The French Military: An unfair joke?
The recent antics of French President Jacques Chirac have given rise to another round of jokes about the French military. Actually, this is somewhat unfair because the problem is, and always has been, their civilian masters who are weak yet seek a place in world affairs no longer warranted by France’s position in the post-colonial world.
If you have ever spent any time traveling around France, you know it is mostly one huge farm surrounding one major city called: Paris. The farmers are more interested in government subsidies than world affairs, and their elected representatives reflect that view. The population of Paris is now more Muslim than Catholic. In fact, there are parts of Paris where the French equivalent of our Secret Service won’t allow President Chirac to enter.
Until recently, Wonder Wife and this observer were planning to spend a week cruising through the canals of Burgundy on one of those barges the French have fancied up to serve as luxury tourist accommodations. I was even fond of telling the joke about how sailing through Burgundy stains the bottoms of the barges. But only on the left side. It’s called: (get ready) Port Wine Stain.
However, given the recent ungrateful behavior of the French, Germans and Belgians. we won’t be spending money in those countries. Instead, we will probably take a barge trip through the canals of friendly Scotland, Ireland or England. I even wrote our Congressional delgation asking for legislation saying we won’t accept any more Merde du Chirac, 2003..
One of the many jokes about France asks: “How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? No one knows. It’s never been tried.” Actually, the French did defend Paris when it was under siege by the Germans during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. But their most aggressive action was to launch dozens of hot air balloons to observe the Prussian artillery positions and to drift balloons toward the West containing urgent appeals for other nations to come to their rescue. The French, of course, surrendered before Paris suffered much damage. But, as you can tell from the recent speeches of French President Chirac (Saddam’s long-time friend and business partner), they still produce hot air.
Ironically, in the peasant uprising following the French surrender, the French Army killed over 20,000 French citizens; proving the French, like Saddam Hussein, are more adept at killing their own people than their enemies.
More jokes: “Why are French streets tree-lined? So the Germans can march in the shade. What do you call 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands up? The Army. FOR SALE: French military rifles. Never fired, only thrown down once."
Actually, this observer has some respect for some parts of the French military. When I commanded an airborne battalion in West Germany, we had a semi-formal arrangement with the French Special Forces and the French Foreign Legion stationed just inside West Germany in the town of Langenargen. After doing some parachute jumps with the French, I came to admire the French “paras,” as they like to be called. Later, when I commanded an armored cavalry squadron at the Fulda Gap, we continued our relationship. The first language of many Legionnaires is German, not French. Since my German is better than my French, this made for an easy relationship.
Ironically, France’s most famed fighting force is staffed by Legionnaires who cannot be French by birth. The web pages for the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. say this about La Legion Etrangere Francaise: “Foreign by birth, the Legionnaires have become Frenchmen by the blood they have spilled.” The French Embassy goes on to point out that 902 officers, 3,176 non-commissioned officers and over 30,000 other ranks have died in the service of France.
Reluctantly, the French admit the Legion’s biggest problems are petty theft and desertion. But the larger question is about a nation whose best fighting force is mostly made up of mercenaries who cannot be born in the nation they serve.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – novels about terrorist attacks on Colorado’s water supply and the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2003. William Hamilton