A Neglected But Significant Anniversary

‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’

(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)

On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:

The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.

If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.

This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.

First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.

France’s border can be thought of in terms of three sectors. In the north, the border with with Belgium. Early French military planning had been based on the idea of a strong cooperative relationship with Belgium: however, in the years immediately prior to 1940, that country had adopted a position of neutrality and had refused to do any joint military planning with France. In the south, the border was protected by the forts of the Maginot Line (the southern flank of which was anchored by mountainous territory bordering on Switzerland and Italy.) In between these regions was the country of the Ardennes. It was heavily wooded and with few roads, and the French high command did not believe it was a feasible attack route for strong forces–hence, the Maginot Line had not been extended to cover it, and the border here was protected only with field fortifications.

The French plans was based on the assumption that the main German attack would come through Belgium. Following the expected request from the Belgian government for assistance, strong French forces were to advance into that country and counterattack the Germans. In the Maginot and Ardennes sectors, holding actions only were envisaged. While the troops manning the Maginot were of high quality, the Ardennes forces included a large proportion of middle-aged reservists, and had been designated as lower-class units.

The opening moves seemed to fit expectations. The Germans launched a powerful attack through Belgium, and the Belgian government made the expected requests for help. Andre Beaufre:

Doumenc sent me at once to Vincennes to report to General Gamelin (the French supreme commander). I arrived at 6.30 AM at the moment when the order had just been given for the huge machine to go into operation: the advance into Belgium. Gamelin was striding up and down the corridor in his fort, humming, with a pleased and martial air which I had never seen before. It has been said since that he expected defeat, but I could see no evidence of it at the time.

There was heavy fighting in Belgium…but the German attack on this country had served to mask their real point of maximum effort. Early in the morning of the 13th, it became clear that massive German forces were moving through the Ardennes, which had turned out to not be so impassable after all. A massive German air attack paved the way for a crossing of the Meuse river and the capture of the town of Sedan. French officers were stunned by the speed of the German advance–they had expected delays while the Germans brought up heavy artillery, not understanding that dive bombers could play a role similar to that traditionally played by artillery. And the bombing was psychologically-shattering, especially for inexperienced troops. The famous historian Marc Bloch had been exposed to many artillery barrages while fighting in the First World War: in reflecting on his service in 1940, he observed that he found aerial bombing much more frightening even though it was, objectively, probably less dangerous. (Bloch later joined the Resistance and was captured by the Germans and shot.)

The French command never really recovered from the unexpected thrust through the Ardennes and the fall of Sedan. Beginning on May 27, the British evacuated their troops at Dunkirk. On June 14, Prime Minister Paul Reynaud resigned. He was succeeded by Philippe Petain, a hero of the First World War, who immediately sought terms with the Germans. The “armistice”–basically a surrender–was signed on June 20. By Hitler’s order, it was signed in the same railway car where the armistice of 1918 had been signed. Hitler was present in person for the ceremony: William Shirer was fifty yards away, and was studying his expression through binoculars: It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.

Many military factors were involved in the defeat–obsolete doctrine on armored forces, inadequate use of radio communications, a strange and cumbersome military organization structure. But the roots of the 1940 debacle are not to be found only–or perhaps even primarily–in strictly military matters. A major role was played by certain characteristics of French society and politics of the time–and some of these factors are spookily similar to some of the things that are going on in America today.

In her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir reflects on the attitude of the French Left (of which she was a part) toward the rise of Nazi Germany…”there was no threat to peace; the only danger was the panic that the Right was attempting to spread in France with the aim of dragging us into war.” (Horne) A constant thread that runs through France in the 1930s is the extreme factionalism, often resulting in more fear and distrust of other Frenchmen than of the rising external enemy.

