This article was first published in The eXile on October 2, 2003
The new big thing on the web is all these sites with names like “I Hate France,” with supposed datelines of French military history, supposedly proving how the French are total cowards. If you want to see a sample of this dumbass Frog bashing, try this:
Well, I’m going to tell you guys something you probably don’t want to hear: these sites are total bullshit, the notion that the French are cowards is total bullshit, and anybody who knows anything about European military history knows damn well that over the past thousand years, the French have the most glorious military history in Europe, maybe the world.
Before you send me more of those death threats, let me finish. I hate Chirac too, and his disco foreign minister with the blow-dry ‘do and the snotty smile. But there are two things I hate more than I hate the French: ignorant fake war buffs, and people who are ungrateful. And when an American mouths off about French military history, he’s not just being ignorant, he’s being ungrateful. I was raised to think ungrateful people were trash.
When I say ungrateful, I’m talking about the American Revolution. If you’re a true American patriot, then this is the war that matters. Hell, most of you probably couldn’t name three major battles from it, but try going back to when you read Johnny Tremaine in fourth grade and you might recall a little place called Yorktown, Virginia, where we bottled up Cornwallis’s army, forced the Brits’ surrender and pretty much won the war.
Well, news flash: “we” didn’t win that battle, any more than the Northern Alliance conquered the Taliban. The French army and navy won Yorktown for us. Americans didn’t have the materiel or the training to mount a combined operation like that, with naval blockade and land siege. It was the French artillery forces and military engineers who ran the siege, and at sea it was a French admiral, de Grasse, who kicked the shit out of the British navy when they tried to break the siege.
Long before that, in fact as soon as we showed the Brits at Saratoga that we could win once in a while, they started pouring in huge shipments of everything from cannon to uniforms. We’d never have got near Yorktown if it wasn’t for massive French aid.
So how come you bastards don’t mention Yorktown in your cheap webpages? I’ll tell you why: because you’re too ignorant to know about it and too dishonest to mention it if you did.
The thing that gets to me is why Americans hate the French so much when they only did us good and never did us any harm. Like, why not hate the Brits? They’re the ones who killed thousands of Americans in the Revolution, and thirty years later they came back and attacked us again. That time around they managed to burn Washington DC to the ground while they were at it. How come you web jerks never mention that?
Sure, the easy answer is because the Brits are with us now, and the French aren’t. But being a war buff means knowing your history and respecting it.
Well, so much for ungrateful. Now let’s talk about ignorant. And that’s what you are if you think the French can’t fight: just plain ignorant. Appreciation of the French martial spirit is just about the most basic way you can distinguish real war nerds from fake little teachers’pets.
Let’s take the toughest case first: the German invasion, 1940, when the French Army supposedly disgraced itself against the Wehrmacht. This is the only real evidence you’ll find to call the French cowards, and the more you know about it, the less it proves. Yeah, the French were scared of Hitler. Who wasn’t? Chamberlain, the British prime minister, all but licked the Fuhrer’s goosesteppers, basically let him have all of Central Europe, because Britain was terrified of war with Germany. Hell, Stalin signed a sweetheart deal with Hitler out of sheer terror, and Stalin wasn’t a man who scared easy.
The French were scared, all right. But they had reason to be. For starters, they’d barely begun to recover from their last little scrap with the Germans: a little squabble you might’ve heard of, called WW I.
WW I was the worst war in history to be a soldier in. WW II was worse if you were a civilian, but the trenches of WW I were five years of Hell like General Sherman never dreamed of. At the end of it a big chunk of northern France looked like the surface of the moon, only bloodier, nothing but craters and rats and entrails.
Verdun. Just that name was enough to make Frenchmen and Germans, the few who survived it, wake up yelling for years afterward. The French lost 1.5 million men out of a total population of 40 million fighting the Germans from 1914-1918. A lot of those guys died charging German machine-gun nests with bayonets. I’d really like to see one of you office smartasses joke about “surrender monkeys” with a French soldier, 1914 vintage. You’d piss your dockers.
Shit, we strut around like we’re so tough and we can’t even handle a few uppity Iraqi villages. These guys faced the Germans head on for five years, and we call them cowards? And at the end, it was the Germans, not the French, who said “calf rope.”
When the sequel war came, the French relied on their frontier fortifications and used their tanks (which were better than the Germans’, one on one) defensively. The Germans had a newer, better offensive strategy. So they won. And the French surrendered. Which was damn sensible of them.
