Saturday, October 09, 2004

Histoire de la France (II) — "France and her honor are at stake"

John J. Miller & Mark Molesky:
…All along the coast of French North Africa, tens of thousands of GIs would storm ashore at Algiers, Casablanca, Fedala, Safi, Mehdia, and Oran. Once the Americans seized these cities, it was on to Tunisia to join the British Eighth Army in its struggle against Rommel's vaunted Afrika Korps.

As the lead ship neared the boom at the mouth of the harbor [on November 8, 1942], a single question animated the mind of all on board: Would the French resist? In the weeks leading up to the invasion, diplomats and intelligence officers had assured the American military that they would not. They were counting on French gratitude earned in the First World War. "Our latest and best information from North Africa," wrote President Franklin Roosevelt to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, "is ... [that] an American expedition led in all three phases by American officers will meet little resistance from the French Army in Africa." …

Then the French guns opened up. Guided by spotlights from shore, machine gun tracers sprayed out across the dark water, followed by a withering artillery barrage. From the docks and jetties, French snipers squeezed off round after round. Neither the large and conspicuous U.S. flags flying from both ships nor the repeated calls over a loudspeaker in American-accented French — "Do not fire! We are your friends! Do not Fire!" — had any effect. …

For the next three days, the Americans faced fierce fighting across twelve separate battlefields in Algeria and French Morocco. American GIs comprised the bulk of the landing force on the theory that they would antagonize the French less than the British. But the French Premier, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, refused to back down. "France and her honor are at stake," he cabled President Roosevelt. "We are attacked. We will defend ourselves. This is the order I am giving." Only superior numbers and American tenacity made Operation Torch a success. "Had the landings been opposed by the Germans," admitted General George S. Patton, "we would never have gotten ashore."

It is widely believed that Vichy was a weak puppet regime that cooperated reluctantly with the Nazis and put up only a token resistance to Allied forces. … The reality was quite different, as the Americans discovered in North Africa.

Disclaimer: You do not need to tell me that Vichy France should not be confused with the rest of the nation and its citizens. We agree on that. And so, I suppose, do the book's authors.

Still, please notice that Pétain uses, if not the same wording, the same sentiments used by leaders of latterday France: La France et son honneur sont en jeu. Tell a citoyen that one should not blindly follow Washington, that allies need to be able to disagree and not ask each other to be each other's poodles — whether a rightist or a leftist — and he will readily agree, not noticing that this statement is never made about any other country (Soviet Union, China, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, etc…), and in agreeing, the citoyen will turn a blind eye to the fact that, willingly or not, the distance taken vis-à-vis the democracy ("false" or otherwise) is often made for the benefit (direct or indirect) of the same authoritarian countries.

Notice also that the "ability to disagree" sentiment does not apply to France itself; other countries are asked to follow Paris blindly, and if not, they can expect to be called poodles, turncoats, or impolite people who would do better to keep quiet.

Finally, it is strange that regarding America, the comment is often (always?) made that we should not trust official history and we should seek out the dark spots ("Tu crois tout ce qu'on te dit? >snicker< "). When this is attempted, even only on a relatively small scale, with French history, a multitude of shields arises in fury.

(Shookhran beaucoup, Gregory Schreiber)

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