The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Escalation in Afghanistan: The Debate

Two escalators (bottom), one WTFer, and one indecider.

9 pieces to understand what is going on:

1) WaPo breaks down the new polls: 1/2 of Americans believe the Afghan War is not worth it, 1/4 are for escalation (above the 21,000 earlier this year), 45% want to decrease troop levels. The administration is going against its (presumably safe) liberal base and has much, much more support from conservatives on this issue.

2) National security expert Anthony Cordesman explains why escalation is necessary in "How to Lose in Afghanistan". He says the US/NATO have been losing over the last 8 years because of insufficient resources. Victory is possible thanks to the vigorous new leadership of General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador (General) Karl Eikenberry, the concentration of civil-military powers in those two without Washington "micro-managing", and, most of all, more money and soldiers. (McChrystal's predecessor, General David McKiernan, was fired in mysterious circumstances, an action unheard of since MacArthur.) Cordesman notes the debate within the U.S. foreign policy elite, saying that "strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies" are opposing the new move. The threat: "an enduring regional mess" and a sanctuary for Al Qaeda." He concludes rather cautiously: "We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan".

3) Dexter Filkins at the NYT reports on McChrystal's assessment of the situation: "serious, but winnable." So long as he has the resources to do it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen don't emphasize American soldiers, but Afghan ones: "I would not exclude the possibility that we need more combat troops, but first and foremost I would say that we need to increase significantly the number of Afghan soldiers".

4) There are the dribs and drabs from McChrystal himself... The actions of the past few months - his new "protect the people, don't destroy the enemy" counter-insurgency (COIN) guide, the "new strategy", his appointment as a COIN expert, the emphasis on the Afghan army - appear to me an attempt to rehabilitate the Afghan War the way General Petraeus did the Iraq War. His much-awaited report to the President is secret, allowing Obama to do some very in-character temporizing..

5) The NYT on hundreds of reports of irregularities in the recent election and thousands of complaints, recorded by the Afghan electoral authorities. Hamed Karzai's main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, alleges fraud and we get an introduction to Afghanistan's "tribal machine" politics.

6) The Guardian intelligently sums it all up, using an illustrative photo of McChrystal to impart a subliminal message (subtle, subtle!).

7) George Will (why not?) in "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan" points out that poppy grows, elections don't change a thing, the economy is minuscule (less than 3$/day per Afghan), counter-insurgency theory says many 100,000s of troops are needed (impossible), the government controls only 1/3 of the country, one shouldn't think we can magically remove what McChrystal called the "culture of poverty" there.. Really quite eloquent when he wants to be. He concludes that if there is reason for the Afghan War then "must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?" Instead, he advocates special operations, infiltration and missiles to defend the U.S. from Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, not occupation.

8) Stephen Walt is a little smug that McChrystal and the hawks' assessment of the situation is as negative as he has been blogging for months.

9) William Pfaff opines on the substitution of victory.

Personally, I find it an eerie coincidence that these events are occurring just as I have done so much research on the Indochina War, and specifically, how it was perpetuated and escalated thanks to the promise of a "Vietnamese National Army". All situations are different and I don't claim to be an expert on Afghanistan, but I can't help but be troubled many similarities: a new general, a new strategy, a mobilization campaign, the uniting of civil and military authorities, escalation... all on the promise that our local allies will have their army expand geometrically at the snap of our fingers. The similarity of even the words used sends a chill down my spine.

If we go up the escalatory chain, it is without optimism that I hope the Americans' Afghan National Army will prove a better bet than the French's Vietnamese one.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Abuse of Analogy (I): Postwar Germany and Japan

There was a time when many said that the cultures of Japan and Germany were incapable of sustaining democratic values. Well, they were wrong. Some say the same of Iraq today. They are mistaken. The nation of Iraq -- with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled and educated people -- is fully capable of moving toward democracy and living in freedom.
Those words were spoken by President George W. Bush in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, February 26, 2003. Now this is a fine way to frame an issue and Donald Rumsfeld tried something similar later on. Instead of dealing with criticisms of how democracy and peace are actually pretty hard to achieve in practice in many parts of the world, it seeks to portray skeptics as believing that the "Arab mind" is congenitally allergic to liberty. Most critics of Bush's policies had no such inclinations, but let us deal seriously with the Japan/Germany analogy as it compares to our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

There are too many differences between the Japanese/German postwar miracles (economic growth, democratization, "civilianization") and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the comparison to be of any use. I will mention the most important.

