HIST 276: France Since 1871

Lecture 1

 - Introduction


Professor Merriman lists the books on the syllabus, and offers a brief précis of each of them. Three of the principal themes of the course will be national identity, linguistic identity, and the consequences of the two world wars. Although the course will consider some well-known historical figures, such as Hitler and de Gaulle, it will also examine the individual histories of ordinary people.

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France Since 1871

HIST 276 - Lecture 1 - Introduction

Chapter 1. Course Introduction [00:00:00]

Professor John Merriman: This is History of France, 1871 to the Present. And my name’s Merriman, and we meet Monday and Wednesday in this room, which is a pretty good room. And the third, the famous third hour to be arranged is a section. At the moment we have been assigned four TAs, though looking around we won’t need four TAs, but at the moment we have Da-Ihn Yoo, we have Michael Verriman, we have Andrey Ivanov, and we have Brian Reilly. And knowledge of French or anything at all about France is not required in this class at all.

Some of you have had my introductory class, a lot of you haven’t. A couple of you have had the first half of this course, most of you haven’t. Many of you won’t be here the next day, that’s what happens with shopping period, and then the third day we see how many folks we have. We do have, for those people who want to take it, a travaux dirigés en français, we have a section that’s French speaking. It’s an idea that Chris Miller in the French Department and I came up with in the late ’90s, and my old dear friend Dick Broadhead provided the funding.

And what this is, is that if you want to take the section in French, you should have about an equivalent of 130, and the discussion’s in French and a couple of the books — I’ll talk about them in a minute — you can read in French, the others you read in English. And it’s not a la-di-dah thing where — I’ll tell you, once there was a student in there who had really fantastic French and I said, “Why is your French so good?” And this person looked at me and said, “Well the maid was from Dijon.” And another time, somebody’s French was very good and I said, “Why is your French so good?” “Well mommy used to take us to Chamonix for the — pour les vacances d’hiver.” Or, “our apartment next to the Tour d’Eiffelgave me contact with zee French people.” And so it’s not like that, I assure you, it truly isn’t. And you’re not counted off for errors that you make in writing, either, if you’re writing in French; and it really rocks, trust me.

We’ve done this for year after year. One year we actually had something like forty-two people signed up, and the course was much bigger, and we thought they all thought they were getting a free prize or something for signing up, there were so many of them. We ended up with about thirty-two. We’ve had a few with eight. As long as we have five it will go; but, it’s really fun and you’ll know people around here, if you’re above a first-year student who have taken this, and it really rocks, it’s really great. And Brian Reilly is going to do this. He’s from the French Department. So, I would encourage you, if you have that kind of interest, to do that. And you won’t regret it, there’s never been anybody who regretted doing it, and it’s just a lot of fun.

The other sections will meet in English. And usually what we do in this course is we offer some night sections, because people are kind of busy, and so we — there’ll be certainly a section Wednesday at seven, certainly one Wednesday at eight, there’ll be certainly sections Thursday at 1:30 and 2:30, and the French section is tentatively scheduled for — what did we say? We said Wednesday at 1:30, isn’t that it? Or something like that. It all shakes down, and it is fun. Now what do you got to do in the course? Well you have to come with good humor, and that I hope you’ll have; come to the lectures and do the reading, see the films, which I’ll talk about in awhile, and go to sections, and hopefully participate in sections; and the sections tend to be fun in this course.

So, as so far I know, you’re dying to know about midterm and final and those wretched things. I wouldn’t give a midterm, because I think it’s a waste of time, except we have to have some sort of — it gives you an indication how you’re doing in the course. If you screw it up we don’t count it as much as if you do well. And the final is — we will give you on the last day of class the questions for the final. We give you six questions. And we will ask you on the day of the final to respond to three of those — our choice, it would be hardly sporting if you got to pick the three.

