Le « général Morphée », vainqueur de la Révolution française

Questionné un jour dans un entretien privé à savoir s’il était impatient d’apprendre un jour la rédaction et la publication de sa biographie, un ancien ministre canadien des finances me répondit : « Pas du tout. J’aime mieux demeurer dans la légende que passer à l’histoire. » Cet épisode m’est immédiatement venu en mémoire lorsque j’ai débuté la lecture de La journée révolutionnaire : Le peuple à l’assaut du pouvoir 1789-1795 (Passés Composés) de l’historien Antoine Boulant.

Tout au long de son propos, l’auteur s’emploie à départager l’histoire de l’imaginaire. « Alors que l’imaginaire collectif associe volontiers la journée révolutionnaire à des combats sanglants et des tueries collectives, une analyse plus nuancée s’impose. » À plusieurs endroits, on mesure à quel point les journées révolutionnaires étudiées dans ces pages n’avaient rien de spontané. Seulement quelques centaines d’insurgés se retrouvaient devant les murs de la Bastille le 14 juillet 1789. La majorité des Parisiens ne faisaient pas partie de la foule révolutionnaire, les franges les plus misérables de la société y étaient minoritaires et ce n’est pas « une foule déguenillée » qui a pris d’assaut la Bastille et les Tuileries.

Quel ne fut pas également mon étonnement de constater à quel point la prise des armes servait les intérêts de personnages importants de l’establishment comme le duc d’Orléans, que l’on soupçonne notamment d’avoir financé les émeutiers. Et que dire du rôle déterminant des rumeurs, comme par exemple tout le bruit entourant le « banquet des gardes du corps » propagées dans une véritable campagne de relations publiques. De véritables Fake News qui n’ont rien à envier aux tribulations d’un certain politicien américain. Aussi bien l’avouer, je me suis senti à des années lumières du film culte La Révolution française de Robert Enrico et Richard T. Heffron que j’ai longtemps vénéré.

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La sérénité de Jacques Chirac

Le général Henri Bentégeat (à droite sur la photo) accompagnant le président Jacques Chirac dans son command-car le 14 juillet 2005 (Photo par Sebastien DUFOUR / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Allons enfants de la patrie…

Chaque 14 juillet, une partie de mon cœur se tient aux abords de l’avenue des Champs-Élysées et bat au rythme du magnifique défilé militaire qui y déambule. La fête nationale de la France a toujours été un moment fort pour moi. Un jour, je me promets d’y assister en personne.

Cette année, j’ai donc pensé solliciter le concours d’un auteur français dont j’admire beaucoup le parcours et le talent à nous livrer ses impressions sur cette journée importante.

Dans son excellent livre Les ors de la République, le général Henri Bentégeat, qui fut chef de l’état-major particulier du président de la République du 30 avril 1999 au 2 octobre 2002 et chef d’état-major des Armées (CEMA) du 30 octobre 2002 au 3 octobre 2006, partage avec ses lecteurs plusieurs aspects fascinants et révélateurs de la personnalité du président Jacques Chirac. Je pense notamment au fait où mention est faite que « ses voyages préférés » étaient « ses visites aux armées ». Et que la Défense était l’un des domaines « qu’il aimait le plus ». Dit autrement, Jacques Chirac était à l’aise et heureux auprès de la troupe. Il était donc naturellement dans son élément lors du défilé du 14 juillet.

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The Pacific Theatre should no longer take a backseat to the war in Europe during WW2

Author Kevin Maurer with and ANCOP officer (Afghan National Civil Order Police) in Kandahar in 2010 (source: Kevin Maurer)

In the aftermath of my review of the impressive book Rock Force, author Kevin Maurer kindly accepted to answer questions for this blog. Here is the content of our interesting exchange.

Rock Force is an excellent book and now ranks among my favorites. Where did the idea of this book come from?

The idea came from my editor, Brent Howard. We were talking about World War II books and he mentioned his grandfather jumped with the 503rd. He said no one had really told the story in a narrative fashion, so I took the challenge. It was great working with Brent because from the start, it was clear he was as invested in the success of the book as I was. He was an amazing collaborator and the book is much better thanks to his edits.

I wrote Rock Force at night from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Continue reading “The Pacific Theatre should no longer take a backseat to the war in Europe during WW2”

Fulfilling MacArthur’s Promise

In a recent interview for this blog, I questioned former Gurkhas commanding officer General Sir Peter Duffell about the reasons why Viscount Slim – the victor of Burma – is less recognized in popular culture than Field Marshal Montgomery for his contribution to victory in World War II. Montgomery, he replied “[…] was much the better-known British Commander because his campaigns were fought much closer to home [North Africa, D-Day, Arnhem].” In a certain way, much the same applies to the fighting of the American forces. Anyone visiting Washington, D.C., can admire the impressive Iwo Jima Memorial, but movies, bookstores and the remembrance rationale are largely dominated by the fight in Europe.

Fortunately, recent years have offered the publication of excellent books about the Pacific theater – for example the contribution of China to the Allied war effort. As we observe and live the geopolitical shift towards Asia, this literature is not only a welcoming phenomenon to better understand the Second World War, but also to navigate the troubled seas of the current world order. Thankfully, the increasing interest generated by the war in the Pacific will be of assistance to further develop our historical conscience in that direction.

I was therefore thrilled to read Rock Force: The American Paratroopers Who Took Back Corregidor and Exacted MacArthur’s Revenge on Japan (Caliber) by Kevin Maurer. Having been forced to evacuate the island on 11 March 1942, General MacArthur only makes his entrance in the story at the very end, after the men of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment neutralized the Japanese troops assigned to defend the strategic sentry island guarding the entrance of Manila Bay.

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Pragmatism will determine Naftali Bennett’s premiership

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (source: The New York Times)

Last year, I had the tremendous privilege of obtaining an exclusive interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite a busy schedule, he accepted in the last couple of days to answer a few questions about the designation of Naftali Bennett as 13th Prime Minister of the country. I always appreciate his straightforward style.

Here is therefore the content of our exchange.

Mr. Olmert, what are your personal impressions of Prime Minister Bennett? Do you know him personally and what are your first impressions upon his designation?

I am very happy that Naftali Bennett was sworn in as Prime Minister. I know him, of course, and I think that he is a worthy person. Obviously, he doesn’t have a longtime experience considering his short time in national politics. But how experienced was President Obama when he was elected President?

Continue reading “Pragmatism will determine Naftali Bennett’s premiership”

La grammaire du pouvoir

Les ors de la République : Souvenirs de sept ans à l’Élysée (Perrin) a retenu mon attention parce que j’avais de très bons commentaires à propos des talents littéraires de son auteur, le Général Henri Bentégeat. Après en avoir terminé la lecture, je dois avouer que je n’ai pas été déçu. Loin de là.

Toujours intéressé par tout ce qui entoure la Res militaris, je souhaitais naturellement me renseigner davantage à propos de celui qui fut le trait d’union entre les forces armées et les présidents Mitterrand et Chirac. J’ai toujours admiré le premier et j’avais toujours cultivé une distance avec le second. Le Général Bentégeat m’a permis de rencontrer dans ses pages un personnage beaucoup plus complexe et profond que l’impression qui m’en était donnée, mais là n’est pas l’essentiel de mon propos.

À vrai dire, c’est avec délectation que j’ai sillonné les scènes du pouvoir esquissées dans le style invitant et parfois acéré de l’auteur. Pour tout dire, Mitterrand s’amuse toujours à observer les membres de son entourage conjuguer la grammaire du pouvoir. Lors d’un déjeuner avec le Sphinx (surnom donné à François Mitterrand pour sa capacité à toujours bien cacher son jeu), l’adjoint de son chef d’état-major particulier se retrouve assis à côté de lui. Voici la suite :

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Wellington was not an easy figure to build into a romantic hero

The Duke of Wellington (source: National Army Museum)
(Cliquez ici pour la version française)

I recently had the tremendous pleasure of exchanging with internationally renowned author and historian Alan Forrest about his book on the Battle of Waterloo. Here is the content of our discussion.

Professor Forrest, it’s been a real treat for me to read and review your amazing book on this blog. Many thanks for accepting to answer a few questions for our readers.

I have always nourished a deep interest and admiration about the Duke of Wellington (the first name of my blog was Wellington.World). But he clearly lacked the “romantic poignancy” of his French opponent in the battlefield. Do you feel he has been mistreated / misjudged by history?

