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Posts Tagged ‘France’

The First Battle of the Marne, 1914

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

The First Battle of the Marne was conducted between 6-12 September 1914, with the outcome bringing to an end the war of movement that had dominated the First World War since the beginning of August.  Instead, with the German advance brought to a halt, stalemate and trench warfare ensued.

Having invaded Belgium and north-eastern France, the German army had reached within 30 miles of Paris.  Their progress had been rapid, having successfully beaten back Belgian, French and British forces in advancing deep into north-eastern France.  Their advance was in pursuance of the aims of the Schlieffen Plan, whose primary focus was the swift defeat of France in the west before turning attention the Russian forces in the east.

As the German armies neared Paris, the French capital prepared itself for a siege.  The defending French forces (Fifth and Sixth Armies) – and the British – were at the point of exhaustion, having retreated continuously for 10-12 days under repeated German attack until, directed by Joseph Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, they reached the south of the River Marne.

With victory seemingly near, Alexander von Kluck’s German First Army was instructed to encircle Paris from the east.  The French government, similarly expecting the fall of the capital, left Paris for Bordeaux.

Joseph Joffre, imperturbable in the face of crisis, resolved on 4 September to launch a counter-offensive strike, under the recommendation of the military governor of Paris, Gallieni, and aided by the British under Sir John French (the latter only after prompting by the British war minister,Lord Kitchener).

French medal commemorating the First Battle of the MarneJoffre authorised General Maunoury’s Sixth Army – comprising 150,000 men – to attack the right flank of the German First Army in an action beginning on the morning of 6 September.  In turning to meet the French attack a 30 mile wide gap appeared in the German lines between the First and Second Army, the latter commanded by the cautious General Karl von Bulow.

The Allies were prompt in exploiting the break in the German lines, despatching troops from the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to join the French Fifth Army in pouring through the gap between the two German armies, the right wing of Fifth Army simultaneously attacking the German Second Army.

Nevertheless, the German forces were close to achieving a breakthrough against Maunoury’s beleaguered forces between 6-8 September, and were only saved on 7 September by the aid of 6,000 French reserve infantry troops ferried from Paris in streams of taxi cabs, 600 in all.

The following night, on 8 September, the aggressive French commander General Franchet d’Esperey’s Fifth Army launched a surprise attack against the German Second Army, serving to further widen the gap between the German First and Second Armies.  D’Espery was a recent appointment, Joffre having given him command of Fifth Army in place of the dismissed General Lanrezac, who was deemed too cautious and wanting in ‘offensive spirit’.

French patrol on the Marne frontOn 9 September the German armies began a retreat ordered by the German Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke.  Moltke feared an Allied breakthrough, plagued by poor communication from his lines at the Marne.

The retreating armies were pursued by the French and British, although the pace of the Allied advance was slow – a mere 12 miles in one day.  The German armies ceased their withdrawal after 40 miles at a point north of the River Aisne, where the First and Second Armies dug in, preparing trenches that were to last for several years.

In a strategic triumph at the First Battle of the Marne, which ended on 10 September, the French forces – assisted by the British – had succeeded in throwing back the German offensive, recapturing lost ground in the process.  More importantly, the battle ended any hopes the Germans had of effectively bringing the war on the Western Front to an early close.

Casualties at the battle were heavy.  The French incurred 250,000 losses, and it is believed that the Germans suffered similar casualties (no official figures are available).  The British recorded 12,733 casualties among the BEF.

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The Third Battle of the Aisne, 1918

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

Whilst the first two battles of the Aisne were conducted by Allied forces, predominantly French, against the German army in France, the Third Battle of Aisne, from 27 May-6 June 1918, comprised the final large-scale German attempt to win the war before the arrival of the U.S. Army in France, and followed the Lys Offensive in Flanders.

The focus of the offensive was the Chemin des Dames Ridge, held by the Germans upon their retreat from the Marne in September 1914 until their ejection, at huge cost to the French, during the Nivelle Offensive, also known as theSecond Battle of the Aisne, in April 1917.

Erich Ludendorff, although subservient to Paul von Hindenburg within the German Third Supreme Command, effectively dictated the planning and execution of the German war effort.  He determined to reclaim the Chemin des Dames Ridge from the French with the launch of a massed concentrated surprise attack.  In so doing he anticipated that the French would divert forces from Flanders to the Aisne, leaving him to renew his offensive further north, where he believed the war could be won.

At the time of the offensive the front line of the Chemin des Dames was held by four divisions of the British IX Corps, ironically sent from Flanders in early May in order to recuperate.  General Duchene, commander of the French Sixth Army, was responsible for the continued defence of the sector, and Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton Gordon, commander of IX Corps, was required to place himself under Duchene’s direction.

Thus, when Duchene decided to send the British divisions to the front line, Hamilton Gordon, although reluctant to see his fatigued troops further exposed, was obliged to dispatch his men forward.  He however recommended to Duchene that a policy of defence in depth be adopted for the eventuality of an attack.  Duchene disagreed, preferring to mass troops in front-line trenches.

The attack was launched early on 27 May with a ferocious heavy artillery bombardment of 4,000 guns across a 40 km front, against four divisions of IX Corps.  Owing to the heavy concentration of primarily British troops in front-line trenches, casualties from the bombardment were severe; IX Corps itself was virtually wiped out.  The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack, designed to disable defensive gun crews, after which 17 divisions of German infantry, underCrown Prince Wilhelm, began their advance through a 40 km gap in the Allied line.

Ruined bridge on the Vesle RiverWith the Allied forces entirely taken by surprise, the rapid progress of the German troops was reminiscent of the more fluid war of movement of the opening months of the war.

Between Soissons and Reims the Germans broke through a further eight Allied divisions, four British, four French, reaching the Aisne in under six hours.  By the end of the first day the Germans had gained 15 km of territory and had reached the River Vesle.  By 30 May the Germans had managed to capture 50,000 Allied soldiers and 800 guns, arriving within 90 km of Paris by 3 June.

Once again a German victory seemed probable.  However, as before, problems with supplies and reserves, and troop fatigue, in addition to prolonged Allied counter-attacks, halted the German advance at the Marne.  By 6 June the German advance had run out of steam.

French casualties were heavy, with 98,000 losses; their British allies suffered 29,000 casualties.  General Duchene was dismissed by Petain, amid an atmosphere of crisis in Paris.  Petain’s own position was placed under threat, with his role being made subservient to that of the recently promoted Allied Supreme Commander, Ferdinand Foch.

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France Bans Protests over Prophet Mohammad Cartoons

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

France banned protests on Friday against cartoons published by a satirical weekly denigrating Islam’s Prophet Mohammad as part of a security clamp-down while prayers took place across the Muslim world.

The country’s Muslim population, drawn largely from ex-colonies in North and West Africa, shrugged off the controversy as imams in mosques denounced the pictures but urged their followers to remain calm.

The drawings have stoked a furore over an anti-Islam film made in California that has provoked sometimes violent protests in several Muslim countries, including attacks on U.S. and other Western embassies, the killing of the U.S. envoy to Libya and a suicide bombing in Afghanistan.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls said prefects had orders to prohibit any protest and to crack down if the ban was challenged.

“There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up,” he told a news conference in the southern port city of Marseille.

The main body representing Muslims in France appealed for calm as the weekly Charlie Hebdo put a new print run of the cartoons featuring a naked Prophet Mohammad on the news stands.

French embassies, schools and cultural centres in some 20 Muslim countries were closed on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, in a precaution ordered by the French government.

French media showed footage of an embassy protected by soldiers and barbed wire in former French colony Tunisia, where the Islamist-led government has also banned protests over the cartoons.

President Francois Hollande’s government has sought to balance a cherished tradition of freedom of expression with security concerns, denouncing Charlie Hebdo as irresponsible.

“When you are free, in a country like ours, you always have to measure the impact of your words,” French European Affairs Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.

A survey by TNS Sofres for i-Tele news channel showed 58 percent thought freedom of expression was a fundamental right, and that “freedom to caricature” was part of that.

Yet an even higher 71 percent of the roughly 1,000 people interviewed on Thursday approved of the ban on protests against the cartoons. France has a proud tradition of street protest.

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Marseille Mayor Calls for Army to Be Deployed to Tackle Gang Warfare

Sunday, September 9th, 2012

François Hollande on Thursday faced calls from the Socialist mayor of a tough Marseille neighbourhood to send in the army to tackle the city’s gang warfare.

The appeal highlighted the escalating drug violence in the Mediterranean port city that claimed its 14th victim in eight months earlier this week.

Kalashnikov-wielding gangsters shot dead Walid Marzouki, 25, a suspected trafficker, at close range on Wednesday night as he drove his black Twingo in the streets of France’s second biggest city.

It was the second gangland killing this month and the latest in a wave of deaths to hit Marseille Nord, one of the city’s toughest drug-infested suburbs, sparking Samia Ghali, the Socialist mayor of two local districts, to call for military intervention.

“Faced with the weapons of war being used by these networks, only the army can intervene,” Miss Ghali, also a senator, told local newspaper La Provence.

She said that the army should set up roadblocks around neighbourhoods to vet inhabitants for weapons and drugs “like in times of war”.

“It no longer makes any difference to send in a police car to stop the dealers. When 10 of them are arrested, 10 others take up the torch. It’s like fighting an anthill.”

Politicians from Left and Right widely rejected Miss Ghali’s call.

Speaking from Madrid, President Hollande said: “The army has no place in controlling the districts of the French Republic”, pointing out that gendarmes, who have a military status, are already present in many areas.

Manuel Valls, the interior minister, said: “It is out of the question for the army to respond to these tragedies and crimes. There is no internal enemy.”

But he promised a “comprehensive, in-depth and particularly strong” response to the shootings.

On Thursday, Marseille’s Right-wing mayor, Jean-Claude Gaudin, slammed Miss Ghali’s remarks as “irresponsible”, saying the city needed “police reinforcements, not a call to civil war”.

Police were also sceptical. David-Olivier Reverdy of the Alliance union said: “France is not at war. Each to their own profession. Rather give us the means to fight against underground (drug) trafficking.”

Marseille is renowned as a vibrant Meditteranean melting pot, with a beautiful old port. It will be the European capital of culture in 2013. But the city’s uphill battle against gangland killings and rising petty crime has been the bane of Left and Right-wing leaders.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy changed the city’s police chief three times in 18 months to tackle a series of violent murders, heists and robberies, including seven “home-jackings” of Olympique Marseille footballers in a year.

The second chief to go, Gilles Leclair was fired after declaring: “I cannot resolve all on my own the difficulties of a poor city which has for the past 50 years suffered from immigration and a tradition of gangsters.”

The Socialists cited Marseille as proof that Mr Sarkozy’s crime-fighting record was a “fiasco”, found itself accused by the Right yesterday of “laxism”.

In response, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would chair crisis talks with senior ministers next Thursday on tackling Marseille’s problems. The district where the killing took place will be one of 15 “priority zones” Mr Valls has pledged to set up around France to root out crime and violence.

Mr Gaudin said creating such a zone would be insufficient to control a situation that was “worsening every day”.

There have been more killings in the past eight months than for the whole of 2011, according to Marseille public prosecutor Jacques Dallest. He warned last year that parts of parts of Marseille were like “the favelas of Rio”.

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French Police Crush Caravans and Arrest 180 Illegal Immigrants as They Break Up Biggest Gypsy Camp Yet

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

French police today launched their biggest operation yet to smash up a Roma gypsy camp.

Around 500 officers moved on to a site at Saint-Priest, a suburb of the eastern city of Lyon, destroying makeshift huts and tents before rounding up residents including women and children.

Up to 180 gypsies viewed as illegal immigrants were arrested, with most now expected to be deported back to Romania.

It follows around 70 losing their temporary home in the Paris suburb of Evry on Monday, along with hundreds more in other major cities including Lille and Marseille earlier this month.

The so-called ‘evacuations’ are all part of a policy adopted by France’s new Socialist government to rid the country of migrant camps.

Today dozens of police vehicles moved on to the Saint-Priest site soon after dawn, prompting some of the Roma families to try and escape.

‘It’s the biggest Roma camp in the region,’ said a local human rights activist who asked to solely be identified by his first name of Jean-Philippe.

‘This is private property which has been served with a deportation order. The mayor of Saint-Priest wants it to be used for new buildings.’

Referring to ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative head of state who started the crackdown against the Roma gypsies, Jean-Philippe said: ‘What is happening now is worse than in the days of Sarkozy.’

Dozens of young children and newborn babies were among those being escorted of the site, as their parents were questioned by officers.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has linked Roma camps with crime, suggesting that many of the thieves and muggers operating in big cities are homeless Romanians.

