Thursday, June 03, 2021

Intermission: Some Developments in the Catholic Church

Most people might not be aware that the Catholic Church has just updated its code of Canon Law. In itself it's not really a big deal but the reasons for doing so are very interesting. As I see it, it represents a  development in the thinking of some members of the hierarchy. Francis writes (via Google Translate):

In the past, the lack of perception of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the recourse - where circumstances and justice so require - to sanctioning discipline has caused much damage. [ED: Understatement of the year!] This way of thinking - experience teaches - risks leading to living with behaviors contrary to the discipline of morals, whose remedy is not only exhortations or suggestions. This situation often carries with it the danger that with the passage of time, such behaviors become consolidated to the point of making it more difficult to correct and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful. This is why the application of penalties becomes necessary on the part of Pastors and Superiors.The negligence of a Pastor in having recourse to the penal system makes it clear that he does not fulfill his function correctly and faithfully, as I have expressly warned in recent documents, including the Apostolic Letters given in the form of a "Motu Proprio" 

Executive Summary: The Church emphasised Mercy to the criminal at the expense of Justice to the victims, with the predictable, to anyone with half a brain, consequences. This is the "theology" behind the sexual abuse saga in the Church.

Some of the commentary about the changes is also interesting. As one of the Vatican spokesmen said with regard to previous version of the code:

In many places, punishments were mentioned only as a possibility, and the whole text gave the impression that it was almost merciless to apply punishments.
John Paul II used to talk about the "contraceptive mentality" when dealing with his opponents on matters of sexual morals but here we have a clear example of the "kenotic mentality" when being applied matters of Justice and Mercy.  While the new changes are a welcome development, the problem is that this mentality is still strongly entrenched throughout all layers of the Catholic hierarchy and it is part of the "operating culture" of the institution. Francis himself, while to be applauded for this move, has internalised much of the spirit, especially with his attempts at  delegitimising the death penalty.  It's also an attitude also prevails in many other Christian denominations.

Justice and Mercy are fundamentally opposed concepts because mercy means sparing the criminal some of his just deserts, and the victim something that is owed to him.  The Church seems to have forgotten that Justice is always obligatory, while Mercy, discretionary, and only to be applied in the context of a greater good. 

Now what needs to be understood is that what produced this change in the Church's hierarchy was not "deep reflection, prayer and spiritual retreats", but a hostile secular world exposing plain the hypocrisy between belief and practice in the clergy. i.e. the Clergy had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this realisation. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

De Gaulle and the Americans: II

French-US relations took a dive after the Second World War and it needs to be understood as not a particularly "de Gaulle thing".  The French and American approaches world views were fundamentally different,  of which de Gaulle represented one pole.  I've edited this excellent article by Bernard Fall, which appeared in the New York Times in the '60's. It goes over some of the issues which chafed and is written by an American with an intimate insight into the French perspective.


IN December, 1942, a few weeks after the liberation of North Africa, the late Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, arrived in Algiers. One of the problems he had to deal with concerned the Free French minister for finance. “About this man,” said Morgenthau to Ambassador Robert Murphy, “I think, we should get rid of him.”Murphy, who knew the man's services to the Allied cause and his pro-American sentiments, eloquently objected, but Morgenthau was adamant and the Free French were told that one of their key civil servants was “unacceptable.” He was summarily dismissed.

Today, that official, Maurice Couve de Murville, is Foreign Minister of France and a key figure in French American relations.

In July, 1945, a French lieutenant-colonel.was parachuted into Japanese held North Vietnam as the new governor‐designate. Captured by Communist Vietminh guerrillas, he was beaten and tortured, and his aide was murdered by poison. American liaison officers with the Vietminh refused to help, arguing that the Potsdam Agreement did not provide for the return of French control to Indochina.

Today, that French officer, Pierre Messmer, is Minister of Defense, and a key figure in France's disagreements with the United States over NATO and the Multilateral Nuclear Force (M.L.F.). At least two other members of President de Gaulle's cabinet were also imprisoned in Hanoi while American military missions were there.

AND then, there were the wartime relations between the Free French leaders and the United States. “I am sorry,” Roosevelt confided to Winston Churchill on May 8, 1943, “but it seems to me the conduct of the Bride continues to be more and more aggravated. His course and attitude is well‐nigh in- tolerable. ... de Gaulle may be an honest fellow but he has the messianic complex. Further, he has the idea that the people of France itself are strongly behind him personally. This I doubt.

