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Monday, 1 November 2010

Off-topic once again... On Militarist Francophobia (or still banging on about 1940)

(I promise I'll return to posting stuff about the seventh century again soon...)

This catches my eye today:

Now there are a range of important issues about this, which don't concern what I am going to write. For myself, as a card-carrying European and francophile, I'm quite in favour but I do see the force of serious arguments about joint European armies etc, even if I don't agree with them. As long as they are serious arguments, that is. What made me (unsurprisingly) angry was the range and density of xenophobic responses to this on an avowedly left-wing Facebook group. Out came all the tired old jokes about the French running away, being cowards etc. One person claimed her grandfather had spent 6 years in a PoW camp to stop this happening. I wasn't very sure how this worked, I admit. To have spent 6 years in a PoW camp, Granddad would by my reckoning (British involvement in WWII: 3 Sept '39- 15 August 45) have had to have valiantly surrendered before the war had even started... And I wasn't aware that high on the list of reasons to fight was to stop the creation of joint Anglo-French battalions. I further suspected that most of the people objecting would have had no problem with Eisenhower's command of Allied Forces in NW Europe, or have no problem US led ops in the Middle East. Be that as it may (or should I say 'quoi qu'il en soit'?)...

Apart from this there were appeals to history. One (step forward one Mark Waller, whom I would reward with the inaugural 'Undereducated Dumb-Ass of the Week' award, were it not that this was Faceboook and for all I know he could just be a school-kid, so I should cut him some slack; also it's been a hotly competitive week for general dumb-assery) even said that Cameron must know no history to have allowed this to go ahead (before delivering a tirade of the usual guff). This is an issue close to my heart, partly because we saw all this before when the French refused to go into Iraq with the US: all this got wheeled out. 'Cheese-eating surrender monkeys.' Wasn't that the phrase? The Google 'joke' that appeared if you typed French Military Victories into the search engine, said 'we could find no results; did you mean French military defeats?' Ho ho. I expect the side-stitching doctor got a lot of work out of that one. Hugo Rifkind, Times columnist son of Malcolm, even pens the following remark at the end of a piece on Sarkozy not being very French:

"Hell, he’ll be using soap and winning wars next. Quelle horreur!"
Witty, intelligent, mature?  You decide.  But then if you're from Rifkind's background you don't need to be very good to get on (that would be meritocracy or, as his ilk are fond of calling it, 'social engineering').

A brainless, overprivileged tyke, crying out
for a slap (again, in the eyes of people
other than me, needless to say)

Anyway, all this annoys me because it shows absolutely no knowledge of history, in spite of the claims made, and even less basic humanity. Here, in case you ever find yourself either, a: confronted by someone like Messrs Waller or Rifkind, or b: tempted to wheel out these sorts of imbecilities, is a range of points you might like to consider:

First of all,
On 1940:
1. The French inflicted more casualties per day on the German army than the Soviet army did during the first 6 months of Barbarossa
2. If the French army had given ground at the rate of the Soviet army in '41, it would have been defending Cadiz by the time the armistice was signed
3. The perimeter at Dunkirk was held by French troops. How do you think the BEF would have got away otherwise? The British story is that the Germans 'miraculously' stopped their panzers and gave everything over to the Luftwaffe, who, thanks to the Little Ships and the RAF, were unable to do the job. This is a myth. The Panzers were withdrawn to refit and ready themselves for Fall Rot, the offensive against the main French forces, a strategically more important task, and because the terrain around Dunkirk, criss-crossed by canals, is hardly good tank territory anyway. The RAF performed very badly over Dunkirk. One sortie by Hurricanes against Stukas indeed resulted in 2 Hurricanes being shot down by the Stukas for no loss to the Germans. Fortunately the RAF learnt from its mistakes in time for the Battle of Britain. In any case, Luftwaffe or no, German heavy artillery had the entire defensive perimeter and the beaches and port facilities in range from quite early on and it was in fact the Wehrmacht guns that put an end to daylight evacuations. Whilst all this was going on, very far from being held back, the German army was launching repeated attacks to try and get onto the beaches, which the French fought hard to stop and even drive back. On a daily basis, the French commander launched effective spoiling attacks to break up the German assaults before they got started. On the last day of the British evacuation (2 June), one such French attack by the 21st Centre d'Instruction Divisionnaire (I assume a unit of instructors) launched an attack through thigh deep water and drove back the Germans for three hours, and lost nearly 90% casualties. And indeed many of the French units were not first-line forces: Bergues was held for 2 days of intense attack by 2 French labour battalions. Nearly 1/5 of those who were evacuated were brought off by the French Navy. Etc. Enough.
4. The problem of French morale after the slaughter of WWI. Ever been to France and looked at a French war memorial? Unless you have, you will not understand 1940.

Which leads me to...

French Military Victories
1. Of which there apparently aren't any... Assuming, of course, that you forget the period of absolute military domination of Europe by Louis XIV's armies from c.1640 to c.1700 (under Turenne, Conde and Luxembourg) and then from 1714 through to 1750 (under De Saxe). Even during the War of the Spanish Succession there were plenty of French victories that the British are accustomed to ignore by concentrating on the four battles won by the Duke of Marlborough. Indeed thanks to the abandonment of Eugene by the Duke of Ormonde (on government orders), the last battle on the Flanders front was a French victory (Denain), undoing much of what Marlborough had achieved.
2. Ever heard of Napoleon I?
3. Which army won the Crimean War by storming the Malakoff and thus compelling the Russians to abandon Sevastopol? (Clue: it wasn't the British army.)
4: Which army, for God's sake, do people like Hugo f*cking Rifkind think won the First World War (at a cost of 1,397,000 dead: as a percentage of population, that is twice the loss of the UK)? 'Thank God for the French Army' said Churchill, doubtless the guru of the likes of Rifkind.
5: Who, one wonders, do such people think won the Hundred Years' War? Or do they imagine that Gascony is still a territory of the English crown?
6: (For Americans, this one.) Do you imagine that the Revolution would have been won without French intervention? It's unlikely, as US governments from 1781 onwards (up to, at a wild guess, 2003) repeatedly acknowledged.

and finally...
The Other Side of the Coin (or famous 'British' victories)
This is important in the context of this frothing hostility to combined European forces, because most of the vaunted 'British' victories, especially over the French, are not very British at all.
1. Marlborough's victories were won with armies that were overwhelmingly (80%+) composed of Germans, Dutch and Danish.
2. Wellington's army in the Peninsula had a higher percentage of British troops but nevertheless contained large contingents of Spanish and Portuguese, the latter of which were very effective, not to mention (again) large numbers of Germans: the King's German Legion for example (about 20% of the 'British' army at Talavera, which itself only made up about 40% of the whole allied force).
3. Wellington's army at Waterloo was, like Marlborough's, mostly comprised of Dutch, Belgians and Germans, and in any case, as military historians increasingly accept, as the dominance of Wellington's own version of the battle (the Iron Duke was a skilled news manager) has gradually been reassessed, Waterloo was a Prussian victory. By the evening of 18 June, Napoleon had, effectively, beaten Wellington, whose battered line was barely clinging on by its fingertips. If he had had Lobau'scorps and the Guard, tied down by the Prussians from early on in the day (one of the things Wellington air-brushed out, claiming that the Prussians had only arrived in the afternoon/evening), to hand, he would almost certainly have crushed him.

Anyway, enough military historical fact-crunching.  There are implications for all of the above about the value of history - or rather (I should say) why history doesn't matter, but I have run out of steam and will leave that for another time.  In the mean-time, let's stop with all the cowardly French surrender-monkeys stuff, shall we?  Thank you.