PDF Julian T. Jackson Ó Ó A Certain Idea of France Kindle Ù A Certain Epub /

In six weeks in 1940 France's armies were decisively beaten by Germany A junior French general refusing to accept defeat made his way to England On 18 June he spoke to his compatriots on the BBC urging them rally to him in London Through that broadcast Charles de Gaulle entered into history For the rest of the war de Gaulle in London frequently bit the hand that fed him Insisting on being treated as the true embodiment of France he quarrelled violently with Churchill and Roosevelt But through force of personality and willpower he managed to have France recognised as one of the victorious powers at the end of the War For ten years after 1958 he was President of France's Fifth Republic which he created and which endures to this day Drawing on a vast range of published and unpublished documents Julian Jackson's magnificent biography reveals this extraordinary figure as never before The portrait which emerges is of a man of many paradoxes Some considered him a delusional mystic and vainglorious showman others a cynical Machiavellian with no fixed beliefs The tension between reason and sentiment ambition and moderation visions of grandeur and respect for circumstance lay at the core of his conception of political action Few leaders have reflected self consciously on the nature of leadership As he wrote of Napoleon 'Once the balance between ends and means is snapped the manoeuvres of a genius are in vain' But although de Gaulle had a clear sense of what a leader should be he was surprisingly flexible about what one should do The man who did so much to make France what it is today was himself a battlefield on which the French fought out their history


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    As many have noted de Gaulle was an exceptionally complex man Julian Jackson’s biography goes far toward explaining him and is much readable than other biographies LaCouture Fenby A few things are worth pointing out about de Gaulle at the outset he did not care about money and lived quite simply he loved literature and learning as President he read two or three books a week he was intensely private one might even say shy which made him stiff and formal he had a photographic memory he was a devout Catholic and he was a man of complete physical courage The last bit was demonstrated first in WW1 he was wounded leading his company in a charge in 1914 and again at Verdun where he was bayoneted and taken prisoner by the Germans His soldiers commented on his complete disregard for enemy fire and this was seemingly part and parcel of his moral courage no other French leader said “No” to the armistice in 1940 as early or as clearly as de Gaulle As a consequence he was sentenced to death in absentia by Vichy Jackson brings all this out in chapter after chapter of clear expository prose Jackson is so much clearer to English speaking readers than LaCouture whose great three volume biography assumes a lot of a priori knowledge on the part of the reader about French politics and history But in my view Jackson lacks the passion of LaCouture and also Jackson leaves out many telling anecdotes about de Gaulle that in LaCouture’s account give the reader a better understanding of de Gaulle as a man LaCouture dwells at length on the humanizing effect that de Gaulle’s daughter Anne born with Downs syndrome had on the General for example LaCouture’s account of de Gaulle’s comment to his wife at Anne’s death makes you grieve with him de Gaulle spent years trying to gain admittance for Anne to normal schools rather than the institutions to which children like Anne were consigned at the time and he was told over and over But Colonel she is not like the others you know As they left the funeral service for Anne de Gaulle said to his wife Maintenant elle est comme les autres LaCouture gives many examples of de Gaulle’s humor which tended to be very obscure but his jokes and repartee revealed an extremely quick wit Sadly Jackson leaves out much of that but where Jackson excels is in clearly lucidly describing de Gaulle’s path to leadership of the Free French and then to his role as President in 1946 and again from 1958 1969 De Gaulle is often remembered for being uncannily prescient about the future After his first day of combat in WW1 he wrote a letter which clearly recognized that French strategy and tactics were completely wrong – brave bayonet charges were pointless in the age of machine guns and massed artillery The Allied high command never really did learn this lesson right through to the end of the war de Gaulle apprehended it in one day of fighting in 1914 His 18 June 1940 speech was exactly right about how the war would turn out and he was clear eyed about many many other issues De Gaulle saw immediately as the Battle of France turned to debacle that the right path for France in 1940 was to evacuate its Army and Air Force to Algeria and continue the fight against Germany from there – Algeria was at the time a province of France But the government was taken over by Petain and then all that was left for de Gaulle was to deny the legitimacy of Petain rightly so and of the armistice he signed For a soldier de Gaulle was a remarkably adroit politician and he honed his skills in the fights for recognition of the Free French by the US and British as France’s legitimate government part of why he felt he had to demand France’s rights so stridently was that the Vichy regime and the Nazis repeatedly tried to paint him as a lap dog of the British and Americans But it was also personal because he felt keenly the disgrace of France and he was almost physically disgusted by his dependence on the Allies for all support material political military Roosevelt foolishly and pointlessly made an enemy of de Gaulle by opposing him and trying to unseat him as leader of the Free French When the Americans tried to replace de Gaulle not once but twice with someone pliable de Gaulle developed a lifelong distrust of the Americans and to an almost equal degree of the British Fortunately Eisenhower understood the situation well enough to know he needed de Gaulle to organize the Resistance and to rally the French when D Day came and to the point he understood that de Gaulle was the legitimate leader – the Allies couldn’t just pick someone else and expect the French to support him as they attempted with Giraud Incidentally by the end of WW2 the Free French forces under de Gaulle had fielded 14 Army divisions a not inconsiderable contribution – by way of comparison the US Army had about 70 divisions in Europe by war's endDe Gaulle’s great achievement in 1958 in his return to power was the writing of a new constitution that made the French government stable by virtue of having an elected president as in the US rather than a parliamentary system in which governments could and did fall frequently His ruthlessness in extracting France from Algeria was exactly what was needed de Gaulle had already concluded that colonialism was dead so he made it his policy that only those overseas territories which freely chose to remain part of France would do so De Gaulle tried to establish a bilateral “European Union” with Germany but this was undone by the exit of Konrad Adenauer as Chancellor after his defeat in 1963 His development of the independent French nuclear force was privately acknowledged by Eisenhower as a sensible move and in some ways helpful to NATO The book is a bit light on details as to how de Gaulle influenced the Trente Glorieuses economic revival in France there is only one reference to Airbus a perfunctory nod to the Citroen DS none to nuclear power and none to the Concorde project Much is said about de Gaulle's deliberate obscurity and though this came naturally to him it was also a tactic to give him room to maneuver politically Nowhere was it useful than in using the Army to help him gain power in 1958 and then crushing the Army’s power to intimidate the government and establishing permanently the principle of civilian control of the militaryUltimately the book is fair to de Gaulle I think He was a brilliant man and a great man and he was what France needed in 1940 and in 1958 His ego was colossal but so was his accomplishment in “making France present at the victory” over Germany and in bringing stable government and a sense of pride to the French in the period of his presidency He was a conservative who was nonetheless very suspicious of capitalism and he was an Army officer who distrusted the Army and crushed the “putsch” of the four generals In return he was hated by many in the Army and disaffected army officers mounted over twenty assassination attempts against him two of which nearly succeeded He could be scathing and he was prone to terrifying tirades and yet he loved literature and history and he was endlessly tolerant of criticism from real geniuses like Sartre because as he said “One does not arrest Voltaire” He was pragmatic and he could be Machiavellian in achieving his goals but at the end of the day everything he did was to further the interests of the country he loved He was incorruptible and he did not tolerate corruption This very complicated man believed in France he salvaged the honor of France in WW2 and he made France great and relevant in the 1960’s I would like to give the book five stars and maybe I should but I missed the anecdotes and the bon mots recited by LaCouture If Jackson's book had those it would be a five star and unquestionably the best biography of de Gaulle