On the other hand, America's relations with the Nazi's French puppets at Vichy were discouragingly “normal” until late in the war. The United States maintained an embassy there until almost one year after Pearl Harbor—in fact, until Pierre Laval (later executed for treason) expelled the American mission after the North African landings. When the Free French liberated two tiny Vichy‐held islands near Newfoundland, Washington indignantly demanded their return to Vichy; and in North Africa, Americans at first insisted on dealing with Vichy officials who were universally despised.

Having failed to Impose them as leaders on the Free French (it is amusing, with the benefit of hindsight, to  see wartime American diplomats refer to de Gaulle as a “British puppet”), Washington became the last of the Allied nations to treat the de Gaulle administration as the legal government of France. This happened five months after France was liberated—and only after America had failed to impose an Allied Military Government, which would have issued uncontrolled amounts of “liberation currency”—something not even the Nazis had done.

From then on, French‐American relations went downhill. Only the openness of disagreement changed from time to time. Washington would tend to “go easy” on France whenever French acquiescence was required; and conversely, Paris would rein in its temper whenever it needed American economic and military support. But neither side was ever really fooled by the other.

As seen by France, the United States was first of all (but to a lesser extent than Britain) “guilty” of allowing Nazi Germany to become a military Frankenstein. The “Anglo‐Saxons,” for the sake of “peace,” had leaned heavily on France in 1936 when Hitler's troops entered the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles Treaty. France again yielded to Anglo‐American pressure when she stopped helping the Spanish Republic against the Fascists, and when “peace for 20 years”, was bought at Munich by selling out Czechoslovakia. And France was left almost alone to face the onslaught of the Nazi Wehrmacht in 1940.

In 10 months of “Phony War,” Britain contributed five infantry divisions (as against 103 French) and hardly more than an armored brigade (as against France's three divisions). The The Germans fielded 126 divisions (including 10 armored) and the result was the bloody débâcle of Dunkirk.

Dunkirk, a name which stands almost as a victory for “Anglo‐Saxons” since more than a quarter‐million Britons were saved, is still a synonym for betrayal to the French. To this day, everybody remembers the gallant Britishs ships at Dunkirk; the fact that 10 French destroyers were sunk defending the evacuation (as against six British) is usually forgotten. Echoes of the fear of another “Anglo‐Saxon” Dunkirk may well be heard in de Gaulle's speeches about a French national nuclear striking force.

Senator J. W. Fulbright, in his “Old Myths and New Realities.” assures France that a “third World War could not possibly follow the pattern of 1914 and 1939, in which France was attacked while the United States remained temporarily unscathed . . .” To de Gaulle and millions of his countrymen, however, it did happen—twice in their lifetimes—and the tragic consequences of American lateness are writ large on French tombstones. In war dead, France lost 1,357,800 men in 1914-1918, compared with Britain's 908,371 and America's 126,000. From 1939-1945, the totals of dead and missing were 580,000; 412,000 and 325,000 respectively.

The collapse of France in June, 1940, however, revealed the fragility of her military edifice and political fabric. From then on, despite sympathy for the plight of the French people and admiration for the gallantry of the Free French, the United States never took France quite seriously again. After the war, France was regarded as a sort of king‐sized “banana republic” whose continual changes of government and chaotic finances inspired a stream of books and articles written in the vein of bedroom farce.

France then was fairly easy for American and British statesmen to handle. If the reigning Government coalition balked at a given policy, they could be fairly sure that another one would be along, like the proverbial street car, that would probably accept it. Whether it was over the Indochina War (the French were ready to negotiate in 1952 but were told to keep fighting to ease the pressure in Korea), or the ill‐fated Suez expedition, the French were in no position to uphold their views even in matters affecting them vitally. De Gaulle—with grating effect—dubbed this the period of “American hegemony.” It ended with the birth of the Fifth Republic.

Today, the really important question is: Do American and French interests really collide throughout the world — from NATO to Vietnam, Peking, Latin America and the United Nations—or is there merely a conflict in “styles?”

HERE again, there is a clue in the wartime relations between France and the U. S. Both de Gaulle and Washington agreed that France's fall in 1940 was due as much to moral decay as to military defeat. Hence, in de Gaulle's view, the rebuilding of a French mystique was an immensely important factor in putting France back into the war on a large scale. Roosevelt, too, was interested in getting the French back into the war, but merely as soldiers —not with a French Government (and, above all, not with a mystique).His representative in Algiers expressed that point of view to de Gaulle in these terms: “The United States Government and people are not thinking politically about France, but are thinking solely in terms of getting on with the war and defeating Hitler.”

