Historical Parallels: essay on Tolwyn

Discussion in 'General Wing Commander Chat' started by L.I.F., Jul 6, 2018.

  1. L.I.F.

    L.I.F. Rear Admiral

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    Oi, I've wanted to write that one for quite a long time, on a character we all love and hate:

    Let’s talk about the character who was the face of humanity during the Kilrathi War. Let’s talk about a hero. Let’s talk about a traitor. Let’s talk about Geoffrey Tolwyn, through the historical parallels that can be done with a man who, during the first half of the Twentieth Century, had a life that went just as right, then just as wrong as the character whose adult life was defined by the War.

    Leaving the Pacific and its battles on the waves, over them and under them, we must look further back and further away to find another man: Philippe Pétain, Marshal of France.

    Career officer who went through the St-Cyr military school a few years after the French defeat of 1870, he is among the last of his classes, 403rd out of 412 in the entry exam, 229th out of 336 at the end. His promotions are slow, until he benefitted from political upheavals, his lack of political activity allowing him to remain in the military when others were forced to resign.

    It is in 1900 when he starts being noticed, opposing with dialectical skill the current military doctrine that supported volume of infantry fire over accuracy coupled with close-combat engagements. For the major, artillery is absolutely necessary to prepare the battlefield, much more than his superiors claimed. When generals supported constant attack, he was a proponent of firepower, and at the eve of the Great War, openly dismissed the tactics of full generals who had their troops charging machine gun positions. Disgraced in his superiors’ eyes, the colonel intended to retire quietly and to end a relatively inconsequential military career.

    It was July 1914. A few shots were fired in Sarajevo, and the world was going to face the horror of total war for its first time.

    During the summer and autumn of 1914, he quickly proves the validity of his theories and is a highly successful officer. Commanding a brigade in August, he is put in command of an entire division before the end of the month, and is promoted two weeks later. Six weeks later, he is heading an army corps, and in 1915, during a large offensive, leads the only unit to break German lines despite – or because of – his more conservative tactics, protecting his troops and avoiding the infamous tactics used by all sides. In June, he becomes a full general, disgraced colonel less than a year ago.

    Just in time for the battle that will define almost the rest of his life.


    Geoffrey Tolwyn was thrown in the Kilrathi War much earlier, a young officer who shone in the McAuliffe battle, heroically defending the Concordia while wounded. The young man grew among the death of soldiers, sailors and civilians alike in a war that had very little respect for life. He founded a family only to have it taken tragically from him by the Kilrathi, leaving him with nothing but the duty asked from him and those subordinates to whom he demanded nothing more than what he himself gave: their absolute everything.

    Daring, the officer became a rising star as a leader of men, of ships and soon of fleets, where he forged some of the men and women who would be household names decades later, one of them in particular, Christopher Blair. The relation between these two men was one of grudging respect between a commanding officer of renown and a skilled pilot who faced similar challenges, victories and tragedies. For McAuliffe and Enyo, there was a Venice and an Enigma. Friends and subordinates dying in a war with no end in sight, with individual heroism put aside by grim statistics.

    The loss of the Tiger’s Claw hit both men hard, and while Blair’s claims were ultimately proven right, Tolwyn did follow what little evidence he had at his disposal. When the two men met again through fate a decade later, they both did their duty, defining once and for all the relation between them. Soon after, the admiral would finally set in motion the prelude to a devastating end to the war, unknowingly sealing his fate for History to judge.

    Operation Back Lash, the brilliant move that would ultimately bring the Kilrathi to the negotiating table. The demonstration of the light carrier concept, pulling a daring attack behind enemy lines in coordination with larger fleet assets. Yet another highly-dangerous mission to which he assigned his best people, not knowing then the true cost asked to the TCS Tarawa and its escorts.

    True to himself, Geoffrey Tolwyn put himself in the line of fire, risking it all to save those who made the victory at Vukar Tag possible. In this, he showed the same loyalty he showed to his subordinates for decades, giving them what he asked from them: their absolute everything. The light carriers were successful, incredibly so, and strained the Kilrathi war effort beyond the wildest hopes of the High Command, setting up the scene for one of humankind’s greatest heroes, for their finest hour.