And we also give you an oral exam option that if you want to, say, not be here on Christmas morning taking your last final, because they tend to go to the twenty-third, you can just blow off those days and go off to Bermuda, or go home, or do whatever you do, and take the oral final, which we used to cheat and have it during Reading Period but they caught on to me and you can’t do that so — they frequently catch onto me — but so now we have it on the first two days of the Final Exam Period, and you sign up for — it is not an interrogation, it is a friendly exchange about the themes of the course. Most people, particularly in this course, do that, but it’s not necessarily an advantage to do it.

People — this is not the course — if they’re doing, working hard in this course, this isn’t the one out of five they’re blowing off, then they tend to do that and instead of writing for three and a half hours and getting writing cramp — and inevitably our final exam was in that horrible place, Osborne Hall, where you’re sort of tilting like this, like you’re leaning out of an airplane, and you sit up there for three and a half damn hours writing your brains out, and you can have a sporty conversation of twenty-five minutes with one of the teaching assistants, and you’re out of there. So, that’s what a lot of people do; in fact, about two thirds of the folks do that. I have some very funny stories about those, but now is not the time to do that, especially because we’re being filmed. But most people do very well.

Chapter 2. Overview of the Reading List [00:05:48]

Let me tell you a little bit about the reading. The books are available at the Yale Bookstore, Barnes & Noble — here you guys, here’s some of these — and the textbook is a good textbook, it’s really good in cultural history. A guy called Chip Sowerwine, Charles Sowerwine, who’s a buddy of mine from — lives in Melbourne, in Australia, and it’s a good book. And the other books are, in their own way, sort of classics that you’ll enjoy. Now, many of you, if you’ve had French anything, have read Germinal, and if you haven’t read Germinal, now is your chance to read it. Zola was one of the first great naturalist writers and he would go up to the nord, to the Anzin, to the mines of Anzin, up here in the north of France, and he would go down in the mines and see how people worked. He would see how fifteen-year-old girls worked in the mine — Catherine, who grows up rather quickly in the mines. And germinal means “the budding,” it’s a reference to a calendar of the French Revolution. It also kind of implies hope, and it’s about what happens when people try to mobilize these braves gars, these workers in the mines. And if you’ve never read it, it’s a great, great, novel.

A Life of Her Own is a book that I became obsessed with, oh, about five or six years ago. Emilie Carles was born in abject poverty in the High Alps, in the Hautes-Alpes near Gap, up really high in the mountains here, and she became a schoolteacher as a common sort of means of social ascension for a poor person from a village. She was born right near the Italian border, but just in abject poverty. She married an anarchist from the Department of the Ardèche, where we happened to live or are, at least were legally residents and spend much of our time down here; and she moved from one school to the next. And when she was a very old lady, she led a demonstration to try to protect her little part of France on the Italian border from being exploited by tourism, more about that at the end, and with her tractor she led this demonstration.

It was a phenomenal thing, and she ended up on this very famous French television show called Apostrophe, with Bernard Pivot, who said that she was one of the most interesting people that he’d ever had on his show. And she died in 1977. And she published her memoirs; it was called A Soup Made of Wild Herbs. And of course it was translated into English with that title, and then they changed it to — what did they change it to in English? A Life of Her Own. And it’s about being a young girl and a woman, but it’s an extraordinary thing. I became so obsessed with it that we drove up there so I could visit every school at which she had taught, and we actually found somebody who — we knew he wouldn’t like her because he was sweeping out the church, he worked for one of the churches, and she was very anti-clerical. So, we actually met somebody who knew her; and the school is now named after her; but, it’s a wonderful, wonderful read, it’s just great. My family got a little tired of this and said, “do we have to — how many more of these places do we have to see in which this woman taught?” But anyway, we saw most of them.

And then Henri Barbusse, who was a Communist, became a Communist, who was a writer in World War One and who served in World War One, and he wrote a great book which is called Under Fire that my dear friend and colleague Jay Winter has just written a new introduction for, and that’s about the horrors of the trenches. It’s just the sheer — it’s amazing, it’s an amazing read too. And then, Marc Bloch; I once had the pleasure when I was giving a talk at the University of Strasbourg and sitting in Marc Bloch’s office. Marc Bloch taught people like me in the way to do history.

