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Let's continue our photo tour of Paris - our own Tour de France, if you will. Today we'll look a bit beyond the scenic beauty and perhaps learn a bit of the story behind the glory.
What better place to start than the Seine - the river that flows like life's blood through the city, it's very raison d'괲e. Paris was once confined to a small island on the river, the easily defended spot of land now dubbed the Ile-de-la-Cite and still considered by many to be the very heart of France. The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris rises majestically there, on a spot once occupied by a Roman temple to Jupiter. Home also to the Palais Royale, the island was the center of government and religious life of France.
The bridge at Pont Saint Michel connects the island to the left bank of the Seine.
Other bridges are more spectacular, and offer more scenic views, but St Michel is of obvious importance to the city. A succession of bridges have spanned the river at this location - this one dates to 1857. Nearby you'll find the latest addition to the area...
The words on this plaque, dedicated in October, 2001, translate to "In memory of the numerous Algerians killed during the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstration on 17 October 1961."
Note the unspecified number - "numerous". There's controversy involved on many levels, but as the Mayor of Paris noted in the dedication 40 years after the event, "There are parts of Paris's history which are painful, but which have to be talked about."
Which is why the story is so familiar to one and all.
You hadn't heard?
Well, pull up a chair...
It's always tough to decide where to begin a story with so much history behind it. Beginning this tale at any point in time will reveal a bias, because some point a few years earlier justifies the actions of that later time, and provide needed context, and so on to the dawn of history, which is controversial itself...
Perhaps if we continue with our tour we'll find some agreeable starting point...
Ahhh, welcome to the Place de la Concorde...
This is as fine a place as any to begin our tale - much history here. This is where the guillotine claimed King Louie XVI, Marie Antoinette, and ultimately even the leaders of the French revolution. And there in the center, where once stood a statue of the King, is the "oldest monument in Paris".
Old because it's Egyptian - an Obelisk from Luxor - a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt to France in 1829. An interesting point in history; as the Ottoman empire was fading Viceroy Mohammed Ali was acting increasingly independent of the Turks. He obviously had admiration for the French, having hired French Army officers to train his own forces.
The French, of course, were looking to cut their own slice of that Ottoman pie...
Let's move backwards in time again, to a period when that obelisk was only a bit over a thousand years old. Caesar conquered Gaul - including the area now known as Paris - in the first century B.C., one of the earliest of many campaigns that would eventually turn the Mediterranean into a Roman sea. North Africa was a part of that empire, but after the fall of Rome the spread of Islam would result in a majority Arab population there. Ultimately Spain would also fall to the sword of Allah, but that would prove to be the high water mark of Arab dominance of Western Europe. The age of Charlemagne and Roland had come to France, an age of legends, of chivalry, and brutality and war. Let's credit them with saving the remnants of Rome, rightly or wrongly, and move forward a few hundred years...
Under the Ottomans, North Africa becomes a pirate stronghold - the Barbary States, a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Originally begun as a facet of the war against the lost territory of Spain, over a span of hundreds of years the actions of the pirates became more commercial in nature - or, from the European point of view, perhaps "anti-commercial" is the better term. But by the early 19th century the age of the Ottomans was waning, and European empires were on the rise. In 1830 the French began the conquest of the pirate state of Algeria. In 1881 France added Tunisia to it's North African empire, and in 1911 claimed Morocco as the final jewel in that crown.
Take a look down the Champs Elysee from the Place de la Concorde. In the distant haze rises the Arc de Triomphe, Napolean's monument to conquest, a place to march his victorious armies bringing home the spoils of war. What finer welcome home from the work of expanding the empire than a hero's welcome to rival that of the Roman Legions of ages past?
Here's a photo of the Nazis using it for their victory parade in 1941:
And here are the Americans a few years later.
In between those days France was allowed to survive as a diminished puppet state - though Paris was for most purposes a German city. Vichy France continued to hold it's north African colonies, and there the Americans and British would strike first against the Axis powers. Landing in Algeria and Morocco, Americans would fire their first shots of the "war in Europe" against French troops. For a few days the battles raged, and then a prepared deal was struck. The French would maintain their territory and join the allies against German and Italian forces in Tunisia. Many were outraged that the Vichy traitors were allowed to survive, much less thrive, but the requirements of war were such that deals with the devil could be made to expedite victory over the Huns.
After months of bloody combat, Tunis fell, and the North African territories were liberated - or at least back in the hands of the French government in exile.
The entire story can be found in Rick Atkinson's excellent account An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943, including this recap of the aftermath of German occupation of Africa:
The French high command wasted no time embarking on what the OSS described as "a ruthless campaign against Moslems and, to a lesser extent, Italians" in Tunisia. The six-month occupation had won widespread Arab allegiance with effective propaganda, anti-Semitic edicts, and economic measures, including some land redistribution and a doubling of wages, paid with stolen Bank of France notes. In retribution for suspected Arab perfidy during the occupation, "a general reign of terror was instituted, in which arbitrary arrests and torture of Moslems became frequent occurrences," the OSS disclosed. Detention camps on the island of Djerba allegedly held 3,000 Arabs, with beatings, killings, and mass executions reported; gendarmes and other rogue officials were "running amuck in the interior and... beating and imprisoning personal enemies."Such was often the fate of collaborators in those days. C'est la vie. Or more appropriately, c'est la guerre.
More to come...
IIRC, Rick Atkinson does point out in his work, that the invasion of French North Africa took part when Vichy France and the US were still neutral. There was no Congressional authorization for use of force. Roosevelt was desperately looking for some facade to justify the act, his own collaborators. Wonder if anyone in Hollyweird would ever do a film on that grand conspiracy? Atkinson telling is damn good material to start with. We'll laugh, we'll cry.Posted by Don at November 9, 2005 11:59 PM
Great pictures! I really enjoy your website.Posted by nwkatje at November 10, 2005 04:28 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(2) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)