Monday, August 27, 2018

A pacifist General

August 27, 2018 -- In gazing at the map, I just noticed that a busy intersection that we cross almost every day has a name:  the Carrefour du Général Jacques Pâris de Bollardière.

Seeing a name like that, I had to look it up on Wikipedia.

Let me tell you first that this intersection is at the western end of the grand École Militaire, the war college that presides over the end of the Champ de Mars, opposite the Eiffel Tower.  Directly across from it is the Peace Pavilion, which is nestled in one end of the Champ itself.

The École Militaire
The façade of the École Militaire is pock-marked from bullets of past skirmishes and conflicts.  The place is still a war college, and so military types can be seen coming and going there every day.

Yet the party that happens on the Champ de Mars every night, with participants from all over the world, is a testimony to the possibility of world peace. 

War and peace -- that's what that area is about.

So who better to name this intersection for than General Jacques Pâris de Bollardière (1907-1986), a French army general who was a pacifist.  According to Wikipedia, he "became famous for his non-violent positions in the 1960s."

The Eiffel Tower and the Peace Pavilion, last night.

Although Jacques enlisted and went to the famous military academy at Saint-Cyr, he was guilty of insubordination and was demoted to the rank of sergeant.  (Something similar happened to my father while he was training in the Army Air Force during WWII.)

Jacques just didn't like authoritarianism, an attitude which served him well later as he decided to join the French Resistance rather than go along with the Vichy collaborationist government.

He had joined the French Foreign Legion and so was posted to Algeria.  But he was in Brest in 1940, and he realized what was happening.  So he crossed the Channel in a fishing boat to answer Charles de Gaulle's call for the Fighting French.  The Vichy government considered this to be treason, and so Jacques was given a death sentence.  But the collaborationist government would have to catch him first, which it never did.

Le Germinal Brasserie, on the Avenue Emile Zola
In his service in the special forces during the war, he had exciting and dangerous parachuting assignments into France and Holland.

During the first Indochina War, Jacques was put in charge of a paratrooper half-brigade.  But, according to Wikipedia, "he came to draw parallels between the anti-colonialist forces he was fighting against and the maquis group he led during the Second World War."  The pacifist roots were taking hold.

In the early 50s, Jacques was teaching paratrooper tactics in this very École Militaire, in Paris, by the intersection now named for him.
Le Blavet, a river in Brittany

The Algerian war for independence began in 1956, and Jacques became known for his efforts to build relationships with Algerian people -- both the Arab/Berber people and the descendants of French people who had immigrated there (Pied-Noirs).  He opposed the government policy of torture (as did John McCain, RIP).  When human rights abuses increased, Jacques asked to be relieved of command.

He was arrested and served 60 days for agreeing with journalist Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber's coverage of the Algerian war.  Then he resigned from the Army in 1957.

Like many French retirees, he returned to the land of his childhood, in this case, Brittany.  He worked in industry until he decided that the industrial "environment was inevitably dehumanizing"  (Jacobin magazine, 20 June 2018). In fact, Jacques connected all the dots; he thought that "the same French State that ran roughshod over Breton or Basque culture had likewise repressed Vietnamese and Algerian identity" (Jacobin magazine, 20 June 2018).

He went through a period when he read the Bible and Ghandi, more and more.  By the end of 1970, Jacques was a full-blown pacifist; he was a founder of the Movement for a Non-Violent Alternative.  He continued to be an activist for peace until the early 1980s.  He died at his home, Vieux Talhouët, in Brittany in 1986.  (BTW, that home is for sale now at 525,000 euros.)

1 comment:

John H. Danner said...

Fascinating account Barbara! Thanks for sharing.
Coincidentally, I refer to my being a pacifist in the sermon I preached yesterday (8-26). It will be posted on our website by this coming Wednesday.