First, regarding the economy. It is not true that the economic successes of Germany and Japan were principally due to foreign aid. The Third World has received aid to the value of many many times over the Marshall Plan since World War 2, that hasn't stopped many countries under U.S. influence in Latin America (Chile, Columbia), the Middle East (Egypt) or East Asia (Philippines) from being dirt poor. The nation needs to be already be internally "predisposed" towards growth. Let us note that Germany and Japan had been the most modern nations of Europe and Asia respectively. (Which is not to say, that economic growth cannot be ruined by an outside power, as in East Germany.)

In contrast, Afghanistan has basically no formal economy and competes with D.R. Congo and Somalia for title of “world’s poorest nation”. It has got to the point where Allied war costs in Afghanistan (also here) are several times bigger than the entire Afghan economy (about $20 billion). The situation not quite as catastrophic in Iraq, it was a relatively modern country, although 30 years of foreign war, sanctions and civil war have certainly made their mark (and in particular, the flight of the Iraqi middle class from the country in the wake of the chaos caused by the American invasion).

Second, it is notable that Germany and Japan were ethnically homogeneous, unlike Afghanistan or Iraq. There is little to suggest that a persistent U.S. presence in Iraq will be able to undo the sectarian hatreds in that country. The situation in Iraq has been “remedied” in recent years by the fact that the country has largely ethnically cleansed itself into Shiite, Sunni and Kurd areas (the country has over 4.5 million refugees and internally displaced persons). There is no indication that problems of the enfranchisement of the Sunnis, the fair distribution of oil wealth, or the status of the disputed city Kirkuk (indeed the whole of Kurdistan!) are going to be permanently resolved whether Americans are there or not. (For comparison: the West has been in Bosnia and Kosovo for over 10 years now, there are still no real prospects for Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovars to live willingly in common states.)

Third, most significant, is that these are completely reversed situations. In Japan and Germany, a conventional war was won against them, and the peace, stability and trade which followed victory allowed positive changes in German and Japanese society. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we are told that positive social change during the war will allow victory. Needless to say, such positive change is difficult to achieve period, even more so in wartime, especially in a guerrilla war involving lack of territorial control, civil war, refugees (often the most educated), and the sabotage of "nation-building" efforts by the insurgents (bombing of Iraqi police stations, infiltration of the national army...).

There may be good arguments for the possibility of "victory" (if we could define the term) in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the analogy of Germany and Japan is not one of them. Carts before horses, poppy farmers before Mitsubishi, double digit economic growth before one can go to market without fear of being car-bombed. This narrative is broke, if I paid taxes I'd want a refund.

For reference: comparison of US aid to Iraq/Germany/Japan.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Obama’s War: Escalation in Afghanistan

We seem to be at a genuine crossroads in Afghanistan. As late as two months ago, National Security Adviser General Jim Jones said, after an additional 21,000 troops were sent earlier this year, that new troop requests would likely lead the president to have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.” I don’t know if Obama has shouted “WTF!?” but General Stanley McChrystal, top commander in Afghanistan, is asking for just that.

There is a plan soon to be presented by General McChrystal for perhaps an extra 20,000 men, in addition to the 69,000 already committed are to be sent. Drawdown would theoretically begin in five years. What would be the purpose? In that time, the Afghan army would be tripled from 88,000 men to 250,000 and the Afghan police doubled from 82,000 to 160,000. A recent 7-page “counter-insurgency guide” by McChrystal has said that “The conflict will be won by persuading the civilian population, not by destroying the enemy.” And furthermore: “To protect the population is the mission. The ISAF will have won when the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has the support of the population.” U.S. efforts, in addition to training policy and military, include the anti-opium drug war, anti-corruption campaigns, and prison reform. In short, what is suggested is a vast, ambitious and long-term project of nation-building.