This difference in attitude is essentially what is wrong with American‐French relations today. The Americans, practical and pragmatic as ever, are constantly “getting on with the war,” whether against poverty at home or the Vietcong in South Vietnam. The French, on the other hand, want to see Europe united and Communism contained on a more lasting political basis than a precarious balance of military power. The difference, therefore, is not so much in the aims of policy as in the range of policy.

THE French feel that alliances .constructed under enemy pressure tend to disintegrate when the immediate threat recedes. This is what happened to the anti‐German alliances of 1914-18 and of 1939-45—and it may well be the fate of NATO unless it is given meaningful political underpinnings.

The United States, however, feels that Europeans are too steeped in their “petty quarrels of the past” and, at the same time, “unrealistic” when they call the American‐Cuban dispute, for example, a “petty quarrel.” De Gaulle's lack of tact in expressing his differences, which are more apparent than real, is particularly wounding because tactlessness seems such an “un‐French” attribute.

Washington hardly needs a reminder from Paris, for example, that its attitude toward China is somewhat rigid; that the war in Vietnam is not going according to plan; that the collapse of Castro is not imminent, or that the Congo, four years and $400 million dollars later, is at best exactly where it was. American reactions to French doubts or advice, however, were typified by President Kennedy in a television interview after de Gaulle's first resounding statement on Vietnam:

“[France] doesn’t have any forces there or any program of economic assistance, so while these expressions are welcome, the burden is carried, as it usually is, by the United States and the people there...we are glad to get counsel, but we should like a little more assistance, real assistance....”

De GAULLE must have read that statement with a sardonic smile (if he read it at all), for it embodied precisely the same kind of reproach as the French have often addressed to their American ally : If you can’t help me, at least don’t bother me. In fact, the French aid program to South Vietnam is still larger than that of all other nations combined (except for the United States). Worldwide French foreign aid—thanks to France's own réhabilitation through the Marshall Plan—is today second only to America's in dollar value and, as a percentage of gross national product, far greater—2.2 per cent as against 0.9 per cent for the United States.

Yet there is no disguising the fact that today the United States and France are out of step. Many Americans seem to believe that the divergence began with de Gaulle and will finally be burled with him, but that will prove as much an illusion as the hope that aggressive Communism would be buried with Stalin, who never challenged the United States as directly as Khrushchev did with his missiles in Cuba.

It was not de Gaulle who began building the French nuclear arsenal, but the French Socialist Premier Guy Mollet. It was not de Gaulle who excluded Britain from the Common Market as much as the accumulated rancor built up by Britain's attitude toward the Common Market in its early days under the Fourth Republic. And it was not de Gaulle who turned down the idea of an‐integrated European army but the French Parliament under Prime Minister Mendès France.

Yet again, conflicts of “style” have counted for much. French leaders were deliberately (and often humiliatingly) excluded from conferences at Casablanca, Cairo, Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. President Kennedy called British Prime Minister Macmillan to Nassau first,and then made a joint offer to de Gaulle of an inter-allied nuclear force. Coming from an American leader, who, like F.D.R., could rightfully take pride in his “style,” this smacked of deliberate insult. Even to have attempted to make the strategic control of nuclear weapons the subject of a unilateral Anglo‐American decision vitiated the whole idea for the French, regardless of the intrinsic merits of the project.

It is precisely because the Franco‐American rift is not a “Gaullist challenge”—as Senator Fulbright describes it—but a deep‐seated crisis of mutual confidence that restoring the entente cordiale between the United States and her oldest ally will require a great deal of give and take on both sides.

