Saturday, June 05, 2004

Springtime for Germany; Winter for the US

Well over a year ago, Le Monde's television critic Dominique Dhombres wrote the following incisive words:
ON JANUARY 22 1963, Charles de Gaulle embraced Konrad Adenauer in parlor of the Elysée Palace. This moving scene has been played repeatedly the last few days on every television channel in France, Germany and Navarre. We will see it again and again this Wednesday, on the fortieth anniversarty of the Elysée treaty. It is a deeply rooted image, just like the sight of Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand holding hands in 1984 at Verdun. Franco-German reconciliation made European construction possible and we all agree on that. Waves of editorials are crashing down on us on this occasion, including in this newspaper, and so much the better.

Is it possible to discern a false note from this necessary and just chorus? It comes from a lengthy stay in England by the author of these lines. Why, our British friends wonder, such passionate demonstrations of friendship? Churchill, Thatcher and, to-day, Blair never saw fit to allow themselves such effusive sentiments with their German counterparts. Why? The answer is not pleasant to hear. The British do not need to act in this way. They have no problem of memory with the Second World War. They won it.

And what of us? Françoise Giroud mentioned this national wound, which is probably beyond repair, in the surprising interview she gave to Philippe Labro on September 11 and which France 3 rebroadcast Tuesday evening. For a warlike country, such as France was, June 1940 has never been digested. De Gaulle, who knew better than anyone that we lost the war, had the extraordinary design of having the French believe they won it, but things like that don't work, she said. That is why the French, whom she remembered from her youth before the war as being so spruce, have become doleful and circumspect. [...]
If only Dhombres had the balls to publish a similar statement right now. It would be very much appropriate. The cartoon that W. posted below — monuments to French and German soldiers holding hands as hearts float upwards from between them. Bush appears on a landing craft and says, "Oh, my God. We've landed at Bègles!" (Bègles is the town in which the mayor, former Green presidential candidate Noël Mamère, has long threatened to marry gay couples) — is commenting on the same reality that Dhombres described in January of last year. And this is a phenomenon that is now startlingly strong and growing stronger.

Yet it is not simply love for Germany that is on the rise but also what appears to be a negative corollary, anger at the US — the incontrovertible reminder of the wound that Giroud describes. Perhaps you were expecting that, as the D-Day anniversary grew closer, increasingly powerful displays of emotion, reemerging as if unchanged from so many years ago, along with abundant witness accounts and personal histories, would flood the pages of newspapers, making the story of D-Day inescapable, and that grief and gratitude would almost entirely drown out acrimony and anti-Americanism, allowing for a brief but tender moment of reconciliation?

You'd have been wrong. It seems that in more than a few quarters, just the opposite is happening. NBC may planning two full days of D-Day coverage but this elegiac atmosphere sure hasn't contaminated the pages of Le Monde.

Indeed, an interesting set of parallel arguments occurred yesterday In the pages of the two papers of record. In The New York Times, former ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn wrote that he had "seen France at its most tragic in 1940" and that the French are "grateful." Almost as a rejoinder to Rohatyn, Le Monde published on the same day an essay by documentary filmmaker and screenwriter Alain Moreau who wrote about "the hidden face of some liberators." His essay contends that American GIs deployed in Europe committed some 17,000 rapes (2,500 of them in France) from 1944 to 1945. (Moreau's assertions depend heavily on a book by J. Robert Lilly, professor of sociology and criminology at Northern Kentucky U., who also points out that thousands of Italian women were raped by French soldiers.)

Not only did Americans rape on D-Day, they killed the innocent, too. On June 1, we were treated to a heart-rending portrait of a man who lost his entire family to allied bombs on the very day of the landings in a town that was 90% destroyed.

Continue reading "Springtime for Germany; Winter for the US "...

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