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The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De…
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The Complete War Memoirs of Charles De Gaulle

by Charles de Gaulle

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(This review is of volume 3, "Le Salut.")

In Britain and America, Charles de Gaulle tends to be thought of as a bit of a prima donna, whose peevishness and notoriously thin skin would exasperate Churchill and Roosevelt. There is plenty of this on display in this memoir, which covers the end of the war and the first months of peace. He sulks at perceived slights from the allies, most of which are clearly imagined and seems obsessed with protocol in a way which must have mystified his counterparts. The saving grace is that he is obsessed not with his own personal standing but with the honor and world position of his beloved France, humiliated by the German victory in 1940 and subsequent occupation. Thus he refuses to accept Roosevelt’s invitation to meet him on his ship in Algiers because Roosevelt has no business inviting him to a part of his own country, and instead invites Roosevelt to Paris. The result, of course, is that no meeting takes place. He is deeply offended when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet without inviting him as a representative of France.

Accompanying this love of France is an exaggerated view of how the country is loved and admired by the rest of the world. He constantly stresses that the world is anxious to see France take its place as a great power, and that no decision could command respect unless France is seen to have taken part. This rose-tinted view leads him to believe that the French will be welcomed back to Indochina and Syria, and in the case of the latter country to see the hand of perfidious Albion in any adverse events there, prompting one to wonder if this paranoia might have played a role in his later anti-British actions. It also shows that in some ways de Gaulle was stuck in the past, in a world where a benign colonial power is welcomed by the local populations who aspire to close ties to the mother country, although he does envisage their eventual independence within a confederation.

In his attitude towards the defeated Germany, de Gaulle also seems to be stuck in the nineteenth century. He proposes French occupation of the Saarland and an international administration of the Ruhr to exact reparations.

De Gaulle’s fussiness and obsession with protocol is annoying and occasionally comical, making you smile, “Here he goes again!” But it does have a practical side. He succeeds in winning a seat for France at the major conferences at the end of the war and in the Security Council of the United Nations, and he was probably the only man who could restore respect to his country, which has much to thank him for.

This book will probably only be enjoyed by those with an interest in the man and the period, and perhaps by those who appreciate precise and lucid use of the French language in a slightly precious style, which accurately reflects its author. ( )
  augustusgump | Mar 29, 2013 |
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