    Winter is ending in Western Europe. The year is 1916 and no end to the slaughter is in sight. Men kill each other with artillery, machine guns, rifles and bayonets. New weapons come to the wasteland of Northeastern France: planes, chemical weapons, the ingenuity is limitless when it comes to kill. For each side, the war looks more and more like it will not be over through daring manoeuvres, for the technology of the time is in this strange point where movement has not caught back on firepower. Breaching the first trenches requires massive amount of blood and steel, without any capability to exploit the holes in the line as long as there are reinforcements.

    Thus the decision to win the war through sheer attrition. A war where rather than defeating the opposing force to take control of some point, a war where the plan requires to kill so many that the force will collapse. For the German Empire, fighting two fronts and under British blockade, the French war machine must be broken, through breaking its fighting population. The place where it will be done is chosen. A fortification was taken that the French must retake no matter the cost. Their back will be broken… in Verdun. Among the generals in charge is one rising star of the high command: Philippe Pétain.

    Understanding the industrial nature of the war moreso than any of his colleagues, he innovated with the use of air power and established a monumental logistical effort, with one of the roads seeing four trucks per minute at any given point and any given time for four months. In 1916.

    For the men on the frontline, the victory bears the name of Pétain. One song summed up the spirit of the battle during which the line held and the quick end to the war failed to happen. On ne passe pas. You will not pass. A saying that a British man, who saw the horror of the war, used some time later in the mouth of a famous wizard.

    His reputation is made, and when general Nivelle, then in charge of the armies, wasted once too many the lives of his men in useless assaults, the supreme command of the French armies is given to Philippe Pétain, who is in position to execute his doctrine, doing limited yet successful assaults that spare the lives of his men. He plans a final offensive for November 13th, 1918, to lead French and US troops all the way to Germany, but the armistice is signed beforehand.

    In December of the same year, hero of a bloodied country who lost an entire generation and saw some of its most productive lands turned in a lunar landscape, he receives the supreme honor, the distinction of Maréchal de France (which is a distinction more than a rank). Marshal Philippe Pétain. The man who was seen by the survivors as the hero who saved his country. Many other generals were probably just as influential for the end of the War, but in the popular mind, he was the one.

    In the years following the War, he takes a young and promising officer under his protection. An ambitious reformist who, in the early 1920s, criticized the inflexibility of the plans, of the purely defensive doctrines. That officer’s name was Charles de Gaulle. Realizing the sharpness of the man’s mind, he has him affected to his staff, where he helps Pétain with the writing of a book on soldiery through ages between highly-acclaimed conferences in the War School by this new rising star.

    Yet, before the end of the decade, both officers clash over each other, and they oppose during the 1930s, though with mutual respect as even as late as 1938, de Gaulle dedicates his latest military publications to his former mentor.

    The stage is set for these two men to write their country’s History.


    Peace! Peace in our time! Their logistical efforts on the verge of collapsing, the Kilrathi finally agree to diplomatic relations and peaceful coexistence. After decades of exhausting war, the civilian government of the Terran Confederation, is overjoyed with this chance of putting an end to the slaughter, to billions of lives lost on both sides.

    The military command, however, knew better. Unable to prove what their gut was telling them, the leaders of the Confederation military launched a daring plan to find the reality behind the claims of the Kilrathi. Once again, Tolwyn did his duty, and acted as a scapegoat, dishonourably discharged as part of a plan to allow him the freedom of action for a near-suicidal infiltration of the Kilrathi territory. He found the Hakaga supercarriers nearing completion and forced the Empire to show its hand one moment too early, assassinating almost all of the high command on Earth before launching a massive assault with a single goal: total extermination of the human species.

    This was humanity’s finest hour. This was the campaign that had millions of heroes and one name. At this very moment, no price was too high, no sacrifice was avoidable, no questions were spoken and no mercy was asked. Alone in the chair of command, Geoffrey Tolwyn became humanity, lashing at its would-be killers like a madman. Ordering madmen to charge without weapons and without shields in the face of overwhelming firepower. Ordering madmen to walk on the bodies of their brothers and sisters towards certain death, carrying nuclear weapons as a divine wind of spite. And hope. The list of heroes would be endless, from pirates agreeing to protect convoys to mothers and fathers riding unarmed shuttles to certain death to give one more second to soldiers who had the mission to die where they could take as many as they could.