Neighbours of the camps often complained about noise and anti-social behaviour, as well as serious crimes, said Mr Valls, who is known as the ‘Sarkozy of the Left’.

Humanitarian organisations have also linked the camps to ill health, including serious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010 in France, where up to 15,000 live.

In turn, Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War.

They said that the purge was all part of a generally racist strategy adopted by Mr Sarkozy against all foreign groups, including some six million Muslims living in France.

Romania has been a full member of the European Union since 2007, and its citizens can enter France without a visa.

But they must get residency permits if they want to settle long term and work.

Britain, like France, has transitional controls on Romanians seeking to settle in the UK.

Until next year only those Romanian migrants who have a job or can support themselves are allowed to stay in Britain.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has called for a European Council meeting to make decisions ‘at the European level’ on the Roma – many of whom also come from Bulgaria.

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French Youths Fire on Police in Overnight Clashes

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Youths fired buckshot at police in clashes in the French city of Amiens overnight on Tuesday, torching cars and a nursery school in a resurgence of urban unrest that President Francois Hollande said he would do everything to confront.

Hollande dispatched his Interior Minister Manuel Valls to the northern city, where two nights of violence were apparently sparked by tension over spot police checks on residents.

Officials said 16 police officers were hurt in the disturbances, some struck by buckshot others hit by a hail of missiles thrown by around 100 youths who gathered in northern districts of Amiens.

One officer was in a serious condition, the city’s Socialist Mayor Gilles Demailly told Reuters.

Speaking during a visit to southeastern France, Hollande said the state would “mobilise all its resources to combat this violence”, which has shaken depressed quarters of major French cities at regular intervals.

During a night of disturbances, rioters set fire to a number of vehicles, in some cases hauling the drivers out of their cars before burning them, mayor Demailly said.

Gutted buildings, including a nursery school, and burnt out cars were still smouldering early on Tuesday, though the streets were otherwise calm. No-one has been arrested so far.

Tensions remain high in many French suburbs, where poor job prospects, racial discrimination, a widespread sense of alienation from mainstream society and perceived hostile policing have periodically touched off violence.

The repeat bouts of violence have provoked agonized debate over the state of the grim housing estates that ring many French cities and the integration of millions of poor whites, blacks and North African immigrants into mainstream society.

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France Declares War on Illegal Migrants: Riot Police Smash Camps and Hundreds Rounded Up for Deportation as Socialists Take on Gipsies

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

French police were yesterday breaking up gipsy camps and deporting illegal immigrants found in them.

Dozens of officers in riot gear descended on a settlement near Lille shortly after dawn to oversee the evacuation of some 200 Roma living in mobile homes.

One hundred people were evicted from a site in Lyon, with similar round-ups happening in other major cities including Marseille. Caravans and huts were destroyed in the Belleville area of central Paris on Wednesday, making another 100 people homeless.

‘Many of those evicted will be flown home to Romania,’ said an interior ministry source, who insisted the deportations were aimed at ridding France of ‘illegal’ communities.

Greece has also begun a crackdown on immigrants, with Athens claiming the country faced an ‘invasion’.

The policy being pursued by France’s socialist government was formulated by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who was frequently accused of pandering to the far right.

His government linked Roma camps with crime, suggesting that many of the thieves and muggers operating in big cities were homeless Romanians.

Many expected the more liberal socialists to show a more relaxed attitude toward immigrants, especially those from European Union member states. But Manuel Valls, the new interior minister, said the camps were a ‘challenge’ to ‘people living together’.

He insisted the police would uphold all court orders aimed at dismantling them.

Neighbours of the camps often complained about noise and anti-social behaviour, as well as serious crimes, said Mr Valls.

Humanitarian organisations have also linked the camps to ill health, including serious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Mr Valls said everything would be done to ensure that vulnerable people, and particularly ‘children and pregnant women’, were rehoused as quickly as possible.

Mr Sarkozy started a purge on Romas in the summer of 2010, pointing to the fact that up to 15,000 were living in camps across France. Mr Sarkozy even proposed that police travel to Romania to fight trafficking and other crimes committed there by Roma.

In turn, Roma groups accused Mr Sarkozy of ‘ethnic cleansing’, pointing to the fact that gipsies had been targeted by the Nazis during the Second World War.

They said that the purge was all part of a generally racist strategy adopted by Mr Sarkozy against all foreign groups, including some six million Muslims living in France.

Romania has been a full member of the European Union since 2007, and its citizens can enter France without a visa.

But they must get residency permits if they want to settle long term and work.

Britain, like France, has transitional controls on Romanians seeking to settle in the UK.

Until next year only those Romanian migrants who have a job or can support themselves are allowed to stay in Britain.

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Tensions Flare in France over Veil Ban

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Though it was almost midnight, streets were full of Muslim families taking a stroll after breaking the Ramadan fast with a late dinner. As two policemen drove by a storefront recycled as the Grand Sunna Mosque, they noticed a woman wearing flowing black robes and a full-face veil.

The policemen alighted from their patrol car and challenged the woman on her veil, which has been illegal in France since April 2011. After an angry exchange, police said later, the woman shouted that she would not abide by the anti-veil law, and a youth told police they had no business patrolling the neighborhood and accosting its predominantly Muslim residents.

The confrontation quickly escalated into a shoving match, with several dozen young bystanders joining in and carloads of police reinforcements speeding up to lend a hand. Before long it erupted into what was described in the National Assembly in Paris as a riot, during which a female police officer was bitten on the arm and two of her male colleagues were bashed and bruised.

The sudden clash, which took place July 24 in Marseille, was the most serious instance of resistance to the veil ban during its 16 months of enforcement, according to police. Although it subsided almost as quickly as it flared, the outburst focused national attention on simmering resentment over the ban among France’s most militant and tradition-minded Muslims.

“For young militants, this ban upsets them,” said Nassera Benmarnia, who heads the local Muslim Family Union. “But most people just want to be left alone.”


France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population, is the only country with a national ban against full-face veils, usually called a niqab.

Belgium’s lower house of Parliament has passed similar anti-veil legislation, and the government hopes to get the law validated soon in the Senate. The Dutch government has said it also would seek to impose a ban next year. Meanwhile, some Belgian cities, including Brussels, the capital, have already enacted bans at the municipal level.

The French Interior Ministry said in April, on the ban’s first anniversary, that 354 women had been challenged by police for wearing full-face veils and 299 were given citations similar to traffic tickets.

Estimating the number of Muslims among France’s 65 million inhabitants is difficult because it is illegal to demand people to cite their religion or ethnic background. But the Interior Ministry, along with academic researchers, has put the number at more than 5 million. Some Muslim activists say the number is closer to 6 million because illegal immigrants, many of them North African Muslims, live below the radar.

In Marseille, the Muslim population is estimated at up to 25 percent of the city’s 800,000 residents.

After the violence in the Third District, police took in the veiled woman and three young men. But an on-call magistrate, noting that this was the Ramadan period of Muslim fasting and that an angry crowd was milling about outside, ordered the four released, promising they would be called back next month to face possible charges.

Infuriating police, the magistrate also ordered an internal investigation of accusations leveled by the youths that the police were unnecessarily aggressive. The investigation prompted particular outrage because Marseille police have been struggling for months to quash a bloody turf war among drug gangs that led to the killing of a policeman last winter with an assault rifle.

The three young men, he said, acknowledged they resisted arrest and presented their apologies. But the woman, a 19-year-old convert of European origin identified as Louise-Marie Suisse, refused to apologize and maintained her resistance to the veil ban, he added.

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France’s National Front Will Sue Madonna Over Nazi Imagery

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

France‘s far-right National Front party will be filing a lawsuit against Madonna after the singer used Nazi imagery in association with a picture of its leader at her Paris concert on Saturday night, the Guardian reports.

The image of Marine Le Pen with a swastika superimposed over her face is part of a video montage projected during the MDNA tour to accompany the song “Nobody Knows Me.” The montage also includes images of Chinese leader Hu Jintao, Pope Benedict XVI, Sarah Palin and (immediately following the photo of Le Pen) Adolf Hitler.

“We cannot accept this insulting connection,” said Florian Phillippot, the National Front’s vice president. “Marine Le Pen is defending her honour, but also that of party members and supporters and the millions of Front National voters.”

Madonna first introduced the video montage during the MDNA tour’s opening performance in Tel Aviv in May. Le Pen had responded at the time, saying “If she does that in France, we’ll be waiting for her.” The politician also added a note of derision: “It’s understandable when aging singers who need publicity go to such extremes. Her songs don’t work anymore.”

Madonna has continued using the montage throughout her 30-nation tour, including at last night’s performance at Paris’ Stade de France.

A spokesman for the Le Pen said that the party will be filing a lawsuit for public insult in the Paris courts some time in the next few days.

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France and Germany to lock up their borders

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Western European countries are preparing the ground for the revision of the Schengen border control and recovery. France and Germany are primarily interested in taking such measures aimed at ensuring the EU’s internal borders. The new French president Francois Hollande, as well as his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, is in favor of strengthening the fight against illegal migration. Enhancement of border controls, especially in the south of France, can significantly reduce the flow of migrants, the Ministry of Internal Affairs believes.

The German government also supports the retention of the right to restore borders in the EU. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich repeatedly spoke in favor of the partial revision of the Schengen Agreement. Without denying the importance of maintaining the Schengen area, Frederick, however, insists that the internal security of each country is a priority.

The German politician expressed particular concern over the problems of uncontrolled illegal immigration, which “is a direct threat to the stability and security of the entire Old World,” information portal Newsru.com quoted Hans-Peter Friedrich.

The debate around the issue of open borders has been ongoing for years. When Europe has supported democratic change in the Middle East and Africa, no one imagined that soon the “Arab spring” could ripple to the European continent. Refugees from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya flooded into Greece and Italy. Thanks to the Schengen area hundreds of migrants could later move to France, Austria and Germany.

Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the first to express his discontent by the transparency of the European borders. Then France unequivocally declared that it refused to respect the Schengen agreements if control over the external borders of the EU is not enhanced. In 2011, the French managed to get permission from the European Committee for inspection of trains from Italy to stop the flow of illegals.

European officials did not hide their frustration with the fact that the majority of African migrants penetrated the continent via Greece unable to control the border with Turkey. The Greeks, who were considered the main culprits of the crisis in the euro area, again had to make excuses and hurriedly strengthen measures against mass migration. In March of 2012 Europe once again was talking about the introduction of internal border controls.

Finally, on June 7 at the Council of Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, a decision was made that may influence the further development of the entire European Union. Henceforth, the government of the united Europe has the right to temporary reintroduce border controls for six months. Special approvals are no longer required. To restore the border it will be sufficient to inform the neighboring states of the decision. In addition, in emergency situation border closure is now permitted for two years, which would constitute a serious precedent for the entire European Union.

However, some countries in the united Europe have resorted to exceptional measures in matters relating to border security. The special position of the Schengen Agreement, which allows in exceptional cases up to 30 days to recover control of the borders was used several times: in 1995 after the terrorist attacks in Paris, in 2001 during a summit of the “G8” in Genoa where there were major clashes between the authorities and anti-globalists, and in 2009 during a NATO summit in the French city of Strasbourg, the French International Radio (RFI) reported referring to Figaro newspaper.

However, the current decision in Luxembourg led to an extremely negative reaction of the European Committee. These amendments to the Schengen agreement could undermine the foundations of the EU in its entirety, Brussels believes. Recently, European Commissioner for Internal Affairs Cecilia Malmström said that the move “undermines the achievements of the European integration.” “I am deeply disappointed by the lack of European ambitions of the participants of the meeting,” quoted Malmström Newsru.com.

It is not clear how far the Europeans are ready to go to tighten the measures against mass migration from Africa and the Middle East. However, initial steps have already been taken.

Another question is how the new strategy in Germany, France and Italy will reflect on the state of affairs in the European Union that is going through hard times. Today, diplomats, analysts and chief executives are talking about the failure of multiculturalism policy increasingly more. However, the debate about the degree of openness of European borders is not finished yet. In this regard it is worth noting that the present decision of the heads of the EU Interior Ministry announced on June 7 could not be considered definitive. Now, the amendment to the Schengen Agreement that has already caused a backlash of MPs must be approved in the EU institutions.

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Rachida Dati, Immigrant’s Daughter, Battles to Help Nicolas Sarkozy Win Back Far-Right Supporters

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Rachida Dati seems an unlikely figure to be wooing supporters of France’s far right Front National party.

