Tuesday, May 25, 2021

De Gaulle and Perfide Albion


The one thing that did worry some members of the Free French were de Gaulle's bouts of Anglophobia. Larminat and Eboue wrote in September 1941 to warn him against those who "in order to pay court to you or just out of stupidity feel it necessary constantly to denigrate the English. One ends up asking oneself who we are fighting the war against." But this gradually ceased to be to be an issue partly because the force of de Gaulle's personality succeeded in imposing his way of seeing the world on his followers and partly because objective circumstances had given some credence to de Gaulle's suspicions[ED]. Passy, who had started out with few of these prejudices, found himself battling constantly against the British secret services; and even the most Anglophile Free French were shocked by the Madagascar landings.

I think that this passage from Jackson's book in some ways highlights the his lack of objectivity when it comes to de Gaulle and it's typical of the approach he uses throughout the book. Through the use of both emphasis and understatement, Jackson tends to highlight de Gaulle's faults and downplay the less than honorable actions by the British. On one hand, we are told by Jackson that de Gaulle was a dour personality without significant charisma but on the other hand we find him able to his impose his world view upon the quarrelsome French through the force of his personality.  The claim is contradictory.  The reality of the situation was that while men respected de Gaulle for his moral position, his officious personality pushed many away and what pushed men into accepting his world view was primarily his moral example and secondly it was the actions of the British and Americans, which shocked even the most anglophile of the French and vindicated him.

One of the things that English and American authors tend to constantly emphasise de Gaulle's legendary  prejudice against the "Anglo-Saxons", painting it as if it were some kind of irrational prejudice without any basis. But one thing that never gets asked is, was his hostility justified.  A little digging around the history of time will show that De Gaulle's had quite a bit of justification for his "anglophobia".


Charles de Gaulle's position in England after the Fall of France is in many ways like that of man, married to a beautiful wife, who is suddenly destitute and without lodgings.  Gratefully accepting the offer of accommodation by his next door neighbour, he moves in and is horrified to find that his neighbour is soon making advances on his wife. Every time he complains or puts up a fight, he is reminded of just how ungrateful he is for his neighbour's generosity and that his suspicions of him are completely unjustified. A lot of de Gaulle's "disagreeableness" with the English, especially in the early to mid stages of the war, are easily understood by taking this perspective.

After the fiasco at Dakar, the British attitude to him changed.  Firstly, because he was delivering so little in the way of rallying the French to the allied cause and secondly because he was pushing France's interests in a way that was not congenial to British. Secondly, the British attitude to France changed, seeing it less as a victim and more as a opportunistic collaborator. So the British started looking for other options. Their general attitude seemed to be to find someone else rather than De Gaulle to represent the French. Firstly, they started courting other Free French Leaders in an effort to undermine him, courting Muselier and Catroux. They made contact with Vichy military leaders Darlan, Giraud  and Weygand offering to deal with them instead of De Gaulle, by passing the Free French. 

Furthermore there were also territorial considerations.

Vichy Syria was part of the French Mandate and was proving to be rather friendly to the Germans.  De Gaulle had lobbied for a joint British-French force to invade it and prevent it from giving the Germans material assistance.  De Gaulle had both patriotic and pragmatic reasons. He wanted the traitorous Vichy replaced but was also desperate to have Free French score some "runs on the board". The British agreed but for other reasons.

The British were also keen to invade the region but not for the same reasons as the French. British Cabinet documents reveal that they were eager to increase their influence in the Arab world, and their plan was to push the French out of Syria by agitating for local native independence. (Note: At the same time native independence movements in British held territories were suppressed). The British plan was to invade the area with the aim of "liberating" it, and forcing a referendum on independence.  The French would be given civilian control but the British military would have final say on events. Effectively there would be a transfer of power from the French to the British. The involvement of the Free French would politically "sanitize" the plan.

Cabinet documents reveal that de Gaulle was to be kept in the dark and deliberately misled. Furthermore, in order to be "kept on the leash" he wouldn't have a chance to recruit from the newly captured Vichy soldiers to change sides. The British wanted de Gaulle militarily weak and dependent on them, incapable of independent action. Five minutes of searching the internet can verify these claims. Jackson, in a book that goes into considerable detail seems to deliberately gloss over this. Which is odd because Anglo-Free French relations rapidly declined after this.

The Armistice of St Jean d'Acre screwed over betrayed the Free French. Given his weakened position, de Gaulle's only response to throw a political tantrum. De Gaulle raged against the British and managed to secure some concessions, which the British reneged on later. But his rage and tactics so angered Churchill that he was prepared to be rid of him and actually advocated it to cabinet and parliament. He was denied access to BBC, not allowed to leave the country, had his means of communication to the outside world limited and was shadowed by the British security apparatus.

