Follow TV Tropes


Analysis / Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Go To

France has never been shy of war; far from it, France is one of the most warlike countries ever to exist. However, this never translated into France becoming a normal, continent-spanning Empire (like the Qin, Han, Tang, Ming, Qing, Mughal, Persian, Mongol, Ottoman, or Roman Empires) but remaining a small, European-style state that was largely ethnically homogenousnote  until the late 20th century. At any rate, in a millenia of warfare France's incredibly bloody record has more than a few bright spots:


  • American victory in The American Revolution was achieved chiefly through French force of arms and money. The most pivotal role was arguably played by the French Navy, assisted by the Spanish, which kept the British from being able to reinforce or supply their forces in North America. The United States' Continental Army was led, trained, and equipped by and to the standards of the French Royal Army, though a German impostor did much of the 'training' bit. The tremendous cost of that endeavour however would play a part in some big troubles for France...
  • The French ultimately won the Hundred Years' War against the English, with the help of a teenage farm girl as well as superior overall planning. In fact, the French actually came out of the conflict holding more territory than they had before. Still, the war was characterized by three 'hot' periods and two 'cold' periods. The English won decisively the first hot period, while the French won a limited victory in the second and a complete victory in the third, taking bites out of the domains of the Counts of Burgundy, England's allies in the war. Ultimately, England ended up losing their territories on the continent, which were gobbled up by France.
  • Advertisement:
  • In the 17th and 18th century, Louis XIV led many successful military campaigns in Europe. Despite victory, however, Louis' campaigns did not appreciably increase French power (which may not be saying much, as France was the most powerful state in Europe long before and after Louis) and were extremely expensive, forcing the French government into debt, beginning the falling of the fiscal dominoes that would eventually result in France's bankruptcy and the French Revolution.
  • During The French Revolution, France radically came Back from the Brink after the above mentioned weak military performance. After the early part of the military campaign was met with several setbacks and the nascent government was faced with crisis, the newly formed Committee of Public Safety was put under the direction of engineer Lazare Carnot who modernized France's army via Conscription, and in a space of a few months in late 1793-early 1794, France became the pre-eminent land army of Europe. The newly formed French army gave careers to several future legends of The Napoleonic Wars, namely Napoleon himself. Lazare Carnot was called "the Organizer of Victory" and he would go on to inspire Leon Trotsky (who was called "Red Carnot" by his comrades) and be cited as a hero and inspiration by Charles de Gaulle.
    • The Royalist/Catholic Vendean and Chouan insurrections were bloodily repressed by the Republic, but their valiance left a mark. The youngest Vendean leader, Henri de La Rochejaquelein, originated this famous quote before dying in battle:
      "If I advance, follow me! If I retreat, kill me! If I die, avenge me!"
  • Charlemagne and Napoleon Bonaparte (who was ethnically Italian, but born after the French took over) also led many French victories and conquered almost all of Europe. The achievements of both nevertheless came to naught. In Charlemagne's case, his heirs split his empire into three (much weaker) kingdoms, while Napoleon's reign ended with the France's complete defeat, restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, and the end of the Revolution, and the longest occupation of France until World War II.
  • During the First World War, the French kicked enormous amounts of ass, especially considering their best industrial land was overrun in the first weeks, bearing the brunt of Allied casualties in the Western Front and claiming the majority of Allied victories in the West.
    • If any one battle could be picked to show the tenacity of the French defense during the war, the battle in and around Fort Vaux would be an excellent choice, itself a microcosm of the already horrific Battle of Verdun. Surrounded by the German army in an outdated and undermanned fortification, which had been primed with live explosive ordinance in expectation of a detonation to deny the fort to the Germans that never happened, the French defenders of Fort Vaux nevertheless fought against the invading Germans both from both within and without. Pounded by artillery from the outside and forced to fight in cramped tunnels and passageways on the inside, the defenders of Fort Vaux fought with rifles, machine guns, grenades and in vicious hand-to-hand fighting, often from hastily improvised positions, even as the fort at times literally began to cave in around them. They fought for seven days, with no relief or resupply, their commander, Colonel Sylvain Eugène Raynal, was finally forced to surrender when the men around him began dying of thirst. His resistance so impressed the Germans that when he surrendered to the enemy commander, Crown Prince Wilhelm, he gave Raynal his own sword to replace the one he had lost in the fighting.
  • There were some bright (and even heroic) spots for the French military in World War II:
    • The campaign of May-June 1940 ended with a major French defeat and a humiliating armistice, and gave rise to the trope, but before that:
      • For starters, the battle of France killed over 27000 German soldiers and wounded over 111000. Anyone pretending that the French surrendered "without firing a single shot" is simply wrong, or is straight-up lying.
      • The three major tank battles between Germans and French during the spring of 1940, Hannut, Gembloux and Stonne, were either French tactical victories (the first two) or highly indecisive (Stonne). They did not prevent Germany's eventual breakthrough, but showed that, had the French army created armored divisions much earlier than it did and produced more tanks, there would have been serious chances to hamper the German Blitzkrieg.
      • French alpine troops were vastly outnumbered by the invading Italian army, but they managed to hold them off in key passage points in the Alps (one such passage was defended by 9 French soldiers against 3000 Italians) until they had to surrender due to the armistice. Benito Mussolini thought he would have it easy to declare war to France and invade it after Germans shattered the best French armies and the BEF in the North, but he was wrong, and was initially not able to occupy large chunks of French land as a result.
