Ultimate Racism: The Liberation of Paris

In June of 1940, France fell to Germany. Among the troops who were overwhelmed by the German attacks were about 17,000 black West African colonial troops with the French Army. Many of these soldiers were shot do death by the Germans, who considered these Africans to be subhumans, as they stood in surrender. Surely, it would be fair to consider this to have been part of the Holocaust.

Then the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese did a pretty good job of trying to take over the world, millions upon millions died in that war, and the rest of the Holocaust happened.

The Allies banded together and put everything they had into defeating the racist, fascist, imperialist, evil Axis forces. And eventually prevailed. And Paris was liberated and the first troops to march into the city just abandoned by the Germans were, suitably, French.

But not the Black French.

The units that would have marched into Paris at the time of liberation consisted of a majority of black faces, as the French Army was staffed at this time primarily with colonial troops. But the black faces were weeded out of the ranks, intentionally, so that the companies of soldiers marching into liberated Paris would be 100% white.

I ask you, what, the fuck, were the Allies fighting for?

This fact has recently come to light (although, presumably, people have known about this since it happened) as the result of a BBC archiving project.

... Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.

Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.

In January 1944 Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, Major General Walter Bedell Smith, was to write in a memo stamped, "confidential": "It is more desirable that the division mentioned above consist of white personnel.

"This would indicate the Second Armoured Division, which with only one fourth native personnel, is the only French division operationally available that could be made one hundred percent white."

This is a very interesting article. Go read the rest here.

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Considering the state of segregation based on color in the 40's I can't say that this suprises me. People of all natinalities and colors fought for most, if not all of the allied nations during WWII but to make it look good on film for the world they literally white washed everything. Look at the feats of the British Indian regiments and Gurkhas, the Tuskegee Airmen, Buffalo Soldiers, etc. You don't hear much about them in comparison with other famous mostly white regiments.

It's very reminiscent of the treatment of Native American soldiers during the frontier wars, American revolution, etc. I like to think that for the most part we've moved on from this crap.

By IceFarmer (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

The French and British armies were not segregated at the time of WWII

"reminiscent of the treatment of Native American soldiers during the frontier wars, American revolution, etc"

It's reminiscent of every soldier from an "othered" caste or class since time began, and certainly the entire Roman empire was formed up this way as well; but today it is more important to stir up racial anxiety than it is to create common ground...otherwise, who will fight the next race/class/religion based war for the sake of the global industrial capitalist conspiracy of Jews, Protestants, and Catholics?

By the real Al Sharpton (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

Of course the Brits & French weren't segregated during WWII, neither were the Soviets. I'm pointing out the driving force of the segregation in this case. The American policy of segregation was the issue in this case. This stands in stark contrast to the overall ethnic diversity of the current American military.

When you ally yourselves with some one, you have to do things to keep everyone happy, and all too often people sacrifice their dignity to satisfy others instead of doing the right thing. It seems like the Brits and French chose the easy way out.

Al, one thing I will say about the Romans is that there were the among most likely to Romanize and integrate "foreigners" into the Roman way of life than many others. The American socio-political structure was staunchy opposed to any sort of integration. The Brits and French were far more at ease with their diverse regiments due to their histories and still existing Empires that spanned Africa and Asia. Integration is a common theme among successful empires. Granted that racism was still a difficult issue placing the rulers at the top.

By IceFarmer (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

I ask you, what, the fuck, were the Allies fighting for?

Certainly they weren't fighting racism. This should not be a surprise. They were fighting a political battle, swathed in the language of human rights.

Oh, for god's sake!!
Can't I have one day to be in a good mood? Damned reality always bringin' a brother down.
Can you post a picture of a puppy or something?
A pug would be nice.

By Kitty'sBitch (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

The Allies brought puppies? Sweet!

By IceFarmer (not verified) on 06 Apr 2009 #permalink

There is a distinction here. Racism is repugnant. Genocide is a lot worse. Look at how many whites in the US were racist but thought that lynchings were disgusting. There are levels of racism like anything else, and I'm inclined to argue that in this case the matter really is one not just of degree but also of kind.

Of course, it isn't news that the Allies were fighting for their own self-interest. This is just a particularly striking example. The US military didn't end segregation until 1948 with an executive order from Truman. He really deserves a lot more credit for helping civil rights in this country than he gets.

Ami y'a bon (8:47) This is a French short. I can't find a copy without subtitles, but basically the loudspeaker near the end of the film is saying that your services are no longer needed and you are not getting paid. That should be enough to understand what is going on.

A great portion of those "white Frenchmen" that entered Paris were actually white Spaniards that fought with the allied armies (mostly French) after the defeat of the republicans (the loyalists) in the Spanish Civil War.

We all know how the allied forces forced Franco to step down in favor of a liberal democracy... uh, I mean, not...

Joshua: Racism, left challenged, always leads to genocide. Always.

Greg, I presume you mean "unchallenged." In any event, I'd be curious what evidence you have for that claim. There are a lot of people out there who are racist who have zero intention of massacring the groups they are racist to.

Of course Joshua,

In South Africa no one had the intention of massacring the black while they were working in the gold mines and cleaning their houses. The Hutus and the Tutsis didn't have any intentions of killing each other (with machetes) until they had it easily instilled by a radical minority.

But the better example is that of the long history of the conquest of America. South and north. Did the conquerors have the intention to massacre them?

In the north the cleansing was almost surgical, while in the south, as mainly men came, they enslaved the indigenous population, raped (and after married) the women and left a mostly mixed population that is still ruled in most of the countries by the "mostly white".

So, the racists that don't have the intention of massacring their hate subjects is because they can't, yet.

Surely Nazism was the ultimate racism. What you're talking about here is hardly in their league.

By Theo McBride (not verified) on 07 Apr 2009 #permalink

Theo, you are (may be correct) about "the" ultimate. I'm using the term here more lie "Extreme" in "extreme sports" but I did not want to use the word "extreme" because that opens the question of "non extreme" racism. (which may be a valid arguing point put a disraction)

Also, this story is about three events. The cold blooded assassination (because they were African) of soldiers after surrender, the holocaust, and the decision by the US to insist that the French only march white troops in the front column on the return to Paris. Talk about salt in the wounds!

Greg, I understand what you are saying and take your point. Salt in the wounds, indeed.

By Theo McBride (not verified) on 07 Apr 2009 #permalink

Joshua, not really. The logic outcome of unfettered racism is slavery until things become difficult. Then you kill them all. This is how it has happened too many times to split hairs over the nature of inductive arguments.