Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

A Nation’s Treason

R240083882Le Courage est leur patrie by Fabrice Laroche and François d’Orcival

reviewed by Revilo P. Oliver

TREASON IS merely commonplace in the United States today. And the last frantic decrees of Suppiluliumas II have survived to remind us that treason was equally commonplace in the Hittite Empire in 1290 B.C., just before that once dominant world-power was flushed down the drainpipes of history.

Treason, either individual and abortive or epidemic and triumphant, is found throughout history. We all know what happens when men betray their country. But what happens when a country betrays its men? That is the theme of the present book, which deals primarily with the fate of Frenchmen who were betrayed by France.

We all know enough about Charles de Gaulle. It is true that some people, intellectually akin to Bacon’s cumini sectores, still find it interesting to debate the nice question of whether he is a Communist agent or an egomaniac renegade. For years now that question has been a merely academic exercise. Ever since Algeria, an integral part of France, was delivered to the ferocious cheetahs of the more ferocious Communist Conspiracy, all men have known, beyond peradventure of doubt, that de Gaulle, who has throughout his career cozened and betrayed all who trusted him, belongs to the small and select company of human beings so vile that they take rank with Judas.

That the moral guilt for one of the great crimes of history falls on de Gaulle personally, we all know. But in the implacable operation of historical forces, there is a collective guilt that falls on nations as a whole and for which even the most innocent must suffer. Quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi. To the ruthless and unswerving forces of historical causality, it matters not whether the majority in France was stupid or weak or pusillanimous or morally rotten; nor does it matter that a minority strove vainly to control the Frankenstein’s monster they had fatuously trusted and put in power. As an historical fact, France collectively betrayed her own people in Algeria, and generations of Frenchmen yet unborn will pay, with their own tears and blood, the penalty for that crime.

After the act of unforgettable infamy, Frenchmen in what had been part of France found themselves in the situation described in Bartholomew Dowling’s famous poem:

Cut off from the land that bore us,

Betrayed by the land we find,

When the wisest have gone before us,

And the dullest are most behind . . .[1]

And it is no wonder that they, having received such brutal proof that “The world is a world of lies,” reached in their own hearts, whether they were solders, or civilians, the same desperate counsel:

Who dreads to the dust returning?

Who shrinks from the sable shore,

Where the high and haughty yearning

Of the soul can sting no more?

Without even the comradely exhilaration of those who stand to their glasses, steady, beneath the sounding rafters of the mess-hall, they undertook a desperate and hopeless resistance to the overwhelming forces of the International Communist Consistency — and, yes, the forces of France itself. They became the Secret Army, the O.A.S. that was so traduced and vilified by the Bolshevik-controlled international Press. This book is the story of their heroism and defeat.

The authors, both journalists of distinction, write a supple and beautiful French prose worthy of the heirs of Pascal, Voltaire, Renan, and Anatole France; their style is modulated from the cold and curtly factual to the harmonious amplifications that are virtually lyrical. I need not say that theirs is a profoundly moving book. It is more than a memorial to brave men who died, seemingly in vain; it reflects the spirit of young men who, in France and elsewhere in Europe today, represent the last hope of survival of the great civilization that fifty years ago indisputably ruled the world that it had created — and now is dying, poisoned by the deadly bacteria that have lodged themselves in its arteries and multiply in its blood-stream.

The tragedy begins in Algeria, of course, and on almost every page there is a scene that you will not forget. Here, to give a brief example, is a little vignette, the statement of an ordinary and middle-aged Frenchwoman:

I had an only son, Bruno. He was a male nurse in a prison. He was summoned to take care of a Moslem prisoner who was ill. I never saw him again. I looked for him everywhere. Several days later, a mass of bodies was found. But I was unable to identify my son. It was just a heap of flesh. I dug through that mound of flesh; I tried to find something of my child.

The statement was not formally completed, for at that point the mother, her face streaming with tears, collapsed.

There are many little incidents like that, and each will certainly move the reader emotionally. If the reader is a man or woman of the West, he or she may feel a little moisture in both eyes — or even a tear. And if the reader is a true Internationalist, he or she will surely chortle and rub hands together in ecstatic satisfaction.

There is another scene, a page later, where French soldiers, betraying their country in obedience to the orders of that country’s government, shoot down the unarmed and weeping civilians who are walking in the funeral procession of one of Charles de Gaulle’s victims — soldiers who, obeying what they have been told is the law of their land, naturally do not hesitate to fire on their country’s flag after they have machine-gunned, among others, the mother who is still holding the baby they killed with their first fire.

The crowd, with its riddled flags, its shattered men, its withered flowers, its battered faces — the crowd picks itself up from the ground, turns, gathers up the bodies of its dead, and stands erect under the gun-fire — erect with its tricolors of the sky, of the dust, and of blood.