Needs must, however, and the daughter of a North African bricklayer who clawed her way to the top of the establishment ladder, before falling out of favour with President Nicolas Sarkozy, is now a key figure in his desperate battle to salvage his political career.

Rachida Dati

In his hour of need, Mr Sarkozy is rallying the troops to win over the 6.4 million French electors who voted for Marine Le Pen in the first round of the presidential election a week ago.

In response to being returned to the fold as one of the president’s cheerleaders, Miss Dati has launched a spirited defence of what critics have called a “moral fault” by the current president, accusing him of veering dangerously into FN territory to save his skin.

“You cannot say that these people, 18 per cent of the electorate, are racists and xenophobic. It’s not true,” Miss Dati told The Sunday Telegraph in an exclusive interview.

“I have met and talked to FN voters and they are exasperated and afraid that the socialists will come to power. They are worried about Europe being a colander in terms of immigration, they are worried about companies moving elsewhere, they are worried about jobs and the cost of living, and security.

“It’s for us to say to the FN voters, ‘We have heard your preoccupations’, to say to them that while the FN may have raised some good questions, it has proposed no solutions except rejecting others, creating scapegoats and the politics of hatred.”

This, she maintained, is what Mr Sarkozy has done since Sunday’s first round vote, in which the president received fewer votes than Francois Hollande, his Socialist Party rival, partly because of the unexpectedly strong showing by Miss Le Pen.

“Nicolas Sarkozy has said he understands why people voted for the FN,” she said. “He is not in agreement with the FN and he does not hold the ideology of the FN, but he has to speak for the whole of France including those who voted FN.”

Elaborating on the her own position as an immigrant’s daughter she added: “I firmly believe immigration is a benefit, I believe in diversity, in the mix of cultures, but we hope that in welcoming fewer we can better welcome them, we can have a real policy of integration.

“The ideology of the extreme Right, with its rejection of others, its xenophobia is certainly not mine. I mean, how could it be?”

Not so long ago Mr Sarkozy had little good to say about Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far right Front National party.

After Sunday’s vote, however, he was more conciliatory. He said he understood those who had voted for Miss Le Pen, describing them as “people who were suffering”. He said he had heard the message and would “listen”.

In less than 24 hours, immigration became a central theme of the election, with Mr Sarkozy stressing pledges to throw up the frontiers around France to keep out unwelcome immigrants and to severely restrict the number of foreigners allowed into the country.

At a rally last week, he made several references to France’s “Christian roots”, an emollient to Miss Le Pen’s claims that the country is suffering “creeping Islamisation”.

Mr Sarkozy told flag-waving supporters: “France has Christian roots whether you like that or not. To contest those Christian roots is to understand nothing of the history of France. The history of the country was built around the kings and church. That doesn’t make me a royalist or a Christian democrat. These are not right-wing ideas, they are common sense.”

Last weekend’s result puts Miss Le Pen in a delicate position. It is in her party’s interest for Mr Sarkozy to lose the election and for the French Right to implode, leaving the FN to take up the baton of opposition, but she cannot be seen to be supporting Mr Hollande. Nicolas Bay, one of her political advisors told Le Figaro: “Marine doesn’t want to be caught with the knife in her hand”.

Supporters will be waiting for what she has to say in an expected speech on May Day when the FN traditionally rallies around the statue of Joan of Arc in Paris—as will Mr Sarkozy himself.

Critics of his attempts to woo the extreme Right, however, have likened the president’s response to that of France’s wartime collaborationist leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain. Le Monde newspaper said the president had committed a “political and moral fault”.

The right of centre Le Figaro headline was unapologetic. “Nicolas Sarkozy out to reconquer the FN electorate”, it declared.

Miss Dati denies the president has veered wildly to the right or crossed any invisible moral or political line.

“Since the Arab Spring when we saw a huge wave of migrants arrive off the coast of Italy and when France temporarily closed her borders, Nicolas Sarkozy has said we have to re-establish the borders in Europe. This is not new.

“We are not suggesting France becomes an island or isolated, we are talking about a Europe that is protective not protectionist. We are not saying expel immigrants, we are saying we have to stop them coming. The only people who profit from this wave of human misery are the traffickers and mafia.”

Not so long ago, the president had little good to say about Miss Dati, either. She had been Mr Sarkozy’s high profile election campaign spokeswoman in 2007, for which she was rewarded with a cabinet post, but she was ousted in 2009 and sent off to Brussels and Strasbourg as a Euro MP, seen in political circles as the equivalent of being sent into exile.

Wagging tongues said the fall out had been so spectacular that Mr Sarkozy could no longer stand the sight of her, and the Elysée accused her of spreading false rumours about the state of the president’s marriage to Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, the super-model turned singer, an accusation she vehemently denied.

More recently, however, the president said he regretted “not protecting her more”.

“I believed in her. She has talent,” he told French journalists, paving the way for Miss Dati’s spectacular public return at a presidential campaign rally in the northern French town of Lille.

Bruno Jeudi, editor of Le Journal du Dimanche, said that by bringing Miss Dati back into the bosom of his campaign, Mr Sarkozy was probably trying to regain “some of the magic of 2007”.

Others claimed the former minister, who has been the elected mayor of Paris’ 7th arondissement since 2008, has long term political ambitions, was considered safer inside the party than operating as a loose canon outside.

In her mayoral office in the chic 7th arrondissement of Paris, Miss Dati, 46, insisted that despite being previously estranged from Mr Sarkozy, she had always supported him.

“We had a time of difficult relations, but we cannot put the occasional anger before the general interest of France. I have always supported Nicolas Sarkozy’s action and conviction and I am at his side,” she said.

Saint-Remy in the Saône et Loire, the suburb of Chalon in east central France, where Miss Dati grew up on of 12 children of illiterate north African immigrés may have given Mr Sarkozy’s socialist challenger a huge majority in the first round vote (31.4 per cent), but she is convinced a socialist president would be a disaster for France. In her blog on the Huffington Post website she called for what she described as a “patriotic vote”.

“The socialists don’t understand the world has changed. They would take us back 60 years,” she said.

She added: “Nicolas Sarkozy has revived the values of the republican Right. For a long time in France we were ashamed to say we were right. Nicolas Sarkozy has re-established the right to be of the Right, to be of the party that prefers working to benefits, order to disorder, security to laxity.

“I have always said that Nicolas Sarkozy symbolises the French version of the American dream. He came from foreign roots and worked his way up all stages of the political party. He was never an apparatchik, he worked and had a job. “

Asked about the irony of an immigrant’s daughter appealing to the FN and supporting tight controls on immigration, Miss Dati’s riposte was short and sharp.

“Firstly, my father had a job when he arrived and wasn’t an illegal immigrant. Secondly there wasn’t the level of unemployment there is now.”

On the mantelpiece of Miss Dati’s office is a framed cartoon of her pulling on an oversize pair of boxing gloves. The caption reads: “My friend Karl made them to measure for me.” Karl is the designer Karl Lagerfeld, creative director at the haute couture house Chanel.

During her time in government, Rachida Dati was ferociously criticised for her expensive wardrobe after posing for the cover of Paris Match in a €1,850 Dior dress and turning up for work at the interior ministry in a €3,800 Chanel jacket.

“Are people saying I shouldn’t wear nice clothes, have my hair done, wear make-up, be feminine? I have always considered femininity to be part of my identity. When you represent the institutions and dignity of your country, you don’t dress in a sack,” she told The Sunday Telegraphlast year.

The images, however, contributed to Mr Sarkozy’s “bling bling” reputation and accusations that he was “President of the Rich”, criticism that still haunts him to this day. Asked why she thinks he never shook off the damaging perception, Miss Dati bristled.

“Is wealth taboo? Is he not allowed to be friends with the rich, people who have worked hard for their money, paid their taxes to get where they are. This ‘President of the Rich’ is a caricature invented by the media and the left, who have nothing better to offer than insults.”

In Lille, Miss Dati told the crowd that she was living proof of Mr Sarkozy’s “Strong France . . .  where everything is possible whatever your social position or origins”.

Afterwards the criticism of her wardrobe and accusations of “bling” resurfaced; she was furious that commentators were more interested in the bright red suede stiletto-heeled Christian Louboutin boots she was wearing.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph last autumn, Miss Dati, was asked if she had presidential ambitions. She admitted: “Why not, if I can do something for my country?

“France is ready for a woman president, but the French political class is not. Still, if someone had said a few years ago that someone from a poor, immigrant family, and a woman too, would become justice minister, everyone would have said ‘impossible’.”

Today, Miss Dati may need those cartoon boxing gloves. She is squaring up for round one in her political battle: a fight with prime minister François Fillon for the right to stand in a Paris constituency. But, sitting in her large leather mayoral chair, she does not want to talk about that.

“Let’s win this election first,” she says.

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Enlightenment Thought

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

 In culture, the aftermath of the scientific revolution spilled over into

a new movement known as the Enlightenment, centered particularly in France but

with adherents throughout the Western world. Enlightenment thinkers continued

to support scientific advance. While there were no Newton-like breakthroughs,

chemists gained new understanding of major elements and biologists developed a

vital new classification system for the natural species.


     The Enlightenment also pioneered in applying scientific methods to the

study of human society, sketching the modern social sciences. The basic idea

here was that rational laws could describe social as well as physical

behavior, and that knowledge could be used to improve policy. Thus

criminologists wrote about how brutal punishments failed to deter crime,

whereas a decent society would be able to rehabilitate criminals through

education. Political theorists wrote about the importance of carefully planned

constitutions and controls over privilege, though they disagreed about what

political form was best. A new school of economists developed. The Scottish

philosopher Adam Smith set forth a number of invariable principles of economic

behavior, based on the belief that people act according to their self-interest

but, through competition, work to promote general economic advance. Government

should avoid regulation in favor of the operation of individual initiative and

market forces. Here was an important specific statement of economic policy and

an illustration of the growing belief that general models of human behavior

could be derived from rational thought.


     More generally still, the Enlightenment produced a set of basic

principles about human affairs. Human beings are naturally good and can be

educated to be better. Reason was the key to truth, and religions that relied

on blind faith or refused to tolerate diversity were wrong. Enlightenment

thinkers attacked the Catholic church with particular vigor. Progress was

possible, even inevitable, if people could be set free. Society’s goals should

center on improvements in material and social life.


     Enlightenment thinkers showed great interest in technological change, for

greater prosperity was a valid and achievable goal. Coercion and cruelty could

be corrected, for the Enlightenment encouraged a humanitarian outlook that was

applied in condemnations of slavery and war.


     Though not typical of the Enlightenment’s main thrust, a few thinkers

applied the general principles to other areas. A handful of socialists argued

that economic equality and the abolition of private property must become

important goals. A few feminist thinkers, such as Mary Wollstonecraft in

England, argued that new political rights and freedoms should extend to women,

against the general male-centered views of most Enlightenment thinkers.


     The Enlightenment, summing up and extending earlier intellectual changes,

became an important force for political and social reform. It did not rule

unchallenged. Important popular religious movements, such as Methodism in

England, showed the continued power of spiritual faith. Many writers,

particularly those experimenting with the novel as a new literary form in the

West, rebelled against Enlightenment rationality to urge the importance of

sentimentality and emotion. These approaches, too, encouraged rethinking of

traditional styles.


     The popularization of new ideas encouraged further changes in the habits

and beliefs of many ordinary people. Reading clubs and coffeehouses allowed

many urban artisans and businessmen to discuss the latest reform ideas.

Leading writers and compilations of scientific and philosophical findings,

such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, won a wide audience and, in a few cases,

a substantial fortune due to the sale of books. Groups and individuals formed

to promote better agricultural or industrial methods, or bent on winning new

political rights, referred directly to Enlightenment thinking. Some groups of

artisans and peasants also turned against established churches and even

withdrew from religious belief, as secular values gained ground.


     Other changes in popular outlook paralleled the new intellectual

currents, though they had deeper sources than philosophy alone. Attitudes

toward children began to shift in many social groups. Older methods of

physical discipline were criticized, in favor of more restrained behavior that

would respect the goodness and innocence of children. Swaddling began to

decline, as parents were interested in freer movement and greater interaction

for young children; no longer were infants tightly wrapped during their first

months. Among wealthy families, educational toys and books for children

reflected the idea that childhood should be a stage for learning and growth.

At the most basic level, parents became increasingly likely to give young

children names at birth and to select names different from those of older

relatives – a sign of a new affection for children and new belief in their

individuality. These changes were gradual, and they involved more adult

control of children as well as a more humane outlook. The idea of shaping

children and instilling guilt-stimulated consciences gained ground.

