Episode 9 of Star Trek Picard delves into the past trauma of one of Starfleet’s most celebrated figures, while also literally plumbing the depths of Chateau Picard itself. As Picard and Tallinn flee deeper into the catacombs beneath the Admiral’s ancestral home, Picard makes a comment about the Chateau’s wartime past that doesn’t make a lot of sense, historically speaking. Here’s the quote in full.
“During the Second World War, the French Resistance converted this place as a storage for munitions and a way of communicating with the front. And then they locked it all away when the Nazis invaded.”
Here I believe is the consequence of the way the war in Europe was been portrayed in American media. Popular culture has created a popular memory of the war, a lasting impression of an American-centric conflict instead of how the war actually played out. In this popular memory, the French fight against Nazi Germany was centered around the idea of a Resistance rather than a regular army. As film historian Steven Ross notes, “movies matter most about the things people know the least.”1 While World War II remains a popular topic in American media (just look at the number of war films or any history shelf in a bookstore), the specifics of the early years of the war in Europe before D-Day or the American entry into the war are likely vague for most.
When Picard states the front, he could potentially have meant the D-Day invasion. However, his next line states the munitions were locked up when the Nazis invaded, which took place in 1940–before the formation of the Resistance. The myriad groups and factions that came to be known as the French Resistance didn’t come into existence until after the surrender of France to Nazi Germany in 1940. After all, what was there to resist against before the German occupation? The regular French army was conducting the war, not underground groups of fighters. The implication seems to be that the French Resistance was maintaining supply depots for the front during 1939-1940 and the Battle of France, until the Nazis entered France and forced a surrender. Even so, the point of the underground resistance was to fight within a Nazi-controlled France. A regular army could abandon an untenable position in the face of an invasion–the point of a resistance group would be to carry out operations in an invasion and subsequent occupation.
American media about the war concentrates on the involvement of United States and American actions. By the time the United States entered the war, Europe was under the control of Nazi Germany, and any subsequent military action on the continent involved American troops. The early conflict on the continent and the Battle of France were not just in the past–they were generally outside the American frame of media informed reference. Until D-Day, the actions in Europe were in Nazi-dominated territory. A prime example is the classic war comedy Hogan’s Heroes, which ran from 1965 to 1971 and an extended afterlife in syndication. In Hogan Heroes’ eternal winter, the war is shown to be in full swing, with American and British forces coordinating with the French Resistance to carry out acts of sabotage and defiance against the Germans.2 War films often show a conventional American army moving through Europe with the assistance of French partisans. This image of a French guerilla conflict against German occupiers is embedded in American visions of the war, and that is the role French fighters usually positioned in instead of a traditional military.
Although France was divided into an Occupied France under the direct control of Nazi Germany and a “Free Zone” which was ostensibly under the control of an independent French government, by 1942 the Nazis occupied the entirety of the country. Secondary information from Star Trek Picard places Chateau Picard in the Burgundy region of France. Burgundy was cut in half by the division of early France and then like the rest of the “free zone” placed under German military control. The likeliest explanation for Picard’s comments–aside from the in-universe destruction of historical records due to wars on Earth as noted by Captain Pike in “Strange New Worlds”–is that media has left Americans with the impression the French Resistance constituted France’s fighting force for the entirety of the war.
- Steven J. Ross, “American Workers, American Movies: Historiography and Methodology,” International Labor and Working-Class History, 59 (2001), 82.
- Every episode of Hogan’s Heroes was set in the winter.