Old Wall of the Week: Maginot Line

[This content recycled from my now mothballed website, excitablemedia.com.]

Granted, I lead a charmed life. For example, a few years back I was lucky enough spend Christmas with the patriarch of the last remaining Jewish family in the French town of Niederbron-les-Bains, a short, boisterous, mustachioed Frenchman who, along with his dog Rattatouille, gave me a personal tour of the infamous Maginot line. He led us out of town towards the borderland foothills and gestured toward the half-submerged concrete bunker, with a sweep of his hand describing the intricate tunnel system deep under the earth.

[M'sieu Maginot.]

As m'sieu explained, the fortifications owed their existence to French military establishment philosophy during the great Wilsonian League-of-Nations era. The post-war theorists believed that defense was the best offense, and that the breathtaking technological groundswell meant the obsolesence of aggressive warfare. After a number of committee analyses, the French government, led by Joffre, Petain, and Maginot, created a special body called the Commission for Organization of Walled Region (the unfortunate acronymn: COWR), and charged it with building a vast network of deep tunnels over 100 km in length that would be interspersed with 339 large fortress guns and various smaller concrete bunkers. The fortifications extended eventually along much of the German and Italian border, and by the time 1935 rolled around the Gauls had an impressive 3 billion Franc wall aimed squarely at their militant neighbors.

Of course everyone knows the story of what happened next. The Nazi army simply went around the wall, and throughout the devestating annhiliation of the next few years the Maginot line was largely ignored. Those entrusted with its care, wearing the especial insignia of the Maginot uniform, waited in vain for an opportunity to use their highly modern artillery, but sadly, the accuracy of their 300 kg panoramic targeting periscopes went largely untested. After the fall of France, certain stubborn lieutenants stayed proudly in their holes, Saddaming themselves underground, refusing to surrender to either peer pressure or the German army, knowing that there was enough food down there to last a great many years.

[Undergrowth overgrowth.]

After all the bombs were dropped and peace finally came, the French coalition, displaying a bit of nostalgic defiance, refurbished some of their unused battlements, sprucing up the Maginot tunnels and oiling the ammunition feeding mechanisms. This lasted until nuclear weapons, when the wall was abandoned. Some of the battlements were converted to tourist attractions, some were dismantled, but most of the underground concrete wall was left to rot, and to this day sits quietly to the East of the Ardennes while French and German businessmen speed their Mercedes' over the border, without pause.


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