Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Gaulle de arms

Outside my office today, a cavalcade of coaches has just driven by, complete with police escort, sirens howling, and mildly-contained chaos. It can mean only one thing:

Sarkozy.

The French President is in London to commemorate the 70th anniversary of what is generally considered the beginning of the French Resistance. Immediately following the Nazi takeover of the French levers of power, and the collaborative accord signed by Pétain, General Charles De Gaulle escaped to London from where he would try to lead a French resistance in absentia.

On 18 June 1940, he arrived at BBC headquarters to deliver a rousing speech aimed at compatriots back home, urging them not to give up the fight against their new Nazi occupiers and the Vichy Regime that accommodated them. It was stirring oratory, as it needed to be – especially as he was physically absent from his devotees back home.

Charles De Gaulle has said some, umm, galling things (sorry) in his time. But in times of trouble, Mother Mary didn’t tell him to Let It Be – no – the thrust of his speech was to say “we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.”

An excerpt in English:

“Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!

“Believe me, I who am speaking to you with full knowledge of the facts, and who tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us victory one day. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of the United States.”

It is impassioned stuff, though there will always be some irony in invoking the “use” of the Allies’ great Empires in the war, as if there weren’t a hint of any moral quandary about the establishment of those empires themselves, nor any resistance within Allies’ colonies in aim of their own national liberations. And of course, De Gaulle’s taking for granted the Americans’ seemingly infinite industrial resources did come at its own price: eternal reminders of the fact.

Whatever the importance of the occasion 70 years ago, it’s not certain how widely the radio broadcast was picked up back home in l’hexagone. At least, though, it did signal that we’d entered a brief period of two Frances: the official France under the Vichy, and the resistant France in its form as a scattered underground.

P.S. EU Commission head José Manuel Barroso said a couple of days ago, possibly referencing the anniversary of the De Gaulle speech as much as he was referencing big decisions around the Greek bailout, that Europe comes together best during moments of crisis. Tell it to the ash cloud! But if a new cooperative spirit can be ressurrected in remembering Europe at its worst, well, that might be nice.

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