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Instructions for American Servicemen in France During World War II
By Rick Atkinson
The University of Chicago Press Copyright © 2008 Rick Atkinson
All rights reserved.
WHY YOU'RE GOING TO FRANCE
YOU are about to play a personal part in pushing the Germans out of France. Whatever part you take—rifleman, hospital orderly, mechanic, pilot, clerk, gunner, truck driver—you will be an essential factor in a great effort which will have to results: first, France will be liberated from the Nazi mob and the Allied armies will be that much nearer Victory, and second, the enemy will be deprived of coal, steel, manpower, machinary, food, bases, seacoast and a long list of other essentials which have enabled him to carry on the war at the expense of the French.
The Allied offensive you are taking part in is based upon a hard-boiled fact. It's this. We democracies aren't just doing favors in fighting for each other when history gets tough. We're all in the same boat. Take look around you as you move into France and you'll see what the Nazis do to a democracy when they can get it down by itself.
In "Mein Kampf" Hitler stated that his plan was to destroy France first, then get England, after which he would have the United States cornered without a fight. The Allies are going to open up conquered France, re-establish the old Allied liberties and destroy the Nazi regime everywhere. Hitler asked for it.
You will probably get it big welcome from the French. Americans are popular in France. Your father or uncles who were in the A.E.F. may have told you about that. For the loyal French right now the arrival of American soldiers means freedom, food and a second chance to fight Hitler. That second chance is what French patriots have been waiting for.
Since June 1940 French men, women and even children have learned what happens to a great democracy when it collapses under the Nazi heel. For generations, France's motto on her public buildings has been Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité—Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. She lost all three when the Nazis marched in. Behind their Maginot Line the French thought it couldn't happen there. Against 42 million French citizens Hitler launched a totalitarian war machine composed of his 80 million subjects. In case you've heard Dr. Goebbels' story that France was a pushover because she fell after six weeks' Blitzkrieg, just bear those figures in mind, plus the fact that in the last world war France held out for four years as the Allied battlefield. In 1918 French· courage and endurance helped swing the Allied victory.
The causes of France's early collapse in this war were so complicated that even the French bitterly disagree as to who or what was to blame. It stands to reason you know less about it than they do. Our Sunday morning defeat at Pearl Harbor still galls us. France's defeat is a raw spot which the Nazis have been riding everyday for nearly four years. Don't help them by making the French sore.
The main fact about France's defeat for you, an American soldier, is that when France fell, the biggest democracy in Europe went down, and with it, whether we all realized it or not, our last defense on the Continent against Hitler's crazy world conquest plan. As Europe's leading Republic, France was the keystone of freedom on land from the Mediterranean to the North Sea and one of the bulkheads of our freedom on the Atlantic. The fall of Paris shook the world.CHAPTER 2
THE UNITED STATES SOLDIER IN FRANCE
Meet the People
MANY of you are no doubt wondering what kind of people the French are. You will soon see for yourselves. You will find that aside from the fact that they speak another (and very musical) language, they are very much like a lot of the people you knew back home. Here are a few facts about them which apply generally, but you must remember that each of them is an individual, and that Pierre Ducrot is as different from Paul Boucher as you are from Joe Jones.
Frenchmen are much like us in one particular respect—they are all Frenchmen together and are as intensely proud of the fact as we are of being Americans. Yet we have many kinds of Americans—Southerners. Yenkees, Hoosiers, Native Sons—to name a few. The speech of your buddy from Brooklyn and the Mississippian's drawl wouldn't sound like the same language to most Frenchmen. It's the same with France; you will find many accents and dialects among Bretons, Alsatians, Normans, Basques, Catalans and Provençals—the Southerners of France. But these people are Frenchmen all, and proud of it.
You will soon discover for yourself that the French have what might be called a national character. It is made up of a half dozen outstanding characteristics:
(1) The French are mentally quick.
(2) Rich or poor, they are economical. Ever since the Nazis took over and French business came to a standstill, thousands of French families have kept themselves alive on their modest savings.
(3) The French are what they themselves call realistic. It's what we call having hard common sense. French common sense consists of looking the facts straight in the eye. Because they soon saw through the Nazi scheme of so-called collaboration, the Nazis have called the French cynical. Even in defeat the French can't be easily fooled.
