Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Le Monde 2, the "Independent" Daily's True Voice

In January 2004, Le Monde launched a weekly magazine that serves as a supplement for the daily's weekend edition.

Le Monde 2 is 90 pages long, in color, and filled with a mixture of text and photo reportages. Perennials include Edwy Plenel's editorial, Pierre Assouline's column, a one-page feature called "Lunch with…" a given celebrity (which always features two photos, one of the celebrity and one of the bill), and at the very end, a large dossier on a subject (person and/or event) taken from a number of articles in the Le Monde archives.

Other perennials include a double spread featuring a given job's equipment (newsstand seller, fireman, rugby player, Formula 1 race driver, a Victorian-era detective, samurai (!), etc) and map in hand (supposed to explain things like regions with drinkable water, the British Commonwealth, the moon, the countries that practice "state homophobia", the location of the top 500 companies in the world, the countries where GMO (and what types and in what amounts) are grown legally, the countries with golfers participating in the Ryder Cup and the number of golf courses in each, the location of the latest UNESCO patrimony sites, the places of theft of the most valuable artifacts, "the Caucasion Inferno", "the [Israeli] Wall Goes to Court", "Iran's Nuclear Ambiguties", and "Is Iraq sovereign?"

Some issues are devoted entirely to one subject or one country; issue 12 (April 4) was devoted to Britain (celebrating the 100 years of the entente cordiale), issue 32 (September 25) was devoted to Italy, and issue 21 (June 6), which we will take a deeper look into here, to D-Day. (As far as links are concerned, I have not found a website for the magazine or for any of the articles that can be found inside it. Readers are welcome to help me update these posts when and if they become available.)

Whereas the independent newspaper tries hard to retain (and present itself as a conveyer of) an independent voice, Le Monde 2, like Le Monde diplomatique, shows its true colors much more clearly…

To celebrate the 100th post on Le Monde Watch, I have decided to write an in-depth overview of Le Monde 2 since the magazine began. (The introduction is the same as this post's; to skip reading it again, go down past the first horizontal line.) Here is one excerpt:

On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, issue 21 (June 6, 2004) is naturally devoted to the "Liberators". "Le Monde 2 commemorates the event by paying homage to all the liberators, anonymous or little-known, French and foreign, heroic and modest, who restored democracy" in France. The cover features a huge portrait of an anonymous French resistant, along with five tiny photos, one of an anti-Hitler German, another of a GI landing at Omaha Beach, one (modern one) of the Bussy-Varache viaduct which the French resistance blew up, and two (!) of the communist leader who gave the order to set the dynamite.

Inside, Edwy Plenel helpfully reminds us that "on the Eastern front, from Stalingrad to Kursk, the Germans lost a total of 6 million soldiers versus only 250,000 in Normandy. History does not moralize. American or Soviet, there is no hierarchy in sacrifice. But the memory of one cannot wipe away the other, on the pretext that American democracy won over Russian communism." Uh-huh. Good thing to know…

On the following page, Geneviève Brisac speaks of the "absurdity of war" and calls for more restraint in her Operation Overlord article entitled… "Operation Overdose". Next, Raphaëlle Bacqué does lunch with Admiral Philippe de Gaulle, who remembers how his father told him on June 5, 1944, "Ça y est … The French will be the first to land in France."

An interview of Jean-Pierre Azéma has the historian explain France's role in Operation Overlord to Michel Lefebvre (remember now, the enemies are the Germans!): "De Gaulle will not restrain his anger. He refuses to participate in this travesty. He will not caution an Americanized France. Voices are raised. Eisenhower, furious, tells him to go to hell. As for Churchill, he is said to have commented "Send him back to Algiers, in a cage if needed." But de Gaulle keeps resisting. He lets it be known that he will address the French people himself. and, on June 6, he pronounces one of his most beautiful speeches, asking the French to obey noone but a French administraion, launching a vibrant call for war, 'France will once again become France'." (Note that de Gaulle's "resistance" — nice choice of words — is to… the perfidious Anglo-Saxons.)

Then comes Francis Marmande's glorious article to the memory of the communist party's "Georges Guingouin, the liberator of Limoges". Ten pages devoted to the "mythical resistant" known as "The Madman of the Woods". (The interview with Azéma on D-Day itself lasted five.)

Then it's Georges Marion's four pages devoted to "the Germans of the Shadows", a resistance organization that infiltrated the Nazi military machine ("Most often they were young communist Jews relocated in France before the war, their families having fled the Nazi oppression") followed by Eric Leser's four pages (nice balance) devoted to two GIs who are the subjects of two famous photos (one of Robert Capa's blurry Omaha Beach pictures and another of a unit holding a captured Nazi flag).

We then have Dominique Frétard's three pages of paintings of medical personnel which appeared in 1945's Men Without Guns (always good, in today's Europe, to present a more pacific side to the conflict), before going to Jean-Michel Normand's text accompanying 12 pages of full-page portraits of resistants (including the young face that graces the cover), all of them anonymous.

The archive section finally gives us some meat to sink our teeth into: D-Day hour by hour, with various comments, 19 pages in all (although there is nothing uncommon about such, since Le Monde 2's archive section are typically long and weighty). Invariably, a veteran is made to opine that, unlike World War II, in no case does the Iraq intervention represent "a just and beautiful cause". (Strangely, no other veteran is quoted on the Iraq war, almost as if when encountering people and soldiers who do support the war (or Bush), the French press does not make much of that).

But we skipped one piece: Emmanuel de Roux's article on the local collectioners of D-Day memorabilia, "from the gaiter button to the assault tank", which I wanted to keep until the end. Those fervent amateurs "have sometimes gathered stockpiles so important as to form the basic collections of museums, large and small, private and public."

Here is what is interesting in the reflection of today's European sophisticated, humanistic, visionary (and fashionable) thinking: One 57-year-old dentist from Bayeux spent his nights collecting, and by the 1970s Jean-Pierre Benamou had assembled all kinds of matériel, from resistance tracts and military berets to the wreck of a British Spitfire. And in 1981, the township of Bayeux agreed to build a museum to house the entire collection. "A convention links Jean-Pierre Benamou to the city until 2020. Thereafter, Bayeux will become the owner of the collections."

This is where the problems start. Remember what Brisac said in her column? Remember the subject of the paintings from Men Without Guns? Remember the number of pages in this Le Monde 2 issue devoted to pacifists (or so-called pacifists) and to members, armed or not, of France's visionary society of humanism and solidarity? Remember the (relatively) few pages devoted to the American and British soldiers who stormed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches and made D-Day what it was? Listen to this: "Sparks have been flying between the collector and the new town hall which wants to dispose of the belligerant side of the establisment in order to transform it into a sort of pacific memorial, modeled after that in Caen."

Now, ain't that nice? It's peace, folks. Peace!

In another time and another place, speaking of "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here" and of the "poor power" of politicians to "add or detract" in subsequent speechifying, one man said that

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
In modern Europe, the balance between the "honored dead" who "gave the last full measure of devotion" and self-important politicians who utter smug platitudes has been inverted. Please note that for today's verbose Europeans, self-declared pacifists or not, a declaration of principles would read more like this:
The world can little note what the brave men did here, but it must never forget what we say here.
For the benefit of Bayeux's vain and conceited politicians and citizens, I will provide a translation of the above Abraham Lincoln sentence in French:
Le monde remarquera peu ce que nous disons ici et il ne s'en souviendra guère, mais il n'oubliera jamais ce que des braves ont fait en ce lieu.

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