Six Days in Paris | The Nation


Six Days in Paris

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The police operation was far from successful. The International Herald Tribune described the fighting this way:

Daniel Singer's on-the-scene reports of the events of May from The Economist (Singer was later to be The Nation's Europe correspondent for two decades) can be found in the articles archive at the website of The Daniel Singer Millennium Prize Foundation.

About the Author

Harry Braverman
Harry Braverman, director of Monthly Review Press, was on a European publishing trip in May 1968 when the upheaval...

 Some 500 specially trained riot police moved up from around the flowering Luxembourg Gardens. Carrying shields in one hand and truncheons in the other, they quickly overran the outer barricades, sending the outpost defenders fleeing.
 When they reached the Rue Gay-Lussac they ran into the stronghold, held by about 3.000 students, the ones who wanted to fight. The stronghold held out till dawn. It never really fell--it just got smaller....

The police first tried to weaken the resistance of the defenders by shelling them with rifle-launched tear gas grenades. When the first line of riot police tried to take the first barricade they were driven back by them own tear gas--despite masks.
 The students didn't have any masks but they stayed somehow in that inferno. Reporters who tried to get in were driven back coughing and crying, and the radio men had to switch off. But the students held out and even counterattacked.
 The police set off flares and fired in their grenades. The students put up red flags. The police shot in concusion grenades. The students mounted the roofs and shelled them with paving stones. The police charged the barricades. The students replied with molotov cocktails. Before long most of the barricades were in flames.
 It was warfare without bullets. By 3 a.m. the police had decided they could not take the stronghold because of the fires and retreated to near the Gare du Luxembourg to patiently continue the shelling. No one in the stronghold had fled. They cursed and they shouted and sang the "Marseillaise" and the "Internationale." It sounded like a war....
 Finally, the riot police shock troops were sent in. Flames burst out up and down the street. A water main was hit and flooded the streets with filth from the grenades. The tear gas was held down by low clouds. The students on the rooftops continued to shower the police with whatever they had left. Fire trucks got as close as they could to lay down water. By 5:30, in daylight, some 100 students were left.... Some were still on the rooftops much later yesterday morning, sleeping in the rain, silhouetted against the chimneys, waiting for the police to come.

The prefect of police quickly charged that the leaders were not students but "guerrillas" with a knowledge of barricade budding and street fighting. The charge was greeted with hoots of laughter all over Paris, and Cohn-Bendit, "Dany, le Rouge." said: "What happened in the street is that all the young people were expressing themselves against a certain society." But one does have to marvel at these students with their barricades, their resourceful combat tactics, their motorcycle couriers, their whistle signals, their bullhorns, their fast surprise maneuvers. Against reason, one is forced to feel that the children of France imbibe all this with their mothers' milk.

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