Fatal Defenestration: Men Who Love Gravity Too Much

“I want a world without gravity.”
-Jim Carroll, 1980

My first time happened in Boston. It was in a double on the 12th floor of the Hotel Essex across a sprawling boulevard from South Station. It was a shitty room in a shitty hotel in an even shittier neighborhood, but the Columbia Marching Band was picking up the tab for this, my first and last football game. I played the kazoo in the game against Harvard. Anyway, directly next door a party out of a Steve Guttenberg movie raged on for hours. I knocked on the door, hoping against all of humanity’s accumulated reason and logic for an invitation. A disheveled cheerleader appeared. Behind her I could see the early planning stages of a standing-room-only orgy.

“What?” she squawked, looking through my head at the water fountain in the hall.

Back in room 1214, Mike was waiting for me. “Good news,” he said. “The people next door ordered beers by credit card, but they delivered them here!” After we polished off the first case, I staggered over to the window and leaned out into the night. “I can’t believe I’m drinking stolen beer with another guy,” I said. “Maybe we should check out the party next door,” Mike suggested. The 12-inch dance mix of the Go-Gos’ “We Got the Beat” was thumping through the wallpapering along with occasional squeals and grunts. “Forget it,” I said.

I watched idly as a car passed twelve stories below. A random thought flitted through my muddled brain – what if I just let go? – and I opened my hand. The bottle fell away and plunged towards the street. Ka-whap! Then I got an empty and waited for a car to come into range. My aim was perfect – just a slight flick of the wrist outward to clear the sidewalk – but the car sped up at the last second. My glass bomb missed by two car lengths.

Finally, a black sedan rolled slowly down the block. Crash! Direct hit on the roof!

Flashers came on and the car took off, did a U-turn and pulled in front of the hotel. Two more cruisers raced towards us from the opposite direction. I yanked the shade down.

I told Mike that the cops were coming. We tore our clothes, stashed the beer in the closet, killed the lights and jumped into our respective beds. A few minutes later, we heard the cops knocking down the hall. “Boston Police! Open up!” We didn’t answer, but our neighbors did. Mike and I listened at the door as the revelers proclaimed their innocence. We felt sorry for them as the cops called them liars. We chuckled as they were led away in handcuffs.

Despite my auspicious start, I didn’t really come into my own as a defenestrator until my sophomore year. It was 1982, and Columbia was still male-only. Thanks to a corrupt work-study student in the housing office, I became one of the eight guys admitted into a new experimental housing exchange with all-female Barnard College. The trouble was, the women all thought we were just there to get laid – which was not untrue – so for the most part we were ignored.

Fortunately, I soon found a friend in Chris, a fellow engineering student whose fifth-floor room in the Brooks-Hewitt-Reid complex overlooked Claremont Avenue.

One night over Chris’ expensive pot and my cheap vodka, I told Chris about Boston. I quickly convinced him that his room would prove ideal for nocturnal gravitational experiments; the foot-wide ledge running along his floor would provide excellent cover from victims attempting to pinpoint our location. Unfortunately, Woolworth’s only carried regular balloons, the kind people pin to walls at parties, so I got those instead of proper water balloons. I returned to the dorm, went to Chris’ room and tried filling up the first balloon in his sink. We were so drunk and stoned and horny and dumb, we never noticed how fucking huge they were, or that each one held a full gallon of water.

We were both physics students, so naturally we relied on a stopwatch to evaluate average walking speeds. We applied the standard s=1/2 at2 formula (where s is distance, a is the 32 feet/per second-squared rate of acceleration of gravity and t is elapsed time) for the time required for an object dropped six floors (street level was two floors below campus level) to hit the street. Soon we determined the exact crack on the sidewalk where a target should be at the point of release to ensure a direct-hit.

Hitting something as small as a human cross-section from so high up isn’t that easy, particularly when it’s subject to unpredictable variations in velocity and vector direction. The successful defenestrator must be able to identify a target, extrapolate future positioning, compensate for wind resistance and direction, execute the launch and return to visual cover in less than a few seconds. Moreover, the most rewarding aspect of the experience is in the face of the victim; much like the George C. Scott character in Firestarter who examines his victim’s eyes just as they’re about to die, there’s nothing quite like the mix of surprise and discomfort of someone getting creamed with a huge water balloon. Sticking around to watch that reaction increases the possibility of apprehension, of course, but pleasure always entails risk.

It doesn’t take long for even the most inept exploiter of gravity to become proficient, but we became so incredibly accurate that we would often shock ourselves. At first we contented ourselves with scaring the shit out of our pedestrian victims by hitting the sidewalk directly in front of them. The ritual backsplash and the walkers’ ensuing yells at no one in particular soon became dull, however, so we eventually developed an elaborate system of social evaluation to justify hitting actual human beings with objects weighing more than five pounds from absurdly high altitudes. This system was: we hit jocks. We hit jocks walking alone, we hit groups of jocks and we hit jocks walking with their girlfriends (collateral damage was unfortunate, but rare).

It’s impossible for the uninitiated to fully comprehend the idiotic destructive glee derived from a successful launch. The jock in question walks blissfully down the street, planning to pick up a slice at Pizzatown or fill out his syllabus at Bookforum and head out for an evening of beer or sex or whatever. But before he can even get to the corner of 116th Street, his night is ruined. He’s soaked to the bone, humiliated, broken. There’s nothing to do but scream at an invisible nemesis like a wounded wildebeest and go home, wet and alone. For the perp, on the other hand, the situation is all win. Snug and warm at home, surrounded by candles and Pink Floyd and booze, a sink full of loaded water balloons promises an evening of effortless fun at the expense of loathsome athletes.

Inevitably the search for cheap thrills caused Chris and I to develop more intricate schemes. We developed a one-two punch approach, wherein Chris would stay in his room and I would commandeer a window in a communal restroom 20 feet down the hall. I would deliberately drop a tiny balloon directly in front of our prey. He’d instinctively back up and smile to himself, confident that his lightening reflexes and catlike motor skills had saved him from disaster. That’s when Chris would drop his mondo monster balloon smack on the top of his head while I observed the whole thing with binoculars. The thick jockile head would drop forward as the first splash appeared, then snap back up as the rest of the balloon’s contents fell back upon his face. The body trembled with the impact. It was great.

There were many splendid achievements in our year-long bombing campaign – the guy reading the newspaper as he walked, only to have it flattened into wet pulp by a perfectly aimed balloon, the Hispanic guy in a white suit we drowned in leftover spaghetti sauce, the orgasmic victory of a medium-sized water missile dropped through the open sunroof of a Porsche – but we loved rainy days best of all. When the streets filled with black umbrellas, we set aside our traditional respect for womanhood and nerddom. We indiscriminately bombed the young and the old, the slight and the athletic – and it was awesome! A properly-placed one-gallon balloon would collapse the umbrella on its owner, breaking it but providing sufficient protection to keep their owners safe from harm. Best of all, they never suspected a thing. They never looked up or yelled – they simply assumed that the world’s largest raindrop had fucked up their day.

We ballooned in this manner for roughly 6 hours a day over a period of 9 months, but amazingly, we were never caught. Sometimes to break up the monotony, we’d lurk on the roofs of the School of International and Public Affairs and the Law School, but in New York, location is everything. No one ever walks around Amsterdam Avenue at night. Varying our venues transformed us into legends. Graffiti in the Columbia restrooms asked: “Who ARE the mad ballooners?” The Columbia Daily Spectator carried an editorial deriding the “vicious sociopaths” whose campaign of aerial terror had forced an entire campus to look up as they walked.

As time passed, it became more and more difficult to find stores that we hadn’t cleaned out of balloons. Woolworth’s sold out, the bodega on 107th Street sold out, the kid’s section at Sloan’s sold out. That’s what led us to the Atomic Balloon.

I found the A-balloon at the old May’s on 14th Street. It was one of those round red bastards, about two feet in diameter when filled, with a long elastic band tied to the nipple. Kids hold the rubber band and pound away to train them for kicking asses once they become teenagers.

In any event, I didn’t realize what it was, or how fucking massive it was, until I got back to Hewitt Hall. Chris’ sink was too small for the thing, so we filled it up in the bathtub and tied it. It weighed perhaps 50 pounds and it was wiggly as shit. The two of us didn’t have a prayer of extracting the beast from the tub.

“It’s too big,” Chris said. “We’ll have to kill it.” He took out his knife and stabbed it repeatedly, but it didn’t work. The rubber was too thick and flexible and wet.

“We can’t leave the damn thing here,” I pointed out. “If someone finds it, they’ll know we’re the Mad Ballooners. It has to go.”

There was only one solution. Chris went to get our mutual friend Ken. “Ken,” he confided, “Ted and I have a problem. We need your help.”

Ken and Chris and I struggled with the monster balloon and worked it towards the open window. Outside, the night was cold and crisp; the nearest pedestrian was five blocks north on Seminary Row. “Just clear the building and drop it on the sidewalk,” I instructed, “we don’t want this thing taking out someone’s open window.”

We made a running start and let go. A second later the loudest noise I’d ever heard reverberated down Claremont. The guy uptown stopped and looked. Professors living across the street came to their windows. Below us, the roof of a red Cadillac had been flattened into its seats. Shards of red rubber floated in a pool of water in the crater in the roof. The Caddy rested a foot too low; evidently the car’s axle had been broken. A small tree had been totally defoliated by the atomic balloon’s lethal trajectory into the car, leaving leaves everywhere.

The next morning I watched my statistics professor exit a building across 116th Street. He walked across the street in a daze, tried his keys in the door lock and gave up. He stood there for a minute. He took one of the maple leaves plastered to the hood, carefully folded it in half and put it into his back pocket. Then he walked away.

The next year I moved into East Campus, a 20-story high stack of second-rate drywall built on a solid foundation of rats and building code violations overlooking Morningside Park and Central Harlem. Chris lived on 4; I lived on 10. Soon we were back in business.

Chastened by our experience with the Atomic Balloon and aware of the exponential effect of five extra flights of stairs on the stuff we dropped out the window, we scaled down to actual water balloons – I found a mail-order outfit that never suffered from stocking problems – and ice cubes. East Campus was a whole different ballgame: Few pedestrians, but a lot of taxis. Also, the winds were fearsome, making it impossible to target accurately. Our crowning glory was knocking a poodle unconscious as it was being walked by its owner, a balding man wearing a pink biking shirt; other than that, we didn’t hit shit. Naturally, that’s when we got apprehended.

I came home one afternoon to find my suite crawling with pear-shaped university security guards. “Someone reported hearing paramilitary jargon coming from this suite,” the chief security guy, a wiry fortysomething said. Whenever Chris and I prepared to drop something, we’d spat out a melange of Star Trekisms and NASA shit like “engage cloaking device” (pull back the curtain) and “confidence is high – fire! fire!” “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” I said.

“What about all the water on the sill?” he asked. “It’s raining. The window’s open,” I noted.

“We know about you dropping that typewriter on the motorcyclist,” he said, grinning inanely. “He had to have a couple dozen stitches. Hope you’re happy.” We hadn’t done any typewriters – but, come to think of it, why not?

The next day, Chris and I were expelled from the university housing system in perpetuity.

My ballooning days were far from over, though. I moved in with my girlfriend into a four-story walk-up in the middle of the barrio at Amsterdam and 101st Street. It had to at least tie for the noisiest place in New York City; there were a police station, fire house and public junior high school, playground and public pool across the street, not to mention a bus stop and a couple of loose steel plates in the middle of the intersection. Amsterdam was a truck route, but the worst thing was the light synchronization – traffic hit greens all the way from 72nd Street only to screech to a collective halt for an inexplicable red at 101st. The Frederick Douglas housing projects provided a steady supply of truants and guys screaming “hey yo” at all hours of the night just because they could. But all of that shit paled in comparison to the chaos surrounding the bodega on the first floor of our building.

The place barely even bothered to stock food; its main business was over-the-counter drug sales. If you walked in to get milk, the cashier would shake his head over your cluelessness. A hive of young men loitered ominously , transacting business with intensity rivaling the commodities exchange, their brethren double- and triple-parked on both corners to watch for cops. Subtlety was not the byword of the operation; these guys were up until 5 every morning howling at the top of their collective lungs, fighting and blasting the same rap song over and over. Every night passed in a fog of annoyance and revenge fantasies.

I called the police repeatedly, but nothing ever happened. Then, one Saturday morning, I happened to be at Woolworth’s to buy potting soil when I walked past the freshly rejuvenated party balloon section. They had something I’d never seen before: black balloons, perfect for nighttime bombings.

That evening I filled up a washbasin with black balloons, each filled with scalding hot water (it was the middle of winter at the time) and waited in the bedroom with all the lights off. The field of battle was tilted heavily in my favor; my targets were stationary and dimwitted, thus eliminating the need for that old standby s=1/2 at2. The thugs were like fish in a barrel; all you had to do was point and drop. A convertible pulled up with its speakers pulsating the then-ubiquitous (s)hit “It Takes Two.” I targeted the one guy in the back seat with a choice shot slightly behind the center of the head, straight down the back of the shirt.

“Shit!” the guy yelped. But amazingly, he didn’t move, or even look up. I assume it was considered bad form to abandon one’s manly stoic stance. The guys in front ignored him. I dropped two more; one hit his lap and the other missed. There’s no way it didn’t hurt like a bastard.

“Fuck! Shit!” the hapless drug dealer said.

“What the fuck?” the driver said, never turning around.

“It’s wet back here!” said the guy, who was, in fact, very wet.

“What do you mean, wet?”

“I said, it’s wet here!”

“Shut up, wank,” the man in the front passenger seat commented casually. I let loose with a barrage on all three. Boom-boom-boom!

“Motherfuck! It is wet here!” the driver concluded. “Let’s go!” The car pulled off. Nobody looked up.

I had a corner apartment, so I went to the living room. Sure enough, the same assholes pulled up a minute or two later and parked in front of the hydrant. I let them relax a few minutes while I went to reload. The fire escape blocked the view from the street; anyway, my window was already closed by the time the first balloon hit the ground. I hit the loser in the back seat with a balloon the size of a grapefruit. Boosh! “Shit, man! This whole place is wet!”

“What! Here too?” the driver asked, stupefied.

I chucked the remaining dozen balloons so hard that the guys in the car clipped some hood’s foot as they pulled away. “I kill you, man!” the foot guy yelled as I dropped a big one on his left shoulder. He promptly turned around and slugged another guy in the jaw.

My one-man campaign to clean up the Upper West Side continued for about six weeks. The more stubborn villains required something effective; for this I relied upon Rolling Rock bottles wiped clean to remove my fingerprints. Finally, the dealers were gone. Bruised and scalded, they relocated their operation to 104th Street, where they became someone else’s problem. The trucks hit the metal plate and the sirens shrieked as they passed beneath, but I finally enjoyed the semblance of actual sleep for the first time in what seemed like forever. My mood favorably changed, I vowed to hang up my career as a mad ballooner once and for all.

Then, one night during the summer of ‘95, I awoke to the sounds of someone puking outside my window. I was living in Berkeley, California, where the right to act like an utter asshole supersedes everyone else’s rights not to be subjected to such aforementioned assholism. I got up and peered out the window of my third-floor apartment. There, directly below, a car had pulled over. The driver’s side door was open, and a DUI’s head was busy spewing chunks all over the front of my building. Between our indolent super and the fact that it never ever rains in California, I knew that I’d be smelling puke forever.

