Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Pardon, Monsieur, Did American Soldiers Participate in WWII at All?

Six weeks after France hosted an international celebration for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, in which Jacques Chirac managed to hold a speech in which the words "America", "Americans", and "the United States" were not mentioned once, France hosted the commemoration of the second Allied landings in occupied France of 1944.

During France 2's news story on the 60th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, "America" and related words were not mentioned once.

During France 3's news story on the 60th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, "America" and related words were not mentioned once.

During LCI's news story on the 60th anniversary of Operation Dragoon, "America" and related words were not mentioned once.

The news stories on the commemorations all spoke in generic terms ("France paid homage to the soldiers who landed" in Provence in 1944; "a total of nearly 500,000 men"; "the 450,000 men who landed to liberate France").

As for the printed press, let's see… What do we have in Le Monde?

Wow, quite a lot. A full double spread with no less than five articles and two fillers.

The main article, by Yves Bordenave, is called France honors the forgotten of the Provence landings. An article by Lilian Renard concerns the African veterans finding "a lost love" all over again. A rather surprizing article, by Nicolas Weill, concerns the fact that a French army of liberation was actually dominated by Vichy officers. Yet another, by Claudia Courtois, speaks of the Maroccan veterans' bitterness. And the two fillers concern attempts to reevaluate African veterans' pensions and the soldiers who understood orders in French, yet spoke to each other in Arabic.

Wow… that's quite impressive… In all those articles, there are only two mentions of American troops. (Not counting a paragraph mentioning the absence of President Bush.) Quite a feat, eh? But wait a minute… That's not quite true… I told you there were five articles, and in the paragraph above, and I only mentioned four. Turns out there is an article where the word "American" is mentioned throughout the text. In fact, the word keeps returning again and again. It happens to be a straight historical just-the-facts-ma'am article, replete with maps, that tells the story, day by day, hour by hour, of the Provence landings. I guess Bordenave told Le Monde's editors it would be rather difficult to pen that article without including the Yanks…

Ah, the compromises one has to make to work in the printed media…

Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you. Some 60 UMP politicians objected to the presence of Algeria's president (Abdelaziz Bouteflika), because of the tragic fate of the pro-French harki fighters during Algeria's war for independence. Foreign Minister Michel Barnier scolded the Chirac party members, retorting that it "is legitimate that, like the other heads of state concerned by this page of our history, the Algerian president should be invited to the commemoration."

Quite a different treatment than that reserved for President Bush, huh?…