This new effort is occurring just as criticism of the war has been mounting and a majority of Americans appears to oppose it (nevermind allied opinion in Europe or Canada). The selling campaign by Obama officials has been rather artless. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen said on Meet the Press that “we can develop governance, so then we can develop an economy and they can take over their own destiny.” Mullen then got a little flustered when David Gregory asked him if the American people had “signed up” to nation-building:
No, I'm--right now the American people signed up, I think, for support of getting at those who threaten us. And, and to the degree that, that the Afghan people's security and the ability to ensure that a safe haven doesn't recur in Afghanistan, there's focus on some degree of making sure security's OK, making sure governance moves in the right direction and developing an, an economy which will underpin their future.
Quite. Over at Foreign Policy, we have noted IR professor Stephen Walt questioning “the safe haven myth” in Afghanistan (see response, counter-response). We have Richard Haas, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, arguing in the New York Times that Afghanistan is a “war of choice”. He stops short of actually opposing the Obama escalation but he cites:
The risk of ending our military effort in Afghanistan is that Kabul could be overrun and the government might fall. The risk of the current approach (or even one that involves dispatching another 10,000 or 20,000 American soldiers, as the president appears likely to do) is that it might produce the same result in the end, but at a higher human, military and economic cost.
This “makes Afghanistan not just a war of choice but a tough choice.” He shies away from opposing the escalation outright. He limits himself to asking the administration, Congress and the American people to monitor the situation as closely as possible to see if we are “winning”. If things go badly, we should presumably drawdown our forces. Yet, Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s “South Asia Czar,” recently both denied the U.S. military commitment was “an open-ended event” and was unable to define “victory”. He resorted to a Supreme Court justice’s reputed saying on obscenity: “We’ll know it when we see it.”

In a sense, the effort to “measure” success as Haas advocates is futile. The metrics of counter-insurgency are not exactly scientific. They are open to outright obfuscation by those who, having invested so many men, so much money, and their own political credibility on the war, have trouble saying it is not going well. If we escalate now, we will be there, successful or not, for at least five years.

So there we have it. Counter-insurgency and nation-building in Afghanistan looks like it will be escalated and prolonged under Obama. This indeed will make Afghanistan “Obama’s War” and his credibility and legacy will be inextricably tied to its success. I can understand the political considerations. He campaigned on Afghanistan. In being strong in Afghanistan, he hopes this will immunize him from allegations of Carterite flaccidity if he is conciliatory with regard to Iraq or Iran.

A German soldier and Afghan woman in the bazaar of Taloquan.

But is it wise? If it fails the already high costs of war risk spilling over domestically, doing irreparable damage to Obama’s already shaky domestic agenda. We are asking soldiers to be part-time social workers, indeed social engineers, in a foreign country of which they know nothing. We have enough trouble managing our own societies, which we understand much better. We find prisons, drugs, corruption, fair elections to be sometimes be intractable problems at home. Now the administration are saying that, in five years, the Americans and NATO will fix all that in Afghanistan. They will, in 5 years, train twice as many forces as were created in the past 8. All that, and fight off the Taliban at the same time. It is not that a more limited approach or eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan would be without risks. It is that their narrative for victory is bunk and cannot justify committing ourselves even further to the Afghan adventure.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Suez War

I watched a three-party documentary, "Suez" (with a needless subtitle), on that 1956 crisis and the war that pitted Britain, France and Israel against the Gamal Nasser’s Egypt. I already knew a little about the events but the documentary struck me for three reasons.

The first was how boneheaded the entire plan was. Militarily, it was perfectly feasible for Britain and France to use an Israeli attack on Egypt as an excuse to seize the Suez Canal. But I have trouble fathoming the aim. Nasser had promised to compensate the stockholders of the Suez Canal Company and neither attempted nor threatened to stop trade through the canal. The French premised the operation on Nasser’s rhetorical support for the Arab uprising in Algeria (then controlled by France and the home of 1 million Europeans). However, material support in the form of weapons, munitions and funds was minute. The Algerian revolutionaries would often bitterly comment on this, noting that the Soviets were similarly stingy despite all the rhetoric about world-solidarity, with only Mao Zedong’s China (curiously enough) giving any substantial aid.

They did not seem then to have any real reason for a fight, or anything to gain. Even if all the Franco-British dreams came true, and Nasser were toppled internally following the defeat of the Egyptian Army around the Canal, they would be the proud owners of a military base at Suez, as they did in the early 1950s, which had to be abandoned in the first place because with 80,000 troops it was exorbitantly expensive. The real motive of the operation, it seems to me, was not material interest but the offense they had taken. Neither the British nor the French, still in the transition to postcolonial values, could stand by as an “uppity wog,” a “sale raton” insulted them and flaunted them publicly. They had to put him back in his place.

