Friday, June 11, 2004

"The Battle of Normandy, Invasion or Liberation?" It's Just a Debate!

How far is too far? And is it really ridiculous to say that the French are America's betrayers? Is it just that there is some disagreement between the two countries now, and you shouldn't expect a friend to follow blindly in another friend's footpaths? And anyway, it's only with Washington that there is disapproval, not with the American people. Right?

As a senior adviser at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Dominique Moïsi can usually be relied on to parrot the monolithic thought that pretty much everything American is excessive and can only succeed if tempered by the reasonable advice of Europeans with a humanitarian bent. But in his IHT article on the Lessons of D-Day, even he thought some people went too far.

…I am afraid the torch of memory may stop with these old veterans if new generations are not taught history.

On the eve of D-Day ceremonies, an association dedicated to the memory of Saint-Lô as it was before the destruction of the city organized a debate in the local theater involving two veterans, survivors of the bombing of the city and high school students aged 15 to 17.

The title of the debate, suggested by questions from the students, was "The Battle of Normandy, Invasion or Liberation?" It was the first troubling sign of the deterioration of the knowledge and understanding of the past.

The questions from the students were even worse. It was clear they were reading D-Day through the filter of Iraq. Their conversation with the survivors of the bombing of the city was most revealing. How could you welcome Americans as liberators, asked the young boys and girls, after they had reduced your city to ashes? Because "it was a sacrifice for France," replied their elders, shocked by the question.

How convenient that in the land of Descartes, debates should just happen to put into doubt, directly or indirectly, positive views about the United States! (And rarely, if ever, positive views about, for instance, the "fact" that the French and Europeans are so humanitarian to begin with.)

Oh, and by the way — to the Cartesian intellectuals who organized the debate (and who even dreamed it up): How brilliant of you to put into doubt the sacrifice of those who helped to bring down Hitler's Nazi tyranny! To the students: We thank you profusely for the respect you have thus paid to the memory of the Allied troops who were cut down on June 6, 1944, and in the succeeding months. And since the debate was inspired by the students' questions… to the French people: we thank you for creating such an overpowering America-is-the-real-enemy climate that your children think nothing of asking for debates such as these. Encore une fois, merci.

17 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:05 PM

    I see your point, but debates are supposed to challenge viewpoints (i.e. Resolved: There Is A God And He Wants Money")?

    Also, do you think that American 15 to 17-y-o would be any less equivocal about Liberation vs. invasion (or Freedom vs. license...) Teenagers are annoyingly both ignorant and self-confident.

    And do we want French teenagers to merely inherit their forefathers' feelings of gratefulness toward America without _appreciating_ the sacrifice made on their behalf? And, consequently, could they appreciate it without reflecting on it (which could include brief bouts of heretical ungratefulness)? I say let them question what they want: being irreverent and stupid is part of growing up. If they don't wisen up in time, we can castigate them then.

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  2. Anonymous5:14 PM

    So let me guess if I see your point too: historical facts are just debatable viewpoints? Is that it?

    Nah, don't tell me, you're part of that 'sophisticated' European 'Elite' aren't you?

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  3. Anonymous5:22 PM

    French revisionism in action and further proof that France is the enemy. I've been reading W.'s stuff from the beginning and Erik's stuff here is just great. Cut France loose, they're just dead weight.

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  4. Anonymous6:06 PM

    "historical facts are just debatable viewpoints? "

    Not at all. My point is that today's teenagers will not understand the GI's sacrifices without thinking long and hard about it (and that process may include heretical questioning) until they can relate to it on a personal level. That's part of growing up.

    Now, if they're still clinging to these viewpoints after they've grown up, then yeah, they'd just be small-minded pricks. All I'm saying is give the kids a chance to grow out of this BS. They're debating, not strapping explosives on their chests (in which case, shoot the little twerps).

