bois de Boulogne outside Paris. On Monday there will be several dedications of new street names. Ceremonies continue until the 26th.
Le Monde suggests looking at these two personal Web sites devoted to the Liberation: Libération de Paris is maintained by Gilles Primout who since 1994 has been collecting all available sources of information on those who died during the liberation of Paris. Un vent de liberté is an excellent site with historical documents and photos.

I wrote some time ago about a new interpretation of the Liberation in which the US role was minimized and qualified amid happy reconciliation with Germany. I mentioned an essay by Le Monde's former correspondent in NYC, Sylvie Kaufmann, who wrote of a television documentary that included footage of an 8/25/44 speech by General de Gaulle in which he "transformed France's defeat into a victory, without allowing even a word for the role of the allies." Le Monde has made the entire text available here. You can see a small portion of it in this medley of newsreel footage from the liberation, provided by the Gaumont Pathé archives (here and here). Here is what de Gaulle said:
Why do you wish us to hide the emotion that has seized us, men and women, who are here, in our home, in Paris, which has risen to free itself and which was able to do so with its bare hands?

No! We shall not hide this profound and sacred emotion. In it there are moments that surpass each of our poor lives.

Paris! Paris violated! Paris broken! Paris martyred! but Paris liberated! Liberated by itself, liberated by it's people and with the aid of the armies of France, with the support and aid of all of France, of embattled France, of the only France, of the real France, of the eternal France.

And so! Since the enemy that held Paris has surrendered into our hands, France returns to Paris, her home. She returns bloodied but resolute. She returns enlightened by such a great lesson but more certain than ever of her duties and of her rights.

Of her duties first, I say, and I shall sum them up by saying that, for the time being, this concerns duties of war. The enemy is reeling but not yet beaten. He remains on our soil. For us to count ourselves as satisfied after what happened, it is not even enough that we have, with the aid of our dear and admirable allies, chased him off. As is fitting, we wish to enter onto his territory as conquers. This is why the French front line entered Paris with canons blasting. That is why the great French army of Italy set out for the Midi [August 15, 1944] and is rapidly making way for the Rhône valley. That is why our brave and dear interior forces are equipping themselves with modern weapons. It is for this recompense, this vengeance, this justice that we shall continue to fight until the final day, until total and complete victory. All men here and all those who hear us in France know that this duty of war demands national unity. We, who have lived through the greatest moments of our History, have no more to desire than to prove ourselves worthy of France until the end.

Long live France!
In 1945, the "Information & Education Division" of the US Occupation Forces sought to ease the strained relations between US soldiers and the French public by publishing a pamphlet entitled "112 Gripes About the French." The small book discussed the economic realities of life for the French following the occupation, the black market, poverty, malnutrition, cultural differences, etc. The book largely came to the defense of the French and asked American GIs to be more understanding of the country they were occupying. However Gripe #95 was entitled, "The French act has if they won the war single-handed." The Occupations Forces' answer?
Those who do are damned fools. The French did not win this war single-handed. Neither did we. Neither did the Russians or the British or the Chinese.

If you want to form your own opinion about how much French did to help win the war, ask yourself these questions: Suppose the French army and navy had joined up with the Germans in 1940 (as Hitler tried to get them to do)? Suppose the French armies which were fighting the Germans or the Italians had been fighting us? Suppose there had been no French underground, no French resistance, no French sabotage of German military production, no French espionage for SHAEF, no French guerrillas behind the German lines, no French Maquis in Central France, no FFI inside France as we fought our way through? How many more American lives do you think we would have lost?
No public authority published any pamphlet asking de Gaulle, or the French public or anyone else what the answers to the reverse of these questions would have been. On the other hand, perhaps De Gaulle was cynical enough to know the answers perfectly well and yet to surpress them for obvious reasons. I'm not to certain of the authenticity of this quote but it seems apt: Eric Waugh of the Belfast Telegraph recently attributed the following words to de Gaulle, speaking to Churchill: "We shall stun you with our ingratitude."

He did.