The bilingual weblog that dares to go
beyond "ideas" and "opinions"
to see what lies hidden underneath

Contact the Webmaster

"Freedom Is Something You Need
To Be Deprived of to Understand What It Means "

As the 60th anniversary of D-Day approaches, the press will be publishing more and more material about the greatest seaborne invasion in history. A full-page article in Le Monde describes recent initiatives to organize Normandy get-togethers where veterans and survivors speak of their memories, some of them sharing their experiences for the first time.

The old-timers, some of them 5 years old at the time, others 20 or more, remember the horrors of June 6, 1944, and the ensuing battle of Normandy:

Fernand Olard of Vierville-sur-Mer (Omaha Beach), then 5:

We came upon a strange thing, thousands of dead, and you had to practically climb over them to cross [the Ruquet heights]. My sister held me by the hand. Our father said: 'Keep walking, keep walking, don't stop'. At one point, my sister says: 'Look', and there was a huge pile of poor soldiers blown to bits.

Jean-Claude Ygouf, also of Vierville:

It was carnage, I saw the first dead, I saw the wounded, guys who were shouting, who were screaming. I still hear the sound in my ears today. And then I froze, fascinated by what I saw: a man was shaving in the middle of all that. I asked my mother, 'Doesn't that one want to make war?' She answered, 'But of course; he wants to tidy up for when he meets the Good Lord'.

David Mylchreest, a British soldier that day:

I had 30 men under my command at the beginning, 15 at the end, and they were no longer the same … we lost 500 men taking hill 112 … and my orderly's head was shot clear off one meter from me.

After a three-day bombardment ended in mid-August 1944, Jean-Pierre Philippe and his family left their Chambois house:

Outside, it was like a slaughter-pen. Thousands of bodies of German soldiers and horses were putrifying, expanding. And then I saw a body holding in his hand a photo of his three children. One of them had to be about my age, 14…

The article ends with Coutances' Thérèse Lebouteiller saying "It was a very trying day", and Sainte-Mère-Église's Raymond Paris providing the final word:

But for us, it was the Liberation. Freedom is something one needs to be deprived of to understand what it means.

The fighting was terrible, "but for us, it was the Liberation"

Now, I hang onto Raymond Paris's words for one reason. I'm not into making inappropriate comparisons — war is too serious for that — but offhand, it would seem to me that the tone of voice of the "veterans" and "survivors" quoted in Benoît Hopquin's article contradicts slightly (yes, that is a euphemism) with the attitude of the rest of France's newspaper of reference.

Of course, we can find many differences with the War in Iraq and it's aftermath, but isn't it true that Le Monde's choice of words, vocabulary, and attitude are always condescending, mocking, and finger-wagging?

Why, for one thing, do they always use quotation marks when speaking of "the 'liberation' of Iraq"? Isn't it, at least partly, because they say that war is so horrible that nothing is worth it and that the (so-called) liberation is therefore nothing but a sham? And don't they use any and every incident of blood-letting in Iraq (whether in battles or in terrorist attacks or elsewhere) to call into question the entire campaign and the motivations behind the decision to invade Iraq?

Well, what do they think the fighting in Normandy (and World War II as a whole) represented? Would any reporter dare to suggest to Raymond Paris that the Liberation he mentions is a fraud? Listen to him again: Yes, it was horrible, "but for us, it was the Liberation. Freedom is something one needs to be deprived of to understand what it means."

Now hear what Le Monde's Bertrand Legendre had to say before the war to depose Saddam Hussein broke out: the American president's "horror vision of Irak [as a place with an inhumane prison system] is not totally false, but it is simplistic"?

Qui sait, Bertrand Legendre ? En lisant votre commentaire, on pourrait se dire que c'est peut-être à vous-même et à vos collègues que cet article dans votre propre journal s'applique : "La liberté, il faut en avoir été privé pour savoir ce que c'est."

Anti-war activists will say that the comparison is untoward, perhaps even obscene. But in retrospect, we like to say that the Allies should have stopped Adolf Hitler much earlier than they actually did. So (bearing in mind that Britain and France declared war against the Third Reich on September 1, 1939) let's ask ourselves a simple question: who had killed more people, who had caused more mass graves, and who had caused more bloody wars: Adolf before September 1939 or Saddam before March 2003? In fact, if we hark back to the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein had slaughtered, if not hundreds, then tens of thousands of people by January 1991, many more than Hitler by mid-1939.

Needless to say, in the 1940s, the Führer would catch up with — and easily outdo — the Rais. But the point is that we know this in retrospective; if it can be argued that the reasons for declaring war on Saddam in 2003 (or in 1991) were exagerrated, then it can just as easily argued (moreso, in fact) that the reasons for declaring war on Hitler were a sham. And in fact, making that argument is exactly what many pacifists of the 1930s did (link to article in French).

One Le Monde editor had the gall to compare the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison to that of the victims of the Nazis. If only. If only the latter had been so lucky: if only the only thing the prisoners at Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and Birkenau had had to endure was the humiliation of stripping for sick photos from a handful of idiotic soldiers. If only that had led to a scandal. If only an independent media outlet had uncovered the story and had rocked the government with it. And if only German leaders had been outraged by the treatment of said prisoners and promised immediate reform and retaliation against the guilty parties. Instead of being complicit in, and indeed instigating, the horrors of the 1940s.

And of course, the same "if onlies" can be pronounced for the victims of Saddam Hussein, under whose régime it was a policy to break bones, cut off hands, disfigure faces, and practice mass murder. All in perfect impunity for the perpetrators. But no, I don't remember Le Monde ever comparing Saddam's jails to Hitler's, or Saddam's crimes to Hitler's (although I've heard many scoff at, and ridicule, the comparison). No, it is not Saddam Hussein's Iraq that Le Monde chooses (or chose) to castigate, it is Uncle Sam's. It is not Saddam's prison system that people of Le Monde's ilk chooses to make a big fuss about (rather than belittle, i.e., Legendre's infamous statement above). It is Uncle Sam's. It is not Saddam's horrendous crimes that they chose to decry, it is what can only, in comparison, be called Uncle Sam's relatively mild ones.

Listen, members of the peace camp. Listen, castigators of America and its leaders. Listen, you editors who, in your zeal to lambaste Uncle Sam, lose your marbles and eschew objectivity, common sense, and a fair view of history.

Listen to an old Frenchman from Sainte-Mère-Église…

© Erik Svane

Lire la version française
Read Douglas's English translation of the entire article