This was the WEHRMACHT. In two years, they conquered all of Western Europe and lost only 30,000 troops in the process. That’s less than the casualties of Gettysburg. You get the picture? Nobody, no army on earth, could’ve held off the Germans under the conditions that the French faced them. The French lost because they had a long land border with Germany. The English survived because they had the English Channel between them and the Wehrmacht. When the English Army faced the Wermacht at Dunkirk, well, thanks to spin the tuck-tail-and-flee result got turned into some heroic tale of a brilliant British retreat. The fact is, even the Brits behaved like cowards in the face of the Wermacht, abandoning the French. It’s that simple.
Here’s a quick sampler of some of my favorite French victories, like an antidote to those ignorant websites. We’ll start way back and move up to the 20th century.
Tours, 732 AD: The Muslims had already taken Spain and were well on their way to taking the rest of Europe. The only power with a chance of stopping them was the French army under Charles “the Hammer” Martel, King of the Franks (French), who answered to the really cool nickname “the Hammer of God.” It was the French who saved the continent’s ass. All the smart money was on the Muslims: there were 60,000 of them, crazy Jihadis whose cavalry was faster and deadlier than any in Europe. The French army was heavily outnumbered and had no cavalry. Fighting in phalanxes, they held against dozens of cavalry charges and after at least two days of hand-to-hand combat, finally managed to hack their way to the Muslim center and kill their commander. The Muslims retreated to Spain, and Europe developed as an independent civilization.
Orleans, May 1429: Joan of Arc: is she the most insanely cool military commander in history or what? This French peasant girl gets instructions from her favorite saints to help out the French against the English invaders. She goes to the King (well, the Dauphin, but close enough) and tells him to give her the army and she’ll take it from there. And somehow she convinces him. She takes the army, which has lost every battle it’s been in lately, to Orleans, which is under English siege. Now Joan is a nice girl, so she tries to settle things peaceably. She explains in a letter to the enemy commanders that everything can still be cool, “…provided you give up France…and go back to your own countries, for God’s sake. And if you do not, wait for the Maid, who will visit you briefly to your great sorrow.” The next day she put on armor, mounted a charger, and prepared to lead the attack on the besiegers’ fortifications. She ordered the gates opened, but the Mayor refused until Joan explained that she, personally, would cut off his head. The gates went up, the French sallied out, and Joan led the first successful attack they’d made in years. The English strongpoints were taken, the siege was broken, and Joan’s career in the cow-milking trade was over.
Braddock’s Defeat (aka Battle of Monongahela) July 1755: Next time you’re driving through the Ohio Valley, remember you’re passing near the site of a great French victory over an Anglo-American force twice its size. General Edward Braddock marched west from Virginia with 1,500 men — a very large army in 18th-c. America. His orders were to seize French land and forts in the Valley — your basic undeclared land-grab invasion. The French joined the local tribes to resist, and then set up a classic ambush. It was a slaughter. More than half of Braddock’s force — 880 men — were killed or wounded. The only Anglo officer to escape unhurt was this guy called George Washington, and even he had two horses shot out from under him. After a few minutes of non-stop fire from French and Indians hidden in the woods, Braddock’s command came apart like something out of Nam, post-Tet. Braddock was hit and wounded, but none of his troops would risk getting shot to rescue him.
Austerlitz, Dec. 1805: You always hear about Austerlitz as “Napoleon’s Greatest Victory,” like the little guy personally went out and wiped out the combined Russian and Austrian armies. The fact is, ever since the Revolution in 1789, French armies had been kicking ass against everybody. They were free citizens fighting against scared peasant and degenerate mercenaries, and it was no contest. At Austerlitz, 65,000 French troops took on 90,000 Russians and Austrians and destroyed them. Absolutely annihilated them. The French lost only 8,000, compared to 29,000 of the enemy. The tactics Bonaparte used were very risky, and would only have worked with superb troops: he encouraged the enemy to attack a weak line, then brought up reinforcements who’d been held out of sight. That kind of tactical plan takes iron discipline and perfect timing — and the French had it.
Jena, Oct. 1806: just a quick reminder for anybody who thinks the Germans always beat the French. Napoleon takes on the Prussian army and destroys it. 27,000 Prussian casualties vs. 5,000 French. Prussian army routed, pursued for miles by French cavalry.
You eXile guys might want to remember that the French under Napoleon are still the only army ever to have taken all of continental Europe, from Moscow to Madrid. I could keep listing French victories till I had a book. In fact, it’s not a bad idea. A nice big hardback, so you could take it to the assholes running all the anti-French-military sites and bash their heads in with it.
Subscribe to the Radio War Nerd podcast for your weekly War Nerd fix.
Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.
Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.
Twitter twerps can follow us at twitter.com/exiledonline