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Resistance, France 1940-44 and Britain 2020-21

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This is a companion piece to The collaborators, Paris 1941 and London 2021, published on September 20, 2021. 

Paris, June 13, 1940

THE young Wehrmacht officer could not have chosen a more perfect day to capture Paris. The previous night’s heavy rain had given way to clear blue skies, from which sunshine streamed down upon the invading German army waiting on the outskirts to enter the capital officially the following day, ready to crush any resistance.

However, the lieutenant tasked with securing military accommodation was too impatient to wait for the starting pistol. Borrowing a BMW motorbike, he rode into the city and found himself in Montmartre, where a crowd gathered and stared at his field-grey uniform with shocked curiosity. Paris, the cultural jewel of Europe, had fallen to a motorcyclist without a shot being fired. It was another humiliation after the rout of France’s ‘invincible’ army, rated the greatest fighting force in Europe.

In the following days, German occupation troops were disconcerted by the sight of smiling, waving Parisians. How had it come to this? Where was the mass of patriotic volunteers who would arise and destroy the enemy, a belief ingrained in the French psyche?

 With hindsight, it was all avoidable. If France’s complacent generals had not dismissed two vital pieces of information they could have halted the German panzers. Three years previously, the Germans had revealed exactly what they proposed to do. An article in a military science review by the chief of the German Armoured Corps envisaged a massive tank thrust through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes Forest via Belgium and into France.

The second critical error was to ignore a proposal in 1934 by France’s youngest general, a certain Charles de Gaulle, that tanks should operate as fast mobile units, independent of the infantry. This idea was shunned – but not by Germany, which refined de Gaulle’s concept in their Blitzkrieg tactics.

Had they taken notice, the French generals, commanding an equivalent number of tanks to Germany’s technically inferior panzers, could have ambushed and wiped out the invading force. Instead, they left the back door open and unguarded.

Contrary to popular belief, many French servicemen resisted courageously in the six-week Battle of France, with 60,000 killed and twice that number wounded, due in no small part to the incompetence and defeatism of their generals.

The Resistance became the figleaf that covered the nation’s shame. Small in number – probably fewer than one per cent of the population played an active part – they never set France ablaze, but made some impressive bangs. Membership was by invitation only, drawn from friends and family. No one else could be trusted: the authorities received 3million denunciations. Hunted by an enemy of unbelievable cruelty, their bravery is truly the stuff of legend.

 Yet the notion of civilian resistance was slow to catch on. Open defiance ranged from whistling at the Germans as they marched in step to making flatulent noises during German newsreels; in response the cinema lights were ordered to be left on.

 Adolescents took the initiative in the early years. One of their most remarkable leaders was a 16-year-old student, Jacques Lusseyran, who at one stage could call on 5,000 Parisian youngsters to distribute leaflets, conceal printing presses, act as lookouts and support other resistance groups. Lusseyran had been blind since the age of eight.

Whereas towns and cities lent themselves to clandestine activity, fighting back was more hazardous in rural areas where résistants were more exposed and liable to betrayal by hostile neighbours. The risks were particularly acute in the zealously guarded ‘forbidden zone’ of coastal Normandy. With most of the able-bodied men absent, performing compulsory labour in Germany or hiding out, the burden of resisting fell on the old, the disabled and the young. Since the terrain was unsuitable for guerilla activity, their job was to supply intelligence leading up to D-Day.

What made them risk torture, death and reprisals against their families?

André Héricy was a joiner whose bad legs had poorly equipped him for even a walk-on role in history’s most epic climax.  He was recruited by a close friend. ‘I said Yes immediately,’ he recalled. ‘I felt guilty because I couldn’t fight, and my father told me about the Bosche in the First World War.’ On June 6 1944 he helped to blow up the railway line at Grimbosque, near Caen, cutting off German reinforcements from the south-west.

‘I was more afraid of being denounced by bad Frenchmen than the Germans themselves,’ Héricy said. ‘Bad Frenchmen’ included collaborators: ‘I consider that a farmer who sold meat and butter to the Germans was a collaborator, because it was making the war go on longer. But they wanted it to go on: they had never been so happy.’

Perhaps the lesson of this sad episode of French history is that the achievements of the Resistance, though notable, were less important than the act of resistance itself.

London 2020

It was his Churchill moment, the test of leadership for which destiny had prepared Boris Johnson. The enemy – germens, in Shakespeare’s word for pathogens – pullulated at Britain’s borders, ready to subjugate the population. The Prime Minister acted decisively: he opened the gate wide and let them in. For good measure he rolled out a red carpet, strewn with banknotes, for charlatans posing as saviours. He promised them further riches beyond their dreams. Never was so much owed to so few.

As a classicist, Johnson was aware of the caution ‘Beware of geeks bearing gifts.’ A simple check would have told him that these geeks had form. To take just one example, in 2009 Pfizer was fined a record $1.195billion and paid an extra $1billion to resolve allegations of criminal and civil liability for misbranding the anti-inflammatory drug Bextra with intent to defraud or mislead. The civil settlement also ‘resolved allegations that Pfizer paid kickbacks to healthcare providers to induce them to prescribe these as well as other drugs’, according to the US Department of Justice.

As a former journalist, Johnson would know of geneticists’ long-term goal to revolutionise medicine – thereby greatly enriching themselves – by making the genetic code dance to their tune. Any virologist could have told him that years of attempting to develop a safe vaccine using an mRNA platform had resulted in failure. Accepting the salesmen’s word that they had fixed the problem, he agreed to their demand for full indemnity from civil claims for injury – a telling contradiction that seems to have escaped him.

It is said that a man who takes on the cloak of evil, even in a good cause, finds that it sticks to his skin. Johnson could have stopped the invasion at an early stage, when the anti-viral potency of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were proved in robust tests and vouched for by front-line doctors. Instead, he presided over their prohibition and, with the help of the compliant media, kept the public ignorant of other simple precautions to stave off the virus. Bizarrely, citizens were encouraged to applaud the NHS, which had signally failed to stem the death toll.

Should these matters ever come to trial, Johnson will no doubt claim that he was misinformed. That defence has already been tried: ‘bad intelligence’ is now deemed the last resort of a scoundrel.

It is too early to detect any significant public resistance. The most authoritative voices have been driven to websites such as TCW Defending Freedom, where key players and researchers have dauntlessly pieced together what have been described as crimes against humanity. Most do not see themselves as rebels, but rather as seekers after truth, outlawed by the state.

If the bad outcomes of multiple injections come to pass as predicted, many more people will join the resistance. But by then it may be too late.

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Stuart Wavell
Stuart Wavell is a retired journalist.

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