Unquestionably, the net effect was to alter parent-child relations and also to

produce novel personality ideals for adults themselves.


     Family life generally was altered by a growing sense that old hierarchies

needed to be rethought, toward somewhat greater equality in the treatment of

women and children within the home. Love among family members gained new

respect, and an emotional bond in marriage became more widely sought. Parents,

for example, grew more reluctant to force a match on a son or daughter if the

emotional vibrations were not right. Here was a link not only with

Enlightenment ideas of proper family relations but with the novels that poured

out a sentimental view of life.


     Ongoing economic change, finally, paralleled the ferment in popular

culture and intellectual life. Commerce continued its spread. Ordinary

Westerners began to buy processed products, such as refined sugar and coffee

or tea obtained from Indonesia and the West Indies, for daily use. Here was a

sign of the growing importance of Europe’s new colonies for ordinary life and

of the beginnings of mass consumerism in Western society. Another sign of

change was the growing use of paid, professional entertainment as part of

popular leisure even in rural festivals. Not accidentally, circuses, first

introduced in France in the 1670s, began to redefine leisure to include

spectatorship and a taste for the bizarre.


     Agriculture began to change. Until the later 17th century Western Europe

had continued to rely largely on the methods and techniques characteristic of

the Middle Ages – a severe economic constraint in a still agricultural

society. Now, first in the Netherlands and then elsewhere, new procedures for

draining swamps added available land. Nitrogen-fixing crops were introduced to

reduce the need to leave land fallow. Stockbreeding improved, and new

techniques like seed-drills or simply the use of scythes instead of sickles

for harvesting heightened productivity. Some changes spread particularly fast

on large estates, which was one reason that in England more and more land was

enclosed, with ordinary farmers serving as tenants or laborers rather than

owners. Other changes affected ordinary peasants as well. Particularly vital

in this category was the spread of the potato from the late 17th century

onward. A New World crop, the potato had long been shunned because it was not

mentioned in the Bible and was held to be the cause of plagues. Enlightened

government leaders and peasant desire to win greater economic security and

better nutrition led to widespread adoption of this efficient crop. The West,

in sum, improved its food supply and also its agricultural efficiency, leaving

more labor available for other pursuits.


     These changes, along with the steady growth of colonial trade and

internal commerce, spurred increased manufacturing. The 18th century witnessed

a rapid spread of household production of textiles and metal products, mostly

by rural workers who alternated manufacturing with some agriculture. Hundreds

of thousands of people were drawn into this domestic system in which

capitalist merchants distributed supplies and orders and workers ran the

production process for pay. While manufacturing tools were still hand

operated, the spread of domestic manufacturing spurred important technical

innovations designed to improve efficiency. In 1733 James Kay in England

introduced the flying shuttle, which permitted automatic crossing of threads

on looms; with this, an individual weaver could do the work of two.

Improvements in spinning soon followed, as the Western economy began to

escalate toward a full-fledged Industrial Revolution.


     Finally, agricultural changes, commercialism, and manufacturing combined,

particularly after about 1730, to produce a rapidly growing population in the

West. With better food supplies, more people survived – the potato was a

crucial ingredient here. More commercial motives helped prompt landlords and

some ambitious peasants to acquire more land and to push unneeded labor off,

heightening proletarianization but also reducing the restraints some parents

could impose over the sexual behavior of their children: In essence, as some

groups grew unsure of inheritance, they sought more immediate pleasures and

also hoped to use the labor of the resultant children. Finally, new

manufacturing jobs helped landless people support themselves, promoting in

some cases earlier marriage and sexual liaisons. Growing population, in turn,

promoted further economic change, heightening competition and producing a more

manipulable labor force. The West’s great population revolution, which would

continue into the 19th century, both caused and reflected the civilization’s

dynamism, though it also produced great strain and confusion.


     Western society was still essentially agricultural by the mid-18th

century. Decisive new political forms had yet to be introduced, and in many

ways government policies failed to keep pace with cultural and economic change

after 1700. Established churches were forces to be reckoned with still. Even

new developments, such as the spread of domestic manufacturing, functioned

because they allowed so many traditional habits to persist. Thus while new

market relationships described this growing system, the location and many of

the methods of work as well as the association of family with production were

not altered. Western society hovered between older values and institutions and

the full flowering of change. Decades of outright political and economic

revolution, which would build on these tensions and cause a fuller

transformation, were yet to come.




     The Enlightenment brought a new vision of the future, which forecast the

end of absolute monarchy. Philosophers of the Enlightenment thought they had

discovered a simple formula for perpetual human happiness. They sought to

deliver individuals from restraints so that they could act freely in

accordance with their natures. On the one hand, the formula promised that

pursuit of self-interest would benefit society; on the other, it promised that

a free human reason would produce sound moral judgments. In other words,

individual freedom permitted the operation of natural laws. Believing they had

learned these laws, eighteenth-century rationalists thought they had found the

secret of never-ending progress.


     Rational philosophy undermined absolutism in all of its phases. Deism

questioned the necessity of state churches and clergies. The physiocrats, Adam

Smith, and other early economic liberals demonstrated the futility of

mercantilism. Political theory in the Enlightenment substituted the social

contract for divine right and emphasized natural human rights of political

freedom and justice. Each of these ideas denied the absolute authority of



     Respect for rational philosophy was largely derived from the successes

and popularity of science. The surprising discoveries of astronomers produced

a new view of the individual’s place in the universe; in his law of

gravitation, Newton supplied mathematical evidence for their perspective. His

laws, along with the other laws of science, suggested that human reason

operated effectively only when it was interpreting sensory experience.

Material reality was accepted as the only reality. Therefore, the natural laws

affecting human society were also considered as basically materialistic.


     Toward the end of the eighteenth century, a reaction against reason

countered this materialism without affecting the fundamental objectives of the

Enlightenment. Idealistic philosophy and pietism both challenged the

scientific view of the individual, emphasizing that intuition and faith are

human qualities as essential as reason. These new movements merged with the

humane concerns of rational philosophy to produce a new humanitarianism, which

accented both reason and sentimentality but also continued the

eighteenth-century concern for human freedom. Together with the rationalism of

the Enlightenment, the reaction against reason before 1800 also challenged

absolutism’s domination of the human body, mind, and spirit.

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Italy’s entry into the war and the French Armistice

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

 had been unprepared for war when Hitler attacked Poland, but if the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, was to reap any positive advantages from partnership with Hitler it seemed that Italy would have to abandon its nonbelligerent stance before the western democracies had been defeated by Germany single handed. The obvious collapse of France convinced Mussolini that the time to implement his Pact of Steel with Hitler had come, and on June 10, 1940, Italy declared war against France and Great Britain. With about 30 divisions available on their Alpine frontier, the Italians delayed their actual attack on southeastern France until June 20, but it achieved little against the local defense. In any case, the issue in France had already been virtually settled by the victory of Italy’s German ally.

Meanwhile, Reynaud had left Paris for Cangé, near Tours; and Weygand, after speaking frankly and despondently to Churchill at the Allied military headquarters at Briare on June 11, told Reynaud and the other ministers at Cangé on June 12 that the battle for France was lost and that a cessation of hostilities was compulsory. There was little doubt that he was correct in this estimate of the military situation: the French armies were now splitting up into fragments. Reynaud’s government was divided between the advocates of capitulation and those who, with Reynaud, wanted to continue the war from French North Africa. The only decision that it could make was to move itself from Tours to Bordeaux.

The Germans entered Paris on June 14, 1940, and were driving still deeper southward along both the western and eastern edges of France. Two days later they were in the Rhône Valley. Meanwhile, Weygand was still pressing for an armistice, backed by all the principal commanders. Reynaud resigned office on June 16, whereupon a new government was formed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, the revered and aged hero of the Battle of Verdun in World War I. In the night of June 16 the French request for an armistice was transmitted to Hitler. While discussion of the terms went on, the German advance went on too. Finally, on June 22, 1940, at Rethondes, the scene of the signing of the Armistice of 1918, the newFranco-German Armistice was signed. The Franco-Italian Armistice was signed on June 24. Both armistices came into effect early on June 25.

The Armistice of June 22 divided France into two zones, one to be under German military occupation, one to be left to the French in full sovereignty. The occupied zone comprised all northern France from the northwestern frontier of Switzerland to the Channel and from the Belgian and German frontiers to the Atlantic, together with a strip extending from the lower Loire southward along the Atlantic coast to the western end of the Pyrenees; the unoccupied zone comprised only two-fifths of France’s territory, the southeast. The French Navy and Air Force were to be neutralized, but it was not required that they be handed over to the Germans. The Italians granted very generous terms to the French: the only French territory that they claimed to occupy was the small frontier tract that their forces had succeeded in overrunning since June 20. Meanwhile, from June 18, General Charles de Gaulle, whom Reynaud had sent on a military mission to London on June 5, was broadcasting appeals for the continuance of France’s war.

The collapse of France in June 1940 posed a severe naval problem to the British, because the powerful French Navy still existed: strategically, it was of immense importance to the British that these French ships not fall into German hands, since they would have tilted the balance of sea power decidedly in favour of the Axis–the Italian Navy being now also at war with Britain. Mistrustful of promises that the French ships would be used only for “supervision and minesweeping,” the British decided to immobilize them. Thus, on July 3, 1940, the British seized all French ships in British-controlled ports, encountering only nominal resistance. But when British ships appeared off Mers el-Kébir, near Oran on the Algerian coast, and demanded that the ships of the important French naval force there either join the Allies or sail out to sea, the French refused to submit, and the British eventually opened fire, damaging the battleship Dunkerque, destroying the Bretagne, and disabling several other vessels. Thereupon, Pétain’s government, which on July 1 had installed itself at Vichy, on July 4 severed diplomatic relations with the British. In the eight following days, the constitution of France’s Third Republic was abolished and a newFrench state created, under the supreme authority of Pétain himself. The few French colonies that rallied to General de Gaulle’s Free French movement were strategically unimportant.

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The invasion of the Low Countries and France

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

France’s 800,000-man standing army was thought at the time to be the most powerful in Europe. But the French had not progressed beyond the defensive mentality inherited from World War I, and they relied primarily on their Maginot Line for protection against a German offensive. The Maginot Line was an extremely well-developed chain of fortifications running from the Swiss frontier opposite Basel northward along the left bank of the Rhine and then northwestward no farther than Montmédy, near the Belgian frontier south of the Ardennes Forest. The line consisted of a series of giant pillboxes and other defensive installations constructed in depth, equipped with underground supply and communications facilities, and connected by rail lines, with all its heavy guns pointed east at the German frontier. Depending heavily on the line as a defense against German attack, the French had 41 divisions manning it or backing it, whereas only 39 divisions were watching the long stretch of frontier north of it, from Montmédy through the Ardennes and across Flanders to the English Channel.

In their plan for the invasion of France and the Low Countries, the Germans kept General Wilhelm von Leeb‘s Army Group C facing the Maginot Line so as to deter the French from diverting forces from it, while launching Bock’s Army Group B into the basin of the Lower Maas River north of Liège and Rundstedt’s Army Group A into the Ardennes. Army Group B comprised Küchler’s 18th Army, with one armoured division and airborne support, to attack The Netherlands, and Reichenau’s 6th, with two armoured divisions, to advance over the Belgian plain. These two armies would have to deal not only with the Dutch and Belgian armies but also with the forces that the Allies, according to their plan, would send into the Low Countries, namely two French armies and nine British divisions. Rundstedt’s Army Group A, however, was much stronger, comprising as it did Kluge’s 4th Army, List’s 12th, and General Ernst Busch’s 16th, with General Maximilian von Weichs’s 2nd in reserve, besides a large armoured group under Kleist and a smaller one under General Hermann Hoth, and amounting in all to 44 divisions, seven of them armoured, with 27 divisions in reserve. Army Group A thus amounted to more than 1,500,000 men and more than 1,500 tanks, and it would strike at the weak hinge of the Allies’ wheel into Belgium–that is to say, at two French armies, General Charles Huntziger’s 2nd and General André Corap‘s 9th, which together mustered only 12 infantry and four horsed cavalry divisions and stood, respectively, east and west of Sedan on the least-fortified stretch of the French frontier. Against this weak centre of the Allied line were thus massed nearly two-thirds of Germany’s forces in the west and nearly three-quarters of its tank forces.

