Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

WW2 Relevance

|   26 October 2010

Selected news, selected history

Paris last week – distinctly lacking in violence and chaos….

I was in Paris for a few days at the end of last week. But I almost didn’t go, because the newspapers and TV news were full of reports about the mass strikes in France, held in protest at the proposed changes in the retirement age.

If you watched the news or read the papers you would have thought that pretty much the whole country was in flames. Which meant that I was shocked to emerge from Charles De Gaulle airport to discover something wholly surprising – calm. My taxi driver, as he drove me into the centre of Paris, told me that that he’d had to queue at a petrol station for diesel, but that was about the only inconvenience he’d faced. And in the whole time that I was in the French capital there was no sign of any disturbance.

Which isn’t to say that the media were making stuff up. There were strikes, and there were other instances of civil disturbance. It’s just that this was certainly not the norm. And the message I had taken from watching and reading about what was happening in France was that it was.

And that’s my point. Not just that news reporting is by definition selective, but that we select for ourselves the most relevant bits from a message that someone else has previously selected.

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WW2 Anniversary

|   16 June 2010

Germans in Paris

Seventy years ago today, German soldiers celebrated in Paris. They had achieved what many had thought impossible – they had captured the French capital. And it was only to be a matter of days before total victory in France was theirs.

But what recent research has conclusively demonstrated is just how much of a risk this campaign was for Adolf Hitler. The popular perception is that Hitler’s ‘craziest’ gamble was his decision to invade the Soviet Union. But in a number of respects he took more risks with the invasion of France. Certainly, many of his Generals thought he was almost insane for deciding to move on the West, whilst subsequently supporting his decision to attack the Soviets.

The fact that the Germans won so swiftly seventy years ago has blinded many people to the enormity of the chance they took. It’s a myth, for example, that German soldiers gained victory because they possessed a greater number of armoured vehicles than the Allies. In fact, the French and British had more tanks than they did. Nor did the Germans use revolutionary ‘Blitzkreig’ tactics – their attack on France, as military historian Professor Robert Citino reveals in his interview for this site, was much more reminiscent of the ‘armoured raids’ practiced by the Prussians in the previous century.

No, the Germans won because their troops were better led than the Allies they faced, and because Hitler had authorized one of the most immense gambles in the whole of military history. He had decided that the main German attack would not come through Belgium and the Low countries, as the Allies had anticipated, but through the forest of Ardennes to the east. The plan was that Army Group A would cross through this less than ideal terrain and then make a swift dash to the coast in order to trap the bulk of French and British forces north of them.  But this was, as Professor Adam Tooze told me, a gamble so huge that ‘the Germans fully understand that if this plan fails they’ve lost the war’.

All of which makes me think more and more about the personality of Adolf Hitler. What kind of man gambles the entire future of his nation on one single moment? On a plan that could so easily have gone wrong. Because if the Allies had detected the Germans as they crossed through the Ardennes, then they could have easily destroyed them from the air. German tanks simply had no room to maneouvre in the forest.

One explanation as to why Hitler made this decision is, of course, that he was immensely excited by risk. As he told Goering as the war started, ‘I’ve always gone for broke’. In which case, was the defeat of Germany inevitable, even as German soldiers sipped congnac in the street cafes of the Champs Elysees, seventy years ago today? Because a compulsive gambler like Hitler would never have been satsified with one big win, but would always have taken a gamble too far….

WW2 Competitions

|   4 June 2010

Man in the photo

Yes, Frederick (see his comment below) is absolutely right. The man on the right of Hitler is Arno Breker, Hitler’s favourite sculptor, who accompanied Speer and the Fuehrer on their lightening, three hour early morning tour of Paris, 70 years ago this month.

Hitler wanted these ‘artists’ to accompany him so that they could see the glories of Paris, and thus be sure to construct bigger glories back in the German capital in response. And Hitler’s words to Speer that same evening (which Speer recorded in his autobiography ‘Inside the Third Reich’) give a chilling insight into the mentality of the German leader. ‘In the past I often considered whether we would not have to destroy Paris,’ said Hitler, ‘but when we are finished in Berlin, Paris will only be a shadow. So why should we destroy it?’

As Speer said, the idea that Hitler had considered destroying Paris merely because he didn’t want the French capital to overshadow Berlin reveals that he was most certainly a ‘ruthless and mankind-hating nihilist’.

A realisation that didn’t stop Speer serving him subsequently as armaments minister though, did it?