CROSSFIRES, a Croix de Feu France that might have been
This is a Narrative AAR
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What do the Croix de Feu want, what can they accomplish ? A question that few people ask in 1934
While I have always been an avid reader of alternate history, I always felt protected from the temptation to try my hand at writing some myself by the lack of an adequate writing tool and an appropriate medium. So, under the severe gaze of these two watchguards, I lived happily, reading even more history books and playing even more wargames.
That is, I USED to live happily. And then, one day, I stumbled upon Hearts of Iron 2 and upon this forum, and all sense of safety quickly dissolved. The tool was there, and so was the medium. I could no longer procrastinate, and I now had to risk public ridicule by dabbling into alternate history myself.
So here it is, an essay at what might have been. Having decided to write, I'll honestly try to make it worth your time, which, in my humble opinion, means this AAR shouldn't be some form of essay about "How France single-handedly conquered the world, her leaders always predicting their enemies' every move and her soldiers dispatching every possible threat with Hollywood-like efficiency and style". It is my humble opinion that alternate history should be like real life history, a heady mixture of both bravery and cowardice, brilliance and blunders, sincerity and hypocrisy. It is also my humble wish that you'll enjoy it. If not, let's agree beforehand that will be my fault entirely.
Now, before starting a few words about that 1930s France that, judging from other AARs, seems to generate such emotional response.
The 1930s are for France a time of great peril. The country has bled white for four years in a senseless war that began with an assassin's single shot in Sarajevo and ended up in some attempt to commit mass suicide by European powers. One million and a half Frenchmen have died in the trenches, the youngest and quite often the brightest France had. Five million more have been wounded, having lost limbs, been disfigured, or suffered in their flesh in these 4 years of endless, mindless war. The sacrifice has been horrendous for a country of 39 million inhabitants, and the survivors now want to know their sacrifice has served some purpose.
The 1930s are a time of great peril. After organizing some victory parades and establishing a sanitary cordon of friendly states around Germany, the French government has gone back to its pre-1914 games of toppling Cabinets over the flimsiest of excuses. The burden of taking care of the country has largely been left to a dedicated but old-fashioned corps of civil servants and officers, and the questions rising from the population are being left unanswered. As for foreign policy, the watchword changes with every new government, and as a result European nations get wary of allying too closely with an increasingly fickle France.
The 1930s are a time of great peril. Resentment against the governments and the institutions runs deep among the French population. The price of war has been paid in full by the French citizens, and they now want reassurances things will never be the same again. Some want reforms. Some want restorations. Some want revolutions. Communism has taken root in France, where the workers feel they had to bleed in the trenches only so they could be bled again at the workshop. Others feel the Republic is the source of all problems and evils and should be disposed of, but they quarrel about whether to establish a strong totalitarian state, a cold and competent technocracy, or the rightful Bourbon heir to the throne, whoever that might be. Reformers from every political party see the writing on the wall : barring some deep changes, France might once again be gripped by social unrest, violence and insurrection.
The 1930s are a time of great peril. The Great Alliance that barely defeated the Central Powers lies in shambles. Italy, once an ally, now wants a cut of the French colonial empire. So does Japan, another ally of the last war. Russia, once France's most important ally, is now suffering under strict Stalinist rule and secretly conspires with Germany to weaken Western democracies. The United States, whose intervention was the final straw that broke the back of Prussian camel, now has retired from the world, dealing with an economic crisis and a public opinion which does not want to be embroiled in another foreign war. Great Britain still stands, but like France has paid a terrible price in the Great War, in terms of life, gold, and prestige. Its commitment to enforcing European peace remains to be seen. And Germany ? Germany is on the rise again, her 70 million inhabitants now led by a strange and intense man almost nobody saw coming, and almost nobody sees where he's leading Europe to.
Yes, the 1930s are indeed times of great peril. Immensely powerful forces are on the move. Great powers are awakening from their uneasy sleep. Time is running short, and France might soon get caught in the crossfire.