DISAGREEMENTS with the United States over the Common Market or the Multilateral Force are symptoms of a need for what the French like to call “mutual respect.” It merely confirmed their belief, for example, that Britain's potential role in the Common Market was as an American “Trojan Horse” when de Gaulle's veto on Britain's entry was greeted with louder howls of indignation in Washington than in London. Or, when after being told at least once a week that the United States treats all her allies “equally,” France is confronted with what she fancies to be further evidence of a “special relationship” between Washington and London — as in the Nassau agreement on nuclear arms. France is not content to be treated on a footing of equality with Luxembourg, Iceland and the former enemy states.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

De Gaulle and the Americans: I

In London, Koenig simply ignored de Gaulle's instructions about ending contacts with Eisenhower, and Eisenhower, desperate to invite de Gaulle to London, pushed to the limits what was permitted by Roosevelt. Roosevelt seemed on the verge of conceding that de Gaulle could be brought into technical military discussions about the Liberation as long as the discussions avoided 'politics': he told Eisenhower that the French were `shell-shocked' (his way of explaining away the irrefutable evidence of de Gaulle's popularity). Eisenhower replied that there seemed to be only two factions in France: the 'Vichy gang, and the other characterized by unreasoning admiration for de Gaulle' (the 'unreasoning' presumably added for Roosevelt's benefit)." In the same vein, even Churchill cabled Roosevelt arguing that 'it is very difficult to cut the French out of the liberation of France.'" He was under increasing pressure from British public opinion, parliament and his own government to bring de Gaulle into the discussions about the Liberation. 

(Julian Jackson, A Certain Idea of France)

As bad as de Gaulle's relationship was with the English it was even worse with the Americans.  Put simply, the American Government put their hopes in cutting a deal with Vichy--and were quite prepared to turn a blind eye to some of their more odious policies--if they would switch sides. Indeed, what struck me in reading about US-French relations during the Second World War is just how disturbingly accommodating the Americans were to the Pro-Nazi French, not really the image one gets from the movies.  Soon after American entered the war, the Free French captured some small islands in control by Vichy.

The U.S. demanded that they give them back.  

What's really interesting about the Pro-Vichy approach that the U.S. took is that it took no account of both French culture and the internal dynamics of French politics: The French Left hated the French Right. One of de Gaulle's principle achievements was in convincing the French Left that he wasn't of the Right, but rather someone who transcended the divide. The U.S. seemed clueless about this dynamic. Indeed de Gaulle's description of Cordell Hull, the U.S. Secretary of State is particularly apt,  "he had an elevated soul".."handicapped by his limited knowledge of everything that was not America."

The thrust of U.S. foreign policy was to gain the support of Vichy and to use the Vichy French as co-liberators of France, not that the Vichy would assume control of France after victory, rather that U.S. government would govern France "like an occupied country" until "free elections" were held. As Roosevelt told de Gaulle in Casablanca:

The sovereignty of France, as in our country, rested with the people, but ... unfortunately the people of France were not now in a position to exercise that sovereignty . . . The Allied Nations fighting in French territory at the moment were fighting for the liberation of France and they should hold the political situation in 'trusteeship' for the French people ... France was in the position of a little child unable to look out and fend for itself.
This would have gone down like a lead balloon with de Gaulle but how this would have gone down with the French is anybody's guess. It's highly likely that it would of made the post war stability of France much more difficult.  What would have made matters worse would of been the planned issuance of "liberation currency" which would have have given allies an unfair exchange advantage,  been highly inflationary and likely financially ruinous for many of the French.  It's not hard to see how the communists would have exploited this to their own ends.  It was fortunate that Eishenhower was able to mitigate the most idiotic aspects of American policy.

The U.S. hostility to the Free French wasn't driven by public opinion, in fact it was the opposite. The U.S. public, like the English, was incredibly supportive and friendly to de Gaulle, it's just like the case with the U.K. , the people were supportive and the government was hostile. De Gaulle recognised this. In fact when the US government brokered a deal with the Vichyite Darlan the public hostility was so great that they had to reassure the public that it was only a "temporary" arrangement. The public were on the side of the Free French.

A lot of the U.S. administration's hostility to de Gaulle came from Roosevelt himself. He seemed to go out his way not to give recognition to the Free French (He also had the same attitude to the Polish Government in exile).A lot of the pressure that Churchill put on de Gaulle was as result of pressure he himself got from Roosevelt.  As  Churchill was keen on U.S. support he initially did Roosevelt's bidding, but towards the end of the war, when the British realised that U.S. wouldn't be so mindful of their interests they recognised the benefits of having another power by their side and were less hostile to the French, beginning to advocate for them. In fact they and Stalin had to pressure the U.S. to recoginise the provisional government of liberated France.

