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A little lesson on the superpower of the 17th-18th centuries
August 22, 2004 2:01 PM   Subscribe

And when an American mouths off about French military history, he's not just being ignorant, he's being ungrateful. The War Nerd provides a little historical perspective. [via monkeyfilter]
posted by jb (32 comments total)

 
There are a few historical inaccuracies to be noted,* but altogether, a little history does a great deal to undermine insulting ignorance.

*eg, the agressor in the 1812-14 war between Britain and the States is under debate, and WWI was only four, not five years, long.
posted by jb at 2:04 PM on August 22, 2004


It's always been a bit of a surprise to me when the Americans do their "If it weren't for us..." bit on the French. Mind you, "If it weren't for us, you'd be speaking English right now!" doesn't really carry the same punch.
posted by Salmonberry at 2:09 PM on August 22, 2004


Good article, thanks.
posted by MarkC at 2:21 PM on August 22, 2004


Good article, but it's too late, the meme is already loose and
this page 3 correction is not going to bring the cows home.
(being on a .ru domain makes it an even tougher sell)
posted by milovoo at 2:39 PM on August 22, 2004


This sort of thing has been one of my pet peeves for a long time now, and I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who feels this way. It's bad enough that the people spewing grade-school insults like "surrender-monkey" are nearly all chickenhawks, but it's also clear that the vast majority of them couldn't find Verdun or Tours on a map (even with the help of an index) much less tell you what happened there, and why it is important.
posted by Zonker at 2:41 PM on August 22, 2004


It's bad enough that the people spewing grade-school insults like "surrender-monkey" are nearly all chickenhawks,

That was...Irony, yes?
posted by dhoyt at 2:58 PM on August 22, 2004


Call it that if you like, dhoyt, "a taste of their own medicine" is how I think of it.
posted by Zonker at 3:12 PM on August 22, 2004


Celine portrayed some fascinating images of war in Journey to the End of the Night.

also, fat balding ruffles eating dr phil watching wife is a prescription drugged up mess cooking dinner while man watches tv..... "THOSE DAMN COWARDS.... I SWEAR IF I EVER GOT MY ASS OFF THIS COUCH ID SHOW THEM A THING OR TWO ABOUT COURAGE BOY HOWDY"
posted by Satapher at 3:32 PM on August 22, 2004


Off topic: It seems to me that the term "chickenhawk" used to refer to an old man who sought out young men for, um, you know. When people started to apply it to members of the Bush administration, well, imagine my confusion...
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:35 PM on August 22, 2004


I'm glad someone posted this. The War Nerd is obviously the fictitious literary creation of Mark Ames, but he's brilliant.
posted by inksyndicate at 3:38 PM on August 22, 2004


i don't understand the rampant misinformation in this area of history... do american school text books omit a lot of info, or lie about it outright...?

Off topic: It seems to me that the term "chickenhawk" used to refer to an old man who sought out young men for, um, you know. When people started to apply it to members of the Bush administration, well, imagine my confusion...

no kidding... i've only ever known the term as a reference to older men trolling down maitland to breadalbane, looking for very young and desperate (ie: extraordinarly cheap) prostitutes.
posted by t r a c y at 3:48 PM on August 22, 2004


It's important to remember the history, I'd agree. This whole anti-French trend really made me angry. What's bullshit is when the U.S. leaders bring up the history to blackmail other nations into joining our little "coalition", as they did recently. What happened in WWII is over and done with, and no one owes the U.S. anything, and vice versa.
posted by banished at 3:51 PM on August 22, 2004


Compare Molly Ivins' attempt to nip this meme in the bud a year and a half ago.
posted by Zurishaddai at 4:06 PM on August 22, 2004


Good read, I liked it. Another ill-reported fact is that the French army had taken nearly half a million casualties trying to defend the low countries before the Wehrmacht had even reached the French frontier.

Another story of French "cowardice" is the story of Dien Bien Phu. The French Expeditionary Force was eventually overrun by a vastly numerically superior Vietnamese enemy, but the stories of valor that came out of that conflict are astounding.
posted by psmealey at 4:07 PM on August 22, 2004


France did not get involved in America's Revolutionary War because of a love for liberty or some grand idea of human rights. They did it to stick it to the other super power and their rival at the time, England.

The French did not oppose the US led invasion of Iraq because they love Saddam Hussein or tyranny or because they are cowards. They did it to stick it to the super power and their rival at the time, the US.

France's actions have not changed, just their power in the world. My only concern is that, as they slip farther and farther down the slope of irrelevance, that they do not take any more poorly thought-out risks in an attempt to recapture their position as a major world player.
posted by Mick at 4:16 PM on August 22, 2004


do american school text books omit a lot of info, or lie about it outright...?

yes, and yes. or at least so I recollect from my 'social studies' classes in middle and high school.
posted by dorian at 4:30 PM on August 22, 2004


France did not get involved in America's Revolutionary War because of a love for liberty or some grand idea of human rights.

