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“Strange Defeat” Marc Bloch’s clear-eyed view of a world in disarray

July 3, 2020

History is full of lessons not learned, of opportunities lost, of resources squandered—not by those who place value on these things, those who haven’t the luxury of wasting what belongs to the common good. Think of any war in the history of mankind, of those who directed the battles from safety behind the lines while those without influence or money to buy it went to the front and laid down their lives.

Think of the debacle of the French army, and then their government, overwhelmed by the ruthless Nazi invasion. Think of Marc Bloch’s “Strange Defeat.” This soldier evacuated from Dunkirk went on to fight in the French resistance before he was captured and executed by the invaders. Ever the journalist, he kept a record of everything he saw and thought with an undistorted clarity and unvarnished declaration of what he saw as the truth.

He saw a generation of young Frenchmen cut down in their prime. He speaks of the army, in military terms, but you will find his words evocative of the way our government functions today. The looming disaster is not so obvious as an army on the march, but it is looming nonetheless, and those who should be most alert to it are the most blind.

I quote here from “Strange Defeat.” “Their failure was due not so much to contempt as to lack of imagination and a tendency to take refuge from the urgency of fact in abstractions. . . What drove us to disaster was the cumulative effect of a great number of different mistakes.”

One has only to look at the United States government’s utter failure to anticipate the power and speed and gravity of the coronavirus to see how true Bloch’s words can be. Or to look ahead, to the grim spectacle of a world wallowing in its own petrochemical trash, soon enough to be suffocating under the irreversible climate change.

Bloch’s book is full of such insights, applicable enough to any historical era.

For English translation click here: “Strange Defeat

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