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Leadership - The State of the World in 2007
call my girlfriend Magpie because she is smart, built for action
and she regards me with the experienced eye of a cynic. She is
always prepared to turn a situation to her profit.
Image of De Gaulle broadcasting from London
She frequently admonishes me, You are not in the mainstream,
and, indeed, Im not. I believe in a republic of independent thinkers.
Thats an easy thing to do when youre sitting at an outdoor
café lushing it up at Happy Hour, though a ride on the subway,
with its population of thoroughly put-upon commuters, quickly disabuses
you of the concept that people are going to educate themselves enough
to arrive at their own conclusions on the issues of the day. They have
got enough on their plate with kids, car payments and misbegotten careers
that they fundamentally hate. That is why they allow their opinions to
be formed by the reactionary class, who is paid by the big money to hammer
away at themes of self-reliance in order to keep tax rates low.
One of the big issues of the Republican Party in recent years has been
France and the French, who had the audacity a generation ago to elect
the Socialists to power, which the American ruling class took as a direct
slap in the face. Tough shit, Sherlock. The French voted themselves a
35-hour week, five weeks vacation and various other plums, which
they paid for by taxing big corporations. Never mind that these corporations,
which are huge even by American standards, were able to pay and still
keep functioning, mainly because they are so effectively operating as
Strictly speaking, none of this was any of Americas business. Still,
the Republicans kept hammering away at the French on a daily basis to
ensure that the workforce here would not be contaminated by any of these
foreign concepts. This hectoring reached a point of frenzy in the build-up
to the Iraq war as the French tried to mount a campaign against the invasion
of that country which, in retrospect, was a very shitty idea, not because
of the morality of it but because of the reality of it.
Im not here to cop a plea for the people of Iraq, but because as
a concept the war has been demonstrated to be an opium dream that has
cost our country dearly in terms of resources and manpower. Not that those
resources would not have been wasted on some other indulgence due to the
arrogance and vapid reasoning of our increasingly redundant ruling class.
Strong leadership, as its currently perceived, is a
black hole into which we are all being sucked because the main proponents
of it are all Republicans, who have a demonstrably feeble grasp of reality,
or those Democrats who are pandering to the current trend. There are no
strong leaders who can point to a demonstrable record of public achievement,
or even of having been demonstrably correct in their theory. Maybe Hillary
Clinton, who has been hammering away for a generation on the theme of
a national medical plan, an idea whose time has finally reached its maturity
despite all efforts to derail it. When you consider that one-seventh of
our economy is devoted to health care and one seventh of the country is
still not covered, it makes you wonder where all that loot is going. In
a word, its going into the pockets of the insurance combines, and
they are among the prime motivators of all the anti-French hysteria, considering
that the French did away with all that stealing a long time ago.
Lately, though, since the election of Nicholas Sarkozy, the center-right
candidate for the French presidency, the continual anti-French whirlwind
of invective has somewhat abated. Sarkozy is the Great White Hope of anti-Socialist
sentiment in this country, though the hopes of the neo-capitalists may
yet be dashed on the rocks of French public opinion, which may be reluctant
to give up its acquis, or previously acquired social benefits,
to suit the interests of the multinationals. As they have proven repeatedly
throughout history, the French are not timid about massively pouring into
the streets to put a halt to what they perceive as savage forms of neo-capitalist
backsliding. Sarkozy has already conceded that some areas of policy are
off-limits to his program of reform. When the full extent of Sarkozys
exceptions becomes evident, the streets may yet again be full, not of
Frenchmen but of bow tied American neo-conservatives, and the gutters
of America may yet again flow with French wine.
What of it? Sarkozys personal style may at first glance seem to
represent some similarities to Italys kleptocratic former leader,
Silvio Berlusconi, but the historical record argues against his toeing
the American line. Sarkozy claims to be the continuation, though much-diluted,
of the tradition of Charles de Gaulle who, even in vastly more reduced
circumstances, represented the interests of France against a much more
preponderant America power.
Anybody who has lived with a woman for any length of time knows the extreme
lengths she will go to in order to get a man under her thumb. Screaming
fits, nagging, insults are all par for the course in subjugating a man.
On the national level we have our party of nags, the Republicans, who
have come to dominate our national life by much those same techniques
of hectoring by use of a right-wing press that keeps the national level
at a fever pitch. Unfortunately, we have no vigorous left-wing press to
rebut the agents of reaction. Theres nobody to tell Rupert Murdoch
to shut up, so the point of view he promotes is pretty much accepted as
the official line which Democrats are loathe to step on for fear of being
represented as unpatriotic traitors. As a consequence, the present day
insanity of the Iraq war and the 50-year embargo of Cuba continue unabated
They sell us social concepts the way advertising sells us soap, with sound
bites and repetitive reinforcement until we are conditioned to think of
the Democrats as overly pliable and irresolute, and themselves as firm
and unyielding. Of course, the actual product falls well short of its
advance promotion. The present Republican leadership consists of Bush
and Giuliani, who are completely bogus, and John McCain, who may or may
not have leadership standing, depending on how one interprets his conduct
leading up to and including his captivity by the North Vietnamese.
Im not here to debate John McCains acceptability as a national
leader, except to repeat whit I have read, that he was reportedly cautioned
by his commanding officer (warned is too strong a word since
McCains father was commander of the Sixth Fleet, and one does not
warn the son of an admiral) not to perform Top Gun
flying tricks with his F-16 while flying above Vietnamese rocket emplacements,
which might result in getting shot down. Also, there are stories that
the Vietnamese, eager to get rid of this hot potato of an admirals
son, repeatedly begged him to leave the Hanoi Hilton and go home, which
he resolutely refused to consider. You cant read into the heart
of another man but you can speculate about what future political ambitions
entertained McCains mind during those hundreds and thousands of
miserable nights in that cell that he inhabited with such insistence.