De Gaulle once said that that he and Churchill fought often but ultimately got along. He also said that he and Roosevelt never fought but never got along. The problem was in the natures of De Gaulle and Roosevelt; they were fundamentally incompatible. Both men were idealists to a certain degree but De Gaulle was a from a deeply "radical" Catholic cloth which is foreign to in many ways to the American mind, Roosevelt a Wilsonian idealist in the manichean tradition. He wanted France liberated and transformed into an American styled democracy. For Roosevelt people were "abstractions"--in that people were all alike--and therefore American style democracy was the best form of government for everyone.  For de Gaulle  blood, soil and a history were one, which meant that democratic conventions were always contingent on temporal circumstance. French democracy was going to be different to the U.S. version because the French were different to Americans. 

Roosevelt worked hard to keep de Gaulle out of Potsdam and Yalta and in my opinion the fate of Central Europe, in particular, may have taken a completely different course had he been there. Churchill, in particular wanted to push the Iron Curtain east. But as he was the junior partner of the triumvirate, he was sidelined by Roosevelt and Stalin who basically divided Europe up. Churchill--and middle Europe--would have had a stronger hand if de Gaulle had been there.

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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

De Gaulle and Albion

When Charles de Gaulle ended up on the shores of England he had very little in the way of resources, men or support of any kind from the French. He was relatively unknown to the French so its understandable that there was an initial reticence in joining him. One thing he did have however was the support Winston Churchill who admired him in not sharing the defeatism that had permeated throughout French leadership.

Their relationship would later become very tempestuous but what I think is important is trying to understand why Chruchill supported him in the first place. My own reading of the Churchill would lead me to the impression that he supported De Gaulle for two reasons:

Firstly, because Churchill had a strong "romantic" streak which admired De Gaulle's defiance in the face of hopeless odds. I think that despite their future tumultuous relationship, Churchill never lost respect for this dimension of De Gaulle. It's what made De Gaulle stand out from his contemporaries

Secondly, Churchill had a strong pragmatic element to his personality which could verge on the cold and calculating.  The fact of the matter was with Nazism triumphant and the Americans reluctant to join the war, Britain was alone and he could use all the help he could get. In the early days of the War, Churchill recognised that because of his moral qualities, De Gaulle could provide a rallying point for the French who wanted to fight. This, of course, was premised on the British notion that the French wanted to fight. As events unfolded, the British rapidly became "red pilled" about the true nature of the French spirit. The reality is that most of the French didn't want to meaningfully fight for their liberation and rally to De Gaulle, and this, more than Anglo perfidy did more to undermine his position.

Once the the French had signed their armistice with the Germans, life in France became a relatively peaceful affair. In the early stages of the war French Communists caused no problem for the Germans since Russia was allied to Germany.  On the other hand, many "right wing"  Frenchmen were happy with Vichy France calling De Gaulle an English puppet.  Except for a small isolated elements in the country many, French adapted to the new circumstances of life. As for the Germans, they were relatively well behaved in the early stages of the war and this kept tensions low. There was virtually no Resistance, unlike in Poland or Russia. As a side issue, the first German to be killed by the Resistance did not die till over a year after France's surrender, killed by a communist a month after the invasion of Russia.

It's important to understand that for the French this wasn't just a passive acceptance of the facts but an active approval of them.  France's moral rot was deep.

After the evacuation of Dunkirk, there were approximately fifty thousand French troops in England. De Gaulle put out an appeal, only one thousand joined. Recruiting was a constant problem.  De Gaulle's son Phillipe, remembers his father raging against the French while admiring the English will to fight.

The British noticed.

What perhaps undermined De Gaulle's position the most however was the raid on Dakar.

Just three months after the Fall of France,  an Anglo-French force set out to capture the African port of Dakar, part of Vichy held territory. At the sight of the liberators De Gaulle confidently predicted that the French would come over and join the Allied cause.  What happened was the opposite. The Vichy defenders fought with a determination against the British that they did not show to the Germans. The invasion force was defeated and it sailed back to London. It was a farce. During the trip back, De Gaulle contemplated suicide. As he mentioned to one of his comrades at the time "If you knew, Major, how alone I feel."

Though the battle is mentioned briefly in Jackson's book, he tends to attribute De Gaulle's despair at the military failure of the episode. What I think Jackson misses is the psychological dimension to this defeat. De Gaulle thought of France "mystically", and this notion conveyed certain ideas of the French character. The idea that French men, when given the choice between liberation by the allies or slavery under the German yoke would actively chose slavery would have gutted him.  The French character had changed.

