Thursday, December 03, 2009
Vive la France!
It's not been mentioned here much, but Unforeseen Contingencies is, to paraphrase the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Trinity Church, "unapologetically Francophile." "We" have a variety of reasons, not the least of which are France's crucial contributions to libertarian thought, to economics, to the American Revolution, and to higher civilization in general. And we're well-versed in things French, having lived in the City of Lights for some short time. So when a good friend and fellow Francophile was subjected to some embarassment by a conservative colleague, we were only too happy to provide the following answer to the absurd claim "The French never won any war or battle."
France (or the French) was on the winning side in many wars. Perhaps that shouldn't be the standard. Avoiding wars would be a better one. Nevertheless, here are a few examples:
Early 700s: Charles Martel (Franks) beats just about everyone imaginable in multiple wars – the Saxons, the Frisians, and various other Europeans...more importantly, multiple victories against the Moors, who were trying to impose Islam on Europe.
Late 700s: Martel’s grandson Charlemagne also defeated Saxon, Frisians, Moors, plus Lombards, Slavs, and Avars. Everyone else became scared and simply surrendered to the Franks w/o fighting. (I exaggerate, he had to clobber a number of other upstarts, conquering Sicily and Corsica in the process.)
Norman invasion 1066
100 Years War ca. 1340-1450
30 Years war 1618-1648 (actually a mass of confusing wars & fights, but France certainly won several of them and emerged a victor)
Franco-Dutch War 1672-78
American Revolutionary War 1776-1781 (w/o France, the Americans would almost certainly have lost) (e.g. Americans won the war at Yorktown only because the French beat the Brits in the naval Battle of the Chesapeake)
Many of the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars (again, a confusing mess of fighting, but the French stopped the 1st and the 2nd Coalitions from invading and restoring the French monarchy...the Coalitions were of European monarchies trying to destroy the revolution, and thankfully they failed
Franco Spanish War 1823
Franco Mexican War 1838
World War I 1914-18
World War II 1937-45 (I use the Chinese dating for this one)
Conservatives always rattle on about "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," but why did Libya’s Colonel Khaddafi suddenly stop trying to take over Africa? France beat him in a war. It’s hardly ever publicized, but in the middle and late 1980's the Libyan Army was devastated in a war with Chad, losing thousands of soldiers killed, and nearly 1,000 armored vehicles. Nominally the war was the Chadians doing, but they were proxies for the French, and the French Air Force and Foreign Legion were heavily involved. The two biggest Libyan defeats, Ouadi Doum and Faya Largeau, involved French airstrikes, artillery, and troops. The French wouldn't let Chad invade Libya itself, but apparently the Chadians would have happily done so (assuming the French would continue the fight). This war substantially weakened the Libyan Army, reduced Khaddafi’s power in Libya, and scared the heck out of him as he realized that he could be eliminated.
Col. K. lost substantial power in Libya as a result, and shares power with other political players there. But also, when he recently announced he had no interest in pursuing WMDs (after Bush invaded Iraq), conservatives crowed in victory, claiming it was all Bush & Reagan, not realizing that it was actually the French who made Col. K. realize he could be invaded and toppled by the west.
So...thanks to French victories we aren’t Muslims, we speak a pleasant language whose words have mostly French-Latin origins instead of Germanic grunting (no offense meant, NV), we live in a world where the Westphalian system is the one thing keeping international gov't at bay (100 Years War), we live under the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights instead of the U.K surveillance state, we're rid of monarchism (sorry, Herr Hoppe), and we don’t worry about Kahddafi any more.
On the other hand, what contributions can conservatives show for themselves? The only things I can think of were some of Reagan's policies, but the valuable ones were those that arose from his libertarian instincts.
Oh, those conservatives! I wonder if they realize that general Patton’s favorite country, after the U.S., was France.
Notice who is in the lead here. Those aren't M-4s. (Click on photo for a closer view.)
gruntingly yours, NV
Let me address Nat first. To say the French are self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-important is to be redundant three times. It's just part of the French national character. Blaming them for this is like blaming roosters for crowing in the morning, it's just what they do. I did in fact manage to endure two continuous months in France, and found the French quite enjoyable -- so long as I kept in mind that from their perspective, it was tautological that everything French is superior, and that they had no more chance of seeing things differently than a pig has of sprouting wings and flying away.
Luke reminds me of a more general point. I teach in an institution that prides itself (correctly) on emphasizing and promoting the contributions of Western civilization. I fully agree, but I note that some of things most hated here -- Marxism, the Bismarckian welfare state, New Dealism, Keynesianism, post-modernism, etc. are also products of Western civilization.
Finally, in the interest of being "fair and balanced," I'll have to confess that every person I know who -- like Nat -- isn't French but was raised there seems to share her views.
To return to your points :
1/ on Tchad. I would like to stress that France made a real mess of the region. The issue is really an ugly one. France supported every dicator there, then let him down when he did not follow the line and had a putsh organized against him by a new protégé etc etc...
2/ Where France actually "won" wars... it is because they were most of the times assymetrica conflicts related to colonial wars. France had colonies until the late 60ies. And it still holds watch the euphemism: "oversea territories"... France never won a battle on its own since Napoleon. Napoleon was a dictator who demolished, stole, destroyed Europe completely until he made the aquaintance of the Cossacks who were, as you will remember, not very much into smooth talking.
3/The French need to realize that they are no great power. We need to remind them where required
4/ having lived in France, you should have noticed that its elite conveys and advocates a deeply statist political line. All major political forces are proponents of interventionism.
There is also a certain "Latin" culture of envy among the population. Successful people are envied, press campaigns are organized against them. Political debate usually looks and sounds like at Borgia's court. Defamation is a common tool of political competition in France.
Last but not least, France is an antimodernist country, where progress is feared and capitalism underdeveloped.
In many aspects, this is a third world country.
I became interested in this after learning that this and this are being represented in a classroom as serious historical evidence.
I never imagined this post would generate any interest, never mind passion.
To continue the unwise generalizations, I'd say the French are a marvellously imaginative and creative bunch who have produced more than their share of ideas over time. Unfortunately, most of those ideas were wrong, and most French people have been more attracted to a beautiful fallacy than to an inconvenient truth. Hence the high regard in which their most useless thinkers are held, and the anonymity in their country of most of their great thinkers.