BROOKS CRENSHAW: How Victimism Paved The Way For Hitler

Brooks Crenshaw Contributor
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The “weeping Frenchman” is an iconic photo taken during the Nazi occupation of France in WWII. He is caught in history as he watches Nazi tanks rolling through his streets and aggressive German men gleefully treading on the soil of his fatherland. But he did not appear out of thin air, and his circumstances did not emerge in a vacuum, just as the unchecked Nazi conquest of France didn’t just happen. It was decades in the making. And America is now living out its own version of those decades.

In the period after WWI, interwar France was experiencing several large cultural shifts. The sentiment of the day was largely self-sabotaging, as allied victory was ultimately viewed as defeat and its victors, the veterans of the war, as victims. Not victims of German hostility, but of France’s own failure to achieve peace at any cost. And, once victimhood replaces virtue as social currency, as we have more recently observed in the U.S., things tend southward. This period in French history is documented by Eugen Weber in “The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s,” among other works

French primary education, in particular, underwent a significant transformation, especially among teachers themselves, who revised their methods and schoolbooks, moving away from what was considered chauvinism and the glorification of war toward a curriculum that promoted respect for humankind and love of peace. This included a reevaluation of the portrayal of the Germans, who had previously been depicted as malevolent aggressors in wartime propaganda. The revisionist history taught in schools aimed to present a more balanced view of France and its enemies, emphasizing that conflict was not inevitable and that international cooperation could overcome enmity between nations. 

At the same time, the Weimar Republic era in Germany had just begun, in which children were taught science and history, especially historic events of German accomplishment. They glossed over the recent loss in WWI and focused on past victories, while France, despite winning WWI, internalized the conflict as though it were a moral defeat. 

This had a profound impact on the younger French generation, who were taught to view war as a scourge and to reject patriotism. The moral atmosphere in schools discouraged any justification for war, even in extreme circumstances. This upbringing, characterized by a strong emphasis on pacifism and international understanding, influenced the mindset of children who would later face the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. They were taught that to be right was irrelevant, and that conflict was an inexcusable offense. Their failure to remember that, in some circumstances, even terrors such as war must be faced doomed this generation to the fate you see in the photo. This ineffectual weeping man is the product of such programming in the face of aggression. 

Is any of this striking a familiar chord regarding the American education system of the 20th and 21st centuries?

As with any group of wayward youth whose pool of father figures has been greatly reduced by the casualties of war, there was a channeling of aggression into budding collectivist movements, particularly within the French Section of the Workers’ International, the predecessor to France’s modern Socialist Party. Unlike our predecessors of the 1910s and 1920s, we have the luxury of hindsight regarding these large authoritarian collectivist movements, and will rightly pay a double price for not learning from their murderous legacy.

Additionally, gender confusion created a schism in what before WWI had been a traditional view of the sexes. Does this too present a recognizable pattern? What with children playing cats and dogs and genderqueer in third-grade classrooms and teachers expressing elation at the transing of their students as they decry toxic masculinity, America and indeed the West has its own hyper-exponential variant of the cultural strain observed in interwar France.

Meanwhile, half a world away, China’s Xi Jinping is also concerned with toxic masculinity in the ranks of his CCP. Only his definition differs from the American variant, the traits of which are actually useful in wartime environs. No, Xi’s “toxic masculinityis a masculinity that foments weakness and effeminacy. It’s the direct inverse of what the rotund blue-haired elementary school teacher means when she utters the same phrase. Xi is poised for more kinetic wartime operations in the coming years and is selecting for strong, aggressive Chinese men capable of fighting in military contexts. While China’s population is set to decline significantly in the coming years, this makes them more dangerous, not less, as fighting for survival is known to do – through conquest or otherwise.

China’s growing aggression requires our own military to adapt its capabilities for the future of warfighting. The U.S. Marine Corps has begun implementing its Force Design 2030 around the threat China poses in littoral combat environments in the South China Sea. Both nations are closely competing in their developing of technologies that some believe will determine dominance in the area. As someone who has worked directly with the Marine Corps advising on its technological strategic planning as recently as 2023, I can attest to this.

But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my experience in combat operations, it’s that wars are only decided by technology when both sides have the will required to overcome their opponent. This became obvious when we watched the most technologically advanced leviathan in human history spend 20 years’ worth of blood and treasure to replace the Taliban with the Taliban.

Will is all that matters when one side doesn’t have it. In Biden’s notorious commentary on Jefferson’s famous quote about the blood of patriots and tyrants, he insinuated that an armed citizenry could be no match for a tyrannical federal government run amok. Upon hearing this line, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh in Vietnamese or Pashto. As a combatant on the ground for a decade, it was clear to me and many in my units that the permanent political establishment in Washington lacks the will to win, especially when losing can be leveraged for greater long-term power and financial gain for certain corporate interests.

Back to interwar France and the school children: in just 15 short years, those children would become the potential fighting forces called upon to repel the Nazi invasion. But they were not competent at violence and the Nazis went unchallenged. The fall of France began with Germany’s invasion on May 10, 1940. Five short weeks later, the above photo was taken, and Paris was lost. Three weeks later, France officially surrendered, with an estimated 360,000 French and Allied troops killed or wounded, while Germany sustained only 27,000 dead and just over 100,000 wounded; an almost three-to-one ratio.

The experiment had run its course.

I have always had a visceral disdain for the man in the photo. In that pivotal moment, all he could do was stand there, weeping. But what else could he have done? 

What should he have done? 

With the history demonstrated here echoing in your country, with a ruling class that hates you and is selling your birthright to buy itself lavish lifeboats to be jettisoned from a ship of state sinking by their own hand, what should you do? With millions of military age males crossing into your country gleefully, can you not help but feel in some part like the man in this photo? What should you have done a decade ago? What should you do now? 

What, indeed?

Brooks Crenshaw is a writer, columnist, and speaker who focuses primarily on philosophy, economics, and policy while serving as a manufacturing and technology consultant. With a background as a Naval Special Warfare intelligence professional and an economic advisor for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, he holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.