GENERAL ARTICLES

France: What Now?

The battle of liberation is over—Now comes the second battle of Paris . . . the battle of ideas—Allen

RALPH ALLEN October 1 1944
GENERAL ARTICLES

France: What Now?

The battle of liberation is over—Now comes the second battle of Paris . . . the battle of ideas—Allen

RALPH ALLEN October 1 1944

France: What Now?

The battle of liberation is over—Now comes the second battle of Paris . . . the battle of ideas—Allen

RALPH ALLEN

Globe mud Mall War Correspondent.

PARIS (By cable)You don’t think of the Maquis somehow as ever wearing neckties. But this man standing beside his station

at the intersection of the Boulevard St. Germain and the Rue Saint Jacques was wearing a tie. Also a slightly worn but freshly pressed suit of checked tweed, a white shirt and shined shoes. Perhaps it was because the day was Sunday and the fight ing was almost over.

Two others stood guard with him before the breast-high blockade of sandbags and stone blocks. It was to be their last reunion at this scarred, untidy street corner where there were bullet pits in the walls of the surrounding apartment houw«, in which nearly all the windows were broken, and where splintered glass still lay on the pavement amid spilled sand.

The three men wen’ all who were left of the detachment that had been given the job, eight days before, of holding this approach to one of the six bridges leading to the lie de la Cité and the Prefecture of Police. There were 90 men when they started.

The man in the necktie laughed aloud. “Don’t look so sympathetic, monsieur, 1 bog you,” he chuckled. “Of course the other 87 weren’t killed. Our t-ask was to kill the Boche, not to be killed by him.”

His face sobered. “Two of us, in fact, were killed and five others wounded. The rest ?” He waved his hand down the Rue St. Jacques to the Seine and the twin towers of Notre Dame, three blocks away, and farther beyond to the north and west. “The Boche goes,” he said. “Very well. We go after him. That is only fair. When we were forced to run in 1940 those gentlemen were kind çnough to run after us.”

The leader of this street corner detachment of the FFI was talking freely now, in the excited monologue of a man who had much to tell but had never had time to tell it before. He talked

about how the tanks had come and how they had been driven back; about how the ammunition shortage had been conquered ; about how for seven days and nights no one in the detachment had gone to bed or sat down to a real meal. And then he said a strange thing. “The people were really wonderful to us,” he said.

“The people! But surely the FFI are the people of Paris?”

“No,” the man in the tie said. “We were fighting men after all. We wore the brassard. We had trained. We knew what we were doing and had taken account of the risk. No -those who were most wonderful were the people into whose homes the battle suddenly thrust itself without warning or preparation,” he said.

“You know that you^ire in the Latin Quarter now,” he said. “We of the blockade were all of the Quarter too. In the Quarter one knows one’s neighbors.”

He pointed to the chipped face of the apartment block across-the street. “When we were fighting below in the street the women and children would bring us food. You have heard Paris is hungry. That is true. But we of the Maquis, though we went hungry during the fighting, did not go as hungry as our women and children, who ran through the bullets to bring us the food they should have had tliemselves.”

Another man broke in.

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“And that was only a small part!” “I was coming to that,” the man in the necktie said. “You see on the face of the building that the windows of the corner flat are barricaded. The Germans made that room too hot for us. So we had to go away and knock on the flat next door. ‘We are sorry to disturb you, Madame Boussard,’ we said. ‘But the Germans have driven us from the corner apartment. Your apartment has a fine view of the square and we thought that—’

“ ‘Of course, of course,’ Madame Boussard said. We might have been asking to use her telephone. She cleared away the furniture from the window for us and then we started shooting from the window you see just to the left. Soon the Germans shot us up there and Madame Boussard’s apartment with it. So we went again next door and Madame La Verrierre made us equally welcome until, as you can see from the windows, her apartment was shot up too. It was like that all the time. All the women were most polite and all we brought on their homes was destruction and danger.” This was the Paris battle— a fine trumpeting resurgence of all the gallantry of the human soul, a Bastille Day of the human spirit, which will d*# much for France and Parks as long as men remember to honor the things that are brave and good.

But for Paris it was not the end of battle. Dimly, like a death’s-head at the feast, you could see the dark shape of the second battle of Paris threading through the delirious throngs even while De Gaulle was marching away from the Arc de Triomphe on that magic last Saturday of August. I am not referring now to the street fighting that broke out again late that afternoon and wore on to the Monday morning. This was only the last writhing death kick of the first battle of Paris.

The second battle will be much longer, much more complicated and much more fateful, both for France and the world. Its first phase will be a hard and perhaps a long fight against hunger and poverty. For in spite of the gay, cheering throngs Paris was a poor and hungry city when it drew its first breath of liberation. There will be a small battle of physical reconstruction and another interlocking one for economic stability.

But these obvious facets of the rebirth of Paris will only be the skirmishes and the patrols for the real second battle of Paris, which must be a battle of ideas.

“Primer stuff!” you say.

