In 1933, when the Nazis took power in Germany, Churchill pronounced, ‘Thank God for the French Army!’ Subsequent events proved his confidence to be misplaced. But judging from the Bastille Day celebration in Paris this morning, the French military are in good shape. Especially impressive is the amount of French designed, French built hardware on display, from tanks and armoured personnel carriers to helicopters and fighter aircraft.
There was no great procession down the Champs Élysées this year, and fewer military personnel than usual. But the march past – the Dragoons, the Republican Guard, the Foreign Legion, the military academies – were impressive enough. There were lighter moments, as when the band of the Foreign Legion played ‘La Mer’, to the delight of the assembled dignitaries, and the drum major of the Legionnaires tossed his ceremonial mace too high and had to chase after it, to the delight of Macron.
Some of the detachments were led by women, fearsome Hattie Jacques type figures, whom one would not wish to meet on the parade ground. The fly pasts did the job, and all of it set against the magnificent backdrop of the great national monuments of Paris. As usual, the ceremony ended with the unfurling of a giant tricolor, made more poignant this year by an honour guard of health workers, and of course the singing of the Marseillaise.
There is no doubt about it. Bastille Day is a magnificent spectacle, and thanks to wide screen TV and French satellite (useful for those of us with French wives), you can have it beamed into your suburban front room.
But most of all, one senses the collective national pride. I felt it myself. The full panoply of the French state is on display – and it is impressive. This is France. Yet the great paradox remains. On the one hand, we have la Patrie, and la gloire de la France. On the other, we have the same French taking a perverse pride in having unleashed the very forces that would destroy it. Derrida, Foucault, Sartre, Lacan, Barthes, Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Levinas (etc.) – the apostles of deconstruction, postmodernism, and cultural Marxism, beloved of modern academia – were all French.
The paradox is embodied in Macron. He is the ultimate diversifying virtue-signaling liberal, who, in a fit of multicultural virtue, dared declare that French culture ‘does not exist’; and yet he handles state ceremonials with faultless dignity and aplomb, visibly swelling with pride at the Bastille Day spectacle.
In many respects France has followed the same deconstructive, self-destructive, multicultural path as England. Yet the ‘failure’ of France to absorb its Muslim immigrants into a purpose designed multicultural society (which British liberals preen themselves on having achieved here), instead relegating them to ghettos, might be a blessing in disguise. One senses that despite the ravages of multiculturalism, France, and all it stands for, remains essentially untouched.
Unlike in England, one senses that when push comes to shove, there is no question which side will win out. Macron expressed it when, in response to the BLM protests, he pledged, ‘The Republic will not erase any trace, or any name, from its history.’ And no-one could have been in any doubt how the French Republic would respond had any protestor dared to desecrate its statues. Meanwhile, the British authorities boarded-up Churchill and allowed their police to ‘take the knee’.
The inestimable value of the national day celebration is that everyone, including – especially including – the newcomer, knows where he stands. Bastille Day sense a clear message to those who would ‘deconstruct’ France. But national day military parades are not our style. We have the ceremonial of Trooping the Colour, but its only official significance is that it celebrates the Queen’s birthday. As for St George’s Day, you can forget it. England was long submerged, drowned, in the morass of diverse multicultural Britain.
But at least – for now – France remains France.
Vive la France!