8.1. WWII & Cold War Readings: Econ 115
Required Readings Note:
There are no required readings outside of the DeLong chapters this week.
(Very) Optional Readings Note:
Only if you have lots of spare time—and if you want to procrastinate on your other tasks—do I recommend that you read this optional reading: 15 pages from the end of Marc Bloch (1940): Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940.
In this passage, Bloch attempts to grapple with the fact that in 1940 the upper-middle class of France—the people who ran and staffed France’s controlling organizations, private, and public—did not understand and were in fact filled with a combination of fear and contempt for the working-class mass population of France. Right-wing politicians had sought to preserve the unequal property order of France by painting left-wing politicians and their supporters, especially those who made up the Popular Front headed by Judeo-French Leon Blum, as decadent, lazy, and untrustworthy—un-French. Why? How else can you hold on to power when your economic policy is to block reforms that would benefit the overwhelming majority at a cost of taxing the rich more.
Thus when the middle- and working-class males of military age in France were gathered into the army, the army’s leaders did not trust the soldiers to do their job. Bloch thinks that this underpinned an unwillingness on the part of the army command structure—from generals down to lieutenants—to ask and lead the soldiers to fight to the utmost.
Bloch may be wrong here. Of the 2 million soldiers committed to the front-line French forces, 300,000 were killed or wounded in the six weeks of war before the French surrender. That is a casualty rate of 0.35%/day. (The Nazi front-line armies of 2.5 million suffered 150,000 killed or wounded in those six weeks.) The French in 1940 were outmaneuvered and outfought—but so was everybody the first time they ran into the Nazi army. It is not clear that they were unwilling to try to fight, or unwilling to risk themselves and die.
But he may be right. And it is certainly true that the French right had waged a “culture war”—the rich trying to secure their position against economic reforms and high progressive taxes by breaking the country in two along sociological lines, in the hope that enough not-rich people would vote for right-wing candidates to allow them to maintain power.
Marc Bloch (6 July 1886–16 June 1944) was a French historian specializing in medieval history. Born in Lyon to an Alsatian Jewish family, Bloch was raised in Paris, educated at the École Normale Supérieure, and served during World War I as an officer, When World War II began, at the age of 54 he volunteered for the army and became the fuel czar for the French 1st Army, positioned on the far left of the French battleline. After the French defeat in 1940, he simply took off his army uniform, put back on his professor clothes, and resumed teaching medieval history.
Two years later he joined the French Resistance. Wikipedia quotes fellow Resistance fighter George Altman: “resistance fighter Georges Altman, who “later told how he knew Bloch as, although originally ‘a man, made for the creative silence of gentle study, with a cabinet full of books’ was now ‘running from street to street, deciphering secret letters in some Lyonaisse Resistance garret’…”
He was arrested by the Vichy police in March 1944 and handed over to the local Nazi Gestapo, then under the command of Klaus Barbie, “The Butcher of Lyons”. He was tortured. A week after the beginning of the Anglo-American invasion of France he was shot by the Gestapo. Again, Wikipedia: “According to Lyon, Bloch spent his last moments comforting a 16-year-old beside him who was worried that the bullets might hurt. Bloch fell first, reputedly shouting ‘Vive la France’ before being shot”.
Besides Strange Defeat, the only other book of Bloch’s that I have read with any great attention is his 1939 Feudal Society, which is still well worth reading as a sketch of how European society in the central middle ages “worked”, at least in the lands between the rivers Loire and Rhine (and, paradoxically, in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem of the 1100s, to which the system was transplanted after the First Crusade).
(Very) Optional Readings: https://github.com/braddelong/public-files/blob/master/readings/book-bloch-strange-defeat-selections.pdf
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