People like me grew up on reading Marc Bloch, though I assure you he was much older than me, and he created a way of doing history called the Annales School. And his first book actually was called The Healing Kings, because in Medieval French times and Medieval English times when a king was crowned there was this sense that if the king could cure you by touching you — excuse me for touching you. If you had scrophula, which was sort of a degenerative disease — it’s hard to find people who have scrophula anymore — the king could touch the person and cure it, and it became part of sort of the popular culture of royalty. And they tried this in 1825 with disastrous results; but, this was his first great book.

And at the age of about fifty-five the war came along, and he wrote a book called Strange Defeat, explaining why in 1940 France fell so rapidly. And then he’d been — he was Jewish, and he was fired from his post in Strasbourg, under Vichy, that is the collaboration government of World War Two, because he was Jewish. And then he caught on at the University of Montpellier, and then they realized that he was a Jew, so he was gone. Then he went back to a farm that he owned in the Limousin, in the Creuze, up here near a boring place I used to work called Gerais. And he sat around and thought, “well, I’m going to do something.” So, not at a horribly advanced age, I would like to think, he went to Lyon, which was a capital of the Resistance because they have all these things called traboules in Lyon, was one reason — they’re passageways where you’d keep the silk, raw silk dry. But he got set up by somebody, by a French person — more about this in a minute, and he was supposed to meet somebody on a bridge overlooking the Saône River — Lyon was at the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône.

You’ll learn a lot about France in here, but we don’t ask you questions like that, “what two rivers meet in Lyons?” But, he was set up and he was hideously tortured here and he was killed. So Marc Bloch taught us, in a way, how to do history. But he also, writing this book, taught us how to think about the past, and more about that in a minute, and how to think about what happened in France between 1940 and 1945. I do a seminar on that next semester.

And then what? I forgot one, I forgot to put one in; no, no here it is. Sarah Farmer, who sat in the same classroom literally, before it was remodeled, had written a wonderful book called Martyred Village which first appeared, chez Gallimard, in France, and it’s about a village that I know very well because I used to live in Limoges, in which on the tenth of June, 1944, the SS, German troops came and simply slaughtered everybody. They shot the men, and they put the women and the children in the church, and they killed them. But what’s interesting about that is why this particular village became the symbol for martyrdom in France. Why? Because it was thought to be virgin, they weren’t resistors, they weren’t collaborators — it was there, it was martyred.

And so, she wrote this book; but, what’s more interesting than that is that the people who did the massacre, in the SS, many of them were Alsatian. Now, Alsatians were French, even though many of them spoke German dialect. And so after the war they said we are the malgré-nous, we were put on trial because — we were in the Army because we were forced to be, because Alsace was the next — directly into Hitler’s Reich. And when they were acquitted, only two people who were condemned from those forces, they had joined voluntarily and the others, the malgré-nous were, “in spite of ourselves,” were pardoned. There were riots Limoges that they were pardoned. There were riots in Colmar and in Strasbourg, in Alsace, that they had been condemned at all. So identity, national identity is very complex, and we talk about the war — this is, it’s a sparkling account.

And what they did with this village, ghoulish, you might say, is they left it just the way it is, or was, on the tenth of June 1944. They left all the buildings blown up or caught on fire, and they have crosses where people were shot, and there was, there used to be a ghoulish museum with a knife opened up that indicated they tried to defend themselves. And then now they’ve put in a centre de mémoire, sort of a memory site there, that’s kind of slick but it’s fine. A friend of mine who’s a senator is the president of it there. But they kept that village just the way it was, and they built one next to it. In about 1952 some people, about your age, started to party, and somebody came out with a gun and said we don’t party in Oradour-sur-Glane.