This was not only a phenomenon of the Left. Among conservative elites, for example, the phrase Better Hitler than Blum was popular. Leon Blum (Premier 1936-37) was a fairly mild Socialist, best known for his advocacy of the 5-day week. Something about him inspired crazed hatred on the part of French Conservatives and Rightists. “A man to shoot in the back,” wrote Charles Maurras, and he was by no means alone in such sentiments. As Julian Jackson puts it in his book The Fall of France: “Politics in France in the 1930s had reached a pitch of violence that had something of the atmosphere of civil war.”

Leon Blum and George W Bush are, of course, two very different men, believing in very different kinds of things. But it is hard not to hear an echo of the insane Blum-hatred of the late 1930s in the insane Bush-hatred of today.

Nor did the factionalism stop on May 10, 1940. Georges Mandel, the courageous Minister of the Interior, observed a Deputy (legislator) whose district had been bombed by the enemy…he went about the lobbies (of the Chamber of Deputies), screaming “I will interpellate the government on this outrage as soon as the Chamber meets!” Mandel remarked to his friend, the English General Edward Spears, about the disconnect of this behavior from reality. “Paris is bombed by the Germans? Let’s shake our fists at our own Government.”

It is virtually impossible to win a war when politics is being conducted in such a manner…when the “enemy” across the aisle is hated more than the enemy in the bombers overhead. And, again, it is hard not to hear the echo of that Deputy of 1940 in the way that every reverse in Iraq or Afghanistan is used as a platform for vicious attacks on President Bush.

The tendency to view everything through the lens of domestic politics certainly had a malign influence on French military preparedness. Consider, for example, the matter of aircraft production. When the aggressive Guy La Chambre took over as Air Minister (in January 1938), he reputedly “found nothing but a disheartened industry of small workshops of which only one factory alone was equipped for mass production. As war approached and the production gap with the Luftwaffe appeared hopelessly wide, he tried to fill it by means of large-scale purchases from the United States; but even this measure of desperation met with intense opposition from the French aircraft manufacturers lobby.” (Horne) At roughly the same time, the Left was objecting to the restoration of a longer work week in order to increase armaments production. (In the event, some aircraft orders were placed in the US, but not nearly on the scale needed, and the work week was lengthened, but not without an epidemic of disruptive strikes.)

The 1930s were a time of frequent financial/political scandals. The most famous of these was the Stavisky affair: Serge Alexander Stavisky was able to sell bonds worth 200 million francs based on the assets of Bayonne’s municipal pawnshop. His political connections assisted him both in pulling off the scam and in getting his trial postponed 19 times. The result was a considerable weakening of confidence in France’s governing institutions.

There was rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism. With onset of the Depression (which came later in France than in the US and Britain), immigrants were viewed as competitors for jobs (even though France was in a demographic crisis, with both a low birth rate and the effects of the horrendous casualties of 1914-1918), and became targets of violence. France was faced with half a million refugees from Spain following Franco’s defeat of Republican forces in that country, and there were also refugees from other Nazi and Fascist countries. (Despite the xenophobia, “it must be said that France was more generous in providing asylum than any other European country or than the United States.” (Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley))

In the period just before Munich, fears of war were very strong, and many people chose to blame the Czechs…and the Jews. In Paris, Strasbourg, Dijon and elsewhere mobs attacked Jews and looted their shops, shouting: “Down with the Jewish war.” (Brendon)

By 1939, many Frenchmen had had enough of Hitler’s threats, and support for resistance against further aggression was growing…but there were still strong voices for appeasement. And these was a pervasive sense that something was deeply wrong with French society. Jean Renoir’s film La Regle du Jeu, opened in July 1939 but banned as “too demoralizing” by September, portrayed, in Brendon’s words, “a corrupt and disintegrating society held together only by deception. ‘We live at a time when everyone lies,’ says one of the characters, ‘drug ads, governments, radio, movies, newspaper.'”

