Tag Archives: france

Review of “The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau” by Bill Putnam and John Edwin Wood

There’s a chapter of my life, that began when I played Gabriel Knight 3 and read Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that ended when I read this book. That game — and from that game, that book — were gateways too so much. My love of Dark Ages history (including great books of real history, like Before France and Germany, Mohammad and Charlemagne, and The Long-Haired Kings, an affection for the idea of the Mediterranean, and so on.

The part of my life ended with reading The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau.

But that’s the end. Here’s the beginning.

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The facts as we know them: Around a hundred years ago, Father Berenger Sauniere in rural southern France became suspiciously wealthy, with a cumulative lifetime income estimated at a few million dollars (after accounting for inflation). He had a number of visitors at his house, was investigated by the local Bishop, and eventually lost his power to lead Mass at the local Church. He died before the ecclesiastical trial reached a resolution.

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The story is much more interesting, because its also inarguable that there’s an actual conspiracy with actual forged documents, layered on top of this. Whether or not there is a treasure, there are documents that contain cyphers, references to ancient societies, and bizarre false clues and dead-ends.

What the world knows about Rennes le Chateau was primarily filtered thru Henry Lincoln, who encountered a real group (albeiet with a fraudulent history) that called itself the “Priory of Sion,” and which has an unusual fixation on the Merovingian Dynasty and King St. Dagobert II (feast day December 23) — a sainted boy king

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Henry Lincoln also added a new layer to the mystery, much (apparently) to the bemusement of the actual conspiracy he nearly uncovered. Dusting off his early French, he translates “Sangraal” not as “San Graal” (Holy Grail) but “Sang Raal” (Royal Blood), and from there reconstructs an improbable chronology where the Dagobert II was a blood-descendent of Jesus Chrst, and that secrets to this extent were buried in southern rural France — the discovery of which by Priest Berenger Sauniere led to his millions. Lincoln also added some geometric interpretations, which lead themselves to a reconstruction of the history of the mile (among even less probably claims)

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This stuff later spawned a pretty good video game…

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And a film series you may have heard of. (Lincoln’s co-authors lost their lawsuit on The DaVinci Code.)

Putnam’s and Wood’s book is an exhaustive, well researched, extremely well document demolition of nearly every conspiracy theory associated with Rennes le Chateau, and the persuasive presentation of evidence of a more mundane conspiracy (Sauniere was illicitly selling masses, and may have engaged in some light grave-robbing.) Even elements which struck me as probable enough (such as the location of certain church-sites) are addressed, with everything from first-person research, to cryptographic analysis, to computer simulations of the probability of certain features appearing by chance.

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The number of myths the authors systematically demolish is impressive. Rennes-le-Chateau wasn’t the Visigothic cty of Rhedae. The placing of churches around Rennes doesn’t fit any sort of pattern, mundane or not. Berenger Sauniere supported his (real) generosity by scamming those seeking prayers for the dead. The inflection point of the entire story seems to have been a small remodeling task, which made the priest as power mad as one who is content in a small, remote town can be.

The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is certainly not the first book you should read about this maze of facts and secrets. But if you’ve encountered any of it, and you are interested in any bit of bit, The Treasure of Rennes le Chateau is a must read.

Review of “To Lose a Battle: France 1940,” by Alistair Horne

To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne (the author of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962) is (1) a logistics-heavy description of the Battle of France, (2) a description of the general incompetence in both the France and German High Commands, (3) a tale of France, a country that was not then and never became a western democracy, and (4) a history of the end of France and Germany as distinct states.

1. The Logistics of War

“It was time that was the vital element which — more than weapons, even perhaps more than morale — France most lacked in 1940.”

Horne’s focus on logistics, timing, supplies, and materiel is refreshing, especially given so much strategy-focused writing by John Boyd and William Lind. I am not in a position to evaluate the completeness of Horne’s account, but his manner of writing certainly has fans:

Some two years later, I encountered at a London publishing party Israel’s leading military analyst and former Chief of Intelligence, Chaim Herzog (He was later to become Israel’s President.) We had met some years previously in Israel, and he had now just published his own account of the 1973 campaign, The War of Atonement. (Weidenfeld, 1975). When I commented on the similarities to the Manstein Plan of 1940, he smiled knowingly and said something to the effect that, only recently, General Sharon had referred to it, acknowledging a certain indebtedness to To Lose a Battle. Herzog kindly signed a copy of his book for me, adding the laconic but meaningful inscription, “In appreciation.”

I’ve never read a clearer account of battle that focused on the vital appointment of having the right materiel at the right location at the right time. Horne deserves major props for this part of the book, as he does for flowing between the political and military dimensions of struggle in his last book.

