France did not forget - did you?

A response to ``How dare the French forget'' by Steve Dunleavy, New York Post, 10 Feb. 2003

Dunleavy article on Front page of the Post headed with full-width triple height ``SACRIFICE'' above a picture of white crosses in a French graveyard. Below the photo reads ``They died for France but France has forgotten''.

Tamara Beckwith's photograph frames Dunleavy looking forlorn, surrounded by head stones of men who fell on Omaha Beach. The landings were the closing stages of what must surely be accepted by all as the greatest human military catastrophe - world war two. Fifty million dead, a continent divided and seeds sown for forty years of cold war.

Please read the NY Post article. It won't take long -- it's barely over seven hundred and twenty words. Six fifty if you don't count the paragraphs of nothing but head-stone inscriptions. As you read, think: What is the story here? What issue does this tackle? Why did Dunleavy need to stand in a military graveyard to author a piece which doesn't raise much above the level of name calling? ``But then again, the French are against everything, including that curious American habit of showering every day.'' This is front page news? Where's the news, or analysis, or insight?

Two of his thirty two paragraphs reach the dizzying literary standard of being composed of three sentences. Five manage two sentences. This is indeed a thorough examination of the the French position; the distrust of US political motives, unease at the tremendous responsibility of giving endorsement to a war.

No it isn't. It's distasteful tabloid schlock. The piece is particularly distasteful not because of what it says -- it says almost nothing -- but because of what it implies.

It implies that the second world war taught us nothing about the abhorrent suffering of war. It implies that France should back a new war without any justification beyond knowing the US wants it. It implies that had Uncle Sam known of France's intention to grow a backbone and think independently someday, he'd have thought much longer and harder about whether she was worth defending.

War is about one thing: death. War is murder on a massive scale. It is not glorious or honourable. Goals may be honourable and victory may be glorious but war itself is no such thing. It's vile, unconscionable thrusts of death and destruction. France hasn't forgotten this. Has Dunleavy? The people who lived on the Western front know better than to deliver another nation to death's eager grasp without good reason.

Let's talk about good reason. Were the ten thousand men buried in Dunleavy's photo-op graveyard fighting and dying so Uncle Sam could call in a favour in fifty years time as if he were some mobster who'd fixed our plumbing and now wants to us repay his generosity by burying a corpse? The second world war was fought because it was just and proper to defeat the Reich. The Allied forces (remember them? -- they died too), the Russians (remember them? -- they died too) and the national resistance organisations (remember them? -- they died too) were doing what was right for the future of the world, not putting away favours to be called up when common sense runs a little dry. Don't belittle their sacrifice by giving them the status of mere bargaining chips.

If twenty million soldiers (ten million of them Russian) died without us cottoning on that perhaps -- just perhaps -- backing a country going to war should have a better justification than ``you owe us'' then we really are a lost cause.

Have the French forgotten that world war two so disgusted even its victors that it led to the formation of the United Nations in the hope of never having such a calamity revisit the earth? Have they forgotten what the UN Charter says, why it says it or what it stands for? I hope not. Has Dunleavy? It seems so. It's shameful to abuse the memory of the events that established the UN as cover to trample over its core principles.

His is not a news piece. It's comfort food for the weak minded. It's comforting to have Dunleavy reassure us that war is not any kind of last resort and isn't something that should be exhaustively rationalised and completely justified. Who wants to think that much, after all? No, fear not dear readers, Dunleavy says, all that matters is that they owe us, the ungrateful bastards.

(c) James Raftery, February 2003.

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