I got a Sierra Nevada bottle from the recycling bin and woke up my wife. “Think I still have the knack?” I asked her. It was a little tricky – my quarry was wedged in a tight spot. I’d need a slight upward flick of the wrist to clear the lemon tree to the right. Butthead was still hurling upon my return. I triangulated carefully, compensated for the slight ocean breeze coming off the bay, flicked upwards and hoped for the best. It was terrible. Instead of the drunk’s gourd, I took out his rear windshield. He floored it and took off, clipping the rear bumper of a parked car on the way out.

“I can’t believe this!” I told my wife. “I did everything perfectly!”

“Don’t worry about it, honey,” she murmured. “You’ll always be my mad ballooner.”

(C) 1995 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Now for the Disco President

About this time every four years, articles bemoaning the early start of the upcoming presidential campaign begin peppering the editorial pages. Never mind that this writing actually serves to launch the orgy of militant moderation that passes for electioneering in this country.

This year we can dispense with all that. The 1996 campaign has ended before it began.

We already know that the Republican nominee, and probable victor, will be Bob Dole. The legendary meanness and nasty disposition of the man from Kansas hasn’t escaped the notice of even the most moronic American voters, but his third attempt at the Oval Office is sufficiently well-funded to succeed.

Nonetheless, there’s always been something creepy about Bob Dole. He’s like your best friend’s mean father, or Humphrey Bogart’s evil twin. He’s even got Dick Nixon’s five o’clock shadow.

Clinton may be able to put up some resistance. After all, he is the President. He could have the CIA reveal that Dole once rented “The Sorrow and the Pity” and “Carnosaur 2” on the same night. But the man from the Ozarks isn’t likely to break his impressive run of political ineptitude. After all, his buffoonery made him President, even if history students will have trouble remembering him in another twenty years.

Because we’ve been stuck with him a long time, Dole enjoys the advantage of familiarity. Granted, his early career is mysterious because his contemporaries are all dead of old age. What is known is that Dole became Kansas’ first senator after statehood. Although he first made his mark as Gerry Ford’s vice-presidential running mate in 1976, it’s unlikely that those jowls did Ford any good.

In 1980, Dole overcame his image as a has-been and ran for president. He was defeated in the Republican primaries after his involvement in Shea’s Rebellion came to light. The Federalist, a newspaper of the period, called him “a meane guye.” In 1988, by then a has-has been, Dole ran again, but lost due to accusations of conflict of interest relating to the Social Security Administration. Now geared up for ’96, Dole looks not like the has-has-has-been that he is, but rather a shoo-in.

Generational demographics ensure that Dole will become our oldest president ever when he takes office at the age of 73, according to the Gregorian calendar.

His secret? He’s surfing a wave of 70’s retro.

Lava lamps and platform shoes are back. Clogs, disco, hip-huggers, Aerosmith and Earth Day have again taken America by storm. The logical next step is to embrace a politician who first came to prominence during the era of gas lines and disco fever.

Dole’s politics are vintage Nixon-Ford. His alternating hawk-and-dove Bosnia policy mirrors Nixon on Vietnam. Like Ford, he’s obsessed with preventing inflation, but has no idea what to do about it. Maybe he’ll recycle some of those old “WIN” buttons. Dole’s transparently opportunistic anti-Hollywood rant recalls Nixon’s finest moments. Don’t be surprised if historians catch Dole tossing expletive-deleteds around on his tapes while criticizing films he hasn’t seen and songs he hasn’t heard.

But most importantly, Dole’s got the look of the 70’s politician–wide, loud ties, greased-back hair and $200 polyester suits. He could take the part of the Silent Majority-style vice cop in any blaxploitation film.

In short, Bob Dole is the Man.

Perhaps most telling of all, Dole seeks the presidency as his due rather than as the greatest favor the American people can bestow on a fellow citizen. That’s why, like Freddy Krueger, he keeps coming back–he refuses to die until he gets to the launch codes. He undoubtedly hopes to relive a Nixonian imperial presidency (but without the tacky finale).

Bill Clinton has flirted with the Me Decade in some respects–his hair and affection for Fleetwood Mac come to mind–but overall he’s still a 60’s kind of guy. In the final analysis, he lacks Dole’s super-action boogie-down credentials.

The requirement that candidates be at least 35 to run tends to generate presidents who are anachronisms. When white guys come to power, we have to relive their ancient youth. It is a happy coincidence that we live in a place where everything is always getting worse, so we’re always feeling nostalgia for some period when things were lousy, but still better than they are now. The cleverest politicians manage to tap into our obsessive nostalgia at election-time.

In 1980, we craved the quaint boredom and genteel racism of the segregated 50’s. Reagan capitalized on this Happy Days mentality. Clinton, a man who ran as JFK reincarnate, dragged us into the Sixties. Draft-dodging, extracurricular sex and pot became pressing issues as The Wonder Years generation seized control of the White House. Now we have The Brady Bunch Movie. After Bob Dole is elected, the ascendancy of the Seventies will be complete. At the current rate, we’re gaining one decade every eight years; our presidents should catch up with us around 2064.

“Hello? Mr. Frampton? This is your President. How would you like to perform at my inaugural?”

All The Rules Have Changed

My second collection of cartoons, including work from 1992 to 1995 along with a few old pieces from my mid-1980s pasting-stuff-up-on-lampposts period, is rare and hard to find. All the Rules features editorial and full-page cartoons not published elsewhere. Author-editor Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Zeitoun, The Circle) was then my editor at Might, and a friend, and he agreed to design the front and back cover.

Rip Off Press published All The Rules in the middle of the Great Comics Distribution Meltdown of 1995. Only a few hundred copies were distributed before the remainder of the print run was pulped.

Alternative Press Review called this book “a great collection of stuff – from cynical to radical, from witty to nasty, but all coming down hard on corporate America and the layers of illusion it promotes and sells as reality. Rall’s is a topsy turvy world in the worthy tradition of the Ranters, antinomians and Luddites of other eras.”

Copies occasionally show up in used bookstores and on eBay.

Cartoon Collection, 1995
Rip Off Press Paperback, 8.5″x11″, 96 pp., $9.95


The Affirmative Action Debate Exposed

There is a most conspicuous absence in the affirmative action debate. That glaring omission is what both the proponents and foes of what passes itself off as affirmative action agree not to discuss: how affirmative action actually works and what its purpose really is.

Since the inception of affirmative action programs in the 60’s, no one in the media has ever attempted to clarify exactly how the mechanics of these policies operate on a day-to-day basis. Sure, college admissions offices and employers who engage in preferential acceptance and hiring practices let minorities, women and other “disadvantaged groups” in ahead of white men when all things are equal.

The problem is, in real life, things are never equal.

Affirmative action theory dictates that a black female high school senior from Newark with a 3.75 GPA and 1300 SAT stands a better chance of admission to Yale than a white male Choate student with the same grade average and test score. Actually, these cases come up once in a blue moon, and even when they do, there are other factors to help distinguish two competing candidates. Was that 3.75 in home-ec or AP physics? In what extracurricular activities did they participate?

These policies have always been shrouded in mystery. College admissions officers weigh their applicants’ GPAs and SAT scores in accordance with their ethnicity and gender. For example, certain West Coast universities want fewer Asians and more blacks, so they multiply Asians’ scores by a number less than 1 and those of blacks by a number over 1. Despite the lies of admissions officers, the vast majority of these decisions are determined almost exclusively by numeric indicators.

I learned about the mechanics of affirmative action firsthand as an office assistant at one of Columbia University’s undergraduate admissions offices from 1992 to 1994.

Earned grades and test scores were multiplied by numeric factors that actively helped minority applicants. Some of these arithmetic gymnastics were more discreet than others. For example, high school graduates were given a higher percentage score than transfer students with a few years of college who had earned the same raw scores. Transfer students are a whiter lot than straight high school graduates. A less subtle method was routinely admitting minority students with GPAs in the 2.4 to 2.8 range, whereas whites with scores under 3.0 almost never gained entrance.

Financial aid was awarded like this too. The general scholarship fund at Columbia is composed of numerous specialized scholarships that are matched up to each student. The lion’s share of the money is automatically allocated to minority students that specifically exclude whites, although no funds are awarded exclusively to whites at the expense of other groups.

Most Americans suspect that affirmative action works this way, but policy-making alchemists guard this secret as rigorously as police departments deny the existence of traffic ticket quotas.

In any situation where there are only a limited number of slots and an excess number of qualified applicants, one person’s advantage is another person’s disadvantage. Cut it any way you want, but that’s simple math, and it’s an equation that white male applicants understand intuitively.

Instead of simply admitting that whites and men get hurt by affirmative action and that this is the price they pay for the sins of their racist and sexist fathers, the proponents of affirmative action have become experts in deceit. Rather than having the moral courage to say that these policies are imperfect–but necessary–remedies for centuries of systematic discrimination, these lying wimps try to sell the dubious proposition that life is not a zero-sum game, that granting an advantage to one person doesn’t have to penalize someone else.

Is it any wonder whites are screaming for an end to affirmative action?

On the other side of the debate, Republicans and their core constituency–racists who would bring back slavery if they had half a chance–find themselves pushing class-based affirmative action as a logical replacement of race- and gender-based programs. Here we have the party that claims to have killed off the Soviet Union pushing the idea of an America deeply stratified by Marxist-style class divisions. Not only have they abandoned their vision of a society composed of an enormous Über Middle Class, they’re actually favoring redistribution of resources to even out those class differences. Live 32 years, and eventually you see everything.

The scariest thing about the new Leninist-GOP approach is how reasonable it sounds. Why, Newt Gingrich intones, should the black daughter of a wealthy brain surgeon get into Harvard or Merrill Lynch before the white son of a West Virginia coal miner? Why indeed? If their class-based affirmative action plan wasn’t just a thinly-disguised intermediate step before eventually eliminating all preferences in order to keep their country clubs minority-free, I’d be right there with them at the barricades.

Meanwhile, no one considers the idea that the need for any kind of affirmative action could be eliminated. This would involve pouring money and social attention into inner-city schools. It would mean governing minority neighborhoods as if they were actual communities rather than occupied enemy territory. And it would require a drastic reversal of the 30-year-old trend of stripping income from the poor to hand it over to the richest 1% of Americans.

On second thought, maybe we’re stuck with smoke and mirrors.

The Last Six Minutes of Doomed Flight 411

You May Have Wondered What Happened – Or It’s Entirely Possible That You Were Preoccupied At The Time, Which Is Perfectly OK Then – In Any Event, Well, Here’s


As everyone now knows, doomed Flight 411 never made it from Pittsburgh to Dayton on June 3rd. At 5:05 p.m., just 60 miles short of an arrival gate packed with family, friends and hangers-on, the experimental Boeing 797A minijumbo-jet smashed into a large high school near the southwest corner of the I-270 Columbus bypass. Authorities are still mystified by the crash, which claimed the lives of 14 crew members and 206 passengers, for a grand total of 220 innocent victims of whom a great many were as close to innocent as possible during a historical epoch in which ethics are considered arbitrary. Killed virtually instantaneously were an Indiana state representative, a promising starting quarterback for a two-year technical college in Mexico and the best-selling author of a series of books on beekeeping. (Miraculously, no one was at the high school at the time because state budget cuts had eliminated extracurricular activities.)

Despite painfully reconstructing the remains of the fuselage, which was consumed in a fireball that could be seen as far away from the crash site as the westbound lanes of Interstate 70, an FAA spokesman recently told a press conference: “As far as we can tell, Flight 411 never suffered any trouble in flight. In fact, scientifically speaking, it should still be en route to Cox International Airport right now.”

The mystery surrounding the disaster in no small part stems from the fact that rescue workers and investigators were unable to locate either the data or voice recorders – the notorious fluorescent-orange “black boxes” that are specially built to withstand the stress of impact – on Flight 411. That riddle came to an end one month ago, when this correspondent happened upon a charred metal hunk being offered for sale by a drunken derelict on the gritty streets of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. Immediately recognizing the cockpit voice recorder for what it was – and what it was was a hunk of history, a grim epitaph to mass death – I spent a tax-deductible twenty dollars to obtain the answers – finally! – to what caused the crash, and how its victims spent their last six minutes on the Planet Earth that they all loved so much.

Following is an exact transcript of the last six minutes of doomed Flight 411. What you are about to read is a disturbing, yet poignant reminder of what we’re all capable of when everything we know is about to come to a gruesome end. For if the philosopher is correct, an entire universe of perception dies when a person dies, and when more than 220 people die, an equivalent number of universes probably die with them, if that’s the way it works.

The principal voices on the recorder include pilot James Shapiro, 44, a veteran of the 1980s bombing of Tripoli, co-pilot Edward Schevernazdve, 35, no relation to the president of the former Soviet republic of Georgia and engineer Tom “Tommy” de la Renta, 27, of Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey. Flight 411 was to have been Tommy’s last since the engineer’s job was to be downsized by airline restructuring.

