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Monday, July 10, 2006


Free French soldiers in Normandy, 1944

John Podhoretz, who often betrays his idiocy in print without hesitation posted the following on NRO

World Cup Observation [John Podhoretz]
Instead of playing the match and losing, why didn't France simply surrender the way it always does?
Posted at 5:12 PM

I'm sick and tired of people who have never lifted a finger to help anyone, who never risked so much as a meal, dismiss the bravery of people for a cheap joke.

He must have been asleep in history class, because if he wasn't, he wouldn't embarass himself with another cheap French joke.

Well, here's a history lesson for the Pod.

The Free French, or Fighting French
As French armies were crumbling in May and June of 1940 there was a notable French counterattack at Arras led by Charles de Gaulle. However, not even his efforts made any significant difference against the German war machine.

De Gaulle ended up serving in the French cabinet in the waning days of the war and fled France rather than surrender. Not long after the surrender, de Gaulle broadcast from Britain that some Frenchmen would fight on. He was sentenced to death in abstentia by the Vichy government, but de Gaulle did offer a glimmer of hope to the demoralized French.

That hope was fanned in June and December of 1941 as Hitler turned on his Russian allies and the Americans were dragged into the war.

De Gaulle's "Fighting French" (FF) forces soon began a string of operations against Vichy forces in Africa. Working up from the equatorial colonies, the FF was soon helping out British forces in North Africa. At the Battle of bir Hakim, the FF made a name for heroism at the side of the British as they made the Germans pay a heavy price for their victory.

Soon, the Americans were in the war and landing in the western part of North Africa--in Vichy colonies. American President Franklin Roosevelt had a deep, personal dislike of Charles de Gaulle. For his part, de Gaulle sometimes referred to Roosevelt as, "the cadaver." As the US troops moved ashore the Vichy forces there put up little fight against the people who had helped France win WWI and who hoped would free France from German control. However, the Americans tried to keep de Gaulle from gaining control of the French administration in North Africa.

De Gaulle was not to be denied. He quickly secured the votes and then the control of the entire French force in Africa and managed to get the Fighting French forces augmented with the previously Vichy forces. This provided de Gaulle with a sizeable force and a real claim at showing how France was still a player on the international scene. Churchill always supported and understood the French need to restore some honor after the catastrophe of 1940. The Americans, and Roosevelt, viewed the French as an overly proud nuisance. The US was the real force in this war and the British were helping. The Americans saw the FF as almost an expensive and irrelevant force. This attitude was easily detected by the always-sensitive de Gaulle. However, now that de Gaulle had a sizeable force again, the Americans were starting to show more respect.

In 1943, the Allies invaded Italy. This Mediterranean Theater of Operations was a multi-national effort led by British general Alexander. Alexander had Indians, Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders, Poles, Brazilians and Free French under his command.

In 1943 and 1944, a huge obstacle to allied progress was the German position at the famous Monte Cassino Abbey. Multiple attacks by the Americans, Poles and Zealanders all failed. After months of failure, Monte Cassino was finally taken by Fighting French Moroccan troops who were magnificent mountain fighters. The French simply attacked through a narrow part of the German line and then in a series of rapid movements outflanked the Germans who fell back in a near panic.

With Monte Cassino out of the way, the road to Rome was open and US General Mark Clark finally took it on June 5, 1944. Even the Americans had to admit the French were again real players on the world scene.

Only one day later, the French were again players in a very big play: The Invasion of France. French general Leclerc's forces were among the first ashore at Normandy. De Gaulle had insisted upon, and received, the right of his forces to be among the first to help in the liberation of France. In only a few weeks the Allies had routed the German army in Normandy and the road to Paris was open.

The Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower did not want anything to do with taking Paris. He wanted the Germans to keep the city and to provide for the entire population. Capturing the city would only slow down the clearly emerging Allied victory.

However, Charles de Gaulle wanted Paris liberated and immediately so. He even threatened to order Leclerc's army to simply ignore orders and march on Paris regardless of what the Americans thought. Finally, Eisenhower relented and gave Leclerc the green light. However, the French did not move as rapidly as seemed possible to the Americans. US general George Patton (always guaranteed to offend an American ally) said the French were, "dancing all the way to Paris." However, part of the reason Leclerc was slowing his advance was that his forces were greeted wildly in every city on the way to Paris and his troops could hardly move any faster.

Finally, in August, Parisians knew liberation was coming, but when should they revolt against the Germans? The Communists wanted to declare the revolt the next day after a meeting, but de Gaulle's men got the Communists to wait another day. However, the next morning, de Gaulle's men had already begun to fly the Tricolor announcing the revolt had begun. De Gaulle was going to call all the shots, even if it meant pulling such a stunt.

Soon, the German commander of Paris had surrendered and two days later, Leclerc's forces entered Paris. De Gaulle was not far behind. He was going into Paris, no matter what. As he walked through an enraptured crowd on his way to Notre Dame Cathedral to offer his thanks to God, a sniper opened up. All around the 6' 8" hero people dropped to avoid the bullets. Not de Gaulle, he stood calmly erect and waited until the sniper was silenced by his soldiers. Then, he quietly went on his way to offer prayers of thanksgiving for the deliverance of France.

With the capture of Paris, de Gaulle was the unquestioned leader of France. However, he was intent on keeping his nation in his control. As a result, he again began to have conflicts with the Americans. De Gaulle wanted his troops to be able to help control France. The Communists already were jockeying for position in post-war France and de Gaulle wasn't about to let them take control. As a compromise, de Gaulle sent a sizeable French force to help conquer Germany, but kept enough behind to win control of his beloved, "La France."

De Gaulle had ended Vichy and the humiliation of 1940, had restored French military honor at bir Hakim, Monte Cassino, Normandy and finally in the Liberation of Paris by the French themselves.

After the war Henri Petain was sentenced to death for his collaboration with the Germans during the war. De Gaulle simply did not have the heart to execute his former commander and national hero. Showing another aspect of his sentimentality, de Gaulle commuted the sentence of the old man to life in prison. On the issue of Pierre Laval, de Gaulle was of a lower character. Laval, was given one of the most ridiculously unfair trials of the postwar period and sentenced to death as a war criminal. Laval bitterly complained, "but I am a peace criminal!" It was to no avail. Laval was executed by firing squad.

posted by Steve @ 2:50:00 AM

2:50:00 AM

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