The Dutch Army comprised 10 divisions and the equivalent of 10 more in smaller formations, and thus totaled more than 400,000 men. It apparently had a good chance of withstanding the German invasion, since the attacking German army comprised only seven divisions, apart from the airborne forces it would use. The Dutch, however, had a wide front, a very sensitive and loosely settled rear, very few tanks, and no experience of modern warfare. On May 10, the German attack on The Netherlands began with the capture by parachutists of the bridges at Moerdijk, at Dordrecht, and at Rotterdam and with landings on the airfields around The Hague. On the same day, the weakly held Peel Line, south of the westward-turning arc of the Maas, was penetrated by the German land forces; and on May 11 the Dutch defenders fell back westward past Tilburg to Breda, with the consequence that the French 7th Army, under General Henri Giraud, whose leading forces had sped forward across Belgium over the 140 miles to Tilburg, fell back to Breda likewise. The German tanks thus had a clear road to Moerdijk, and by noon on May 12 they were in the outskirts of Rotterdam. North of the Maas, meanwhile, where the bulk of the Dutch defense was concentrated, the Germans achieved a narrow breach of the Geld Valley line on May 12, whereupon the Dutch, unable to counterattack, retreated to the “Fortress of Holland” Line protecting Utrecht and Amsterdam. Queen Wilhelmina and her government left the country for England on May 13; and the next day the Dutch commander in chief, General Henri Gerard Winkelman, surrendered to the Germans, who had threatened to bomb Rotterdam and Utrecht, as places in the front line of the fighting, if resistance continued. In fact, Rotterdam was bombed, after the capitulation, by 30 planes through a mistake in the Germans’ signal communications.

The news of the German onslaught in the Low Countries, dismaying as it was to the Allies, had one effect that was to be of momentous importance to their fortunes: Chamberlain, whose halfhearted conduct of the war had been bitterly criticized in the House of Commons during the debate of May 7-8 on the campaign in Norway, resigned office in the evening of May 10 and was succeeded as prime minister by Churchill, who formed a coalition government.

For the first phase of the invasion of the Belgian plain north of Liège, Reichenau had four army corps, one armoured corps, and only 500 airborne troops; but he also had massive cooperation from the German Luftwaffe, whose dive bombers and fighters played a major role in breaking down the Belgian defenses. West of the Maastricht “appendix” of indefensible Dutch territory separating Belgium from Germany, the fortress of Eben Emael, immediately opposite Maastricht, and the line of the Albert Canal constituted the Belgians’ foremost defensive position. On May 10 German airborne troops landed in gliders on the top of the fortress and on bridges over the canal. On May 11 the Belgian front was broken, the German tanks running on westward and some of the infantry turning southward to take Liège from the rear, while the Belgians made a general retreat to the Antwerp-Namur, or Dyle, Line. French and British divisions had just arrived on this Dyle Line, and General René Prioux’s two tank divisions went out from it to challenge the German advance. After a big battle on May 14, however, Prioux’s tanks had to retire to the consolidated Dyle Line; and on May 15, notwithstanding a successful defense against a German attack, Gamelin ordered the abandonment of the position, because events farther to the south had made it strategically untenable.

The chances for success of the German offensive against France hinged on a German advance through the hilly and dense Ardennes Forest, which the French considered to be impassable to tanks. But the Germans did succeed in moving their tank columns through that difficult belt of country by means of an amazing feat of staff work. While the armoured divisions used such roads through the forest as were available, infantry divisions started alongside them by using field and woodland paths and marched so fast across country that the leading ones reached the Meuse River only a day after the armoured divisions had.

The decisive operations in France were those of Rundstedt’s Army Group A. Kleist’s tanks on May 10 took only three hours to cover the 30 miles from the eastern border of independent Luxembourg to the southeastern border of Belgium; and on May 11 the French cavalry divisions that had ridden forward into the Ardennes to oppose them were thrown back over the Semois River. By the evening of May 12 the Germans were across the Franco-Belgian frontier and overlooking the Meuse River. The defenses of this sector were rudimentary, and it was the least-fortified stretch of the whole French front. Worse still, the defending French 2nd and 9th armies had hardly any antitank guns or antiaircraft artillery with which to slow down the German armoured columns and shoot down their dive bombers. Such was the folly of the French belief that a German armoured thrust through the Ardennes was unlikely.

On May 13 Kleist’s forces achieved a threefold crossing of the Meuse River. At Sedan wave after wave of German dive bombers swooped on the French defenders of the south bank. The latter could not stand the nerve-racking strain, and the German troops were able to push across the river in rubber boats and on rafts. The tremendous air bombardment was the decisive factor in the crossings. A thousand aircraft supported Kleist’s forces, while only a few French aircraft intervened in a gallant but hopeless effort to aid their troops on the ground. Next day, after the tanks had been brought across, Guderian widened the Sedan bridgehead and beat off French counterattacks. On May 15 he broke through the French defenses into open country, turning westward in the direction of the English Channel. On May 16 his forces swept on west for nearly 50 miles. His superiors tried to put on the brake, feeling that such rapid progress was hazardous, but the pace of the German drive upset the French far more, and their collapse spread as Reinhardt’s corps joined in the pressure. When more German tanks crossed the Meuse between Givet and Namur, the breach of the French front was 60 miles wide.

Driving westward down the empty corridor between the Sambre and the Aisne rivers, Guderian’s tanks crossed the Oise River on May 17 and reached Amiens two days later. Giraud, who on May 15 had superseded Corap in command of the French 9th Army, was thus frustrated in his desperate plan of checking the Germans on the Oise; and Kleist, meanwhile, by lining the Aisne progressively with tanks until the infantry came up to relieve them, was protecting the southwestern flank of the advance against the danger of a counteroffensive from the south. Indeed, when the Germans, on May 15, were reported to be crossing the Aisne River between Rethel and Laon, Gamelin told Reynaud that he had no reserves in that sector and that Paris might fall within two days’ time. Thereupon Reynaud, though he postponed his immediate decision to move the government to Tours, summoned General Maxime Weygand from Syria to take Gamelin’s place as commander in chief; but Weygand did not arrive until May 19.

Guderian’s tanks were at Abbeville on May 20, and on May 22 he turned northward to threaten Calais and Dunkirk, while Reinhardt, swinging south of the British rear at Arras, headed for the same objectives, the remaining ports by which the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) could be evacuated.

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The story of the Celts

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

The story of the Celts begins in prehistory, the time before written records were kept. Originating in what is now Eastern Europe, the Celts appear to have moved west along the main trading routes of that time, especially the river Danube, into modern Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France.
By the beginning of the classical period (about 500 BCE), they were a large group of tribes and races spread over a wide area of Europe, from Scotland and Ireland in the north-west to Russia in the east, and to the Mediterreanean in the south. The earliest archaeological evidence associated with the Celts places them in what is now France and western Germany in the late Bronze Age, around 1200BCE. In the early Iron Age, they are associated with the Hallstatt culture (8th to 6th century BCE), named for an archaeological site in what is now Oberösterreich (Upper Austria).

By the time the existence of the Celts was recorded by the Greek writer Ephorus in the fourth century BCE, they were so numerous that he named them as one of the four great barbarian peoples in the world. The other three were the Libians in Africa, the Persians in the East and the Scythes who lived in Europe as well.
In the 4th century BCE, the Celts invaded the Greco-Roman world, conquering northern Italy, Macedonia, and Thessaly. They sacked Delphi in 279, plundered Rome in 390, and penetrated Asia Minor, where they were known asGalatians. The “Cisalpine Gauls” of northern Italy were conquered by the Romans in the 2nd century BCE; Transalpine Gaul (modern France and the Rhineland) was subdued by Julius Caesar in the 1st century BCE, and most of Britain came under Roman rule in the 1st century CE. In the same period, the Celts of central Europe were dominated by the Germanic peoples. They probably began to settle in the British Isles during this period. Between the 5th and 1st centuries BCE, their influence extended from what is now Spain to the shores of the Black Sea. This later Iron Age phase is called La Tène, after a site in Switzerland.

The unity of the Celts was not that of a nation or empire in the Greek or Roman sense, but was more cultural in nature, with no clear central authority. Celtic tribes dominated a huge area, and had their own individual identities, but they shared many common roots including similarities in language, religion, and lifestyle. They probably called themselves something similar to Celts, from which the Greeks got their word for ‘stranger’ – keltoi: the name given to these people by Herodotus and other Greek writers. To the Romans, the Continental Celts were known as Galli, or Gauls; those in the British Isles were called Britanni.
In medieval and modern times the Celtic tradition and languages survived in Brittany (western France), Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and Ireland.

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Monday, April 2nd, 2012

If I may state my views on those general questions that are of actual importance today, the most effective way of doing so will be to refer to the statements that were recently made by Mr. Eden in the British House of Commons. For those statements also imply the essentials of what must be said regarding Germany‘s relations with France. At this point I should like to express my sincere thanks for the opportunity which has been given me by the outspoken and noteworthy declarations made by the British Foreign Secretary.

I think I have read those statements carefully and have understood them correctly. Of course, I do not want to get lost among the details, and so I should like to single out the leading points in Mr. Eden’s speech, so as to clarify or answer them from my side.

In doing this, I shall first try to correct what seems to me to be a most regrettable error. This error lay in assuming that somehow or other Germany wishes to isolate herself and to allow the events which happen in the rest of the world to pass by without participating in them, or that she does not wish to take any account whatsoever of the general necessities of the time.

What are the grounds for the assumption that Germany wants to pursue a policy of isolation? If this assumption in regard to German isolation be a conclusion which must necessarily be drawn from what are presumed to be Germany’s intentions, then let me say the following: —

I do not believe at all that a State could ever mean to declare itself intentionally disinterested in the political events taking place throughout the rest of the world, especially when this world is so small as Europe is at the present day. I think that if a State should really find it necessary to take refuge in such an attitude, then the most than [sic] can be said is that it has been forced to do so under the coercion of a foreign will imposed upon it. Now, in the first place, I should like to assure Mr. Eden that we Germans do not in the least want to be isolated and that we do not at all feel ourselves isolated.

During recent years Germany has entered into quite a number of political agreements with other States. She has resumed former agreements and improved them. And I may say that she has established close friendly relations with a number of States. Our relations with most of the European States are normal from our standpoint and we are on terms of close friendship with quite a number. Among all those diplomatic connections I would give a special place in the foreground to those excellent relations which we have with those States that were liberated from sufferings similar to those we had to endure and have consequently arrived at similar decisions.

Through a number of treaties which we have made, we have relieved many strained relations and thereby made a substantial contribution towards an improvement in European conditions. I need remind you only of our agreement with Poland, which has turned out advantageous for both countries, our agreement with Austria and the excellent and close relations which we have established with Italy. Further, I may refer to our friendly relations with Hungary, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Portugal, Spain etc. Finally, I may mention our cordial relations with a whole series of nations outside of Europe.

The agreement which Germany has made with Japan for combating the movement directed by the Comintern is a vital proof of how little the German Government thinks of isolating itself and how little we feel ourselves actually isolated. Furthermore, I have on several occasions [sic] declared that it is our wish and hope to arrive at good cordial relations with all our neighbors.

Germany has steadily given its assurance, and I solemnly repeat this assurance here, that between ourselves and France, for example, there are no grounds for quarrel that are humanly thinkable. Furthermore, the German Government has assured Belgium and Holland that it is ready to recognize and guarantee these States as neutral regions in perpetuity.

In view of the declarations which we have made in the past and in view of the existing state of affairs, I cannot quite clearly see why Germany should consider herself isolated or why we should pursue a policy of isolation. From the economic standpoint there are no grounds for asserting that Germany is withdrawing from international cooperation. The contrary is the truth. On looking over the speeches which several statesmen have made within the last few months, I find that they might easily give rise to the impression that the whole world is waiting to shower economic favors on Germany but that we, who are represented as obstinately clinging to a policy of isolation, do not wish to partake of those favors. To place this whole matter in its true light, I should like to call attention to the following bare facts:

(1) For many years the German people have been trying to make better commercial treaties with their neighbors and thus to bring about a more active exchange of goods. And these efforts have not been in vain; for, as a matter of fact, German foreign trade has increased since 1932, both in volume and in value. This is the clearest refutation of the assertion that Germany is pursuing a policy of economic isolation.

(2) I do not believe however that there can be a lasting economic collaboration among the nations on any other basis than that of a mutual exchange of commercial wares and industrial products. Credit manipulation may perhaps have a temporary effect, but in the long run economic international relations will be decisively influenced by the volume of mutual exchange of goods. And here the state of affairs at the present moment is not such that the outside world would be able to place huge orders with us or offer prospects of an increase in the exchange of goods even if we were to fulfill the most extraordinary conditions that they might lay down. Matters should not be made more complicated than they already are. If international commerce be sick, that is not due to Germany’s refusal to assist it, but is due to the fact that disorder has invaded the industrial life of the various nations and has influenced their relations with one another. But Germany cannot be blamed for these two things, and especially not National Socialist Germany. When we assumed power the world economic crisis was worse than it is today.

