French Profile

My love of history started in childhood. The US Civil War and World War Two were the two events that captivated my attention most of all. I was able to indulge my interest in the Civil War on family vacations but I had no opportunities to visit any WW2 sites. Still I enjoyed WW2 movies and books from childhood through to today when I have been able to visit a few sites though of a smaller nature.

However in my history studies I have had very little contact with French history. This likely has something to do with their limited involvement in WW2, though my lack of learning in 8th and 9th grade French class can be chalked up to not paying attention.(It was nice of my 9th grade French teacher to suggest I drop the class after the first semester with a C-, so I switched to Auto Shop).

I don’t really like France, but it;s an intriguing nation. The first ally of the United States after their assistance to our revolution they soon had their own revolution and have since been a very awkward country.

While the United States became a nation of self government and hard work, France has became a nation of repeated messes as the people asked for more and more while willing to contribute less. America has had the same government since it’s revolution, while France is on it’s 5th Republic.

While you can give the French credit for going to the barricades, literally, against the government, you can question their reasoning. Shorter work weeks usually being the main cause. A people willing to regularly riot and revolt, but not strong enough to work 40 hours for 40 hours worth of pay is strange.

In order to learn more about the French people I read Brian Moynahans The French Century. The book is a chronicle of France during the 20th century and is quite interesting. However it did not really answer any questions, though it did reaffirm the widely held belief of French people being whiny, effete, indolent, and arrogant.

Some say that it is Parisians who those generalities can be credited to more so than the provincials but I would say Paris is France just like London is England. Though there are other large cities none dominates the nation so wholly.

The book does have many interesting details and is indeed an informative history book. In particular there are two parts I would like to share here.

First is an excerpt from a paragraph on the takedown on the Church in French society following the first World War. The minister of work made a speech pronouncing his happiness at the fall of the Church, an idea the government supported. What was interesting is what Mr. Moynahan said;

The left thought that religion was no more than a material interest that could be bashed with impunity; they were blind to it as a faith “that is the lifeblood of half France – more than the lifeblood since eternal life in involved”.

That statement stood out because it applies to all countries. Religion is the meeting place for many communities and by taking that out the people are weakened to individual concerns.

The second part that stuck out for me concerned the Soviet Union.

When André Gide went to Russia in 1936 he was greeted by “spontaneous” crowds at every railway stop, and winsome young Red Army soldiers were thoughtfully provided in a swimming pool he visited. But Gide was not fooled. When he got back, he published Retour de l’URSS in November 1936, lashing the attempt to enforce “total unanimity of thought” through terror. Louis-Ferdinand Céline visited in 1936 to spend the rubles owed him in book royalties. He wrote Mea Culpa on his return, a forty page pamphlet that burned up Bolshevism with the incandescent rage he was soon to turn on the Jews. He found the Soviets foul and venomous. Prolovitch, as he called his proto-proletarian, had been promised paradise; instead, he was trapped behind “a hundred thousand barbed wires” by “the most suspicious, most vindictive, most sadistic police on this earth!” Only three things, Céline wrote, were doing well among the Soviets: “Army, police, propaganda.” They had “dressed up a turd as a caramel”.

That section is most interesting for its honesty about communism, but still its just as interesting to note that France would go on to do its own thing later and was closer to Russia than other Western nations.

There are many more interesting things in the book but those two stood out the most to me, and technically there not even about France.


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Posted on March 14, 2013, in The Life of Man and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I must agree with those who think Parisians shouldn’t be compared to the rest of the French people. It’s the same with Venetians in Italy, they’re an incredibly arrogant lot and different from other Italians. I’ve remained great friends with several French people I’ve met through the years.

    FWIW, French involvement in WWII is incredibly interesting to me. Obviously the two week (or less?) time it took to fall wasn’t one of their more stellar hours….but after the split, when there were forces led by Charles deGaul (sp?) in England with resistant forces taking part in the underground, and the Vichy forces working with the Axis it is quite an interesting time. Most interesting thing to me was the human psychology element…how people could turn on each other and join the enemy, literally overnight.

    General Patton, incidentally, loved the French. He was a total Francophile and fluent. I read that before the first Naval battle in Algiers against Vichy French forces, he read through the pamphlets they were supposed to distribute in french (we’re your friends, don’t shoot, yadda yadda), found a slight error and made them stay up all night fixing each and every one of them. Said he didn’t want the French to think we were illiterate buffoons (or something like that).

    • I want to agree with the bit about Parisians, but like I said it’s the city that makes France so it’s hard to just write off. Though now I suspect a few other cities are more similar than in the past.

      And the history is indeed interesting, on paper they could have beat the Germans early on but poor preparation and obstinacy stopped them.

      I have to respect the French cause they have produced a number of things but they’re so damn frustrating. In a way I like having them around as a country, odd as they can be they do things there own way which I give them credit for.

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