Saturday, July 14, 2007

Francophilia

First let's define Francophilia.
Francophilia - an excessive interest in or admiration for French history, culture or politics.
Certain elements of American political culture have tended to accept France as the leading political culture of Europe which is obviously the preeminent political culture of the planet.


This American tradition is rooted in the assistance the French Monarchy gave to our revolution. We often fail to acknowledge that this help, as crucial as it was, was given in the context of a global struggle between the French and British empires.


We lionize the Marquis de la Fayette. He was, at least in the beginning, an adventurer with some military training. His impact on The American Revolution was significant. He ultimately became, (I like to think as a result of his association with Washington and other American Patriots) a force for reform in the French Monarchy and later for moderation after the French Revolution. In short a statesman.

All of that was or should have been swept away in the the Napoleonic Wars of conquest.

With our disentanglement from European politics after the War of 1812, The United States became self-absorbed, growing into an isolated economic power for almost century.

In the late nineteenth century the United States, acting under the guise of liberation and revenge freed Cuba from the decrepit Spanish Empire and took over administration of the Philippines and Puerto Rico in 1898. US committed to Philippine Independence in 1916 and eventually established a date for independence of 1946 in 1935.


With the start of The Great War, the United States initially tried to stay out. We Americans decided to let the Europeans fight it out among themselves. Eventually the United States was dawn into the fight on the side of Britain and incidentally France.


In spite of Pershing's famous statement “Lafayette, we are here!” indicating a spiritual debt to The Marquis de la Fayette, It was not a happy collaboration. American troops were originally slated to become replacements for French units who had lost troops in combat. It should be noted that the troops Americans were initially slated to replace were French colonial troops (often Africans). They were little regarded by the French High Command but courageous in combat. Ultimately this didn't happen and American units were sent into action under American command. They also distinguished themselves in combat.

As a result of the Great War, many people, especially in England but even more in America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia developed a deep distrust of the continental politics. Few People realize that for example Canada only sent volunteers overseas during the Second World War and Australia recalled its troops from the Middle East once the Japanese started to move South. The large and well trained Indian Army largely sat out the war as well.

The Second World War did little to enhance the reputation of the French. After the declaration of war one of the largest and best equipped armies in the world failed to stop the Germans, in spite of it's superiority in men and equipment. The early capitulation of France, without continuing the war from their overseas possessions, as for example the Dutch did, heroically joining Great Britain and the US resisting the Japanese invasion of Asia, significantly lengthened the war.


As an aside it seems appropriate to briefly recount the actions of the country over which the Second World War actually started, Poland.


After receiving guarantees from France and Great Britain the Poles fought the German invasion. There was precious little the Brits or the French could do immediately. The French might have started military operations against Germany but didn't. In any event the Poles were screwed.

The Germans invaded, the Russians invaded slightly later from the other direction. The Russians also took many Polish soldiers prisoner. They executed many of the officers. In the Katyn Forest massacre estimates exceed 15,000 executions. In 1941, after the German invasion of Russia, Polish POWs were released from Russian prison camps and set up an army headed by General Anders. Many civilians were taken under the protection of this army which was allowed to make its way (walked) to Persia (modern-day Iran). The Brits then transported them on to Egypt and equipped the Poles.

The Poles also formed the Armia Krajowa (the Home Army) in Poland with 400,000 members it was one of the largest organized resistance organizations and effectively resisted the German Occupation.

Polish fliers contributed to the Battle of Britain. In Normandy a Polish armored unit may well have saved the invasion. In Belgium Polish paratroopers saved many British paratroopers a considerable risk to themselves during Operation Marketgarden.

In 1943 a Polish division was formed in Russian and fought on the Eastern Front. Poles took part in every campaign of World War II and distinguished themselves.

After the war many of the expatriate Polish units returned to Poland from the west with their equipment. These units formed the nucleus of the reconstituted Polish armed forces, leading the Russian distrust of them for the entire cold war.

On the other hand French armed forces (except for a few individuals) largely surrendered. as ordered The Germans held many thousands of prisoners for many years. The largely intact and powerful French Navy sat out the war, except for the ships the British sunk and those resisting the Allied invasion of North Africa. Rather than joining the crusade for liberty, the French Navy eventually scuttled their ships at Toulon.

The Best French General of the war, Philippe Fran├žois Marie, comte de Hauteclocque (Jacques-Philippe LeClerc), was an early adherent to the Free French. He campaigned in West Africa and liberated French West African colonies with largely colonial (black) troops. After the conversion of French North Africa, LeClerc's Army was purged of African troops, so 'Frenchmen' could liberate the "sacred soil of France".


The French, especially DeGaulle, seem to have been Eisenhower's special cross to bear. DeGaulle was arrogant, demanding and entirely subsidized by the US. Various French officials in North Africa like Henri Giraud, Francois Darlan and Alphonse Juin seemed more concerned with personal position and command of the the US subsidized French army than the liberation of the "sacred soil of France". It's hard to imagine any significant American, British, German or even Russian officer acting in such a manner.

After the war DeGaulle demanded restoration of French colonies in Southeast Asia and a piece of the occupation of Germany in return for French mobilization of a modern army (paid for by the US). This demand was basically blackmail because Truman, Eisenhower and DeGaulle all knew the French had the only sizable pool of military age manpower in Europe available to offset the Soviet threat. The French economy and population, due to the limited combat on French soil, was also largely undamaged during the war. These decisions of course ultimately resulted in the the Vietnam conflict. In 1954 the Viet Minh defeated the French Army at Dien Bien Phu, ending French colonial ambitions in Southeast Asia.

After the Second World War the French also tried (unsuccessfully) to hold onto their possessions in North Africa. The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) resulted in the French loss of their possession of Algeria.

In 1956 the French and the British seized the Suez Canal, aggravating the Middle East situation. Ultimately the seizure was reversed due to pressure from Canada, the UN and the US.

Since the loss of Algeria the French have become ardent anti-colonialists.

Later, in a what some saw as a betrayal of trust, the French military was withdrawn from the NATO command structure, without relinquishing any of their participation in the occupation of Germany which by that time was limited to Berlin. Most people simply hoped if the Soviets invaded the French would fight, but like the Soviets with the Poles no one was really sure.

Recent French efforts have been largely directed at attempts to dominate the EU, including coopting the distracted and relatively compliant Germans and blunt the impact of America.

The French political tradition is opposed to American political traditions on so many levels it is difficult to articulate. The American tradition come from the philosophy of Locke and the Scottish Enlightenment developed on the English common law concepts of freedom and liberty. The French concepts have evolved through the lens of Roman Law and Napoleonic statism. In the American tradition freedom is a natural right. In the French tradition it is the largess of the state.

I find much more to admire in the English tradition our laws are based on or in the Italian tradition of high art. I was once told that 80% of all significant works of art are in Italy. The Japanese history of cohesiveness and adaptation is also attractive.