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Jokes That Just Aren't Funny - Planet Jonny
Jokes That Just Aren't Funny
"The last time the French asked for 'more proof' it came marching into Paris under a German flag." - David Letterman

"Cheese eating surrender monkeys" - Bart Simpson

"For sale: French rifle. Never fired, dropped once." - Various

I was watching a documentary on the Battle of the Somme yesterday, and they mentioned a shocking statistic: that before the battle started, the French army had already suffered something like a million killed and missing during the war.

So today I looked up some statistics about French military loses.

World War I

"World War I cost France 1,357,800 dead, 4,266,000 wounded (of whom 1.5 million were permanently maimed) and 537,000 made prisoner or missing -- exactly 73% of the 8,410,000 men mobilized, according to William Shirer in The Collapse of the Third Republic. Some context: France had 40 million citizens at the start of the war; six in ten men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight died or were permanently maimed."

World War II

250,000 military killed/missing
350,000 military wounded
270,000 civilians killed

More info.

In addition, during the Battle of France (10th May to 22nd June 1940), French forces suffered 90,000 dead and 200,000 wounded. That's 55% more deaths than the US suffered in Vietnam, from a much smaller population, and over a period of 42 days instead of nearly a decade. I find it difficult to blame them for surrendering under those circumstances.

More info.

Some Things Just Aren't Funny

The above figures are what make me some angry when people (usually either fellow Brits or Americans) make jokes about the French being cowardly. Their generals may often have been incompetent (although in the First World War, they were often more competent than their British counterparts). Their politicians may, on occasion, have let them down. But as a people they fought, and they fought bloody hard.

I find the top quote, the joke by David Letterman, particularly obnoxious on the grounds that it: a) isn't true; and b) is particularly tasteless when his own country's conduct at the time is considered.

See, his joke would only make sense if the French in 1939 had argued that Nazi Germany wasn't a threat, had stayed neutral after the invasion of Poland, and had then been invaded by the German Armies. (Which is exactly what happened to Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Norway).

But they didn't. They'd been arguing that the Nazis needed to be stopped since the Czech crisis of the previous year, and it was the United Kingdom that disgracefully dragged its feet. This time they had support, and when Hitler refused to halt his invasion of Poland, they - along with the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other Commonwealth nations - declared war on him.

Which is more than David Letterman's country did.
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scimon From: scimon Date: November 15th, 2005 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's a point my Father tries to get through to people (and I've picked up on the issue from him). But yeah the US weren't exactly rushing to help against the Germans and it looks like we weren't exactly wonderful chaps during WWII either. I always find it funny when Americans make fun of the counrty that helped to make them independant. Fickle sort of people really.
lawbag From: lawbag Date: November 15th, 2005 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I kinda thought that we weren't that innocent during the war.

My dad always told me that we were good little soldiers, when in fact the only difference most likely between us and the Germans was we hadn't paid our Gas bill (sorry).
jackthomas From: jackthomas Date: November 15th, 2005 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 15th, 2005 03:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
A splendid post!

I always find most anti-French propaganda a little weird (and pretty wretched)... If they were so useless, why do we celebrate the victories over their armies?
In reality the French were a major military power for most of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (except when being invaded by crazy English armies commander by seriously scary Plantagenet kings/princes)... As soon as Richelieu and Louis XIV finished re-organising the French State & Army, they provided the template upon which all modern armies are based... Part of the reason why the Duke of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim was seen as remarkable was that had French had appeared impossible to defeat for 50 years...
The French Navy were particularly impressive, Forbin & Jean Bart being superb captains and Tourville and Suffren proving to be as talented as any of the Royal Navy's admirals (except perhaps Nelson)...
The main problem the French had was having England (later Britain), Germany, Spain and the Hapsburg Empire as neighbours! They simply couldn't afford to contentrate on one at a time and when they had superb leaders (Louis XIV & Napoleon) they merely attracted vast alliances determined to thwart their ambitious plans for a 'natural frontier' (IE most of Europe)... This problem also fatally undermined their ambitions as a naval power, everytime they had the cash to build up their navy they got involved in a land war (the one time the Prussians they wouldn't oblige us by being our attack dogs the French Navy defeated the RN and lost us the American Colonies)... Luckily for us, the French provided enough threat to keep us on our toes but never built up enough experience/kit to sweep us from the seas...
In the Crimean War it was French cavalry that rescued the survivors of the Light Brigade!
In WWI the French High Command were often dubious of the British but the best of the French commanders regarded our lads as superb allies... When Foch was told that the Germans were asking for an armstice, by his British liaison officer, and that his strategy had won the war, he answered "Ce n'est pas moi, c'est nous!"...
Interestingly, the Germans considered the finest Allied unit in the Italian Campaign (43-45) to be the Free French Division!