The most splendid Parisian ball of the 1939 season took place on a warm July night at the Polish embassy. Brendon describes the scene:

Ministers and diplomats sipped champagne while an orchestra played and beautiful women in frothy gowns waltzed with military officers. “In the gardens white marble sphinxes gleamed beneath the stars…and pots of red fire threw on the scene the glow of a conflagration.’ The polish Ambassador, Julius Lukasziewicz, believed that Bonnet was “definitely seeking some legally valid escape” from French obligations, news of which accounted for increased “blustering” in Berlin. The shadows quivered. All thought war imminent and some were reminded of the ball “given by Wellington on the eve of Waterloo.” Watching a mazurka, Reynaud (who became Prime Minister just before the attack of 1940-ed) remarked: “it is scarcely enough to say that they are dancing on a volcano. For what is an eruption of Vesuvius compared to the cataclysm which is forming under our feet?”

(This is a slightly modified version of a Photon Courier post from last year)

Update 5/9/2008: Date corrected from June 1940 to May 1940.

32 thoughts on “A Neglected But Significant Anniversary”

  1. Interesting post…also 10th May is my birthday so I agree it is the utmost historical significance ;-)

  2. David, excellent post. I only skimmed. I will print and read later and may have comments.

    This is an important anniversary to remember.

  3. WWII is THE great example with respect to human relations on the large and small scales, isn’t it?

  4. One of the many negative effects of the lack of comprehensive history classes in our schools is the inability of our citizens to draw any historical parallels between the current problems we face and difficult situations in the past which might have lessons for us today.

    People who have little knowledge of even basic historical facts, whose ideas are formed by movies and TV shows, woefully devoid of any realistic portrayal of events, much less motivations or cultural subtleties, are susceptible to the current doommongering because, of course, current problems always seem insurmountable.

    The 1930’s are, indeed, a valid comparison to the problems of today, especially those deriving from political infighting, and lack of resolution in the face of complex threats.

    In a very real sense, we are still being buffeted by the temporal waves created by the disastrous slaughter of WW1, and the fall of the several world wide empires which had maintained an uneasy semblence of stability, even as their own excesses and internal contradictions brought about their destruction.

    As always, nature abhors a vacuum, and the collapse of the traditional, patriarchal, religiously affiliated power structures ushered in an era of experimentation with various modern, allegedly scientific, ideologies which were used to justify the imposition of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes around the world. As these newer versions of absolutism were defeated militarily, or collapsed from their own internal contradictions, a more ancient and mystical opponent rose to fill that empty space in world politics.

    Islamic radicalism now confronts the idea of liberal western society at a phase of extreme weakness and doubt within our culture as to our own worthiness to survive. This doubt, and sense of weakness, is itself fundamentally ahistorical—the result of ignorance and misinformation regarding the context of the current conflict and its historical roots.

    One can only hope that we can avoid a calamity similar to WW2, or the incessant proxy warfare of the cold war, while we come to grips with the new threat.

  5. The question is how will we avoid repeating a scenario similar to the historical one noted in this story when the denial is so pervasive? The denial of the problem in mass media is really a disinformation campaign of sorts. They key will be, though, can the American Left accomplish the disarmament of the US citizenry? If they are able to do this then long term survival is not nearly as likely as if they are not, even if a nuke attack or other extremely destabilizing events are used by the jihadists.

  6. Hi –

    Great post, but it doesn’t answer the more fundamental question: why did the French state become undermined from within and why does it appear that this is happening today as well?

    We know who actively worked against the interests of the French body politic back then: communists and their tools within the unions and political parties, more than happy to undermine capitalist society, even if it meant that German and Italian fascism be embolded, since pushing society into foment and strife would aid the ultimate goal of history, which in their twisted little minds was the triumph of the revolutionary elite leading the proletariat masses to communist triumph.

    We know where that ended: the Gulag and millions of dead worldwide.

    What is the story now?