For the British,  the failure of the French to rally to de Gaulle, diminished his political and military  usefulness and also seemed to have changed the British attitude to Vichy. Following Dakar his relationship with the British would never be the same and the British would see Vichy France as less of potenitial ally and more of a competitive power.

British policy was thus "adjusted".

Monday, May 10, 2021

Charles De Gaulle: The Oddity

When leaders fail, new leaders are projected upward out of the eternal spirit of France: from Charlemagne to Joan of Arc to Napoleon, Poincaré and Clemenceau. Perhaps this time I am one of those thrust into leadership by the failure of others.

Charles De Gaulle


The First World War resulted in a pyrrhic victory for France.  During the course of the war, it lost about one and half million men which equates to roughly one thousand men a day, about ten percent of the male population. Six and half million men were wounded of which over a million were mutliés, i.e. maimed or disfigured. The experience of war had deeply traumatised the  country and and had and had changed its national  temperament, similar in the way the U.S. was affected after Vietnam.  The country's strong sense of militant nationalism gave way to a malaise. Whereas before the war, the military were held in esteem, the experience of war and sense of national grief lead to a loss its prestige and an air of pacifism and hedonism took its place.

The needs of war temporarily put aside the national conflict between left and right, which gradually asserted itself again with the onset of peace. Further complicating matters was the relationship between the religious and the secular, which while still tense, was not as poisonous as in the pre-war years. And even within the French Catholic Church there was a broad division between the traditionalists and the liberals.

With regard to the French Left, and I'm painting in broad strokes here, who were the the lackeys for soviet communism, they worked to co-opt pacifistic trends for their masters advantage. Through economic and industrial sabotage the damaged the french economy, policy and national will.  There loyalty was primarily to a Soviet France and they danced to the tune played by Moscow. Their loyalty to France was conditional on soviet directives. and when the soviets wanted them to support Germany they did.

The Right in France were an all-together different beast. The main right organisation was Action Francaise.  It was pro-monarchy, pro-France, pro-Catholic and anti-Left. Led by Charles Maurras, a brilliant writer and journalist, he had dubious distinction of advocating a Catholic France while being totally contemptuous of religion.  Despite regarding belief with disdain, Maurras regarded it as valuable because of its social utility. He supported Catholicism because it was the historical religion of France, but but to him this was just an accident of history, and if France had had an Islamic tradition, he would have supported it as well.  The fact that the leading advocate of the largest right wing organisation in France was openly contemptuous of religion did bother some  of the religious, but that didn't stop many clergy--some of them at extremely high levels of the French church-- from supporting it and singing its praises.

The picture that I'm trying to paint is of a divided, depressed, hypocritical and wounded society which had deep social, economic, moral and religious problems. Two books which deal with the subject matter well are Eugen Weber's The Hollow Years which tackles the subject from a sociological level, and Yves Simon' brilliant book, The Road to Vichy which tackles it from a moral one. Simon's book is better, in my opinion, in understanding the near utter corruption of France's cultural institutions and population. A good summary of it can be found here.

The bottom line is that the France was a deeply traumatised country which seemed to want to forget the war and enjoy itself, all the while avoiding the menacing reality on its eastern border. What also strikes you, when you read the biographies of De Gaulle, is just how "culturally" different he was both to his contemporaries, and outside the temper of his own times. In many ways he was a throwback to values from before the war--though from the avant-garde* conservative element -- possessing a sense of realism that was lacking in many Frenchmen.  While he was not a "popular" fellow, he had superiors who recognised his intellect and abilities and ensured his progression through the ranks. By the eve of the war in France, he was a brigadier general commanding a tank division, attaining his rank from success in armoured combat. His success in battle earned him a promotion as the government minister. Even in government he was an oddity, because when the French finally capitulated against the Germans he decided to fight on.

The point that I'm trying to emphasise here is that De Gaulle  was an outsider and not someone  cut from the same prevailing cloth that made up the French governing classes of the time. He possessed a different set of values and this is the key to understanding the man and his subsequent actions.

It is very important to understand that the French ruling class of the 1930's--both right and left--was rotten.  De Gaulle was an outsider, and his rise through the ranks was not political but driven by the force of circumstances which highlighted competency in a time of crisis and rendered "political" skills inconsequential . And when I reflect on his rise, it always strikes me as remarkable how this oddity, this man who was different, ended up being in a position where he were he could with legitimacy speak for a France that did not want to capitulate.