So, imagine growing up in a place like that where the past was so — was written not only in the death of people that you knew, because everybody you knew died basically. One woman got out, she went through the — there was a vitrau, a window behind the altar, and she was able to get out. Anyway, so those — the reading is great. So, what can I say? I’m certainly biased but the reading is great, the reading rocks. Now, what about the films, the movies? Inevitably there isPaths of Glory, Les Sentiers de la Gloire. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a Kirk Douglas movie that’s a good movie, and it’s about the mutinies on the Western Front, and it’s very good. We used to say, well come to 101 and it’ll be a film that’ll be shown at 8 p.m. or something; but, nobody ever does that, they all watch it in the privacy of their rooms or you can go watch it — we’ll figure it out; but, it’s a really wonderful movie.

And then you’ll see a film called Au Revoir, Les Enfants, sort of see you children, goodbye children. How many have seen Louis Malle’s Au Revoir, Les Enfants? Ah, many of you have seen it, it’s a great film. It’s a true story, it’s about Fountainebleu, which is southeast of Paris, sort of a fancy place, and it’s about his childhood when he was in collège;collège is a middle school — you’ll learn about French schools. My kids have been in French schools for many years so I know about these places. And he — one day this boy showed up in the class — this was during Vichy, about 1943, maybe it’s ‘44, and he’s new and he’s not different, he’s just not from there. He’s obviously from Paris, and he was Jewish. And it’s about the attempt — the role of the Catholic Church in Vichy is not a very savory one, the French hierarchy and many priests, but many priests were very heroic and when this particular priest, who was a real live guy called Père Jean, Father John, tried to hide this boy in the school so he wouldn’t be arrested and sent off to the camps, but he was denounced by somebody who was in the militia, the milice is what it’s called, which is sort of paramilitary thugs that worked for Vichy; and, of course, it does not have a happy ending.

And then the last film, most of you won’t have seen it, called La Haine; hate, I guess you would translate that as hate, or hatred. And I’m very interested in what happened in the French suburbs two years ago; in fact, I wrote an instant article on it for an encyclopedia because some of the work I’d earlier done was about why French suburbs and European suburbs are different than American suburbs. American suburbs, many of you come from them — Hillsborough, California; Darien, Connecticut; Grosse Pointe, Michigan; places like that. That’s not what the suburbs are in Europe. Suburbs are where people unwanted by the center go, and the fear of the suburbs has been something that — by the prosperous center has been a very long, important theme in French history, particularly written in Paris; and I’ll talk more about that.

And La Haine, which was a small budget movie, became this great success; and it’s a tough movie to watch, it’s tough, it’s verbally tough to watch, and it’ll have subtitles. But it was done in 1996 or ‘97, but it’s really superb. So, what kind of — I don’t want to give everything away — but what kind of themes do we have in a course like this, what have I forgotten about? Oh me. I’m Merriman, I said that, I still am actually, and sometimes I feel after a day like yesterday that I’m sort of, you know what, I’m not; but, anyway, my office hours are — when are my office hours? — Monday, one to three, in Branford College, where I was a Master long ago, K13, Branford College. And I’m also like everybody else on emails; and I’ll get your emails, panic emails at 3:10 in the morning and I’ll reply at 4:45. So, it goes like that.

Chapter 3. Major Themes: National Identity and Language [00:19:07]

What kind of themes? Let me talk a little bit about some of them. Let me just talk about, oh, about three or four of them, just so you can see what hopefully you’ll be getting yourself into. And you’ll have fun, you’ll learn a lot about France, I’ll tell you that. Okay, one theme I’m interested in is — well let me tell you about lectures, first of all. I do not do chronological lectures, “well in 1882, and then it was followed by 1883.” I don’t do that. I lecture about what I like to talk about, what’s interesting, that’ll hopefully make you understand what the big issues are in all of this. So, that’s why it’s a good thing to come to lecture and also to read the books.

But, one of the things I’m interested in is national identity, in fact because we kind of have complex attitudes toward our own identity I suppose, me and my family. But, if you took — and a few of you have heard me say this before so forgive me — in 1789 if you tried to guess how many people spoke French, in France, you might come up with eighty percent as a guess or ninety or whatever — it was about fifty percent. Some people were bilingual. So, what did they speak? Well, start anywhere you want. Breton, which is a language that has nothing to do with French at all — here, oh I’ve got a really funny story I was going to tell about a Breton priest, a French speaking Breton priest, but that’s for another day.