Can you name one example of a war the United States got involved in solely for reasons of liberty and human rights? Let's not kid each other here, getting involved in armed conflict is all about protecting or furthering one's national interests. Ideas like going to war for love of liberty are advertising slogans for war, not reasons for going.
posted by psmealey at 4:32 PM on August 22, 2004


France opposed the war out of naked self-interest. They did it because participating would have made them look like jackasses.
posted by inksyndicate at 4:36 PM on August 22, 2004


The French did not oppose the US led invasion of Iraq because they love Saddam Hussein or tyranny or because they are cowards. They did it to stick it to the super power and their rival at the time, the US.

Oh, yeah. I mean, right after the Berlin Wall went down, we realized we would now have to deal with the French menace. There were some tough spots for a while.

France's actions have not changed, just their power in the world. My only concern is that, as they slip farther and farther down the slope of irrelevance, that they do not take any more poorly thought-out risks in an attempt to recapture their position as a major world player.

You make it sound like they have a Doomsday Device. Could you show me a single reputable news source- and I'll give you the span of the entire post-WWII era through now- in which France was identified as the U.S.'s chief rival? Considering the rise of China, the Arab League, and what I seem to recall as somewhat of a rivalry with Japan during the late 80's, I wager that'd be a toughie.

Seriously- do Americans really think the French sit around despising the U.S. in some sort of global-political form of penis envy? Is it that hard to consider that they honestly just don't give a fraction of the shit that we do?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:56 PM on August 22, 2004


They did it because participating would have made them look like jackasses.

A demotivating factor to which the Americans paid insufficient attention, unfortunately.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:48 PM on August 22, 2004


No, France is not the US's biggest rival (that's now China's role), but the US is France's.

And they do have a doomsday device and are more than happy to sell technology to develop it to Iran.
posted by Mick at 6:35 PM on August 22, 2004


OT: the documentary Chickenhawk is well worth a watch if you can find it. (I assume the 6.9 on imdb is due to viewers being grossed out by the subject matter as it's a rather illuminating work, iirc).
posted by dobbs at 6:44 PM on August 22, 2004


Compare also, in catchier, more toe-tapping format: Freedom is the New Word for French (lyrics)
posted by soyjoy at 7:24 PM on August 22, 2004


Can you name one example of a war the United States got involved in solely for reasons of liberty and human rights?
posted by psmealey at 4:32 PM PST on August 22


Bosnia?
posted by dash_slot- at 7:54 PM on August 22, 2004


Irony, yes?

No. Apart from being avowedly juvenile (seeing as it's a quote of a 7 year old cartoon character) and two-thirds irrelevant noise, "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" refers to an entire nationality, absurdly. By contrast, "chickenhawks" contains no irrelevancies, uses both parts of the term in their universally accepted and understood meanings, and is applied specifically to the individuals concerned, rather than their race, nationality or other prejudicial grouping.

In short, the two are not even remotely comparable.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:51 PM on August 22, 2004


Good link, jb, thanks.

I don't think France opposed the Iraq War to stick it to the U.S. I think they opposed it mostly because they had some sweet deals with Hussein's Iraq.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:51 PM on August 22, 2004


whenever someone starts bad-mouthing france (or the whole of europe, depending on how ignorant the person is) or dropping gems like, "surrender monkeys," the parts of my brain responsible for storing information read or heard temporarily powers down to conserve energy.
posted by mcsweetie at 12:19 AM on August 23, 2004


No, France is not the US's biggest rival (that's now China's role), but the US is France's.

What about Britain?
posted by ZippityBuddha at 3:50 AM on August 23, 2004


Thanks. Being the brother of Earth's greatest French military history afficinado I now have something which may entertain him on the subject.

Zed: Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
posted by ed\26h at 4:31 AM on August 23, 2004


I don't think Lafayette was interested in fending off England. Perhaps its just the history I know that he volunteered (and brought a lot of other men) and petitioned the French government based on the ideals of the American Revolution. Lafayette was born into relative privilege like other people such as the so called founding fathers. I'm sure there was a large element of national rivalry going on, I'm saying that there were French volunteers fighting based on ideals and not self interest (much like the International Brigades in the Spanish events of the 30s).

Americans are ignorant of history, even their own. However, I think the problem with Frog bashing lies elsewhere.
posted by infowar at 5:53 AM on August 23, 2004


George_Spiggot: Groundskeeper Willie isn't seven years old.
posted by kenko at 2:23 PM on August 23, 2004


Are some Americans still bashing the French? That is just so last year.
posted by ciderwoman at 2:41 PM on August 23, 2004


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