CO-PILOT: I’m thinking that maybe at this point we should have some clever repartee reminiscent of the tipping sequence at the beginning of “Reservoir Dogs.”
ENGINEER: Who are you talking to? There are three of us in here.
CO-PILOT: It’s rhetorical. You, him, whatever. Listen, the bonobo is dead.
PILOT: No shit. Really?
[FLIGHT 411 MOVED INTO THE DAYTON AIR TRAFFIC VECTOR AT THIS POINT.] DAYTON TOWER: Welcome 411, go to 15,000, clear to descend 13,000 in 2. Runway assignment later.
CO-PILOT: Roger Dayton, go to 13,000.
DAYTON TOWER: Negative on 13,000, remain 15,000, clear to descend. Hey, I take it you heard about the bonobo.
CO-PILOT: Yes, of course – it was on the “Today” show.
PILOT: Bonobo?
CO-PILOT: It’s a large, streamlined sear bird of the family Sulidae, called gangets in northern waters. They have heavy bodies, long, pointed wings – no, wait, that’s a booby. This thing doesn’t have bonobos.
PILOT: Technology sucks.
ENGINEER: Oh, sure, blame the South Asians. I should report you.
PILOT: I have nothing against those people. Honestly! I think it’s just great that the same agile hands that weave enormous carpets at the age of 12 become computer coders at the age of 21. It’s splendid, poetic even…
CO-PILOT: Could we please change the subject? It’s getting a tad tedious, and to be honest, I find the atmosphere, involving three sweaty guys cramped together in a poorly-ventilated metal cabin flying through space at hundreds of miles per hour, both confining and uncomfortable, both at the same time.
ENGINEER: Exactly.
CO-PILOT: Quit agreeing with me all the time. Anyone who thinks it’s perfectly OK for leap years to come every four years, except at century’s end, and then with the exception of every fourth century’s end, is, in my opinion, less than ignorant. Of course, that’s what you get for attending Colgate.
ENGINEER: Absolutely. Right-o.
CO-PILOT: If that chick told you she’s a third Hispanic, she’s a total, like, liar. That’s all I want to say. No offense.
STEWARDESS: Excuse me, but some of the passengers in first-class say they smell smoke.
PILOT: What are you doing in here?
[HERE STEWARDESS ENTERS THE CABIN.] PILOT: Oh, there we go. Why, hi there, Brenda the Stewardess! How have you been?
BRENDA THE STEWARDESS: Why, never better, Mr. Pilot Guy.
PILOT: Do you have something to report?
BRENDA THE STEWARDESS: All conditions normal, sir.
PILOT [ON PUBLIC ADDRESS]: All righty, folks, this is your captain speaking. We’ll be passing over the Great Teton Dam, the Pyramid at Cheops and the TransAmerica Pyramid during our flight path today. Drinks are complimentary in the bathroom, $4 in the confessional.
CO-PILOT: Going down to 13,000.
ENGINEER: I thought we had another minute.
CO-PILOT: I swear to God, one of these days someone’s gonna kick your fucking ass. Goddamn douchebag! Sorry…something about being inside a cockpit makes me want to curse without provocation.
ENGINEER: Come on, you mondoscumfuck – I’m ready for you! I’ll eat your fucking heart! Oh, sorry about that.
[COMMERCIAL BREAK: PepsiCo/Mountain Dew (30 seconds); Lorillard Brands (1 minute); Jamaica Tourist Board (30 seconds); UPN Network Promo for “Moesha” and “Martin” (45 seconds); Committee to Re-elect the President ’72 (1 minute)] PILOT [ON INTERCOM]: When you last left the flight data recorder, our flight engineer had threatened to assault our co-pilot. But while you were gone, both men shook hands, became friends, and admitted a certain amount of sexual tension. They’re now shopping for a home together, assuming they can pull together the necessary financing.
ENGINEER: Hey! I thought we weren’t going to mention any of that.
PILOT [STAGE LEFT, LEANING OVER TO CHECK FLASHING RED LIGHT]: Hmmm…”total cabin depressurization.” Is that bad? [HE SOUNDS CONCERNED.] ENGINEER: Fuel looking good, E&M fine. Maybe it’s a hole.
PILOT: If you don’t know the answer, don’t make it up. And apologize to – hey, what’s your name again?
ENGINEER: Who do you want to apologize? Him or me?
DAYTON TOWER: Hey, you’re at 13,000! I’ve got you tracked on an intercept course with an A-400. Pull up! Pull up!
CO-PILOT: Why go up just to come back down again thirty seconds later? Oh, wow.
[FLIGHT 411 PASSES A TWIN-ENGINE CESSNA BY 3,600 FEET; NO COLLISION OCCURS.] CO-PILOT: Dayton Tower! This is mayday! We have impact with target! We’re going down! Ohmyfuckingchristshitfucklickassdamndamndamn!
PILOT: You are soooo gay.
CO-PILOT: [STILL GUFFAWING, CHUCKLING, GIGGLING, CHORTLING AND CACKLING ALSO] Wright-Patterson, this is Consolidated Amalgacorp Airlines Flight 411. Dayton has us on their screen.
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE TOWER: Unidentified target at 31,000, we repeat, F-16s are en route to intercept. You will, repeat will, be shot down unless you land immediately at the nearest available landing strip and surrender to military personnel.
CO-PILOT: Um, Wright-Patt, it’s time to like, stop it.
PILOT: I think they’re just funning. You know those Latinos, they like their beer. Every night, it’s tall-boys this, tall-boys that. (pause) All this racist shit is making me thirsty. [SMACKS LIPS FOR EFFECT. HIS COMRADES RESPECT HIM, YET THEY FRET THAT HE MAY BE UNSTABLE. THE CO-PILOT, FOR THE FIRST TIME, RESOLVES TO KILL HIM AT THE FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE.] WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE TOWER: The President has authorized termination of your unauthorized flight. You have entered restricted airspace. We have you locked in. This will be your final warning. May God have mercy on –
ENGINEER: Yo, Eddie – you’re on the wrong channel.
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE TOWER: Roger on that. Redirecting launched missiles.
DAYTON TOWER: We just lost an L-1011 twelve clicks north of you. We don’t know what’s going on, they just dropped off radar. Ta-ta, cactus boys!
CO-PILOT: I’m gonna miss that bonobo. That’s for sure.
PILOT: Look at all that corn. Amber waves of –
VOICE-OVER: “They thought they’d gotten rid of the little Dutch girl once and for all…but they were wrong! It’s 10 years later, and Not-So-Little Orphan Annie is back for revenge! Catch Anne Frank 2, this Sunday at 8 eastern, 7 central.”] ENGINEER: I know I’ll [I’LL IS EMPHASIZED WITH GRAVITAS] be watching.
PILOT: As will I…I wanna see German heads roll!
[HERE THERE IS A 12-SECOND GAP ON THE TAPE] CO-PILOT: I don’t know what to tell them! Just go back there and figure it out!
UNIDENTIFIED STEWARD: I’m filing a grievance with the union.
PILOT: Attention, passengers, this is your captain speaking. We have just suffered a temporary decompression problem. We are going to be landing in just a few minutes. Please remain calm and prepare for a possible crash landing–[INEXPLICABLY, WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR LEON JAWORSKI APPEARS, THEN DISAPPEARS]–oxygen masks are right in front of you.
ENGINEER: We’re bleeding fuel. I think we have a freeze-up.
PILOT: Someone’s gotta go out and find what the hell’s going on.
ENGINEER: I’ll go!
CO-PILOT: No – I’m on my way.
ENGINEER: Dayton Tower, Dayton Tower, this is Flight 411, we are doomed, we have an emergency situation, we have smoke in the cockpit, we request immediate clearance.
DAYTON TOWER: We copy that. Go to 8,000 and prepare to land.
ENGINEER: What’s going on out there?
CO-PILOT: Looks like a bomb went off. There are bodies all over the place. I saw a baby – it – I thought it had been blown to bits, but it was just puke. Five rows – gone, just gone. There’s a ten-foot hole in the fuselage.
PILOT: Where – [STATIC] GERALD FORD: Our long national nightmare is over.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: One small step for me, one giant –
DEBORAH HARRY: It’s great to be back home at the Mudd Club!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you sure your parents won’t be home?
ENGINEER: Pull up, pull up, pull up!
DAYTON TOWER: Flight 411, this is Dayton. What is your status?
CO-PILOT: Give it a rest, willya?
ENGINEER: Aw, man…what a fucking bummer.
PILOT: Hey, I think we’re still recording!
CO-PILOT: Cummerbund.
ENGINEER: Think of it – for the first time in the human experience, we have the chance to inform those left behind about what comes next! We have the Big Answer to the Biggest Question of all! We know everything!
PILOT: That’s true…hi, everyone! Welcome from beyond the grave! Oooowoowoowooooooo –
CO-PILOT: Hey, look! There’s Billy Squier! I love his work!

(C) 1994 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

White Weddings: Selections from the New York Times Weddings Announcements

Kelly Edwards, Steven Still
Kelly Edwards and Steven Joseph Still were married last evening by Cantor Pierre Aronson at the St. Regis in New York.

Mrs. Still, 30, is a founding partner in G2 Resources, an exclusive brokerage firm in Greenwich, Conn. owned by the investment bank of Goldman, Sachs & Company in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. Her father is a limited partner in the investment bank of Goldman, Sachs & Company in New York and a former chairman of its international operations.

Mr. Still, 31, graduated from Yale University and received an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business and a law degree from Villanova University. He is a senior managing director of Lazard Freres & Company, the investment bank in New York. He is also a senior managing director of LazardÕs asset management business, where the bride has recently accepted a position. His father is chairman and chief executive officer of Lazard Freres & Company.

Linda Peters, Ronald Ford

Linda Barbara Peters, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Blayne Y. Peters of Edison, New Jersey, was married in Central Park yesterday to Ronald C. Ford, Jr., the son of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald C. Ford. The Rev. Jerry Clement performed the ceremony at Strawberry Fields, the memorial to the singer John Lennon where the couple met.

The bride, 23, is an Office Assistant Grade 6 at the New York Public Library in Chinatown. She graduated from Pace University where she received a bachelorÕs degree in communications and marketing, but was unable to pursue a journalism career because she failed to sleep with the appropriate editors in the New York area. Her father owns AAA 18th Street Associates, a newsstand on West 18th Street in Manhattan.

The bridegroom, 29, is a humorist and a writer whose books include “The Cactus Chronicles” (Penguin), a chronicle of his amusing experiences with desert succulents that won the National Book Award in 1994 and lost the National Book Award to a Holocaust memoir that later turned out to have been entirely faked; “How to Make a Lot of Money and Then Lose It All In Some Stupid Way” (Random House, 1996); and “Why I Hate My Fucking Dad” (Times Books, 1998). He attended Harvard University but was forced to withdraw one year before graduating because Congress felt that giving tax cuts to rich bastards was more important than funding higher education. His two previous marriages ended in divorce, one after he contracted herpes from his wife and the other after his wife contracted herpes from him.

His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ronald C. Ford, were low-level civil servants in the State of New Mexico’s child-welfare oversight division until it was phased out by governmental restructuring.

Kristina Welsh, John Latoni

Kristina Welsh, the daughter of Bernice and Gunther Welsh of Parsipphany, New Jersey, was married yesterday to John Latoni, the son of Elaine and Jacob Latoni of South Orange, New Jersey.

The Rev. Kevin N. Herrick performed the afternoon ceremony at the First United Methodist Church of West New York, New Jersey. Last evening, a Buddhist ceremony was performed at the Chateau Splendide in South Orange.

The bride, 27, and the bridgegroom, 30, are currently in their fourth year of a two-year training program at AMZ Inc., the check-clearing company where they work in soul-crushing clerical positions that make them both physically ill at the thought of their spending the rest of the lives in such a place. They received associates’ degrees from Hackensack Community College, he because he spent his high-school years getting stoned which caused his SATs to be so lousy that he couldn’t get in anywhere decent and her because her fucking father was too cheap to dip into his enormous savings to send her to one of the several Ivy league universities to which she was admitted.

Ms. Welsh, who is keeping her name because she some of her friends told her it would be a good idea for her career, has no contact with her parents.

The ceremony cost $16,000, nearly half of which was put on credit cards that don’t have a prayer of ever being paid.

Pertella Friedrich, Jonathan Trauber

Pertella della Friedrich is to be married today to Jonathan Michael Trauber at the Municipal Building in Manhattan. Rabbi Harvey M. Trauber, who is not related to the bridgegroom, will officiate.

Ms. Friedrich, 28, who is keeping her name, is homeless and unemployed. She attended P.S. 97 in the Bronx before being expelled due to problems with drug abuse and alcoholism. Her parents were the late Mr. and Mrs. Frank Friedrich, founding partners of the law firm of Katten, Johnson, Friedrich & Bernadello of Los Angeles. They died when their Geo Metro was broadsided by a sports-utility vehicle on Interstate 80 in Sacramento, California, two weeks before the wedding. Emergency personnel who responded to the scene of the crash said that the wreck was the most gruesome they had ever seen. The burial was a closed-casket ceremony, and the will is still missing.

Mr. Trauber, 40, is also homeless and unemployed. He graduated from Tufts University and received a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University. His father is Lionel Trauber, a senior vice president at the situation-comedy development division of CBS Television, and his mother, a former timber-company executive, committed suicide when she discovered her husband in her bed with a prostitute.

Linda Raines, Edward Moon

Linda Amanda Raines and Edward Ian Moon were scheduled to be married yesterday by the Rev. Henry Nixon at the Roman Catholic Church of the Epiphany in Ryebrook, New York.

Ms. Raines, 21, is a student at the School of Visual Arts. Her parents are unknown, and she was raised in an orphanage due to the fact that Americans prefer to adopt babies from Siberia than older children in the United States.

Mr. Moon, 26, is an aspiring actor and singer/songwriter living under the illusion that he has talent. He quit his day job, as a nightwatchman at the Pathmark grocery store on Dyckman Street in Washington Heights, in order to focus on Òdeveloping a groove,Ó which basically constituted hanging out with his loser friends all day and every evening. He is the son of two parents, both of whom are so disappointed in him that they refuse to have anything to do with him, and this includes this notice.

The wedding was cancelled three hours beforehand when Ms. Raines came to her senses.

(C) 1994 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

Marketing Madness: A Postmortem for Generation X

Dineh Mohajer, if you choose to believe Time magazine, is just like you. Two years ago, the 24-year-old California woman launched her own cosmetics company, Hard Candy, as a lark. Now she’s expecting $25 million in sales for fiscal ‘97. Assuming the quotes are accurate, this CEO-come-lately coasts on mental autopilot: “I function like an average human being of my age. I go to clubs, movies and watch MTV. It’s so fun! I’m a TV junkie. I need to go to Melrose Anonymous! Eating Cap’n Crunch and watching TV – two things I live for. Twice a week we have all-girls’ night. My best friends come over. We watch TV and gossip and scream and yell and do our nails.”

Time says this insipid make-up baroness is a typical of the 44.6 million Americans born between 1965 and 1976 denoted as Generation Xers. But Douglas Coupland, the Canadian author who stole either the name of Billy Idol’s old punk band or saw it in an obscure sociology text for his 1991 book (it depends who you ask) wrote that Generations Xers were “born in the late 1950s and 1960s – a camera-shy, suspiciously hushed known up to now as twentysomethings.” Mohajer was born too late to get into Coupland’s Gen X and he’s too old to get into Time’s. What the hell is going on here?

Authors and pundits and politicians love to generalize about Those Who Came Later (citizens born after the Baby Boom), but no one can agree on who these mysterious souls are. Authors Neil Howe and William Strauss (Generations, 13th-Gen) say that they’re the 79 million people born between 1961 and 1981. William Dunn’s The Baby Bust agrees with Time, Geoffrey T. Holtz’s Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind “Generation X” sides with Howe and Strauss, and Business Week calls them the 46 million humans born from 1963 to 1974. Not to be outdone, a recent press release from the BMG record label says they’re “young adults aged 16 to 24.”

I was born in 1963. Time classifies me as a Baby Boomer. According to them, my defining cultural moments include the hippie musical Hair and my first kiss at a drive-in (never mind that I was 5 when Hair came out, or that drive-ins were extinct long before I hit puberty). The Atlantic Monthly, however, presumes that I’m into Ice-T and Nirvana. If you’re 18 to 21, no one can agree whether you’re a Gen Xer or a Gen Yer (the name imagination-deficient marketing execs currently apply to Those Who Came Even Later Than Those Who Came Later). Gen Xers are pessimistic, alienated and angst-ridden, the myth goes, and Gen Yers are footloose, relaxed and idealistic. Which one are you? These days you need a program to keep track of your own generational identity.

The media’s obsession with generational generalizing is obviously silly, but consequential questions remain: Do generations – the notion that people share commonalities simply because of when they were born – exist at all? And if they do, does any of this shit matter?

Generic Generations
In Generations, Mssrs. Howe and Strauss state: “Intuitively, everyone recognizes the importance of age location,” but this is untrue of today’s younger adults. “I think generations are bullshit,” a friend who edits a well-known Generation X-oriented humor magazine asserts. “People are people; that’s all.” Everyone knows of exceptions to strict generational categorizations: Old Baby Boom-era punk singers like the Sex Pistols and Iggy Pop are honorary Gen Xers; the San Francisco Bay Area is full of twentysomethings who wear the garish clothing of the Summer of Love and prefer Jim Morrison to Eddie Vedder. I often find that I have more in common with sixtysomethings than thirtysomethings.

