“Lately one heard the expression ‘Je suis las’,” it meant I’m tired of the way I have to live my life, and this is what Mathieu saw in their faces, in the way they walked. But then, he would think that, he cared for the people of Paris, as though he were a guardian.” Alan Furst – A Hero of France.
I’ve just finished two books about the French Resistance in World War II. Madame Fourcade’s Secret War and A Hero of France. Both are about spy networks. I thought they would provide some relief from the Trumpian news cycle but was surprised to find a number of parallels.
Alan Furst’s novel A Hero of France is the 15th of his 16 spy thriller’s centered on the origins and early years of WWII. Madame Fourcade’s Secret War is Lynne Olson’s non-fiction thriller about the woman who led France’s largest Resistance spy network from its formation in 1940 to the end of the war. Both are nail biters but that isn’t the only reason they held my attention.
During this 21st century pandemic, we hear versions of the Mathieu quote, I am tired of the way I have to live my life on a daily basis. American’s are divided, cranky, and undisciplined. Fine people on both sides, as the Commander in Chief is wont to say. We are all exhausted and tired of being locked down. We want to go to restaurants, movies and the gym as we did a year ago.
In the run-up to the 2020 election we Americans are badly splintered – Republicans and Democrats, vaxers and anti-vaxers, “patriots” and Antifa, reactionaries and socialists, Trumpers and Never-Trumpers, Left Coast and Middle America, blue collars and elites, Red states and Blue states – it’s almost as if we were two different countries.
When the Germans invaded France in May of 1940 it was like a knife through soft butter. The French rolled over. In fact, many who feared the invasion celebrated the fact that they wouldn’t have to fight after all. In July of 1940, the country was divided into Occupied France in the north and Germany’s puppet Vichy government headed by the WWI French hero, Marshall Petain, in the south.
Madame Fourcade’s story is thrilling. She was a privileged young woman in her late 20s at the beginning of the war. She and a friend established Alliance in 1941 and for the next 4 years she managed a network of 3000 resistance fighters. Based in Vichy France, and constantly pursued by Germans and their French collaborators, she was captured, imprisoned and escaped twice (once by slipping naked through the bars of her cell), dying her hair and using prosthetic teeth to change her appearance, but always looking out for the people in her network. In interviews with Lynne Olson the question most often asked is “Do you think you would have had the courage to do what Madame Fourcade did if you were in her position?” Probably not was her answer.
These days, the question I most often hear from friends is “What can we do to make sure Donald J. Trump is denied a second term? This is not occupied WWII France, but neither is this a normal election. Trump is not a normal president. The Republicans in Congress have rolled over like the French did in 1940. The rule of law has been shredded and many of our democratic institutions dismembered and compromised. Republican leaders have either abandoned their principles or been bullied into submission.
With a worldwide pandemic raging, Russia mounting another attack on our electoral system, independent leaders of the FBI, State Department, DOJ, DHS and HHS fired or replaced, a Trump loyalist with no intelligence experience serving as Director of National Intelligence, an Attorney General determined to support the president in every way, going so far as to represent him in a sexual defamation suit, a Homeland Security chief who tells his staff to withhold information about Russian interference and white supremacist activity, while directing the Post Office to slow or eliminate services just as mail-in balloting is beginning to be important, it feels like we are fighting a Vichy-style government determined to deliver for the boss at all costs.
This is not Vichy France, but the story of Madame Fourcade is inspiring. She rose to the occasion. She took risks. She put France’s welfare above her own. She was willing to challenge dangerous political adversaries. I don’t know if I would have had her kind of courage under similar circumstances, but I hope to summon the courage to fight the current battle and honorably deprive Donald J. Trump of another term.
Yes, ‘Je suis las’. I’m tired of the way we have to live too. But let’s rise to the occasion to defeat Trump and the pandemic. Let’s do it together. Stop the crankiness. Be disciplined. Suck it up. We don’t need to risk our lives, but we might be risking our lives and the lives of our countrymen and women if we don’t win in November. Courage, mes amis…