Bastille Day

Two Nations Under Red, White and Blue

We will wait for the Americans and the tanks.

General Philippe Petain, 1917

 

Today is Bastille Day.  Our relationship with our oldest ally has been frequently rocky over the years, in spite of the aid France gave us in winning our independence and the fact that the US was instrumental in saving France in two World Wars.  As we commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Great War, it is good to recall a time when French and Americans fought so closely together that at times they seemed to be one army.

By 1917 the French Army was in a mutinous state.  Millions of Frenchmen were wounded and dead with little to show for it.  Petain, the victor of Verdun, was made commander in chief of the French army.  He constantly visited units and told them that wasteful, ill-prepared offensives were a thing of the past.  Petain had enjoyed a great deal of success with intensively prepared small scale offensives where he could mass overwhelming force against a small enemy section of the immense line of trenches that stretched from Switzerland to the North Sea.  He had these type of offensives on a grand scale in mind for a rejuvenated French army in 1918.  He also knew two other things:  Allied factories were beginning to produce massive amounts of tanks that could spearhead future offensives and America had entered the War:  the Yanks were coming!  At the conclusion of most of his speeches in 1917 he told his men that they would wait for the Americans and the tanks, a line that never failed to receive thunderous applause from the troops.  The average poilu was a brave man and he was willing to die, if need be, to win the War.  He was no longer willing to die in useless offensives that accomplished nothing, and Petain understood that.

American troops trickled in during 1917 and received a tumultuous reception from the French.  When Colonel Charles E. Stanton, nephew of Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, said at the tomb of Lafayette on July 4, 1917:  “Lafayette we are here!” both nations were electrified.

America sent over endless amounts of food in 1917 and 1918 that kept the French from starving.  The American Navy helped to master the U-boat threat.

By October 1917 four American divisions were deployed to France.  French combat veterans acted as instructors for the troops and much of the artillery was provided by the French.  This of course was only the first wave of millions of Americans training in the US to be shipped across the Atlantic in 1918. Continue reading

Bastille Day and the Transformative Power of History

(I originally posted this in 2012.  I rather liked this post, so here it is again.)

 

The La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca.  Today is Bastille Day, the great national holiday in France, the equivalent of our Independence Day.  In France it is known as La Fête Nationale, the National Celebration, or Le quatorze juillet, the fourteenth of July, rather like Independence Day is often known here as the Fourth of July.  There the similarities end.  Although almost all Americans look back at the American Revolution with pride, many of us dedicated to the great truths embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution is looked upon much more ambiguously in France.

Bastille Day recalls an event July 14, 1789 in which the mob of Paris, joined by mutinous French troops, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had in the past held political prisoners.  The Bastille fell to the mob after a fight in which some ninety-eight attackers and one defender were killed.  After the fighting, in an ominous sign of what was to come in the French Revolution, the mob massacred the governor of the prison and seven of the defenders.  The Bastille held a grand total of seven inmates at the time of its fall, none of political significance.

So began the Revolution which promised Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in theory and delivered in practice, Tyranny, Wars and Death, with France embarked on a witches’ dance of folly which would end at Waterloo, after almost a quarter of a century of war which would leave Europe drenched in blood.  Edmund Burke at the beginning of this madness, in 1790, saw clearly where all this would lead:

Continue reading

La Marseillaise and Edith Piaf

 

Something for the weekend.  Rushing Bastille Day a bit, we have Edith Piaf, as a child in a film about her life, singing the French National Anthem.

Without a doubt the greatest French songstress of the last century,  Piaf led a life of tortured immorality, and yet she, by her own account, was  the beneficiary of a miracle.  From three to seven she was blind as a result of keratitis.  She was cured when the prostitutes of her grandmother, who ran a brothel, contributed money to send her on a pilgrimage honoring Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.  On her deathbed, dying an agonizing death of liver cancer at age 47, she had a last moment of moral clarity when her final words were uttered:   “Every damn fool thing you do in this life, you pay for.”  May she now be enjoying in the next world the peace that eluded her in this.

My favorite Piaf song is “Non, je ne regrette rien” (No, I regret nothing) which she dedicated to the French Foreign Legion.  When the First Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment surrendered after their involvement in the failed coup attempt against the government of Charles de Gaulle in 1961, they marched out of their barracks singing this song:

It is of course impossible for me to have a post in which La Marseillaise is mentioned without including this clip: Continue reading

Bastille Day and the Transformative Power of History

Something for the weekend.   The La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca.  Today is Bastille Day, the great national holiday in France, the equivalent our Independence Day.  In France it is known as La Fête Nationale, the National Celebration, or Le quatorze juillet, the fourteenth of July, rather like Independence Day is often known here as the fourth of July.  There the similarities end.  Although almost all Americans look back at the American Revolution with pride, many of us dedicated to the great truths embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution is looked upon much more ambiguously in France.

Bastille Day recalls an event July 14, 1789 in which the mob of Paris, joined by mutinous French troops, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had in the past held political prisoners.  The Bastille fell to the mob after a fight in which some ninety-eight attackers and one defender were killed.  After the fighting, in an ominous sign of what was to come in the French Revolution, the mob massacred the governor of the prison and seven of the defenders.  The Bastille held a grand total of seven inmates at the time of its fall, none of political significance.

So began the Revolution which promised Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in theory and delivered in practice, Tyranny, Wars and Death, with France embarked on a witches’ dance of folly which would end at Waterloo, after almost a quarter of a century of war which would leave Europe drenched in blood.  Edmund Burke at the beginning of this madness, in 1790, saw clearly where all this would lead:

Remembering Bastille Day

Today is Bastille Day, typically associated with the start of the French Revolution. In honor of that blessed event, I offer up this classic piece by John Zmirak:

Remember when the L.A. riots spun out of control, and engulfed the whole United States? The key moment was no doubt when police and Army commanders took fright and changed sides, throwing their support to the Committee for Public Safety led by Tom Hayden, along with Noam Chomsky, Barbara Boxer, Michael Moore, and Edward Said. After Hayden’s fall and execution, his successor, Marion Barry, insisted that President Bush and his wife Barbara be tried for treason. Their executions shocked the world but sparked wild celebrations in the capital, as the First Couple’s severed heads danced on poles in daylong parades. A crack whore was duly enshrined in the National Cathedral as the Goddess of Reason.

Continue reading

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