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July 15, 2004

dulce et decorum est

Last week in Burgundy, we noticed that every single town had erected a stone cross with the names of its dead from 1914-18 and 1939-45. Even a village of 50 people (according to our Michelin guide) might list a half dozen killed. A few names were marked “déporté”—taken east to die in slave labor or death camps. Overall, France lost 1,368,000 men in the First World War and 563,000 people (civilians and combatants) in the Second. That counts only the dead, not those grievously wounded, psychologically broken, widowed, orphaned, or deprived of young sons. France lost 11 percent of its entire population in the Great War, compared to a death rate of 0.37% in the United States. Even in World War II, the French lost twice as many people as we did, out of a much smaller population.

And then I think of the people, my fellow Americans, who claimed that France opposed our invasion of Iraq because they lacked the courage for war; the French were “surrender monkeys,” in the phrase that certain hawks borrowed from “The Simpsons.” These people remind me of the ones Siegfried Sassoon described in “Base Details”:

IF I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say—‘I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.

Posted by peterlevine at July 15, 2004 11:39 AM


I happen to have agreed with France's opposition to attacking Iraq, but clearly the casualties in WWII do not tell the whole story. France did surrender in a matter of weeks and then, as Robert Paxton has well documented, set out enthusiastically to cooperate with Germany, including deporting its Jews.

Posted by: Fred Vincy at July 16, 2004 10:34 AM

Your post reminds me a French movie that left my heart in pieces on the floor of the movie theatre: "La vie et rien d'autre" (Life and Nothing But).

One of my favourite quotes: "We do nothing but shut up! Who'd listen to us anyway? Who'd print it? The newspapers want only lies and official idiocy. "The war's devastating allure only appears to be destructive." I read that. Signed: General Cherfils. One million five hundred thousand deaths only appear to be dead. Bastards! Bastards!"

Posted by: Eli at July 17, 2004 12:17 PM

In Germany the generation that is now retiring are the toddlers of World War II. As they have the opportunity to tell their story a new narrative has emerged in Germany. They mourn the Holocaust and consider themselves the heirs and the victims of the Nazis. My mother thinks in those terms and so do her peers.
Her parents generation's narrative was "we did not know!" The student rebels of the sixties attacked their parents. Now the generation in between is finding its voice.
Here are a few examples. A father of a friend told me how he grew up next to Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia and then had to escape from the Soviet onslaught. Traveling to Germany's western provinces in a horse drawn cart his brother and he would debate the sex of the dead corpses that had been flattened two-dimensional. I met a woman who was five or six years old when her home town Stuttgart was air raided. Her hair turned white in one night. My mother told me how she could not be evacuated into the shelters when she lay in a stretcher with a broken leg. As the hospital was on a hill she could observe the anti-air guns firing from the top of her families apartment and she would pray that god would take her if her family died because she did not wat remain behind by herself.
By the way, the novels of Holocaust survivor and Nobel price winner Imre Kertesz give new credibility to the "we did not know" claim. He describes the attempts fo Hungarian Jews to reason and to negotiate with their henchmen. The experience was just so much out of the ordinary that it took a while to figure out what exactly was going on. My mother, on the other hand, likes to point out that there was a banner in every German village that said "Jews Out!" and that everybody could have noticed the evil that was going on.
Unlike Americans, Germans and French see pictures of Iraqi children casualties all the time. My mother keeps telling me that this information is kept from us (meaning Americans). She did experience the arrival of American troops as an act of liberation. But unfortunately the administration has done little to demonstrate to the world that this war is really about the liberation of the Iraqi people.
As a German I will refrain from evaluating the French experience. I can understand that people collaborate with evil and I am uncomfortable to assume that I would have behaved heroic when I did not face the challenge myself. The relevant question to me is how we deal with the abuse of power in our life time. I am very much upset with the leadership of my church, for example, which gets agitated about gay marriage and has not uttered a word to protect Iraqi boys from being sodomized in Abu Ghraib.

Posted by: Hellmut Lotz at July 19, 2004 01:10 PM

California Public Policy Foundation **** CPR Online
To read this article, click here: http://www.cppf.us/OnlineOriginals/Columns/081904WS.html or
go directly to our website -- www.cppf.us.

August 19, 2004

* William E. Saracino: Feeding the nation that bites you

Why is California's lottery subsidizing a French corporation?
-- William E. Saracino is a member of California Political Review's editorial board.

Posted by: F.T.F. at August 24, 2004 02:11 PM

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