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Post More on Prorogation; La Nueve and the Liberation of Paris
Created by John Eipper on 09/12/19 3:45 AM

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More on Prorogation; La Nueve and the Liberation of Paris (David Pike, -France, 09/12/19 3:45 am)

In response to the question of our editor JE (September 11):

Yes indeed, Parliament can suspend Parliament, but the Government cannot. On this question, the English High Court and the Scottish High Court are in conflict, so it must be resolved by the UK Supreme Court, but that will take another week. Can the Sovereign ever deny a Prime Minister his/her request? Such a clause actually exists, but it is so arcane that let us hope the UK Supreme Court makes it unnecessary to start quoting from Walter Bagehot.

If I still have the floor (or am I out of order in responding on a second and separate issue?), I would reply to the two postings of our friends José Ignacio Soler (Sept. 10) and Eugenio Battaglia (Sept. 11) on the role of La Nueve in the liberation of Paris. The author who is the leading authority on the subject is Evelyn Mesquida, who has published her account in both Spanish (2008) and French (2011). José Ignacio speaks of de Gaulle "ordering" General Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division (not the French 16th) to take the van in the liberation of Paris. Leclerc's division was obviously part of an Allied army corps, and not just a division on the loose to run its own show. It answered to Lieutenant-General Leonard Gerow's Vth Army Corps in Patton's Third Army. It seems that Leclerc was able to bypass Gerow by going directly to Patton. Gerow's furious response was to say that if Leclerc was an American major-general he would be under summary court martial for breaking rank and disobeying orders.

Other errors might be pointed out in our two WAISers' accounts. The 200,000 Republican soldiers in France in February 1939 were interned not by Vichy, obviously, but by the French Third Republic; it is true that Vichy kept some of them interned up to 1944. As for La Nueve, it entered through Porte d'Orléans (where the monument stands) and not through Porte d'Italie. Far more serious are the outrageous claims of what the Spanish Republicans achieved (taking the Hotel de Ville, arresting von Choltitz, etc.). Such claims are embarrassing to Spaniards here in Paris.

A final point on Eugenio's oft-repeated claim that only the victors write the history books. I assure Eugenio that some of the best accounts I read are written by Germans. And when he says that "winners cannot be prosecuted for war crimes," I will limit myself to a single example. When the rape of a French girl on her farm in Normandy reached the ears of Eisenhower, Ike ordered a hearing which ended with two American soldiers being hanged on the farm in public.

JE comments:  I mistakenly sent out yesterday's post from David Pike with "prorogration" in the title.  Sorry for (proro)grating on people's nerves.  The error has been fixed.

How exactly did Choltitz end up in Allied captivity?  Did he surrender or was he captured?  And to/by whom?

David Pike in 2014 sent an excellent essay on Choltitz, who is probably given too much credit for "saving" Paris from destruction.  David's thesis:  the Germans didn't burn Paris, because they hoped to return.


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  • "History is Written by the Winners": Are There Exceptions? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/13/19 4:07 AM)
    In response to David W Pike (September 12th), books written by brainwashed Germans or by antifascist Italians are in the camp of the victors.

    The case of a single rape as example of the winners punishing a war crime (for these crimes, the French Colonial army in Italy should have been wiped out) is hardly convincing.

    JE comments:  I raised this question several years ago, but there was never a response:  Is our "pet" Spanish Civil War unique in that it's been written (after 1975) by the losers?  There might be a partial parallel here with the US Civil War, which has no shortage of histories sympathetic to the Confederate Lost Cause.

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    • Historiography, Victors and the "Brainwashed" (David Pike, -France 09/14/19 6:27 AM)
      Eugenio Battaglia (September 13th) tells us that "brainwashed German authors are in the camp of the victors," thus choosing to insult two entire generations of postwar German historians.

      We have German historians in our WAISer ranks. If they don't reply, it could be they don't think Eugenio's comment is worth their time. As for the multiple crimes carried out by units of the French Army in Italy, they have been well recorded, not least by the Italian historian Romain Rainero abetted by French historians in my 1995 international conference on The Closing of the Second World War (Peter Lang, 2001).

      I have a note here that goes back to an earlier defense of Mussolini by Eugenio, praising the Duce for building an entire town in two months (Nov. 27, 2016). Our editor JE asked him how he did it, "even if you send in the Army." It's a little late, but can Eugenio now give us the answer?

