Synopsis: The French Capital fell on June 14th, 1941 after German forces launched their lightning war (Blitzkrieg) against and around inadequate French defenses. Here are three lessons learned that can help modern investors trying to hold the line against an army of worries.
The old man took a long drag of his Gauloise cigarette, the ash growing impossibly long in his gnarled hand and wrinkled fingers. It was June, but he wore a sweater, feeling cold despite the season, and the café was unnaturally quiet except for the rumble of what sounded like thunder in the distance, growing ever closer.
“What news?” he asked. The papers had stopped days ago. To deprive a Parisian of his newspaper was like taking a limb and the old man felt adrift. His companion was a younger man who waited tables at the café and, though it was closed, had come anyway because he could think of nothing else to do.
“Just rumors and stories. They say the Maginot Line has broken.” An impressive looking line of fortifications, the Maginot Line was built on the French border with Switzerland, Luxembourg and Germany to deter an invasion by the latter.
He waved the comment away. “A relic of the last war. Is it not so?” The line did not extend to the English Channel to avoid giving offense to neutral Belgium. And if the rumors were true, the Germans had simply dashed around the Maginot Line and rolled it up like a cigarette paper.
“Indeed. They say our army surrendered at Compiegne. The same place as the 1918 armistice. Their Little Corporal doesn’t lack a sense of history, does he?”
“He lacks much else.”
The thunder was now a constant rumble and the men looked up to see all manner of vehicles humming down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Military trucks with German markings raced ahead of open staff cars flying the flags of the Reich. And there, in the middle, was the Little Corporal, now Chancellor of Germany and conqueror of France, serenely taking in the spectacle as his army occupied Paris.
“It would appear the rumors are true,” the old man deadpanned.
They were quiet for a time, watching the vehicles and marching soldiers who followed. The young man said: "There is a story going around. You know, there is a marker, a great stone thing in Compiegne. It reads: Here on The Eleventh Of November 1918 Succumbed the Criminal Pride of The German Empire... Vanquished by The Free Peoples Which It Tried to Enslave."
“I know. I have family in Compiegne. I’ve seen it.” He exhaled a long plume of smoke toward the soldiers on the street.
“Hitler was, of course, furious. But he conducted the negotiations, brought France to her knees and on his way out, said to his thugs: blow it up. And they did. Just like that.” He snapped a finger for emphasis.
The old man furrowed his ancient brow, then spat. “So, now we have no past as well as no future?”
“C’est la vie, non?” The young man shrugged. “We must endure.”
Indeed, that is life. And it would go on, though the struggle would be real and the consequences often dire. The café would reopen in a few days with a distinctly different clientele, mostly German officers who drank much and tipped poorly or not at all. And it would be three long years before the city was liberated, the papers arrived uncensored and the Germans were on the run. But endure they did. Here are a few lines about the Maginot to help you endure as well.
1. A partially applied plan isn’t worth much. Lacking a fully formed plan? You may end up lacking much else. Whether it is defending your frontier from invasion or executing a long-term investment plan, you have to go all the way. Any holes you leave due to inattention or lack of knowledge have the potential to be exposed at the wrong time.
2. Sometimes you need a little help from your friends. You can recover from bad decisions and tactical errors through patience and with assistance. The Allies helped liberate Paris in 1944 after testing their strategy and tactics in the Mediterranean. Be patient and don’t be afraid to ask for help from those who have developed their expertise.
3. Fighting the last war won’t get you far. Generals, politicians and other strategists demonstrate a host of cognitive biases in their decision making that lead them to prepare for the last war instead of the next one. Trench fortifications and static warfare were so 1917. Find yourself fearing delinquent debts and bank blow ups? Stop fighting the last war and focus on the future.