President Biden’s bizarre behavior during media appearances reminds me of something. The British general Edward Spears, who was Churchill’s personal emissary to the French Army during the campaign of 1940, described a meeting he had with Philipe Petain during the final desperate days of that campaign…his objective being to turn the old general away from his growing defeatist orientation and toward the direction of resistance. When Spears said that “What France needs today, Monsieur le Marechal, is another Joan of Arc”, the general’s reaction was startling:
“Once more he was all animation. His face lit up. “Have you read my speech on Joan of Arc?’ (no) ‘Well, that is too bad…I made it at Rouen, when was it, in 1937? 38? It was an extremely fine speech, I may say. I shall read it to you.”
To Spears’ consternation (for the military situation was very urgent), Petain began to search for a copy of the speech. Unable to find it, he summoned his chief of staff, who finally found it. The speech was very, very long, and Petain read it in a monotone. “I do not think he was really proud of that speech as a great achievement, for he did not caress it by inflections of voice as a sculptor might stroke a statue he believed to be a great work of art. He was recalling rather the pomp and circumstance of its delivery, the applause, and he wanted to include me in that admiring audience of years ago.”
And when the speech finally ended, Petain pointed out that “Joan of Arc was a peasant of France,” talked about the importance of peasants, and insisted in locating and reading another speech, this one about the French peasants.
“Genuine alarm brought me back to realities. Time was passing, I had endless work to do. The London telephone was certainly calling. How could I get away?”
Spears finally made his escape. But doesn’t Petain’s retreat to his old speeches, and, further back, to his old victories, mirror Biden’s verbal retreat back to the days when he played shortstop, and such?
A month or so earlier, Spears had discussed some of the key players in France with his combative friend, the Interior Minister Georges Mandel. Concerning Petain, Mandel had been dismissive:
“Surely you have seen for yourself–barely alive–and what there is left is pure vanity. He became a Hidalgo in Spain.”
I don’t think Biden has ever spent any significant time in Spain, but “what there is left is pure vanity” seems like a pretty good description of the man.
(The quotes are from Spears’ memoir Assignment to Catastrophe, a two-book series which is essential reading for anyone interested in the events of that period.)