There were Frenchmen who wanted to fight but it appears to be that there were none in Government. What further emphasises this point, it that when he put out his appeal for men to join him in England, not one intellectual, politician or senior diplomat wanted to join him.  As Don Cook, in his biography of him wrote:

In those early days, it was not men of experience or leadership, it was not the intellectuals or politicians or administrators or serving officers who were the first Gaullists and rallied to the Cross of Lorraine. They did not come from the châteaus or cathedrals, but from the parish churches and the synagogues, the French of the Paris Métro, the fishing villages, the factories, for whom all was clear and simple.
By and large the French educated and administrative classes were rotten and De Gaulle seemed to be the last vestigal element of what was good in it. I'm not trying to be melodramatic here but the facts speak for themselves. As De Gaulle took off from french soil for England, Churchill's comments were close to the mark.
He carried with him in his small air plane the honor of France

When De Gaulle arrived in England he was looking for an officer or official to serve under. He wrote to various French officials who could of assumed the role but none replied. Then he realised he was on his own. He didn't seek power, it was thrust on him. Realising he was on his own he made the decisive choice:

It was up to me to take responsibility for France
All his subsequent actions can be understood as the application of his principles to the custodianship of France. The reason why he baffled and infuriated his allies is because he was not like them.

*I think a point that doesn't get emphasised enough is just how well read and intelligent De Gaulle was. What really surprised me as I looked into him more deeply, is just how intellectual actually he was and just how influenced he was by the small coterie of French dissident Right thinkers who were repelled by Action Francaise and yet did not drift to the Left.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Julian Jackson's book on Charles De Gaulle

Now, I'll tell you how I felt about de Gaulle. About two years before de Gaulle came back into office I began to tell Dulles, I said, now look, Foster, our only hope in Europe is to get de Gaulle back in. He is the only man that will save that country. Now, let's make no mistake -- this man is not easy to deal with and, I said, as a matter of fact, that I was probably the only American that was welcome in his house. But the thing is, only he can save France, and France is going down the drain.

(Dwight Eisenhower, Interview Transcript)

I haven't been posting for a while thanks to commentator Jason. As a result of his recommendation to read Julian Jackson's biography of Charles De Gaulle, I've ended up falling down a rabbit hole of contemporary french history, European politics, philosophy and theology which I'm still trying to make my way through.

I've always had a great respect for Charles De Gaulle, ever since I read my first biography about him. I have always considered him one of the great statesmen of the 20th C. In light of the new material that I've been acquainted with I have now re-evaluated my opinion of the man and regard him as its greatest. I say that with the full recognition of the other famous leaders and their circumstances. Perhaps his nearest competitors are Konrad Adenauer, Lee Kwan Yew and Theodore Roosevelt but for a variety of reasons I feel that none of them was able to achieve so much with the hand that fortune had dealt them.

But first to Julian Jackson's biography.

A Certain Idea of France has achieved many accolades and I must admit the book is well written. I had actually read bits of pieces of it in the past but had not tackled it in its totality before. Jackson is a great story teller and gives a great account of De Gaulle's tumultuous life. The book is great on detail without getting boring and it does appear that Jackson is trying to give a fair and balanced account of De Gaulle's life. However, it does appear to me that the French critics of the book are to a certain degree right, in that the book gives a very British view of his life. And what I think the French critics are saying is that the British interpret De Gaulle incorrectly and I think that they are right.

The problem with Jackson's book is while he gives a good account of the life of the General but in my impression there's a "spin" to it, either conscious or unconscious, that is really not corroborated by an investigation of the facts which leads me to the conclusion that the author did not really understand his subject matter. He gave a good rendition of his life without understanding the man.

The Anglo-Saxon approach to De Gaulle tends to emphasise the negative experience of his personality as if this was an unavoidable feature of a "man of history." He is described a prickly, petty, cold, aloof, arrogant, ungrateful and spiteful man, especially to the British.  One really gets the impression that De Gaulle was a unnecessary "pain in the arse" and did everything he could to sabotage the latent goodwill of the British and Americans toward him. Furthermore, while Jackson, does acknowledge De Gaulle's patriotism it does appear to me that Jackson suggests that there is calculating Machiavellian component to it that poisons it's sincerity.

