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.)


Tom Holzman said...

Both Churchill and Roosevelt had issues with DeGaulle and his symbolism. I think it was Churchill who said "the heaviest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine." Roosevelt said that it was impossible to deal with someone who took himself for Joan of Arc and Napoleon at the same time. However, as Art points out, he did have a role to play which mattered.

bert said...

This was a particularly crappy post, Art. You might better have written "There's a conversation happening on this thread", and provided a link. "My own comments on symbolism strike me as particularly profound. Pitch in with your view."

Merely repeating your own comments by pasting them out of context into a fresh thread dissipates any focus. The thread may have been finished already. If it wasn't, though, you stopped it dead.

Being obtuse, I'll continue to assume you want people to comment on your commentary. I comment here because I enjoy what you write. There's perhaps a built-in skew: I tend to speak up when I disagree. When I agree with you I nod silently, since you've already ably expressed the point. So, for what little it's worth, none of that should detract from the overall warm feeling toward you for the hard work and dedication you put into this site, and for your willingness to enter into conversation with the unchivalrous masses.

Art Goldhammer said...

Whatever. It seems to me easy enough for anyone who wants to restore focus to follow the link. I posted my own comment in order to give a reason to follow to anyone who might not have been reading the whole comment thread. I'm not sure why this particular choice of mine should have your knickers in a twist, but vive la différence, et les différends.

bert said...

Knickers never twisted, Art, no worry on that score. I intended only constructive feedback.

And you're right that it's a choice on your part. I'm assuming you want a lively comments section, since if you didn't, leaving comments enabled would seem more trouble than it's worth.

All the best, as ever.