One Police Plaza

Heil Pétain?

September 4, 2017

Henri Philippe Pétain represents the latest example of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political correctness run amok.

Pétain, an obscure figure to most New Yorkers, appears on a sidewalk plaque, along the “Canyon of Heroes” on Lower Broadway with about 200 others, some of whom, like Pétain, were honored by the city nearly a century ago.

Memorialized for his heroic defense of France during World War I, the plaque, his middle name misspelled with two Ls, reads simply:October 26, 1931 Henri Phillippe Pétain, Marshal of France.

A decade later during World War II, Pétain headed the French Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazis and deported thousands of French Jews to their deaths in concentration camps. After the war, he was tried for his collaboration with the Nazis and sentenced to death before his sentence was commuted to life in prison, where he died in 1951.

Enter de Blasio, who as a leader of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing has displayed national political aspirations.

After the neo-Nazi demonstration last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of the statue of confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, de Blasio said NYC would conduct a 90-day review of “all symbols of hate on city property.”

“The commemoration for Nazi collaborator Philippe Pétain in the Canyon of Heroes will be one of the first we remove,” he said.

The mayor’s statement follows a similar call some months ago by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents an Orthodox Jewish district in Brooklyn.

I’m as Jewish as the next guy, but removing Pétain’s plaque is hardly the same as removing the statues of Lee or other monuments to the Confederacy, many erected during Reconstruction as an in-your-face white-supremacy taunt to black Americans.

Judging from the scores of tourists and office workers I saw stepping on or over Pétain’s sidewalk plaque last Thursday afternoon, no passerby glanced down or noticed his name.

Depressingly, de Blasio is not alone in calling for the removal of such so-called “symbols of hate.” Instead of focusing on issues of substance — jobs, health care, education and the environment — some fellow New York Democrats are in lockstep behind him in flaunting symbols of divisiveness.

Take Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has presidential aspirations as a leader of the party’s moderate wing. He has urged the Army secretary to remove the street names both of Lee and the Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson from the base in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn. Both West Point graduates, they had served there decades before the Civil War.

Then there’s City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who recently announced she wants to remove the statue at Columbus Circle, because of the explorer’s maltreatment of native populations when he landed in the Caribbean in 1492.

Americans aren’t taught about Columbus’s mistreatment of native populations any more than they are taught about Pétain’s mistreatment of Jews. Rather than remove their names, why not acknowledge in separate plaques their alleged misdeeds along with their heroism?

Who knows? Mark-Viverito might acknowledge the bomb-making skills of Oscar López Rivera, whom she has called a hero but who headed a militant group Puerto Rican group whose bombs caused the deaths and maiming of numerous New Yorkers.


Copyright © 2017 Leonard Levitt