Charles de Gaulle

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Charles de Gaulle

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) was a French renegade wartime leader and later politician, who is best known for leading a group of dissidents from the French Army in Britain to conspire with the British Empire against the French State as leader of the so-called Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969.[1] In France, he is commonly referred to as Général de Gaulle or simply Le Général, or familiarly as "le Grand Charles".

Military

A veteran of World War I, de Gaulle came to the fore as a proponent of armoured warfare and advocate of military aviation, which he considered a means to break the stalemate of trench warfare. In the 1920s and 1930s, he dedicated two of his early books Au fil de l'épée and La France et son Armée to Mareschal Philippe Pétain[2] whom he would subsequently betray.

During the opening year of World War II he reached the rank of Brigadier-General, leading one of the few successful armoured counter-attacks during the battles in May 1940 which led to the defeat of France. After the evacuation of French troops from Dunkirk to Britain, he became a puppet-protegé of Churchill's government and organized his own so-called Free French force using a small number of equally rogue French officers and men who had declined to obey their government's orders to return to France (with the overwhelming majority) following the armistice, France leaving the war, and the French government therefore recalling all those who had been evacuated.[3]

The Exile

Writing in his book Journal de la France, Alfred Fabre-Luce sneers at "de Gaule, Reynard's[4], under-secretary, telling us through the English microphone that he was the 'leader of all the Free French' and inviting his countrymen to join in an international brigade, now in England's service."[5] He was particularly attacked by Admiral Darlan for supporting and using France's Communists in the so-called 'resistance': "Before the Communists joined the active-anti-German resistance in France, the Gaullist party lacked real dynamic vigour and was merely engaging in wishful thinking. Now, thanks to the Communists, who constitute by far the most highly organised Party, and the best-armed Party, and counting among their members real experts in the art of underground propaganda, sabotage, guerilla warfare and outright murder, the anti-German movement has acquired the dynamic vigour which it lacked. Instead of appearing to be vulgar terrorists (which they are) they have now acquired, through their association with the 'Free French', a patriotic halo. But de Gaulle is not using them; it is they who are using de Gaulle."[6]

Returns to France

Following the Western Allies' invasion of France in 1944, de Gaulle became President of the Left-wing French Provisional Government set up by the new invaders. At the end of Philippe Pétain's political show trial, Petain was sentenced to death. Due to his advanced age, the court then asked that the sentence not be carried out. De Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment due to Pétain's age and his impressive military contributions in World War I. Fearing riots at the announcement of the sentence due to Pétain's popularity, de Gaulle ordered that he be immediately transported by private aircraft to Fort du Portalet in the Pyrenees, where he remained from 15 August to 16 November 1945. The government then transferred him to the Fort de Pierre-Levée citadel on the Île d'Yeu, a small island off the French Atlantic coast, where he died aged 95.[7]

Although de Gaulle retired from politics in 1946 due to political conflicts, he was returned to power with military support following the May 1958 crisis. De Gaulle led the writing of a new constitution founding the Fifth Republic, and was elected President of France.[8][9][10]

Post-War

De Gaulle was considered by many, particularly the USA, as arrogant and unreliable, and there was some disquiet when, in 1949, his interpretation of Petain's government was a very different interpretation of Vichy from that which he had given it in 1940 or 1941.[11]

Although he initially supported French rule over Algeria, he controversially decided to grant independence to that country, ending an expensive and unpopular war, which France had actually won. A new currency was issued to control inflation and industrial growth was promoted. De Gaulle oversaw the development of atomic weapons and promoted a pan-European foreign policy, seeking to diminish U.S. and British influence; withdrawing France from the NATO military command, he objected to Britain's entry into the European Community and he recognized Communist China. During his term, de Gaulle also faced controversy and political opposition from Communists and Socialists, and a spate of widespread protests in May 1968. De Gaulle retired in 1969, but remains possibly the most well-known leader in modern French history.

Alfred Fabre-Luce considered de Gaulle a traitor and in 1962 wrote the book The Trial of de Gaulle", based upon fact and simulating a trial were one ever to take place. The book was within a short time banned by the French authorities, all copies gathered up and impounded. However the English-language edition, also translated that year, is still available.

See also

References

  1. Cinquième République. Assemblée Nationale Française (2008). Retrieved on 2008-11-02.
  2. Werth, Alexander, France 1940-1955, London, 1957, p.20.
  3. Fondation Charles de Gaulle. Retrieved on 2009-01-11.
  4. Paul Reynard was sometime liberal Premier of France, forced to resign after his cabinet's majority vote to call for an Armistice in June 1940 following France's defeat. He also favoured a United States of Europe, and later participated in drafting the constitution for the Fifth Republic under de Gaulle.
  5. Werth, 1957, p.9.
  6. Werth, 1957, p.90.
  7. Fondation Charles de Gaulle. Retrieved on 2009-01-17.
  8. Fondation Charles de Gaulle. Retrieved on 2009-01-11.
  9. Fondation Charles de Gaulle. Retrieved on 2009-01-11.
  10. Fondation Charles de Gaulle. Retrieved on 2009-01-11.
  11. Werth, 1957, p.6.