I do not think there is any reason to feel that Wellington has been misjudged. He enjoys a high reputation as a military commander, careful in his preparations for battle and alert to the threat of enemy attack. His record in the Peninsular campaign – where he did not, of course, have to face Napoleon – is impressive; and at Waterloo his use of the terrain and his tactics in the face of repeated French attacks have been widely praised. He was, it is true, a more defensive tactician than Napoleon, but I don’t think that that has led to his military qualities being undervalued, and certainly not in Britain.  On the other hand, he was not an easy figure to build into a romantic hero, in contrast to Napoleon who did so much to create his own romantic narrative and who fascinated even those who had no reason to support his ambitions (Walter Scott, for instance, or Goethe, or Byron). 

What is your global appreciation of the Iron Duke? Has he been overrated?

Continue reading “Wellington was not an easy figure to build into a romantic hero”

Waterloo’s Band of Brothers

For about five hours on the fateful afternoon of July 18th, 1815, a band of brothers of 400 soldiers forming the 2nd Light Battalion of the King’s German Legion – a unit of the British Army – thwarted Napoleon’s plan of breaking up the center of the Duke of Wellington’s lines at Waterloo. Stoically, “these men, and their reinforcements, held off Napoleon for long enough to change the course of the battle.”

When I lived in Scotland and in the aftermath of my visit on the battlefield of Waterloo few months prior to these fantastic months, I was curious to read more about the iconic battle and those who took part in it. And I still am. I was therefore captivated by the publication of The Longest Afternoon: The Four Hundred Men who Decided the Battle of Waterloo (Penguin Books) by renowned Cambridge Professor and author Brendan Simms.

Even though the book was published 7 years ago, it remains one of my favorites. I am always lukewarm to embrace the notion that one specific battle definitively changed the course of a war or that a single event sealed victory or defeat. I came to understand that wars and battles are much more complex than that. But the story brough forward by Brendan Simms doesn’t fail to convince that a small group of men (400 out of more than 74 000 under the orders of the Iron Duke) could make a difference on the battlefield. When dusk fell after the battle, only 42 out of the initial 400 remained. That’s a survival rate of 10%.

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Putin was certainly quite pro-Netanyahu

Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (source: The New York Times)

In his last speech as Prime Minister of Israel last Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu evoked his proximity with President Vladimir Putin the following way:

“We developed special relations with Russia, not just with Russia as a state, we also nurtured a direct close line with the president of Russia. And in so doing, we guaranteed the freedom of maneuver of the Israeli Air Force in the skies of Syria in order to prevent Iran entrenchment on our Northern border.”

A news outlet stressed the fact that the former Prime Minister of Israel “[…] boasted of his friendship with Putin and was a frequent guest in Russia.

I have always found the closeness between Putin and Netanyahu to be extremely interesting, not to say simply fascinating. Notably in the context of the increasing presence of Russia in the Middle East.

Continue reading “Putin was certainly quite pro-Netanyahu”

The Hero Code: “Find what your good at and give it to others”

Ever since I watched his famous speech “Make Your Bed”, I have been captivated by the career and thought of retired Admiral William H. McRaven, the former commander of the Navy SEALs. I was therefore excited to receive a copy of his most recent book The Hero Code: Lessons Learned from Lives Well Lived (Grand Central Publishing).

While I was reading it, an article from the Journal of Strategic Studies caught my attention. Written by National Security Affairs Professor James J. Wirtz, “The Abbottabad raid [during which Osama bin Laden was permanently neutralized by Navy SEALs] and the theory of special operations” elaborates about the theory of special operations, whose father was none other than Admiral McRaven. He theorized it in his master’s degree thesis in a period when, in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, we lived in a “[…] new, unipolar world, [where] U.S. special forces would be relegated to tertiary missions within a Cold-War force structure that appeared bloated, obsolete and ripe for significant reductions.”

McRaven’s work sought “[…] to demonstrate that a tactic and unit deemed largely irrelevant by conventionally-minded officers and civilian strategists could actually achieve strategically and politically important effects, but only if planned and executed by special operators themselves against significant targets in proper ways.” And you can figure that the devil was – and still is – in the details.

Continue reading “The Hero Code: “Find what your good at and give it to others””