Time’s Xer piece elicited wildly disparate response letters. “I don’t believe that a generation can be described as having a set of traits and a personality,” wrote Rob Glaser. “[Your article] is the most correct and comprehensive description of Generation X yet offered,” counters Michael Cathey. Both reactions reflect typical Xer attitudes towards stereotyping by age.

Nonetheless, people do share common reference points – particularly regarding pop culture and politics – based on when they were born. Not everyone my age grew up as latchkey kids or watched The Brady Bunch – but many of them did. Not everyone in college today obsesses over affirmative action or political correctness – but many do. Belonging to a generation doesn’t mean that you vote a certain way or listen to a particular band, or even that you think anything like your peers, any more than being born into a certain race or gender can predict your personality – but you are more likely to share certain formative experiences and attitudes about life with your age cohorts. When it comes to generations, exceptions don’t necessarily disprove the rule.

In the early 1970s, mainstream Americans (i.e., older adults) terrified of the “generation gap” between them and the then-emerging Baby Boomers lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. Despite the fact that college-age citizens have always voted in low numbers, Boomers have acted to represent their political interests ever since. Beginning with Bill Clinton’s 1992 election as the first Boomer president, Americans have watched the political and cultural agenda shift toward issues that matter to people born between 1946 and 1964 (or 1943 and 1960, depending on who you believe). Gay rights, the environment and tax breaks for college tuition are all Boomer-oriented initiatives. Gen Xers (whoever they are) have seen little action on things that might matter to them. Topics like the crushing burden of student loan debt, global warming, and increasing the quality of entry-level jobs are so far removed from the political agenda that they might as well be in Albania. If you’re under 35 years of age, you have every right not to believe in the notion of generational politics – but you should be aware of the fact that those who are older are already practicing it.

You Are What You Buy
Generation Gap 2 began in 1987 when cartoonists and journalists coined the term “twentysomething” as a parody of the then-new disjointed Boomer-oriented TV whine-a-thon thirtysomething. Twentysomethings were the group of young adults then coming of age after college. (Historically, then, today’s Gen Xers are all in their 30s.) The term “twentysomething” became interchangeable with “Generation X” when Coupland’s poorly-written tome appeared in 1991. (This would make Xers 26-to-36 now.) Pundits posited other contenders to name the New Ones – “baby busters,” “post-boomers,” “posties,” even Howe & Strauss’ clunky “13ers” (because they’re the 13th American generation) – but the joint twentysomething/Gen-X identifier has stuck. Journalists and marketers view the two terms as permanently equivalent, making Gen Xers the first people in history not to age! Thanks to this journalistic medical advance, Xers will remain twentysomething long after their great-grandchildren have died of old age.

Gen X cultural icons – who included director Richard Linklater for his 1992 film Slacker and the band Nirvana for its 1991 album Nevermind, as well as such underground cartoonists as Nina “Nina’s Adventures” Paley, Tom “This Modern World” Tomorrow, and Ruben “Tom the Dancing Bug” Bolling – focused attention on economic dislocation, growing up in an age of budget cuts and McJobs, as well as the feeling that the old rules no longer applied (I titled my own book of Gen X-oriented cartoons All The Rules Have Changed). Gen X, whether it existed or not, was about opting out of the flexible morality and opportunistic hypocrisy then seen as characteristic of their Boomer middle-manager bosses.

Madison Avenue discovered Gen X in late 1992. With the oldest Boomers pushing 50 – well past peak buying age – and the economy in Bush-era doldrums, corporate executives realized that an economy in which consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the gross domestic product constantly requires a new batch of suckers. Newsweek published its “The New Middle Age: Oh, God…I’m Really Turning 50!” cover story on December 7th. On December 14th Business Week responded with “Move Over, Boomers: The Busters Are Here—And They’re Angry,” a detailed guide to businesspeople lusting after Gen Xers’ “$125 billion in annual spending power.” Since then, almost every mention in the mainstream media about the people who are anywhere between 16 and 41 years old (!) has been about how to sell them stuff. U.S. News & World Report’s February 22, 1993 “The Twentysomething Rebellion” (for them, Xers are now 24 to 34) picks computer companies and airlines as beneficiaries of the emerging Xer market, whereas Time likes Sprite and business schools.

In 1995 Coupland complained in Details about the advent of Xer marketing: “Those Bud ads where people rehash ‘60s sitcoms. Flavapalooza. Irony, which most young people use in order to make ludicrous situations palatable, was for the first time used as a selling tool. Kurt Cobain’s in heaven, Slacker’s at Blockbuster, and the media refers to anyone aged 13 to 39 as Xers. Which is only further proof that marketers and journalists never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world.”

There’s certainly nothing new about generational marketing. During the late ‘60s and ‘70s advertisers appealed to the new Boomers to buy the same old products that their parents had; in fact, the 1992 Newsweek piece on Boomers includes breathless advice to sellers of hair transplants and plastic surgery to get busy with their new victims. With the notable anomaly of Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski, the Boomers capitulated. They simply became their parents.

Xers have proven a far more difficult nut to crack; the latest wave of commercialism is hilariously desperate. Car companies run generic grunge music as background music to try to convince 28-year-olds that sports utility vehicles aren’t really just the latest version of the stationwagon. Nike sells its slave-labor-made sneakers with the DIY slogan “Just Do It,” while Xers roll their collective eyes. “No icon and certainly no commercial is safe from their irony, their sarcasm or their remote control. These are the tools with which Generation X keeps the world in perspective,” Marketing to Generation X author Karen Ritchie tells Time. It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the Fortune 500.

Until recently, the shenanigans of clueless advertisers only interested those who subscribed to AdWeek. The last few decades, however, have seen the wholesale collapse of virtually every mainstream public institution. A 50 percent divorce rate and an average marriage length of two years has all but destroyed the nuclear family. Involvement in religious organizations – and belief in God – is way down, thanks largely to sex scandals in both Catholic and Christian fundamentalist churches. The public education system has been gutted by two decades of Reagan-Bush-Clinton budget slashing. Corporate consolidation and the demise of investigative journalism has led to widespread distrust of the news media. The emergence of a two-party political system featuring no significant differences between the two “choices” has reduced voter participation and led to unprecedented cynicism about government. Many branches of popular culture – movies, architecture, modern art, rock music and theater – are widely viewed as moribund and irrelevant to people’s everyday lives.

God is dead, rock stars don’t matter, movies suck. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a New Yorker or an Alabaman, into tongue piercing or the local militia, married or single, straight or gay. Having destroyed all their ideological competitors, corporations are the last remaining institutions to offer strong identities. The choice between Democrats and Republicans is infinitely less important to your quotidian life than the one between Apple and Microsoft. Everyone knows that the real president isn’t Bill Clinton – it’s Bill Gates.

In a land where no one believes in anything, you are what you buy.

When marketers tell you what to buy, they tell you what to become. Are you a hip-hop fan or a preppie? Do you like clear dishwashing liquid or Volvos? There’s no way to avoid the onslaught of TV ads, billboards and product placement that permeate our everyday lives, but it is important to realize what’s at stake. The marketers think that they know who you are based on your birthdate, your ethnic background and the fact that you subscribe to a certain magazine, and they’re determined to use that information to sell you their products. When they succeed, they change your identity – but what if they don’t have the slightest clue who you are?

You’re Next!
There is perhaps no better indication of the amazing lack of logic of generational marketing than the fact that no one can agree who belongs to what generation. But that will never stop some wanker editor – inevitably someone who’s not even a member of the generation being discussed! – from putting out a dozen-page spread on who you are and what you believe in during a slow news week. These “them versus us” pieces invariably seek to create neo-Generation Gaps where there are none. Even worse, they trivialize or ignore important issues that truly should be addressed in the public arena. Even Strauss and Howe’s latest stab at generational generalizations, The Fourth Turning, acknowledges: “Compared to any other generation born in this century, [Gen X] is less cohesive, its experiences wider and its culture more splintery.”

The development of Gen X media coverage provides an instructive tale for college-age Americans. Whether or not you consider yourself a Gen Xer, the corporate marketers will soon turn their attentions to you and, more importantly, your wallets. Peter Zollo, president of Teenage Research Unlimited in Northbook, Illinois, says that American teenagers controlled $103 billion in consumer spending during 1996. “Unlike Generation X, who are paying off college debt, Generation Y – these teens – don’t have any payments to hold them down so they can blow their money on whatever they want,” he drools. For example, Mountain Dew has signed a deal with the rap mag The Source and Black Entertainment Television, as well as ten record companies, to push their products to urban teens. Specially-equipped vans will visit the ‘hood in 13 cities, “spreading the word on the latest in urban fashion and distributing the newest music, T-shirts and Mountain Dew.”

“We know that our consumers see through commercialization and over-commercialization,” says PepsiCo spokesman Jon Harris. “Teaming up with The Source provides a great vehicle to connect with consumers in a meaningful way.”

To paraphrase Robocop, these days, meaning is where you find it.

The Great Generational Marketing Debacle

“Grunge, anger, cultural dislocation, a secret yearning to belong: They add up to a daunting cultural anthropology that marketers have to confront if they want to reach twentysomethings. But it’s worth it. [Xers] do buy stuff: CDs, sweaters, jeans, boots, soda, beer, cosmetics, electronics, cars, fast food, personal computers, mountain bikes and Rollerblades,” U.S. News said enthusiastically in ‘93. Details editor James Truman ‘fessed up: “They’re tremendously cynical because they know the media is most often trying to sell them something.” There’s another thing missing: Xers had lousy jobs and huge debt burdens. It’s hard to buy when you’re broke.

Despite the warnings, marketers sunk to the occasion.

The notion of Gen X as a sociocultural movement reached its zenith on film. Young adults thrilled to the Cinderella stories of former clerks who ran up their charge cards to fund their postmodern social commentary movies. Unfortunately, earnest efforts like ex-video-store employee Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and Kevin Smith’s Clerks soon gave way to cynical Boomer-conceived Hollywood dreck like the embarrassing Winona Ryder vehicle Reality Bites and Smith’s politically-correct monstrosity Chasing Amy. When the remarkable Pulp Fiction failed to win the Best Film Oscar for 1994, though, the era of experimentation came to an halt. These days Hollywood is content to cast hopelessly attractive twentysomething stars in movies like Beautiful Girls and TV shows like Baywatch and Friends. Apparently the Boomers who run the studios think younger Americans aren’t worthy of dialogue as sophisticated as in Three’s Company – thus the marketing of Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210 and MTV’s The Real World to people supposedly hip enough to know better.

Kurt Cobain’s 1994 suicide became the “where were you when it happened” moment for the flannel-and-pierced-nipple set, but no pop artist has since successfully claimed the mandate of heaven to rule his throne. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Mudhoney issued memorable “albums of a generation” and Pearl Jam was the great pretender. The record companies have deluged the marketplace with an endless stream of recycled standard-issue female singer-songwriters ever since, as if winsome vocals à la Beck and Jewel were in any way distinguishable from Graham Parker and Joan Baez. Record sales have fallen to even lower levels than the 1987-1994 recession, and many execs remain convinced that young adults have simply given up on music.

Beginning in 1992, an unsavory band of political opportunists seized on the latest libertarian tendencies among many Xers (centered on their distrust of big government and a disdain for taxes and deficit spending) in order to form political-action organizations. Hillary Clinton look-alike Wendy Kopp (now 28) formed Teach for America to get white college grads to teach in inner-city schools and see herself quoted in national newsweeklies while collecting a salary well into six figures.

Insufferable wealthy pretty boys Jon Cowan (now 31) and Rob Nelson (now 33) founded Lead or Leave, a lobbying group that viewed the budget deficit as the single most important problem facing American youth (never mind that attacking the deficit means increased unemployment and less financial aid) and depicted the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as the mortal enemies of all things young and beautiful. They proposed to take on the AARP by attacking selfish entitlement programs for senior citizens and by representing the issues important to the young as effectively as the AARP defended Social Security. They neglected to tell the gaggle of magazine and TV reporters who followed their every move that their organization was a shill for Ross Perot’s failed 1992 presidential bid. Their diminutive leader gone, Lead or Leave left, evaporating around ‘94.

The Second Wave of Inside-the-Beltway operatives includes such luminaries as Third Millennium’s Richard Thau, a man few Xers have heard of but who nonetheless claims to speak for them. “We grew up in a period with one instance of government malfeasance and ineptitude after another, from Watergate to Iran-contra to the explosion of the Challenger to Whitewater. We believe government can’t be trusted to do anything right,” Thau tells Time. One wonders if he knows that, at age 32, the same piece he’s quoted in doesn’t even consider him an Xer at all?

America’s other new Xer Poster Boy is The Sierra Club’s new wondergeek president, Adam Werbach. (Advisory: He’s 24. Doug Coupland would say he’s not Gen X.) “Gen X,” Time quotes Werbach, “responds to aggressively hip, visual and interactive messages. Want to fight oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Wildlife Refuge? Set up booths to sell black snow cones.” No wonder you need a 30 sunblock to walk to your car.

While a cadre of Xer posers brownnoses its way into assistant-to-the-assistant-whatever slots in the capital, real issues are utterly ignored. The vast majority of Americans believe, with good reason, that young adults only care about balancing the budget, saving the rain forests and stopping AIDS. The Big Issues – free trade, income redistribution, underemployment, crime, foreign policy – are matters for our elders to decide. The mainstream media and its Xer puppets have rendered tens of millions of people (let’s not get into how many tens of millions!) utterly voiceless. In the end young adults have become as mysterious and useless as voters as they are as consumers.

Generation X: The Next Generation
So what’s next for the generation that no one can figure out? First of all, it seems likely that for the next few years they’ll continue to be considered whoever happens to be in their twenties at the time. If you accept the idea that age groups are partially defined by the formative experiences of their childhoods, each batch of twentysomethings will be different. The American media is far too removed from ordinary people to track actual generations, much less artificial age segments in constant flux.

Second, the “real Xers” – as defined by a distinct range of birth years – will probably never be able to agree on what they stand for in any coherent manner. Unlike the Baby Boomers, who seem to agree that they enjoy getting divorced and not promoting their younger employees, Xer diversity is certainly not likely to emerge any time soon – so don’t look for any Xer political group to gain real support. It’s hard to lobby when you’re not sure you actually exist.

Xer refusal to argue for their common interests ensures that, even if they refuse to propose a solution, they won’t become a part of the problem. Today’s young adults can’t get it together – which is a damn good thing when you consider the fiscal and social fallout from older Americans’ refusal to sacrifice for their fellow citizens. When a 62-year-old woman recently gave birth to her own grandchild through in vitro fertilization, the first joke I heard about was: “Yeah, but will she vote for the school levy?” Remaining disorganized as an age group makes us better Americans. On the other hand, politics sinks to the lowest common denominator. Other age groups, as in the case of the AARP, do promote their narrow interests – usually at the expense of their younger counterparts. Now that Baby Boomers are having children in large numbers, they’re passing their demographic clout over the heads of today’s Gen Xers in a weird sort of generational leapfrog. We attended schools eviscerated by budget cuts in an era when kids weren’t a priority; now many schools have better computers than some offices. Still, I suspect that few Xers begrudge today’s children an education better than they received themselves. Xers may have been raised by selfish assholes who looked out for numero uno, but they turned out fairly decently.

