A View From Across The Pond

Whenever some perceived contretemps, genuine or not, arises between the Unites States and France, count on a percentage of my fellow Americans emerging from the woodwork to post worn-out disparagement of the French military in WWII.  Such posts only illuminate their staggering ignorance, and of course their arrogance. For the disinclined, no reason to trouble reading history.

In France it is everywhere. It is not possible to drive very far without seeing the evidence of three wars fought across this country, all in a span of less than 70 years, each leading to the next, each compounding the toll in human lives. Imagine. Three times in one lifetime, should one have been fortunate enough to last that long, the country was invaded. Twice within 25 years the country was turned into a charnel house, costing the lives of millions, leaving vast swaths of countryside devastated and depopulated. Entire towns and villages simply disappeared, scoured from the map, never return.

For four years before the US entered the First World War France bled nearly to death. Millions of French soldiers died, and more were left incapacitated. France and England were close to exhaustion when the US arrived and provided the push to win the war.  When the guns went silent, much of France was left in ruins and the better part of an entire male generation was gone.

The math is easy. Twenty years later, guess who came knocking once again? This time there was hardly anyone there to answer the door–twenty years later is exactly when another generation would have been ready for the military, but there was barely a generation there.

Beyond the strategic issues, beyond the economics, the politics, and the diplomatic failures that led to what transpired, lay the fact that those who could have fathered a generation of soldiers to defend France in 1940 had died on the battlefields of 1914-1918.

You don’t need to read history. All you need do is drive through France. You don’t have to drive very far before coming to a military cemetery, one of the hundreds seemingly everywhere, or to stop in the town squares of thousands of towns and tiny villages, each with a monument to its own war dead.  The names for 1940 on those monuments are few, but the list of names for 1914-1918 often takes up several sides of a monument, even in the small towns. Fathers and sons died, and multiple brothers all from the same village.

It is a fact, a dark fact, that one of the reasons so many small villages throughout France today are so quaintly, charmingly quiet to an observer from elsewhere is that they have never recovered their population even now, after the two world wars.

Generations now living in the US, behind the seeming safety of oceans on its flanks and no centuries-long antagonist just across a land border, might be forgiven for a sense of invincibility, but not for arrogance or ignorance.  Sometimes it’s smart to read a little history.

5 thoughts on “A View From Across The Pond

  1. Thank you for your reminder of how lucky we are to live in this age. Yes, we have wars, some on a battlefield, some like the one we are facing now, an invisible virus.
    I wish that schools would do their job and TEACH history, not only ours, but across the world.
    I always like to post, Never Forget! My grandparents on my mother’s side lost many family members in WW2. 2 survived, one came to America after the war as a stow away, the other gave a written account of what happened to her during her time in the camps. She emigrated to Israel. I still have family there, although I have only met my cousin Miri, a nurse in the army. It is included in our family genealogy on my mother’s side.
    On my grandmother’s grave, on the backside, are the names of her family that never made it out of the camps, and who will never have a headstone.
    I don’t have information on the Paternal side.
    I feel for the town’s that disappeared, and the families that suffered the same fate.
    Pictures would be a helpful reminder, Tom. Show those of us what you are experiencing.
    I hope that your little haven in France is healthy and that you are safe from harm there.
    Does your little town do anything for Easter?
    Judy
    P.s. I hope you took my calling you a Goy in good form. Not as derogatory.

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  2. Well first off, no offense taken. I laughed. Couldn’t you tell, since I called myself your goyfriend?
    Your family has a story to tell. The next generations need to hear it. Alas, I agree, history is not being taught, and we will pay the price.

    Meanwhile, pretty quiet here these days because of the quarantine, so no way to know if there would be any Easter observances here under normal circumstances.

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  3. Red, thanks for the view from the other side. It is certainly something that we do not focus on here. The US monument is a small gazebo tucked away on the mall. Thanks for the historic reminder. Stay well.

    BTW, an interesting read on The Great War is “To The Last Man” by Jeff Shaara.

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  4. Byron,
    Already read Shaara’s book…you know his father wrote The Killer Angels, one of the best boioks ever about the battle of Gettysburg. Although it was technically a novel, it was meticulous in using every bit of fact known…even to the extent of known dialogue spoken by the participants. It was the basis of the Ted Turner backed motion picture “Gettysburg”.
    As for WWI, my recommendation is “11th Month 11th day 11the Hour by Joseph Persico. I believe it is the best one volume book on the First World War I have ever read.

    Best to you and Janelle. Be safe.

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  5. Well said. Compound the lives lost to warfare in WWI, France must also have lost an enormous number of citizens to the Spanish flu in 1918-19.
    It’s hard to comprehend for those of us on this side of the pond.

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