I got an email the other day from ParisLawyerPundit, which contained a joke with a punchline about the French not having balls. I had just finished Churchill’s essay on Clemenceau in his “Great Contemporaries”. As always with any topic handled by Churchill, I was fired up. The tiny embers of regard I had for France had been blown into a blaze. I responded to PLP as follows with this passage from Churchill’s essay about Clemenceau:
Such was the man who, armed with the experience and loaded with the hatreds of half a century, was called to the helm of France in the worst period of the War. Many of the French generals were discredited, and all their plans had failed. Widespread mutinies had with difficulty been suppressed at the front. Profound and tortuous intrigues gripped Paris. Britain had bled herself white at Paschendaele, the Russians had collapsed, the Italians were at the last gasp, and the Americans were far away. The giant enemy towered up, brazen, and so far as we could see, invulnerable. It was at this moment, after every other conceivable combination had been tried, that the fierce old man was summoned to what was in fact the Dictatorship of France. He returned to power as Marius had returned to Rome; doubted by many, dreaded by all, but doomsent, inevitable. …
Until the Germans collapsed, they seemed unconquerable; but so was Clemenceau. He uttered to me in his room at the Ministry of War words he would afterwards repeat in the tribune: “I will fight in front of Paris. I will fight in Paris. I will fight behind Paris.” Eveyone knew this was no idle boast. Paris might have been reduced to the ruin of Ypres or Arras. It would not have affected Clemenceaus’ resolution. He meant to sit on the safety-valve, till he won or till all his world blew up. He had no hope beyond the grave; he mocked at death; he was in his seventy-seventh year. Happy the nation which when its fate quivers in the balance can find such a tyrant and such a champion.
I went on:
Let us also recall Marshall Ney at the Berezina, casting aside the scabbard, leading his frozen band in desperate attacks through the snow shielding the Grande Armee with blows from the encircling swarms of cossacks and the swiftly gathering Russian host, and Napoleon’s engineers, chin deep in water sheeted with ice, building the bridges to effect its escape.
And of course we hark to the memory of St. Joan in her white-enamalled armor ascending the scaling ladder at Orleans, and her soldiery, with a roar, hurling themselves up beside her, in the teeth of the arrows and stones.
That blood still runs in the veins of the French.
They just need to look within themselves, and what they have been and should be and can be again, and then look clearly at the surrounding world. They need to realize that dire threats are massing, that insane and evil criminals are struggling to obtain horrendous weapons, that the Rights of Man and the Magna Carta and the Constitution will all end up in the rubbish heap if these monsters are allowed to strike us all as they so desperately wish to do. Wake up, my friends, wake up. Then think, look, see who your real friends and your real enemies are.
So, there you have it. Surrender in the face of danger is not a genetic French characteristic. Far from it. It is a political choice this leadership is making, and which this generation of Frenchmen and women are tolerating and approving. The poilus of Verdun, Napoleon and his grognards, Turenne and his greycoats, Charles Martel and his mail-clad knights — all are scowling down from the French corner of the feasting hall in Valhalla.