D. Thompson: Paris hasn’t changed, nor have the French (7-9-45)

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (July 9, 1945)

Dorothy Thompson1

Paris hasn’t changed, nor have the French

By Florence Fisher Parry

PARIS, France – The French expression, “The greater the change, the more things remain as they were,” expresses my chief impression of France.

To come finally to Paris after many weeks spent in London, the Near East, Italy, Austria and Germany gives one, at first sight, a sense of pleasure and release. Here at last again is beauty and civilization. Here are not London’s broken windows, neatly stacked piles of rubble and air of weary shabbiness. Nor does one see on more visible Parisian faces the sign of strain on Londoners’. The shops from the outside, at least, are more luxurious than London’s. The women look, as they always did, more chic.

And to come from Germany and Italy is to realize that, of the great metropolises of continental Europe, only two remain intact – Rome and Paris. Thus, one clings to Paris as to one of the few fragments left of European urbanity, art and culture. One is grateful with almost painful poignancy for the Louvre, the Tuileries, Notre Dame, Cluny, and all the quays, places, and allées, mansard cornices and sculptures, of this most expansive and graceful of cities, knowing that Paris and Rome must henceforth compensate for Florence and Vienna, Budapest and Munich, Muenster and Cologne.

But one feels there is something artificial and ephemeral about the astonishing sameness of things, this remarkable similarity is much deeper than outward ways to 1939. France’s extraordinary experience of war, abject defeat, occupation, liberation and victory, all crowded into six years, must and should, one thinks, have affected a fundamental remolding of the nation. It must, one thinks, have done something to the French soul. And certainly time is going to bring drastic changes, probably through fierce internal struggle. Few think the coming winter will end in so bland a spring as the past one.

Yet, there is something petty and inadequate about French politics. It is certain that things cannot go on as they are. The internal quarrels centering on responsibility for defeat and the faults of former politicians would be more meaningful if one didn’t suspect that much of the time the pot is calling the kettle black.

The causes of the French collapse in 1940 certainly cannot be laid at the door of any social class. The speculative spirit that led the well-to-do to think of their own pockets ahead of the national welfare; the Communists who followed the party line, “this is just another imperialist war”; trade-union practices based on the theory that progress consists of less and worse work for more and more pay – all these contributed to France’s weakness in 1939-40 and still exist, as does French inability to form a strong government and to stabilize the state finances.

Herriot’s remark some days ago that France would do well to put some order into the country, where people prefer to make money on the black market rather than go to work is robust advice, but there are few signs, at least in Paris, that it will be taken.

General De Gaulle, instead of concentrating on internal reconstruction, has been encouraging French overcompensation for a feeling of inferiority with intense nationalism and emphasis on imperial interests and power.

But France is a weak country, not a strong one – weak biologically and the more so due to war losses increased by German prisons and concentration camps. Counting all the peoples of the African Empire, Moroccans, Arabians, Senegalese, etc., as Frenchmen, doesn’t make them so.

In Germany where these troops are being used again for occupation purposes, many do not speak French. To recreate France requires fundamental social, political and financial reforms in the framework of an honest acceptance of reality, which are at odds with the perennial French personal individualism and national egocentricity. Sensible Frenchmen who know this are tired of repeated reference to “la grande nation” and French “gloire.” Therefore, though the outer impression of Paris is most lovable and attractive, it gives one pause to wonder whether nations ever learn by experience and suffering.

And this is not only true of France. All Europe should be taking sober thought of its future in a great power world, where Europe all together is hopelessly weak in her present atomized condition. But Europe is momentarily xenophobic as is all the Near East. Perhaps, out of the resistance movements, some all-European, political, social and economic program may gradually emerge.

But at present, even Frenchmen holding identical ideas with Italians, hesitate to reach out a reconciling hand.

One must hope that all this is a transitory rebound from the only-just-ended European war – one must, if one loves France and Europe.

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