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Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Country in Search of Grandeur

1. The quality or condition of being grand; magnificence: "The world is charged with the grandeur of God" (Gerard Manley Hopkins).
2. Nobility or greatness of character.  (
As I was raised in the French speaking part of my country, I had to study French history and culture in elementary and secondary schools. I also lived about 10  minutes from the French border which we could easily cross as Swiss citizens 50 years ago. Even today, it is just a perfunctory process as long as the agents see a passport belonging to Switzerland or to any of the European Union members.
After reading French literature in high school, I became convinced that the notion of "grandeur" was an essential component of French culture and government. The highest point in France's history was reached in 1804 when Napoleon was crowned emperor. It is sufficient to see his painting by Jacques-Louis David to understand how much the notion of "grandeur" was etched in the psyche of every French citizen.
Full length portrait of Napoleon in his forties, in high-ranking white and dark blue military dress uniform. He stands amid rich 18th century furniture laden with papers, and gazes at the viewer. His hair is Brutus style, cropped close but with a short fringe in front, and his right hand is tucked in his waistcoat.
The hidden right hand is not the result of a deformity, but rather the imperious signal that "I am in power and France is the greatest country in the world." He also said without blushing:

"France has more need of me than I have need of France."
An expression which clearly indicates that the grandeur of France was in his hands. Another quote involved the greatest and ironically the tallest emperor in the Middle Ages:
"I am the successor, not of Louis XVI, but of Charlemagne."

The word "charlemagne" of course means Charles the Great and Napoleon chose wisely not to compare himself with Louis XVI, a weak man who ruined his country through his incompetence.
Today, Francois Sarkozy is struggling to make his country a significant player in NATO and the European Union; he is concerned that Germany is always considered the economic powerhouse in Europe, while France clearly occupies the second place. Old and traditional enemies throughout the 20th century (England was the hated opponent in the 19th century and before), these two countries are now the main engine of the E.U. The French speak proudly of the "force de frappe" or military might they can unleash on any adversary; it includes nuclear weapons of various types, a by-product of their multiple nuclear plants which provide 70% of that country's electrical needs.
Let's remember that de Gaulle, the general who fought the Nazis from London, is credited as the savior of post-war France; he brought order and discipline to national politics, and kicked the American military from their French bases in addition to pulling his country out of NATO. He is the emblem of France's Grandeur and was passionately convinced that his country would once more emulate the Napoleonic dreams of a French empire.

It is therefore understandable that Francois Sarkozy, the current President, jumped at the opportunity to show French military might by leading the charge to help Lybian rebels.
 Dassault Rafale M take off.jpg French Rafale fighter jet

But Sarkozy knows very well that his nation, by itself, cannot embark on costly military or space ventures; these are too expensive for one country, which is why France and England, now somewhat more friendly to each other, were able to build the first and only SST (Supersonic plane). Nowadays, France has the largest space program budget among members of the E.U., at 1.7 billion euros a year; its operations take place on a Caribbean island, La Guyane, formerly a penal colony. If somehow Paris is successful in launching its own space exploration, albeit with help from other European countries, it will be seen as a world leader and maybe, just maybe, it may recover its lost grandeur.

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