2. The Incompetence of the High Commands

Poor decisions went up to the part. “During the course of the Second World War,” Horne writes, “Hitler committed half a dozen key blunders that were to lose Germany the war.” Though in fairness, Hitler’s consistent habit was to bluff as much as he can while being prepared to rapidly ceed ground at the first resistance. Even as late as 1939 Horne believes that a French attack on Germany (during the Nazi invasion of Poland) would have reached the Rhine within two weeks.

The French and German general staffs, however, were fixated on the strategy of an orderly defense, and as such both were hesitant to move rapidly or seize the initiative. These “wrong lessons learned” for World War I, however, reach comic levels with the French, who even move troops away from Paris and towards the Maginot Line near the end of the fight.

3. France, an Unstable Democracy

The best insight I have from reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is that France was never a stable western democracy. Attempts to view its behavior as analogous to what the United States or Britain would do in a similar situation are unfounded, because France had a unique set of interests. Specific elements of French political life that made normal politics impossible were

  • A lack of separation between the political and the military
  • A militant left-wing (which was purposefully crippled by Stalin)
  • A revolutionary right-wing (which was sympathetic to military coups against elected governments)

The pattern of both To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is the old general, brought in from retirement, who oversees the death of the old Republic and faces resistance from an idealistic general

Philippe Petain v. the Third Republic and Charles DeGaulle
but then… DeGaulle v. the Fourth Republic and Roaul Salan

After reading both books, the solution is obvious: France is not a stable democracy.

Reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace at first is strange, because the country appears to be a nightmarish version of the United States, but the U.S. is a democracy that has not had a new constitution since the the 18th century. France, by contrast, was never stable. Thus Petain, and DeGaulle, operated out the same frame: no stable government existed absent a strong leader, so a constitutional dictatorship was (for the time being) the only natural form of government for France.

The difference between Petain and DeGaulle was not between traitor and patriot (by our standards, they were surely both). Indeed, both recognized the unstable nature of French democracy, and sought to meld the French polity into Germany. Likewise, both (like Mao Zedong, Chiang Kaishek, and Wang Jingwei) differentiated between ‘diseases of the limbs’ and ‘diseases of the hearts’ — during their heights…

DeGaulle, unlike Petain, was an optimist as DeGaulle, unlike Petain, did not live with the guilt of overseeing a massacre. While other French commanders fled he attacked the Germans, achieving some pointless victories that did nothing to stop the German war machine. Thus, DeGaulle was willing to wait for a better time to commit his ethnic cleansing campaign and tie his country’s fate to Germany. Petain simply wanted to end the destruction of his country.

4. The End of France and Germany

The hosts of heaven allowed the sons of man to form two nations, France and Germany, in June 840. The mandate was revoked in June, 1940.

Before France and Germany western Europe was controlled by a transnational aristocracy. After June, 1940, such a world returned.

The end of the book has a “where are they now” section. There seemed to be no correlation between the side of a leader and how his future career unfolded. Both German and French generals suffered under Hitler. Both German and French generals were executed post-war. Both German and French generals would enjoy a sunny career in NATO. June 1940 appeared to be the last month where the fates of Germany and France were, truly, antagonistic.

For centuries it was impossible imagine a world without these two countries. Now, it is impossible to imagine one with them. Considering the inability of either France or Germany to establish stable national democracies, the accomplishments of the European Union are astounding.

To Lose a Battle is a brilliant history of one of the first fights of the Second World War. Highly recommended!

No Doesn’t Mean No in Europe

EU call to re-run treaty referendums,” by John Thornhill, George Parker in Brussels, and Betrand Benoit, Financial Times, 25 May 2005, http://news.ft.com/cms/s/3dd561b6-cd4f-11d9-aa26-00000e2511c8.html.

The EU’s lack of respect for democracy isn’t new news, but it’s good to keep tabs on it. Hat-tip to Catholicgauze

France and the Netherlands should re-run their referendums to obtain the “right answer” if their voters reject Europe’s constitutional treaty in imminent national ballots, Jean-Claude Juncker, the holder of the EU presidency, said on Wednesday.

The Luxembourg prime minister said all 25 EU member countries should continue their attempts to ratify the treaty whatever the outcome of the French and Dutch votes.

But it’s get better

The countries which have said No will have to ask themselves the question again. And if we don’t manage to find the right answer, the treaty will not enter into force,” he said in an interview with the Belgian Le Soir newspaper.

To borrow the most annoying of the anti-Iraq-Liberation slogans,

Love without consent is Rape

Carolingia or Latinite

The EU and the Arabs II — Kojeve’s Latin Empire,” by Marc Schulman, American Future, 27 March 2005, http://americanfuture.typepad.com/american_future/2005/03/the_eu_and_the__1.html (from Zen Pundit).