    "you're part of that 'sophisticated' European 'Elite' aren't you?"
    Well, I used to be French/Belgian, so you used to be right about that. Not anymore, though. Not that being part of the European elite is necessarily bad, either. My own kid spent a year in Iraq and is about to be redeployed there. The most touching messages my wife and I got were from some of my old friends on the wrong side of the Channel. A couple of them spent quite a bit of time and money to track us down (we had lost touch a while back) only to try and cheer us up. Like I said, it's not like they're strapping explosives on their chests.

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  5. Anonymous7:11 PM

    "If they don't wisen up in time, we can castigate them then."

    Teach young students false and distorted history, train them to think without logic, reason or compassion, let them wallow in lies and then hope they grow out of it?!?!?!

    That is beyond idiotic.

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  6. Anonymous8:42 PM

    I guess you're right. Better control every aspect of their education, make them recite approved creeds by rote and severely punish any dissent. Surely, THAT can't insult or endanger our country!

    Let Freedom ring, right?

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  7. Anonymous11:21 PM

    Just to clarify: the person who noted that your conception of the way History should be 'taught' is 'beyond idiotic', is not me: I'm the one who noted that you're conception of historical facts is that of the Zeropean lefties.

    I would agree with him though: you're beyond idiotic when you reiterate your original position and try to convince us that there is no such thing as history and facts and that it's all a question of 'viewpoints' as you put it. In that respect, your last comment is incredibly stupid:

    "Better control every aspect of their education, make them recite approved creeds by rote and severely punish any dissent" Excuse me? I think you've just lost it Pops and you're not going to get away with it, simply by playing the good old post-68 French education motto: "let them learn what they want, how they want cause it's freedom Dude"

    In case you didn't notice, there was indeed a landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6th 1944. This landing was necessary in order to repel the German armies who were OCCUPYING the largest part of Western Europe (and therefore to LIBERATE it) and put an end to the Nazi regime. Then, when that job was over, the Allied armies that landed in Normandy LEFT the largest part of Europe they previously LIBERATED. Meaning they didn't OCCUPY it. No serious historian contests that you know.

    Now Pops, to me - and probably many other people in the audience - these are indeed historical facts.

    If you still intend to claim that these are just "approved creeds" that kids shouldn't be forced to "recite" because really, Dude, we don't want to "control every aspect of their education", then congratulation, you're about to redefine the meaning of "beyond idiotic".

    And you can't say we didn't warn you: the other commenter in this "debate à trois" hit it right on the nail with:

    "Teach young students false and distorted history, train them to think without logic, reason or compassion, let them wallow in lies and then hope they grow out of it? No, indeed. Is that really so difficult to understand, Mr. Viewpoints?

    You're talking about Iraq? Great. Splendid. Remember the style of the Saddam era schoolbooks, and what the Iraqi children were taught?

    Viewpoints heh?

    Having said that, maybe you're right after all: seen from the Nazis' point of view, the Battle of Normandy was an invasion. And Auschwitz was a "solution".

    Care to "debate"?

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  9. Anonymous4:29 AM

    I'm an American and I'd like to defend the first poster. I don't think he said that kids shouldn't be taught to think logically. He's saying that rather than forcefeeding dogma to young people (no matter how obviously true or false the proposition is to us older and wiser folks), it is better to teach them to keep their minds open until they can figure out the truth or falsity of a thing for themselves.

    But I think the question of the debate itself is a different matter. I don't think any sensible person would question the equality of the races. Yet to invite a bunch of immature minds to a debate over the intellectual capacity of blacks or, say, the nefariousness of Jews would be to lend credence to bankrupt ideas.

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  10. Anonymous8:16 AM

    "He's saying that rather than forcefeeding dogma to young people..."dogma? The only people who consider history as a dogma are precisely those who try to rewrite it, from revisionists to the communistsAnd of course, their modern counterparts: the Moore, the Chomsky, etc.

    The crucial point being that if decent people don't teach historial facts to their kids, these scums will offer them dogmas to swallow. (They already do actually)

    Again, I don't see why it is so hard to understand...