    I fear that we have not yet driven the stake through the heart of communism, now less as an ideology and much more as a political tool to gain and keep power. ANSWER, MoveOn and DailyKos (and the tools that they use) harbor a new Left which is vastly more Stalinist in its comittment to taking and never letting power go. They are using the same set of tools: dissatisfaction, resentment, twisting of motives and radicalization to ensure that politics are the realm of rage and violent disagreement, forcing division where it didn’t really exist and polarizing for political gain.

    That’s the scenario I see: the similarities you show here are not pleasant at all, and should serve as a warning to us all…


  7. I’m downright gloomy about the world we’re facing.

    I dont know how many of you ever read Stephen King’s “The Stand”.. I have in my head the one scene at some military headquarters or situation room, and the guy in charge of keeping the country together says something like “the center does not hold” and other words evidencing a rapid disintigration of civilization under the onslaught of the disease.

    I dont know if any of you have actually tried to discuss jihad with a leftist.. I swear they have an immunity to information. I cannot for the life me explain the mental process which results in such a person.. and I’m also at the point of having to say this is the reason

    Eph 6:12 For our struggle is .. against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.

    It was said that there will come a time when people will believe in the strong deception that will come one day.. and they will be completely closed to accepting truth (or the truth). And they will hate the people who do stand by the truth.

    Are we seeing the beginning of that transformation? Am I just being a nutcase? Am I hyping things up so much in my mind that I’m reading far too much into current events then what is actually there? These are questions I ask myself.. to keep my immigation from getting carried away.. and also to “check my premises” as Dagny would say.

    As much as I wish I could say that this isn’t happening, I intellectually think it is. It’s sort of unsettling… I never expected the end of the world to be so , dire.

  8. John Opie…correct that the Left had a lot to do with the debacle, but so did the Right, as exemplified by the “better Hitler than Blum” slogan. Marc Bloch, in his short memoir written right after the catastrophe, also had a lot of negative things to say about the newspapers, which he said had mostly been for sale to the highest bidder.

    The political feud between Reynaud and Daladier (who were being egged on by their respective mistresses) didn’t help. When a writer interviewing Reynaud commented that “Nevertheless, Daladier is certainly a man who loves his country,” Reynaud responded: “Yes, I believe he desires the victory of France, but he desires my defeat even more.”

  9. David thanks for the link. he would be a lot more tolerable outside of the Salon setting… god to have to read constant political drivel from the interviewer.. grr (Note: that wasn’t a critique about you)

    You might be interested in this

    Andrew Roberts is a UK Historican who wrote a book, A History Of The English Speaking Peoples Since 1900. George Bush had read the book and wrote to Mr Roberts and asked for a meeting.. just as he did with Horne. Here is partial transcript of Hugh Hewitt interviewing Roberts (the main topic of the interview was Iran’s seizure of UK sailors. the current event at the time.

    HH: Joined now by British historian, Andrew Roberts, author of the best selling A History Of The English Speaking Peoples Since 1900, as well as many other fine books. Andrew, welcome back to the program. I haven’t talked to you since you went to the White House at the invitation of President Bush. How as the reception at the White House?

    AR: It was magnificent. I was greatly honored to be given so much time alone with the President in the Oval Office, and then afterwards, given lunch with him and Vice President Cheney. It was a fascinating time.

    HH: Now I’m not sure how much you can disclose of that, but what did the President find interesting about A History Of The English Speaking Peoples Since 1900?

    AR: Well, he effectively interviewed me for about 90 minutes over lunch. And it was clear that he’d not only read the book quite carefully, but also had read a lot of the books around it. He’s a very much more well read man than his detractors will give him credit for.

  10. I do find it extraordinary that anyone can seriously say that the collapse of France in 1940 was the most important event of the twentieth century. More important than the Russian Revolution? Than Barbarossa? Surely not.

  11. Helen: I agree with you.. but I just let the comment go.

    I think the revival of the Israeli state was the most important event, myself.