      JE comments:  We actually don't have any historians from Germany in the (active) WAISer ranks.  Shouldn't we work to correct this?

      Regarding Il Duce's whirlwind construction of towns, here's Eugenio's post from 2016:


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      • Did Mussolini Rebuild a Town in Three Months? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/15/19 10:43 AM)
        David Pike is right.

        The earthquake in the Vulture region happened on 23 July 1930 and the houses were rebuilt by 28 October of the same year.

        August 24th rather is the date of Italy's most recent earthquake in 2016. Sorry for the mistake on the date; I thought I already sent a correction on this.

        See: "Terremoto del Vulture 1930: terremoto del Vulture (1400 morti).  Il governo Mussolini in soli 3 mesi ricostruì 3.746 case e ne riparò 5.190


        It is in Italian but I assume this it is not a problem.  The Wikipedia article in English (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1930_Irpinia_earthquake ) is politically correct with no reference to the Mussolini government's great achievements.

        Of course I had no intention of insulting all German historians.

        JE comments:  The Vulture region is named for Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano.  Eugenio is absolutely correct that the Wikipedia makes no mention at all of the rebuilding efforts.  The Italian article goes into much more detail, without mentioning Il Duce by name.  It does include an image of the "casette antisismiche" (earthquake-proof houses) that were built to house the victims.  See below.  They're not luxurious, but they're better than tents.

        Eugenio, do you know if these buildings still stand?

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        • Mussolini's Earthquake-Proof Housing; The Art of Complaining (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/16/19 7:33 AM)
          John E asked about the earthquake-proof housing constructed in the Vulture region after the 1930 earthquake. The buildings stood very well when a new earthquake with the same force in the same area occurred in 1980. By now, new modern houses have most probably been built privately.

          As you have seen from my last posting, Mussolini not only quickly rebuilt destroyed houses and built brand new towns; he also changed Rome. During my recent 5-day vacation I was in Etruria and saw the fantastic works and the new towns built in the Pontine Marsh. They are quite astonishing.

          In the meantime the rubble of the earthquakes has not yet been completely removed and thousands of people are still without houses.  They remain in hotels or with friends. The few small temporary houses are too cold and the frozen water pipes burst last winter. Of course the houses are also too hot in the summer.

          People still complaining, but finally we are lay democratic and antifascist--so what the hell they want?

          A small correction to JE's comment: Mussolini is mentioned in the Italian Wikipedia article on the Vulture earthquake, when he praised the minister in charge of the reconstruction.

          JE comments:  They don't build 'em like they used to?  This is probably an exaggeration, but it has become a commonplace in Latin America to lament that colonial-era buildings survive earthquakes, while anything built after about 1900 collapses with the first tremors.

          Different topic:  Aldona and I raised the question over the weekend:  what nation is best at the fine art of...complaining?  I bet the Italians are great at it, as are the Poles.  My anti-scientific vote for the #1 spot:  Argentinians.  We Americans are trained to grin and bear it, as are our British cousins.  Please send your thoughts.

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          • And the Grouchiest Nation Is... (John Eipper, USA 09/18/19 3:41 AM)

            When appending my comments to Eugenio Battaglia's post of September 16th, I asked for WAISer thoughts on which nation is the best (worst?) at complaining.  I proposed Argentina as my candidate, with Poland and Italy close behind.  As a strict "FYI," Eugenio forwarded this piece from BBC Mundo (in Spanish):  "Franceses, los más gruñones"  [The French are the Grouchiest]:


            A whopping 93% of Frenchmen and women acknowledge that their compatriots are grumpy, and 70% believe they complain more than anyone else in the world.  Contrast this with a mere 15% of the Italians, 4% for the US, and 3% for Britain.

            We could complain endlessly about the methodology and scientific rigor of the survey, but that wouldn't be very American of me.  Eugenio (never one to complain himself) appended a brief comment to the article:  "useless information."  We might start our list of "concerns" with the following:  is "gruñón"/grouchy the same thing as complaining?  And the BBC piece is from 2010.  Can't we find something more recent?  The world has had a lot to complain about during the entire decade of the Teens.

            So where do we go from here?  I found this Quora item (my only complaint:  it's subjective) that proposes Turkey for the #1 spot:


            I'll stick by Argentina.  I just Googled "We Argentines Complain" (in Spanish) and received a cool one million search results.

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      • German Historiography of WWII (Cameron Sawyer, USA 09/15/19 1:33 PM)
        We may not have any German historians in WAIS, but I have read a lot of German historians.