The impression that I got from Jackson was the De Gaulle was a disagreeable politician that was scheming for somewhat cynically for French dominance, particularly in Europe. And then while looking a bit deeper into some of the issues involved, I came upon this interesting interview with Dwight Eisenhower which gave me the impression of a totally different man. (It's worth a read)

Something wasn't right.

Part of my trip through the rabbit hole has been trying to work out which of the two versions of De Gaulle is correct. It's my opinion that Eisenhower's assessment is a truer understanding the man.

And that's where things get really interesting. In trying to understand De Gaulle you begin realise the greatness of his being and the vision he was trying to implement with the limited means at his disposal, all the time being undermined by "friends" and enemies. In a sort of super-Nietzschean sense, it was not enough for him to will himself to power, he willed France to power, particularly "a certain idea of it". The tragedy of his story is that the French people in 1968--as in 1939--weren't up to the task, and as Michael Houllebecq has demonstrated in his novels, they preferred mediocrity to greatness.

De Gaull's conception of French "greatness" was based up a deep sense of its history and culture. He saw France as a "light to the world" and it was only when the French were fulfilling this role were they truly themselves. At the bottom of this is an identitarian conception of France which saw it as having a unique  role in the world.

Identity is a keen theme in the philosophy of De Gaulle and it's important to understand that he didn't want the world to be "French" as much as he wanted the world to be influenced by France. No where was this line of thinking more evident than his conception of the European Union which he saw as a "Europe of patries" where each nation maintained his identity as opposed to a supranational european state which suppressed them. He would have supported Brexit, not because he hated the British but because, in a certain sort of way and no matter how much it exasperated him, he loved them being British.

De Gaulle’s concern was that political decisions affecting Europe should be made primarily by national leaders attached to national realities as they sought to negotiate outcomes that would first benefit their nations and thereby Europe as a whole. No doubt, this demanded a degree of statesmanship which (de Gaulle would undoubtedly agree!) was probably beyond most national leaders. But to refer to “Europe” as a political entity without more-or-less immediately speaking about European nations risked, from de Gaulle’s standpoint, precipitating a slide into a highly technocratic conception of Europe: one which viewed the differences between European peoples which reflect the rich tapestry of European culture as atavisms that obstructed the realization of perpetual peace and an apolitical empire ruled by largely unaccountable bureaucrats.

Samuel Gregg

Jackson misses the point that much of De Gaulle's intransigence and rudeness--on many occasions completely justified--came about as result of his attempts to reassert both French and European identity against the homogenising influences of Modernity, particularly the Anglo variety.  It's interesting to see that one of his most pointed criticism of Churchill was that he subordinated the British identity and independence to that of the United States. De Gualle never allowed France to follow this course; to his core he believed in the primacy of identity.

Jackson frequently attributes De Gaulle's identitarian impulse as reaction to the "humiliations" of a "dependent France" suffered by the hands of Britain, U.S and Nazi Germany, but here I think he has also missed the mark.

De Gaulle was perhaps one of the most "intellectual" politicians of the 20th C.  He thought deeply about  about the issues of nation and state, politics, religion and history. He read widely and deeply and his identitarian politics were as a result of a deep understanding of the human condition and politics. De Gaulle was no reactionary, he was a positive identitarian.

But what also struck me while digging deeper into his life is just how important religion was to him and just how influenced he was influenced by many of the writers associated with the Nouvelle Theology movement: Bergson, Maritan, Bernanos, Mauriac, but most particularly Charles Peguy. While there is no doubt that he was quite "conservative" and sympathetic to Action Francaise, he was not cut of their cloth. If I have understood De Gaulle at all, then his vision of France was influenced by a new "Right Wing" version of Catholicism which was able to transcend the moribund traditionalism of the past while avoiding the idiocies of its "liberal" opposition.

People who have frequented this blog will know that I think that one of the reasons why Christianity is in decline is because it affected by a heresy akin to Buddhism which has sapped it of its vitality. What surprised me was that what De Gaulle embodied--and attempted to instill politically-- was a spirit of anti-buddhism which he drew from these "nouvelle theological" authors.  He wanted Christianity, France and Europe to live. Unfortunately, he was undermined by other.

The political Right--and I'm not including Conservative Inc. in this group--seems rudderless at the moment. I think there is a lot of profit to be made from studying De Gaulle and the authors that influenced him. His ideas on nation, identity, history and politics bring a different approach to right wing thought. While Julian Jackson's book is a good read and has chronicalled his life well you'll miss the man for the history and hence the book is not a good start.