In the meantime, the marketing madness goes on. The Harvey Entertainment Company recently announced its intention to begin licensing such “classic” characters as Richie Rich, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Witch. According to Harvey’s press release: “Our marketing strategy will simultaneously capitalize on inherent strengths of our classic characters in three key areas: entertainment-driven merchandising, the collectors’ market, and fashion. The synergistic market activity will have long-term value-added impact on Harvey and its licensees. Harvey Entertainment’s multi-level brand licensing strategy utilizes established assets, while building new assets through the creation of brand imagery and product design that are based on its world-famous characters. As Harvey’s classic characters are being successfully relaunched to a new generation of children as well as adults since Harvey is drawing on the ‘Generation X’ and ‘30-something’ young adults, who remember the characters fondly from their childhood.” And if cartoon characters aren’t quite what you’re looking for, consider actress-model Cindy Margolis, who is now being promoted as “something to believe in…the perfect spokesperson for this unique, new generation. These consumers are truly optimistic about their future and willing to take charge of their own destiny. She stands up for a generation that believes that by working hard, you can achieve what you’re going for. She delivers appealing, All-American looks and the straight facts, with a great attitude. Cindy is an advertiser’s ‘Dream Machine’.”

(C) 1994 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

Waking Up in America

My first book is a collection of my editorial cartoons published at the beginning of my cartooning career, between 1988 to 1992. Politically, this work runs between the last year of Ronald Reagan and throughout Bush 41. I was experimenting with different styles during this period, so the work is uneven. I was picked up by Chronicle Features in San Francisco in 1991. Although this work reflects an exciting period in my development, be forewarned: this book suffers from atrocious reproduction quality because St. Martin’s Press didn’t set their photostat machine at the proper exposure, causing some cartoons to be published with moray patterns. Syndication dates were left on some of the pages!

Waking Up isn’t terribly difficult to find used if you’re persistent, but at this point it has been long out-of-print. I no longer have personal copies for sale, so eBay is probably your best bet.

Cartoon Collection, 1992
St. Martin’s Paperback, 6″x9″, 128 pp., $6.95

Dubious Liberators: Allied Plans to Occupy France, 1942-1944

Forty-six years ago this June, the largest invasion force in the history of mankind landed at Normandy, initiating a series of bloody confrontations with the occupying German armies that ended ten months later in Berlin. The international press dispatched wire photos of ecstatic French civilians embracing exhausted Allied soldiers. The liberation of France—and of Paris in late August—is perhaps the twentieth century’s giddiest moment. But a perusal of recently declassified American documents suggests that that liberation may have occurred only after martial law and occupation became unfeasible.

The German retreat across northern France in the weeks following D-Day transformed the newly liberated country into a vast political power vacuum. Control of the civil administration of France—the day-to-day mechanics of its local and regional financial, police, educational, medical and legal institutions—would assure political control after the liberation of Paris.

Three major groups had plotted over three years to ensure that that power would be theirs. Within France, the Communist-dominated Resistance planned local insurrections to undermine and seize seats of government prior to the arrival of the Allies. From London and Algiers, Charles de Gaulle’s Free French attempted to thwart Communist coup efforts, place agents within France and lead the first wave of troops to each mayor’s office until a national Gaullist régime could be declared. American interests were to prevent both groups from seizing power until Allied military and political objectives could be ascertained and enacted upon.

“Civil Affairs” divisions of the Allied armies were dropped by parachute in the second wave of the assault at Normandy. These administrators—civil engineers, attorneys, investment bankers, military policemen, scientists and physicians trained in a secret military government school in the United States—raced by jeep to town halls to take control of each village moments after it was liberated. To the chagrin of both the Gaullists and the revenge-minded Communists, they usually retained Vichy local administration, but sometimes appointed their own mayors. They sealed roads, declared martial law, captured and guarded food supplies. Meanwhile, Gaullist and Communist forces were maneuvering to politically sabotage the Americans. Hours after Eisenhower’s troops paraded through Bayeux, the first town liberated after D-Day, it found itself with three mayors.

Conflicting Views

French historians have tended to react ambivalently to American policy on France during the last half of World War II. They describe a dual American role as liberators and thwarted oppressors, citing first-hand knowledge of American distribution of U.S.-printed “occupation francs” and clashes between Allied and Gaullist civil affairs authorities as evidence of the Allies’ initial intentions. The French enjoyed fewer civil rights and food rations after liberation than they had under Nazi rule throughout the summer of 1944—a fact that became less understandable after the triumphant troops had rolled eastward. Franklin D. Roosevelt personifies the roots of French mistrust of the United States. The president often expressed contempt for France’s quick defeat to Germany in May-June 1940. In Roosevelt’s view, that defeat, coupled with the shame of the subsequent Vichy collaborationist régime, justified his belief that France should never again rise to the stature of an international power in the postwar world. Roosevelt’s May 8, 1943 letter to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appears throughout French accounts:

I am more and more of the opinion that we should consider France as a militarily-occupied nation and governed by British and American generals…We would keep 90% of the [Vichy] mayors and a large percentage of the lesser bureaucrats of the cities and departments. But the important posts would remain the responsibility of the military commander, American and British. This will last between six months and a year…Perhaps [General Charles] de Gaulle can become governor of Madagascar.

French historians across the political spectrum have long been convinced by de Gaulle’s assertions that the American President hoped to impose AMGOT—Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories—on France. Military governors trained in Virginia would administer “liberated” France for as long as a year, until a pro-American French civil administration could be installed. France would be treated, in other words, no differently than Italy—Hitler’s first Axis partner.

Until now, American students of Allied policy on postwar France have been forced to rely on official U.S. Army memoirs written by aging civil affairs personnel. Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith’s March 14, 1944 cable to the American and British heads of Allied Civil Affairs in London is frequently cited as evidence that any idea of imposing AMGOT in France had been abandoned months before D-Day: “We must avoid AMGOT organization [in northwest Europe]—we have already been told to do this, and the latest paper from the U.S. Chiefs of Staff emphasizes this fact.” These works assert that the United States Government was prepared to recognize General de Gaulle’s French Provisional Government well before June 1944 and were, in fact, on excellent terms with the leader of the Free French. According to Harry L. Coles and Albert K. Weinberg, U.S. policy makers viewed France as a defeated ally to be liberated instead as a collaborationist country to be defeated as early as 1943. Even if AMGOT had been applied to France, Civil Affairs historian Merritt Y. Hughes wrote in 1948, it would have assumed a milder form taking into account the country’s long tradition of republican democracy.

Both official and historical British sources provide an enlightening perspective to the French AMGOT controversy. Churchill’s memoirs describe a leader trapped between two equally compelling shades of realpolitik. Although the British leader frequently disagreed with de Gaulle on such issues as the degree of Free French involvement in Allied war efforts, he realized quickly that only the Gaullists possessed sufficient popular support and organization to form a viable pro-Allied postwar government. When the Free French staged a botched Gaullist coup d’état in Lebanon in 1941, an enraged Winston Churchill threatened to cut de Gaulle off entirely. Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden patched up the Middle East crisis and continued to mediate French and British concerns in the face of growing American opposition to de Gaulle’s obvious intentions to run post-liberation France. Churchill did not share Roosevelt’s nearly irrational francophobia, but was forced to appease his ally because of the latter’s role as the primary supplier of troops and materiel to the war effort. By early 1944, Churchill was commiserating with General Dwight D. Eisenhower over Roosevelt’s anti-Gaullist attitudes and was eventually instrumental in quietly securing Allied recognition for the first Gaullist government.

The French situation was essentially not a concern for the Soviet Government which, as an Ally, could have exerted significant influence on the status of postwar France. Stalin, however, had little interest in backing even the Communists. France was simply too far away from the Eastern Front to be of any strategic interest to him.

The truth about American intentions towards France during the closing days of the Second World War has proven extraordinarily elusive. The stakes, however, are high—an understanding of American intentions, actions and reactions culminating with the summer of 1944 is essential to understanding French popular and political resentment against the U.S. which persisted through de Gaulle’s policies as president during the 1960’s and which continues as anti-Americanism today. More importantly, since the United States continues to apply policies in post-invasion situations essentially identical to those used during World War II, the costs of bungled civil affairs policies come with a nuclear price tag.

The Origins of AMGOT

When the War Department began to plan ground invasions of North Africa and Europe during the winter of 1941-2, it quickly concluded that military government would be necessary to guarantee order and security in and behind lines of advancing troops. Geopolitical concerns were paramount as well: control of a nation’s civil administration would allow the United States to integrate its policies and influence throughout liberated and invaded nations’ political infrastructure at the local level for decades to come. Military governors would ban indigenous political activity as they established a system of civil control favorable to American interests.

Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, a joint military-civilian division of the U.S. War Department (today’s Department of Defense), was government by soldiers. Regular army troops commanded by officers recruited from academia and business were given brief, intensive crash courses to learn how to run the quotidian affairs of a country hours after invading American troops had advanced.

AMGOT was only used twice—partially in French Algeria in 1942 and to full effect in Sicily, Corsica and southern Italy in 1943. AMGOT troops seized seats of political, economic and social power at once. They rewrote pre-invasion laws, issued new currency and enforced martial law. Defeat of the enemy was the prime directive; concerns of national sovereignty were set aside in favor of those of military law and control. After military objectives had been attained, native political organizations would be considered based primarily on the quality of their relationship with the United States.

Contemporary Views of AMGOT

Precise Allied views of France are difficult to determine due to the continuing interests of the British, American and French governments in justifying their wartime actions. The issue has been further clouded by the French who, as the most avid students of Allied civil affairs, have made little effort to document their assertions. French essays which do exist are so speculative and riddled with inconsistencies that it is tempting to deny their validity entirely. The following pages are the result of an effort to determine and explain the content and development of Allied wartime policy on France during the last half of the Second World War. The central issue in this controversy concerns the struggle between the Gaullist Free French and Allied occupation forces to administer the liberated country’s civil affairs.

The civil affairs controversy is inevitably intertwined with the evolution of the Roosevelt Administration’s policy towards de Gaulle from active efforts to depose him as leader of the French Committee of National Liberation (CFLN) in 1942 to recognizing his leadership of the French Provisional Government (GPRF) in October of 1944, because American unwillingness to accept Gaullist rule initiated and advanced the development of AMGOT plans for France.

The confusion of the times was mirrored by constantly shifting policies. Debates over recognition of de Gaulle and French civil administration developed in a frenzy as American and British policy makers struggled to react to rapidly changing and often conflicting military and political situations. Since both countries were independently involved in civil affairs planning by 1943, clashes of style and substance were inevitable. Within each country, military and political goals were sometimes deemed irreconcilable. Opinions varied wildly at the highest levels in both areas of planning.

Research Methods

Many policy statements, personal communications and other documents relative to the development and implementation of British and American civil affairs plans for France have been declassified recently by the National Archives in Washington and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York. A great many others have never been studied but remain available. Although most of the material cited is based on American sources, this does not pose a significant problem as the U.S. handled most civil affairs planning for France after 1943. My research set out to answer the following questions:

1. Did the United States intend to impose AMGOT or a similar form of civil administration in liberated France?

2. If so, when and why were those plans abandoned?

3. What were the precise organizations comprising Allied Military Government? What were its primary activities in invaded countries?

4. When did the Roosevelt Administration begin to understand that cooperation with the Gaullists would be necessary?

5. When was the first indication of U.S. willingness to recognize de Gaulle’s provisional government?

The answers to these questions provide an enlightening view of American foreign policy makers as they blundered to react to rapidly changing events. They also reveal a stunning cultural gap between French and American accounts of the same events. For instance, Allied insistence that French AMGOT was abandoned is technically correct—AMGOT personnel and functions were transferred to the Civil Affairs Division of Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) in January 1944. But Pierre Viénot was not far from the truth when he told Eisenhower, “Ce que vous préparez en France, ce n’est pas l’AMGOT. C’est l’AMGOT qui ne veut pas dire son nom.”

British Origins of Civil Affairs Planning, Feb. 1942 – Nov. 1943

From the moment de Gaulle arrived in London in June 1940, he used his relationship with the British government to secure popular legitimacy in France (for example, by using the BBC for his weekly radio addresses) as well as internationally. In spite of the Syrian-Lebanese crisis of 1941-2, American anti-Gaullist sentiment and differences of opinion about de Gaulle’s postwar role, Churchill’s government consciously established and supported the general as the symbolic representation of the Free French throughout the war. On the other hand, the United States doomed its relations with de Gaulle from the start by continuing its diplomatic relationship with Vichy. U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Roosevelt opted against granting the Gaullists the same degree of “practical recognition” as the British:

We could never, however, expect to recognize de Gaulle without breaking with the legal government of Pétain, who incidentally entertained a bitter hatred toward his former subordinate. The Vichy government, and not de Gaulle, was in control of the population in unoccupied France.

Washington’s ambassador, Admiral Leahy, arrived at Vichy in December 1940. Leahy, whose anti-Gaullist sentiments bordered on the bizarre, acted as Roosevelt’s most trusted advisor on France. U.S. policy towards de Gaulle was characterized by suspicion that he planned a coup; Roosevelt repeatedly opposed or ignored Gaullist initiatives to Washington in the hope that he might find a more appealing Frenchman with whom to forge an alliance. Roosevelt told the American press that there was no proof whatsoever that de Gaulle enjoyed significant support in occupied France. In the interest of ensuring postwar French democracy, he said, the U.S. Army would supervise free elections. In the meantime, though, Roosevelt ordered OSS operatives in France to find a third alternative to de Gaulle and the Communists.

Under these inauspicious circumstances, the British government began planning its civil affairs policy for France in early 1942. Britain’s extensive colonialist experience and its strong desire to reassert its influence in post-Nazi Europe led planners in Whitehall to take the lead in developing civil administration for the continent. Besides, the United States had barely entered the war and was obsessed with military objectives in the Pacific against Japan. In June 1942, Churchill approved the creation of an office called Administration of Territories (Europe) (AT(E)) under the auspices of the War Cabinet.

AT(E) signed its first formal civil affairs agreement with the numerous European governments-in-exile in February 1943. This detailed pact with Norway described Allied political, economic and legal policies to be enforced immediately upon liberation. Subsequent agreements were signed between the British government and Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Denmark. The United States did not participate in these discussions.

The British Foreign Office advised Washington of AT(E)’s desire to sign a civil affairs agreement with de Gaulle in April 1943. British civil administrative experts were thrilled at the enormous potential for economic and political influence that such a deal would have guaranteed their country. Roosevelt pressured Churchill against formally working with de Gaulle; American protests were so extreme that the British nearly severed ties with de Gaulle entirely in May. However, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden convinced Churchill of the increasing importance of Gaullism and, by mid-1943, Churchill and de Gaulle’s personal rapport had solidified into a wary friendship. Furthermore, de Gaulle had consolidated his control of the French Committee of National Liberation by removing his rival General Giraud in July 1943. In August, he established his willingness to usurp legal powers by jailing two directors of the Moroccan State Bank for selling gold to Germany.

The British were adamant that civil affairs plans should make clear distinctions between the treatment of countries that had been occupied and those which had collaborated with or joined the Axis. Churchill advised Eisenhower of his opinion that France should fall into the liberated category, an attitude supported by AT(E) documentation describing the French as abused and desperate for Allied liberation.