    All of them obeyed the orders without hesitation, for they saw what fate awaited humankind if any of them stumbled in the path to oblivion. They looked at Warsaw and the Strontium-90 warheads. They looked at death, and said together You will not pass.

    An entire species pushed to madness, and one man was its brain. The man was Geoffrey Tolwyn. He was the saviour of humanity, the one who gave the survivors one more year, at the cost of his soul. The man who tried to protect his subordinates, to give as he asked, did his duty once more and broke every principle he held.


    In a better History, in a gentler one, those two men would have died soon after. Peacefully or in combat, their story would have been over and the later generations would have judged both of them on these actions alone. They would have been heroes without question. Streets, cities, planets would have born their name proudly.

    History was not gentle, and they fell.


    The “twenty year armistice” ended on September, 1st, 1939, and the Entente started mobilizing its troops. Requiring the professional cadre to properly train the conscripts, the French mobilization system is unable to push to Germany right away without losing a critical core, leading to the Phony War. In 1940, the Maginot Line works exactly as planned, and forces the German military to go around it through Belgium and the Netherlands (the size of the French population made impossible to support large frontlines from Switzerland to the Channel, thus the use of fortifications to artificially reduce the upcoming battlefield).

    In Spring 1940, the French counter-attack in the Low Countries fails to a monumental point, a combination of bad planning, low morale, superior German experience and tactics topped by various random accidents lead to a military cataclysm for France and the United Kingdom. To boost the morale of the population, Paul Reynaud asks Philippe Pétain, then ambassador to Spain (where he managed to keep Franco neutral in the then upcoming war) to join the government as vice-president of the council of ministers.

    Ignoring the advice of the Spanish head of state, he accepts the position.

    Judging the causes of the defeat to come from the civilian leadership and moral failures, he defends in ever louder words an armistice with Germany and collaboration with it, against the will of parts of the government as well as the British allies. In June 1940, threatening to resign, he blocks a project of Franco-British Union. The government resigns, putting Pétain at the head of France in the hope that he will fail to negotiate an armistice and force him out of the picture. His radio broadcasting asking the armies to cease fighting lead to more prisoners taken in a week than during the rest of the German invasion of France. The following week, the armistice is signed, with him at the head of the new government.

    During four years, from mid-1940 to mid-1944, his Vichy regime will collaborate actively with the Nazi regime, with him centralizing all the powers in a structure that eliminates political parties, trade unions and any political opposition. The government under his leadership was intended to be one of “national revolution”, of “reconstruction” to avoid what he perceived as the moral failings that led to the defeat. Dictatorial, antidemocratic and anti-Semitic, this “national revolution” soon becomes even worse, when come to the new government people who pushed the collaboration much further than what even Germany required, leading to the betrayal of hundreds of thousands of people, sent by their own countrymen to the death camps.

    His anti-Semitic views become law while paramilitary groups become routine, causing innumerable crimes against the population, in the name of the man who, twenty years earlier, was that population’s hero. Tens of thousands of Jewish people are sent to their death from a territory without a single German soldier, while the loyal soldiers will fight in Africa against the Allies, sometimes against their fellow countrymen. For his student has become the other face of his country. One of the few successful officers in the beginning of the war, just like Pétain, de Gaulle, sent to London during the debacle, refused to stop fighting, and organized a government in exile, gathered the colonies and ultimately became the leader recognized by the Allies. Condemned to death in absentia by his former mentor, he unified the insurrection movements and assembled a regular military that fully participated in the landings and the offensive to Germany in 1945.


    After the Kilrathi retreated from Confederation space, their nose bloodied by the desperate efforts of humanity, Geoffrey Tolwyn was more than certain that the reason for this disaster, for the barely-avoided genocide, was the people who had led the Confederation. Not so long ago, he was part of a fleet that was having victory after victory, pushing the Empire back to its borders and certain of winning, only to be stabbed in the back by their own leaders. The principles he lived with for decades were dead, among all those who gave their life on his order, and only one remained: victory, no matter the cost.

    Survival, no matter the cost.