Anyway, they spoke Breton here. Now, Nantes isn’t considered technically part of Brittany, but they spoke Breton there, which is basically a Gaelic language. And then if you go up, you think, well they spoke French there, certainly in Normandy, but they spoke in many parts a patois. In about 1844, this kind of crazy guy took a big knife and he slit the throat of his mother and his two sisters, and they were — the police were looking for him. And he was from Normandy, he lived near Cannes in Normandy, and they found him eating clams and things for survival on the beach. And they had to bring in a translator, somebody to translate. Before he was guillotined he dictated his life. The book, Michel Foucault, a famous philosopher, got a hold of and wrote a preface for it; in French is, was, Moi, Pierre Rivière, ayant égorgé ma mère and mes deux soeurs [sic]. And me, Pierre Rivière, having slit the throat of my mother and my two sisters, I’m going to tell it like it was. And he did. But the important thing is that they had to have a translator for him in the 1840s.

When Bernadette of Lourdes, in 1856, believed that she saw the Virgin Mary, of course they had to have somebody come and translate there what was a mountain patois influenced by Spanish. But, if we’ll move north here, up here a lot of the people spoke Flemish, very few now. You don’t have to know this, it’s just kind of fun; I love it, but, anyway, and then in parts of Lorraine they spoke a German dialect that’s very much like what’s spoken in Fribourg. In Alsace almost everybody, as you will see later, spoke German dialect. But it didn’t mean, if you asked somebody, “Are you French?” and they reply in German, “Yes, I’m French,” that doesn’t — language doesn’t necessarily tell you how people feel about their identity. Some sage once said, I don’t know who it was, but I love this expression, that a language is a dialect with a powerful army.

Look at Spain. Why was Catalan illegal to publish until Franco croaked in 1975, clutching the left elbow of St. Therèse or something another? Because Castille, Spanish speaking Castille, with its command economy, had conquered the Basques and conquered the Catalans. And so, all this will change during this period. Or, if you move further down, you get into Savoie, which was Savoy, Hautes-Savoie, Savoie, which were next in 1860 and they spoke in essentially Piedmontese, they spoke an Italian language. If you go to Provence then, Provençal is a written language. You get a sense of that if you see a really great movie like Jean de Florette, with the inevitable Gérard Depardieu who’s in every single film made this side of Disneyland, Disneyworld, he is there; but, with Daniel Auteuil, who was fantastic, he had to put one of those things that dentists put in your mouth when they’re going to give you an x-ray that make you feel uncomfortable in order to pronounce perfectly this Provençal language. And it’s not just the accent of “ain,” “quatre-vain” or “enfain” instead of enfin — it’s a whole language.

And, moving along here, you get down to Catalonia, to French Catalonia, speaks the same — we still know old ladies down there who speak Catalan, the same language spoken down all the way to Valencia, at least along the coast. You move in here, you go to Basque country — besides all the patois, you go to the Basque country, Basque is only remotely related to Finnish and to Magyar, to Hungarian. And then you’ve got all these, you’ve got over in the patois here, you’ve got Limosin patois. You’ve got all these languages. So, the only point of interest about this is that when do people start thinking that they’re French, as opposed to from a certain family, from a certain village, from a certain region? When do they start thinking of themselves as French? And this has been hotly debated in the literature for a very long time.

There are still people now that live — there’s a woman that lives near our village and she’s lived in our village, she was born in the next village, and she’s lived in our village for forty years because she married a guy from the village; and she’s from the next village, about twenty football throws away, or a little more than that. And somebody as a joke once asked her, “how do you feel living in this village after all these years?” And she said, “oh sometimes I get homesick.” There was a sense that she’ll never be from the village, she’s from somewhere else; but, sometime between 1750 and maybe 1990 most — almost everybody in France began seeing themselves as French. And the schools play a major role in this and thus all these kids who grew up speaking patois or Provençal or Gascon — I forgot Gascon, around Bordeaux, they can sing the Marseillaise in acceptable French as they march off to be slaughtered.