        The Germans have made the most thorough and comprehensive history of WWII, namely Das Deutsche Reich und Der Zweite Weltkrieg, a monumental 10-volume work which involved probably the greater part of German scholars of the period, funded by the state and taking decades to complete.

        I would not agree that German historians are "brainwashed." There is a pretty broad consensus in Germany, which I do not believe is the result of brainwashing, that the Hitler regime was evil and a tragedy for Germany, and this consensus informs the history; nevertheless truth is treated scrupulously and the Allies are not painted as angels. One of the key authors, Horst Boog, treats the Allied strategic bombing of Germany harshly--certainly not according to the widespread Western view, which I do not share, that the strategic bombing of German cities, which one might soberly call terror bombing, was some kind of logical extension of the war and normal way of waging war. Boog even organized academic conferences on the Allied bombing campaign, and is well known for his long public dispute with an East German historian, Olaf Groehler, who was less critical.

        I'm taking strategic bombing as just an example, but I would submit that it's a good litmus test for whether German historians were "brainwashed" or not. The historiography of the strategic bombing campaign is itself a fascinating topic, and a real deep dive into the question of to what extent the "victors write the history books," a maxim which has some truth but which should not be exaggerated. See: https://pure.uva.nl/ws/files/1040555/145206_09.pdf ; https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt19630xg .

        Where I do agree with Eugenio Battaglia is that very few people in the West are really conscious of the Allies' evil deeds in the war, or are even conscious at all; and as I have written, it is remarkable the extent to which the official propaganda of the Cold War period, namely that it was the Western allies who actually defeated the Nazis, is still believed today. But you can't accuse the Germans of any of this. For the most nuanced and interesting view of the war, read the German historians, and start with the official history.  I believe there is even an official translation into English.

        JE comments:  Oxford UP has published Germany and the Second World War, in ten (expensive!) volumes.  The set will set you back about $750.  Visit your library.  Reviews call it "magisterial," although dry at times and not for the armchair reader of military history.

        Cameron, tell us more about the Boog-Groehler polemic.  One would tend to assume that an East German historian would be hyper-critical of the Anglo-American bombing of German cities, and a West German historian less so.  (The first link above discusses Groehler.)

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        • Who Sowed the Wind of Aerial Bombing in WWII? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/17/19 5:06 AM)
          I wish to thank Cameron Sawyer for his kind, detailed, and very informative post of 15 September.

          Unfortunately I have not read Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Sixty years ago I made a (failed) attempt to learn German. Also, we do not see many German history books in Italy. Once in a while, however, we receive news of people on trial for not being politically correct.

          Let's look at my concerns:

          A. J. P. Taylor in his book The Origins of the Second World War wrote: "The almost universal belief is that it was Hitler who started the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, while it was started by the British, as some more honest among them boasted." After all, the British Bomber Command was founded in 1936.

          Churchill became PM on 10 May 1940 and the following night started bombing Freiburg with no great success (this bombing is controversial). On the following 25 August, 81 powerful British bombers attacked Berlin, repeating it on 6 September. The Germans retaliated but it was a great mistake to start bombing towns and forgetting military installations.

          People may argue that the Germans bombed other towns in other countries.  J. M. Spaight in Bombing Vindicated wrote: "When Warsaw and Rotterdam were bombed the German Forces were approaching. The aerial bombing was a tactical offensive," while Sir Liddell Hart stated that the bombing did not happen until the German forces were entering the town, therefore the bombing was in compliance with Article 7 of the Hague Convention of 1907. David Irving is even more drastic in justifying the act; see Hitler's War.

          According to the politically correct Wikipedia in Italian, on 24 August 1940 two German planes by mistake dropped a few bombs on the outskirts of London. Hitler had absolutely prohibited bombing civilian targets. (Some other sources stated that the Luftwaffe presented its excuses.) But it was too good a chance for Churchill to start the terrorist attack on German towns, applying the Lindemann Plan:  "Bombing must be directed on the working class houses" How nice!

          Finally for a German historian it is easy to describe a battle but more difficult, and perhaps "verboten" by law, to describe the political circumstances in a politically incorrect way. For instance:

          1) Reuniting Danzig, according to the wishes of its inhabitants, to the Motherland is wrong?

          2) Regarding the tragedy of 11 million (again some sources give a higher number) kicked out from their homes in East what can be said? Maybe that the Atlantic Charter was BS?

