For months now, Manny has been begging Vlad for some benevolent gesture, no matter how trivial, that would enable the French to love one of the vilest and most dangerous regimes on earth.
The KGB colonel finally heeded Manny’s pleas and agreed to release the decomposed bones of Napoleon’s general Charles-Etienne Gudin, whose leg was shot off during France’s 1812 foray into Russia. The general’s heart was cut out at the time and buried in Père Lachaise, but the rest of his body, minus the missing leg, was recently discovered in Smolensk.
Now the unused portion can be reinterred at Les Invalides, and Manny is desperately trying to claim that this cheap gesture is proof enough of Putin’s good will towards France.
In the process, he has proved that it isn’t just the sublime and the ridiculous that are separated by only a small step. That Napoleonic aphorism can also apply to appeasement and capitulation, as Manny may find out, and to pragmatism and prostitution, as we’ve found out about Manny.
With all the impetuousness of his feminine nature, Manny has fallen in love with Vlad Putin, him with the bare torso of an ex-Chippendale and the muscular lingo of a Mafia don.
For years, Manny played hard to get, and Vlad didn’t go out of his way to endear himself either. He even funded Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist party that ran Manny close in the last election.
But let bygones be bygones, decided Manny. Putin agreed, citing the corresponding, more evocative Russian proverb: “He who remembers the past, out with his eye.”
As befits a politician, Manny camouflaged his girlish emotions with geopolitical language. “Europe will disappear,” he said, unless the EU mollycoddled the KGB colonel.
That doesn’t quite tally with Manny’s parallel statement that Nato should be disbanded because Russia no longer presents a threat. If she doesn’t, then no mollycoddling is necessary. If she does (to the point of threatening to annihilate Europe), then Nato is vital – unless Manny seriously thinks France’s diminutive force de frappe is sufficiently robust to keep Russia at bay.
In general, Manny has an interest in, if little knowledge of, ancient history. Thus he has been impressed by the way Putin has fostered the cult of Peter the Great, the Westernising Russian tsar.
Had he delved into Russian history a bit deeper, he would have found that the cult of Peter has never been in need of fostering. Stalin saw himself as a Peter-like figure, and in that sense, as in many others, Putin simply follows his role model.
In any case, Manny would be well-advised to narrow his focus and look at more recent history and, for that matter, more recent bones. Such as those belonging to the 212,000 Frenchmen killed in the Second World War – including several thousand of those who for various reasons found themselves in Soviet captivity and died there.
Many factors conspired to trigger off that war, but one of them was the criminal appeasement of Hitler by the governments of France and Britain. The parallels with today’s situation are crying out to be made.
Those Westerners did brisk trade with Nazi Germany, supplying most of her raw materials until the Soviet Union took up the slack. At the same time, they released much hot air into the atmosphere, decrying Nazi excesses.
Today, the situation is eerily similar. European governments imposed sanctions on Russia after her 2014 aggression against the Ukraine, while never skipping a beat in doing business with Putin’s energy concerns.
Just like Hitler used Western supplies to build up his military muscle, Putin is pumping Russia’s petrodollars into increasingly sophisticated weaponry, including the hypersonic missiles just deployed.
The appeasement jargon is also uncannily similar. Yes, Herr Hitler shouldn’t have staged the Anschluss of Austria, and neither should he have occupied the Sudetenland. But let’s not forget that those places are inhabited by Germans, so Hitler really reclaimed Germany’s rightful possessions.
In the same vein, Western appeasers say that Putin was slightly naughty when grabbing the Crimea, but hey, it used to be Russian anyway, and it’s mostly inhabited by Russians. Actually, the Crimea was Russian during exactly the same period that India was British, give or take a couple of years.
But appeasers don’t listen to such arguments now any more than they did back in the late ‘30s. They refuse to see that, when vile regimes are bent on aggression, they proceed piecemeal, seeing how much they can get away with after each gobbled-up slice.
That’s how Hitler acted in the ‘30s, and that’s how Putin is acting now. It took the West five years to quell its indignation over the flagrant aggression against the Ukraine, and in the beginning Manny was among the most indignant denouncers.
Yet the KGB man knew his targets: he knew they’d come around sooner or later, and Manny hasn’t disappointed. But at least he can claim Gen Gudin’s bones.
P.S. Last night a French gentleman expressed his dismay over my spending so much time in France and yet detesting the EU. Using the same logic, I replied, a 1930s Frenchman who liked Bach and Beethoven should also have liked Hitler. My interlocutor didn’t get the analogy.