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How doing what France wants helped cause the Vietnam nightmare
Published on August 28, 2003 By Draginol In Politics
In American politics, presidential candidates like Howard Dean stress the need of getting other countries to like us "again". Do you think that French candidates sweat whether the United States likes France? In fact, the United States has a 200+ year obsession with wanting other countries to like us or to accept us.

The upper crusts of the American life have traditionally felt scorn and embarrassment at the "crass" culture of the United States. In the United States, the middle class has always ruled the day. And to those elites, who consider their tastes and intellects much more refined, such a situation is abhorrent.

As a result, American leaders, particularly on the left, have generally gone to great lengths to appease "their betters" in Europe and in particular western Europe. Most Americans have no idea how much we have suffered as a result of politicians, like Howard Dean, wanting to be accepted and liked by countries like France.

Let's take Vietnam as an example since those who want us to do what France would have us do use to compare the situation with Iraq with. The implication is, if we just listened to the wise, sagely advice of our "allies" in France we wouldn't be in this "Vietnam-like" mess.

But Vietnam, in a nutshell, was a result of trying to placate the French. The more you know the history, the more infuriating it gets. In 1944, the OSS worked with Vietnamese nationals such as Ho Chi Min against the Japanese. We trained them to try to help liberate Indochina from the Japanese in World War II.

But where things get interesting is France's behavior. It's not commonly known that France was an Axis power for most of World War II. "Vichy France" is treated as some sort of puppet but it was an active participant in World War II as an Axis power. Most history books gloss over France's behavior in South East Asia. But in fact, France actively aided the Japanese, a fellow Axis power, in Indochina. Most people aren't aware of this, they think after France got taken out in 1940 that they were essentially like a chess piece off the board. In actuality they switched sides and from 1940 to 1944 they fought for the Germans and Japanese. Only after those bloody Anglo-Saxxons (UK/USA) conquered, er liberated France for Charles De Gaulle (and boy he sure showed his appreciation didn't he?) and his small contingent of "Free French" did France nominally return to being an "ally". And that was in the last 6 months or so of the war in Europe.

This is important because it sets up everything that happened next. So World War II ends and in the chaos that followed in Indochina, Ho Chi Min, an ally of the United States, sets up the Republic of Vietnam...

And then the French return.

Unlike Britain who started freeing its colonies and the United States who made the Philippines an independent country in 1946, the French wanted to keep their empire and fought tooth and nail before losing it.

The first thing the French did when they got back in force to Vietnam was arm the un-repatriated Japanese troops to "police" the population. Think about that. After fighting for their freedom from brutal Japanese occupiers while the Vichy French stood back and let it happen, the French return and rather than make clear that thought the Axis was an evil thing, they arm the Japanese again. They only stopped doing this because the Americans and British threw a fit about it. Most Americans on the ground believed that the French had no business in Indochina after their behavior during the war. They had seen the bravery and nationalism of the Vietnamese. To put it in perspective, Italy lost more troops fighting on behalf of the allies than the French did and Italy wasn't given back their various overseas possessions. But having France like us was apparently more important than doing the right thing in Indochina at the time.

Eventually France alienated Ho Chi Min who fled to the hills and began a guerilla war. The United States, wanting to support its "ally" France intervened in increasing ways which culminated in what we call the Vietnam war.

The United States, by no means, is blameless in the matter. But if we're going to start comparing the current situation with Iraq with Vietnam then let's not cherry pick. Let's remember that the whole ugly mess was largely caused by doing what France wanted. Hoping that they would like us more if we did.

update: The commenting system seems to be a bit messed up, should be fixed soon  In the meantime, you can email me and I'll try to respond in a follow-up.

update 2: okay, commenting fixed. comment away!

Comments (Page 1)
on Aug 28, 2003
You have a good point. But you're just touching the tip of the iceberg. Would World War II had happened had it not been for France's actions after World War I such as their occupation of the Ruhr along with insisting on immense payments from Germany.

France's own behavior in the post-World War II era has been atrocious. From Algeria to the Suez crisis to the aforementioned Vietnam disaster, France is in no position to give advice to anyone let alone be someone we should be fixated on winning their approval for our actions.
on Aug 28, 2003
Well said. I have nothing against France or Europe, but I've never understood the left's trend to equating "the world" to Europe. And western Europe at that. The United States has to act in what is its best interests and I think what is good for the US is, in general, good for the world.

Anyone comparing Vietnam to events in Iraq just doesn't know what they're talking about. For one thing, Vietnam was a war of very limited objectives. The US never set foot in North Vietnam. In Iraq, the US has control on the ground. Also in Vietnam, two major powers who had borders were supplying arms and munitions to North Vietnam and the US could really not do anything about that. In Iraq, the handful of insurgents are mostly home grown, disorganized and not well supplied.