Strong leadership. What yardstick might one use to measure such an elastic
concept? Its tempting to return to our much reviled sometimes allies,
the French, and the original progenitor of their current political dynasty,
Charles de Gaulle. Maybe by shining a light on the salient points of his
career we might be able to divine a clearer definition of that much-overused
De Gaulle, the son of a schoolmaster, graduated from St. Cyr, Frances
West Point. In 1912 he was attached to an infantry company commanded by
Colonel Philippe Pétain, whose military career had been frozen
in suspended animation for questioning the official military doctrine
of the day. Pétain believed that the official doctrine of aggressive
attack was wasteful in light of the overwhelming effectiveness of modern
weaponry and adhered to a strategy of static defense, using artillery
and machine guns to soften up an area before moving up ground troops.
As a young officer de Gaulle considered this cautionary approach too timid
and argued for a more aggressive approach to warfare. When World War I
broke out, de Gaulle immediately put his aggressive theory of attack into
practice and was gravely wounded. After spending several months in hospital,
he was sent back to the front, where he was captured by the Germans, and
he spent the next three years in captivity, attempting escape on three
different occasions. Each time he was recaptured and punished. He did
not see France again until 1918, when prisoners were exchanged as part
of the general armistice.
By this time the pendulum of military doctrine had swung in the direction
of Pétain. After the horrendous losses of manpower suffered by
France in World War I, opinion had swung in favor of static warfare. Pétain,
whose career had hung in abeyance for so many years due to his reluctance
to needlessly waste lives in suicidal waves of attack, was credited for
breaking the back of the Germans at the Battle of Verdun and was promoted
to the rank of Marshal, and he was idolized and adored throughout France.
De Gaulle, who was demoralized and filled with remorse for having passed
most of the war in captivity, returned to active service in the army and
was immediately adopted as a protégé by his former commander,
Pétain, who assigned him as an instructor at the War College in
Paris. De Gaulle also ghostwrote speeches and articles for use by Pétain.
This favoritism shown to de Gaulle by Pétain provoked jealousy
among other military officers. In addition, de Gaulles stiff and
formal military bearing, entering a class of officers with white gloves
and bearing a sword, did not mark him as a people person.
In addition, de Gaulle insisted upon promulgating his own concept of military
strategy involving the use of mobile tank divisions supported by air power.
The French military establishment considered him to be a lunatic and an
abomination much the way American strategists persecuted General Billy
Mitchell for insisting that the day would eventually come when an aircraft
would be able to sink a battleship.
The Germans, however paid close attention to de Gaulles treatises
on military strategy, and when Hitler assumed power he ordered the formation
of three Panzer tank divisions, soon to be followed by five more, all
supported by air power!
The French insisted on adhering to their strategy of static defense and
built a line of seemingly impregnable fortresses and fortified trenches
along their border with Germany, called the Maginot Line after
the Minister of Defense. Hitlers Panzer divisions circumvented the
line by driving through the Ardennes forest, which the French considered
impenetrable, and quickly entered France. It was only at this time, with
the Germans already conquering French soil, that the French command conceded
the soundness of his thinking and awarded de Gaulle a tank division, various
odds-and-ends of armored vehicles, to meet the superbly equipped Panzer
divisions supported by Stuka divebombers.
It was no contest, but de Gaulle was brought into the war cabinet of Prime
Minister Reynaud, where he was to meet British Prime Minister Churchill
in the last days before the collapse of France. Churchill was so impressed
by de Gaulles military bearing and resolve to fight on that, as
the French government was forced to leave Paris for Bordeaux, from whence
they would plead with the Germans for an armistice, the British leader
sent an RAF plane to bring de Gaulle to London to form a government-in-exile
even as the French government, now headed by none other than Pétain,
prostrated itself before Hitler.
Immediately upon landing in London, de Gaulle met the same day with Churchill
and that evening went on BBC Radio to exhort the people of France to resist
the German invaders. He invited the overseas French who inhabited its
worldwide empire to come to London to unite under his symbol, the Cross
of Lorraine, and fight side-by-side with the British to crush Germany.
The Pétain government, which would later install itself in the
resort town of Vichy, immediately cashiered de Gaulle from the military,
revoked his French citizenship and sentenced him to death in absentia. (After the war Pétain was convicted of treason and died in prison.)
Nevertheless, de Gaulle, exiled, broke and stateless, rallied around his
person, in which he audaciously embodied the honor and legitimacy of the
French nation, all the disparate elements of the French empire, and at
wars end was able to march under the Arc de Triomphe in a victory
procession as head of state. After the war he retired to his modest country
house in Colombey-Deux-Eglises until 1958, when France, once again shattered
by the colonial conflict in Algeria and itself on the verge of civil war,
pleaded for him to assume the reins of power once more, which he consented
to do only after the political establishment agreed to the rewriting of
the constitution investing all the power of the state in his office.
As president of France, he ended the Algerian war on terms extremely advantageous
to French interests and streamlined the French economy, guaranteeing the
countrys continuance as an economic powerhouse.
Now, THATS what I call strong leadership, not no Mission Accomplished
bullshit or giving little speeches like Giuliani, or falling into captivity
because of horsing around with your jet fighter and then refusing to leave!
We fortunately dont need this kind of leadership because life in
this country is good thanks to the industriousness of its working population.
But its instructive to know the difference. So the next time some
moron gives a speech invoking strong leadership the readers
of this article (all two of you) will not get sucked into the mainstream
of imbecilic superficiality.
© Dean Borok June 2007
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