No True Frenchman

You know the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy? It’s a ploy that makes any argument impervious to contradiction.

If Angus, who lives in Glasglow and who puts sugar on his porridge, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim that “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge”, the “No true Scotsman” fallacy would work this way:

(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
(3) Therefore Angus is not a (true) Scotsman, and
(4) Angus’ putting sugar on his porridge does not disprove the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.

The other day, Marine Le Pen, the right wing “National Front” candidate running for President of France said that France wasn’t responsible for the Vél d’Hiv roundup. This was the action of July, 1942,  in which the French, without any help from the Germans, deported 13,000 “stateless” Jews, i.e. those that had fled to France from elsewhere in Europe, seeking French protection from the Nazis.

French police rousted them from their beds, sent 6,000 immediately to Drancy (a transit camp for Auschwitz in the Paris suburbs), and crammed the rest into an indoor bike track in the 15th Arrondisement called the Vélodrome d’Hiver for five days without food, water or toilets, before deporting them to be murdered.  They conducted the round-up to demonstrate to the Germans that they were reliable allies, in agreement with the German goals.

But “the French” didn’t do that, according to Le Pen, who said, “France wasn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv. If there was responsibility, it is with those who were in power at the time, it is not with France. France has been mistreated, in people’s minds, for years.” Le Pen wants true Frenchmen to be proud of France. Fair enough.

No, it was the Vichy regime then in power that was responsible, and they couldn’t really be French, because no true Frenchman could have done such a thing. Except that they were as French as any Frenchman has ever been – Philippe Pétain, the “war hero” of Verdun was at the head of the Vichy government, and was a beloved figure enjoying great popularity in France at the time of  the Vél d’Hiv episode.



And all the police that conducted the operation were, what, if not French? And all of the citizens looking on as the Jews were taken away were French as well. Some clucked their tongues and shook their heads at the scene, while many jeered and insulted the deportees. But they were all true Frenchmen.

As the years pass, and living memory of the events is gradually extinguished, there is a strong tendency on the part of those who interpret history now to confuse French dislike of or resistance to the Germans with some feeling of goodwill or responsibility toward the Jews. The way I see it, no one wants to be occupied by Nazis, but they might be able to find a silver lining to that cloud: the Christ-killers get what they’ve always deserved, and lots of choice apartments in the Marais become magically available overnight. Furnished, too!

According to this NYT piece,

Ms. Le Pen’s words also flew in the face of over four decades of historical research into the eager collaboration of the wartime French government, which had been installed in the spa town of Vichy. It was the French government’s police chief, René Bousquet — a favorite of the head of the government at the time — who organized the roundup, impressing his German counterparts with his energy.

“Vichy did not have a knife to its throat,” the historian Philippe Burrin wrote of the Vel d’Hiv roundup in his landmark book, “La France à l’Heure Allemande,” (“France Under the Germans”).

“Without the help of the police” — the French police — “the SS was paralyzed,” Mr. Burrin wrote. “The French authorities were entirely disposed to get rid of foreign Jews,” he wrote, referring to the officials’ offer to the Nazis, on that occasion at least, to hand over Jews who were not French citizens.

It always puzzles me that people who advocate for the removal of Jews from public life refuse to acknowledge that others have tried it and succeeded before.  And then call those who mention it liars and slanderers. It’s weird. They say they’d like to do it but are offended by the notion that someone did do it?

The antecedents and founders of Le Pen’s “National Front”, though French, might as well be Nazis. Attempts to explain how they are not Nazis make distinctions without differences. They hated the Jews, who they regarded as “the other” and a threat to French life.  The party was founded by Le Pen’s father,  Jean-Marie Le Pen, a convicted holocaust denier, who famously referred to the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history”. Marine finally kicked her father out of the party two years ago, and has been trying to “de-demonize” it, make it less odious and more acceptable to the true Frenchmen, with good success.

I’ll defer discussion of the frightening rise of blatant anti-semitism in France in recent years, and just say that  French sentiment is what it has always been, though the degree of the “blatant” fluctuates. Not much has changed since Dreyfus, Zola, and Herzl, or forever before that, despite the stark lessons of the intervening history.

Marine Le Pen is a true Frenchwoman. She has made it acceptable for French people to think and say things which have not been acceptable to think or say for decades. She has a lot of popular support, and the people who may well vote her in as the next President of France are also true Frenchmen.


2 thoughts on “No True Frenchman”

  1. I love France- as a tourist. Beautiful (central) Paris, truly great food, lovely countryside and, honestly, the best wine. As a tourist. Politically and socially the French are mean-spirited snobs, the height of hypocrisy and conveniently forgetful. In ww2 the nazis ran over a larger, richer and better armed French army in less than 6 weeks. And yet they had their own sector in Germany and Austria just like the Russians who counted their dead at 22 million. During the Vichy regime the song on everyone’s lips was, “Petain est France et France est Petain.” Exactly.

    Liked by 1 person

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