However, what saved De Gaulle at this moment was that an opposition movement in France was beginning to solidify around him, the number of recruits were beginning to increase and the Free French in London recognised him as their only leader. As one of the men who rallied to him said:

General de Gaulle symbolizes that France which did not despair, which did not give in. He alone acted. At a moment when people feel that force of character is the essential quality for a leader, the name of General de Gaulle exerts on the French a political attraction which perhaps London is not aware of ... France needs a myth, and for the moment France has fallen so low that this myth cannot be found in a formula or an idea: it needs to be incarnated in a man. Whatever the person of de Gaulle may be . . . if France is to remake herself again it can only be around the 'de Gaulle myth'.'
Perhaps more important for his own survival was the fact that he enjoyed high esteem among the Anglo-Saxon peoples--if not their politicians--who admired his moral position and he enjoyed an enormous amount of popularity. De Gaulle was beginning to have some political clout and military use as a rallying point for the Resistance. In most biographies of de Gaulle, there is a strong emphasis of his political role, but what's missed is that his "intransigent nature" stemmed in a large degree from a deep moral and religious dimension which in many ways helps understand the man. It's something I want to do deeper analysisin later posts later. But whats really fascinating is that it was this aspect of him that ultimately gave him the critical political support that ensured his survival. Churchill, no matter how much this "fly in the ointment" pained him, couldn't get rid of him. The political costs were became too high. (Though he came close to doing so on several occasions.)

That, of course didn't stop the British from pursuing their interests at the cost of their ally.

They invaded Madagascar (French Territory) excluding the Free French.  The Free French were so demoralised them that they wondered if there was any point for their existence, if their allies didn't bother to take notice of them. De Gaulle only found out about it when rang by the Press. The British then invaded North Africa (French Territory) without his--or the Free French involvement--but in this instance they were not solely to blame because the Roosevelt administration, preferring Vichy to the Free French,  insisted on him not being informed. As they did with the planning for the Normandy landings.

Now, De Gaulle is frequently charged with anglophobia but I think this brief--and not exhaustive---recounting of events--and there's a lot more that the British did that I've not included-- gives him a fair amount of justification for his attitude. Indeed, from a moral perspective, the British have quite a bit to be embarrassed about. The attitude of the British was that the Free French were more an asset than an ally with which they were free to do as they pleased. De Gaulle made that assest unreliable and this was problematic. As a man who stood side by side with them in their "darkest hour" the British did treat him, and the Free French he represented, very shabbily.

In many ways the relationship between De Gaulle and Churchill is fascinating. Churchill, in my opinion, had an underlying decency that was frequently overridden by practical considerations. De Gaulle on the other hand was a man of principle who could be ruthless in its application. I particularly can't seem to work out why De Gaulle was so benevolent to Churchill after the war, given his history with him. Both men were patriots of their countries and both men pursued their respective interests but I can't help the feeling that de Gaulle was the more honorable of the two.

Especially since I can't find any instance where the Free French acted in any manner analogous to the British when they clearly had the opportunity to do so.

***However , an important qualifier: De Gaulle was an "identitarian" in the sense that nationalities have unique identities and while he clearly preferred the French, he had a great admiration for the British people if not its government, So when he criticises the Anglo-Saxons, he is criticising their government and not the people.


Jason said...

This is a really good defense of de Gaulle doctor, with so much food for thought that it's difficult for me to find an effective response. A few objections come to mind, but rather than offering the usual qualifications or defending Jackson, I feel compelled to simply digest your analysis and recognize its cogency.

Just to speak to the general thrust of your last few posts, I also see uncanny resemblances between 1930s France and my own country . Consider simply February 1934, when mobs attempted to storm the French National Assembly, and January of this year, when that objective was achieved by radical Rightists in America (efforts by polemicists to downplay the latter are horribly mistaken; what occurred in the Capital was shocking and contemptible). And as hopefully an honest conservative, allow me to be the resident gadfly and state unequivocally that there is much "rotten to the core" about the American Right today, and not merely the Left. Contrary to most conservatives, for instance, I'm pretty sure Joe Biden won the 2020 election fair and square. The contrary evidence in my opinion is weak and cases of special pleading, culminating in much demagoguery by Trump and his lap dogs over the last seven months that will take a long time to repair.

Alas, I'm uncertain as to what is to be done to transcend the Balkanization happening here. Any chance of restoring a vibrant Christianity in America, hence buttressing my country's virtue, is going to be a long time coming. The current generators of morality, secular and sacred, needless to say seem insufficient for the job at hand. And whatever his talents, an individual like DeSantis, the putative 2024 Republican nominee, is no de Gaulle.

Genji said...

Looks like we have some pathology in the comments section today.

The Social Pathologist said...


There's more coming that will vindicate De Gaulle.

I also see uncanny resemblances between 1930s France and my own country

It really is eerie. Not only is there a political similarity but there appears to be a moral one as well. What I find extremely interesting is the similarity between the Alt-Right and the Action Francaise movement. The key takeaway was that there was a widespread moral collapse in society. The moral collapse had different dimensions though.

