D day : what would you be ready to risk you life for ?

It was very moving to see the Queen of England, the American and the Canadian Heads of State all taking part in the celebration of the 6th of June 1944.  Seventy years ago, the Anglo Saxon allies risked their lives for us, the French.    For what and for whom would you be able to risk your life ?

That was the question asked of Europeans in a recent opinion poll conducted on the web by the Sphinx Institute for Philosophie Magazine and for the France Inter radio station. Among the 20,000 Europeans ( 8000 French) one third said they would not do so for any reason. On the other hand, it was a good surprise to learn that, in our individualistic world, still two thirds said they would be ready to risk their lives, mainly young males under 35, with religious or left wing beliefs. Some 80% stated they would be ready to sacrifice for their people (family, friends) and only 20% for their country. Apart from Poland, where the notion of country and homeland converge, in all other European countries, « homeland », sounds like an obcene value.

Isn't it incredibly hard now to imagine that the Canadian soldiers on Juno Beach were just volunteers, fighting for their ancestors, for their roots ? One can understand the American feeling that the French were not grateful enough towards these young men landing in Normandy. Now imagine the British Tommies who had already fought in the murderous trenches of WWI, losing 400.000 soldiers in the Battle of the Somme, twice the French loss, joining the war club again...

Why ? For the sake of democracy that we now seem to take for granted, not even caring to vote ? I wonder what would be the answer if the question was for which country, apart from your own, would you risk your life ? May be it is wise not to ask…

« If you do not do it for the French, do it for champagne ! », said mischievous Churchill motivating his troops in war time. Winston learnt to appreciate Charles (De Gaule) who, like him, was to become a war hero not fully understood in his own country.    One reason to remain hopeful is that both countries, which had been at war for 900 years until the famous entente cordiale in 1904, managed to forget about their ancient feud for higher considerations.

Wasn’t it for the Britons a kind of revenge (best served cold) after Hastings humiliation (1066), to invade Normandy to save the French, as some cartoon, parodying Bayeux Tapestry[1].  Isn't « the best way to destroy an enemy », as Abraham Lincoln put it, « to make him a friend » ?

Bluff your way in French culture Sorry, Hastings was not the only invasion of England.

Long time ago, a Norman barbarian invaded England. The name was William the Conqueror, the powerful duke of Normandy, nicknamed the « bastard ». The wild reputation of the illegitimate son of Robert the Magnifique and of  Arlette a simple washerwoman, was not overrated .

His grandfather, who was a tanner apparently taught him the art of excavating eyes and skinning his ennemies, and his Viking ancestor, Rollo was notorious for his cruelty.

But apart from these undelicate arts of war, William's crime of lèse-majesté was to invade England in 1066. Not only did he kill Harold of Godewinson but he became the king of England, imposing the Norman law system, and administration over what was called Brittany at the time. Branded as with red hot iron, 1066 is as unforgettable for the English as 9-11 for the Americans. This political trauma is also made an online strategy game[2], a TV series…

Who remembers England suffered another French invasion ? English and French history have completely forgotten about Louis VIII. In London one can easily understand the temptation to delete another humiliation. The courageous  and very good looking son of Isabelle de Hainaut had reconquered Poitou and Gascogne held by the British Plantagenets. Louis the VIIIth even defied Rome’s order not to attack the English Kingdom, where he landed in May 1216. When he arrived in London, the French king was acclaimed by the crowd. He got rid off the psychotic John Lackland, succeeding where even Richard the Lionheart had failed. When he was done with this dirty job, the English barons who helped him to invade their own country, managed to get rid off the victorious French, puting the son of John Lackland on the the throne. This English felony was not to be remembered.

A normal king.

How comes this hero is also forgotten in French hagiography ? Louis VIII was not the type of monarch to wear a helmet to visit his mistress. He was a faithfull husband and had 12 children with his spouse, the delicate Blanche de Castille who ensured the future of the Capetian dynasty. One could wonder if he was not « too normal » to enter French history books ?  But the reason why is that he was simply overshadowed in the Capetian hall of fame. Louis VIII was not only the son of Philippe Auguste who put an end to feudal society and asserted royal power, in command for some 42 years but he was also the father of his son, Louis IX, who reigned for 44 years, and whom we refer to as « Saint Louis », He was always showed under an oak tree rendering Justice. Now you know Louis VIII is « not a number , but a free man »…[3]

 

[1] http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/churchill/interactive/_html/wc0220.html

[2] http://www.1066online.co.uk/hastings-main/1066-game/

Rea Irvin, © 1944, Shown Online Courtesy Virginia Irvin Trust.

[3] TV show, » the Prisoner »

 

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