Liz Alderman, New York Times, November 26, 2015
The attacks by militants tied to the Islamic State less than two weeks ago in Paris have awakened a patriotic fervor in France not seen in decades.
Thousands of people have been flocking to sign up with the military. Those seeking to enlist in the French Army have quintupled to around 1,500 a day. Local and national police offices are flooded with applications. Even sales of the French flag, which the French rarely display, have skyrocketed since the attacks, which left 130 dead.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Col. Eric de Lapresle, a spokesman for the French Army’s recruiting service. “People are coming in and contacting us in droves through social media, using words like liberty, defense and the fight against terror.”
The surge in France, which no longer has conscription, mirrors what happened in the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. In the two years after those terrorist assaults, the number of American active-duty personnel rose more than 38,000 to 1.4 million. The reasons many of those young Americans offered for volunteering to serve are echoed by some of their French counterparts today.
The French Air Force, whose retaliatory airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Raqqa, Syria, were seen in images that went viral on the Internet, has likewise seen enlistment applications soar to about 800 a day from around 200, an air force spokesman said. And the French national police recruitment website was visited more than 13,500 times daily last week, compared with the usual 4,500, while applications jumped to 4,500 from 1,500.
The surge comes as President François Hollande moves quickly to ramp up military spending to fight what he cited as a growing terrorist threat on French soil and from abroad. The Paris attackers were mostly French citizens residing in France and Belgium, and coordinating with the Islamic State in Syria. Last Friday, militants tied to Al Qaeda carried out a deadly siege at a hotel in Bamako, Mali, taking French citizens and others hostage.
And while the French insist that American-style flag waving is not part of their culture, people have been flocking to snap up the French “tricolore.” Hervé Burg, the president of Paris Drapeaux, a flag maker, said orders had jumped by 400 percent since the attacks. “Before, people bought flags here and there for sports events or other functions,” he said. “But now they want the flag right away. They want to hang it from their balconies instead of keeping it inside. The behavior is really patriotic.”