To anyone who thinks of disagreeing with Jonny, hate Chiriac if you want (and rude/ignorant Parisians) but remember that the French are our oldest enemies and often our best allies and deserve our respect...

Paul (OGB) - (Because I'm proud of being English I rather like the French... Without them our history would be very dull!)

PS: I like the Yanks but I never tire of reminding them that Germany declared war on the USA in 1941 and that they fought (often heroically) alongside their British, Imperial & Soviet allies and not as our rescuers!
PPS: Historians have known about British Intellience torturing prisoners for decades - it's nasty but most people believe that, in the rare cases where it was used, it saved lives and shortened the war (unlike the 'tortune for fun' practised today)...
From: jrients Date: November 15th, 2005 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I chalk some of it up on a hostile reaction to latent feelings of inadequacy, really. We weren't able to get our country up and running without French help, but then we drug our feet when the twentieth century provided ample opportunity to repay the favor.
kishi From: kishi Date: November 15th, 2005 08:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
For proper attribution, "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" was Groundskeeper Willie, not Bart Simpson.

Otherwise, you make an excellent point.
peterfitz From: peterfitz Date: November 16th, 2005 03:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Specious Factoid Time: With the possible exception of the Spanish-American War, I don't think the USA has ever won a war in which it didn't have the help of the French.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 22nd, 2005 10:30 am (UTC) (Link)

But it lost some

On the other hand, didn't it lose some (ie Vietnam springs to mind) with their help? Not really germane though.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: November 22nd, 2005 10:40 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: But it lost some

The French lost a war in Vietnam in the early fifties, and pulled out, which led to the partition of Vietnam between the communist North and the non-communist South).

The US then got involved in the South, and lost that.

We Brits also believe that the US lost the War of 1812, but I believe that most Americans believe that this was in fact a victory for them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 22nd, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: But it lost some

>>> We Brits also believe that the US lost the War of 1812, but I believe that most Americans believe that this was in fact a victory for them.

Madison's (USA) objectives: Get elected by starting a war to seize Canada and Spanish Florida while the British are busy in Europe, end impressment, gain Freedom of the Seas, secure the Great Lakes...
British Objectives: Continue war vs Napoleon (a bit of a priority), secure Canada, gain lasting peace with the USA (re-conquest was NEVER an option)...
Results: Impressment ends because Napoleon is defeated... British still use blockade today (most famously in WWI and the USA was still ignored)...
Canada is still Canada... The USA got a few extra miles of lakeshore off the Native Americans...
Actions: Attack on Canada fails (partly because New York thinks the war is daft and continues to trade with Britain - her militia refuse to invade Canada - plus we are ably assisted by the Iroquis warchief Tecumseh)... Battle of the Great Lakes secures border... Spanish Florida drives off US invasion (Native Americans allied to ex-slaves equipped by the cunning Spanish governor)... Britain wins and Blandesburg and burns the White House... Baltimore and New Orleans hold off British raiding forces... RN blockades the coast (US trade evaporates) but US frigates attack and defeat a few RN ships (all were the same class but were smaller, with smaller and less guns and smaller crews - see 'Master and Commander' for an excellent demonstration of the tactical problem faced by the RN)... HMS Shannon (Cpt Vere-Broke) is sent to redress the balances and defeats the USS Chesapeake in just under 12 minutes...
Summary: All British objectives achieved (including humiliating Madison personally but NOT the USA) & almost none of the US objectives (having your capital burned is never good)... British kept quiet as we want the USA as allies (Lord Castlereagh was very clear on this issue), the USA weaves a myth of British Imperialism and a heroic defence of freedom (instead of a sordid landgrab motivated by a political crisis)... The only decisive result is that Tecumseh's death prevents the formation of a Native American state in the middle of the North American continent (which could have been interesting)...
Best we don't rub it in lads - I suspect Lord Castlereagh was right to advise that sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie...
Paul (OGR)
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: November 22nd, 2005 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: But it lost some

