Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Response to Commenters

Some comments on a previous thread concerning Hollande's speech at the Vel' d'Hiv' prompted this response from me, which I think is worth posting here, where it will be more visible:

Yes, Roosevelt loathed de Gaulle, because in his eyes de Gaulle was a fantasist who took himself to be "France." A bit like Joan of Arc hearing voices, or an asylum inmate imagining that he is Napoleon. And you can see the thing from Roosevelt's point of view. In one discussion, Roosevelt and Churchill were laying plans for a major operation, talking about deployments of troops, fleets, airplanes. De Gaulle piped up: "France will contribute 1,000," he said. Roosevelt wondered, "One thousand what? Tanks? Divisions? Ships?" So he put the question to de Gaulle. The answer: "One thousand men." To a leader thinking in terms of hundreds of thousands of troops, this may well have seemed ... risible.

But Roosevelt underestimated the importance of symbolism, which was de Gaulle's forte, and when circumstances are right, symbolism can turn into real force. It has been estimated that the French Resistance was worth several divisions to the Allies. But all this is quite irrelevant to Hollande's apology. Unlike Boris, I find the Franco-Israeli historian's contribution quite small-minded. True, de Gaulle and the Resistance did not have the fate of French Jewry in mind (nor did Roosevelt, for that matter). But it's quite right of Hollande, who is the leader of all the French, not just French Jewry, to recall, while apologizing for France's failings, that de Gaulle and the Resistance did save France's honor by refusing to capitulate. What made Hollande's speech so splendid was that he didn't feel the need to choose: either I am a Gaullist or I am a defender of the Jews. No: he said forthrightly that one can speak of the Jews and still pay homage to de Gaulle. I wish that Henri Guaino, now joined by Bruno Le Maire, who really should know better, understood this.

(I will have to rethink my previous praise for Le Maire. Both his interview with Mediapart and his statement on the Hollande speech were extremely disappointing. I gave him credit for more intelligence.)

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