18. Progress in Civilization

18.1 France

The sanguinary military successes and the continuous expansion of France warranted the excellence of its policy. The denunciation by T. More first and Fenelon, Montaigne and Voltaire later of the magnification of the State, its kleptomania, the impoverishment of its citizens and of Europe remained without effect. The policy of aggression and confiscations never abated.

The immense hopes raised by the French Revolution rapidly withered away. Goethe, Beethoven, Schiller, Schopenhauer, Marx soon expressed their disillusion. Schiller, the poet and humanist who wrote The Hymn to Joy for the 9thof Beethoven made the remark that: “Gegen Dummheit, selbst die Götter kämpfen vergeblich” (Against stupidity, even the Gods fight in vain).

Goya was surrounded by a group of human monsters (a royal court mimicking the French one; the Spanish Crown was affiliated to the French Bourbons, i.e. Louis XIV) who have never been surpassed for stupidity, viciousness, ignorance, greed, and corruption. He announced as early as 1798 the disastrous path taken by Europe (Fig. 18.1).


Figure 18.1. Goya: “El sueno de la razon produce monstruos” (the Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters), 1797-1798. Etching and aquatint. From the Caprichos. Philadelphia Museum of Art, gift of Smith, Kline and French Laboratories.

Goya (1746-1828), contemporary of David, saw the world without illusions, living in a country intellectually all but inert, with a population brutalized by poverty, bigotry, and oppression. The student is asleep over his books while the air around him is filled with screech owls and bats. It is the triumph of nightmare, Man’s incapacity to think his way toward humane and reasonable existence.

Goya restated his hope in civilization in 1814, by painting “The executions” of May 3, 1808. Prado, Madrid (Fig. 18.2).

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Figure 18.2. Away from the asinine representations of David and Ingres extolling Napoleon (see fig.14, 1d) and the Empire, Goya gives to the subject the quality of an event that happens as we look at it. On May 2, 1808, the citizens of Madrid rioted against French soldiery, and the following day the captured rioters were shot. One man spreads in defiance his raised arms against the executioners. A priest prays. Other men clutch at themselves in terror. Ranged in front of them, the uniformed soldiers are like automations. Their faces are not shown, their stances are identical, they are painted in brown and dull gray. This depersonalization accentuates the humanity of the victims and makes the central figure a symbol of the individual’s revolt against the forces of organized repression, even if impotent before them. Goya’s central figure is the symbol of a spirit of liberty unquenchable in mankind.

French gluttony did not grind to a halt after the Napoleonic discomfiture. Charles X initiated the annexation of Algeria in 1830. The greatest hold-up realized by France was the stealing in 1830 by Charles X of the Ottoman war chest deposited in Algiers. At least four billion dollars in gold ingots disappeared. With the defeat of the Central Empires in 1918, France demanded 263 billion-franks-gold in reparations. The German negotiators of the armistice predicted that the reckless destruction of the economic backbone of the country programmed by the French negotiators led by marshal Foch in the absence of the true victors, the USA, would generate chaos throughout Europe. Neither Foch, who conducted the negotiations, nor Clemenceau, who implemented them, paid heed to a prediction that had already become reality in Russia, which had turned Communist in 1917. On 27 April 1921, the sum was reduced to 132 billion franks-gold but the reduction was linked to the total demilitarization of Germany. On 24 September 1921, France militarily occupied Düsseldorf and Duisburg on the Ruhr because this extravagant sum was deemed excessive by Germany. On January 1st 1923, the French and Belgian armies occupied militarily the whole of the left bank of the Rhine, from Basle to the Ruhr. This insupportable humiliation paralyzed Germany’s economy because, with the loss of Silesia to Poland, the Ruhr furnished the Reich with four fifths of its coal and steel. The strangulation of Germany’s economy hastened the plunge of the mark. On September 21 1923, one liter of milk cost 5.4 million marks. By November 1923, it took four billion marks to buy a dollar and the figures rapidly became trillions. The Germans expressed their gratefulness to Hitler after the reoccupation of the left bank of the Rhine in 1936 with “Morgens grüsze ich den Führer und abends danke ich den Führer” (In the morning, I salute the leader, and in the evening, I thank the leader)”. And also: “Der Führer gibt uns unser tägliches Brot” (the leader gives us our daily bread). The resuming of war was inevitable.

The French general de Gaulle fled to England in 1940 and pretended to continue the war. He failed to rally the French fleet of the Mediterranean to the cause of the allies. Fearing that this fleet would pass under German command and endanger the Suez canal, the Royal Navy sunk it. De Gaulle also failed in the French colonies, with a dismal landing in Dakar, the inability to control Syria and the collaboration of the whole of French Indochina with the Japanese. Unaware or unwilling to take into account the desperate military situation of Great Britain, suspecting the British to attempt a confiscation of the French colonies, unable to face the reality of the situation of France and of his own value, preoccupied not by the desire to win the war but by his own political stature, he behaved in most occasions in a way that could only but upset his host, Churchill, who however consistently did what he could to defend him in the eyes of Roosevelt, of Eisenhower and of his fellow Frenchmen. Acknowledging his incompetence, British Brig.Gen. E.L. Spears (mentioned in 17.6) organized the occupation of French Algeria in 1943 without his knowledge, and excluded him from the Yalta conference. The French civilian staunch nationalist and anti-communist Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil, who potently helped in the successful landing of the allies in Algeria, was accused of treason, of intelligence with a foreign power and of irregular crossing of borders. He was assassinated on 11th of June 1955. The hatred of de Gaulle for the “Anglo-Saxons” was so intense that he forbade 200 French liaison officers to assist the allied paratroops dropped on D-Day behind the enemy lines. These liaison officers, much-needed to insure the success of the operation, remained in England, at the risk of jeopardizing the whole invasion. He could however not prevent 175 French marines to land because these had been integrated in a French-speaking Canadian battalion. In 1945, after a war in which the French had been defeated and actively collaborated with the Nazis, he pretended to annex large parts of Belgium, annexed the German city of Kehl on the Rhine, the Mundat Forest near Wissembourg, and German Saarland. In 1945, he pretended to annex the whole of the left bank of the Rhine, which Eisenhower opposed. In the same year, he concluded a treaty with the Soviet Union and introduced the French communist party into his government. In addition, de Gaulle wanted to retain France’s colonies. This led to wars in Madagascar, Indochina and Algeria, supported by crapulous deeds that were occulted because the victim populations were Muslim and/or colored.

Two European countries refused forcefully to take the path toward ignominy and barbarism.

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