That is the epic of Algeria: a nation’s cry of revolt — the last cry of a nation that wanted not to forget the hymn of the sea that shimmers under the light of the sun.

Algeria yesterday; Alabama or Louisiana or California tomorrow.

Driven from Algeria by the crushing power that the International Conspiracy can always exert by merely twitching the strings that move its marionettes in Washington, London, Paris, Moscow, and Peking, the young men of the Secret Army carried on a clandestine resistance that sometimes approached guerilla warfare on European France itself, but there also the power of the inhumanly ruthless dictator and his unhuman masters or allies was overwhelming and irresistible. There, too, they failed — or so it seems at present. Their leaders, if not publicly executed by de Gaulle’s firing-squads or secretly murdered by his goon-squads, are among the twelve thousand Frenchmen who are now suffering and slowly dying in his Soviet-style concentration-camps.

The authors clearly intimate, however, that all is not yet lost. The young révoltés of France are spiritually akin to the young men and women of Hungary who overthrew their domestic traitors and even withstood the Soviet armies for a time, although they were eventually crushed by the might of the Washington-Moscow Axis. If Messrs. Laroche and d’Orcival are correct, there is now in being on the continent a body of young men — a minority, no doubt, but an intelligent and dedicated minority — who are resolved to regain what their craven or venal or muddle-headed fathers lost or betrayed. They have highly resolved to live as men of the West or to die fighting their alien and insidious enemies, no matter what the odds may be. They are the jeune Europe, of which we hear from time to time in the fretful and petulant complaints indiscreetly uttered by our doddering “youth-leaders” and mumbling “intellectuals.”

That this jeune Europe exists and is active, we may be certain. In Europe, as in the United States, the future — if we have one — rests with young men, still in their twenties, who were somehow immune to the menticidal poisons that were surreptitiously injected into them in the schools in the name of “brotherhood,” “world peash,” and “progress.” But whether this youth, in Europe or the United States, has the potentiality that our authors attribute to it by implication is another question. The authors, indeed, present this movement among young Occidentals as a fatidic and almost romantic force:

Two words are embroidered on the colors of their regiments, the two words of an heraldic device, the two words that express their worth. “But then, all these men, these militants . . . What do they amount to?”

They amount to just this: Honor and Loyalty . . .

Their courage has made of them men.

And they, in turn, have built their own Fatherland . . .

They will this universe, arduous and implacable — the world in which a man has before him an adversary of his own stature and his own strength, an alien to be conquered. And they will it until the night of time and the last syllable of human history.

Eloquent? Yes, eloquent with an almost Nietzschean force, if my schediastic translation has preserved even an echo of the original. The French cadences evoke in our minds misty reminiscences of Asgard, Fenrir, the Ragnarök, and the lost world in which our ancestors, prodigal of their valor and their blood, fought for the sake of the good fight. But what, if anything, does this mean in terms of contemporary and banausic realities?

That is hard to say. In the United States, the reaction of sane and red-blooded young men against the treble, epicene, and disingenuous pipings of bloodless “intellectuals” seems to have gone no farther than the appearance of signs, affixed to the bumpers of automobiles or the gates of college campuses, emblazoned with the derisive slogan, “Support our loco professors.” In Europe and especially in France and Hungary, where youths, armed at best with small-bore rifles, have had to combat machine-guns and tanks; have heard the thud of the bullet that pierced the comrade beside them; have seen their friends squashed beneath the iron treads of ponderous machines — in Europe, sentiments must be stronger and minds more resolute.

Here is an excerpt from a letter written by a member of jeune Europe to a comrade after the apparent suppression of the Secret Army in France:

Clandestine operations, prisons, the day-to-day fighting, the police, our enemy — all these will have the effect of drastically testing each militant by sharpening his devotion while constantly blunting the edge of his physical and moral stamina, and by thus developing each man’s character so as to bring out his innate powers or else separate him from us, if he is not fit . . .

There, whither we are going, some man will have preceded us and another will follow us. I am not really certain that they all know it, but, just the same, they are all already marching to the same step . . .

For us, there were only the paths that we had already chosen, and our code will never be an administrative formula. He who will never be of our number will hear our code as though it were a language he could not understand. For now, from one border of our country to the other, despite the barriers, the distances, and the prisons, we, workmen and thinkers, youths and older men, have summoned each other and we shall find one another and come together. We are not all stamped from the same die, but we belong to our world — the world that is made of all the differences between us . . .

The references to the unwritten code of a new “knightly order” make this book more than an eloquent story of men who fought against hopeless odds for a nation that had abandoned them — and, yes, in the wider sense, for you and me.