The U.S. War and State Departments attempted to dissuade the British from their rapid consolidation over Allied civil affairs to no effect. AT(E) argued that its geographical and cultural proximity to the exiled powers and its experience with the first civil affairs agreements made it the logical entity to establish Allied postwar rule. Moreover, the British reasoned, the United States had not demonstrated any interest in civil affairs. Why should the British yield their role with nothing to replace it?

In late 1943, the U.S. entered the civil administration business once and for all.

AMGOT: The American Response, May 1942 – Feb. 1944

The United States began planning its version of postwar civil administration for liberated Europe a few months after the British, but with notably less enthusiasm and financial support. The War Department opened its U.S. Army School of Military Government at Charlottesville, Virginia in May 1942 to train AMGOT officers. Its first class graduated on August 29, 1942.

AMGOT officer recruits were civilian specialists in such fields as radio communications, power utilities, civil engineering, local government, health services, the legal profession, finance, sanitation, local and military police and public safety. Wall Street bankers were trained to create new stock exchanges and currency controls for liberated nations that they had never seen. Criminal defense attorneys from small American towns would become judges in military tribunals in matters of life and death. Most of these men were older than forty-five. After a four-month training program, presided over by Brigadier General Cornelius W. Wickersham, they were considered fully-trained and were assigned the rank of captain. More than 6,000 such students had graduated from Fort Benning at the time of the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

AMGOT trained its junior commissioned officers, noncommissioned personnel and technical staff at two facilities at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. The Georgia students were not trained in such Fort Benning staples as international law, local politics or languages. Although proficiency in the language of one’s assigned country was considered desirable, the Army concentrated on training these men in their fields of expertise. This attitude appears in the “Synopsis of War Department Program for Military Government”: “Only a minimum of training in the special field of military government will be necessary for them since they will already be highly trained in their respective fields for the specialized functions which they will later perform.”

AMGOT trainees were repeatedly told that their priorities were to further military objectives, establish law and order with a semblance of normalcy as soon as possible and to further Allied political aims until a native régime could be put into place. The typical timetable for AMGOT occupation was deemed to be between six months and one year.

The AMGOT school in Charlottesville was supplemented by thirty private universities throughout the U.S., which taught supplemental four-month courses in the history, language, geography, customs, morals and politics of the country in which each officer was expected to serve. As of December 1943, one regiment of 1,552 such “Area and Language Specialists” including 400 officers in eight or nine companies was expected to land in France.
De Gaulle expressed his concerns about the possible imposition of military government in France soon after he received reports about AMGOT’s earliest secret activities in the North African campaign. AMGOT detachments from the U.S. Army had swept into desert villages, set up command posts to replace city halls and imposed martial law. On May 21, 1943, he ordered General Delestraint to create an élite paramilitary unit inside France to seize civilian control “au moment du débarquement.” Delestraint left for France but was arrested by the Gestapo on June 9th.

Many AMGOT officers accepted substantial reductions in salary by leaving their civilian posts. Nonetheless, the Army had no trouble finding eager volunteers among America’s professional men. Despite their age, they could make a direct personal contribution to the war effort. There was also an element of egotism—they would be trained to rebuild Europe, if not in their own images, at least with a great deal of their influence. They saw a unique chance to add military honors to civilian prestige. AMGOT offered middle-aged Americans an opportunity to enjoy an incredible adventure in an entirely new field of endeavor—governing—before being forced to retire. It was a superb mixture of idealism and self-gratification.

AMGOT in Sicily, July 1943

Allied landings in Sicily on July 10, 1943 were the first assault on continental Europe. The invasion provided AMGOT officials with a valuable chance to test the plan without danger of political repercussion, since the island was clearly Italian/Axis territory.

AMGOT as applied in Sicily was administered without allowance for contingencies. It was run by British General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander, commander of the Allied forces in Sicily as military governor with Major General Lord Rennell of Rodd as chief of civil affairs. The July 18th New York Times reported that AMGOT officers were retaining Fascist bureaucrats. They were purging active party members only from top national and local offices. The newspaper quoted an unnamed AMGOT official as stating: “[It is necessary to have] someone who will keep things running.” Allied soldiers enlisted the aid of the local police and militia in maintaining law and order. AMGOT divisions seized food supplies, issued rations and directed medical assistance to civilians. AMGOT law experts declared freedom of religion, particularly for Roman Catholics—an unnecessary act since Mussolini had never acted to suppress the Church. Laws that “discriminate on the basis of race, creed or color” were annulled by military rather than legal order. All criminal offenders were tried before military courts presided over by British and American AMGOT judges. Troops were ordered to protect “the physical symbols of the true Italy—buildings, libraries, monuments, archives and works of art” by shooting vandals or looters on sight, even when the culprits were Allied soldiers.

The Gaullists observed the Sicilian action with great interest. In September, French Committee of National Liberation member Pierre Viénot wrote to de Gaulle, reporting that AMGOT was a policy of law and order at all cost, including retaining fascist police and bureaucrats. Allied suppressions of free speech, the press, political activity and free assembly had tended to favor Italian monarchists. De Gaulle realized at once that a French version of AMGOT would probably precede the creation of an American puppet government in Paris—a possibility that his dreams of power could not allow.

Early Gaullist anti-AMGOT Activities: Corsica, Sept. 1943

De Gaulle’s CFLN made its first stand against Allied Military Government in Corsica by appointing their own French civil administrator as prefect. Free French troops arriving with the Allies seized Corsican mairies before AMGOT officers could arrive to find the French Army already installed and conducting business. The regular American army found themselves preoccupied with transporting thousands of Italian POWs to Sardinia and were pleased to leave non-military matters to the French.

Prefect Luizet issued a communiqué to the U.S. State Department advising it that he was protecting Italian war criminals, who were in great danger of being murdered in reprisals, and that his men were busy seizing Italian-owned transportation equipment (an act forbidden by AMGOT). He emphasized “the determination of the population not to accept Allied military rule but to insist on a civil administration” and assured that he was ready to provide one. The French later asked that the Corsican experience be used as a precedent during landings in metropolitan France, but the U.S. refused despite CFLN assurances that their civil rule “would be completely loyal to the Allies.” The Americans were concerned that de Gaulle’s Corsican partisans had included “more Communists than expected.” This coupling of Allied aloofness and Gaullist determination to seize civil administration of liberated areas in a de facto manner was a pattern that would remain substantially unchanged until the end of World War II.

Joint American-British Civil Affairs, Nov. 1943 – June 1944

AMGOT was developed parallel to the British AT(E) program but the American version had prevailed overwhelmingly in the competition over civil administration by the summer of 1943. The United States enjoyed veto power over most British initiatives during the war thanks to its military and economic superiority, as well as geographical distance from the war’s direct effects. During the Allied landing in Sicily, AMGOT absorbed AT(E), although the latter’s name continued to appear jointly on documents until the end of the war. British civil affairs officers exerted influence, but no longer dominated Allied civil affairs planning.

As the invasion of France grew nearer, the Allies decided to merge their confusing web of military, civilian and educational institutions involved in civil affairs planning. The U.S. War Department’s Civil Affairs Division (also known as G-5) was approved by Britain as the principal policy maker for military government in occupied Europe in September 1943. Civil Affairs was supervised by a joint committee of AMGOT and AT(E) staff in London which reported directly to the Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS), headed by Eisenhower. The British were reduced to secondary status.

CCS decided on France as its most likely launching point for the final defeat of Germany during the fall of 1943. Accordingly, the British representative to Civil Affairs, General Bovenschen, asked permission from U.S. Army officials to sign a civil affairs agreement with de Gaulle’s CFLN. The resulting Dunn-Wright Agreement was signed September 21, 1943. The document reflected a compromise between British and American views of postwar France:

“Civil Affairs for France”

The primary purpose of the Allied landing in France will be the defeat of Germany. Subject only to this, it will be the object of the Allied forces to bring about the earliest possible liberation of France from her oppressors, and the creation of conditions in which a democratically constituted French authority may be able to assume the civil administration. The ultimate aim of the Allies is the free and untrammeled choice by the French people of the form of government under which they will live. Meanwhile and until this stage is reached, the largest measure of personal and political liberty compatible with military security shall be restored to the French people. As far as the over-riding interests of military operations allow, there shall be freedom of speech, of the press and of correspondence. The French flag shall be used on French public buildings…

The Dunn-Wright Agreement became the basis for all subsequent Anglo-American discussions over the civil administration of France. Its principal points included the supremacy of military over civil priorities, the inclusion of French citizens (not Gaullists) in AMGOT personnel, the progressive transfer of control from military to civilian government and an assurance that Eisenhower would “do his best to hold the scales even between all French political groups sympathetic to the Allied cause.”

Eisenhower gradually obtained pro-CFLN concessions from Roosevelt, but a conflict between British and American forces within Civil Affairs became acute in early 1944 when the British sought to overhaul the AMGOT structure and include Gaullist liaison officers during discussions of invasion strategy. The Americans refused, citing leaked military plans on the landing at Corsica to which the Free French had been privy. The British threatened to notify the French unilaterally of the timing of details of D-Day.

The British convinced Eisenhower in March that it would be difficult to invade France without French assistance. He also found de Gaulle’s liaison officers cooperative and helpful. In March, he issued a directive that AMGOT terminology be dropped and that France be considered liberated rather than invaded territory. Nevertheless, the basic structure and philosophy of Allied Military Government remained intact, as proven by Eisenhower’s May 9, 1944 “pep talk” to his civil affairs officers:

First of all, you are soldiers. Don’t forget that. . .We went into Africa just a year ago last November. In Africa we did not have an organization of this type set up. In Sicily we were better prepared; in Italy still a lot better. We will be still better prepared when we are on the Continent due to the training you have had and the work you have done. . .Because your section of the Army is called ‘Civil Affairs’ you must not make the mistake of thinking you are politicians…

Civil Affairs Handbooks

Civil Affairs Division officers prepared for D-Day with a blizzard of paperwork. G-5 rushed to turn out mountains of manuals, forms, reports and reference books to assist the thousands of military governors and bureaucrats who were to administer liberated Europe. The definitive reference text for Civil Affairs staff was the Civil Affairs Handbook for each European country, including France. These mammoth works were the result of frenzied research and were based on little understanding of France or other relevant nations. The handbooks contained stereotypical depictions which the French found offensive and would have created international incidents had they been relied upon fully by Americans operating in France.

The first draft of a sixteen-volume handbook for France appeared in October 1943. Each primitively-printed book covered one of the following subjects using descriptions and charts: Geographical and Social Background; Government and Administration; Legal Affairs; Government Finance; Money and Banking; Natural Resources; Agriculture; Industry and Commerce; Labor; Public Works and Utilities; Transportation Systems; Communications; Public Health and Sanitation; Public Safety; Education and Public Welfare.
Much of the text is insulting and even racist by contemporary standards. The French are depicted as unambitious alcoholics who have thoughts only for their next meal:

What the French want out of life is typical of their moderation—enough money to permit them a little leisure to enjoy the conversation, the food, and the family life which they prize so highly. Generally, they take little interest in advancing themselves socially or in making considerable sums of money. But they are desperately afraid of becoming poor. Hence, the famous thrift and niggardliness of the French…

Primary reference materials for the French Civil Affairs Handbook include a novel by Edith Wharton, several tour guides from the 1930’s and AT(E) zone handbooks based on British impressions. The foolish stereotypes that run throughout these texts are an inevitable result of the clichéd nature of their sources. The handbook helps explain French reactions to the aged gentlemen administrators who appeared on their territory amid the chaos of June 1944. One thing is certain—Allied Civil Affairs troops were unprepared for the complexity of the French they encountered in person.

Roosevelt and de Gaulle

Although the role of personal relationships between political figures in making history is frequently exaggerated, it is hardly possible to overemphasize the impact of the antipathy between President Roosevelt and General de Gaulle on postwar Franco-American relations.

As the biggest victor of World War II, the United States Government found its most immediate political and financial rewards in its ability to reshape Europe—and most of the Western hemisphere—to its liking. The key to exploiting this limitless potential lay in ensuring friendly relations with as many strategically vital nations as possible. However, intervention with those countries’ internal politics beyond a certain point would only increase hostility to the point that U.S. influence would be radically diminished. Nowhere was this principal put more to the test than in France.

Roosevelt’s dislike of France and de Gaulle in particular is well documented. At times the American President stood nearly alone in his own administration in his refusal to accept a postwar role for de Gaulle. There is no doubt that his desire to impose Allied Military Government on France was an instrumental part of his plan to keep de Gaulle out of power. Roosevelt’s flirtation with AMGOT seriously imperiled his country’s postwar relationship with France and sowed the seeds of postwar French anti-Americanism.

Roosevelt refused to recognize de Gaulle’s CFLN, tried to keep the Free French from anything other than a passive role in D-Day plans and only formally acknowledged de Gaulle’s Provisional Government on October 25, 1944—four months after the rest of Europe had already done so. Both Gaullists and French Communists were alienated by the American attitude. De Gaulle’s men believed that their role in the Free French had earned them a moral right to rule the country. Meanwhile, the Left was irritated that their participation in the Resistance had been a stumbling block for CFLN recognition.

French suspicions of Allied intentions had become acute by mid-1943, in the aftermath of the Sicilian and Corsican actions. The War Department confirmed French fears that the draconian AMGOT plan would be used uniformly throughout northwest Europe without regard for each nation’s wartime status (Axis member, collaborationist régime or occupied nation). Neither the Communist-dominated Resistance nor the Gaullist CFLN could allow AMGOT in France if they were to seize power in the wake of the retreating German armies. At best, the two parties would have to compete in Allied-run parliamentary elections. Neither group was willing to settle for anything less than complete political domination. For de Gaulle, who benefited from favorable press and his affiliation with the British, Roosevelt and his Civil Affairs divisions were his primary obstacle to power.

Civil Affairs Invades France, June 7, 1944

American OSS agents in de Gaulle’s CFLN had informed Washington of de Gaulle’s plans to seize power during May and June but found their warnings largely ignored. The Free French had made no secret of their intentions. By declaring themselves the “French Provisional Government” in late March and choosing cabinet ministers and other officials on June 3rd, the CFLN-turned-GPRF hoped to manipulate international opinion to the point that its seizure of power would be accepted as the logical culmination of efforts to which the Allies had implicitly agreed.

Eisenhower’s frustration with Roosevelt’s position on the CFLN evolved to a crisis in March. The Allied war chief needed intelligence that only the French could provide. He felt that he could no longer for Washington to make up its mind. He secretly sent for de Gaulle’s liaison officers and met with them about D-Day, without Roosevelt’s approval or knowledge. The Free French meticulously transmitted details of the briefings to Free French headquarters in Algiers.

Despite the fact that both sides of the civil administration controversy knew exactly what was transpiring, the French enjoyed several strategic advantages over the American Civil Affairs men. They had established contacts already in the invasion zone and had orchestrated a widespread propaganda campaign in the American press. Most importantly, they held a vital though immeasurable trump card—they were French where and when being French would mean everything.

On the afternoon of the second day of operation OVERLORD, June 7, 1944, the first Civil Affairs detachments from the British and American Second Army dropped by parachute northwest of Bayeux, the first Norman town to be liberated. During previous actions, such as in Italy, AMGOT men had arrived with the first wave of troops. The bloodletting at Omaha Beach, however, was deemed too fierce.