The US has to make good in Iraq. If Iraq can be made into a prosperous liberal country, it will become an example for other countries in that region that authoritarian government as well as Islamic based governments are not the only options.
on Aug 28, 2003
You're right, I didn't know this history and I'm pretty well informed. If Italy lost more men fighting with the Allies than the French, what the blazes is France doing on the Security Council in the UN?
on Aug 28, 2003
An excellent post. For far too long many of the Ameican "intellectuals" have had a fawning and uncritical view of western Europe, especially in regard to political ideas and theories. I don't think it should be forgotten that most of the violent destruction of human life that occured in the 20th Century came about as a direct result of the "isms" of European political thought: Fascism, Nazism, Communism, and Socialism. And even still socialism is not dead in Europe by a long shot From a political perspective the only valid thing to be learned from Europe is to avoid the paths they have taken and continue to take. The idea of emulating them seems to be an exercise in insanity.
on Aug 28, 2003
With regards to France and Italy and WW 2 statistics. I've been trying to find the book that had the deaths broken up as to which side they were on when the death occurred. France lost 250,000 troops in WW2 total, Italy lost 330,000. But none of the net resources I've found break it up. I've always wondered where those statistics for France come from in the sense that they only fought at a nation on the side of the allies (and I mean actually fought) for about 6 weeks in the summer of 1940. For the following 4 years, they were allied with the Axis once they lost, signed an armistice and switched sides.

They did, essentially the same thing Italy did. After defeat they switched sides.

I do think it's a valid question: In hindsight, how did France get a permanent seat on the Security Council? The French spent most of the war as an Axis power. That part is indisputable. While they didn't send any divisions into the European theatre (that I know of) they certainly fought the British in North Africa. And Italy certainly put forth considerable effort to help once it was conquered/liberated in 1943.

But even more, why do certain Americans care so much about what France thinks? Like I said earlier, I doubt the French sweat too much about what Americans think of them -- at least until the massive loss in tourism.
on Aug 28, 2003
The United States lost 556 men to Vichy French troops during the invasion of North Africa. We haven't got to that level in Iraq, and people are calling for withdrawl.

http://www.worldwar2database.com/html/torch.htm

When the Americans and British landed in several places, including Casablanca, Oran, Tangiers, and others, the reaction of the French colonial government was varied. At Oran, the USS Massachusetts fought a gun duel with the dry-docked French battleship Jean Bart. Jean Bart, immobile, was crippled by Massachusetts and not repaired until after the war.
The first major Anglo-American operation of the war was commanded by Dwight D. Eisenhower form his base at Gibraltar. While it was successful, months of hard fighting against the Germans remained that would test both the Anglo-American alliance and the green American fighting men.
The stiff Vichy resistance cost the Americans 556 killed and 837 wounded. Three hundred British troops and 700 French soldiers were also killed.
on Aug 28, 2003
I do wonder what make France such a place that would make such decisions? is it the culture or just the political society? I see they have made some interesting choices during the course of the last century, what makes it more able to do this than other countries?
on Aug 28, 2003
I have done very little study of the history of the involvement of France in WWII but, having lived through that period as a teenager in the United States, I do remember how France and the French were portrayed in the news reports and the movies. France had been invaded by the merciless and rapacious Germans! All Frenchmen were members of the Maqui! All Frencmen despised the Germans and the Germans were worthy of being despised by all!
Having portrayed France as the unwilling and resisting victim of the Germans, how could we not treat them as deserving of a seat at the victors' table with us? To bring up the matter of French collaboration with Germany so soon after the victory would have cast too much doubt on the picture presented during the war.
It wasn't until years later, seeing "The Sorrow and the Pity", that I was able to read accounts of France's welcoming the Germans as liberators without immediate rejection
and to understand that the anti-semitism behind the Dreyfus affair had continued.
France welcomed the German army, seeing it and the Nazi party as their opportuinity to throw off the socialism if the '30s and be rid of the hated Jewish influence.
on Aug 29, 2003
Yes, it's true that the French killed Americans during the invasion of North Africa. That's because we were *invading* their country. After the French got their clocks cleaned by the Krauts in 1940, they signed an armistice, which is to say that in exchange for getting out of the war, the Germans would refrain from reducing the whole country to a conquered province like Holland. So the official (Vichy) government of France became, not an Axis power, as some on this board have suggested, but a neutral power. Shortly after the armistice, Churchill demanded that France turn over the fleet that France still held, outside of German control, in North Africa. France refused, thinking that if their enemies the Krauts hadn't tried to take their ships away, they certainly weren't about to let their supposed friends the Brits do so (especially if letting them do so would have been a violation of the armistice). Churchill then decided that if the Frogs weren't going to give the ships over nicely, he'd sink them. So, without provocation, he attacked the French fleet at Oran and Mers-el-Kebir, killing I don't know how many of his recent allies. I can see how the Frogs might have become a little touchy.