An excellent summary. :)
matgb From: matgb Date: November 20th, 2005 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

You made BritBlog

jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: November 22nd, 2005 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You made BritBlog

A bit belated, but thanks for pointing that out. It was quite cool, although their writeup rather gave the impression that I was anti, rather than pro, French.
matgb From: matgb Date: November 22nd, 2005 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You made BritBlog

I dunno, it's "on the topic of", and it is Tim. It was more a warning to expect more comments really, I'd forgotten you were at another con. I so need to move to London.
From: yojimbouk Date: November 26th, 2005 06:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I am in absolute agreement. Other things worth pointing out to blowhards: it wasn't the USA that won WWII, nor the UK, it was the Russians; and the country that won the American War of Independence was France.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 28th, 2005 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Stalin remarked once that three things bought victory in WWII...
"The USA had the money... The UK bought us time... The USSR paid the cost in blood..."
The USSR would have been annihilated without UK/US assistance but everyone knew the USSR paid the highest price - officer casualties alone were more than the UK/USA's combined casualties!
It's strange how some countries try to claim that they did all the work when history suggests that only an alliance could have succeeded (the list of delusional claims for 'national glory' are endless)...
Paul (OGR)
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: November 30th, 2005 10:12 am (UTC) (Link)
One has to ask, have they ever beaten anyone on their own who wasn't Mexico, or a similarly weak latin American country? :)

[There's probably some kind of balancing statement I should insert here, but I can't quite think of a non-sucky way to put it].
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 30th, 2005 04:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I tried to find a war vs a major power (but without major allies) but I couldn't find one... Even the Barbary War of 1801-1805 required British logistical assistance... You could, of course, (generously) count the US Civil War...

Most wars tend to develop into encounters between alliances but I can’t think of any nation that tries to write their allies out of their history books with the same enthusiasm as the Americans (the UK has been accused of forgetting allied contingents at Blenheim & Waterloo but the people who believe we fought alone are wildly eccentric/blinkered and are mostly ignored)…

What really annoys our colonial cousins is that we hold the world record for ‘standing alone vs tyrants throughout history' and they would really like to replace our chaps with heroic yanks in the Hollywood versions…

The USA have been pretty good allies (though not as good as the Germans, the Austrians, the French, the Dutch or the Portuguese) but they have always been a bit trigger-happy... A German veteran of the Normandy battles told a British historian: "When the RAF flew over, we ducked. When the Luftwaffe flew over, you ducked. When the US airforce flew over, we ALL ducked!"

A friend sent me the URL of a Canadian song about the War of 1812, do you want the details?
Paul (OGR)
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: November 30th, 2005 04:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Would that be the one that goes something like:

"And the White House burned, burned, burned but the Americans won't admit it!"

Already heard it, although if you've got a link I wouldn't mind hearing it again. :)
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 1st, 2005 09:02 am (UTC) (Link)
The 1812 song can be found here, http://www.deadtroll.com/index2.html?/1812/~content
Paul (OGR)
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