I fear however that I must interpret Mr. Eden’s words as meaning that in the carrying out of the four years plan he sees an element of refusal on Germany’s side to participate in international collaboration. Therefore I wish it to be clearly understood that our decision to carry out this plan is unalterable. The reasons which led to that decision were inexorable. And since then I have not been able to discover anything whatsoever that might induce us to discontinue the four years plan.

I shall take only one practical example: In carrying out the four years plan our synthetic production of rubber and petrol will necessitate an annual increase in our consumption of coal by a margin of something between 20 and 30 million tons. This means that an extra quota of thousands of coal miners are assured of employment for the rest of their active lives. I must really take the liberty of asking this question: Supposing we abandon [sic] the German four years plan, then what statesman can guarantee me some economic equivalent or other, outside of the Reich, for these thirty million tons of coal?

I want bread and work for my people. And certainly I do not wish to have it through the operation of credit guarantees, but through solid and permanent labor, the products of which I can either exchange for foreign goods or for domestic goods in our internal commercial circulation.

If by some manipulation or other Germany were to throw these 20 or 30 million tons of coal annually on the international market for the future, the result would be that the coal exports of other countries would have to decrease. I do not know if a British statesman, for example, could face such a contingency without realizing how serious it would be for his own nation. And yet that is the state of affairs.

Germany has an enormous number of men who not only want to work but also to eat. And the standard of living among our people is high. I cannot build the future of the German nation on the assurances of a foreign statesman or on any international help, but only on the real basis of a steady production, for which I must find a market at home or abroad. Perhaps my skepticism in these matters leads me to differ from the British Foreign Secretary in regard to the optimistic tone of his statements.

I mean here that if Europe does not awaken to the danger of the Bolshevik infection, then I fear that international commerce will not increase but decrease, despite all the good intentions of individual statesmen. For this commerce is based not only on the undisturbed and guaranteed stability of production in one individual nation but also on the production of all the nations together. One of the first things which is clear in this matter is that every Bolshevik disturbance must necessarily lead to a more or less permanent destruction of orderly production. Therefore my opinion about the future of Europe is, I am sorry to say, not so optimistic as Mr. Eden’s. I am the responsible leader of the German people and must safeguard its interests in this world as well as I can. And therefore I am bound to judge things objectively as I see them.

I should not be acquitted before the bar of our history if I neglected something–no matter on what grounds–which is necessary to maintain the existence of this people. I am pleased, and we are all pleased, at every increase that takes place in our foreign trade. But in view of the obscure political situation I shall not neglect anything that is necessary to guarantee the existence of the German people, although other nations may become the victims of the Bolshevik infection. And I must also repudiate the suggestion that this view is the outcome of mere fancy. For the following is certainly true: The British Foreign Secretary opens out theoretical prospects of existence to us, whereas in reality what is happening is totally different. The revolutionizing of Spain, for instance, has driven out 15.000 Germans from that country and has seriously injured our trade. Should this revolutionizing of Spain spread to other European countries then these damages would not be lessened but increased.

I also am a responsible statesman and I must take such possibilities into account. Therefore it is my unalterable determination so to organize German labor that it will guarantee the maintenance of my people. Mr. Eden may rest assured that we shall utilize every possibility offered us of strengthening our economic relations with other nations, but also that we shall avail ourselves of every possibility to improve and enrich the circulation of our own internal trade.

I must ask also whether the grounds for assuming that Germany is pursuing a policy of isolation are to be found in the fact that we have left he League of Nations. If such be the grounds, then I would point out that the Geneva League has never been a real League of peoples. A number of great nations do not belong to it or have left it. And nobody has on this account asserted that they were following a policy of isolation.

I think therefore that on this point Mr. Eden misunderstands our intentions and views. For nothing is farther from our wishes than to break off or weaken our political or economic relations with other nations. The contrary is the truth. I have already tried to contribute towards bringing about a good understanding in Europe and I have often given, especially to the British people and their Government, assurance of how ardently we wish for a sincere and cordial cooperation with them. I admit that on one point there is a wide difference between the views of the British Foreign Secretary and our views; and here it seems to me that this is a gap which cannot be filled up.

Mr. Eden declares that under no circumstances does the British Government wish to see Europe torn into two halves. Unfortunately, this desire for unity has not hitherto been declared or listened to. And now the desire is an illusion. For the fact is that the division into two halves, not only of Europe but also of the whole world, is an accomplished fact.

It is to be regretted that the British Government did not adopt its present attitude at an earlier date, that under all circumstances a division of Europe must be avoided; for then the Treaty of Versailles would not have been entered into. This Treaty brought in the first division of Europe, namely a division of the nations into victors on the one side and vanquished on the other, the latter nations being outlawed. Through this division of Europe nobody suffered more than the German people. That this division was wiped out, so far as concerns Germany, is essentially due to the National Socialist Revolution and this brings some credit to myself.

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European right wing turns Zionist

Friday, March 30th, 2012

This Saturday, in the Danish city of Aarhus, a Europe-wide rally organised by the far-right English Defence League will try to set up a European anti-Muslim movement. For Europe’s far-right parties, the rally, coming so soon after the murders in southwest France by a self-professed al-Qaeda-following Muslim, marks a moment rich with political capital.

Yet it is also a delicate one, especially for Marine Le Pen. Well before the killings, Le Pen was assiduously courting Jews, even while her father and founder of the National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, was last month convicted of contesting crimes against humanity for saying that the Nazi occupation of France “wasn’t particularly inhumane”.

Marine must disassociate herself from such sentiments without repudiating her father personally, or alienating his supporters. To do so, she has laced her often expressed Islamophobia (parts of France, she has said, are suffering a kind of Muslim “occupation”) with a newfound “philozionism” (love of Zionism), which has extended even to hobnobbing with Israel’s United Nations ambassador.

Almost all European far-right parties have come up with the same toxic cocktail. The Dutch MP Geert Wilders, leader of the anti-immigrant Party for Freedom, has compared the Qur’an to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In Tel Aviv in 2010, he declared that “Islam threatens not only Israel, Islam threatens the whole world. If Jerusalem falls today, Athens and Rome, Amsterdam and Paris will fall tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, Filip Dewinter, the leader of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang party, which grew out of the Vlaams Blok nationalist party, many of whose members collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, has proposed a quota on the number of Belgian-born Muslims allowed in public swimming pools. Dewinter calls Judaism “a pillar of European society”, yet associates with antiSemites while claiming that “multiculture … like Aids weakens the resistance of the European body” and “Islamophobia is a duty”.

But the most rabidly Islamophobic European philozionist is Heinz-Christian Strache, head of the Austrian Freedom party, who has compared foreigners with harmful insects and consorts with neo-Nazis. And yet, where do we find Strache in December 2010? In Jerusalem, alongside Dewinter, supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

In Scandinavia the anti­immigrant Danish People’s party is a vocal supporter of Israel. And Siv Jensen, the leader of the Norwegian Progress party and a staunch supporter of Israel, has warned of the stealthy Islamicisation of Norway.

In Britain, English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, in his first public speech, sported a Star of David. At anti-immigrant rallies, his party’s banners read: “There is no place for Fascist Islamic Jew Haters in England”.

So has the Jew, that fabled rootless cosmopolitan, now suddenly become the embodiment of European culture, the “us” against which the Muslim can be cast as “them”? It is not so simple. For a start, “traditional” anti-Semitism has not exactly evaporated. Look at Hungary, where the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party denies the Holocaust unapologetically, or Lithuania, where revisionist MPs claim that the Jews were as responsible as the Nazis for World War II.

What is more, the “philosemite”, who professes to love Jews and attributes superior intelligence and culture to them, is often, though not always, another incarnation of the anti-Semite, who projects negative qualities on to them: both see “the Jew” as a unified racial category.

Beneath the admiring surface, philozionism is not really an appreciation of Jewish culture, but rather the opportunistic endorsement of Israeli nationalism and power.

Indeed, you can blithely sign up to both antisemitism and philozionism.

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik described himself as “pro-Zionist” while claiming that Europe has a “considerable Jewish problem”. He saw himself as simultaneously anti-Nazi and pro-monoculturalism. The far-right British National Party’s Nick Griffin once called the Holocaust the “Holohoax”, subsequently supported Israel in its war “against the terrorists” but, the day after the Oslo murders, tweeted disparagingly that Breivik was a “Zionist”.

Most Jews, apart from the Israeli right wing, are not fooled. They see the whole iconography of Nazism — vermin and foreign bodies, infectious diseases and alien values — pressed into service once again, but this time directed at Muslims. They understand that “my enemy’s enemy” can easily mutate into “with friends like these …”

The philozionism of European nationalist parties has been scrutinised most closely by Adar Primor, foreign editor of Haaretz newspaper, who insists that “they have not genuinely cast off their spiritual DNA and … aren’t looking for anything except for Jewish absolution that will bring them closer to power”. Similarly, Dave Rich, spokesperson for the Community Service Trust that monitors anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, told me that far-right philosemites “must think we’re pretty stupid if they think we’ll get taken in by that. The moment their perceived political gain disappears, they revert to type. We completely reject their idea that they hate Muslims, so they like Jews. What targets one community at one time can very easily move on to target another community if the climate changes.”

Rich’s words, spoken before the murder of Jews in Toulouse, now sound chillingly prescient. The president of the French Jewish community, Richard Pasquier, judges Marine Le Pen as more dangerous than her father.

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Le Pen aims high with her “new look” FN

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

The upcoming French presidential election, at the end of April and the start of May, is no different to past votes. It is keenly followed by the electorate, and the arguments and accusations fly in the charged atmosphere, even more so in the current climate of economic crisis. Among the frontrunners is Marine Le Pen, the leader of her father’s party, the Front National, now no longer an extreme right-wing outfit she claims, just a “patriotic right” fierce in its defence of national interest, and eurosceptic. Her positions on security and immigration are hardline, but she has tried to pull her party away from its obsession with these two themes to broaden its appeal, ditching much of its previous uncompromising anti-semiticism for example, and that may make her more dangerous especially as many claim the leopard has not changed its spots. Her votes, come April, will weigh heavily on this election. Marseille is France’s second-biggest city and a key hunting ground for the FN. 3000 people came to see her at this rally to judge how Marine is coping with her first-ever presidential election campaign. Her father fought four, and is still in the background. The party faithful are unanimous in their support for Marine, and the following comments are typical: “The Le Pen family’s been fighting for France for 30 years, and for ordinary people, not the rich.” “I’m 18 years old, and for me Marine Le Pen symbolises France, and the future of us young people.” “She’s exceptional, a fighter, and tenacious.” “We don’t have any other choice. The only one is Marine Le Pen, the two others are just the same, and will just continue with more of the same.” “The handover of power was done in a way all the party members hoped it would be, and I believe it is what the people, the French who are not yet FN supporters, were also waiting for.” Marine Le Pen took over the FN family business in March 2011, when her father made way after founding and leading the party for 30 years. Its high-water mark came in 2002 when Jean Marie Le Pen scraped into the second-round presidential runoff by a hair’s breadth, relegating the Socialists to observers in the showdown, which Jacques Chirac won easily with 82% of the votes. It was a political earthquake and signalled the beginning of the rise of Marine through the party hierarchy. She disposed of her rivals with her father’s help, and polished her image of a single mother battling against all odds. She claimed to be a new broom that would sweep the FN clean of the policies that made it unelectable. She banished its neo-nazi skinhead wing to the sidelines and cracked down on anyone making nazi salutes. On taking the presidency, she promised to clean up the brand and make it a respectable vote-winner. “My father was for many a wake-up call for a whole series of problems France found itself in, and which today are hitting us hard. We wanted to build something, a new chapter in the FN that would take us to power. That’s what we want, to take power and then apply our ideas,” she said in a euronews interview last year. And what ideas they are! The packed hall in Marseille is greedy for them. Gilbert Collard is a slick media-friendly lawyer running her campaign. “She’s a brave woman who uses every ounce of her energy, a rare thing nowadays, to back her convictions which are not improvised in order to mop up votes,” he maintains. The FN has always done well in Marseille, with its large immigrant community, so Marine makes sure the lion’s share of her hour-long scripted speech hits the security and immigration buttons. “We went from assimilation to integration, and then when that failed we dropped any demands at all on immigrants to respect our ways. Today we have far more immigrants than before, and very often they are imposing their rights and cultures on the French people. Every year more of them arrive… When we see whole districts around our towns, or in our towns, or even whole towns themselves given over to gang rule, then we are right to be worried… Marseille has become the sad symbol of Nicolas Sarkozy’s terrible law and order failure. Where’s the clean-up he promised?” While Le Pen paints her main rivals, the Socialist’s Fran?�ois Hollande and the UMP’s Nicolas Sarkozy as being cut from the same cloth, her main target is the outgoing president. After 45 minutes of reading from her script, something her father never needed as he famously improvised every word, she lets her hair down with this ad-lib attack: “Nicolas Sarkozy repeats his broken promises of 2007..in fact, that’s all he does… I recorded a TV programme this morning; don’t you think I look a little younger? That’s because every Saturday I take five years off my life, my own little youth cure, when I hear Sarkozy make the same promises as in 2007.” On international and European questions the Marseille crowd hears nothing; nothing about pulling France out of the euro for example. Le Pen insists she supports a “Europe of nations”. “As soon as I am elected to the presidency I will name a minister of Sovereignties and undertake a massive renegotiation of European treaties. I will do this with friendly nations, with European nations who, like us, are seeing their electorate’s rising democratic aspirations for, at last, the construction of a Europe of Peoples.” Father Jean-Marie Le Pen is still the FN’s honorary president, and is usually present when his daughter speaks. At the end the old bruiser is invited to lead the crowd in its rendition of the Marseillaise, and it seems like he has never been away. More about: 2012 French presidential election, France, France 2012, French politics, Marine Le Pen

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France to resume election race after gunman’s death

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

Mohamed Merah’s cold-blooded shootings of seven people, including three Jewish schoolchildren, forced politicians to suspend normal campaigning while a giant manhunt closed in on the 23-year-old unemployed panel-beater.