When do peasants become Frenchman, as someone posed. And it’s an interesting question, because it tells you a lot about regional identity and about national identity. And the role of the schools is important in that because what happens is that the Virgin Mary gets elbowed off the walls by Marianne, the female image of the republic, and that, it starts with the French Revolution, but it’s a very long process. So, we’ll talk some about that, but not that much.

Chapter 4. Major Themes: The World Wars [00:26:19]

I guess the other two themes I want to discuss, and not in great detail, but — are the wars. Obviously, World War One is — unleashes the demons of the twentieth century; nobody could have anticipated that all these empires would collapse. Anti-Semitism was out there before that, in Germany and France, as you’ll see with the Dreyfus Affair, all sorts of places; but, World War One transformed Hitler from a man who hated social democrats, who hated socialists, into a man obsessed with killing Jews. World War One has an enormous impact on the way people viewed themselves, in France and everywhere; everybody knew people who died in the war. It was the defining experience of the twentieth century, and the violence of the war continues into the 1920s and ’30s.

So, you can see the whole period till 1945 is an even more horrible thirty years war than that of the seventeenth century. There are 35,000, 36,000 communes in France, that is administrative units. Paris is a commune, but so is a village of twelve people, is a commune — 36,000. In World War One, only twelve didn’t have somebody killed. France in the 1920s was a country of widows dressed in black, of people missing limbs or coughing their lungs out from the poison gas, if they were lucky enough to survive, putting huge strains on welfare systems — obviously it was very important that they be taken care of, in a country in which the birthrate had stopped in most of the country in the mid-nineteenth century — unique in the world. There weren’t enough men to go round, they were dead.

You can go into villages and towns almost anywhere, particularly in the lower Massif Central, down here, and you can find in towns of just tiny, tiny towns, seventy-four. I’m a counter, I count things all the time, it drives me crazy. I’ll count up the number of people killed in every church that I go to visit to look at. It’s simply extraordinary. We can’t even imagine what that’s like. There are only three people left in Britain who fought in World War One, only three, and they’re about 110-years-old or something like that. But it’s difficult to understand what the impact was, and the poisoning of the political atmosphere.

We’ll talk about the Battle of the Somme, s-o-m-m-e. And the Battle of the Somme, in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the first of July, 1916, there were 20,000 British soldiers killed. In the first three days, just counting the British, there were more British soldiers killed and seriously wounded than there were Americans killed in World War One, Korea and Vietnam combined, in three days; comparable chilling effects in Russia, and in Britain, and in Austro-Hungary as well. Where was the flower of English youth, this used to say? Well, they were hung up on that old barbed wire, they were dead, and your life expectancy wasn’t very good, because of foolish military decisions, because of a war that ended up being the war fought in which no one, outside of a few people who had seen the Russo-Japanese War around Muckton, could have ever imagined.

The finest, some of the finest books on any topic are those — of history — are those on World War One, the great war in modern memory of the British — of Siegfried Sassoon, about Siegfried Sassoon, and Wilfred Owen whose mother got the news that he’d been killed on the day of the armistice. There’s an extraordinary literature, the close concurrent, the close competition for that, the richest literature would be the Spanish Civil War with Orwell, and Borkenau and Brennan. But, we’ll talk a lot about World War One, how it started, what it meant, and what the impact was. And there’s nowhere you can go in Northern France where you’re not just awash with military cemeteries around Reims there, anywhere up in the end near the Chemin des Dames. These are battlefields in which every day — in fact, in the Battle of the Somme there was one casualty for every meter of the entire front of the war, of that particular battle — it’s really extraordinary. And it goes — it went on and on and on. And we’ll talk about the impact of what this happened, there were obvious impacts, but what happened on civil society and on politics.