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  11. Anonymous8:21 AM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  12. Anonymous9:16 AM

    Hey anonymous, this is anonymous. The original poster (and I) agree with you. France was liberated, and there is no real credible argument to the contrary. However, strictly speaking, it is not a FACT that the US liberated France. "Liberation" is a qualitative term, not a name or a date. I speak of D-Day as a liberation, you speak of it as liberation, and the vast majority of the knowledgeable French population speaks of it as liberation, but there are those who will differ--e.g., a Vichy fascist. When I spoke of "dogma," I was speaking of a principle: namely, to start out questioning everything and then let the process of reasoning lead you to the truth. And if a kid has a brain worth a damn, he'll figure it out. The reason Socrates asked questions instead of simply dictating answers--even when they seemed obvious--was that true understanding is that learning is a process that has a value in and of itself, apart from the solution/truth/answer. The very fact that these kids questioned their own liberation is proof that the debate had value.

    Which do you think is more educational: some schoolbook or newspaper telling the kids they should feel grateful for something that happened 60 years ago, or have some 85 year old frenchman or woman explaining in a vivid first-hand account how they personally were liberated by American soldiers? If these kids needed edification in history, they finally got it.

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  13. Anonymous11:31 AM

    "However, strictly speaking, it is not a FACT that the US liberated France. "Liberation" is a qualitative term, not a name or a date. I speak of D-Day as a liberation, you speak of it as liberation, and the vast majority of the knowledgeable French population speaks of it as liberation, but there are those who will differ--e.g., a Vichy fascist."See anonymous, this is were the problem lies. Strictly speaking or not, it IS a fact that the Allied liberated France (the Allied minus the USSR actually).

    And guess what? There is such thing as objective knowledgeI could point at the fact that the so called "debates" and "questionning of the dogma" you're promoting are not exactly happening in a void or in a perfect world - meaning that you're ignoring the rabid anti-Americanism of the French education system (and yes, I know what I'm talking about in that respect) - but I'm not going anywhere before you read Popper...

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  14. Anonymous1:46 PM

    I think that the previous posters missed an important point.

    The question was not "How could you welcome Americans as liberators?" but "How could you welcome Americans as liberators after they had reduced your city to ashes?"

    Well, I do believe this is a very important question you could ask to survivors of Dresden or Hiroshima bombings.
    Their answer now might be different from the one they would have given 55 years ago.

    And if you think about it, the French not only found freedom after the liberation but were helped by the American (Marshall plan). Could helpo those kids in Normandy to see the events in Irak with a different perspective...

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  15. Anonymous5:01 PM

    I didn't miss the point about the cities being destroyed. In fact the point I had omitted was that the impact of first-hand testimony by someone whose home had been destroyed by the allies would have an even greater impact on some 17-year-old, soaked-in anti-American propaganda skeptic. And to the other poster, I've read some Karl Popper though probably not enough to justify your going any further.

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  16. I want to talk about another point than philosophical one (how to teach the young ).
    The young students were brainwashed by the anti-war propaganda of french media for years . One of "arguments" which is so many times repeated ,is war makes the collateral damage . The french media ( above all the left ) have done it in the wars of Koweit ( Gulf war), Bosnie , Kosovo , Afghanistan and now Iraq . I remenber that in the liberation war of Iraq , everyday there were images of iraqi civilians : children ,women , the elder,they were dead or wounded or crying in the media .The death of the innocent civilians makes war unjustiable and abject (as a consequence ,don't wage any war against any dictator ,any country ).I suppose it's a shock for the students , when they discover 350 civilians killed in their totally destroyed city by the Allied .
    But they must known freedom has a price , and a cause is worthy to fight for . Mr Moïsi didn't tell us how the "debat" ended , did the students understand that the submission to dictator costs much more than the war . They certainly known that the SS division Das Reich massacred the entire village of Oradour-sur-Glane without reason , without "provocation" of
    villagers , 642 killed .

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  17. Anonymous6:43 PM

    Exactly. The one giant lesson of WW2 is that it is sometimes the avoidance of war (i.e., Europe in the late 30's) that is the greater danger. It takes moral courage to see the longer view. Ask the people of Coventry, England. I wonder what Iraq might have looked like if it had continued to suffer not only Saddam but then under his brutal sons.

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