That hunt ended in a cacophony of gunfire shortly before midday on Thursday, after a 30-hour siege in the southern city of Toulouse. Merah was shot in the head as he clambered out of a ground floor window with all guns blazing, fulfilling his macabre wish of dying with a weapon in his hand.

Counter-terrorism operatives said they had wanted to capture him alive, but had been forced to kill him when he began to fire at police commandos searching his flat, wounding at least two of them.

The young self-styled Islamist‘s crimes spread fear, triggered an emotive debate about immigration and integration, and gave Sarkozy a small bounce in the polls as he sought to close the gap behind Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

With only one month left to go before the first round of the election, Merah’s influence is likely to endure.

“Of course what has happened in the past week has changed the course of events,” a senior Sarkozy campaign adviser said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There wasn’t much talk about security and terrorism before. But this is going to raise questions about our system of integration, our approach to fundamentalism and our tolerance of certain practices here. You’re going to hear a lot about that in the weeks to come,” he said.


President Sarkozy will visit the northern French town of Valenciennes on Friday where he is expected to tour urban renovation projects, industrial facilities, and purpose-built housing for workers.

The first opinion poll conducted since Merah committed his third and deadliest attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday showed Sarkozy surging past Hollande in the April 22 first round, even though it predicted Hollande would still win a May 6 runoff.

A second poll showed Sarkozy had also trimmed Hollande’s lead in the second round and that voters considered him more credible on security and immigration issues, which are likely to increasingly come into focus in the campaigns.

Analysts say Sarkozy has capitalized on his role as the incumbent during the crisis, portraying himself as a statesman, and his right-leaning rhetoric on immigration and law and order has appeared topical, even if it raises the hackles of the left.

The question is whether he can keep the focus of the pre-election debate on law and order, where he is seen as being more comfortable, or whether his rivals can turn the spotlight back onto issues such as unemployment, the economy and social justice, on which he is perceived as weaker.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who claimed after the shootings that entire suburbs had been surrendered to Islamist radicals by negligent politicians, will on Friday restart her own campaign – by visiting the tourist attraction of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy – while her father Jean-Marie will travel to the southern town of Nimes.

Hollande, who remains the front-runner despite his failure to match Sarkozy’s man-of-action profile during the crisis, will also be out on the stump as will centre-right candidate Francois Bayrou.


Police investigators are working to establish whether Merah had worked alone or with accomplices. The interior ministry had said there is no evidence Merah belonged formally to any group.

The killings have raised questions about whether there were intelligence failures and what the attacks mean for social cohesion and race relations in France.

Opposition leaders demanded to know how Merah was able to amass a sizeable weapons cache and embark on his killing spree despite being under surveillance and having been questioned as recently as November by the DCRI domestic intelligence service following a trip to Afghanistan.

In Washington, two U.S. officials said Merah had for some time been on a U.S. government “no-fly” list, barring him from boarding any U.S.-bound aircraft. A Spanish interior ministry spokesman said police there were investigating whether Merah had ever met activists in Spain.

Merah had a police record for minor offences and reportedly spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide while serving an 18-month prison sentence.

Merah had told negotiators he was trained by al Qaeda in Pakistan and killed three soldiers last week and four people at a Jewish school on Monday to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children and because of French army involvement in Afghanistan.

Sarkozy called Merah’s killings terrorist attacks and announced a crackdown on people following extremist websites.

He said an inquiry would be launched into whether French prisons were being used to propagate extremism and urged people not to seek revenge.

“From now on, any person who habitually consults websites that advocate terrorism or that call for hate and violence will be punished,” he said in a statement. “France will not tolerate ideological indoctrination on its soil.”

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Toulouse Suspect Shot in Head in Raid After 32-Hour Siege

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

The man suspected of murdering seven people in France, including three children and a teacher at a Jewish school, died in a police raid after he was holed up in his Toulouse apartment for about 32 hours.

He was shot in the head as he jumped out of his first-floor apartment window in a hail of bullets during a gunfight with the police, Francois Molins, the Paris state prosecutor overseeing the case, said at a press conference today. The exchange of fire began after police failed to get Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent, to give himself up.

“Merah suddenly burst out of the bathroom where he was hiding, armed, and firing at police at an extremely fast rate, so fast that it was like automatic-weapon fire,” Molins said. “He was attacking, lunging at police across the apartment and firing at them with a Colt .45. He continued to move forward, armed and firing, jumping from the balcony until he was mortally hit by return fire from the police. They got him in the head.”

The man, who admitted to the school killings and the slayings of three soldiers, claimed ties to al-Qaeda and said he spent time on the Afghan-Pakistan border, the police said. A group with al-Qaeda links claimed responsibility for the shootings, AFP said. The crimes make Merah the first homegrown Islamic terrorist to commit violent acts on French soil.

“Everything was done to bring the murderer to justice,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an address to the nation. “But we couldn’t risk more lives. There have already been too many deaths. An investigation is taking place to determine whether there were accomplices.”

In Command

The police zeroed in on Merah two days after the shootings at the school that also left a 17-year-old student seriously wounded, in the worst attack on a Jewish target in France since 1982. In separate incidents in Toulouse and nearby Montauban, in southwestern France, the week before the school killings, Merah shot and killed three paratroopers of Arab origin, police said. A fourth paratrooper remains in critical condition.

The investigators’ ability to track down the suspect has burnished Sarkozy’s role as a leader in a national emergency and may bolster him just a month before the first round of the presidential election. A poll today showed Sarkozy pulling ahead of Socialist Francois Hollande in the first round in the second survey this month to give him a lead.

“Sarkozy is in command; he has to manage an open crisis,” Jerome Sainte-Marie, head of Paris-based CSA’s public-opinion unit, said in an interview. “In this role, he is the most credible. He can show authority.”

Killer’s Camera

The election campaign, halted as the nation mourned, resumed today. The first round of voting will be held on April 22, with the two leading contenders squaring off on May 6.

Sarkozy, who was at the funeral yesterday of the three paratroopers, said the “killer hasn’t been able to crack our national unity.”

The gunman filmed all his attacks, with the content of the camera “extremely explicit,” the prosecutor, Molins, said.

“We see him at his meeting with the soldier, inquiring about his military status and killing him with two bullets while saying ‘you kill my brothers, I kill you,’” he said. “We also see him killing the soldiers in Montauban in an extremely violent scene and driving his scooter screaming Allah Akbar.”

He also filmed his attack at the Jewish school.

During his standoff with the police, Merah provided information on where to find one of his weapons-laden rented cars, his scooter and the camera.

The Raid

Toward the end, Merah, who wore a bullet-proof vest, locked himself in the bathroom. He fired 30 rounds on the police between the time he burst out of the bathroom until he jumped from the balcony, Molins said.

Inside his apartment, police found three empty clips for automatic pistols and a container full of ammunition. The balcony had bottles and rags to make Molotov cocktails. Beside his body, lay a Colt .45 with a clip containing two bullets.

Merah told the police late last night that “a surrender would be against his commitments and beliefs,” Molins said. “He told negotiators he wanted to die as Mujahedeen, weapons in hand,” before cutting off all communication.

It was clear late yesterday that “the suspect wasn’t going to give up,” Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters.

Police waited 12 hours before starting the final assault, after having tried to provoke him to resume talks using deafening grenades to increase his stress level.

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Monday, March 19th, 2012

That afternoon in broad daylight, near Angouleme, we meet Ahasver [the legendary wandering Jew]. For us, the road from Angouleme to Bordeaux is the most unusual of all the French roads we have driven. There are no evacuees. A few hours later we learn that the German army had reserved the road for its march toward Bordeaux and had kept the road free of refugees. They had to go another way. That is why there are only a few refugees who are traveling from the south or southwest toward the interior, which takes them through the area between Angouleme and the south and southwest. The refugees generally returned home once they had encountered the German army and learned that they would not be beaten, but rather well treated. So it was that we are the only car on the road, and we pass only people on foot with a bundle over their shoulder, heading in both directions.

We take a break at a shady spot to eat. It had not been possible to buy a meal in a restaurant in Angouleme. We did buy some canned goods, bread and wine. We sit by the roadside and eat our bread and sardines and drink a light red wine. As we sit and eat, a young man comes along in a gray suit with no hat and a large bundle over his shoulder. Seeing us sitting next to our car and eating so comfortably, he sits down in the grass on the other side of the road and stares at us.

After a while I call over to him in French: “Are you hungry?” He eagerly says yes, and comes on over. I look at him in some surprise as my companion slices some bread and opens a can of sardines and I open a small bottle of wine for him. He is of average height and slender, somewhat ragged, but wearing a good pair of shoes. He is tanned by the sun and has dark black, wavy hair. But that is not all that strikes me—the shape of his face is unusual. His eyebrows, his lips, his nose make me wonder where this refugee comes from. At first I say nothing, and he speaks vaguely. He is going to a farmer to look for work, he has no money any longer and comes from Paris. He fled from the Germans. He sits and looks toward the sun. I quietly say to my companion in German: “Is the boy from the colonies? Look at his face.”

His mouth drops and he runs his hand over his eyes as if he were trying to wipe away some ghostly phenomenon. “You are German?”, he asks in German.

Now we are surprised. I answer cautiously: “Yes, we are German,” but say no more. After a while my comrade asks: “Where are you from?” The lad answers with an unmistakable accent that proves the truth of his words: “Dresden.” He continues immediately: “You still have a car? Didn’t they seize it? Didn’t they lock you up?” We both look at him in astonishment. We suddenly realize that he is an émigré German Jew, and that he thinks we too are émigré German Jews. We give each other a quick glance and are instantly agreed. We will not tell him who we are. We will take advantage of the fact that we are in civilian clothing and are driving a French car. I say hesitantly: “No, they did not catch us.” The young man fishes a sardine out of the can and puts it on a slice of bread. He drinks some wine and, with his mouth full says: “You are clever boys.” We both nod. We are willing to admit that we are clever boys.

We have a lively conversation with the young man, at the beginning of which we have to dodge his questions. He wants to know what sort of passports we have, how we got out of Paris, why we had not been arrested by the Paris police, why the French army had not seized our car, whether we are going to Spain, whether we believe the Germans would let us through, whether we think the Spaniards will let us cross the border. All this he asks quickly and curiously.

I put an end to his chatter by saying that clever boys have to keep silent, or else they would not be clever. That enlightens him somewhat and we cautiously begin asking questions. How are things going for him? Ah, not well at all. Then he begins a long self-history, full of complaints and self-pity.

He left Germany with his parents in 1934. His father had an antique shop in Dresden and moved it to Paris. The antique business did not go well in Paris. Why not? First, there were too many antique shops in Paris, and second the people in Paris understood too much about antiques. He looked at us to let us know that it was to his father’s advantage that people in Dresden knew less about antiques than people in Paris. After learning this, his parents moved the business to London, but he, the son, stayed in Paris.

