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03 May 2009


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William R. Cumming

Vive La France! Hey last I heard Napoleon did not do too badly. The surrender in 1940 does seem to overshadow all the hard fighting the French did for the Allies after North Africa was taken in 1943! What has always fascinated me about military history is not that a certain military unit or a certain country's military is viewed as competent and professional but how often history seems to shadow the success of many successful militaries. The US military conveniently forgets, like the rest of the country, some of its most trying history and losses, but it is appalling how underappreciated the skill set of the current military is now viewed domestically. Perhaps because the citizen soldier day has ended except for the National Guard most citizens have no idea of the complexity of modern warfare, COIN or conventional and how much it has changed even from the Viet Nam generation. What I keep hoping for is more intelligent reviews of the small unit combat prevailing in Iraq and AF-PAK Theatre (as I now choose to call it). There is scandalously little intelligent writing about the military by non-military historians, and other disciplines. Political correctness even hit Sir John Keegan when in his book "On War" suggested perhaps its obsolence. It (war) is in our nature and will be until the end of time or history (whichever comes first Frances Fukuyama)! I personally am glad the French have rejoined NATO. Now time for US to leave it.


two regiments of the 106th "lion" division surrendered during the bulge.

from the wiki
"The 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments were encircled and cut off from the remainder of the Division by a junction of enemy forces in the vicinity of Schonberg. They regrouped for a counterattack but were blocked by the enemy and lost to the Division, 1944-12-18. The two Regiments surrendered to the Germans on 1945-12-19. "


Ah, the French. Love them or Hate them whichever way you want as over time you will expend efforts in each direction. Now having the distinction of cursing them on this site once I could have the moniker placed on me of a Francophobe Bigot. Does it fit, ah, maybe but I also spend equal time on the loving side.

As anyone who has spent time on the Champs- Elysees trying to flag a cab will tell you 10 will go by with the finger raised and one will stop and pick you up but then he will be muttering under his breath the whole trip. Now granted my French is not up to par so I do suffer it quietly. The country is beautiful and I can spend days wandering the Louvre so its worth the mingling.

The French military is renowned in military history and I congratulate them for helping control the Somali rascals out for a buck.


At least the French declared war on the Nazis. The US courageously waited until Germany declared war on it.

No doubt shooting a couple of teens pirates has bought Obama some time. But they better be working on something bigger if they don't want the wingnuts portraying the French as being tougher than Obama.

What's the equivalent of "Shock and Awe" in pirate terms?


Thank you for posting this, Col. Lang. I have never understood the tendency among some Americans to derisivly dismiss French courage and valor. Perhaps it has to do with a fear of socialized medicine?

I spent some time years ago working with La Royale, and found them to be very active and professional, and brave to the point of contempt for danger. The War Nerd's classic column on the French is a useful corrective.

Dave of Maryland

The French are insufferable snobs, and proud of it. That is why I love them so very much.


The War Nerd wrote the best article on this topic:




I tend to agree with your point about the French taking a bad rap concerning their fighting skills and spirit. They certainly came in handy for us at Yorktown.

But as to your point about even the US Marines surrendered at Wake Island and Corregidor. Unfortunately in both events the Marines were hobbled by being placed under the command of the Navy and the Army respectively. Officers from those two services made the surrender call. As you well know, leadership is everything.


& then there is the Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini, but he was Swiss French. And fought for France and Russia trying in vain to spare Marshal Ney's life & perhaps he did where legend says Ney escaped fate thru freemason contacts to become a mathematics professor at Davidson college in NC.

Patrick Lang


Sure, whatever...


What? Macarthur was ordered out of the Phillipines by Roosevelt personally. You did not know that?


Neil Richardson


I don't doubt the competence of the French military. My only contact with them was when an observer group was attached to 11ACR during a REFORGER back in 1983 and they seemed professional enough. My past annoyance has to do with French public opinion of their forces. Whenever I had conversations with friends who'd done compulsory service, they'd go on and on about how the French way of warfare (whatever that means) and their hardward was better than anything the US could muster. After a while it becomes grating especially coming from those who'd done 12-18months. National pride is understandable but I felt it bordered on delusional at times.

2e DB was as fine an armored division as any in the ETO (IIRC Fritz Beyerlein rated them among the best he'd faced in the war along with the Fourth and Sixth Armored Divisons). Still, if you listen to some of these French people, they think the Daguet Division singlehandedly defeated the Iraqi Army in 1991.


Col the ‘these colors never run’ crowd never heard of Bull Run, Chancellorsville, or a hundred others. Neither do they know of the French help in Savannah, Yorktown or the Battle of the Chesapeake. I am sure, however; that they love Freedom Fries and French toast. Perhaps they should check this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bladensburg, Oh, wait, that was the British who burned Washington. (The Marines only skedaddled, er, withdrew, but they didn't surrender.)

How much impact does illegal fishing and possible nuclear waste dumping have to the rise of Somalian piracy?


Dissing France? I thought it was Bush being unhappy because they didn't want to get involved in Iraq/afghanistan, and initially were contentious in the UN.

Then Rumsfeld is doing his "old europe" gag to pressure the european on the run up to Iraq war vote in the UN. Massive propaganda war. The france newspaper was getting nasty too. It ends with "francefries/freedom fries" silliness.