Eastertide moves all men to ponder post-War foreign policy. At the same time I penned by thoughts on a Carolingian (Franco-German) Explanation for a French “No” Vote, AF ponders a Latinite (Italo-Franco-Spanish) bent to French actions

The fullest embodiment of the principles of the French Revolution were for Kojeve the countries of postwar Western Europe . . . For these were societies with no fundamental “contradictions” remaining: self-satisfied and self-sustaining, they had no further great political goals to struggle for and could preoccupy themselves with economic activity alone . . . The end of history, he believed, meant the end not only of large political struggles and conflicts, but the end of philosophy as well: the European Community was therefore an appropriate institutional embodiment of the end of history.

Kojeve’s franco- and euro-centrism, which would certainly have been appealing to de Gaulle, is already apparent: the French, not the American, Revolution ushered in modernity, and the countries of Western Europe, not the United States, were the primary manifestations of modernity.

Does not the phrase “they had no further great political goals to struggle for and could preoccupy themselves with economic activity alone” apply to today’s Europe, which, in contrast to the United States, has no political goals other than stability and no faith other than materialism?

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Latinité: France Looks South

More importantly, Schulman argues that the dream of Latinite propelled France’s EU policy. Specifically,

The European countries in the Latin Empire have a common “mentality”:

the differences of the national characters cannot mask the fundamental unity of the Latin “mentality” . . . this mentality is specifically characterized by that art of leisure which is the source of art in general, by the aptitude for creating this “sweetness of living” which has nothing to do with material comfort, by that “dolce far niente” itself which degenerates into pure laziness only if it does not follow a productive and fertile labor (to which the Latin Empire will give birth through the sole fact of its existence).

This shared mentality is what differentiates the Latin Empire:

this mentality not only assures the Latin people of their real — that is to say political and economic — union. It also, in a way, justifies this union in the eyes of the world and of History. Of the world, for if the two other imperial Unions will probably always be superior to the Latin Union in the domain of economic work and of political struggles, one is entitled to suppose that they will never know how to devote themselves to the perfection of their leisure as could, under favorable circumstances, the unified Latin West; and of History, for by supposing that national and social conflicts will definitely be eliminated some day (which is perhaps less distant than is thought), it must be admitted that it is precisely to the organization and the “humanization” of its free time that future humanity will have to devote its efforts.

Leisure instead of work, harmony instead of conflict. Are these not building blocks of the European Union, and the sources of much of the European criticism of America?

Further, this Latinite is distinct from the Anglosphere or Sovietism

While the Latin Empire must be as politically united as the British Commonwealth or the USSR, it is not necessary to copy the social and economic organization of the two rival empires:

there is nothing to suggest that the “liberalism” of great unregulated cartels and massive unemployment dear to the Anglo-Saxon bloc, and the leveling and sometimes “barbaric” “statism” of the Soviet Union, exhaust all possibilities of rational economic and social organization. In particular, it is especially clear that a “Soviet” imperial structure has nothing to do with “communism,” and can be easily separated from it.

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The Alternative: Carolingia
France Looks East

After a detour on French views of the Islamic “other,” AF sums up

Needless to say, there is an obvious continuity between Kojeve’s advice of sixty years ago and today’s French foreign policy. Kojeve proposes nothing less than the formation of a European Union that would led by France, counter the power of the Anglo-Saxons and the Soviets (multipolarity instead of bipolarity), and keep others out of the Mediterranean area, which just happens to be where the Arab states are located. Independence from America (and Britain) was a theme in his advice to de Gaulle. The General took Kojeve’s advice; while in power, he vetoed UK membership in the European Community and withdrew France from a NATO that was dominated by the United States. In 2003, Chirac followed his advice by attempting to keep the United States (and Britain) out of what the French have long believed to be their sphere of influence. He could not stop it, but he made it more difficult.

Respectfully, I disagree. Post-War France showed no interest in reviving a Latin Empire. Among other reasons.

  1. Before the Great War, a Latin Monetary Union actually existed. France did not seek to revive this, and Latin Europe only shares a common currency now because of the Euro.
  2. While Rome and Paris signed the Treaty of Rome, Madrid did not. Spain did not even join the European Club until 1980. If a new Latin Empire was France’s goal, it is doubtful the Republic would have let a little matter of dictatorship get in its way.
  3. French Post-War policy cenetered on harmozing with Germany. It makes no sense to call an Italo-French-German Club “Latin.”
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The European Union: What France Actually Got
France Drowned?

All of these problems are solved by viewing French Post-War policy as Carolignian. France’s post-1945 goal was to harmonize all things with Germany, to create a Western European nation-state. Latinite is a valid theory to the extent it overlaps with this Carolingian perspective.