Although the battle between German gunners in fortified block houses and Allies disembarking from amphibious landing vehicles continued to rage on the 7th, Roosevelt ordered that Civil Affairs be deployed in the second wave to forestall a Gaullist coup d’état. At Normandy, Civil Affairs personnel averaged thirty-five years of age; several officers were older than sixty. There are no casualty figures available specific to the Civil Affairs Division. Upon landing, over 1,000 Civil Affairs soldiers, including about 200 officers, sped to the nearest villages to seize the mairies by fiat. They were ordered to dismiss Vichy mayors who refused to cooperate with them.

The primary reference text for the British section of the Civil Affairs Division, Civil Affairs and You, described the experiences of an AMGOT officer who had landed in Italy. Civil Affairs troops at Normandy were ordered to carry out similar duties:

CA officers will accompany attacking troops in landing craft on invasion day and will proceed right forward on land. They will go into towns and villages the moment they are captured, for it is then that local services will be in chaos, the civil population stunned, and the need for help and control most necessary. The CA officer arrives, having frequently taken part (as in Italy) in a bit of street-fighting first, contacts the mayor and the local head of police, and starts to work. The first thing needed to be done is to make the civilians stay put, and to prevent them from flocking on the roads as refugees; so he sees that nobody moves out of town. He then makes sure that the black-out is in order and enforced, imposes a curfew (stray civilians at night are a nuisance), organizes labour squads, gets the roads clear of debris, the civilian dead buried, sends the wounded away if he can, finds out where food stores are and arranges for them to be guarded, and very often quells a riot. There are certain buildings he wants kept clear of troops, if possible: the police station, the town hall offices, the banks, the telephone exchange and the post office. Papers are often valuable, and if destroyed irreplaceable. The plan of the town drains, the criminal records in the police station (liable to be destroyed by the local bad hat), the register of ration cards issued, and so on.

Civil Affairs troops enforced AMGOT-type actions by heavily relying on the local police and government, even when dominated by Vichy or Nazi sympathizers:

To restore law and order, existing organizations must be the basis. It would need far too many men to build up a completely new organization. It would be impossible, for instance, to put in a complete police force in a foreign country, and quite useless. What can be done is to get a local police force going again and then make certain that it does what the army wants. So civil affairs officers work by indirect control, through the medium of the reconstituted native administration.

The American text, which supersedes but is largely based on the British version, was issued in May 1944 as the definitive text for Civil Affairs personnel in the Allied armies. Civil Affairs priorities as enacted in France were in the following order:

• The restoration and maintenance of law and order
• Assistance to the local population, when possible
• Guarantee of a steady supply of food and other goods
• Coordination of reconstruction projects, using local labor
• Medical care and other relief as necessary

Other principal Civil Affairs polices, which do not substantially deviate from AMGOT as used in Italy, were carried out in Normandy:

_ Priority of military requirements over civil rights
_ Free French liaison officers to relay Allied orders to Gaullist and Resistance forces
_ Military courts to preside over all violations against Allied troops
_ Dissolution of all pro-enemy political parties and organizations
_ Prohibition on political activity
_ Top-level collaborators to be purged from government and business
_ Freedom of movement and association suspended
_ Allied control of local police
_ Restoration of all prewar laws
_ Media and mail censorship
_ Armed protection of archives, monuments and art works
_ Providing food (2,000 calories per person per day)
_ Providing clothing, medical care, fuel, etc.
_ Restoration of utilities, transportation facilities
_ Civilians to be banned from using telephones or mails
_ Wage and price controls
_ General control of economy, including banks, the issuance of occupation francs, audits of government expenditures during wartime
In response to developments during its first three days of action, Civil Affairs added the following three activities in liberated areas:

_ Prevention of looting
_ Food inventories
_ Placement of brothels off-limits to Allied troops

According to French sources, these orders were carried out fully during the first few weeks after the invasion. Adjustments, when they occurred, resulted from Gaullist pressures. French civilians greeted their liberators enthusiastically, but were perplexed by the appearance of “new” money, road blocks, strict curfews and confiscations of private property by Civil Affairs troops. Protests were few, probably because the euphoric population was eager for the restoration of prewar living standards. Many reasoned that liberation had just begun and that maintaining order was absolutely essential to avert a revolution.

The Currency Issue

The controversy over Allied plans to distribute invasion currency, or “occupation francs,” after D-Day became a symbol of Gaullist-American conflicts. On October 6, 1942, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau appointed his right-hand man, Assistant of the Division of Money Resources Harry Dexter White, as the Treasury’s liaison to AMGOT.

Morgenthau was anxious to avoid a French franc fiasco similar to one during World War I. American GI’s in France had been paid their salaries in U.S.-backed francs. When the franc was devalued in response to inflationary pressures in 1919, the payments’ equivalents in U.S. dollars dropped, creating a massive paper loss to the Treasury. Allied troops landing at D-Day would need local money to buy goods and services. Therefore, he planned to issue occupation francs without any U.S. guarantee. The risk of inflation would rest squarely with the French. Even partially-guaranteed occupation currency would create a financial windfall because of the delay between meeting obligations by occupation franc payments and the actual remission of U.S. dollars. The result was a sophisticated war tax on the country to be liberated.

The Free French objected to the issuance of occupation francs on several grounds: that they were clearly printed overseas was a violation of national sovereignty, the absence of de Gaulle’s endorsement would weaken his claim to power and the issuance of money in addition to the money already in circulation would spark runaway inflation in an economy already overburdened by Third Republic banknotes, German Army scrip and black marketeering.

The Allies plainly intended to dump their occupation francs into the French economy and force an as-yet-undetermined postwar French government to make good on them. France would foot the bill for its liberation indirectly.
Negotiations between Morgenthau and CFLN representative Pierre MËndes-France dragged through the spring of 1944. The United States issued a nebulous guarantee on the notes, but de Gaulle never approved their design. Tens of billions of occupation francs were printed at the Treasury between February and May 1944. The American-style (long and thin rather than short and wide) black-and-green notes read only “…mis en France” and featured a picture of the French flag on the reverse with the slogan “Liberté-…galité-Fraternité”.

Without Gaullist approval, 97.3% of the 42,449 Allied troops dispatched to Normandy between June 6th and 9th received occupation franc equivalents of four dollars each. In all, 40 billion occupation francs (out of 80 billion printed) were placed into circulation in liberated sections of northern France during June 1944, in addition to the approximately 600 billion metropolitan francs already in circulation—an increase of more than six percent. Most of the Allied money was in unpopular 500-franc denominations; there were shortages of 50-centime, 1- and 2-franc notes throughout the summer.

Allied troops began spending their occupation francs within days of landing. In response to an urgent communiqué from Morgenthau, a flustered Jean Monnet approved the money “for emergency use only” on June 10th. Roosevelt later referred to Monnet’s approval as evidence of Gaullist complicity with Allied monetary policy, conveniently ignoring that the francs were issued prior to the “approval.” Roosevelt defended his position, noting that D-Day was as good an emergency as any.

The American Embassy in London advised Washington on June 7th that Franco-American relations were at “the breaking point” due to the currency controversy. The Free French took to the airwaves on June 8th, repeatedly referring to the Allied currency as “fausse monnaie,” and issued a formal protest to Washington.

Churchill questioned the design of and payment guarantee on the occupation francs. He feared that the Allies rather than the French might end up paying for the latter’s liberation:

I have now seen the specimens of the notes in question. They do not strike us as very reassuring. They look very easy to forge. Nothing is said on whose responsibility they are issued and who is responsible for redeeming them. Surely there must be some authority behind them. . . Should we let de Gaulle obtain new status as his price for backing these notes or should we take the burden on ourselves for the time being and improve the issue later on and settle up at the peace table where there will be many accounts to be presented?

Eisenhower became increasingly desirous of a monetary policy that would not offend de Gaulle, whose men he required for military intelligence. He attempted to circumvent Washington by discouraging GI spending. The Army encouraged soldiers to send money home to the United States and to buy war bonds. They also set up post exchanges to sell luxury and semi-luxury items. The British War Office authorized the release of 5.5 billion “metropolitan,” or prewar, francs to replace some occupation notes. These steps proved effective; more than 90% of the occupation francs were returned for deposit to Army paymasters by mid-August 1944.

Roosevelt refused to compromise. On June 12th, we declared that he would not accept de Gaulle’s authority over fiscal matters on any level. He told Churchill that the occupation francs were being widely accepted by French shopkeepers, forgery was impossible and he was prepared to issue “yellow seal” and BMA notes which would further depreciate the franc if de Gaulle were to “incite” the French into refusing them. He told a June 13th press gathering that the Allies would accept currency issued by any legitimate French authority, but would not allow “that jackanape” to take over. He claimed that Monnet had approved the notes and blamed the Gaullists for not reaching an agreement with the Allies before D-Day.

The Free French called in favors with their allies in the American press. British and American dailies ran editorials calling for the White House to recognize de Gaulle and immediately withdraw the occupation francs. The French-language press in Algiers played up Roosevelt’s supposed willingness to back the currency, gambling that the President would withdraw them rather than pay dollars for them. On June 9th, Eisenhower advised the Combined Chiefs of Staff that the notes were being considered “manifestations of AMGOT.”

The New York Times reported on June 12th that the Allied francs were “dissimilar from [those] in circulation before the war and contains no imprimatur of any French authority… The self-styled ‘Provisional Government’ not only resents what it regards as an unprecedented violation of sovereignty but is concerned over the possible inflationary effect and anticipates friction between the troops and the populace if the status of the notes is not clarified soon.”

Reports of inflation and shortages of consumer goods appeared within a week. The June 20th Times said that Allied soldiers were paying 120 francs ($2.40) for ten eggs and $9 to $10 per bottle of “inferior wine.” The various types of currency in circulation, including North African francs, had created economic chaos because uniform pricing or rationing had become impossible. Francs were circulating at the rate of 400 per British pound sterling.

French merchants generally accepted the invasion currency after being assured by troops that it was U.S.-backed (it was not). Whether or not they resented it is another matter. When given the choice, they tended to prefer metropolitan francs. French banks maintained separate account records for the two types of money. In order to remove the Allied notes from circulation, GPRF Commissioner François Coulet directed banks to accept deposits in both currencies but to issue payments only in metropolitan francs.

The standoff over the currency issue lasted three weeks. Eisenhower negotiated secretly with the GPRF, culminating with a June 27th verbal agreement. French General Koenig agreed not to discredit the occupation francs. Meanwhile, the Allies began replacing occupation currency with metropolitan francs. Although the controversial money remained in circulation for some time, the U.S. Army discontinued it as legal tender on September 1st. De Gaulle’s press blitz had defeated the U.S. Army.
Civil Affairs’ Attempted Coup

G-5 dispatched its first weekly “Civil Affairs Summary” on June 12th:

202 CADet established BAYEUX 7 JUNE. SOUSPrefect in charge and people co-operative. Food plentiful and health good. Only 8 days med sups available. Currency accepted everywhere.
DE GAULLE undoubtably regarded as leader of liberated FRANCE.
No refugee problem so far.
FUS no report available.

Civil Affairs troops fanned out through the French countryside, setting up road blocks, directing traffic, seizing food, assessing war damage and arranging for the evacuation of injured or malnourished civilians to Army and local hospitals. They patrolled the streets to prevent looting. They gathered the dead for burial, imposed military censorship on local newspapers and satisfied themselves that, for the most part, incumbent mayors would obey Allied officers.

Civil Affairs officers enforced curfews on the national roads and issued driving permits. They seized control of and cleaned local jails, which had badly deteriorated during the Nazi occupation. They reopened post offices, using overprinted Pétain stamps while the U.S. Postal Service produced new ones.
There were shortages of food, shoes and blankets; the U.S. First Army brought these in under Civil Affairs supervision. The Vichy rationing system was continued, but rations were reduced. German saboteurs had flooded 5,000 acres of farmland near Bayeux before retreating; Civil Affairs civil engineers were assigned to drain the land. They also restored electricity and running water by replacing destroyed switching stations.

In some places, G-5 found a complete lack of authority. Near Caen, the Germans had kidnapped the mayor and other officials of La Haye de Puits. Civil Affairs issued orders to the population in the name of the “Allied Military Authority.”

Allied forces found relatively little damage to historical monuments and museums during the first few days of combat. Most art works had been hidden in 1940. Civil Affairs soldiers retrieved and guarded these. Their arrival was too late to prevent the burning of a chateau at Lasson and a church at Norrey.

Normandy was an agriculturally rich region of France and its inhabitants had not suffered from starvation during the occupation. Ironically, Allied bombings of train lines had stopped food exports to the rest of the country, creating a massive food surplus and low prices. The situation was radically worse thirty miles inland.

At Cherbourg civil administrators collaborated with French businessmen to reopen an employment office, generally to provide civilian labor for Allied restoration projects.

Vichy-era laws deemed useful were retained. A January 6, 1944 law providing allowances to war refugees was upheld under Civil Affairs authority.
Civil Affairs detachments with agricultural expertise found themselves evacuating cattle from battle zones. They also cared for farm animals wounded by mines and stray bullets. They cleared farms of mines and guarded abandoned farmhouses.

Medical teams treated prostitutes during a typhus outbreak. They also deloused civilians and distributed scarce drugs to French physicians.
The educational section seized schoolhouses to quarter Allied troops and announced that the traditional beginning of the school year on October 1st would be postponed indefinitely. Former American high school teachers worked through the summer to delete “objectionable Vichy passages” from textbooks.

Caen was the first real challenge to the Civil Affairs Division. The city had been almost completely levelled by Allied bombings, during which 20,000 of the city’s 50,000 people had fled. Of the remaining 30,000, 17,000 had been wounded or killed. An original plan to transport food and medical supplies by rail from Omaha Beach had to be abandoned due to the wrecked rail lines. British Civil Affairs officers were forced to request their Gaullist liaison officers to arrange relief supplies from further inland through the Resistance. The Free French were frequently invited to supervise civil administration in regions where they had failed to seize it in advance.

Civil Affairs reported that conflicts between the French and Americans arose over occupation francs, the Allied-backed black market and troops’ rowdy behavior, respectively. The Allied civil administrators strived conscientiously to follow their directives, usually without the language or interpersonal skills necessary to make themselves understood. These policies—martial law, suspension of civil liberties, seizure of private property—realized the Gaullists’ worst fears. Sources in the liberated zone advised Free French officers in London that “AMGOT” was in full swing.

François Coulet

The CFLN Commissaire de la République for Normandy, François Coulet, was de Gaulle’s secret weapon in his war against Allied Military Government. Coulet was a sophisticated, witty former diplomat who had become de Gaulle’s aide-de-camp after helping to counteract AMGOT in Corsica. On June 5th, the original D-Day date, de Gaulle was advised by Eisenhower that the Allied landing was at hand. De Gaulle’s intended Regional Commissioner, the man charged with establishing a Gaullist political foothold in France, was Henri Bordeau de Fontenay, but he was trapped behind enemy lines and could not reach Normandy in time. A sudden storm delayed D-Day to the next day and de Gaulle decided to appoint the fiercely loyal Coulet instead.

De Gaulle brought Coulet with him during his unauthorized visit to Normandy on June 13th via the destroyer La Combattante. The Gaullists paraded briefly through Bayeux before dropping Coulet off at the mairie to take charge. Coulet’s mission: “Coulet will arrive at the liberated zone as soon as possible and will begin exercising his duties. If I [de Gaulle] arrive in France as I expect, I will bring Coulet along and leave him in place where he will manage as best he can. . .”