The second was the interviews of veterans of the operation and in particular those of British soldiers. The documentary is worth watching for that reason alone as these septegenarians describe, as though it was yesterday, the excitement and terror they lived through, the awe they felt in the presence of massed Anglo-French naval and air power, or the disgust at the death and destruction they witnessed. It had always seemed to me as a relatively ‘clean’ little war. But I was struck in particular by the testimony of two veterans who described the brutality of the paratrooper units they were part of. One explained:
I know the expression “take no prisoners”. We didn’t take prisoners. Paras don’t take prisoners. Didn’t then. Because you didn’t. You haven’t got the men. You haven’t got the men to guard them. You know there’s another problem. This is not an order it’s just a thing. You’re out to survive. You are a few hundred, very small few hundred, against potentially thousands. And something’s going to be in the way. It’s going to be a problem. Get rid of the problem.

Bitter Victory at Port Said.

And another veteran says:
I saw so many Egyptians that were essentially executed. For no particular reason. I’m pretty sure that if we’d just kicked their asses they would have run home. I felt sick I really did. I felt utterly sick. And on a couple of occasions I remonstrated and asked “why?” And I was told to fuck off and mind my own business.
I had assumed that atrocities by well-paid and well-trained professional Western soldiers occurred only really under duress. There might be intractable fighting for weeks or months against an insurgency and an inability to separate civilians and fighters. Then, with all the frustrations and hatreds this is likely to lead to, some soldiers might forgo the rules of war and let loose on unarmed civilians or captured soldiers. I didn’t think such things could occur as soon as they did in Suez: the very first days of a war.

The third was strange image of France and Britain as warrior nations, great powers in their own right, and pursuing their own ambitions, ready to fight wars to do so. Indeed, France had spent the last decade in a permanent state of warfare, with hundreds of thousands of soldiers, many of them elite forces, in pitiless and brutal fighting against intractable guerrillas and terrorists in Indochina and Algeria. As a result, one British paratrooper who was dropped near the Canal with French forces recalls that the ‘French with their great experience carried their weapons through their harnesses. We weren’t allowed to in case they got caught up in rigging lines or somebody else’s rigging lines.’ Another soldier recalls with enthusiasm his awe at seeing massed Anglo-French naval power:
I recognized that this was a serious enterprise when I went up one morning and I saw this vast armada, mainly of French battleships and aircraft carriers all around. And it was quite clear you know, that this was a second D-Day almost. We were definitely going to do it.

Another age...

This reads something from another age. 50 million British and 50 million Frenchmen were living with the illusions of another time, as though there were no superpowers, as though the great postcolonial nations like India, China and Egypt counted for nothing, as though they could keep the desperate masses of African and Asia under their formal domination in perpetuity. The whole adventure, of course, was brought to an end by the American President Dwight Eisenhower. Putting pressure on the British pound, the British government buckled and called for a ceasefire. The British learning that the Americans needed to be assuaged, the French that they needed to be kept at arm's length, the two nations finding symmetry in their shared impotence. And that is the world I am more familiar with.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Notes on Counter-Insurgency

I've just more or less finished my dissertation. (Thank effing God!) Advanced countries fighting insurgencies in foreign lands often resort to the solution of training local allies to fight in their place under auspices of a "national army". My subject was the Vietnamese National Army, which was an attempt by the French to do just that in the second half of the Indochina War. After a lot of slogging, any general lessons I might draw from French and other experiences?

First, I am more and more convinced that the notion that indigenous soldiers could somehow replace you is nonsense. If a situation has gotten so bad, that the foreign power needs to send 150,000 or 500,000 men in there, and they are unable to achieve victory at acceptable cost then the insurgents will simply win. There is no chance you are going to be able in the last couple years of the conflict, in your part time, turn the native regime's soldiers (who are variably corrupt, unmotivated, incompetent etc.) into the equivalent of your modern and professional army. It is notable that France, the U.S. and the Soviet Union have all fought insurgencies and left armies they created in their place (Indochina, Vietnam, Afghanistan). In no case was the local regime able to survive more than a few years against the insurgents.

Second, you can supplement your forces with locals. In fact, you have to, they know the terrain, the people, they will be able to nullify what advantages those two things give the insurgents. It will only work if you have a substantial portion of the wartorn nation's public opinion on your side. The only two successful examples (I know of) of counterinsurgency with the largescale use of foreign troops since WW2: British Malaya and the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. In both cases, the rebels' power was based on an ethnic minority representing only about 1/5 of the country (Chinese in one case, Kikuyu in the other). These were still very difficult wars that required about a decade to win and led to substantial political concessions from the British (granting independence and losing control of both countries).