    The Kilrathi were winning because they were ruthless, because their society rewarded strength more than anything else, so to survive, humanity had to do the same. He would find people who agreed with, which was not surprising, others doing the same thing on their own: the Belisarius Group. He held on to his duty, refusing to take power for himself as the Group would have likely allowed him to do had he joined it for their planned coup d’état.

    Instead, he tried his utmost to finish the war as fast as possible, most likely realizing that the situation was so grim after the Battle of Earth that even with a military government holding the reins, the Kilrathi would walk over the understrength remnants of the Confederation Fleet. He pushed for the early deployment of a Hail Mary weapon, the Behemoth, fully intending to commit genocide on the Kilrathi before they themselves could do it on his species. The War was being fought on a whole new scale, and even without knowing – yet – about the Behemoth, the Kilrathi had agreed, breaking an untold agreement by deploying biological weapons, murdering the entire population of Locanda with a handful of missiles.

    The Behemoth was a failure, and humanity was saved by a fluke. For it was even more desperate than a half-finished planet-killer supergun, a small wings of veteran pilots, crewing barely-completed fighters to execute a mission on the intel of a captured special ops group to drop a weapon designed around a uniquely-specific feature of the Kilrathi home planet, at the moment where most of the fleet was in its orbit for the final refits before the last offensive of the War.


    Yes, the War was won, decisively so even, but for the admiral who signed the Treaty of Torgo, the war had never stopped, for humanity survived only through an unimaginable bout of luck carried through by the efforts of countless other heroes who held the line just long enough for the Lancelot Flight to carry its deadly payload.

    For Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, humanity had to be ready for the inevitable next war, and it was not ready. A group like Belisarius wanted to take over and make a military government out of the Confederation, but for him, for a man whose only surviving principle was victory at all cost, they both went too far and not far enough. The example to follow was the Kilrathi’s, and he would shape humanity in their picture, to make sure that when another species would be met, humanity would be on top, without the need for heroes like Blair, Tolwyn, Deveraux, Taggart, Bondarevsky, Montclair or Banbridge.

    For all of humanity would be men and women of their caliber, forever improving themselves in the crucible of war. The same crucible that revealed the heroism of millions in their darkest hour.

    Pushed to undreamed heights thanks to the destruction of most of the high command near the end of the War and his own unparalleled status ironically supported by the Belisarius Group, he had access to all the darkest secrets of the Confederation, including the supersoldier projects. A man known as Seether and his people. The engineers working on a much improved version of the fighter that won the War barely a few years ago. The Belisarius Group’s plan to start a war in the borders to serve as a backdrop for their own actions.

    And so he set his own plans in motion, blind to the horror of his actions… or perfectly aware of it and justifying them out of a crazed sense of duty. Massacres carried on by his secret forces, unconventional weapons slaughtering medical and refugee transports, instigation of civil wars in Border Worlds planets, all the while preparing his masterpiece: the genocide of the almost entirety of the human species based on arbitrary criteria. An action that would have surpassed in one swoop the totality of the war crimes committed by the Kilrathi Empire during the conflict. The vast majority of humanity sentenced to death not for their ideas, opinions or actions but for their genome, for their body weight, for any parameter him or whoever wielded it later on would ever consider “unworthy”. And this crime without equal would have been nothing but the opening move for constant war, making everyone suffer through the same horror that his own life was in the hope that they would forever end on top.


    Like the Kilrathi did, until they met humanity.


    The whole Plan collapsed on the Senate floor, when another man, also aged by the War, came and fought him with words, with the desire to see peace after the conflict. A man who committed genocide as a last resort but who wanted nothing more than coexistence, nothing more than the killing to stop. The pilot who served under him barely out of flight school, who saved his ship more times than can be counted, who, once facing the possibility of going even further in the path of horror than the recent enemy, decided to leave and gather his own allies, his own forces. Ending at the head of a motley crew who gained enough steam to be a force to be reckoned with, he finally faced the man who was for so long a hero before turning criminal.


    The man whom a gentler history would have let die a few years earlier.


    In the 20th century, Philippe Pétain decided to hand himself to the authorities. For his crimes, he was condemned to death. His former protégé, now himself the hero who saved his country, changed it to life imprisonment out of respect for his age… and most likely for his past actions. He was stripped of his rank, but not of his title of Marshal, and died a few years later, peacefully.


    A decade too late.


