Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

It's Tough to Defend the French  | e-mail post

I will be the first to admit that we Americans seem to go overboard on our derision for the French, but it is a two-way street in many ways. Of course, many liberals take it upon themelves to defend all things attacked by the majority, whether it be high taxes, partial birth abortions or, in this case, France.

Witness the "I hate Pat Robertson" blog. Now, any regular reader probably knows that I am not a fan of the religious right, and thus should be largely sympathetic to the blog's author. I must also tell you that I actually like the look of the blog, it's got some nice CSS tricks. Unfortunately, the blog's author decided, simply because Pat Robertson had an anti-French author on the 700 Club, that now he must take up the very heavy mantle of defending France. We can start with this:

Pat starts off the interview by attacking France:

The truth is, France is a second-rate power and can’t even compete with (South) Korea

Actually, France is much more powerful than South Korea. The Gross Domestic Product of France is near double that of South Korea, as is the per capita income. As for the military, France is the 3rd largest military power, South Korea is #9.

The simple fact that the author feels the need to defend France in comparison to a nation that is effectively a U.S. protectorate is itself quite humorous. Actually, if the author wasn't such a knee-jerk, he'd stop for a minute and realize that France's equivalent of our FBI is their gendarmerie, or national military police, and is part of their defense organization. In 2004, the gendarmerie was 101,000 strong versus the balance of their military forces at 259,000.

The South Korean Army, in contrast, has about 560,000 troops, or a ground force of 300,000 more troops than France.

The blog's author should consider reading the Center for Strategic and International Studies report "Military Trends in France: Strengths and Weaknesses" which can rarely go more than a page or two without pointing out the obvious, such as:
During the first Gulf War, and operations in former Yugoslavia, France
realized that it had major difficulties with coordination at the strategic and tactical levels, including the integration of combined operation command structures.43 France has extensively studied Britain as a model in these areas due to its relative deficiencies compared to the UK.
During the first Gulf War, France had difficulties in deploying a light division of only 12,000 troops, whereas Britain managed to deploy twice that number despite having a much smaller army. At that time, France only had 6,000 troops immediately available for force projection.
(That was the first Gulf War, the one where Iraq had invaded Kuwait...the one John Kerry voted against) Or, citing from Jane's Security Sentinel Assessment:
France's defense industries are oriented towards export markets, particularly in former colonies in the Third World. The difficulty with this emphasis is that products that sell well abroad are not necessarily the best for modern European military force. The French armed forces are not configured for modern warfare, in which high technology is critical."
(Oh, and as to why France had a larger Army: the French used conscription to maintain their Army up three years ago today, November 30, 2001.)

The author then has the following comments:

Pat then asked John Miller why France hated us so much:

Their animosity right now is mostly fueled by wounded national pride.

And this [American animosity toward France] isn’t fueled by national pride?

Actually, no, it's not a matter of national pride for us. When you're #1 with a bullet, it's really hard to have insults from anyone count for much. On the other hand, France went from being one of the most significant powers in the old world to being an also-ran in the new world. France has not had a significant military force since Napoleon's defeat, despite their cultural aspirations for military power; witness de Gaulle's election as their President after fleeing the country and "leading" the impotent French resistance from Algiers. One who wished to criticize the French might argue that only in France could a deserter be considered a war hero. In the world of industry, while Airbus has been a success (although some would suggest the heavy support of the French government and Eurocentric purchasing by other European nations might have be a factor), looking at Renault and Peugot reminds us that the French aren't known for their engineering, as are the Germans. And in the modern age of computers and communications, France's isolation has hampered their progress in the international arena as much as it has protected their weaker players from domestic competition.

The long-standing imperialistic nature of the French government also shows that they have had difficulty relinquishing power. Consider how relatively long it took the French to relinquish their control over their colonies like Algeria and Vietnam as well as how they continue to try to play big fish in a small pond over their former colonies. Even in the case of Iraq, France would never have backed U.S. action because it was too significant a trading partner. (Of course, the kickbacks might have helped as well.) And while many (most?) of Great Britain's former colonies became powerful countries in their own right, France never appeared to have nation-building as an agenda, just international dominion. Indeed, a number of things, from their anti-semitism to their opposition to Turkey joining the EU seems to be indicative of their disrespect (or disdain) for non-European cultures. [Another blogger's interesting observations on former French colonies.]

The reason people mock the French is that they are so easily mocked. Insular, parochial, living in another world, and keeping their language pure from outside influence as the world passes them by while they continue to relive their glory days of centuries past, the days of Versailles and the Sun King and of Napoleon's domination of Europe. Indeed, when our original patrons, one-time enemies and now nearly permanent allies, the British brought Napoleon to his knees (insert short joke here), France has never really recovered its stature.

In many ways, the sad tragedy of France is the tragedy of the homecoming king and quarterback who peaked in high school, never again to experience the greatness he once knew.

Update: MostlyCajun, commenting why his ancestors got out of France early, also points us to this post on Common Sense and Wonder.

Update: A reader responds with "France's Admitted Strong Points."

Update: Interested in French foreign policy or postwar Europe? Read my piece on "Kojève's Latin Empire and Contemporary French Foreign Policy." It provides a great deal of insight into French thought, some of reaffirming our stereotypes, but also providing context for such a worldview.

e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Tuesday, November 30, 2004
I can't resist linking this article, which I ran across on Dave Barry's blog, about the French courts decision that a film of a french story with french actors filmed in France and with the dialoge all in French is not a French movie.
Gotta love wordpress trackbacks.

Thanks kindly for the praise of the IHPR layout -- that'd be my work. Mike isn't really much of a designer. ;D

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