What did you learn to do?

Learn to do? Nothing. I worked for a printing firm.

Next he shows us his passport, his German passport, probably in the hope that we would do the same. The passport was issued in 1934 and has expired. I ask him: Couldn’t you become a French citizen? He nods, still chewing away, and says that he had several chances to become a French citizen. Why didn’t he do it? He smiles at us and says: “Then I would have had to serve in the army. I might be dead by now, since one can’t always shirk.” My comrade says: “I don’t completely understand you. You would have had a new fatherland, after all. Or did they want to send you to the Foreign Legion?”

He makes a contemptuous gesture. “No, I could join the regular army. If I volunteered, I would immediately become a French citizen. I could have joined the Foreign Legion at any time. But you know, a soldier is a soldier. It made no sense.” “Well,” I say, “things apparently did not go well for you in Paris. Why didn’t you move with your parents to London?

“You don’t seem to know very much,” he answers. “Our friends in London told me that if I went to England, I would have to serve in the army there, too. I would have had to be a soldier, and didn’t want to do that.”

“Hold on, though,” I say, and look for a way to speak cautiously so as not to make the young lad suspicious. “If you live in France or England and want to stay there, if you enjoy all the benefits of the country, when you want to have all the advantages, you have to understand that these countries may want you to help defend their borders.”

He replies in an annoyed tone: “What do you think about me? I have no borders to defend. I am not French, I am not English, I am not German, I am a Jew.”

My comrade says: “OK, but what was the trouble in Paris? You said that things had not gone well.”

The young lad picks up a stone and tosses it across the road. “You seem to have had things good. Or weren’t you in Paris when things fell apart?”

We shake our heads to indicate that we had not been in Paris.

“You probably were hiding in the countryside. Well, I’ll stop asking questions. You can take me along for a while. Maybe you can help me out a bit, since you seem to have a lot of money. I could live a good life for a while after the miseries of Paris.”

Now he speaks softly, as if the wheat and the grass around us had ears. “These French are nasty. Things were OK when we got to Paris. But it got worse, and the other workers in the printing firm were unfriendly from the start. I always said that ‘France is the land of human rights,’ and they laughed and said ‘France is the land of the French. You are taking someone else’s job. You are here only because the owner is a Jew.’ People in Germany always told me that there was no anti-Semitism in France. But they always pestered me and the bureaucrats were always after me when they found out that I did not want to be a soldier. I lived like a dog. And when the Germans attacked they hauled me out of bed early in the morning and locked me up. There were thousands and thousands of our people and it was all over with jobs and freedom, and only those who volunteered for the Foreign Legion were released. I said I would join the regular army, but had to be trained first. I couldn’t join the war before that. I told myself that by that time the war would be over and the French would be in Berlin. But they probably saw through me and said: ‘No, little Jew, we can no longer use you in the regular French army.’ I could not sleep at night with everyone around me howling that they wanted to talk with Minister Mandel. And the guards spit and said tough luck.

I no longer knew if it was Thursday or Monday, or how long we had been there. We did not know much about what was happening outside, only that the Germans were coming closer. Many of us negotiated and begged and cried to the guards that they should let us out, but they were tough chaps, these guards. They always ran their finger across the neck to show us that the Germans would hang us all. We heard the guards calling every two hours during the night and I woke up every time.

One night I wake up. The guards aren’t shouting, and it is quiet. All of our people are sleeping, but I stand up. I can see everything, since there are a few lights. The rest are laying on their stomachs or backs or sides and snoring. I go to the door and open it a bit. I can do that, since the bathroom is just outside. But when I open the door, I see that there are no more guards, and that the gate is open. I go back quietly, get my sack and tie it shut and leave the camp and the city. I do not talk with anyone, or they might catch us all again.

I keep going, and ride a stretch on a truck with some soldiers. I said I was a recruit and was ordered to go to Bordeaux. Later they figure out it was untrue and kick me off. I laugh and kept going. And now you will take me along for a while, yes? Tell me where you were hiding when all of us were arrested in Paris. You will take me along, yes?”

Now he goes over to clean his knife in the grass. He see the car’s radiator, asks what kind of car it is, and steps back. I know that he has seen the small WH on the car. He closes his knife, looks past and speaks into the air: “Thanks” and then softly, “So that’s why.” He picks up his sack, crosses the road and slowly puts one foot in front of the other, leaving a small dust cloud behind him that drifts over the path.


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French politician says he was verbally assaulted by group

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

A Socialist politician in France and his partner said they were verbally assaulted by a group who shouted an anti-Semitic slur as well as support for the far-right National Front Party.

Arnaud Montebourg, a leading Socialist politician, and his partner, television broadcaster Audrey Pulvar, said Wednesday that a group of approximately 15 people called them “Juden” the previous day as they were leaving a restaurant in a high-end western Parisian neighborhood. Neither are Jewish. They said the group also shouted “Le Pen for president,” referring to Marine LePen, leader of the far-right National Front Party, and “France for the French.”

Police are investigating the incident, Reuters reported.

LePen condemned the incident, but said police would have to investigate whether members of the group were truly attached to her party.

Montebourg has been a sharp critic of what he describes as Le Pen’s ties to neo-Nazi groups in Europe.

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French legislator assailed for anti-gay remarks

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s party said Wednesday it is kicking out a legislator who said gay people hold too much sway in France and downplayed the persecution of gays during World War II.

The comments by lawmaker Christian Vanneste unleashed an outpouring of criticism from left and right, and embarrassed Sarkozy’s conservative party just as the unpopular president announced that he will seek a second term in upcoming elections.

Vanneste looks set to lose his spot in the UMP party and his parliament seat over the remarks.

In a video broadcast on a French website, Vanneste said gays are “at the heart of power” in France, manipulating the media and making humankind “lose its dignity.”

He said the media overplays “the famous legend of the deportation of homosexuals” from Nazi-occupied France, saying German gays were sent to concentration camps, but “there was no homosexual deportation in France.”

Gay rights groups denounced him and UMP members said he had crossed a line. Vanneste, responding Wednesday to the uproar, said he was being unfairly targeted by a “gay lobby.”

UMP chief Jean-Francois Cope said Wednesday that Vanneste would be expelled because of his “deeply shocking and intolerable comments.”

The party will finalize the decision at a meeting next week, Cope said. Vanneste could no longer be the UMP’s candidate for parliament from his district in northern France in legislative elections in June.

Vanneste has made remarks seen as disparaging to gays in the past, but touched a particularly sensitive chord by referring to World War II.

It was 1995 before France’s then-President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the nation’s responsibility for the deportation of Jews during the war. Denying the Holocaust is a crime punishable by prison and fines in France, and some critics accused Vanneste of negationism.

Nazi Germany declared homosexuality an aberration that threatened the German race, and thousands of gay men were sent to concentration camps, where few survived.

In France the numbers were much lower, according to the author of a book on deportation of French homosexuals. Mickael Bertrand says on his blog that exact figures are hard to pin down, but that his research found 62 French people were deported for being gay.

Wednesday’s uproar puts Sarkozy’s party in a tough spot as he seeks to garner support from the far right to bolster his weak chances for his presidential campaign.

Sarkozy condemned the remarks on national television Wednesday night, saying he is “horrified by anything that from near or far could appear to be homophobia.”

Sarkozy opposes gay marriage, though recent polls suggest a majority of French voters support it. Vanneste is part of the influential hard-right wing of Sarkozy’s party.

Polls put Sarkozy in a distant second behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande ahead of the April and May elections, with far right candidate Marine Le Pen in a close third.

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French honor Memphian for WWII military service

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Seventy years after Dow Crews fought in the liberation of France from Nazi Germany, the World War II veteran and native Memphian got a big “thank you” from the country he helped defend.

Crews, 87, and eight members of his family traveled to Atlanta on Jan. 12 where he and 14 other World War II veterans were inducted into the French Legion of Honor.

Unlike veterans of more recent wars, Crews said World War II veterans are often shown courtesy and respect for their service.

“It makes you feel very humble to think that people think that much of your service,” said Crews, who lives in East Memphis and spent his postwar career working in the credit department at Goldsmith’s.

“I don’t know about all veterans, but when people find out that I am a veteran of World War II, people will come up to you that you don’t know and speak to you and thank you for your service. I would hope that all veterans have that type of experience.”

The National Order of the Legion of Honor was first established by the emperor Napoleon in 1802 to recognize those who render great personal service to France. It is France’s highest order.

Crews was drafted into the Army at age 18 in 1942 and served as a rifle platoon sergeant in Company I in the 397th regiment of the 100th Infantry Division. Over the next year and a half, he led about 40 men in campaigns across southern France, Alsace and later in central and southern Germany.

“Young people at that age doing what we were doing felt that they were immortal and wouldn’t get hurt,” said Crews. “We were doing what we thought we should do and wanted to do.

“It’s a different situation now. (Families) could be in contact with (soldiers) every day through the Internet. With me, if I got a letter once every six months that was something.”

Crews was awarded a Bronze Star by the United States and returned home without having been wounded. Crews said about 75 percent of the men in his division were either wounded or killed.

“The biggest fear as far as I was concerned was walking through land-mine fields,” said Crews. “They were covered up and you didn’t know you were in it. Then you didn’t know how to get out.”

In Atlanta, the award, including a medal and a certificate signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was presented by Pascal Le Deunff, Consul General of France for the American Southeast, who said the United States and France have “intertwined destinies” because of their shared histories in World War II.

“Without each other, neither France nor America would be the country it is today,” said Le Deunff in his remarks. “The French-American friendship is bound in blood, and let’s always remember that our two nations owe each other their own existence as free countries.”

Crews began the application process about six months ago. His account of his war experiences were documented and verified in Washington before being forwarded on to France for approval.

All of the honorees hail from southeastern states.

The recognition was made all the more poignant by the safe return of Crews’ grandson, Phillip Crews, who recently served with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.

Despite the fact that communication is more technologically advanced now and that discussions about the reasons behind wars are more open, Crews said support for veterans may be dwindling.

“When we went into World War II, the whole country was 100 percent behind it,” said Crews. “It was just a question of when should we get started? There were some questions about World War II, but it didn’t get the publicity that it does today. I’m sure it’s very difficult for the ones in service if they don’t get the support.”

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LEAD: French parliament debates Armenian “genocide bill”

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Paris – Thousands of people demonstrated outside France‘s National Assembly on Thursday, as parliamentarians prepared to vote on a bill that would make it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered a genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

The demonstrators, mostly French people of Turkish origin, waved Turkish and French flags and placards denouncing the bill. The police estimated their numbers at around 4,000.

‘History must not serve politics,’ one placard read.

‘Fishing for votes must not be done at the expense of a country’s history,’ another one read.

The controversial bill proposes to punish people who deny or minimize genocides with a year in jail and a fine of 45,000 euros (59,000 dollars).

France recognizes two events as genocides: the Nazi Holocaust of Jews during World War II and the mass killings of Armenians in eastern Turkey during World War I.

A separate law already criminalizes Holocaust denial.

In Turkey, the bill is seen as an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s party to curry favour with a small but influential Armenian diaspora ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

‘It’s not because a powerful lobby says it (genocide) that I will say it,’ Halil Karayel, who lives in the eastern city of Strasbourg, told dpa.

Armenians say up to 1.5 million Armenian citizens of the Ottoman Empire were either killed or died of neglect on deportation marches to the Syrian desert in 1915-18. Before becoming president in 2007, Sarkozy had promised to push through legislation on genocide denial.

Turkey rejects the genocide tag. Ankara says some 300,000 Armenians died, and argues that it was largely the result of unrest during the war following the invasion by Russian forces of eastern Turkey, where most Armenians lived.

The bill, which was proposed by a member of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, enjoys the backing of most French lawmakers.

Some members of the UMP have opposed the bill, however.

UMP deputy Michel Diefenbacher told the assembly, which was only about one-third full for the vote, that he opposed any attempt by France to impose its reading of history on another sovereign state.

Once approved by assembly members, the bill will go to the Senate.

Thursday’s debate was broadcast live in Turkey, where the government has already warned of ‘grave’ consequences for Franco-Turkish relations if the assembly approves the bill.

A delegation of Turkish parliamentarians travelled to Paris this week to lobby against the vote but failed to convince the government to call it off.

The standoff is the latest to rock Franco-Turkish relations, which have already soured over Sarkozy’s resolute opposition to Turkey joining the European Union.

French European Affairs Minister Jean Leonetti has downplayed the possible fallout with Turkey, telling France Inter Radio that its threatened reprisals were ’empty threats.’


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