(4) The French of all classes have respect for the traditionally important values in the life of civilized man. They have respect for religion and for artistic ideas. They have an extreme respect for property, whether public or private. To them property represents the result of work. To destroy property means to belittle work. Respect for work is a profound principle in France. The Frenchman's woodpile is just as sacred to him as the Banque de France. Above all, the French respect the family circle as the natural center of social and economic life. France is not a country of eleven million homes. It is a country of eleven million family circles. There is very little divorce in France. The economies of French life are based on the parents' rule of working and saving for their children's future. French life is based on looking ahead.
(5) The French are individualists. The Frenchman believes in being yourself rather than the necessity of being like everybody else. This has its good as well as its bad side. It has often led the French into being a nation of biverse and even· conflicting opinion. There aren't just two ways of looking at things in France—yours and the other fellow's. There are dozens of ways. Despite the political miseries this has recently brought to the French, France is still full of partisanships. Right now there are red hot topics which the French must decide for themselves. The future set-up in France is the Frenchman's business and nobody else's. His defeat has made him fear for this future independence. The Allied invasion will bring up extra problems and lots of talk. Stay out of these local discussions, even if you have had French II in High School. In any French argument on internal French affairs, you will either be drowned out or find yourself involved in a first class French row. Quarrels between those who are fighting Hitler can still give him a big dangerous boost. He started this war on the principle of Divide and Conquer and his propaganda experts still believe they can make it work.
(6) The French are good talkers and magnificent cooks—if there still is anything left to put in the pot. French talk and French food have contributed more than anything else to the French reputation for gayety. Learn how to speak a few essential words of French. There is a glossary in the back of this book which will give you a brief vocabulary in French, with pronunciations. Like most good talkers the French are polite. The courtesy words ("please"—"thank you" etc.) are the first things French children are taught.
The French also shake hands on greeting each other and on saying goodbye. They are not backslappers. It's not their way.
In the larger cities you'll find shop-keepers who speak English as do many small government functionaries in big towns. Many of the younger French generation have had a year in London or have picked up a smattering of English, plus slang, from the American movies, which were their favorites till the Nazis prohibited them.
You have certainly heard of gay Paree. Yet the French have far less the regular habit of pleasure than we Americans. Even before the Nazi occupation when the French were still free to have a good time, they had it as a special event and managed it thriftily. A whole French family would spend less on pleasure in a month than you would over a week-end. The French reputation for gayety was principally built on the civilized French way of doing things; by the French people's good taste; by their interest in quality, not quantity; and by the lively energy of their minds. The French are intelligent, have mostly had a sensible education, without frills, are industrious, shrewd and frugal.
The French are not given to confidences, or to telling how much money they make—or used to make—or to bragging. And they think little of such talk from others. The French have a remarkable capacity for minding their own business. Even in the days when they used to travel, before the Nazis shut down on it, the French never used to sit down in a railway train and tell their private affairs to a total stranger. They are observant; don't think they won't notice what you do. But they have little curiosity.
Security and Health
You probably won't get mixed up with anything as glamorous as Mata Hari—the Germans have wised up and are sending around much less obvious spies these days. Don't forget that along with the Nazi army of occupation came the Gestapo almost four years ago. You can be sure that by this time their system for finding out what Hitler and his bullies want to know is working pretty smoothly. The best thing for you to do is to keep any information of value to the enemy which may have come your way strictly to yourself. The Frenchmen with whom you make friends won't be offended if you become silent as a stone when military subjects come up. Far from it. They will applaud you, since they have had to learn the value of silence themselves during the occupation. Be as friendly as you like with anyone who wants to share your friendship; just don't discuss anything connected with the operations of your unit or of any other you may have heard about. Remember the wolf in sheep's clothing.
Many of the so-called French prostitutes right now have been drawn from the dregs of other occupied countries and are deliberately planted under-cover Nazi agents. You are particularly interesting to them, for they might pick up something about your job as an American soldier which would be useful and valuable to the Nazi secret service. You and your outfit might later pay with your lives as a result of your having talked and the Nazi agents' having been able to put two and two together. Or you might catch a disease and thus make one less good healthy soldier in our fighting force. Make no mistake about this. Nazi propagandists have planned it both ways.
Almost anybody in France can get chummy with a special sort of hard-boiled dame who, for obvious business reasons, is sitting alone at a café table. It's so easy that many of the better cafés will not permit women who come in alone even to sit down. Cafés which specialize in a prostitute clientele are usually clip joints. This goes double for the night dancing places where tarts congregate.
While it is true that the French point of view toward sex is somewhat different from the American, it does not follow that illicit sex relations are any safer than in the United States. As a matter of fact there is a greater risk of contracting venereal diseases. Before the war the French Government made an attempt to examine and license prostitutes. But don't be fooled. No system of examination has ever made a prostitute safe. Her health card means absolutely nothing.
