Europe|New Military Letter Warning of ‘Brewing’ Civil War Prompts Outrage in France
PARIS — The French prime minister and the chief of staff of the army have condemned an anonymous letter signed by people claiming to be active-duty troops warning about impending “civil war” in France.
Prime Minister Jean Castex told Le Parisien newspaper that the letter was a “political maneuver” by the “extreme right.” Gen. François Lecointre, the army chief of staff, said that the signatories should quit the armed forces if they wanted to freely express their political opinions.
It is unclear how many soldiers are behind the letter, the second such message from active-duty or retired military personnel to appear in the past month. The managing editor of Valeurs Actuelles, the right-wing magazine that published both letters, said the latest was from “active military personnel” and that a bailiff would certify their signatures.
When that might happen was unclear.
The anonymous letter, addressed to President Emmanuel Macron, said: “We see violence in our towns and villages. We see communitarianism taking hold in the public space, in public debate. We see hatred of France and its history becoming the norm.”
The word “communitarianism” is frequently used in France to describe resistance to the supposedly universalist and colorblind French model of society, in which identity politics is anathema.
The letter continued: “A civil war is brewing in France and you know it perfectly well.” If an “insurrection” breaks out, it said, “the military will maintain order on its own soil.”
The anonymous letter came in support of a previous one, signed by some 1,500 mostly retired identified military personnel, including dozens of generals, which described France as being in a state of disarray and warned of a possible coup in thinly veiled terms.
The second letter, which is open for readers to sign, had garnered some 250,000 signatures of support as of Tuesday evening.
The new letter is an unusual escalation in the political involvement of military personnel, with active-duty soldiers now backing retired officers. It has fanned the flames of an already heated debate on security in France, where a series of Islamist terrorist attacks over the past seven months, as well as other violence against the police, have spread unease.
With a presidential election less than a year away, the political atmosphere is tense. Mr. Macron, moving right, has recently toughened his stance on security, and against what he calls “Islamist separatism,” in an attempt to blunt the appeal of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. She expressed strong support for the first letter from the military, and urged the retired officers to join her campaign.
The anonymous signatories of the second letter, who described themselves as active-duty soldiers from a younger generation, said the impending civil war would be fueled by Islamism and identity politics in the banlieues — the poor and marginalized neighborhoods where many immigrant families live.
In open defiance of civilian control over the military, the letter criticized the government’s “cowardice” in dealing with the alleged threats.
The signatories said that many of them had served in the various antiterrorism operations that France has started abroad in recent years, including the seven-year anti-Islamist operation in the Sahel, a vast region of sub-Saharan Africa, which has had mixed results.
“They have offered up their lives to destroy the Islamism that you have made concessions to on our soil,” the letter read.
A significant proportion of the military in France has long supported the far right in elections. Nearly half of the police and military would vote for Ms. Le Pen in the first round of the 2022 presidential election, according to a survey revealed by the newspaper L’Opinion on Tuesday.
Reacting to the first letter signed by retired generals, the French Army’s chief of staff, General Lecointre, said that some signatories would go before a senior military council and would face punishments ranging from forced full retirement to other disciplinary action.
He softened that stance in a letter to military personnel on Tuesday, a copy of which The New York Times obtained. It contained no threat of punishment but pointed out that the letters “have contributed to dragging the army into political debates where it has neither the legitimacy nor the vocation to intervene.”
Citing a violation of military obligations, Gen. Lecointre encouraged the signatories to “leave the institution in order to freely express their ideas and convictions.”
Members of the far right were quick to voice their support for the new letter on Monday, just as Ms. Le Pen had endorsed the first letter in April, when she called on the retired generals “to join our movement and take part in the battle that is beginning.”