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  •  Perhaps I'm too much of a Francophile (22+ / 0-)

    But I get offended at all the "cheese eating surrender monkey" and "For sale: French rifle, dropped once; never fired" jokes that -- primarily -- American right-wingers love to repeat.

    No matter what you may think of their politics or their military objectives, it is in no way justifiable, in my opinion, to characterize the French military as cowardly because of what happened to them in 1940. They had virtually no political or senior military leadership due to the infighting that led to the collapse of the French Third Republic; their most revered and experienced former military leader (Marshal Pétain) was elderly and was a strong advocate for negotiating an armistice with Germany in Spring 1940; and their primary defenses were essentially designed to withstand WWI-style tactics. Unfortunately for Europe and the world, Nazi Germany had completely rewritten the tactical manual for war during the 1930s.

    France suffered deaths in WWI of over 4 percent of its entire population in Metropolitan France (what most people think of as the nation of France), with more than an additional 10 percent wounded (source - Wikipedia).

    And they won. They pushed back against the German invasion and eventually prevailed.

    The U.S., by contrast, had deaths of a little over 0.1 percent of its population, with 0.2 percent wounded.

    To think that less than 22 years after such a national calamity as WWI, with weak and disintegrating leadership and outdated defenses, France could withstand the full might of Nazi Germany, is ridiculous.

    Keep in mind that no nation, by itself, successfully withstood the full power of an attack on its own soil by Nazi Germany when it was at the height of its strength. Even Britain, when Hitler turned his eye across the English Channel, had only to deal with his Luftwaffe (air force) and Kriegsmarine (navy) - no ground forces or Panzer divisions were landed on British soil (except for the Channel Islands, which were given up without resistance due to the hopelessness of defense).

    And the force that the Nazis threw against the USSR was diluted by occupation in western and central Europe as well as the fighting in North Africa.

    It's easy for we Americans to sit back on our haunches and joke about the cheese-eating surrender monkeys over in gay Paree.  But I would hope that anyone who has seen the skulls and bones stockpiled beneath the floor of the Douaument Ossuary, or the still-hummocky ground surrounding it for miles, showing the effect -- a century later -- of the millions of artillery shells France absorbed, or the countless memorials seemingly in every French town no matter what size listing the names of "ses enfants morts pour la France," that they, at least, could find it in themselves to understand why, a bare two decades later, France lacked the stomach for another spin of death's wheel.

    •  A good follow-up read (14+ / 0-)

      is William Shirer's The Collapse of the Third Republic: An Inquiry into the Fall of France in 1940.  There was a lot of rot everywhere, not only in the political and military sphere.  During a time when France needed desperately to upgrade their military the wealthy there basically offshored every franc to avoid paying taxes.  

      It's a fascinating book, and in many ways superior to his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  He lived in France during much of this period and loved it.  

      you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

      by Dem Beans on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 06:54:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Frighteningly reminiscent of 21st C. USA EOM (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jay C, Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, devtob
      •  Shirer's book on the Third Republic (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, daninoah, devtob

        Isn't, IMO, just a "good read", it's a "must-read" for anyone trying to understand the history of WWII and the debacle of 1940. And no, "surrender monkeys" doesn't cut it, by a long shot, as an "explanation".

        One of Shirer's main points, though, has always stuck with me as one of the great "what-if" questions about the war. In his estimation, the evil fallout from Munich (and probably the War itself) might have been deflected or avoided way earlier: in March, 1936, when Hitler "re-militarized" the Rhineland: sending German troops in o the demilitarized zones in blatant violation of the Versailles Treaty.

        The German troops, btw, had paraded into the Rhineland behind marching bands: the Wehrmacht was woefully inferior in early 1936: it was few in numbers,,  they had few, if any tanks, inadequate artillery, etc.: a quick response by a couple of French divisions would have probably sent them running back in disorder (and Shirer thinks the German military would probably have deposed Hitler for embarrassing them).

        Unfortunately, "quick response" wasn't in the French military vocabulary at the time: the High Command (and the Government) dickered and dithered for a whole week before deciding on a response, and since the
        only option HQ came up with was a total-war total-mobilization, they decided on the easier way out: to do nothing. A first opportunity wasted....

      •  Another great read (but in French only) (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dem Beans, Margouillat, Jay C

        is Le Desastre de 1940 by Claude Paillet.  I was in college and studying abroad when I picked this book up in 1986.  It is big book with great research.  It's been a while since I read it and my French was better then than it is now, but I'm going to pull it out and take a refresher course.  What I liked about the book was that it pulled no punches but certainly took the French perspective (and side) as to how they lost so quickly and comprehensively.  But what I learned for the first time when I read this book is how good the individual French soldier was, how savage the fighting was, and how the officers (and the central government) lost the war not just on the battlefield, but in the years before.  

        •  French Planning Misfortune (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          daninoah, Jay C

          The French high command believed that an armored force could not successfully be supported coming through the Ardennes.  Consequently, some of the less-than-adequate Class B divisions (equivalent to US National Guard units of the period) were deployed there and were assaulted by the cream of the German panzer troops.  Placing the best of the veterans against the worst of the untried produced the expected result.  Otherwise, the French armored forces fought the Germans to a standstill on the Belgian plains during the early phases of the campaign.  When the French infantry didn't need to worry about German panzer attacking from the rear, they badly mauled German attacks.  Most Americans don't know that the German campaign consisted of two phases (pre-Dunkirk and post-Dunkirk) and that the French, with about half the number of troops available as at the start of the campaign, ferociously defended northeast France against the Germans in that second phase with an adaptive hedgehog defense approach.  It was just unfortunate that the French defense plan was snake bit.

          "Love the Truth, defend the Truth, speak the Truth, and hear the Truth" - Jan Hus, d.1415 CE

          by PrahaPartizan on Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 08:29:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I especially hate the "How many Frenchmen does it (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dem Beans, PrahaPartizan, daninoah, devtob

      take to defend Paris" "joke."

      If you know anything about the Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War or the First Battle of the Marne during WW1, you know just how offensive and inaccurate it is.

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