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Lesson of the Paris Massacre

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Once again, free fire zones have turned into shooting galleries, this time in Paris.  On November 13, 2015, Islamic militants struck six sites in Paris almost simultaneously killing 129 people, and injuring some 350 more with bullets and explosives.  (These figures may change as better estimates become available.)  Some were killed and wounded in drive-by shootings as they sat at restaurants, cafes, and night clubs.  At one site,  the Bataclan concert hall, four attackers with rifles and explosives burst in on 1,500 spectators and started shooting.  Most of the spectators escaped.  One hundred who didn’t were held hostage.  Eventually, 89 people were killed inside the concert hall, many shot one at a time, before French security forces could end the standoff.

The French are descendants of the ferocious Franks who conquered most of Gaul from the Romans, Visigoths, and other tribes during the latter part of the fifth century A.D.  A coalition of Germanic tribes, they were mostly farmers by trade where every able bodied male was also a warrior.  Under various tribal leaders, they developed a militia force of a quality not seen since the early Roman republic.  During W.W. II, the French had one of the most effective underground resistance movements in occupied Europe.  Yet today France, like all of Europe except Switzerland, has very restrictive gun control laws.  Private possession of handguns is prohibited with only narrow exemptions, which accounts for why no one was armed among the spectators in the concert hall or elsewhere.

Since W.W. II, the French have been acclimated to depend on state security forces for their personal protection, giving them a false sense of security.  No matter how effective state forces may be, they cannot protect everyone everywhere at all times from all dangers.   In a society where individuals are accustomed to taking responsibility for their own defense, one would expect that among a crowd of 1,500, there would be a number of people who would be armed.  If a dozen, or even a half dozen at the concert had been armed with concealed handguns and trained to use them effectively, it is doubtful that the four terrorists would have caused the carnage they did.  Instead, they would have received fire from different directions at the same time as, according to witnesses, they initially stood shoulder to shoulder making themselves easy targets.  But as Lenin has been credited with saying, “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.”  So it was that evening with the usual tragic consequences.

The French started their national existence as warriors of exceptional courage, discipline, and skill.  The founders and core of the Knights Templar were Franks.  The order’s military arm was known for its fearlessness and ferocity in battle.  It was the elite fighting force of its day during the crusades of the 12th century.  The French maintained this reputation as resistance fighters during German occupation of their country during W.W. II.  With such lineage, one would expect more from the French.  But after W.W. II, they become a nation of sheep, and as Benjamin Franklin warned correctly, “Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.” 

Who is at fault?  It is easy to blame the government of France.  But where people elect their rulers, governments reflect the electorate.  In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the character Cassius remarks to Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves. . . .”   Once again, Shakespeare has it right!

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    Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer with undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Duke University, respectively.