    Tolwyn is, as many have said and written, a complex character, the result of various takes on him over the time, from different people. A living contradiction who nonetheless makes so much sense, and a tragic individual, without a doubt. A man for whom judgement should not be passed on just a part of his life. He was not just the admiral saving humanity during the Battle of Earth, for he was also the insane mastermind of a conspiracy to commit genocide on a scale and in a manner that would make the Kilrathi blink. But he was not just the insane mastermind either. He was both, and it is a tragedy that he survived the Treaty of Torgo.
     
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  2. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    The story is a familiar one, I watched the english DUB of the remake of "Legends of the galactic heroes" recently, and not had the patience to wait for the second season, so I decided to find the original from the 80's, and watch the full episodes(110, each an hour long, the original(episode 16 meets up with the remake(episode 12), great story of a democracy vs an empire.. and.. they even have a blackops covert unit called the black lance!

    As far as Tolwyn, he was there when needed, came out of the war as a damaged man, and should have been retired after the war... but, hey, we would not have WC4 had they done that...
     
  3. L.I.F.

    L.I.F. Rear Admiral

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    It is a relatively logical character arc, though. One that I can only enjoy after all this time.
     
  4. Mace

    Mace Vice Admiral

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    The most indepth version of his character, are the scenes from the academy TV show... He was not pure evil, he did what needed to be done, when the war ended, the soldier did a bunch of mental gymnastics to prepare for an enemy that was not there, so he made one up. Had the nephilim war started shortly after the kilrathi war ended, he would have likely been in on the action and remained a hero.
     
  5. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    I think the big problem with Tolwyn is that WC4 *did* intend to present him as an evil nutcase. The game goes to great lengths to make this clear, ramming the "evil space Nazis" analogy through at every point. The authors of the WC4 novelisation attempted to reduce this to some extent (mainly because, as Forstchen stated in one of the interviews the CIC posted... err... at some point... he really hated what WC4 had done to Tolwyn). Subsequently, Action Stations and False Colors were also written to some extent with an intent to further de-crazy Tolwyn. Whether this worked or not, however, is ultimately very debatable. No amount of complexity could ultimately brush away the fact that WC4 presented Tolwyn's grand plan as basically wiping out 90% of mankind because this would somehow make the remnant dregs more powerful than before. Ironically, in spite of trying to reduce the craziness of this, the WC4 novel ultimately confirms this during Tolwyn's internal monologue in the suicide scene, where he suddenly realises that his plan was worthy of a nutcase. Perhaps this was simply the point at which the authors gave up, concluding that if it's impossible to de-crazy Tolwyn's plan, then the best that could be done would be to explain in the future what it is that made Tolwyn go crazy.

    Anyway, what all this means is that any discussion of the complexities of Tolwyn is going to be flawed, if it doesn't acknowledge this basic reality - that Tolwyn's case was never intended to be as genuinely complex as reality had been. Petain was an elderly man tired of war, who made a political choice that at the time would have seemed quite rational. Indeed, he made the choice that the overwhelming majority of the French supported and demanded - one reason why he was so harshly treated after the war, was because punishing him enabled the French to pretend that it was all his doing, rather than admit the pathetic cowardice and demoralisation the nation compromised itself with back in 1940. It is ironic that Petain was spot on in believing the French society needed to be reconstructed, because it indeed was a society that, in a Darwinian sense, deserved neither to survive, nor even to be called a nation, because they were happy to surrender to the enemy simply to avoid risking their lives in the fight (double irony, obviously unknown to Petain at the time: it was exactly his decision, and the painful embarrassment of grovelling to the Germans, that ultimately spurred the French to recover some sense of national pride and a willingness to take up arms - De Gaulle's Free French are unthinkable without the grovelling humiliation of the legitimate government of France).

    So Petain wanted to save France from a protracted war from which it stood to gain nothing (and, notably, a war that forced France to side with its mortal enemy, Great Britain). He also did not mind siding with the Germans from a moral perspective, because, like most people of the time, he did not see the Nazis the way we see them today. Even after the Polish campaign, most people in the west thought that the Polish claims of Germans specifically choosing to target civilians during bombing attacks were anti-German propaganda. Although the facts were there, most people really wanted to believe the Nazis were just politics as normal, rather than some uniquely insidious movement. There was a great willingness to believe that the war would, at best, be only as uncivilised as the previous one, and during the previous one neither side really attempted to kill civilians on purpose, and again very little willingness to acknowledge that German culture was uniquely driven (regardless of the Nazis) to see itself as so superior to its neighbours, that it would be willing and able to justify genocide even without reaching for Nazi ideology.

