If the government does nothing to stop “the disintegration” provoked by “Islamism and the hordes in the banlieue” then “tomorrow civil war will end the growing chaos, and the dead, for whom you carry the responsibility, will be counted in the thousands.”
That is the dire warning issued on April 13 and signed by some 1,300 retired Officers, including 23 generals, NCOs and other veterans of the French military. But it wasn’t until April 21 that the letter was made public by the conservative weekly Valeurs Actuelles. Since then, it has been a civil war of words between the left, the government and those on the right.
The Veterans Caught in the Middle
The socialist, Benoît Hamon, accused the generals of “explicitly threatening a military coup d’état” while the leftist Jean-Luc Mélanchon of Les Insoumis party accused the veterans of “trampling the values” they were supposed to defend.
Aurélien Taché, an MP from Macron’s En Marche party, put the veterans in the same bag as the Islamists when she Tweeted “French democracy is truly threatened” because of “Jihadi terrorism” but also “ultranationalism on the other side.”
For the French Defense Minister, Florence Parly, these veterans have violated “their obligation of reserve” by getting involved in politics and insisted “they represent only themselves” and nobody else.
This prompted the author of the letter, Captain Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, to point out on C-News TV that retired military personnel have the same political rights as any other citizen. “What does she think? That we are no longer in contact with our active duty comrades?” Captain Fabre asked. “We know what they are thinking. “
He warned that “if we continue like this … the Army will have to intervene, either within the frame of the State of Emergency, or worse, under a State of Siege. Under the State of Emergency, power is still in the hands of civilians. Under the State of Siege, the Armed Forces have the power.”
The text entitled “For a return to Honor of Those who Govern Us” (Pour un retour de l’honneur de nos gouvernants) blames “a certain form of anti-racism” of provoking hate between communities. “ It is a race war that these hateful and fanatical partisans want. They despise our country, its traditions, its culture and want to see it dissolve by ripping out its past and its history.”
The veterans’ letter received the support of right wing anti-immigrant National Rally party leader, Marine Le Pen, who called on the generals “to join our action and take part in the battle for France,” and who is favored to face off against Macron in next year’s presidential ballot.
Patriotism, French Values & The Elections
President Macron has had a rocky relationship with the military ever since he took office. One of Macron’s first moves after being sworn in was to force the very appreciated Chief of Staff, General Pierre Le Jolis de Villiers, to resign. De Villiers was not only opposed to defense budget cuts, he was calling for the budget be increased to two percent of GDP, echoing a call from President Donald Trump.
General de Villiers, who has published three books since being forced out, is a name being put forward as a possible candidate in next year’s presidential elections. This could spell trouble for Marine Le Pen. There has been a movement on the right to find a less divisive candidate than Le Pen.
I asked Le Pen recently, during an Anglo American Press Association conference, whether she would be willing to step aside if a candidate supporting her positions but with a better chance of winning came along?
“Yes. The subject was put on the table a couple of years ago and I said: ‘of course!’ So far, they haven’t come up with anybody. So, the problem, if I may say so, has been resolved.”
Although the veterans have come under fire from the government and the left for a letter that, their detractors say, supports the anti-immigrant right, this is not the first time people of authority have made the claim France is heading towards civil war.
Leading anti-terrorist police, philosophers such as Michel Onfray and Alain Finkielkraut, and numerous pundits have also warned that “communitarianism” and growing “Islamism” is taking the country to the brink. Perhaps the highest ranking was Macron’s Interior Minister, the former Socialist, Gérard Colombe, who, when he quit in October 2018, said that the French soon risked to be going at each other toe-to-toe.