      • The bitter defenses of both Lille and the Dunkirk perimeter in May 1940 (still sadly overlooked or outright ignored, look no further than what's featured — or not — of them in Dunkirk) were as crucial as the mobilization of the Royal Navy for the success of Operation Dynamo, which allowed hundreds of thousands of retreating British troops to come home and fight another day. Seven German divisions were still closing in on the city after the so-called "miracle" order of Adolf Hitler to stop his troops, some German generals compared the French defenders' resolve to World War I's Verdun. Winston Churchill saluted their bravery and sacrifice in his memoirs.
      • Some French forces that regrouped on the Loire river, including the famous Cadets of Saumur, did not listen to Pétain's call to stop the fights on June 17. They kept fighting a heroic Last Stand to defend some bridges up until June 21, even when knowing they were outnumbered (2500 men in total, against 40000 Germans) and lacking equipment.
      • The Maginot Line itself, much maligned after the invasion and later becoming a byword for misspent and wasted effort, proved how well made it was during some of the final parts of the Battle of France. The Germans hadn't so much as broke through the line as sidestepped it, something that the Allies didn't think the Axis would even attempt. When it came time for the Germans to take the line on the 15th of June, they found themselves in a grueling battle where they had to take each of the fortifications, manned by some of the best the French military had to offer, one-by-one. This greatly slowed the Germans and completely stymied the Italians, and while they were able to break through the outlying lines, they had little progress in taking the central fortifications. French soldiers fought on despite being encircled and cut off from aid, and planned to continue their resistance regardless, until the Armistice was signed on the 22nd. The fighting was so ferocious that of the fifty-eight fortifications that formed the line, only ten were captured intact.
    • The Free French Forces founded by Charles de Gaulle kicked some ass alongside the Allies:
      • The Légion Etrangère said This is BIR HAKEIM! to Erwin Rommel, covering the British retreat in the process.
      • General Juin's army (more than half of which was made of Africans from French colonies) was of great help in the taking of Monte Cassino in Italy.
      • The Kieffer commandos, the only Free French who were able to land in Normandy on D-Day. They took the town of Ouistreham (a romanticized version of this is shown in The Longest Day) and made their junction with the British who held Pegasus Bridge.
      • The Second Armored Division was an important player in the battle of Falaise, which closed the battle of Normandy in August 1944. They proceeded with the Liberation of Paris, fought bitterly to retake Lorraine and Alsace, then ended up doing some spearheading into Southern Germany in the spring of 1945, right up to Hitler's home in Berchtesgaden.
    • The French Resistance had much tactical significance, in that the Allies coordinated their actions with those of the invasion force, giving some pretty spectacular results. However, their overall impact on the course of the war has often been overstated, often for political reasons (the Communist resistance comes to mind).
    • While there's much to be said about Vichy France and its collaboration with Nazi Germany, on the Vichy military side there was the scuttling of the French fleet in Toulon in November 1942, when Germans invaded the Free Zone. It was not a battle, but the French Navy still stood by its promise not to surrender the fleet to any other power.
    • As controversial as they can be due to the regime they served, French volunteers who fought in German uniforms generally did not shy away from combat, in the Wehrmacht first then in the Waffen SS, from the outskirts of Moscow in late 1941 all the way to Berlin in spring 1945. Between 250 and 350 French Waffen SS of the Sturmbataillon Charlemagne were among the last defenders of Berlin in April 1945, destroying dozens of Red Army tanks in bitter and vicious street battles.
  • The French have a reputation for revolutions and insurrections. From the Jacquerie during the Middle Ages, over to the French Revolution, the Communards and Mai 1968.
  • As for unambiguous French defeats, the two most serious are certainly the Seven Years War (1756-1763), in which they lost all of their North American domains (some of which Napoleon later recovered and sold to the United States), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), during which Emperor Napoleon III was captured in battle. The Prussians then forced the French to cede Alsace-Lorraine, pay a five billion franc indemnity, and allow the coronation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor at Versailles, Louis XIV's palace. The most famous modern defeat is of course the battle of France, the collapse of the Maginot Line and the occupation by Germany, after which the trope is name. Another traumatic defeat is the loss of the Battle of Dien Ben Phu to North Vietnam. Even within France, this is part of its Shocking Defeat Legacy.
  • The one thing that needs to be taken account is the advantage of geography. Great Britain is separated from Continental Europe by water and the last person to conquer England, a Norman by the name of William the Conqueror (who is technically French), did so nearly 1,000 years ago. For most of modern English history, the British did not have to live in constant fear of being overrun on all sides like Continental nations with their interconnected land borders. The main target for English invasion is from the Channel and Dover, whereas France, being Hexagonal in shape, constantly fears Everything Trying to Kill You thanks to its thin land and water borders. Spain on its South with the mountain pass of Pyrenees being a single buffer, in the North it has England across the narrow channel with Germany, Netherlands, Italy on its sides and the Mediterranean coast that leaves it open from invasion from Africa, Italy and other regions there. As such it has greater vulnerability than both the United States and England. No nation can do anything about its geographical advantages or lack thereof and based on what France has, its achievements are pretty good.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: