Emmanuel Macron unveiled his campaign manifesto in a carefully orchestrated press conference on Thursday and his pledges to cut taxes and reform the welfare system dominated the headlines on Friday morning.
But the president also touched on defence, promising that spending – €32.3 billion when he came to power in 2017 – will rise to €50 billion by 2025. Some of that money will be invested in cyber warfare technology, as well, presumably, on ammunition; if reports are to be believed the French army would run out of ordnance after four days of a major war.
It’s a favourite pastime of Anglophones to mock the French military, though only those who don’t know their history indulge in such juvenile antics. The battle of Verdun cost the lives of around 375,000 Frenchmen in 1916, and in the summer of 1940 their soldiers fought bravely against the Nazi invader but were let down by the ineptitude of their high command. The legend grew that French soldiers weren’t up to much. Jokes abounded in Britain such as the one about the tree-lined boulevards in France allowing German troops to march in the shade.
Then the Americans piled in with their ‘Cheese-eating surrender monkeys’ jibe, after the French refusal to participate in George W Bush’s Coalition of the Willing in 2003. It turned out that the French were right to be unwilling in the disastrous American-led invasion of Iraq, and the less said about events in Afghanistan last year the better. After the capitulation in Kabul no American will ever again be able to impugn the courage of its allies.
Arguably, France of all the western nations is best prepared to defend itself in 2022. Not so much on account of its military hardware but rather its ideological software. Whereas the American, British, Canadian and Australian militaries are obsessed with progressive dogma – the latest madness emanating from the Ministry of Defence is the idea of vegetarian footwear – the French armed forces have proved immune.
This is no surprise. ‘Woke culture’ has failed to gain much of a foothold generally in France, whether it’s among academics, artists or army officers. The word ‘woke’ has entered the French lexicon but it remains the preserve of a minority of students and has failed to spread into the wider more grown-up world the way it has in the Anglosphere.
Macron famously declared in the summer of 2020, as mobs in Britain and America toppled statues, that there would be no BLM-inspired revision of French history. Commentators in France expressed their astonishment at the defacement of the statue of Winston Churchill, a man revered across the Channel.
France has never suffered from a self-loathing left the way Britain has. It has its share of ideological crackpots, mostly Greens, who want to ban Christmas trees and meat in school canteens for environmental reasons, but none who find their country’s flag a source of embarrassment or their history a cause for shame.
On the contrary, the figurehead of the French left, Jean Luc-Mélenchon, was against the cessation in 1996 of national service, and in an interview in 2020 he said he was favourable to its return in some form, judging it a ‘necessity’.
It has now returned, rebranded as the Service national universel (SNU), a four week commitment, the aim of which is to ‘increase the cohesion of the nation’. Last year it was voluntary (it will become mandatory later this year) and 18,000 boys and girls between 15 and 17 signed up and wore the SNU uniform. As well as an opportunity to mix with people from different regions, ethnicities and classes, the national service scheme encourages young people to think about how they might best serve the Republic: as a soldier, a firefighter, a teacher or a carer.
In his campaign launch on Thursday Macron outlined his wish to expand the SNU to help construct a nation with ‘the determination to defend itself against all forms of risk…[and] put in place a plan of civil mobilisation to reinforce our resilience’.
France has already proved its resilience in one respect. The ‘Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys’ have not swallowed the poisonous anti-West progressive ideology that has done so much to weaken the cohesion of society in Britain and America. Their politicians reject gender neutral language, their spooks don’t obsess about LGBTQ rights and their citizens don’t pull down statues they dislike. France went through that phase at the end of the 18th century.
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