    It is also ridiculous to paint Petain as an anti-Semite, because this meant something completely different in the 1930s than it did in 1945. Like it or not, *most* people of that time, in *every* country in Europe, felt some apprehension about their Jewish neighbours - the Nazis, with their racial propaganda, sought to ramp up these issues to a point where it would be justifiable to engage in violence, but it is a false post-fact premise to pretend that this was only a German issue, or indeed that it was a black-and-white issue. If you were to ask anyone from that time period about why they had issues with the Jews, you would hear many different responses, some of which would be daft, some crazy, but many would point to very real grievances and issues in which people justifiably felt that their Jewish neighbours were acting against the best interests of the society they lived in. We look at these things very differently today, because such sentiments ceased to be acceptable in the face of the German genocide, and yet we can get some inkling of this by looking at the various debates around immigration today, and especially on questions of cultural assimilation of immigrants. Notably, Petain in 1940 would have thought the Germans were indeed, as they claimed, relocating the Jews, rather than planning to slaughter them - so his government is not entirely culpable of the genocide that followed; they thought that they were simply engaging in a variation of what the *British* had been doing for twenty years in Palestine, only in this case they were resorting to force rather than simply providing a space for migration.

    In contrast to the complexity of the French situation - how much did they know, what were their motives, etc. - you've got Tolwyn, the crazy space Nazi who genetically engineers an army and wishes to bomb *everyone* with a weapon that kills all people who do not fit a particular narrow profile. It's fun to have such discussions, but there's a limit to how far these analogies can go :).
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
  6. L.I.F.

    L.I.F. Rear Admiral

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    Tolwyn became pretty much batshit insane at the end of his days, but I kinda believe that it fits the character to have this insanity be caused by the Battle of Earth. The things he was forced to order and to coordinate in such a short period of time, followed by the rest of the war, where he was deeply aware that despite all these sacrifices, the war - and humanity - was almost certainly lost? That would have broken pretty much anyone. I would think that after this, he maintained some apparence of sanity but was already gone.

    For, what, a year or so, the guy was pretty much on top of strategic command and had the clear picture that Rollins hints about in III: the progressive collapse of all the reestablished frontlines, an industrial disaster after the Battle of Earth, massive holes in personel requirements due to the same battle and the massacres that happened around it, and the clearness of the extermination objective from the Kilrathi. And he was heading this, trying to push some Hail Mary attempt at salvaging a situation that was lost.