  12. Yeah, there were lots of candidates for “most important event” of the 20th Century and the Russian Revolution would rank pretty high. Regarding Barbarossa, though, it seems pretty clear that the German invasion of Russia would never have happened had the French army succeeded in its task in 1940.

  13. Hi, I’m a liberal. And look, I admit that Democrats and Republicans today quite possibly have a problem with hating each other more than the enemy. Americans must not forget that there is a real threat from global Islamist terrorism and we need to actively do something about it.

    But the analogy you’re trying to draw is to the war with Iraq, not the global war on terror. Yes, there are terrorists in Iraq (a lot more of them nowadays). But Iraq does not defeat the United States merely because the United States chooses to withdraw some troops and try other means of helping to get Iraq into some kind of decent shape. The people who will be emboldened by our “defeat” are not a nation poised to conquer us, they are mostly a bunch of Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias who also have a problem with hating each other a bit too much, as a result of which they stand no real chance of “following us home” when we return our National Guard troops to where they belong, defending our homeland. And while Al Qaeda is involved in Iraq, they are also in so many other places that killing some of them in Iraq doesn’t really weaken them at all.

    I may only have taken three college politics courses (counting Intro to Science, Technology, and Society, which was taught by a crazy militant Marxist), but I know this much: Modern warfare is not twentieth-century warfare. In a time of accelerating change, history has an awfully hard time repeating itself.

  14. Okay, so on second thought, I guess I set up a straw man there: this post isn’t really about Iraq per se, so my last comment was really just a means to vent some rage about stupid Bush talking points, thus further bolstering Mr. Foster’s thesis. But my point is that, if applied specifically to Iraq, the lessons of the French defeat in 1940 would be pretty meaningless in my opinion. Make of that what you will.

  15. Ben:

    What’s interesting to me is that you dont offer any words as to how Al Qaida would view our defeat in Iraq. Nor do you offer a view as to what will happen there.. what the Iraqi people will then think of us.. what their Arab and Muslim cousins will think of us , since we will be responsible for what happens there were we to leave before fullfilling our responsibity.

    Nor do you ponder what Iran will think, what Saudi Arabia will think, what Hezbellah will think, what Venezuala will think, what North Korea will think. What Al Qaida of the meagrhab will think. What the Muslim Brotherhood will think. What HAMAS will think. What Islamic Jihad will think.

    But we’re glad you were able to use the Iraq War as your little tool to engage in a little Bush bashing.

    Who is the idiot?

  16. Nobody is really proposing just leaving Iraq to its fate. I think that’s a conservative straw-man that needs to be left out of serious debates. On the one hand, it does bother me that I haven’t heard many specifics about the alternatives to a military-led solution that continues to overstretch our military resources (at least until one party decides to ruin its political future by reinstating the draft). On the other hand, I’m certainly not ready to believe that there are no such alternatives.

  17. Okay, so the argument is technically over, but I had one more comment. From Al Qaeda’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter what we do; they will still think what they’ve always thought: that we’re the Great Satan and we need to die. Whether we appear weak or strong, they will keep trying to attack us. Yes, they’ve got some resources tied up in Iraq right now, but probably not many–they mostly just have to talk the other factions into blaming Americans for their problems.

    What matters is not whether we look strong, but whether we actually are strong enough to defend our homeland against attacks, to track down and destroy terrorist cells the world over, and to cut off their recruiting base by raising millions of desperate Muslims out of poverty and giving them something to live for. (And if anyone here thinks that last goal is wrongheaded, I’d love to hear what your non-genocidal alternative is.)

  18. The Iraq situation is a bloody mess. Being involved in a bloody mess does, at the very least, teach those involved in the situation what will be involved and what will be required in future bloody messes. This is not an insignifigant benefit I suspect.

    As for Ben’s “raising Muslims out of poverty”; One has some difficulty squaring this outlook with attitudes of Muslims (in this and other countries (see photos of middle class looking homes of some of the Fort Dix conspiritors) who do not live in poverty and their violent biases.