          3) About the bombing it is not difficult to argue about the number of deaths in Dresden, 20,000 or 200,000, but pointing out who started the game violating the International Conventions, as we have seen above, may not be easy.

          At the end we should not forget that in the fall of 1938 Poland sent (rightly) its troops to occupy
          Geszyn and Zaolzie in Slovakia, inhabited by Poles, while Hungary occupied Hungarian areas in the South.

          Why does nobody remember that? What is the difference between Geszyn and Danzig?

          JE comments:  Eugenio, I'm not going to "buy" the narrative of Hitler's reluctance to bomb civilians.  Say no more than Guernica.  This said, we cannot exculpate Churchill for his willingness to unleash the whirlwind on non-military targets.  This summer we visited the massive air raid bunkers in Stettin/Szczecin.  One of the displays features a leaflet dropped from the British bombers:  "Don't forget who started this war."

          After posting Cameron Sawyer's comment of September 15th, I read the linked article on East German historian Olaf Groehler.  Groehler justified Anglo-American carpet-bombing on "retaliation" grounds, and occasionally got into trouble with the GDR authorities for being too sympathetic to the Western Allies.  At the same time, Groheler did point out that the British prioritized heavy bombers long before 1939, so it is no surprise that they would be eager to use them.

          I'd like to know more about Britain's supposed preference for attacking working-class districts.  Wouldn't it be tactically more effective to wipe out the wealthy neighborhoods?  Were they more heavily defended?

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          • Bombs over Savona: A Childhood Memory (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 09/19/19 4:22 AM)
            I came across this presentation (in Spanish) on the British bombers of WWII. It was "interesting" to see these old planes again, which I first saw many years ago.

            As a kid I remember them very well. If there were only a few of them we ran to the shelters because they would attack our town, but if they were in the hundreds, with a terrific noise even though they were relatively high, we all went outside to look at them as this meant they were heading north to bomb Germany.

            Unfortunately our local anti-aircraft defenses were not so effective against them, but some were shot down amidst our great cheers. The heroic fighter planes of the RSI were active mostly in the north of Italy. About shooting down enemy planes over Savona there was a curious story. At that time it was said that when the wreckage could not be found for some planes, they had gone down into the sea. Those from Turin replied that for them the river Po was too small to "sink" there the "downed" planes.

            JE comments:  See below.  The presenter, Diego Cánovas, begins with the classic story of Goering promising never to allow Allied bombers to reach the Ruhr, "or you can call me Meyer."  I never quite understood the profundity of this anecdote.


            Eugenio, are you saying that the meager anti-aircraft defenders around Savona made a lot of false claims of planes shot down into the sea?  Regardless, those of us who never experienced bombardment can only imagine the lifelong scar it leaves on a child.


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    • Who Wrote the Histories of the Spanish Civil War: The Victors or the Vanquished? (Angel Vinas, Belgium 09/15/19 5:12 AM)
      In reply to John´s question (13 September) of who wrote the Spanish Civil War, whether the victors or the vanquished, I should like to take a position.

      To the extent that the origins, the reasons for the victory and defeat of one of the two parties to it and the consequences of the conflict were written by the victors since 1936 up to 1975, at the very least serious history writing cannot countenance their version. I would strongly recommend WAISers to go to the library and consult, for example, vol. I of the History of the Liberation War written by the Military Historical Service and published by the Army General Staff in 1945, or the synopsis by the same authors which appeared in the late 1960s, if they want to have a dogmatically enshrined interpretation by Franco's historians.

      The vanquished histories of the war published in exile were not much better, the only and outstanding exception being Julián Zugazagoitia's account which appeared in Paris in 1940. It has been reprinted several times and has proved to be a very reliable account.

      With a few exceptions (Sir Paul Preston and his school and scattered others) I don't think that foreign historians have greatly improved upon what historians in today's Spain have been writing. The point being that this history is written in most of the Spanish universities and is fact-based and archives-oriented. It has put the Francoist version on its head. My next project, for which I've started gathering archival material, will be dealing with some of the foreign historians who still adhere to Francoist tenets. We'll have a laugh, I hope, together.

      JE comments:  Ángel Viñas seems to be saying that serious SCW histories are fact- and archive-based, thus they transcend the "victors-vanquished" disjunction.  That they tend to line up with the Republican side is not ideological, but rather the result of historical rigor.

