Jean-Marie Le Pen: Self-portrait of a vulgar but at times erudite politician

Grand-daddy of Europe’s extreme right publishes his first memoirs and takes a parting shot at his daughter

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s memoirs are a journey into France’s tormented history, particularly the second World War and decolonisation.  Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s memoirs are a journey into France’s tormented history, particularly the second World War and decolonisation. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

 

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the grand-daddy of extreme right-wing movements in Europe, published the first, 400-page volume of his memoirs on March 1st. It is Le Pen’s way of orchestrating his exit, four months before his 90th birthday.

It’s also a parting shot against his daughter Marine, two weeks before she changes the name of the Front National at a party congress from which Le Pen has been excluded.

Le Pen’s memoirs are a journey into France’s tormented history, particularly the second World War and decolonisation. They are also a self-portrait of a truculent, vulgar and at times erudite politician. By the time Le Pen retires from the European Parliament next year, his political career will have spanned 63 years.

The old reprobate regrets nothing. He repeats the obsessive provocations that sometimes landed him in court and led to the final rupture with Marine: defence of Maréchal Philippe Pétain, the leader of the Vichy collaborationist regime; contempt for General Charles de Gaulle; the contention that the Holocaust was a “detail of history” and that the German occupation was “not particularly inhumane;” and the justification of torture during the 1954-1962 Algerian war.  

Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s far-right National Front political party, holds his book of memoirs in Montrerout, France. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters
Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of France’s far-right National Front political party, holds his book of memoirs in Montrerout, France. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

The book, Fils de la Nation was supposed to stop at 1972, the year Le Pen co-founded the FN with the neo-Fascist group Ordre nouveau. He promises a sequel for the autumn. But it nonetheless sheds light on his King Lear-like struggle with his youngest daughter, Marine.

In 1985, Le Pen recounts, on the day Libération newspaper headlined “tortured by Le Pen,” he told Marine not to go to school. “She went anyway,” he writes proudly. “And her girlfriends applauded her when she entered the classroom. She has guts.”

Addams Family-like atmosphere

That admiration turned to mortal combat when Marine attempted to “undemonise” her father’s party, which she took over in 2011. “Birds drive their chicks from the nest to make them fly on their own wings,” Le Pen writes. “In the Le Pen family, it’s the opposite. The chicklet threw the old eagle out of his eyrie to become an adult.”

Alluding to Marine’s defeat in last year’s presidential election, Le Pen says, “She’s been punished enough, so I won’t add to it. The main thing I feel for her is pity.”

The death of Marine’s favourite cat is typical of the Addams Family-like atmosphere that reigns in the Le Pen clan. In 2015, Le Pen’s two big black dogs, Sergeant and Major, killed Marine’s favourite cat, Artemis, at Montretout, the family estate west of Paris. Marine wept for days and finally moved away from home, at the age of 46.

The death of Artemis, as retold by Le Pen, absolves him and his dogs. He no longer lives in Montretout, but uses it as his office, he writes. Sergeant and Major are not his dogs, but guard dogs for the property. “Anyway, the cat was already three-quarters dead after falling out of a tree. The dogs merely finished it off by playing with it like a plush toy.”

Battle of Algiers

Le Pen addresses long-standing allegations that he committed torture as a paratrooper in the Foreign Legion during the Battle of Algiers in similarly cavalier fashion. In November 1962, he told the newspaper Combat, “I have nothing to hide. We tortured in Algeria because we had to.”

Today, Le Pen says “we” referred to the French army, not him personally. “Yes, there were special, rough, interrogations,” he continues. “People called it torture. We should define the word. . . Is twisting an arm torture? Dunking a head in a bucket? Then yes, the French army did it, to obtain information during the Battle of Algiers, but it used the least violent means possible: blows, la gégène (electricity) and la baignoire (water-boarding), but no mutilation.”

Le Pen urges readers to have pity on the poor torturers. “It is more than ridiculous, it is perverse, it is profoundly immoral, to cast opprobrium on men who had the courage to use brutal methods which weighed upon them, which cost them, under orders, to obtain information that saved civilians.”

Hitler Youth dagger

Le Pen filed defamation suits against newspapers that accused him of torture. He lost his appeal against Le Monde in 2005, when the newspaper interviewed Mohamed Cherif Moulay, who at the age of 12 watched Lieut Le Pen and his unit burst into the family home in the Casbah. They beat and tortured his father Ahmed Moulay (42) to death with electricity.

A steel Hitler Youth dagger inscribed with the words “JM Le Pen, 1er REP” was presented in court. Moulay said Le Pen lost it on the night of his father’s murder. The paratroopers came back twice looking for it. In his memoirs, Le Pen dismisses the dagger as “rubbish, rubbish” and a “political machination against a party that was on the rise”.

Le Pen’s father Jean, a fisherman, was blown up by a German mine on the beach in Brittany when Jean-Marie was 16. The teenager swore to kill a German soldier with his father’s gun. With his buddies, he followed one through the streets of La Trinité-sur-Mer one night.

“If he had turned around, if he had made the slightest gesture, I would have shot,” Le Pen writes. “After 200 metres, we went back. I wasn’t proud. I said: ‘Sorry boys, I couldn’t’.”

Le Pen joined the Foreign Legion at the age of 26. He spent his youth, he writes, “watching the French army run away, and running away with her.”

As a paratrooper, he arrived in Vietnam after the fall of Diên Biên Phu, and in Suez after the Egyptian defeat, where he was assigned to bury Muslim soldiers. Le Pen now claims to have played only “a minor part” in the Battle of Algiers.

If Marine Le Pen had not won 34 per cent of the vote in last May’s presidential election, if extreme right-wing parties steeped in the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-EU rhetoric spouted by Le Pen had not sprung up across Europe, one might be tempted to dismiss Le Pen as a blustering old codger whose bark was worse than his bite.

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