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Volume 68, Issue 105, Thursday, February 27, 2003

Opinion

Don't underestimate the French

Francois Luong
Guest Columnist

When French poet and author Robert Brasillach was tried in 1945 for treason and collaboration with the Nazi government, André Malraux, the celebrated writer and war hero, came to appeal his case to Charles De Gaulle, then head of the temporary French government. De Gaulle denied the poet amnesty and Brasillach was executed.

During World War II, Brasillach was the editor of a right-wing anti-Semite newspaper whose sympathies leaned toward the Nazis. How, then, would a hero of the French Resistance and a declared Socialist come to the help of a blatant collaborationist?

Malraux argued that Brasillach possessed a unique sophistication of mind and intelligence and that to execute him would be detrimental to French literature.

This sophistication of mind, it seems, is a quality many critics severely lack. Recent attacks France are a histrionic display of ignorance and irresponsibility. The use of outdated stereotypes to denigrate the French is simply appalling, and the lack of judgment and information used by critics should not be tolerated or taken serious by anyone.

To state that France is a nation of cowards is an ignominious crime against memory. To say that France is a worthless nation of ingrates is to forget the millions who died during both World Wars.

To insist on such ignorance is to forget Jean Moulin, one of the leaders of the French Resistance, who died while under torture by the Gestapo -- his body was never found; Leon Blum, who became Franceis prime minister in 1936 and who was interned in the Dachau concentration camp; de Gaulle, who risked his life crossing the English Channel to organize the Free French Forces; Malraux, who went to Spain in 1934 to help organize the Republican Air Force when most nations decided not to act.

It is to forget the French who fought at Guernica, in the two Battles of the Somme and in the Battle of Verdun during World War I, when an entire city was leveled, ten of thousands died and nothing was gained on either side -- all while the United States was still wondering whether it should get involved or not.

I remember visiting, while in high school, the concentration camp of Struthof, the only concentration camp in France, about an hour away from Strasbourg. At the center of the camp stood a plaque that listed those who perished while being interned there. It included several Dutch, Belgians, French, Soviets and British, as well as two Americans who happened to be there because one was a Jew and the other a prisoner of war. The camp remains as a reminder of horrors past, but also as a memorial to all those lives lost, including the two Americans.

To call France a nation of cowards is to desecrate all those memorials erected in every French town where soldiers or members of the Resistance lost their lives. It is to insult the heroism of all who fought for their country and to denigrate the value of lost human lives.

To call France (and Germany, Belgium, Russia or China) a worthless country for taking a stand against the United States is not so different from Nazi revisionism, which claims that the Holocaust never happened.

I do not pretend to represent the voice of the French, let alone those who live in Houston or who attend UH. I did not vote for French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac. I do not share his political opinions. But I will give him and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder credit for remembering the horrors of war and taking a stand.

For once, I am proud to be French. There is a huge difference between personal opinion and propaganda spewed by mindless drones, yet many critics of the French nation don't seem to perceive it.

Luong, a junior English major, can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu.
 

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