Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Vive la France!

Bastille Day Parade,
Paris, Champs-Élysées
Yes, that unit  in the foreground is from West Point.
There are many who mock the fighting forces of la belle France. I am not one of those misinformed individuals. Nor is another blogger, Chris Hernandez, a fellow who can offer first hand knowledge of French martial prowess, here. Chris is a American soldier who has fought alongside French troops. I highly recommend reading that post of his. (Hint, hint.)

I trust you went and read that, I know it's long but it is interesting. (And there will be a quiz...)

Now I may have mentioned it a time or two but part of my ancestry is French. The family name I bear, though English in appearance, is actually a corruption of the original family name which was very French (according to my grand-père) but the exact spelling (and pronunciation) of which has been lost to history. Seems it was buried with my grand-père. He claimed it was a certain thing, Dad and Mom scoffed, I was too young to understand but it may be that were he still alive, I fancy that I could have made sense of what he was on about. Being something of an amateur linguist. Pour ce que ça vaut.

Now le père de mon grand-père was born in Trois-Rivières, Quebec and at some point in time he and the rest of the family migrated to northern Vermont. I have been to northern Vermont and I can tell you, français can be heard coming from some of the denizens of that region. Oddly enough, as a kid my Dad did not particularly care for French-Canadians. We were brought up to dislike those folks.

Of course, when I discovered the origins of my great-grandfather, I was somewhat disturbed by Dad's dislike of a people who were, in a manner of speaking, our antecedents. I remember the day Dad was telling someone that his grandfather had been born in Three Rivers. The guy he was talking to looked somewhat puzzled (probably wondering how someone could have been born in the stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers played) until Dad added, "Canada", onto the "Three Rivers" location. That was where I jumped in and said, "Don't you mean 
Trois-Rivières, Dad? In Quebec."

Well, of course, Dad had to point out that I was a smart-ass but the guy he had been talking to immediately understood. Seems he had visited 
Trois-Rivières at some time in the past and knew of it. (And it isn't actually pronounced as you would think, if you know a little French. Go to Wikipedia and listen to how it's pronounced. The French spoken in Quebec is to the French spoken in France as the English spoken in Rhode Island is to the English spoken in South Carolina. If you get my drift.)

But enough of my that. That's not the point of this post. The point of this post is to disabuse some folks of their impressions of the fighting abilities of the French, or perceived lack thereof.

Yes, the French Army was soundly trounced in World War Two by the Germans. But to understand that, you need to look at what France endured in World War One.

The total forces mobilized by France in WWI numbered roughly 8,410,000. Of that total, 1,357,800 were killed in action, 4,266,000 were wounded in action and 537,000 went missing or were captured. So the military forces of France suffered 73% casualties. Seven in ten of those mobilized were killed, wounded or went missing! Those are severe casualties in a country of roughly 40 million. Nearly every French family lost someone.

World War One exhausted France. Also bear in mind that France had been bled white by the Napoleonic wars a hundred years prior to World War One. One estimate of French deaths from that time (not wounded but killed or died of disease) is 1.7 million. 1.7 million dead. This from a population of roughly 30 million. Most of these deaths were men who would not go on to father children.

So France had lost heavily in one series of wars. Note that the population of France in one hundred years (
from 1814 to 1914) only increased by ten million. That's what happens when you kill off most of the young men! And then in WWI France lost another 1.3 million dead. A nation cannot grow and prosper when losing that many young men every century.

So you can't judge the French Army of today by the French Army of 1940. France was not only not ready for war, she was exhausted by war and was very divided politically. Our current political squabbles are somewhat trivial compared to what France endured between the wars. If anything, France has ever been ill served by her politicians!

Anyway, that's my two cents. The French stood with us during the Revolution, we stood with them in the World Wars and the French have stood by us in Afghanistan. I think the reason we don't view the French as allies the same way we view the British as allies is two-fold: first it's the language, second it's de Gaulle. Much of America's attitude towards the French was colored by Charles de Gaulle. I'll let you do the research on that fellow. Needless to say, it did hurt US-Gallic relations.

But those days are over, for my part I say Vive la France!


  1. OK I'm in Vive la france I said that in my redneck voice.

    1. Now if you mean Cajun redneck voice, that's one thing...

      (I have been inflicting a lot of French on y'all lately haven't I?)

  2. What it really all comes down to is that the politicians seem to get in the way of most anything worthwhile.

    After reading the post at the link, I have pretty much concluded the French gov't let the French military decide how best to fight.

    Would that our own politicians shut up and let our military act in the best interests of the troops.

  3. Point taken... but where's the quiz? ;-)

    My beef with the French fighting forces is this:

    We all had to study French, because it was required by the American military schools. My French teacher was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and was the first love of my life. I don’t remember her name; we all called her “Mademoiselle,” or “Ma’amselle,” because she was single. Married women are called “Madame,” single women are “Mademoiselles.” I remember she broke my heart when I began the fifth grade because she had gotten married over the summer. She told me first thing that first day back at school that I had to call her “Madame” from now on. I instantly knew what that meant. It made me cry, and then she hugged me so hard. I’ll never forget that.

    That's a snippet from the third installment of "When I Was Eight," (a series of posts on EIP) and what wasn't said is Ma'amselle married a French paratrooper. (Minor digression: the woman always wore a scarf arranged around her neck, held in place with a French paratrooper's badge, of the "wing holding a sword" variety)

    I'd have killed that SOB if I coulda laid hands on him, even at age eight. OTOH, that taught me that women will ALWAYS break yer heart. ;-)

    That was a mighty good link you gave us, and thank ya for that.

    1. You passed, you read Chris's post. All is well.

      Ah yes, French teachers. Mademoiselle Haubrich, home room teacher in HS. At first we thought she was a new kid. She was young, she was hot. After the next summer, she became Madame Brown. Merde!

      After we all graduated, we discovered that she and her hubby liked to hang out at the local beer and food place. Her husband was a cool guy and we could always sit down and have a beer with them. Truth be told she wasn't that much older than us.

      So she was hot and cool.


  4. C'est bon! J'ai travaillé comme un linguist français quand je me suis "enlisted."

    1. I believe you had mentioned that. As an amateur linguist who hasn't had the opportunity to really use my German since I retired from the AF and whose rare opportunities to speak what little French I have were in Belgium (again before I retired) I rely heavily on Google Translate. It's interesting to note that one Belgian chap next to me in a bar had a bit of a chuckle when I sauntered up and said "Vin rouge, s'il vous plaît." I looked at him and asked him (en Anglais) if I had said that wrong. He said, "No, no, it's just that you speak French with a German accent." As you can imagine, that is rather frowned upon, at least in Belgium and (no doubt) in France itself.

      I try to keep my hand in the language thing (my wife is Korean so I have a smattering of that as well). But to make sure I type it correctly, I'll run what I want to say through Google Translate. Helps with the accent marks as well. I know enough about language to avoid the truly ridiculous (when trying to get something in Korean, I noticed that the translation had just given me the phonetic equivalent of the English, not cool.)

      Anyway, (hmm I think I have an idea for a post) that's my story. Glad you stop by from time to time to keep me honest. (I won't even touch Hebrew or Arabic, not familiar at all with those alphabets, Cyrillic I'll roll the dice on!)

  5. The only issue I ever had with the French troops I exercised with were with their officers. Arrogant and officious come to mind. The soldiers were all first rate and I loved them.

    1. Okay Six, that describes officers in a number of countries. Including ours. But I think in France it may be a cultural thing. Their cops are downright scary!


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