    It's a man who saw the "clear demonstration" that the Kilrathi mindset was superior and would lead to their ultimate victory despite the technology or morals of humanity.
    "Happy to surrender to the enemy simply to avoid risking their lives in the fight"? Quite a generalization, when you consider that in these six weeks, there were half a million casualties, or that stuff like the Dunkirk evacuation only succeeded because two French divisions held the line against the German forces (and ask the Italian forces how their invasion went despite having a good numerical superiority). Or that the Brits were caught with their pants down at the same time, or the Soviets, but both having geographical features allowing them to get back on their feet. Yes, there were some deep morale troubles in the French military at that time, but the picture of the all too eager to surrender is quite a massive simplification too. The strategic actions taken such as reinforcing the Lower Countries with the best units who ended up doing nothing, the political clusterfuck in the air force or the general officers deliberately ignoring military exercises that showed the weakness historically used by Germany afterwards point to a bit more complex cause for the collapse. And, of course, the decision to continue fighting losing with one or two votes (if you look closely at these two months, you see a succession of absurd events, political failures and a string of bad luck that would never pass any editor if it was in a novel) or the Mechelen Incident added to the situation.
    Ridiculous? He personally - as demonstrated by handwritten documents found later on - pushed for strong antisemitic laws without German input, reinforcing further the laws suggested by his subordinates (they wanted to limit the laws to those who were naturalized after 1860, he pushed for all). And we (I say "we" as a society) did arrest and deport our Jewish population without much, if any, German input either, going well above and beyond any quota demanded by the authorities, doing so after putting them in our own harsh camps (around 80 % of those deported had been arrested by their own compatriots). He went far above and beyond the acceptable for the time.
    I still think there is a parallel to be made, and even if the books were written post facto, there remain a good consistency for a character whose life was entirely defined by this war, and who can simultaneously have been a great hero and a massive criminal.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2018
  7. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    Absolutely, it's a generalisation, because I'm talking more about the society overall than about the army in particular, or any part of the army. I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever that the overall historical picture of France in June 1940 can be best described as a collective sigh of relief on the part of the population *after* the surrender. But dealing more specifically with the armed forces, the situation there was utterly dire. The Polish troops who fought alongside the French during that campaign were uniformly scathing of both the ordinary soldiers and of officers. They did not want to fight, they were disorderly, and in some cases, they actually did everything they could to sabotage Polish efforts to continue the fight. I'm sure that's not the complete picture, I'm sure in some parts of the armed forces morale was better, and obviously as always much depends on the individual commanders and how they shaped their particular commands. I know that in some places, army-sized groups of French forces continued to fight even as troops all around them retreated (this was also a common experience for Polish forces in France). Regardless, the overall picture is of a society that did not want to fight, and was happy to even collaborate with the occupant for the sake of peace. France of 1940 was not the same as France of 1944, and it was not the same primarily because the whole society had a collective sense of moral culpability about their collaboration. This is precisely why individuals like Petain were treated so harshly. The country had a guilty conscience, because the country wanted precisely what Petain gave them. As a matter of fact, France would have been happiest of all had its government ignored the guarantees given to Poland, and *not* gone to war in 1939, treaties and honour be damned.

    You're missing my point. I'm not saying he didn't have a prejudice against the Jews. I am saying that it's ridiculous to call him an anti-Semite today, because today that term has become inextricably bound to what the Germans had done, and that leads people to make grossly unfair assumptions about how anti-Semitic politicians of the 1930s all just wanted to put the Jews in gas chambers. Petain, like *most* politicians of his time, and indeed of the present day, had great misgivings about the presence of a large minority that, due to its economic power, wielded what was seen as a disproportionate influence over society. In Europe of the 1930s, that was the Jews. In Germany today, it would be the Turks. In Malaysia, it's the Chinese. And so on, and so on. These prejudices, however, unlike what the Germans of the time were doing, were not based on pseudo-biological nonsense about the superiority of some races over others; it was ultimately about assimilation and cultural difference. And while Petain's actions went far beyond what would be acceptable today, we cannot say he went beyond what was acceptable from the perspective of the public opinion at the time; firstly because very few people actually objected, and secondly because even the US was doing the exact same thing with Japanese citizens (...and not with the Germans, which confirms that it was not about the war, but about mistrust towards a large culturally alien minority; the Americans also refused to admit most European Jewish refugees, even during the war). Note that even today, the French government is more than happy to curtail pretty basic rights of culturally alien minorities (e.g. the burka ban), and this is done not in spite of the values of the French republic, but specifically because of them. All I'm saying, therefore, is that this is a rather spurious charge to pull out against Petain - he was hardly an exception, he did not go beyond what his society supported, and he certainly did not go to the extreme that today inevitably comes to mind when we hear the term "anti-Semite". Like it or not, in public discourse that term today more or less means someone who supports murdering Jews in the style of Hitler. We can agree, I think, this was not Petain's stance.

    Well, certainly. In many ways, it's actually the most fun thing you can do with that character - to take what was a really bad plot that flattened an already-somewhat-caricatural character (the ruthless commander who hates you just because!) into a crazy space Nazi, and to see how that character can be re-interpreted into something more interesting. Just as long as you're aware of the fact that ultimately, the writers' intention was not for him to be a tortured soul, but a crazy nutter. Tolwyn was part of a long and distinguished line of sci-fi military commanders stretching back to at least the 1960s, who would engage in ridiculous plots and conspiracies just to show, that, like, war is baaad, maaan :).
     
  8. Quarto

    Quarto Unknown Enemy

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    So... did I accidentally kill the discussion, or did it simply never get started? :)
     

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