Third, it is virtually impossible to destroy an insurgency if they have a active anctuary. That is when there is a neighbor where the insurgents can rest, recoup, escape the counterinsurgents, and receive training and materiel. Many places have played such a role: China in the Indochina War (and indeed the Korean War), North Vietnam in the Vietnam War, Pakistan in the Afghan Wars.. This presents an impossible dilemma for the counterinsurgent, who despite his overwhelming military and technological superiority, is unable to locate and destroy the enemy and its sources of power. If it attempts to do so, it would need further escalation and general warefare in another country, which may be beyond available means or acceptable costs. In neither of the successful British cases was there an active sanctuary.

For what this means for today I can't completely say. It is somewhat comforting to know that much of the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan are based on ethnic minorities. At the same time, I find it very distressing for Afghanistan especially, where the Pashtuns are a relatively large minority and AfPak border problem has not been resolved. In the Iraqi case, the change in U.S. strategy and "self-ethnic-cleansing" have led to a somewhat more encouraging situation. I can't predict the future but, ultimately, most of these wars end by the foreign power being reconciled to fact that, really, the area that has cost so many many and required so much of their defense effort is basically marginal to their fundamental interests. Although Iraq may be an exception given its position at heart of a region with so much oil, may be a partial exception to this.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Realist" Scholar's case against the Afghan War

An argument one doesn't hear often.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Street Without Joy

Street Without Joy is the compelling and thoughtful chronicle of the French Indochina War (1945-1954) by the celebrated French soldier turned U.S. scholar Bernard Fall. Fall went on numerous trips to Southeast Asia, often talking with and living alongside French and American soldiers. He was killed by a landmine while with accompanying U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1967.

The meat of the book is committed to various large-scale operations by French forces against the Viet-Minh Communists. Here, Fall's first hand experience shines through, with vivid, all-too-real descriptions of the crushing humidity, of the disgust at peeling off leeches or being struck with dysentery, of feet swollen after endless marches, of the murderous, confusing cacophony of fighting... It is mostly a depressing list of indecisive failures: Ninh-Binh, Hoa-Binh, Operation Lorraine, "Street Without Joy" and other operations, with their familiar pattern of tens of thousands of troops with tanks and heavy weapons getting bogged down in mountain, jungle and marsh, the enemy picking away at them and their supply lines if he was stronger, melting into the bush and the population if he is not.

Bernard Fall with U.S. troops in Vietnam.

Viet-Minh attacks were brutal. Frenchmen and their African and Indochinese allies faced artillery fire from an invisible enemy hidden in in the bush, having their faces and limbs blown off, being fried in their tanks, or, if only lightly injured, find their wounds festering for days in the tropical heat. If the V.M. flee, the French had the impossible task of searching villages for Communists and supply depots. The rebel soldiers would hide themselves among the mostly skinny, flat-chested Vietnamese peasant women: a prudish French officer was ordered by his superiors to finger them to find the men among them. At other times, there is no such discrimination. Fall laconically reports his flying beside French bombers as they loose their napalm: 'scratch one Lao village - and we don't even know whether the village was pro-Communist or not.' In a kind of war where the support of the people is critical, the means for tactical victory could spell strategic defeat.

Fall also describes the men and women of Indochina and the French forces in often picturesque detail. Commanders included glamorous and energetic personalities like Free French leader Marshal Jean de Lattre de Tassigny whose son died in Indochina during his command or General René Cogny who had fought in the Resistance and walked with a limp and a cane due to permanent injuries from Gestapo torture. "Ex-Nazi" German Foreign Legionnaires fought alongside French Army survivors of Dachau and Buchenwald... after months spent in the jungle or in a Viet-Minh P.O.W. camp these same soldiers might come home with skeletal bodies 'like Christ off the cross'. The women are numerous. In addition to the usual wives, nurses and female military personnel there is the curious institution (at odds with the book's title) of the ‘Mobile Field Brothels’ of North African prostitutes that accompanied some units. Given that the U.S. was giving substantial aid to the war effort, the brothels gave French P.R. officers some worry at the possibility of an American newspaper headlining that the U.S. was financing French fornication...

A path without joy...

In addition to the individual descriptions of battles and people, Fall wraps his chronicle with a preface and a conclusion that ruminate on the concept of ‘Revolutionary Warfare’, or political insurrection by Communist or Nationalist forces with the aim of subverting an established regime. He describes the experiences Great Britain, France and the United States in Malaya, Indochina and Algeria, to attempt to inform discussion of the escalating war in the Vietnam (the book was published in 1964).

