Vive La France
by Eric Margolis: Banks
Should Die for Their Countries, Not Countries for Their Banks
man has two homelands; his own…and France."
PARIS – The
golden dome of Les Invalides shone majestically in the summer sun.
Tricolor French flags bravely waved in the breeze.
in Place de La Concorde, where poor king Louis XVI lost his head
to Dr. Guillotine’s supposedly painless invention, was a huge reviewing
stand filled with hundreds of the great and good of official France
known in France as "les grandes chapeaux."
Down the flag-lined
Champs Elysee comes the martial rumble of massed drums and bugle
calls. The 1st Regiment of the Republican Guard marches up and stands
to attention. President Nicolas Sarkozy and his entourage of generals
and officials arrive only meters from where I stood in the press
president took the salute of the regiment, bowed to its battle standard
that harks back to the days of the French Revolution, while massed
bands played "La Marseillaise," France’s immensely moving
national anthem, known originally during the Revolution, as "the
war song of the Army of the Rhine."
Only a man
with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by this splendid hymn
to the majesty, triumph and tragedies of France: "citizens,
form your battalions," we sang, "the day of glory has
was the rallying song of the Revolution’s amateur citizen soldiers
who by a near miracle managed to gloriously defeat the professional
armies of Europe’s autocracies – but then become the tool of the
greatest and most bloody autocrat of all, Napoleon Bonaparte.
unit marched before us: infantry of the line, cadets from the prestigious
Saint Cyr Academy and from the Polytechnique military academy which
secretly built France’s first nuclear weapon. Elite Marine infantry
and armor, Alpine soldiers in white uniforms and huge berets known
as "tartes." Units from France’s Pacific possessions perform
a rousing war dance for us.
fighting vehicles, heavy tanks and artillery. Overhead, roared flights
of sleek Mirage and Rafale fighters, transports, trainers and attack
helicopters. Three aircraft left a wide tricolor rail of red, white
and blue smoke.
of Bastille Day is, of course, the march of the renowned Foreign
Legion, at a famously slower pace than the regular army. The Legionnaires
were led by a score of pioneers – huge, fierce bearded men in leather
aprons with axes over their shoulders.
chanted their famous battle song that recalls bloody encounters
from Mexico, to North Africa, to Indochina. Legionnaires can be
a frightening bunch: I’ve hoisted many a drink with them. They proudly
show their tattoo, "March or die." One never knows if
they are about to buy you a drink, or kill you on the spot. France
loves her storied Legion; alas, there are only about 7,000 left.
been almost constantly at war since September, 1939. Her army was
crushed in May 1940 by a revolutionary new, far superior German
military technology and doctrine – unlike the United States whose
military was defeated by the inferior technology but superior morale
and élan of the Vietnamese.
military units are fighting in Libya, Afghanistan, and Ivory Coast.
French troops and air units are stationed in Djibouti, monitoring
the Red Sea; in a new base in Abu Dhabi, giving France a say in
the affairs of Arabia; parts of West Africa, the French Pacific,
Chad and, of course, units assigned to NATO.
Like the United
States, France’s foreign policy has become increasingly militarized
at a time when its armed forces are strained to the limit and severe
budget cuts impend.
As one French
general says, "we are punching above our weight." A French
admiral amazed me one night over dinner by telling me that France’s
total military budget was smaller than that of the US Navy.
France is also
in close consultation with Washington over the seething uprising
in Syria and turbulence in Lebanon. Both used to be French colonies
and are regarded by Paris as within its sphere of influence. Both
Washington and Paris are bent on overthrowing Syria’s Asad regime,
but they are uncertain as to which group to install in power once
their plans for regime change succeeds.
Bastille Day was marked by tragic loss. The previous day, five French
soldiers were killed in Afghanistan and another four seriously wounded.
cast a pall over the festivities and brought renewed calls from
the public for France to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan
before the 2014 final pullout date.
France has its hands full in Libya. Its sole aircraft carrier is
launching constant air strikes against Col. Ghadaffi’s beleaguered
forces. My sources tell me French special forces and the Legion
are covertly operating in Libya from bases in neighboring Chad.
they won’t say so publicly, French military planners are increasingly
worried that they may get stuck in a long-lasting, confused struggle
in Libya that will bleed their budgets and wear out equipment. But
the war still remains popular among the public and politicians,
for whom Ghadaffi remains a prime hate figure.
To end this
memorable Bastille Day, the massed heavy cavalry of the Republican
Guard, their shiny helmets with long horsehair plumes, thundered
down the Champs Elysee. Their mounted drummers and buglers produced
a splendid fanfare of military music.
It was magnificent.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2011 Eric Margolis
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