Yes, but the primer stuff that makes

history! If you could read what is in the mind of Paris accurately today you might well read what is in the stars for the world. For despite the stubborn tendency of some of us sentimental Anglo-Saxons to look upon it that way Paris is not merely the capital of the Big Rock Candy Mountain—a city of sugar plums and tinsel and smiling girls. It is a great world forum and centre of government, whose tragic last four years of history give it a unique place among the bellwethers of democracy. For four years the voice of Paris has been stifled, or allowed only to speak in the distorted tremolo of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Now Paris is free to speak for itself and, in time, it will begin to provide the answers for which the other democracies so anxiously waited in the years of black-out. You remember how we said while Paris and France were in darkness: “They are paying a horrible and disproportionate price. But at least these French will learn better than any of us, perhaps, what should be done to save freedom the next time.” Paris would learn better than any of us, perhaps, how to tear through the silk-hatted disguise and distinguish the true patriot from the enemy of the people, the self-seeking politician from the disinterested public servant, the greedy from the just, the weak from the strong, the false doctrine from the true, the flag-waving quasi Fascist from the inarticulate democrat.

Paris, as a few of us said so smugly and so crudely, would at least be “learning its lesson.”

After my few days in liberated Paris I do not pretend to be able to report with any finality on the validity of these theories. But I have talked to as many Parisians as I could and I can report some of the things they were saying. M y personal belief is that Paris Is approaching its battle of ideas in a state closely parallel to the state in which it began the battle against the Germans for the city streets; its heart filled with high and gallant hopes and boundless good will toward all other men of good will, but woefully and pathetically short of ammunition.

Under oppreasion men learn to hate and, after a fashion, some of them learn to think. But they do not learn to draw fine and delicate distinctions. They learn to cherish the right—but it is sometimes very hard to grasp what is right when nearly all you read is propaganda and even the fearless contraband propaganda of freedom is filled with violence and hate.

One of the Parisians I talked to was a lawyer, educated at Hxirvard, who had spent the entire four years in France under the German occupation. We asked if there was anything we could offer him to take to his family—food, perhaps, or a few cigarettes.

He asked eagerly: “Have you anything to read?”

There was nothing but an ancient sheaf of clippings—a few newspaper stories, a cartoon or two, a magazine article, and a short story.

“I’ll look after them,” the lawyer promised gratefully. “You’ll get them back.”

It was with the greatest difficulty that we persuaded him we weren’t loaning him a rare and treasured first edition but only using him as a convenient means of getting rid of what would have been thrown into the wastepaper basket anyway.

He chuckled sardonically, as men chuckle at their own follies.

“It must seem foolish,” he said. He leaned over in his chair, carrying each word forward with him as though afraid it would lose its emphasis before it reached the listener. “I am a reading man,” he said. “And these scraps of paper here will be the first things I’ve read in four years. That is not a figure of speech.

“Look,” he said. “I have not listened to any radio station except the BBC since the Germans came. I wouldn’t listen to our own radio because it, of course, is controlled by the Germans. And I would not listen to the underground radio because I needed no instruction in hating the Germans or in hating Vichy. Well,” he smiled wryly, “my head is clear—and it is also a vacuum. I know nothing about the rest of the world.”

If less educated Parisians comprehend only dimly what the war has meant to the world outside France, and what meaning the rest of the world hopes to make of the peace, they have equally formidable excuses. And among the small bourgeois and working classes especially, their comprehension is decidedly limited. Certainly thousands and, I suspect, millions of Frenchmen have seen this war from 1939 to 1944 in two phases and only two phases. The first phase—a war to prevent the Germans from invading France. The second phase—a war to drive the Germans out of France after the Germans had managed to get in!

Lest this be misjudged as the remark of a Francophobe let me offer the opinion that the genesis of this indifference among many Frenchmen toward the war’s larger issues does no more than conform with a few known historical facts superimposed on a few known characteristics of human nature. Let the words of another educated Frenchman develop the theme.

“The tragedy of France,” this man said, “is that we didn’t manage to hold on just a little longer. In the last year before the Germans came we were growing wiser. Whatever the world thought we were beginning to see through our false prophets and our chisellers. From the dismal swamp of our Government you could feel a fresh gust of wind rising.”

The Frenchman went on: “It never had a chance. Thé Germans came and everything was engulfed—not just our cities but our precious rising breath of passion.”

The man spoke vehemently now. “And the thing the Americans and the British will have so much trouble understanding is this: we have not been able to spend these last four years marking new leaders, cataloguing the mistakes of the past, and drawing new blueprints for the future!

“I wonder how many people in Britain and the United States know what the average citizen learns when his country is occupied by a harsh and rapacious enemy. Well, he learns to hate the enemy if he did not know how before. He learns to hate those of his own countrymen who allowed the catastrophe to fall. If he is one of the

brave he learns to use a weapon of some kind and learns to find meeting places with other brave men, where they plan their day of vengeance. He learns to ride a bicycle for hours to and from his work, and to help his wife to shop in the meagre crowded markets. If he has a little extra money, and is not a saint, he learns to hunt a little extra meat or a little extra tobacco in the black market. Whatever he learns he is busy at it, usually far too busy to take a postgraduate course in history during his spare time.