I still want to know who instigates the 2005 Paris riot. That was right after Mitterand sending exactly ONE france troop after Bush arm twisting him in all sort of ways.

That very well could be one of France finest moment, not getting involved in very long and ugly war. UK obviously caved and they get nothing out of it.

And Iraq war still rages on and will get complicated soon, due to geopolitical trend.


France getting ugly rap?

loosing to germany in WWII
(tho' again. easy for everybody to say, considering the european was traumatized from WWI experience and do not want to repeat very bloody trench war.)

(somebody add nice diagram to the wiki article. way cool.)

2. in relation to US history. Vietnam.
should have listened to vietnam and get out of that place instead of trying to quell war of independence in guise of "anti communism" domino theory ... Obviously the rance knew something about their ex-colony.


with regard to Obama. I think Obama will inherit serious long term problem from Bush policy.

1. relationship with Russia is collapsing fast. And europe will have to decide where they stand. (NATO in georgia? bad move. Russia will not forgive that. Hillary better know playing the bluffing game with Russia won't last few months, but decades.)

2. Iraq. This means Iran, european and chinese energy supply upon economic recovery, Russia interest in central asia. Now is easy, but 2-3 years from now, Iraq will be a very difficult problem. 5 years from now, it will be ugly.

3. afghanistan. I can't feel it yet. But history lesson says, it will not end nicely.

So france position? They have right wing government with relatively mild negative impact from global economic collapse. I don't expect big change.

Mark Logan

I am quite certain no one ever told me a joke about French cowardice prior to 2002, and had thought it all originated from then, but googling around a bit I discovered that while the meme did indeed become quite widespread during the runup to the Iraq war, it had prior existence.

The roots appear to be from WW2, and are likely of British origin, but no one is really sure. The term "Cheese eating surrender monkeys", for instance, originated from the character "Grounds keeper Willie" on the Simpsons in 1995, where it sat, unremembered, until dragged into wide usage for the occasion of Frances refusal to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, supposedly by Jonah Goldberg...

Well, I suppose we all remember those "Freedom Fries".

John Lennon: "Strange days indeed..."


Didn't they warn us not to go into Vietnam and Iraq? Maybe that's why a lot of people hate the French. Well that and that French exceptionalism thing too.

Cato the Censor

French cowardice: the wooden hand of Captain D'Anjou.


Christianity would have died out had it not been for Charles Martel, certainly one of the greatest generals who ever lived...unless you believe that defeating a much larger force of Arab cavalry with a small group of infantry was child's play.

Holiday Inn Resident

Please see this account of a recent response to pirate attack by the French military, posted at the excellent Cargo Law site:


There is much to discuss regarding these developments.


I tell thee, herald,
I thought upon one pair of English legs
Did march three Frenchmen. Yet, forgive me, God,
That I do brag thus! This your air of France
Hath blown that vice in me:


previous post was wrt the roots/origins of jokes about the French. They predate France.


The Americans surrendered at Detroit. In fact, the captured colours of the 4th U.S. Infantry Regiment are to be found in the Welch Regiment Museum at Cardiff Castle.

The French gave one of history's more memorable refusals to surrender at Quebec City in 1690. Frontenac: "I have no reply to make to your general other than from the mouths of my cannons and muskets."


I may post a more considered reply later, but for now..

As something of an Anglophile, I enjoy a good Frog, er... French joke as much as anyone. But I don't doubt the competence of their military. If a bit untested in recent years overall, they have performed well in operations such as those in the Gulf of Aden. I've never worked with them, but all accounts I have heard is that they are quite professional.

But if we're going to invoke French assistance at Yorktown in a debate, then perhaps we should also examine the nature of French assistance in a far more recent affair like, oh, I don't know... Oran or Safi or Port-Lyautey (I'm not a scholar, just pulled them from the Wiki article). None of those things are dealbreakers - I work with people who have (probably) killed Americans all the time. And I acknowledge the irony of insisting that they surrendered too soon over on the mainland, but not soon enough everywhere else. But if we're going to talk American contempt for the French in matters military, it seems like something worth considering.


Abu Sinan

I never got it either. Historically it would make more sense us being closer with the French than the British.

I have spent a lot of time in France and have never had the issues that the great unwashed hordes talk about in relationship to the French.

99% of these same unwashed hordes have never been to France.


Where's the rest of the story -- is it French competence or US incompetence (with the exception being recent hostage release)? Please also comment on Russian success, as I understand they too have stepped into the vacuum and have made some headway with pirates.

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,

A nice day's work by les Fusiliers Marins. Those pirate laddies are getting pretty far out to sea when they're 560 NM off the coast.

I liked your major points also.
Of course I did, as my late uncle was awarded the Croix de Guerre 5 times as a tank platoon leader and company commander in Italy and was made an honorary corporal of the 3d Algerian Rifle Regiment.
Even better, however, is the fact that I share a nom de famille with that amiable rogue, Luc Teyssier, played by Kevin Cline in "French Kiss". (That information was for the rare person who hasn't seen the film multiple times.) Who wouldn't wish to spend the rest of his life helping Meg Ryan run a vineyard in southern France?


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