Today’s Irish Times newspaper carries a deeply offensive article examining the period of 1939-45 in France and what the author of the piece characterizes as the “armed rebellion” of the French Resistance against the mandated administration of the country by Nazi Germany and it’s collaborationist partners during World War II. In particular the journalist questions the continued veneration of the militant movement by the modern French state and its celebration by political parties of all hues:
“The French Resistance was indeed the catalyst for the recreation of an independent French State, as Ronan Fanning wrote in the concluding article of The Irish Times series on 1939-45, but does that mean we should be proud of it?
The resistance itself was an act of armed rebellion by an extremist group outside the mainstream of nationalist politics, and with no electoral mandate. It came at a time when the state – Vichy France – was a neutral ally with Germany. That alliance had the overwhelming support of France’s democratically elected representatives to the French national assembly. The leaders of the rebellion had sought and received aid from the Allies.
The rebels no doubt showed bravery in openly, and in uniform, confronting the authority of the state and its armed forces. Even before the executions there were signs of some public sympathy, even admiration, for their courageous stand in the face of inevitable defeat. But they were still ideologues with no electoral support, prepared to kill and destroy in pursuit of their political aims at a time when unprecedented progress, albeit stalled by the ongoing war, had been made towards the goal of a fully self-governing France.
Should, 100 years on, a modern parliamentary democracy, committed to the rule of law and peaceful settlement of all disputes, celebrate as the seminal event in its history an armed insurrection by a small minority with no mandate?
Should a state with a long history of sporadic armed challenge to its authority be celebrating such an event? Should it do so when there are still organisations and individuals who believe their political aspirations are such that they entitle them to kill and destroy in pursuit of them?
Would it not be more appropriate to honour de Brinon, Alibert, Laval and Pétain, who worked peacefully through the democratic means open to them, and enlisted massive public support for nationalist goals, than to worship, as nationalist France has done for most of a century, at the shrine of violence cloaked in the veil of heroic sacrifice?
Most praise of the Resistance in the Irish Times series is based on its undeniable role in the rapid achievement of liberation for most of the country. Thus the desirable end justifies the illegal and undemocratic means?
The Resistance ensured liberation was secured by violent struggle, in which most of those killed were French. That violent legacy was evidenced even more tragically in the fratricidal post-occupation conflict, when once again the ideologues believed the virtue of their ideals counted for more than the will of the majority. The long shadow of the gunmen of 1939 has helped inspire political campaigns in practically every decade since 1945, and still does so today.
Much is written of the failure of post-liberation politicians to live up to the ideals of the men of 1939-45, but those politicians were themselves “men of 1939”. Some were veterans of the event, almost all, in both major parties, claimed its mantle. They still do.
The centenary is surely a time for reflection, not celebration.”