by Patrick Lang (bio below)

Cross-posted at

With 897 vehicles destroyed by daybreak Saturday, it was the worst one-day toll since unrest broke out … Five hundred cars were burned a night earlier. In a particularly malevolent turn, youths [prevented] paramedics from evacuating a sick person from a housing project, pelting rescuers with rocks and torching the awaiting ambulance … A nursery school was badly burned …” AP

CRS -SS!.” That was the street chant in 1968 when the students decided to raise hell about tuition increases or something.

“CRS” The “Compagnies Republicaines de Securite.” These are the riot troops of the Ministry of the Interior. They wear dark blue, carry submachine guns generally and are not polite. The students obviously did not like them in 1968. There are a lot of these police troops.

“Gendarmerie Mobile.” (“GM”) These are the mobile tactical reserves of the Military Police, who in France also mostly work for the Ministry of the Interior but, who are actually soldiers. They police the French countryside. In addition to their posts in towns they have large armored units in the GM. These GM units have armored personnel carriers and tanks, real tanks. They wear black uniforms and are called in to back up the CRS if it looks like a situation is “going south.” They usually are polite.

Then there are also “La Police Nationale,” (ordinary cops, usually in cities, you know, Cluseau, Maigret, etc) Not significant in street riots.

If you start to see either the CRS or the GM in the streets of Paris you will know that the government has decided to do something serious against the rioters. So far the poor “pompiers” (firepersons) are taking a beating in trying to deal with insurgents who, at this point, probably think that their hellraising is doing something good for them.

Most Americans claim to dislike France. I have puzzled over why this is true. Were they snubbed in Paris by waiters, department store clerks, abused by cab drivers? Have they never been to New York City? Can they not deal with people like that? Is this visceral hostility a left-over from a millennium of hostility between the English ancestors and the French “enemy?” Is this really a hold-over from the Hundred Years War?

Are we really so small-minded that we are angry with their insistence on following an independent course in foreign affairs?

Do we not know how many times the French Armed Forces have stood beside us since WW2? I do, because I was often at the heart of such cooperation.

Continued below, and UPDATED with economic statistics:

Americans, who know anything about foreign affairs, often believe that France withdrew from NATO back in the ’60. Not so! They withdrew their forces from the PEACETIME command of SHAPE, the NATO heaquarters in Belgium, but they never withdrew from NATO. Their forces remained firmly embedded in war plans and in position to participate in repulse of the Soviets for all those years.

I confess to liking France, the French language, the cuisine, the whole thing. Sorry folks, there it is. I have actually been to the French military cemetery at Yorktown, Virginia where their valor was essential to the triumph of American arms (and our independence from the British).

When I was in government service I was often the grateful recipient of their help in difficult situations. I have been to the Church of St. Louis in Paris. This is the official church of the French Army. In the Church there is a stone monument about four feet tall and shaped like a bullet. It is carved with the symbols of the United States. There are identical monuments along the roads in northern France from the beaches in Normandy to the German frontier. They mark the route of advance of Patton’s Third Army. This is called the “Route of the Liberation.” The one in Paris is filled with earth from all the American military cemeteries in France. I once spent some time at the US cemetery at Belleau Wood. This is the “Aisne-Marne” cemetery.

The US guardian there lives at the cemetery. He told me interesting things:

  1. That his predecessor had lived at the cemetey throughout the German occupation in WW2. The Heer (German Army) placed a guard on the place and provided required logistics until the US advance in 1944 “uncovered” the area.
  2. That his maintenance budget from the US givernment was sadly inadequate and that the way he dealt with this was that he had a list of French contracters who, when called on, maintained the cemetery gratis. If this does not meet your pre-conceived notions on the subject, “Tant pis..” (Too Bad)

Having said this, I am sorry to say that France has a problem involving un-assimilated Muslim immigrants and citizens which the government and people of France have themselves caused over the years.

Simpy put, they have let too many people into the country who came only for economic improvement and who had little or no interest in becoming French. This developed largely after the liquidation of France’s colonial empire. In the immediate aftermath of the independence of Algeria, many partly assimilated Algerians moved to France to escape the rule of the FLN in Algiers. These were the so-called “Harkis.” They wanted to be assimilated and, in the main, have been. The later immigrants were different. By and large, they came to France”for the passport,” and with no intention of accepting the idea of being French.

It has to be said that the French are by and large an ethnic people. (Yes, I know about Corsica and Martinique) They, like the Germans and English have a difficult time thinking of immigrants as really having become them. The immigrants know what the French really think they are. This is a problem. Nevertheless, I have “rattled around” in the “boondocks” in France because I have friends there, and in every town in the provinces I find that these same immigrants occupy most of the low-cost public housing and that their children go to state run schools just like the kids whose ancestors marched with Napoleon.

What’s the problem? The French have allowed this situation to fester. If a lot of people from another culture immigrate to your country and you accept the idea that they will remain something different, then, in the end, you have to expect that there will be trouble when these folks begin to realize the strength that their numbers give them.

I can hear the economic determinists howl. “Not by bread alone..” folks. Nevertheless… According to the CIA “World Factbook.” the population is 99% literate, The unemployment rate is 10.1% and the percentage of residents living below the poverty line is 6.5%. The high (for us) unemployment rate is attributed widely to structural rigidity in the more or less “statist” French economy. By contrast, our unemployment rate is 5.5% and the percentage of people living below the poverty line is 12%. So, I guess we are more productive but have less social conscience. That sounds about right.

What will happen? If the hoodlums in the streets don’t calm down, the French government will finally decide that order must be restored. This will be a tough decision. The post-colonial French treasure their self-image as great humanitarians, and the Left will spin and howl, but self interest will triumph.

The Muslim kids can go home and go look for a job or they can expect to meet the CRS and GM.

The Muslim kids can go home and go look for a job or they can expect to meet the CRS and GM.


Col. Patrick W. Lang (Ret.), a highly decorated retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces, served as “Defense Intelligence Officer for the Middle East, South Asia and Terrorism” for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and was later the first Director of the Defense Humint Service. Col. Lang was the first Professor of the Arabic Language at the United States Military Academy at West Point. For his service in the DIA, he was awarded the “Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive.” He is a frequent commentator on television and radio, including PBS’s Newshour, and most recently on MSNBC’s Hardball and NPR’s “All Things Considered.”.

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Novel: The Butcher’s Cleaver (download free by chapter, PDF format)

Drinking the Kool-Aid,” Middle East Policy Council Journal, Vol. XI, Summer 2004, No. 2


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