Nothing is more fascinating than dystopias, in which the past is reinvented to imagine how it would have turned out if a particular character had not died on the date of his or her actual death (for example, how the Second World War would have ended with a pronazi Lindbergh as President of the United States; or how the Soviet Union would have evolved if Yuri Andropov had not died in 1984); or if a certain event would not have had the same ending as in the real world (for example, a France where General de Gaulle would not have escaped the Petit Clamart bombing).

In particular, nothing is crueller for France, and more enlightening, than to imagine what could have happened between 10 May 1940 (when, at the end of the ‘phoney war’, hostilities resumed) and 17 June 1940 (when, two thirds of the national territory having been occupied and the French armies destroyed, the Pétain government called for an armistice), if France had been as well prepared to fight Chancellor Hitler’s armies as Ukraine was to face President Putin’s troops. Not only in terms of armaments, especially armour, but above all in terms of morale, of the desire to fight, of what the British called the “fighting spirit”, which they demonstrated so well at that time.

If this had been the case, Strasbourg, Reims and Lille would have resisted as Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kherson are resisting today. We would probably have had more deaths than we had; but we would probably have been able to avoid defeat. And even if we had been temporarily defeated, we would have avoided collaboration and dishonour. The fate of the war, and of the post-war period, would have been totally different.

There are many lessons to be learned from this:

First, of course, it is essential never to let our guard down; and for that, we should not have reduced, in a continuous way, whatever the President, the defence budget; we should have today a much more consequent armament, in particular in terms of drones, anti-missile armament, and cyberwarfare; We should also build a real European army, allowing us to do without our American allies, who are increasingly absent, even when hostile forces cross the red lines drawn by our allies themselves; without, however, tolerating that our neighbours buy their weapons from others than from European firms, which remain to be built together.

Secondly, it would be vital to have, like the Ukrainians today, a real desire to fight, to resist; to do this, it would be necessary to instil in all Europeans, and in particular in the French, a rejection of resignation, a horror of flight, a disgust of cowardice, a hatred of submission, a contempt for collaboration, a refusal of defeat, an acceptance of the risk of dying, in order to save what is essential: the liberty of each and every one of us, together.

The defence capacity of a country is not only measured by the size of its military budget, but also and above all by its individual and collective determination to risk the lives of today to protect those of tomorrow and with them a territory, values and a political and social system.

This would require the creation of something like a European defence service, in which all young Europeans would understand the fragility of a society that they wrongly consider immortal, and would acquire the necessary skills to defend it, so well mastered by the Ukrainian population.

This would also require a radical revision of what is taught in our schools, colleges and universities under the name of civic education; to give new meaning to words that have been too often forgotten, which are neither left nor right wing: the fatherland, the nation, freedom, the territory; and to make people think from childhood about this essential subject, which does not only concern our professional soldiers: in order to defend what causes, what achievements, what values, would we be ready to temporarily sacrifice our comfort; and even, if necessary, to die?