I’ve long heard about the Maginot Line, the military fortifications meant to prevent France from ever falling again to German invasion, but I didn’t know anything about the details. The ill-fated line was named after André Maginot, born on February 17, 1877. The French civil servant, soldier in the “Great” War, and Member of Parliament was born in Paris, but had strong roots in Alsace-Lorraine where his family maintained a home. When war came in 1914, he enlisted and served on the front in Lorraine. He was wounded near Verdun and received France’s highest military honor.
After the war, he returned to government service. He became concerned that the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war did not provide France with sufficient guarantees of security from invasion. He distrusted Germany and pressured anyone who would listen to allocate more funds to defense. Maginot came to believe that a system of fortifications on the border between France and Germany was the solution. The project cost over 3 billion francs in 1930 and Maginot pressed for still more money.
He never lived to see the line completed: he died of typhoid fever on January 7, 1932. It was only after his death that the defenses he fought so hard to build came to known as the Maginot Line. He also never lived to see the German tanks simply circumvent it in 1940 with a new style of tank that allowed them to cross the unprotected hills and marshland. He wouldn’t have wanted to live to see that disaster.
Today’s expression ligne jaune (lean-yuh zjone) literally means yellow line. Metaphorically, it refers to a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Maginot thought he was building a ligne jaune, but he was sadly mistaken. France fell to the German army in just six weeks.