Just a few days ago, Emmanuel Macron, the president of the French Republic, appealed to America. His speech before Congress was more than an eloquent affront to Donald Trump. It was a paean to shared heroes, a noble stretch of memory that touched again and again on the first American Revolution. This was more than a respite from the muck and lies that emit from the cavern of the Trump regime. His words were more than a litany of feel-good moments, articulate sounds and reminders of the special bond between our two republics.
Emmanuel Macron spoke to me. He reminded me of all that I cherish and all that I assume – liberty, humanity, literature, science – the elements of civilization. Macron embraced all. As a member of the resistance, I felt his embrace, his plea and his camaraderie.
There is another effect of Macron’s remarks. It rekindles the story of another era and another resistance.
I am reading Winston Churchill’s Their Finest Hour, his second of six books detailing the events of the Second World War. I don’t have a definitive grasp of WWII history, a knowledge gap of many post-war Americans. I have the benefit of a single US perspective, having read Jean Edward Smith’s FDR. So my understanding is limited. But here’s what I do know.
In June 1940, the German army of Adolf Hitler was on the doorstep of Paris. The proud French Army was broken. Denmark, Holland, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium had fallen under the heel of the Nazis. America stood aside and watched. Within the span of a few days, Churchill tried and failed to present an Anglo-French declaration of unity via the premier of France, Paul Reynaud.
Instead of accepting this Declaration of Union, a few members of the French government recoiled. In Churchill’s view, these were “the defeatists.” These men had accepted that all was lost. France would fall and “in three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Others were opportunists. They considered submission to Hitler a better plan than unity with the Brits or the salvation of the French Republic. And there were those whose suspicion of Britain outweighed their fear of the Nazis.
This cowardly clamor opened the door for the surrender of France on 22 June 1940.
Nazis marched in and occupied most of France, plundering its treasures and murdering its citizens. Those politicians who conceded to Hitler formed the Vichy, a puppet government for its occupiers.
The French Vichy sounds a lot like the supine members of the Republican-led Congress and Cabinet. Men like Mike Pence and John Kelly, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes. This American Vichy bows before the brutal rhetoric of Donald Trump. This cadre of cowards open their arms and invite the dissolution of democratic standards. They stand aside and allow division to rend the country into pockets of hate and bigotry. The American Vichy purse their lips and remain silent while Trump honors our enemies and esteems dictators. They are caretakers in name only; the welfare of our citizens is the least of their concerns. These men and women will never be called heroes.
When Churchill understood that the Nazis were within miles of the French capital and its government was in chaos, he sent out this missive, hoping to buoy the spirits of his French neighbors. When I read it, I cannot help but replace “France” with “America” and “French” for “American.” And I can imagine Macron or Merkel or May as the author.
The news from France is very bad, and I grieve for the gallant French people who have fallen into this terrible misfortune. Nothing will alter our feelings towards them or our faith that the genius of France will rise again.
Seventy-eight years ago, when the Germans goose-stepped a path into Paris, and Pétain accepted the handshake of Hitler, something clicked in the souls of many a French man and woman. It was a fervent resistance born out of shame and revulsion. At first, these were a motley pocket of cells, independent of one another. The French resistance was an army of secrecy and sabotage. Its members included rail workers, academics, people in the trades, students, veterans. They were communists, democrats and apolitical, far left and far right. They disagreed on tactics and ideology but shared one goal: defeating the occupier. Many of the resistance were women. They published underground newspapers, smuggled people and things, blew up infrastructure, spied on Germans, operated radios and broke codes. Later, they would become assassins of Nazi officers. As the war progressed, various resistance groups operated under the auspices of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French from his English exile. In time, British and American espionage agencies sponsored the resistance. They were supplied weapons, taught spy craft and used as Allied informants.
Above all, the resistance was an underground network that demanded anonymity. Members would be shot upon capture or tortured for information and then killed by the Germans. This fate was so common that resistants agreed to endure 24 hours of torture before breaking so their cell could disperse.
The American resistance shares few of these traits. We are open, loud and identifiable. We have few organized cells and no method for discerning the faithful from the infiltrator. Our tactics are usually based on individual concern. Failing that, we coalesce with others in a nondescript follower frenzy. Many of us are unarmed and prefer pacifism. There is no government-in-exile and no shadow government. We have no alliances with other countries or entities. We have no representative emblem, color, code or slogan. We have yet to display our full force and numbers.
We live in limbo, caught between a growing authoritarian regime and the hope of a functioning democratic process. We are afraid but not yet distraught. We yell. We march. Write. But our bodies have yet to become targets. We are in all respects, an immature and untested resistance.
However, the new resistance shares a goal with the French forerunner: our intent is to remove the man who has captured our republic, along with his cohorts in the new Vichy government. And like the French before us, we are all colors, all beliefs, all classes and from every political party.
Macron recognizes us. I am sure of that.
We have encountered countless rendez-vous with death, because we have this constant attachment to freedom and democracy. As emblazoned on the flags of the French revolutionaries, “Vivre libre ou mourir”. Live free or die.
Thankfully, freedom is also the source of all that is worth living for. Freedom is a call to think and to love. It is a call to our will. That is why, in times of peace, France and the United States were able to forge unbreakable bonds, from the grist of painful memories.
The most indestructible, the most powerful, the most definitive knot between us is the one that ties the true purpose of our peoples to advance, as Abraham Lincoln said, the “unfinished business” of democracy. – President Emmanuel Macron
So like Churchill before him, Macron calls to America in a voice full of hope. Like Churchill, he vows to fight for freedom. We, the infant resistance, have our charge and our model. The rest will be history. I hope that again, Churchill’s words will prophesy the outcome:
“We are sure that in the end all will come right.”