Where were the leaders of the ’20s and the ’30s? They were dead, they were dead, killed at eighteen, killed at nineteen. I was in The British War Museum, the Imperial War Museum the other day, and I’d been there four or five times, and I went — and they have a thing where you can look up dead people. And so I said, well, I wonder if there’s somebody with my name who was killed. And there was. And my uncle had an extremely odd — my grandfather had an extremely odd name, and there was somebody of his name too that was killed. They all died. And it was — not everybody, but in France 1,500,000 people died, and that’s a huge demographic chunk, it’s like a big shark took a big bite out of your basic pyramid of your demographic tree.

And something like Hitler — this isn’t a course on Hitler but it’s from the other course — but why this guy who had no friends, who was just a pain, just a pain, he was so peinible, he was such a pain; and he had one guy that he used to bore with his stories about architecture and painting, and Wagner whom he loved dearly. And you could never imagine that he would be somebody that people would listen to on the radio, hour after hour, because that’s how long he talked; or that when Stauffenberg tries to kill him in 1944 the Germans would pour out of the — into the street to thank god for saving the Fuhrer. Why did he become somebody Seig Heil? He was one of the guys, he was one of the gars, he was one of the guys. He’d been wounded three times, and he was a runner, he carried messages to the trenches, from the generals who were all drinking champagne in Reims, to the front. And he was wounded three times, and he was one of them. He had that stamp of having been one of the guys.

And the violence keeps going. You have to explain why all of this has happened, and you have to find people that made it happen, and it was the Jews, and it was the socialists, and it was the communists, and it was the homosexuals, and we’ll kill them all. And that’s what he did. And for the point of view of France, they emerged from the war with the reality that they are in victory a weaker nation than Germany is in defeat. And so it’s a big shadow over the whole damn thing — incredible. And Marc Bloch, when you read The Collapse of France, it’s very interesting, interesting stuff.

World War Two, I’ll give you two stories. When I was working in a place called Tulle, which is down here — t-u-l-l-e, not Tours, but Tulle — I knew vaguely that there had been a massacre there in June sixth, 1944, and a lot of people had been hung. I didn’t have any money. My kids would say, “oh dad, not that I don’t have any money story again.” But I didn’t have any money and so I would be eating ice-cream and I got to know this guy with my not very good French then, and we talked and I said, “do you remember the day the Germans came back and hung all those people?” And he said, “yeah.” And I said, “well how did you get away?” And he said, “well,” — Tulle is in a, there’s a big valley, it’s a real long town, and these houses have balconies like this. So he went up and he hid. He was twelve, he would’ve been killed, fourteen, they didn’t care.

And one day so I was eating my ice-cream because the archives were closed, and this woman came up, and she was probably about fity, or something like that, and she ordered ice-cream, and so this guy says, “well, Madame whatever, Madame Dupuis, you remember that day don’t you, when the Germans came back?” And she said, “oh I sure do, they hung my husband from that pole.” And that pole was right next to this ice-cream stand in front of the theater in Tulle. And that was 1970 — more about that in a second.

And I have a friend who’s a Parisian lawyer who works in Africa a lot, and when he was a little boy the Germans came to get his father who was a Greek Jew, and he was taken away and killed, of course. And one shouldn’t forget that the people who rounded up the Jewish children in the Marais, where lots of Jews lived, were French — the Germans would’ve been happy to do it — but were French police, they were French police. And his father was denounced by a policeman, by a policeman. And after the war that policeman directed traffic at the market every Saturday, and the widow walked by and saw this man, knowing he had denounced her husband who had been taken away and killed.

Now, in 1970 there was still this collective amnesia in France. The myth, perpetuated by De Gaulle, the big guy, was that in France everybody had resisted except for a few elites, and then France had risen up to follow his great shadow and had thrown off the oppressor and founded a republic. In 1953 there was a documentary made about the deportation of Jews, from Paris, and there was a film made about this. They put together a documentary, and in one of the scenes it’s a camp place called Drancie, which is out near the airport, halfway to the airport, to Roissy Airport. And there was a French gendarme who was guarding the French Jews, a French gendarme guarding the French Jews, and they lifted him out of the movie; they literally took him off the screen. So if you see it, he ain’t there. Why? Because the image was nobody collaborated or hardly anybody, and everybody resisted.