      Do I understand you correctly, Ángel?

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      • Spanish Civil War Historiography, and the "Victors-Vanquished" Distinction (Angel Vinas, Belgium 09/16/19 4:44 AM)
        John E understood me perfectly. Namely, the main assertions of Francoist historiography are demonstrably false on the basis of evidence-based reconstructions.

        Many of the foreign scholars who were unable to do research in closed archives cannot be faulted for adhering in the past to those assertions. A different matter is today, when archives have become open albeit with severe limitations.

        JE comments:  To channel Sgt Joe Friday, facts are facts.  Ángel, couldn't we add that the historian's challenge is to relegate the other historical interpretation to the realm of bias or "ideology"?  If you counter ideology with more ideology, then every interpretation carries equal weight.

        I'm not sure if I'm explaining my point clearly enough, but it's time to click on "publish."

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        • "No Historian Writes Like a Mollusk": Historiography and Ideology (Angel Vinas, Belgium 09/18/19 3:13 AM)

          John E asked substantial questions in reply to my post of September 16th.

          Personally I think that history writing is influenced by ideology. No historian writes like a mollusk. No historian is a stone. Since the whole of the past is unfathomable, we try to illuminate parcels of it according to a combination of analysis, skills, intuition, and curiosity. Always respecting facts. Facts are not what happened on the surface but also what was below it and which can explain it. Facts are uncovered or discovered. They don't lie around. Any historical construction is temporary, because it can be superseded by new facts or new interpretations. There is no definitive history. Those historians who assert the contrary are prone to a very silly ideology. Little by little, or with big jumps occasionally, generation after generation, a consensus is created about a certain phenomenon.

          We're still far away from having reached such a consensus with respect to the Spanish Civil War.

          On another topic, I totally and unreservedly agree with Cameron Sawyer (September 15th). I have all the
          volumes of Das Deutsche Reich und der Zweite Weltkrieg at home and very
          frequently consult them. Some aspects may be a bit out of date (unavoidably
          so) but the effort behind such work was enormous and well-meant.

          JE comments:  I'm trying to imagine a mollusk ideology.  For starters, they must be strongly opposed to oyster bars and the pearl industry...

          Seriously now, Ángel Viñas has identified the ingredients of the historian's art:  analysis, skills, intuition, and curiosity.  I would add work ethic, which Ángel possesses more than almost anyone I know.  The "ideology" for an honest historian should be limited to the types of questions s/he asks, and not to any a priori conclusions.

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          • Historiography, Ideology, Bias (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 09/18/19 10:00 AM)
            I fully agree with Ángel Viñas's statement (September 18th) that "history writing is influenced by ideology," and consequently it is not always possible for historians to analyze and interpret historical facts, documents and testimonies in an objective way. However, it must be added that any historian is influenced and intellectually biased regarding what they want to believe, need or are forced to believe, by their motivations and emotions, subjective perceptions, prejudices, ethical-moral principles, and politically biased ideas. "No historian writes like a mollusk"; I like this metaphor.

            Furthermore, their interpretation is to a great extent supported by speculation, because it is materially impossible to know all the facts, background and witnesses' perceptions around a historical event. This would apply to testimonies, as well as to "official" or personal documents which can be suspected to be biased and incomplete.

            This does not mean that historians' work should be discredited. They do a difficult and many times splendid job. It is hard enough to ask historians for full objectivity. As Ángel says, "Facts are uncovered or discovered. They don't lie around. Any historical construction is temporary, because it can be superseded by new facts or new interpretations. There is no definitive history."

            Historians should always be humble and admit the limitations and incompleteness of their conclusions. Professional arrogance in one's work as the final-only-true, is not a desirable or virtuous feature in historians.

            In principle, this personal burden should not necessarily disqualify a historian's work, and I mean any historian from whatever ideology. As our brilliant editor once said, "The most honest approach is to state explicitly one's (historians) political (ideological) beliefs" when the historical work is presented.

            JE comments:  Nacho, I am humbled by your adjective--and certainly relieved you wrote "our brilliant editor once said," and not "our once-brilliant editor said..."

            A question for the WAISitudes:  have you ever been dazzled, impressed, or even convinced by a historian whose ideology you abhor? I wouldn't say I exactly "abhor" the ideology of A. J. P. Taylor, but he is way too sympathetic towards Hitler.  Still, I will acknowledge his brilliance (Taylor's, not Hitler's).

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