One gathers from these pages that the Secret Army, despite all the prowling of de Gaulle’s home-grown N.K.V.D., has maintained its cohesion, is increasing its numbers, and is biding its time until a blow can be struck with a chance of success. Many readers will want to know its numbers, its equipment, and what precautions are taken to exclude infiltrators and double-agents. Others will be touched by the pathos of the picture on the jacket, which shows three adolescents crouching behind parked automobiles and firing with what seem to be .22-calibre rifles in some street-action, perhaps a few hours or a few minutes before they were killed — adolescents who, in a sane world, would have been in their lycée, thumbing through their Gradus or computing tangents and cosines. But the really important question is what force — what hope or faith — animates and unites the survivors.

The late Whittaker Chambers, as is apparent from the fragments of his unfinished book posthumously published under the title Cold Friday, died in a despair that was lightened only by a faint hope that some day, perhaps a thousand years hence, the universal bestiality of Bolshevism, which is about to obliterate us and our world forever, would itself crack, and that from the fissures would sprout a new civilization of human beings who might, perhaps, eventually discover some traces of us and know that we had been. Chambers’ despair was logically deduced from his philosophical and religious premises. He had repudiated the Bolsheviks as monsters of utter evil, but he never emancipated himself from the idea that Communism is what he first thought it, a doctrine that is native to the West and was naturally engendered by the very scientific methodology that is the greatest achievement of the Western mind. Chambers continued to regard Marx as a serious thinker, not as an agent of conspiracy and an energumen animated by inveterate hatred. Chambers believed that our science and technology, by their effect on religious faith, prevented effective resistance to the Communist Conspiracy. If he was right about that, we can only join him in his despair and envy him the comfort of a natural and opportune death.

For reasons too manifold to be discussed here, I hope and believe that the oft-proclaimed and factitious antithesis between science and humanity is illusory, and that, on intellectual grounds at least, Chambers’ hopelessness is therefore unnecessary. But Chambers is unquestionably right about one thing: a civilization can live only so long as it — that is to say, the sum total of the individuals who really participate in its common culture — believes in itself and its own values. The West is dying because it has — for whatever reason — lost faith in itself and its own powers and purposes; by some strange paralysis of mind and will, it is ceasing to be what Chambers calls “a creative force . . . whose mandate . . . impels men to die for it, not because they wish to die, but because they feel its shaping power so completely that they would rather die than live without it.”

Chambers also saw acutely the fatal weakness of much contemporary conservatism, including that of the periodical to which, for a time, he lent his name. The parlor-pink could destroy, but the parlor-blue cannot build. The conservatism of bons mots, witty repartee, ingenious syllogisms, fashionable literary reminiscences, and a parvenu’s anxious striving for “moderation” and decorum among the tea-cups — that conservatism is too anaemic ever to emerge from the parlor into the open air of an inclement world. Chambers indicated that weakness with the point of his pen when, criticizing the best book of one of the best-known conservative writers and speakers of the past decade, he said:

Informed the book is; worthy it is — a worthy master’s thesis. And, faute de mieux, we do well to push it. But if you were a marine in a landing boat, would you wade up the seabeach at Tarawa for that conservative position? And neither would I!

If we are not to succumb to the unmen that have captured the capitals of our world, we of the West must somehow regain the cultural certainty and the spiritual strength that, until a few decades ago, made Occidental civilization an imperative by which Occidental men were willing to live and for which they were willing to die. Our fate will be determined by the answer to one simple question: whether or not there still remains in ourselves, latent and yet unformulated, the will to live by means of the scientific acumen and technological mastery that is the greatest achievement of the Faustian intellect. In other words, can we, instead of following Chambers in his hypochondriac rejection of what is native to our culture and the source of a material power that alone preserves us from immediate annihilation, derive from that very achievement a revivified faith, the faith of the strong in their own power and destiny?

That faith can take only a limited number of forms, and from time to time there are indications that it may even now be taking shape in the hidden crucible of young men’s minds. That is why I wonder whether the jeune Europe of which we hear so little, and which will tell us so little of itself, may possibly be more than the aftermath of a last cause — may have in it the germ of a future. I do not know; I dare not call it probable — but I cannot forbid myself to hope a little.

But whatever happens in Europe will not greatly alter our situation here, in which there is only one certainty. We in America must again have faith — an unyielding and unquestioning faith — in ourselves, in our values, and in our strength. For without that faith, we are lost, and no syllogisms will save us. Without that faith, we are men standing helpless on the bridge of a sinking ship and our voices are lost in the rush of the wind and the infinite loneliness of a darkling sea.


[1] The stanza of which this quatrain is a part is omitted when the words of the poem are sung as the official song of our Seventh Air Force.

* * *

Source: American Opinion magazine, March 1966; transcribed by Anthony Collins

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