The October 2008 article “American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman” gathered more than two hundred comments and will be past a hundred thousand visits by most reasonable accounts before the year ends (see 2008 traffic and 2009 traffic). I though that translating this piece would surely raise some interest, but I never expected it to be that much. More than one year later it is still sparking interest among citizens of the United States. During the Bush era, the image of France among the right wing in the United States seems to have suffered a lot, and as a result a lot of people have been genuinely surprised to read an article that showed that in spite of the politics we actually manage to work together with cordial relationships.
One year later, I am still receiving mail asking about the source of the article, from readers who enquire about its authenticity. Considering the unofficial reactions from members of the French armed forces and from readers with interests in the defense community, I have a rather good certitude about the authenticity of the original essay. With the source blog defunct and having lost touch with the original author who was not seeking public exposure and only made a couple of fleeting comments before disappearing from the media landscape, I am unable to prove anything. The author went by the pseudonym of “Merlin” and his blog was called “Le Blog de Merlin” at http://omlt3-kdk3.over-blog.com. The disappearance of the original article’s page is also a pity because that is where I exchanged comments with the author.
I do not believe that the author ever thought that his blog would get noticed significantly, even in France. It was featured in a well known blog by Jean-Dominique Merchet, a military journalist at the French daily “Liberation” who has an excellent reputation for reliability – it is his post that got the ball rolling. The original author probably does not even realize now how many American blogs and forums have been discussing his article.
Since then I have lost track of him and I do not know his real name : though military blogging is rather common in the United States, it is still quite alien to the more conservative culture of the French defense community, so it seems that most military-related people in France prefer the pseudonymous discussions in forums to the more public exposure of blogs and even there they won’t take much risks in expressing themselves – the French army is not nicknamed “la grande muette” (“the great silent”) for nothing. This rarity may be one of the reasons why this humble piece of French first hand account of recent events won such attention. But no one here expected this – to us cheese-eating surrender monkeys, the United States of America are always full of surprises !
Of course, as it benefits our relationship and the image of France in the United States, the original article and even my translation could have been an elaborate psyop by the French government. Or it could be the work of shadowy pro-French non-governmental propaganda outfits. Or a fake by someone who wants everyone to believe in one of those two hypothesis in order to later appear as exposing the evil scheming French. At that point, we enter the realm of conspiracy theories and I’m sure that some will have a great time speculating about it. But from where I sit, there is coherent case for this story to be just what it appears to be : a simple account of good working relationships.