What's also interesting about De Gaulle is that while he may have had some sympathies with Action Francaise, he never joined it, unlike the theologian Jacques Maritain--He left it in the 1920's--who was filled with Christian 'Love". How did the scholar get it so wrong while the soldier got it so right? Here's where de Gaulle's moral development is extremely interesting. As a result of following up on a few threads in Jackson's book I came upon the realisation that many of the "Nouvelle" theologians who saw the spiritual malaise affecting Catholicism in the early 20th C were hugely influential on his thought. A lot of his political philosophy was as far as I can seen and application of nouvelle theological principles to political action. His policies were in a way a revolt against the Buddhist and Reactionary elements of Christianity. But more on this later.

Any chance of restoring a vibrant Christianity in America, hence buttressing my country's virtue, is going to be a long time coming.

It can't be done politically, it needs to be done through the Churches, and yes, we're in this for the long haul.

As for the US election, I'm less sanguine about it's veracity. From this side of the Pacific, I was quite appalled at the mechanics of the election process as it seemed to open to all types of fraud and exploitation. What concerns me most about the results of the election is the statistical anomalies associated with it. I remember watching the "bell weather" pages on wiki being changed as the election results were coming through. It would be quite comical if the implications weren't so serious.

Here in Australia, there would be no issue of a recount if either party contested the accuracy of the result. It just simply wouldn't be an issue. The paper ballot method and the use of independent scrutineers would quickly verify the election result, thereby strengthening democracy". I, for the life of me, can't understand why the U.S. media has been so hostile to this action. If Trump is lying, an honestly independent audit would confirm it and the issue would be ended. On the other hand if he isn't, then we're in whole world of trouble.

Another thing which also really bothered me were the actions of the Supreme court. Here's an article by a lawyer working on Biden's legal team. The take home message is that the U.S. Supreme court failed. The fact that more people in the U.S. aren't talking about it is just another sign that the country resembles France in the 1930's.



Let's keep it civil.

Mark Moncrieff said...

The basic problem with De Gaulle and the Free French in general was that they promised so much and delivered so little. Particularly before 1943. Take the 13th Demi-Brigade, a Foreign Legion unit, as an example. Before 1943 it was the primary Free French unit that fought for the Allies. In 1940 when it joined the Free French nearly all of it's members were Spanish Republicans and not Frenchmen. In fact it's telling that the primary fighting unit of the Free French was made up of foreigners, as all Legion units were (excepting officers).

I also think you, as De Gaulle himself did, confuse De Gaulle with the Free French government. If one is trusted, but not the other how do you tell one without telling the part you don't trust?

Here is the dilemma that the Allies found themselves in. During the war these were real issues and while they sometimes got it wrong it does not change the fact that security was a real issue.

Anonymous said...

Any comparisons between the "insurrection" of Jan. 6 and a real resistance movement are overwrought, as it was roundly condemned by leaders of both sides. To the extent anything about it was planned, it was a trap for the gullible man on the street, the type that would have supported deGaulle. The real comparison is the decadent attitude toward maintaining freedoms by everybody top to bottom, and the dismantling of any kind of American myth by elites who hated and diversity lawyers who don't believe in anything.

The Social Pathologist said...


The basic problem with De Gaulle and the Free French in general was that they promised so much and delivered so little. Particularly before 1943.

I think I pointed the "rottenness" in French society out in the previous posts. Degaulle was the oddity in French society and there were very few French who wanted to support him. But here's the quandary, who else would you have dealt with? Although this is speculative, I think if the British had allowed him a few more victories and didn't undermine him his legitimacy, then he may have greater pull. The British, in my opinion, strategically miscalculated here. Furthermore, as a combined "European bloc" they would have had more sway with both the Americans and Russians. The British realised their mistake towards the war when they realised they were being frozen out of discussions with regard to the partition of Europe. Churchill pushed hard to have the Iron Curtain pushed harder to the East but being the "junior" partner in the three, he had little clout when both Roosevelt and Stalin were in fundamental agreement on the line of partition.


If one is trusted, but not the other how do you tell one without telling the part you don't trust?

I think that this is a myth, like De Gaulle's "Anglophobia" which just doesn't square up with the facts. And there are other aspects here that also don't square up. For instance, the Free French weren't invited to participate in post invasion government planning, something that is not militarily significant. The fact of the matter is that it was an "excuse" used by the allies to freeze them out. BTW, when the British invaded the Levant, cabinet documents shows that the French were to be deliberately misled by the British for "political" and not military purposes. The idea that the French leaked like a sieve is not really tenable.

To the extent anything about it was planned, it was a trap for the gullible man on the street, the type that would have supported deGaulle.

De Gaulle had a hell of a lot of trouble getting the support of the "man in the street". Vichy and the Commmies had no such problem.

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