Now, that amnesia which — and part of it was De Gaulle didn’t want to give the communists credit, because they were the party of 75,000 martyrs, because they were organized and they resisted; other people did too. There was a Catholic resistance, there was your basic Gaullist resistance. I remember when De Gaulle died I was in Paris. I was the only person frisked going into Notre Dame, literally, that I saw. They threw me up against the wall and checked me out, because I was a kid and I wanted to go there and see, just for the purpose of history, of being there.

But, De Gaulle perpetuated this myth about the resistance. And then there were cracks in the myth. And the first crack was a movie that’s so long that it used to be the janitors, the people who cleaned these — the very nice people who cleaned these rooms used to call it a two six-pack movie because it was so long. I’m not supposed to say that, we’re filmed. Cut that baby out of there. But, it’s about a four-hour film, and it’s called The Sorrow and the Pity and it’s about Clermont-Ferrand, which is in the Massif Central here. And there’s some amazing scenes in it where they shave the heads of horizontal collaborators, which is sort of a crude way of talking about French women who slept with German officers — horizontal collaboration.

And at the end of the movie, there was Maurice Chevalier. Maurice Chevalier was a crooner, he was a singer, he was — if your parents knew about France, he was the person that your grandparents even had heard about, and he was somebody from a poor part of Paris, and he was from Ménilmontant, and he had this straw hat and he sung tunes — “very good my boys,” and all of this stuff. And at the end of the movie he says, “You know, there are zese very bad rumors about me, and that I sang for zee German troops, and I want to tell you I only sang for zee boys,” that is, for the French interned soldiers in Germany then. It may have been true or maybe not, but it made people start looking at the past, what really happened between 1940 and 1945, or ‘44, end of ‘44, what really happened.

There was a trial of a very old man in 1998 called Maurice Papon, tried in Bordeaux. And he did very well after the war. He had signed during the war all sorts of slips that sent Jews off to the station, the Gare St. Jean in Bordeaux, to the train station, to be shipped off to the east; but, he did very well, he became a minor Gaullist official, and he did very well, and they finally caught up with him. And he said, “I’m a good bureaucrat, I did — they were pleased with my work. I signed those fiches, those formulas and if I hadn’t been there to save the hundreds then they all would’ve died.” And he was — but you can’t put somebody 90-years-old in the slammaire. And so, he was in kind of in this very minimum security and he finally just croaked a while ago. One point that he tried to — he escaped actually, with the help of some friends, and they found him dining in an elegant Swiss restaurant. It was too — it was trop beau.

But, anyway, so the other thing that happened was a friend of mine, I’m very proud to say, called Robert Paxton, wrote a book called Vichy France, and he had to use captured German documents because the French documents weren’t open, they were not available, because the big secret of collaboration should not be known. And we’re going through in France the same thing now with the War of Algeria too — but more about that later. So, give me two more minutes, I’m going to end, and a few of you, faces, I’ve heard this before, people that I know; but, I guess one reason why I’m in history — well, because I read a book a long time ago. I didn’t know what else to do, and I read one book that really influenced me. But, I also read a poem, and this is kind of a signature — not my signature, but the kind of course it is. Because you’re going to hear about de Gaulle and you’re going to hear about fancy people, but you’re also going to hear about very ordinary people who were caught up in kind of the torrent of the twentieth century and the late nineteenth century. So, let me just read you this poem, it is short, and it’s a Brecht poem and it’s called “A Worker Reads History.” And then you can go home, or go shop, shop till you drop, whatever.

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings. 
Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses, 
The city glittering with gold, live those who built it? 
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom 
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis, of the legend
The night the seas rushed in, 
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves. 
Young Alexander conquered India. 
He alone? 
Caesar beat the Gauls. 
Was there not even a cook in his Army? 
Philip of Spain wept as his fleet was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears? 
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War. 
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory, at whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man
Who paid the piper? So many particulars,
So many questions.”

And if you hang around, as I hope you will, we’ll get to the bottom of some of them. Have a good weekend!

[end of transcript]

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