“Leaders!” This word was a cry. “Oh, we found brave leaders among the Resistance, hundreds of them. But a man who fights well does not always lead well after the fighting has ceased. Perhaps his heart is sound but his mind may not be great. It is a very treacherous and haunting thing, this quest for leaders, when even the man you judge to be a friend may be an agent of the enemy. Let me tell you about one case.

“After the collapse in 1940 a friend of mine came back to Paris in uniform, tired, dirty, tearful,” the man said. “But my friend was not quite defeated. He told me about a wonderful officer under whom he had served in the Maginot Line, a stubborn, ruthless man who feared nothing living or dead. This man, my friend said, would be one of the future leaders of France. He was brave. He was intelligent. And he was as strong as any German. ‘While there are such men as he,’ my friend said, ‘France must never despair.’

“And who was this fine officer, this hope of France?” The Frenchman finished softly, with a gleam of pure bitterness in his flashing eyes. “He was Darnand, the most hated man in France, and, next to Laval, our most shameful traitor!”

But what of De Gaulle, that pale giant who stands out amid the confusions and suspicions of liberated Paris like a towering marble statue?

Well, De Gaulle is surely the natural leader and perhaps the only possible leader for the second battle of Paris. Among the French today he commands a devotion such as even Churchill never commanded among the British. But there are reservations, for among at least a large section of the French their devotion for De Gaulle the soldier will not necessarily be transmuted to faith in De Gaulle the politician.

I heard many people say, even as the “Vive DeGaulles!” were fresh on their lips: “We shall make De Gaulle

president. We must honor him for his courage and his service to France. But we must chose another Premier.”

It is not suggested that this is a majority view. De Gaulle will probably have whatever office he chooses in the next elected government of France, if only for the reason that he towers so high above all other prospective candidates. Nevertheless it is open to debate whether he can unite France as firmly for political action in the future as he united it for resistance against the Germans.

If a large section of the French fail to recognize him as the only man for j France or, to put it another way, if I De Gaulle fails to convince all his countrymen that he is worthy of this recognition, the responsibility will neither be all De Gaulle’s nor all j France’s. If France emerges again into freedom only to fall once more into the ideological hell’s brew of small disorderly factions and vitiating feuds | which sped her into years of slavery, it j is we, the sister democracies, on whom ; much of the blame will rest.

We toyed too long with De Gaulle. In the enlightened purlieus of Washington, London and Ottawa it might have

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looked like nothing more than .statesmanlike caution that we hesitated to give this pale, passionate exile the extra hold over his peuple that our full and ready recognition would almost certainly have guaranteed him. But in France it looked like something far more serious. The propaganda of Vichy and Germany has been at work on De Gaulle long and intelligently.

It didn’t take them long to see that they could never persuade France that De Gaulle wus a truitor or a mountebank. But they did see a great opportunity for another and subtler propaganda line in the coolness with which

the Allied Governments received De Gaulle’s first approaches. “De Gaulle,” they whispered, “is a Communist! They are afraid of him!”

In Normandy I met several people who had been infected by the laborious fiction that De Gaulle is a Bolshevist. I n Paris I met more. And even among the better educated classes in Paris— which is to say among those who know quite well De Gaulle is no Red—there were others who had heard, and half believed, that Roosevelt’s coolness toward De Gaulle was the result of De Gaulle’s efforts to play some sinister kind of international politics with Russia against the United States. ’Phis last charge, if widely believed, would wreck the career of the most stainless French politician. For if French thinking has undergone any single *vital change since 1940 it has been a change toward blind and almost childish adulation of the United States. Whoever gives offense to the United States these days gives offense also to F rance.

No—we huve left too much ammunition lying around in France to be put to use in the hours of dissension and suspicion. It may not have seemed a grave thing in Canada that Ottawa continued to receive diplomatic representatives from Vichy long after it was

apparent where Vichy stood. But in France it was a most confusing and bewildering thing, and if the men of Vichy and the agents of Germany twisted the meaning to serve their own ends, had we the right to expect less?

It is said that De Gaulle has not yet smiled in France. Some say this is because he is a naturally sober man; others because he cannot trust himself to show emotion of any kind. I know, at least, that I have seen him here, in Bayeux, in Chartres, in Rambouillet and Parts, and I have yet to see him smile. It would be strange indeed if he did, for behind the flowers and the flags and the waving hands he must see the approaching spectre of the second battle of Paris more clearly than anyone.

Despite all these melancholy observations, as the second battle of Paris begins it is essentially a hopeful battle. It starts with a strong indomitable leader and behind him—though not yet as united as it would be well for them to be—a strong and eager people, as eager for a good world as any. But if it goes slowly at first and runs into initial reverses it is important that we know a little of the dark and twisted barricades to be stormed, and of our failures to ease the way as we might have done.