We find here that past experience must inform the present. Fall elaborates concepts that were as valid then in Southeast Asia and North Africa as they are today in Afghanistan and Iraq including the necessity of winning over the population (the primacy of the political over the military) and the notion of a hostile 'active sanctuary' providing refuge, material aid, and sometimes soldiers to the insurgents. Fall's bibliography even lists as the best handbook to counter-insurgency to be a slim, little known volume by French Colonel David Galula, Counter-Insurgency: Theory and Practice. Little known, that is, until about three years ago, when new the top U.S. commander in Iraq David Petraeus began to promote its reading and teachings within the U.S. military and wrote the preface to the most recent edition.

Street Without Joy, for those who love war stories, have an interest in the wars of Southeast Asia, or are students of counter-insurgency.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

De 1940

En réponse à un post de Jean-Dominique Merchet et inspiré de l’article célébré de David Reynolds.

Parce que parfois, au risque de la prétention, je me laisse à une poésie impitoyable…

Je suis un Américain né en France. Je dois avouer que parler avec mes compatriotes des U.S.A. à propos de 1940 et la Bataille de France est une expérience souvent déprimante. Ils ne comprennent pas la réalité de cette 'étrange victoire' allemande très surprenante, le fait d'une défaite alliée (et non seulement française), le sacrifice de ces dizaines de milliers de Français morts pour un monde libre, les dilemmes inévitables d'une France occupée pour laquelle la défaite allemande n'est ni probable ni prévisible sauf dans un futur très lointain.

Pour la culture 'populaire' américaine, la défense française est une mauvaise blague. Pour beaucoup la France de 1940 n'est qu'un lâche effémine qui se rend à la première occasion et se transforme en pute prête à se donner au maître nazi.

J'avoue - tout en reconnaissant les excès gaullistes et franco-centriques - que ce genre de discours me rend furieux.

Oui, la France de 1940 est politiquement divisée, économiquement médiocre, et dotée d'une doctrine militaire archaïque. Mais après tout, qu'ont fait les Belges avec leur naïve neutralité, les Américains avec leur isolationnisme myope, et les Anglais avec leurs dix divisions terrestres, une force qui, malgré la puissance économique britannique et leur vaste empire, représentait la moitié de celle de la petite Belgique ? Ce ne fut pas les seules erreurs et la seule défaite de la France.

Il faut un révisionnisme massif pour défaire les mythes gaullistes, pétainistes, résistants, britanniques, américains et allemands. La France a fait – avec toutes les difficultés des situations internes et internationales – son devoir. Elle a mené les Alliés à infliger plus de 150,000 pertes aux Allemands – blessés, morts et disparus – avant de céder lors de cette campagne fulgurante face à la concentration de force mécanique et aérienne de l’ennemi. Ses armées furent entourées en Belgique, ses soldats furent capturés par millions, Churchill réussit à transformer fuite en victoire à Dunkerque, et le territoire français fut ouvert pour une occupation longue et rude.

La France avait échoué. Et, comme l’historien britannique David Reynolds le soutient, se fut un tournant - peut être le grand tournant - du 20ème siècle. Les conséquences furent immédiates et catastrophiques: neutralisation de la flotte et l’empire français, participation de l'Italie a la guerre, début de la marche sudiste du Japon dans l'Indochine, étalement dangereux de la flotte britannique, et, enfin, domination nazie du continent européen. Sans 1940, il est tout a fait concevable que la deuxième 'Grande Guerre' reste une guerre limitée, européenne, sans hégémonie maléfique et sans génocide.

L'événement aura pour conséquence les heures les plus sombres du 20ème siècle. La catastrophe fut d’autant plus tragique parce que évitable. Des hommes bons de part en part l’Europe et le monde avaient échoué dans leur devoir. Et cela, c’est important. Si l'on en rit, on n’a pas conscience de la tragédie et, en vérité, on se moque de la tyrannie nazie, de la Shoah, et des 50 millions de morts victimes de cette guerre aussi absurde que toute les autres… Et que la France fut la gardienne en Europe de cette fragile équilibre et cette précieuse liberté.

Une tragédie aussi, parce que la France elle-même fut corrompue par la défaite. Elle céda au réconfort d'un prestigieux despotisme et vit le triomphe des pires tendances de l'anti-sémitisme français. Il ne faut pas rire de 1940, ni oublier cette année noire, mais s'en souvenir et y réfléchir pour prendre conscience du véritable fardeau, cette grande et terrible responsabilité, que la France portait pour la paix et la liberté. Ce fardeau que tout homme libre et pensant doit porter toujours, aujourd'hui et partout, dans son esprit et dans son cœur.

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