Sarkozy, War and the Grandeur of La Douce FranceBy Gaither Stewart 12.12.2008
“Non, rien de rien, je ne regrette rien!” (As sung by Edith Piaf from the Eiffel Tower to celebrate the end of World War II)
(Paris) After the slaughter of World War II, the cry of “Never Again War” echoed across Europe. That war had cost over 70,000,000 lives, half of whom civilians, and—lest one forget—nearly half of them were Russians. So intense was the anti-war spirit then that the new Republic of Italy born from the ashes of Fascism, a nation which lost nearly 500,000 lives, wrote into its new Constitution: “Italy repudiates war.” That article is more than a political consideration. Modern Italy’s Constitution put the anti-war position in an ethical-moral framework. One reason for the anti-war spirit on the Continent was that the chain of wars and colonial adventures had injected into the veins of Europe a poison that led also inevitably to Auschwitz.
In later times that path led also from Hiroshima to Baghdad, a degradation and an atmosphere that civilized man must reject and abhor. Yet the President Elect of the failing US empire is already hemming and hawing. Preventive war is apparently still OK, certainly not repudiated. Someday—not within the promised sixteen months of “change and hope”—someday US troops just might leave Iraq. Moreover, the unending war in Afghanistan must be won, and that, Washington insists, with Europe’s help.
Yet every civilized man recognizes that war in modern times is nothing less than state terrorism. War-terrorism started in WWII with the indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations with the purpose of intimidation of the peoples of Germany and Japan and Great Britain and Russia. Nazi bombing of Guernica and Warsaw, Allied bombing of Dresden. Such bombing of unseen victims raised to uncivilized proportions the rate of military to civilian deaths. That is, war introduced state murder and genocide. Slaughter of the innocent. State mayhem. The escalation of technological war since Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos and the Gulf wars whereby the killing of the innocent becomes part of the normal and quotidian condition of modern life. Forever and ever. Amen.
While American presidents do not bother even hesitating to use war for terror, the proposed European Constitution’s weak promise “to promote peace and security” is a far cry from the “repudiation of war” in general which is the other side of the moon from claims of the “right to make war” of the likes of neocon Robert Kagan and the explicit adoption of pre-emptive, preventive permanent war by the US administration under George Bush and now part of his legacy to President Elect Barack Hussein Obama.
Thus far we see no signs of discontinuity in Washington! War remains on the agenda. On both sides of the Atlantic.
Let’s take a look at the stance of France to war. Despite Voltaire, despite the Enlightenment and the birth of human rights, France has never been averse to war. From the ancient Gauls to the Norman conquerors, from Napoleon to French colonialists, from Algeria, Africa and the Middle East to Southeast Asia, France has always been bellicose and guerrier. No less than the USA, France has relied on war to build its empire and wealth, to make its history and feed its self-proclaimed grandeur.
That is not to say that individual French people love war anymore than the average American. What we cavalierly call “ordinary people” seldom share the warlike spirit of their political leaders who send them to war. Yet, there is the matter of French national pride, the grandeur— in my mind comparable to America’s sense of exceptionalism—that thrives on the nation’s military exploits and its past triumphs.
Wandering through Paris and reading the names of streets and squares is to pass in review European military history. Place names echo the battles and the wars and the warriors of France. From Ulm to Austerlitz, from Solferino to Wagram to Marne, Somme, Champagne and even the ridiculous pathetic Maginot Line. My district of Paris around the Ecole Militaire (the military academy) abounds in the names of the nation’s military heroes: from Vercintorix to Charles Martel, from William the Conqueror and Jean d’Arc to Vauban and Lafayette. They are ubiquitous, the names of the pantheon of French grandeur. Joffre and Foch and Charles de Gaulle. Those men and the times behind them created the grandeur of la douce France!
The France of President Nicolas Sarkozy is no exception. Even though for nationalistic reasons his predecessor Jacques Chirac refused to join America’s pre-emptive aggression against Iraq, both French Presidents have supported the US-led NATO war against Afghanistan.
A country of sixty million people, France has a standing army of 500,000 troops. Proportionately double that of armed-to-the-teeth America! Its international positions are based on power, real or historic, military or economic. Its incredible anti-humanistic position during the Rwandan genocide of assistance to those who committed the genocide was based on France’s national interests. War for profit. As always. Wars with super weapons to complement France’s cultural and language programs under the aegis of Alliance Française.
The latter may not be an easy task. I can’t help but wonder what he makes of—if anything—of Russian extreme nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s far-fetched affirmation that Obama will be the Gorbachev of America! An ironic fringe judgment, however, for Obama is already back-tracking. And Sarkozy is arriving late to join in the international spoils system that once reigned in America. For Sarkozy it’s like getting to the party when most of the guests are going out the side door. For the reality is his model America is on the wane.
I think many European leaders are making the same mistake of timing. European people seem to know what is happening across the Atlantic. But their leaders don’t seem to have a clue.
Nonetheless, Sarkozy’s war policies are ambiguous. He visits the Middle East and North Africa regularly while he dreams of the creation of a union of Mediterranean nations. His antagonism is directed against Iran—non-Arabic and far from the Mediterranean—not against Palestine.
France , like the USA, Great Britain and no few other nations, has relied historically on war as a boon to the national economy. And more recently a boon to globalization and the way it filters advantages back down to the “exporters of democracy.”
Like Howard Zinn, I admit that I was somewhat tempted by the Barack Obama phenomenon in my native land. It lasted a very short time. Now I have only misgivings. Obama’s cavalier attitude to the question of war has helped me overcome any illusions and hope I harbored. No political leader who opts for war in the first instance should ever get the support of the people. By now we should know. Many of us do know that war is failure. Any war. It is failure. It is the weapon of the arrogant, of the muscular street bully.
Irresponsible leaders on the western shores of the Atlantic continue to project the message of the “good war.” War is for real men. Anti-war is sissy. As if the well-adjusted citizen should accept war as part of life, like adolescence or educational travel. Anti-war attitudes have become dissidence. Cowardice and traitorous. But thank God that anti-war spirit is contagious. And it is international, universal.
A historical look back: though the Roosevelt presidencies staved off Socialist revolution in America, only World War II overcame the Great Depression, at the cost of those seventy million lives. We face a similar situation today. To the incoming Washington administration war must seem like a trusty well-honed, well-oiled mechanism .
“ Unless working people are able to advance their own socialist alternative to capitalism, the “solution” to the present crisis will be found along similar lines of a re-division of the world market through mass slaughter. (This is what makes the politics of the Nation and similar political tendencies so pernicious. The struggle against war and deepening attacks on social conditions can be advanced only through a decisive break with the Democratic Party and the political illusions promoted by tendencies such as the Nation . Not by mere protest and pressure, but only by building its own political party, armed with a socialist program aimed at uniting workers in a common international struggle against capitalism, can the working class advance its own progressive solution to the catastrophe that the unfolding capitalist crisis threatens to unleash upon humanity.” ( Bill Van Auken on the World Socialist Web Site)
From my Paris outpost (to label Paris an outpost is a journalistic euphemism to say outside the continental USA) I have followed “Mister President Elect” Obama’s press conferences. With each my heart has sunk lower. Sometimes I imagine myself in the role of one of his foreign policy advisors. There I am somewhere at the long table, raising my hand to protest and to propose alternatives. Then in desperation, during sleepless nights, I decide I will write a letter to the “President Elect” to list my grievances ... and counsel. But then, in the end, I do not waste my time.
Gaither Stewart, Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, is a novelist and journalist based in Italy, now on a three-month stay in Paris. His stories, essays and dispatches are read widely throughout the Internet on many leading venues. His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).