So two years later the Yanks show up off the coast of North Africa and demand that the Frogs let them land. The Frogs, having some bizarre notion that they are going to defend their sovereignty, say no. So the Yanks say, In that case we're coming in anyway, and proceeded to attack the sovereign territory of neutral France, a country with which the US still had diplomatic relations and professed to be on friendly terms with. The Frogs then behaved like that animal in the Paris zoo, of which it was said, "This animal is very wicked; when attacked, it defends itself." The Frogs, who had been taken out of the war by the armistice, properly believed that the US was asking it to violate its neutrality the terms of the armistice. France refused, just as Belgium had refused in 1914 to violate its own neutrality and its pledged word. I know it's hard to imaging Frogs believing that they had to abide by their promises, but in this instance it appears to be true.

Of course, a different bunch of Frogs, led by de Gaulle, pretended that *they* were the real government of France, and that the Vichy government was a legal nonentity. (The Radical Republicans made a similar assertion of the governments of the states that seceded from the US in 1860 and 1861.) Churchill encouraged them in this pretence, and FDR felt he had to go along. So when Paris was liberated, the "Free French" Committee of National Resistance was installed as the government of France, and that government was recognized as one of the Big Four and given a seat on the Security Council. Of course it was all a legal fiction, just as was the legal fiction that Czechoslovakia somehow survived from 1939 until 1945 and was able to be a charter member of the UN, instead of having capitulated to Germany in 1939 and been divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (associated with the Reich), and the "independent" republic of Slovakia.
on Aug 29, 2003
I'll tell you the difference: Our WWII government thought Italy low-class and not a sufficently "great" power worthy of our powerful little clique. While our beloved Frogs were soooo sophisticated, and soooooo chic.

Its pathetic that some Americans are so hysterically insecure that they toady to France--a country who has hated and stabed us in the back since we became the world's richest nation and number one sugar-daddy.

This is called the cultural cringe. I don't feel it myself, but judging by the enthusiastic bowing and scrapeing coming out of the Dean campaign its apparent that he's in the groove.

And we must not forget France's Cold War performance: It was curling itself around the leg of the Soviets and purring like a kitten the entire time.

If the liberals want to cuddle with France, then they had best watch their backs: France's claws may be tiny, but they are sharp.
on Aug 29, 2003

Draginol wrote: "While they [Occupied France] didn't send any divisions into the European theatre..."

Technically, this is correct. But some French troops did fight beside the Germans. The SS Charlemagne Division was a unit composed of French volunteers who (with the blessing of Petain's Vichy Government) fought ounder German command on the Eastern Front against Russia, including the Battle of Berlin in 1945. Apparently Marshal Petain did not regard this as an affront to French "neutrality."

Although they called it a Division, it was rather under-strength, more like a brigade in size. The unit had several official and semi-official designations during the war. It was officially the 33rd Waffen-Grenadier Division, aka La Legion Tricolore, and/or the Légion des Voluntaires Français contre les Bolchévisme [LVF]. The Division seems to have been more effective than most of the other German foreign legions, and to have been respected by their German comrades.

And it's generally acknowledged that the French welcomed many de-mobilized German soldiers into the French Foreign Legion after the war, including some who fought in Viet Nam (or French Indo-China as it then was).

The French are a broad-minded folk who don't hold grudges against their former enemies and conquerers. It's just their allies and liberators they can't stand.

Freebootrr
on Aug 29, 2003
interesting stuff - I'm way too young to know exactly what transpired 55 years ago in which side to place the French but how much of the benevolent feelings towards France (beides being on the same side in WWI) was borne from the REvolutionary War and America's then (50-100 years ago) belief that France was a cradle of civilization (art, left bank for writers, etc) (rightly or wrongly) and that it was America's duty to preserve that - never mind the nasty details that would've just complicated the issue of fighting for right? Don't get me wrong, I'm just saying, instead of 100% against wrong, the Vichy gov't made it 94% but why quibble over 6%?

And after the war, certainly if you had to place "civilized" countries at the forefront of the UN, France would seem to belong at that time.
on Aug 29, 2003
Oh my how the arrogans is seeping here.
on Aug 29, 2003
How were Japanese armed in Vietnam after WWII? Why wouldn't they have returned to Japan after the war? This is the crux of the story that needs more historical support.
on Aug 29, 2003
To Seamus: If France was so neutral and a sovereign nation, what were German troops doing there? Why were German bombers attacking Britain during the Battle of Britain based there? Just as a taster have a look at Brest during WWII. Used a base for the bombers of Luftflotte 3 and harbouring the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst.
France's attitude currently would have come better from a country that did not send commandos to New Zealand to bomb a Greenpeace boat!
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