  19. Isn’t it reasonable to suspect that some middle-class Muslims turn to terrorism in reaction to the way they see their poorer brothers, literal or figurative, being apparently left behind by globalization? (Perhaps they should place more blame on the greedy dictators of many Muslim countries, but their patriotism prevents it.)

  20. Ben, economics is not the only factor in human motivation. If people tell you that they are driven by some other factor–religion, for example–why not take them at their word?

  21. A good deal of the terrorism carried out by the better off Muslims deprive their poorer brethren of any possibility of earning their livelihood. Attacks in Egypt and Bali spring to mind and there are many others. So, the idea that this is some kind of an altruistic behaviour is not particularly sensible. The corrupt and oppressive dictators of the Arab world labour mightily to ensure that the terrorism and dissatisfaction is directed outward, using carrot and stick: encouragement and money for those who will carry out attacks and prison and punishment for those who dare to criticize those governments. It is a good deal easier to shriek about a jihad, the need to conquer the whole of Palestine, to make the West submit and so on than to try to sort out the problems those countries are enmired in. And, of course, it is much easier for the potential terrorists to go along with it, particularly if they have been brainwashed from early childhood and do, genuinely, believe that this is a religious battle.

  22. Ben, I think you’re right that it’s important that we actually be strong rather than just appearing strong… but not appearing strong certainly contributed to the various attacks on US interests culminating in 9/11. The appearance of strength is a useful tool: ask any bar bouncer. Or Teddy Roosevelt. It has to be backed up by substance, of course, but strength in a weak-appearing person doesn’t keep that person out of trouble, whereas a strong appearance can minimize the fighting you have to do.

    In other words, al Qaeda got more than they bargained for with 9/11. They saw what they thought was a dissolute, impotent nation and struck hard at it. They found that at our core we’re still resolute and powerful – but now, six years later, we’re daily chipping away at our own hard-won credibility with the whole BDS thing.

    I don’t see it from the American Right in the same way Bloch did from the French Right; maybe it’s my own bias, but the reaction to the American Left that I see from the American Right is more incredulity (and dismissiveness – “You can’t possibly be serious”) than hatred. From the Left toward the Right, now: there the assumption appears to be “Right==evil.” (A coworker of my husband’s, an ardent “progressive,” was shocked speechless to find that he’s a Republican. When she recovered, she actually said, “But you’re so nice.”)


  23. Okay, so let’s assume the terrorists are honestly motivated by hatred of all non-Muslims and a little financial incentive from their governments and nothing else. Would you then argue that the only way to strike at the root causes of terrorism is to “invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity,” as Ann Coulter famously said? Because no matter what happens in American politics, I can’t see us sustaining that kind of strategy for more than four countries at a stretch.

    Also, what does BDS stand for?

    By the way, simple explanation for the liberal stance: it all stems from an idealistic belief that all people’s lives have some value, no matter what they believe in. What we hate is people whose position is unqualified hatred of another entire group (even if the feeling is mutual), and who see no option but to directly kill that group off. We much prefer the hearts-and-minds approach, even though we will often attack that as well when it starts to seem like brainwashing.

  24. Ben Sibelman,
    Your sense that your belief

    all stems from an idealistic belief that all people’s lives have some value, no matter what they believe in. What we hate is people whose position is unqualified hatred of another entire group (even if the feeling is mutual), and who see no option but to directly kill that group off. We much prefer the hearts-and-minds approach, even though we will often attack that as well when it starts to seem like brainwashing.

    flatters you but isn’t particularly honest. The reason many of us don’t feel pulling out is a good idea, nor is the time table, is that a blood bath is likely to follow. You are using talking points from some other time and place; in fact, I’m not quite sure what time and place. It hardly describes the hawk position in any wars after we began to feel powerful – let’s say after WWI. In the midst of WWII, I’m sure that decimating both the German and Japanese was not an unpopular stand, but, then, so was the occupation and rebuilding of Japan and the Berlin airlift. I’m often struck by how much propaganda films even from the forties try to emphasize the 6 ethnic groups in a lifeboat vision.

