The Crying Frenchman Photograph of WWII

“Some say it was taken in Toulon as the French soldiers leave for Africa. Some say it was taken as Nazi tanks rolled into Paris. Others claim it was taken in Marseilles as historic French battle flags were taken aboard ships for protection against the conquering Nazis. No matter what incident prompted him to cry, the French civilian cries across decades from his faded photograph. He cries not only for his generation, but also for his century. The photo, one of the most heart-rending pictures of the Second World War, was possibly taken by George Mejat for Fox Movietone News/AP.” (

While reading some WWII history, from the rather sterilized, quantifiable descriptions of war, stood this photograph of a man clearly in visible emotional distress. His unfettered show of sorrow broke out from other anesthetized media depictions with a jarring reminder of experential suffering.

This is why Nationalism is so powerful on a subjective level. This is why people will die (as they have done in the past and still do now) for Nationalist causes, even one that carries little to no personal ramifications. It is the passion incited by the internalization of collective memory and identification. The mechanisms of this process we have studied in class (symbolism, policy, etc.). However, the emotional responses of Nationalism are ultimately a cognitive process, not rooted in discreet, objectively-existing structures but actively constituted through mediated knowledge and experiential phenomena. The picture of the crying Frenchman, likely watching the fall of his nation, captures this sentiment powerfully.


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