Thursday, December 30, 2010

Poor Surrender Monkeys

Two of the books in yesterday's top five repeatedly reference the French experience of WWII and the apparent debt owed by France to the Allies and the US in particular.

You will hardly be surprised to learn that one of these is Anthony Beevor's D-Day. But the other Anthony, whose grandparents with the Bourdain surname were what he on several occasions refers to as "surrender monkeys", is worried how the debt he and his colleagues owe to the French for their culinary tradition stacks up against the 'big one' of Omaha beach.

Beevor helpfully provides some context. During the first 24 hours of the Normandy invasion almost twice as many French civilians died as American soldiers. Overall, across the war, more surrender monkeys died as a result of Allied bombing raids than plucky Brits died as a result of German ones. That's 70,000 people.

In the liberation of Paris, a comparative non-battle, in which Leclerc's Free French-led division forced the capitulation of the scattered remnants of Choltitz's garrison, more than 2000 citizens of the French capital et environs perished; an equivalent of American sacrifice on Omaha beach.

The casual waste of life in this conflict is one of the most striking and chastening aspects of Beevor's book. 19,890 French civilians were killed as a result of the battle of Normandy (with a similar number seriously injured). If one includes the months leading up to Overlord, the figure gets closer to 35,000.

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