If a girl doesn't carry a prostitute's card, then she is an "irregular." She may be picked up by the police for illegal soliciting and involve you in unpleasantness. But "regular" or "irregular" either kind can present you with a nasty souvenir of Paris to, take back home. Don't take chances with your health and your future. If you have been exposed to infection never fail to report at once for prophylactic treatment.
Health conditions of France closely resemble those you know in the United States except for a somewhat lower sanitary standard. Water supplies in the rural areas are more likely to be polluted but those of the large cities were generally safe before the war. Milk is not safe to drink unless boiled. Don't experiment too much with "French cooking" unless you pick a good place.
Flies, lice and fleas are more common than with us, and less is done about them. Although they used to spread very little disease in times of peace, conditions are such today that they may be far more dangerous. For your own sake keep them away.
You Are a Guest of France.
If you are billeted with a French family, you will be in a more personal relation than if you were in barracks or a hotel. Remember that the man of the house may be a prisoner of the Nazis, along with a million and one half others like him. Treat the women in the house the way you want the women of your family treated by other men while you're away.
The household you are billeted with will probably want to show how they feel toward America and Americans. This will entail responsibilities you'll have to live up to. Mostly, the French think Americans always act square, always give the little fellow a helping hand and are good-natured, big-hearted and kind. They look up to the United States, as the friend of the oppressed and the liberator of the enslaved. The French trust both you and your country more than they do most other men and nations.
If the French at home or in public try to show you any, hospitality, big or little-a home· cooked meal or a glass of wine-it means a lot to them. Be sure you thank them and show your appreciation. If madame invites you to a meal with the family, go slow. She'll do her best to make it delicious. But what is on the table may be all they have and what they must use as left-overs for tomorrow or the rest of the week.
And give her a hand around the house to help with the extra work you make by being there. French women are still talking about how your fathers helped out occasionally in the A.E.F. The French mother of a family has been carrying on without a husband to help with wages or the heavy work. She hasn't had enough soap to keep things clean or thread and needles to keep clothes mended. When there hasn't been enough food to go 'round among the children, the mothers have deprived themselves.
France has been represented too often in fiction as a frivolous nation where sly winks and coy pats on the rear are the accepted form of address. You'd better get rid of such notions right now if you are going to keep out of trouble. A great many young French girls never go out without a chaperone, day or night, It will certainly bring trouble if you base your conduct on any false assumptions.
France is full of decent women and strict women. Most French girls have less freedom than girls back home. If you get a date, don't be surprised if her parents want to meet you first, to size you up. French girls have been saying "No" to the Nazi soldiers and officers for years now. They expect the men in the American Army to act like friends and Allies.
Should you find some girl whose charms induce thoughts of marriage, here are a few points to think over: In your present status as a soldier, marriage to a foreign girl has many complications. The same reasons that caused so many of your comrades, and possibly yourself, to forego marriage at home—the uncertainty of future movements, the hazards a soldier faces—apply here even more so. From time to time, regulations may vary with regard to marriage abroad, but here are some ideas as to what you may run into:
During the war and for six months thereafter the government will not pay for the transportation of dependents of military personnel from a theater of operations to the U. S. nor from theater to theater.
After the war, when you are shipped home for discharge, there will be no government transportation available for a wife. Nor is there likely to be any for a long, long time.
In any case you can't marry without the permission of your commanding officer.CHAPTER 3
A FEW PAGES OF FRENCH HISTORY
Continental France has been directly occupied in part since 1940, and totally since November 1942. The Germans have stripped her bare. The Germans who occupied france were not only soldiers. They brought in engineers, bankers, business men, and specialists of every kind for the purpose not merely of administering but of depleting the territory. They levied a war indemnity purported to cover only costs of operation but which yielded huge sums over and above those costs. The Germans made an inventory of the possessions of the nation. Bit by bit they moved to germany everything not required by them in France to carry on their war Only those things needed for military purposes and for the welfare of their troops and agents in France were left behind. They starved the French people both by requisitioning the food supply and by creating black markets in which they bought up most of what was left. Almost all French civilians are grievously under-nourished, and many have starved to death. The Nazis have eaten the food, drunk the wine, and shipped almost everything else back to Germany.
Excerpted from Instructions for American Servicemen in France During World War II by Rick Atkinson. Copyright © 2008 Rick Atkinson. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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