    I haven’t seen hatred of Muslims by Americans. Well you can quote Ann Coulter – she is indeed irritating and tries to provoke; she is the right’s Don Imus. Instead, I have seen the most ardent of the supporters of staying in Iraq concerned about Iraqis – and concerned about what is likely to happen in the Middle East. That we would be more vulnerable here is likely if we show our willingness to back down at every challenge, but I doubt that, given our size and strength, we would be decimated. Iraq could be. The first Gulf War demonstrated that we could, if we wanted, bomb the hell out of Iraq and kill about as many people as we wanted. We drew back. This war has had a different design and a different purpose. You seem to see America committing genocide. Even the rather biased news we get indicates nothing of the kind. The clueless Sean Penn remarked that we need to get out because a civil war is happening and if we stay we will have to take sides. Civil wars, he says, are genocidal. So if we stay we will be genocidal (showing a remarkable lack of understanding of the feelings of a good many in both ours and England’s civil wars, bloody as they were). If we go, he tells us, they will commit genocide but we won’t be a party to it. I realize he is pretty much a straw man, but it struck me that he actually said the assumptions lurking in the minds of many of the left.

    You may call that idealistic and you may think it shows a respect for others no matter what they think, but I find it remarkably narcissistic and remarkably cavalier about other’s deaths.

    Secondly, the “hearts & minds” approach is not the left’s position now and it hasn’t been for the last few decades. I think it was a generation or so before, but even then it was soft enough in its faith in some core values of this country that it shaded in its extremities into a soft anti-Americanism. Now it isn’t soft.

    Tell me what values you think should be argued in your attempt to win hearts and minds? The elections in Iraq are seldom mentioned and even more seldom celebrated by those on the left; feminists of the left are slow to acknowledge and even slower to admire the dramatic steps of women in this region (see Christine Hoff Sommers discussion of that in the current Weekly Standard – not that you should need that to tell you.) Our civic faith is one of the rights of man, the open market of economics, conversation, newspapers, meetings, religion. These values do not seem to me as central to the left’s vision; if it were, they would be celebrating the tentative moves toward those in Iraq and would bewail the targetted bombs designed to undercut women’s education and the rule of law.

    Ron Paul is a Republican and his position was roundly condemned as sounding quite a bit like the left; of course, it is also characteristic of the straw man right you set up. It is easy to understand his position because it so resembles that of those running for the Democratic nomination. I find it quite unattractive although if the surge doesn’t work it is likely to prove the one history will approve. Your description of your position as “idealistic” (I’m sure you’d also attribute sensitivity to your vision and an ability to appreciate those different from yourself) is not true. Such idealism is little concerned with other people in other lands.

    By the way, BDS is Bush Derangement Syndrome. It is an infection that many of the left suffer from, but I suspect this desire to make it all Bush’s fault is because some on the left are not unlike Vardaman, the young boy in As I Lay Dying. He hates the doctor because he associates his mother’s death with the doctor’s arrival. It is more immature than really crazy. Some of the reactions are little better than the sign of the boy’s confusion (he catches & dresses a large fish during the time his mother is slowly dying) in the one-sentence chapter, “My mother is a fish.” And that, well, that is real denial.

  25. //
    Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.//

    Given that USSR lost OVER 20 MILLIONS, this does appears little.

    Other issue, one thing are inner political problems in the beginning of a war, other are problems after years of unsuccessful war. Remember that Germans tried to ASSASSINATE Hitler as early as in 1944 because of bad war results.

    And who happily undermined Clinton as he was waging was in Kosovo?

  26. Ginny,

    Far be it from me to defend Ann Coulter (imo she’s quite reprehensible much of the time), however: isn’t what we’ve done in Iraq precisely the first 2/3 of her formula?

Comments are closed.