Coulet created a precedent for Gaullist mini-coups. They planned to seize France village by village in a wave matching the Allied advance. Coulet ordered the Free French to provide enough cooperation to satiate the Allies while subtly usurping their civil administration. Actions against such Civil Affairs policies as the occupation francs not only removed barriers to the exercise of Gaullist power but also showed the world that they were willing and able to act as a governing body.

Six CFLN members, including Allied-Free French liaison officer Pierre Laroque, accompanied Coulet to Bayeux as fighting with German forces continued south of the city. His first act was to fire the Pétainist mayor and subprefect. Laroque advised Coulet against overtly condemning the occupation francs to avoid offending the Allies.

On June 15th, Coulet issued a proclamation urging civilians to cooperate with Allied troops while declaring that he represented “the rights of French sovereignty.” The next day he called a press conference at which he fended pointed questions about his legitimacy with a lethal combination of self-confidence, arrogance and humor.

Coulet Captures Normandy

On June 19th the Allies decided to confront the Gaullists who had seized the local government of Bayeux at gunpoint. Possibly at Roosevelt’s request, Churchill dispatched U.S. Second Army Brigadier General R.M.H. Lewis, four or five officers from the British 21st Army Group and officers under General Omar Bradley’s U.S. First Army to Bayeux’s mairie. When it became clear that they did not intend to leave, Lewis accepted the Gaullists “provisionally.” Nonetheless, he advised them that they would remain only as long as the Allies wanted them there. Coulet slammed his fist on his desk, shouting that his authority came from the Provisional French Government—not from the Allies. He noted that the French had never interfered with the Allies and that the Allies should therefore return the favor. Lewis remained silent and left.

A second encounter occurred on July 9th. Coulet met with Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Montgomery, whereupon the Englishman spoke pidgin English to explain the Allied position on the occupation francs (“It’s good money, understand? Our money, good money. . .”). Coulet, who spoke English fluently, was more bemused than insulted. When French General Koenig informed Montgomery that Coulet was Protestant, Montgomery immediately altered his attitude. He left the meeting addressing Coulet as “Mr. High Commissioner.” Coulet remarked in 1966: “During wartime it can sometimes be advantageous to belong to the Protestant faith.”

The Franco-Allied showdown proved to the Allies that the French were not only eager to assume civil administration, but that their exclusion would create formidable political difficulties. In his memoirs de Gaulle credited Coulet with preventing AMGOT-like rule over France almost single-handedly. It should be noted, however, that Coulet’s willingness to cooperate with most Civil Affairs Division policies allowed him to selectively oppose those facets of Allied policy that the Free French deemed most onerous. For example, Coulet issued a sweeping directive to Rouen-area mayors on July 6th calling for compliance with Civil Affairs on the confiscation of photographic equipment, carrier pigeons and firearms, blackouts, curfews, restrictions on movement, road blocks six kilometers outside each village and the forced evacuation of women and children from battle zones. After he announced his intention of reinstating the pro-Vichy subprefect of Bayeux elsewhere, the Communists accused him of treating collaborators as laxly as Civil Affairs. Nonetheless, Civil Affairs reported that “M. Coulet has tended to by-pass Civil Affairs units and has cooperated with them to only a limited extent.”

Coulet’s men seized the legal initiative on June 26th. They encouraged the Consultative Assembly to revoke Vichy racial laws and disband right-wing organizations. Civil Affairs had intended to effect these actions after the liberation of Paris. The Gaullists took over other functions as well: they appointed new officials, requisitioned goods and services and censored newspapers. They zealously appointed new mayors, in some case two per town. One example of the chaotic political situation was the Chasseurs resistance group’s habit of arresting Civil Affairs-appointed mayors in the mistaken belief that they were Vichyites attempting a reverse coup. By usurping rather than thwarting the roles of Allied civil administrators, the Gaullists provided de facto approval of their activities.

Colonel Pierre Chevigne, Coulet’s military counterpart, seized control of the Norman police by ordering the Gendarmerie not to arrest anyone based on Allied requests without Free French approval. He prohibited arrests unless the offenses involved were covered under French as well as Allied military law.

Coulet’s men infiltrated the French judiciary to invalidate the Civil Affairs Division’s military courts. The first military tribunal convened on July 4th in Bayeux under Free French control. Two “enemy agents” were sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. Coulet refused Allied requests to seat Civil Affairs judges, but permitted a British Civil Affairs attorney to observe the proceedings. In August the Gaullists put several accused spies to death, a shocked Civil Affairs officer reported to London, but optimistically noted that “indications are that French courts will prosecute vigorously offenses against U.S. forces.”

Gaullist economic actions included limiting bank withdrawals and fixing prices. They ordered banks to seize deposits belonging to accused collaborators.
A wave of similar actions swept eastward with the German retreat. De Gaulle had named Resistance agents already on location to seize control of each village as it was liberated. They simply awaited the first signs of battle and entered the mairies during the ensuing confusion. For those appointees dispatched with the French Army, the situation was more dangerous since they had to cross enemy lines, but the process of sneaking into town halls amid the chaos of battle was similar. In Rouen, the Gaullist-designated Commissioner entered the prefecture, arrested the prefect single-handedly, read his nomination proclamation to the assistants and started work during the afternoon of August 3rd. The Germans were still packing their property downstairs in the same building. Most of these mini-coups were peaceful; the outgoing Vichyites seemed to accept the end of their régime with more relief than hostility.

De Gaulle’s Coup D’état

Roosevelt began to capitulate due to pressures from the British Government, the American press and key American figures like Eisenhower and Hull after the Allied landing on June 6th failed to produce a French group more palatable to his tastes than the Gaullists. In response to Civil Affairs reports of the Free French leader’s popularity, Roosevelt invited de Gaulle to Washington on June 9th. However, the American president noted, it would not be considered a state visit. Roosevelt still did not consider de Gaulle the leader of France. On June 13th The New York Times called for recognition of de Gaulle in its lead editorial:

Despite the arrangements announced last week for General de Gaulle to visit President Roosevelt in the near future, American relationships with the French Committee of National Liberation remain unsatisfactory. If there were any other French agency, in France or outside France, which had stood for resistance since June, 1940, as General de Gaulle’s movement actually has, some hesitation in making a choice would be natural. But, as far as we know, there is no such agency. . .The practical facts of the situation are that civil administration must be restored in France and that the choice will lie between those who fought for freedom during the occupation, meaning largely de Gaulle and his underground allies, and those who did not. . .

Roosevelt told a June 13th press conference that “he saw no change in this country’s relations with the French Committee.” The next day, however, he issued a secret personal directive to General Marshall that advised him of the Free French movement’s vital role. Roosevelt retroactively approved de Gaulle’s visit to France on the 13th, but cautioned that U.S. support should remain secret. This June 14th communiqué is the first known evidence of American willingness to acknowledge the de facto involvement of the Gaullists in French civil administration:

It is my thought that we should make full use of any organization or influence that de Gaulle may possess and that will be of advantage to our military effort provided that we do not by force of our arms impose him upon the French people as the Government of France. After all, over 99 percent of the area of France is still in German hands. Therefore, there does not appear to be any objection to de Gaulle’s visit to France as arranged by the British Government without consulting the U.S.

The June 14th cable was the first of a series of decisions which led to eventual U.S. recognition of de Gaulle’s de facto authority over civil administration on July 11th, a formal civil affairs agreement on August 25th, an American mission in Paris on September 3rd and formal recognition of the French Provisional Government on October 23rd. The discovery of this communication resolves speculation about the exact date of Roosevelt’s first willingness to accept de Gaulle; previous estimates placed the time as no earlier than the 19th.

Postwar Implications of Civil Affairs Policy on France

It is fair to say that the U.S. intended to treat liberated France about the same as Italy in 1943 and Japan in 1945. Allied Civil Affairs troops failed to impose military government on its former ally, but only because of Gaullist interference. The presence of an internationally acknowledged resistance organization ready to assume the reins of power upon liberation did nothing to alter the Roosevelt Administration’s view of France as a purely collaborationist nation. France might have paid a high price for this American perspective. Its civil liberties would have been suspended up to a year. It might have been governed by a postwar pro-American puppet régime, a politically emasculated country stripped of full control over many of its colonies.

The U.S. atavistically jeopardized the French economy by deliberately devaluating the franc and attempting to force the French to bear the costs of their own liberation. Allied armies distributed U.S.-printed occupation currency, an act which the Gaullists perceived as a snub to national pride that even the Germans had not imposed. The U.S. annulled French laws without appropriate action by a French legal body, imposed military courts on civilian offenses, enforced martial law, confiscated both public and private property, enacted censorship beyond wartime exigencies, dissolved political organizations and retained Vichy collaborators in office. Although the AMGOT nomenclature disappeared in early 1944, its organization and policies remained virtually intact within the Civil Affairs Division.

Eisenhower’s Allied Expeditionary Force tried its best to exclude the Free French and the Resistance from a role in civil administration for weeks after D-Day, even when the official anti-Gaullist position appeared untenable. Only after numerous forceful actions undertaken by Gaullist operatives did Civil Affairs begin to act as assistants to the French rather than the reverse. Ultimately, however, the Roosevelt Administration yielded to pro-Gaullist press coverage, American and French public opinion polls, and British and American military concerns. The civil affairs controversy revealed that military leaders were willing to circumvent political aims in order to pursue purely military goals, even to the point of disregarding orders. These realities forced Roosevelt to issue his landmark June 14th statement on Free French political involvement—an act which led to a fading role for Allied Civil Affairs during the summer of 1944.

French-American relations remained strained for some time after World War II. Gaullist views of American policy soon became French popular opinion. To make things worse, de Gaulle thought that the United States had imposed military government without British consent. The French Government flirted briefly with the Soviets in late 1944. The American press took Roosevelt to task for these developments.

A few token gestures might have forestalled the growth of postwar anti-Americanism in France: including de Gaulle in D-Day planning, placing his name on the occupation francs, inviting him to Washington earlier. American policy was characterized by hesitancy, delays and inconsistencies. It is remarkable that, despite these blunders, postwar France was ruled by a relatively pro-American, non-Communist régime. Perversely, Civil Affairs’ inability to fully enact its mission permitted the salvage of some French goodwill.

The United States has not altered its civil affairs policies substantially since 1945. The Pentagon continues to maintain a Civil Affairs Division for duties similar to those handled by Allied troops at Normandy. When U.S. troops invade foreign soil, they deploy Civil Affairs squadrons to care for the wounded, to begin rebuilding and to seize control of the local civil apparatus. They played significant roles in recent U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama and Kuwait. Since February 1991, Civil Affairs has supervised the capping of oil well fires, written regulations for the police, helped placate the population (even assisting in arrests of Kuwaitis suspected of pro-Iraqi collaboration) and repaired damaged structures. Civil Affairs controlled the vast refugee camps for Kurdish rebels in Iraq and cordoned off a section of Iraq for this purpose. Their lawyers have convinced the ruling Emir to slowly restructure the Kuwaiti Government in accordance with U.S. legal precedent. Most importantly, Civil Affairs ensures the maintenance of pro-American governments in countries where they serve.

The Civil Affairs concept is the embodiment of what is perceived abroad as American imperialism. Its central premise—that the civil situation should not disintegrate into chaos during U.S. military actions—is fundamentally sound. But national consciousness has a long memory. The wholesale suspension of civil rights, the attempted creation of pro-American puppet states and economic opportunism naturally results in long-term resentment and the promulgation of nationalistic movements. In an era of nuclear proliferation, these are foreign policy side effects that a weary superpower can ill afford.

Glossary of Abbreviations

AMGOT: Allied Military Government of Occupied Territories, a subdivision of the U.S. War Department which handled U.S. civil affairs planning from early 1942 to late 1944

AT(E): Administration of Territories (Europe), a subdivision of the British War Cabinet which handled British civil affairs planning from early 1942 to late 1944

CCS: Combined Chiefs of Staff, the U.S.-British predecessor to the contemporary U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

CFLN: Comité Français de la Libération Nationale (French Committee of National Liberation), the London- and Algiers-based political body of the Free French headed by General Charles de Gaulle

G-5: Civil Affairs Division of Allied Armies, the almagamated body formed by AMGOT and AT(E) which handled Allied civil affairs planning and enforcement from January 1944 to the end of World War II and is now solely American

GPRF: Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Française (French Provisional Government), successor body of CFLN declared in June 1944

Important Dates

June 18: De Gaulle’s BBC speech urging French resistance
June 21: Franco-German armistice signed, effective June 25
September 24: CFLN formally established in London

December 7: Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. enters World War II

February: AT(E) established by British
May: AMGOT school established at Charlottesville, Virginia
July 3: British acknowledge CFLN as “symbol of French resistance,” U.S. on July 9
November 8: Allied landing in Morocco and Algeria, AMGOT applied sporadically

February: First Civil Affairs Agreement between Norway and Great Britain
May: Quebec Conference decides D-Day will occur in 1944
May 8: Roosevelt says France should get harsh military occupation
May 27: Pre-CFLN CNR formed in Algiers with Jean Moulin as president
June 7: CFLN officially formed in Algiers, de Gaulle and Giraud share presidency
July 10: Allies land in Sicily; first full application of AMGOT
September: AMGOT absorbs AT(E)
September 17: Allied-French landing at Corsica
September 24: Signing of Dunn-Wright Agreement
October: First Civil Affairs Handbooks prepared
November: Giraud deposed; de Gaulle escalates anti-AMGOT planning

January 21: Civil Affairs establishes base in Algiers for southern France
February: Civil Affairs placed under Allied Expeditionary Force
February – May: U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving prints occupation
francs; negotiations between CFLN and U.S. over currency
March 27: De Gaulle mentions “French Provisional Government”
June 3: French Provisional Government officially formed in Algiers
June 4-5: De Gaulle visits London, is briefed about D-Day
June 6: D-Day, Allies land near Bayeux in Normandy
June 7: Civil Affairs detachments parachute into battle zone
June 8: Cherbourg liberated by Allies
June 9: Eisenhower announces nominal CFLN role in French civil administration; Roosevelt invites de Gaulle to Washington
June 13: De Gaulle visits Normandy, brings François Coulet
June 14: Roosevelt issues secret directive accepting CFLN civil administration role
June 19: First Allied challenge to Gaullist authority at Bayeux; British-French talks
June 27: Occupation francs repealed
July 7-8: De Gaulle visits Washington
July 11: Allies recognize de facto status of CFLN civil administration
August 15: Allied invasion of Provence in southern France
August 22: Civil Affairs post at Algiers disbanded
August 25: Paris liberated by French Army; Civil Affairs Agreement for S. France
September 8: U.S. mission to Paris established
October 23: Joint British-American recognition of French Provisional Government
November 4: Roosevelt reelected to a fourth term
December 10: Franco-Soviet pact signed


Archival Sources:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N.Y.: Diaries of Henry Morgenthau,
Jr.; Roosevelt Personal Diaries; Office of Strategic Services Memoranda
National Archives, Washington, D.C.: Records of the Foreign Service of the
Department of State; France, Paris Mission; Political Advisor to SHAEF (Record
Group 84)

Contemporary Sources:

The New York Times, 1942 – 1945

Other Sources:

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Paris: Robert Laffont, 1989.
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(C) 1991 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved