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October 2014

The story goes on, and gets even stranger. Although de Gaulle was wildly popular in France at the Liberation, the restoration of political parties, particularly the Communist Party which was taking orders from Moscow, made political life unpalatable to de Gaulle. This Fourth Republic from 1945 to 1958 was a replay of the Third Republic, divided, carping, jealous, each undermining the other for momentary advantage, negative, inward looking, oops starting to sound like Canberra. All this began while the Germans still occupied ten percent of the country. The parliamentarians had forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

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Everywhere he turned this Gulliver found himself tied down by the parliamentary pygmies. In short order he decided to teach them a lesson by quitting and letting them stew in their own juice. He retired in 1946 and the Fourth Republic stumbled into life. The parliamentary parties wanted a weak executive (since none trusted another to exercise authority) with the result that there was a government which could barely govern. De Gaulle no doubt expected to be called back to save the day again in a few weeks, a few months at the most. But the months turned into years.

As Georges Clemenceau once said, it takes a lot of ruining to ruin a country, and France stumbled on, propped up in good part by the millions in foreign aid flowing from the Marshall Plan of which Lacouture says nary a word. In the first few years de Gaulle gave speeches and a political movement in his name emerged though he had no direct contact with it, but the years rolled on. He wrote his ‘Mémoires de guerre’ in three volumes while France experienced runaway inflation, lost the colonial war in Indo-China, precipitated another colonial war in Algeria, experienced food riots, paralysing strikes led by the Communist Party on orders from Moscow, and more. While things were certainly better than during the Fall, Occupation, and Vichy, the times were hard, confusing, volatile, and stunted. Yet no call was made to the Saviour.

Finally, a military putsch in Algeria restored de Gaulle in 1958. The French Army was determined in many officers and men not to lose another war and certainly not in Algeria. Non! Accordingly, it spared nothing in pursuit of victory there, exceeding and ignoring civilian control from a parade of prime ministers in Paris, culminating in a public declaration of disobedience in Algiers and call on de Gaulle to resume control on the assumption he would support the army.

cl-trinquier01.jpg Colonel Trinquier, one the leaders


General Massu.jpg General Massu and his paratroops, a pivotal actor

Many of these ’wolves in the city’ (a reference to Paul Henissart’s book of that name) knew de Gaulle personally but they did not seem to know him at all. He had been on record since 1943 for self-determination in Algeria, yet they thought he would re-impose French domination there. By the way, there is plenty of evidence that a coup d’état was likely. Two regiments of paratroopers from Algeria were emplaned for Paris, and another regiment deemed loyal to the plotters was assembled in the Bois de Boulonge on the designated day. Tense!

Historians make careers in speculating about de Gaulle’s role in this plot. Lacouture concludes that he knew something as drastic as this was in the offing, and probably thought it would take such a dire threat to bring parliament to its senses, so he remained mute, allowing the plotters to think he was with them. That rare quality in a politician is the ability to keep quiet and say nothing, and de Gaulle had that.

The call was made and de Gaulle was sworn in as prime minister, that cooled the plotters who relented, standing down the paratroopers in Algeria, though there is an amusing story that two police officer riding bicycles through the pre-dawn Bois coming upon a regiment of a thousand fully armed paratroopers very early in the morning and ordering them to disperse, which they, lacking any further orders, did! Now that is civilian authority.

De Gaulle proposed the Constitution for the Fifth Republic which gave a president great powers and took that office by an indirect election. An indirect election? Political Science students know what that means but most punters do not. It means, in this case, that 80,000 office holders (municipal councillors, mayors, parliamentarians, and some members of the judiciary were the electorate in this first presidential election under the Fifth Republic. They gave de Gaulle a two-thirds majority against a field of six other candidates, including the inevitable Communist. In the subsequent parliamentary elections it was another two-thirds for the supporters of de Gaulle, though by this time there were two Gaullist parties. The Communist Party nearly disappeared in this election, going from 120 seats to 10. Such indirect elections were the norm in the 19th Century well into the 20th Century.

De Gaulle remained faithful to his belief that circumstances determine all, and on Algeria he stalled, delayed, spoke in enigmatic phrases, while wooing first Algerian nationalists and then moderate generals in his own army, now and again offering a dissident general a plum appointment abroad as ambassador, promising others new commands if only the crisis could be resolved, coaxed parliament to defer to him, and took his time. During all of this he came to realize himself that there was no alternative but complete independence, though he had long preferred a more gradual option that retained a filial link, and finally he said so.

Then there was a coup d’êtat attempt, but by this time the plotters were too weak, too divided, the government too strong, the Algerian nationalists too disciplined, and having anticipated this, de Gaulle out manoeuvred them.

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That led a fruitless and bloody civil war between the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS) - the ultras - and France, which was just as merciless and bloody as the repression in Algeria had been. None of this story is pleasant, but in the end a worse result, which was very likely at several stages, was averted and de Gaulle, love him or hate, must be credited with that. No one else could have done it.

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Nor was any of it easy. Men who had been close to him for years turned against him. Others tried to kill him, several times; nothing he did satisfied the liberals, the nationalists, the Communists, the pied noirs of Algeria…. When he stalled and delayed lives were lost. It was a terrible time, and the OAS brought the war to Paris by bombing cafés. Yes, long before the IRA got around to blowing up customers drinking coffee, the OAS did it in Paris. It was all deadly serious. At the height of this struggle de Gaulle was seventy (70) years old. Reader what will you be doing at 70?

In 1965 he contested his only popular election and won 55% of the vote in the now familiar two-step process. He defeated François Mitterand.

Having learned how unreliable allies were in World War II, President de Gaulle hewed an independent line in foreign and defence policy. When England tried to prevent a European Union, De Gaulle committed himself to it as a third force between the Anglos and the Communists. Later when the United Kingdom wanted to join the European Union…. Likewise he wanted France to be a force to be reckoned with from now on, and that meant nuclear weapons, and developing these weapons could only be done outside NATO, so France left NATO.

Originally he wanted to occupy the east bank of Rhine, exact reparations from Germany, monopolise the coal from the Saar, and dismember Germany, if not quite as ruthlessly as Clemenceau proposed in 1918, but de Gaulle changed his mind. He originally wanted to manage the movement to independence of colonies, but he changed his mind. He originally opposed a European Union, but he changed his mind.

Instead of reducing Germany, de Gaulle led the way in bilateral relations with West Germany. In one remarkable instance he gave a speech in German at a factory in the Ruhr in which he challenged his auditors to do something very hard, very unlikely, never been done before, virtually impossible…to live together in peace! I did once find it on a web site but I have since lost the address.

Adenauer_de_Gaulle.jpg de Gaulle with Konrad Adenhauer

It is a common mistake that I have read in that self-important organ of opinion the Sydney Morning Herald more than once and heard on the ABC pulpit more than once that the demonstrations of May 1968 drove de Gaulle from office. In fact he left office in 1969, as always in his own time and in his own way. But what is a year to a journalist? Just another annoying fact, or so I was told by a Fairfax journalist when I pointed out this mistake.

In fact in the elections de Gaulle called after those demonstrations in June 1968 returned 352 Gaullist out of 487 seats in parliament. A resounding success! In fact he resigned in April 1969, when he was seventy-nine (79), after the defeat of a referendum he sponsored on the reform of local government. He was ready to leave and the referendum was a convenient trigger. He died within a year.

A few loose ends. De Gaulle assigned the earnings from his memoirs and other books to the Anne de Gaulle Foundation that he and Yvonne started. The Foundation supported mongoloid children and their parents.

While head of the provisional government, prime minister, and president de Gaulle paid his own way. That is he charged almost nothing to the state. He paid for his own telephone calls. He had meters installed in the living quarters so he paid for the heat, water, and light there. Paid for his own postage stamps. We know this from biographers. He lived on his pension as a colonel; his promotion to general had not been confirmed by the Reynaud government during its flight and so was never technically consummated leaving him entitled to a colonel's pension which he accepted without demure. Nothing was said about it at the time. I am not sure what conclusion to draw from his frugality except, as always, that he did things his way.

In the preface to this translation the author complains that the publisher abridged volumes two and three into a single tome. The original French three volumes were squeezed into two by combing the last two in one with much editing. It is not clear who did the editing. Was it the translator or the author himself? What I can say is that I found the blow-by-blow account of the political machinations from 1946 to 1969 is far more than I could digest in even this abridged form. What that detail does do is show how hard the work of politics is.

What I missed, and I do not know if it is there in the original, is detail of de Gaulle’s years in the wilderness. After all it was twelve years. He gave some speeches in the early years and he wrote his memoirs, yes, but what else? Did he reassemble his family? Did he go to his grandchildren christenings? Did he read a biography of Jean d’Arc? She by the way seems to me to be his alter ego. Whereas she heard God, he heard France.

Since his passing many politicians, parliamentarians, parties, and movements in France have said they are Gaullist. What does that mean, ‘Gaullism’? First, it means an independent foreign policy and that implies having the means to be independent. Second, it means planning and co-ordination in domestic policy. In economics it means Keynesianism. Finally, it means the expansion and defence of French language and culture along with social conservatism. In short, big government, big enough to please Gough Whitlam.

4_Carlton_Gardens_London_HQ_of_Charles_de_Gaulle.JPG The plaque at Carlton Gardens, London

Virtually every word on this plaque is contentious. To Vichy he was not a general; his commission lapsed when he refused the order to surrender. When he set up an office in Carlton Gardens he was alone. The Committee came much later and by then de Gaulle's headquarters had moved. Likewise, that well known term 'Free French' renders 'France Libre' which is much broader - Free France, not just some Frenchmen but the whole. Moreover, in 1943 when the Anglos were trying to displace de Gaulle they started using the term 'Fighting French' to undermine him. In 1940 there were no 'forces' with de Gaulle.

I long wondered about the 140,000 French troops evacuated from Dunkirk in May. Should de Gaulle have recruited them. He could not because they were transhipped from Dover to Bristol by train in a great hurry and shipped back to Bordeaux arriving just before the capitulation. At the time the ambition was to get them back into the war, since no one in England, least of all the French generals with the troops, anticipated a capitulation in June. It was Churchill who ordered the British to evacuate soldiers from Dunkirk without regard to uniform. Until he intervened the evacuation was limited to Brits. Thereafter, the evacuation included Brits, French, Belgians, and even some Poles who with the French.

The novel is a study of war photographers in South East Asia in the 1970s.  The three principals are Jimmie Feng, Dmitri Volko, and Mike Langford; the last is the protagonist. Mike is from Tasmania and there is where I got this copy in 2014. 

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The descriptions of life and war in South East Asia are etched, and at times lyrical, the heat of the day, the bird song before sunup, the sapping humidity, the blinding sun, the people rooted to the land, the cool of the night,contrasted to the blare of American Saigon, the wumps of helicopters, the paralysing fear and chaos of a firefight, the confusion of battle, the mistrust of those people rooted to the land.  It is all there in a kaleidoscope of sounds and colours.  Much of the book can be read for a vicarious ride into the world of these war-lovers, as per the John Hersey novel.  

The first experience of combat is terrifying. Enduring a B-52 bombing is unendurable.  Volkov's drunken lament is moving. The political theory seminar, complete with references to Hegel, in the jungle is compelling.  

Mike is a Christ figure trying to save just about everyone and finding that he is all too human, too frail to do that.  Indeed his unremitting inarticulate goodness wore down this reader. Even more tedious was his universal sex appeal; it read like an adolescent boy's wet dream. Still worse was the recognition of his gift of grace in the early pages. The world does not work like that.

This reader was also worn down by 511 pages many of which were repetitious, first Vietnam and then Cambodia, each the same story told twice. Koch may have had to write it to exorcise his demons but I did not need to read it, and the second telling is lesser for my want of attention. Yes, I turned the pages ever faster. 

book.jpg Christopher Koch

Niggles, there were a few, I do not know what a 'Tasmanian bluey' is and neither did the Tasmanians I asked.  I have never seen it spelled ‘tzarist’ before and neither has the spell checker. The many references, including some in the Launceston setting at the start of the novel, to the Australian Broadcasting Service in the 1970s made me wonder where the ABC was. By the way, we never do get back to Launceston despite the elaborate setup. I also stopped short at a reference to blue eyes in old photograph of a great grandfather. Do the arithmetic and that great grandfather's photograph must have been in black-and-white.

I chose this book because I have read other Koch novels and trusted him on two counts, to have a story to tell and to tell it well. He met both those criteria despite my niggles and plaints.

When people hear that I am reading about Le Grand Charles most have a dismissive reaction as if to say ‘That fool!’ or worse. I get no such reaction to reading about Adolf Hitler or Erwin Rommel.

Does the memory of his veto of the United Kingdom’s bid to join the fledgling European Union still rankle? Does his icy reception of President Kennedy in Paris still itch? Does his determination to make France independent by (1) withdrawing from a NATO commanded by Americans and (2) developing nuclear weapons make him a villain?

That seems to be the superficial reaction. I say ‘superficial’ because I doubt any of these reactors know much of French history or his biography. This book offers a lot of both. As a foretaste of what follows, here are a few reasons by de Gaulle had no faith in the Anglos.

1.The British tried repeatedly to oust Free France from Syria and Lebanon when the Vichy Administration there collapsed.
2.The British colluded with the Americans for two years to displace de Gaulle with another, more pliable figure head. As to pliable see (5) and (6) below.
3.Whenever de Gaulle’s insistence that France was an Ally became too annoying the British would literally turn off his telephones, deny his vehicles petrol coupons, and end take-off and landing rights for the aircraft he used for transport in England and North Africa.
4.The Roosevelt Administration continued diplomatic relations with Vichy regime well into 1944, while that regime was busy deporting Jews to Germany.
5.Free France was excluded from all the planning of D-Day and the invasion of France in June 1944. ALL.
6.The American plan was to occupy France as though a belligerent and install military governors.

The list could go on but that is enough to indicate the sore points. To see some of the context read on.

When he decided to be a soldier, Charles de Gaulle grew up. His earlier dalliances with poetry and the life of letters fell away.  His adolescent indolence and insouciance stopped from one day to the next. His indifferent school work suddenly became excellent.  He is another example of Prince Hal or Achilles, a man born to the sword. Once committed to the Army, De Gaulle never looked back.  He entered St. Cyr by examination and worked his way up from 150 in a class of 200 to 12.   No one doubted that in another term he would be first. When he graduated he chose the infantry, unlike his peers who preferred engineering, artillery, or cavalry, each more glamourous than les poilus.

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At 24 World War I started and de Gaulle was a captain at the front, shot in his first engagement. When his unit was transferred to the defence of Joan of Arc’s birthplace, sacred Verdun, he rejoined it there and served under the command of General Phillipe Pétain who praised young captain de Gaulle in dispatches. De Gaulle was bayoneted and captured, spending nearly three years as a POW in Germany.  He had studied German since high school and he studied it again to aid his numerous, unsuccessful escape attempts.  

In the long months of captivity he studied Germany and Germans in every way he could. He read the newspapers, spoke to and listened to the guards and the civilians who worked around the jail. He drew two conclusions from this study: (1) a civilian government mobilizes a country better than a military government because it is responsive to citizens and (2) Germans are resilient despite bad government.

For the moment stress the first, the primacy of civilian government. There is no doubt that de Gaulle, despite everything said about him by his many enemies, was a child of the French Republic and viewed it as the best form of government. He was never tempted by dictatorship of any kind under any name.

Wherever he went Charles de Gaulle had a mind of his own which he spoke. This characteristic slowed his progress up the army hierarchy but it also won him the support of Marechel Phillipe Pétain, such is the irony of history.  Though he and Pétain were never close, Pétain made use of de Gaulle’s talents and protected him from some of the enemies de Gaulle made all too easily.  

Prior to World War I the major debate in the French army was between the advocates of fortifications and those of firepower.  Pétain took the side of fortifications and he found vindication in the killing fields of World War I.  Firepower was so great it could not be overcome.  Sheltering on the defensive in forts was the only solution.  Out of this seed grew the Maginot Line.  

De Gaulle drew a different conclusion, though he agreed that firepower was irresistible, his conclusion was maneuver, mobility, and movement.  Hence his interest, even while a POW, in tanks.

After World War I the debate become more abstract.  The received opinion in France was that war had to be managed through a series of doctrines that computed firepower, ratios, bullets per man,feet of cement walls, angles of fire, lines of wire, kilograms of steel in fortifications, ever more technical, mathematical, and abstract.  A Cartesianism gone mad that René Descartes would not have recognised.  Everything must be planned and calculated far in advance, then the army ants move like clockwork according to the plan, directed from afar by telephone and radio, observed from above by airplanes.  

De Gaulle rejected this approach period, and said so in the first opportunity when he, then a junior officer, addressed a seminar of very senior officers who had all supped on doctrine. Rather he argued that it was circumstance, the unanticipated opportunities, that led to victory. These are first and best perceived at the lowest level of command, the sergeant, not in a manual of doctrine or at the end of a telephone wire in Paris. He advocated an army based on sergeants! At this rank the French Army should recruit educated and stable men, retain them with good pay and conditions, and train them (map reading, codes, signals) so that they could recognize opportunities and take initiatives. Hardly what the demigods of the École de Guerre saw as their mission. That Moltke the Elder, Napoléon, and Caesar could be quoted in support of this thesis helped not at all.  Off de Gaulle went to distant posts in Poland, Germany, and Syria. Had World War II not intervened he would no doubt have been assigned to the French Antarctic Territory.

To make matter worse, de Gaulle wrote and published one book after another, each contrary to doctrine. By the way in this writing he earned a reputation as a stylist of the first order. To read 'Le fil de l’épée' (1927) is to see why.  It is spare, terse, laconic, and elegant.  It emphasised the human element in combat not the technical; it stressed the concrete not the abstract. It argued that the soldier wins the battle at the edge of a sword, not the general at the end of a telephone line. The general trains and motivates the soldier, and directs operations in broad.

Not only was de Gaulle a democrat of the French Republic, he was never anti-Semitic, not even in the casual way that was common in those days.  There are many examples of this kind of anti-semitism that mar Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels of this time. Some of de Gaulle's mentors in the army were Jews, and he always remembered them. Moreover, Léon Blum from his prison cell in Vichy declared de Gaulle to be the leader of France.

Then the war came, and de Gaulle was plucked from a desk and assigned to a field command of light tanks. Within days of arriving, he launched a reconnaissance in force and engaged the Germans with some success and took several hundred supermen prisoners. This is one of the few initiatives shown by any French officer during the Phony War (September 1939-May 1940).  His superiors chided him for riling the Germans and relieved him of command! Gallic logic.

Then in May, German General Heinz Guderian struck with Erwin Rommel in the lead, proving that the Ardenne Forest was not impassable, which had been the assumption of the French General Staff, proving that massed tanks can destroy an enemy contrary to the doctrine of static defence.

De Gaulle, promoted to brigadier general, was assigned to command a makeshift brigade of French tanks. With this scratch force he launched the only French counter-offensive of the war to cut Guederian’s communication slowing the German advance. Like Churchill and Hitler, de Gaulle had been under fire in World War I, and, unlike them, he had also been under fire in World War II, several times at the edge of the sword.  

By this time the chain of command was disintegrating. Premier Paul Reynaud asked him to join the government to balance the defeatist that surrounded him, e.g., Pétain, who had been advocating an armistice for days.  Reynaud sent de Gaulle to London to motivate the English into making a still greater commitment to France.  

Between 1932-1939 there were fourteen (14) minister of defence.  Each busy undoing the work of his predecessor as the government lurched from one crisis to another.  

That old chestnut that people unite against a common enemy is belied in this story.

Even as the Germans were flanking Paris in June 1940, Generals Maxim Weygand and Maurice Gameilin were undermining each other and writing letters to prove that the defeat had nothing to do with them.  In one very embarrassing episode Weygand prowled the halls of the Ministry of War trying to get cabinet ministers and generals to sign a petition exonerating him of any responsibility.  Comic opera, but for the gunfire.  

Churchill was tempted to do more in France but he was surrounded by officers who told him France was lost and it was necessary to preserve British forces for the coming battle of Britain.  

Then in a master stroke that has since faded from history, Churchill offered to unify France and Britain as a single nation, with a single government, and to defer to Reynaud as head of that government, if only the French would fight on in France or take the government into exile to London or Algiers. Reynaud was ready to accept the offer of union but his cabinet, by this time meeting in the Bordeaux town hall, was defeated, and rejected the offer in a few minutes.  Better to make peace with the Germans than to enter into a covenant with perfidious Albion!

Like many others who emerge as leaders, the deeper the crisis became, the more disastrous the situation, the calmer, cooler de Gaulle became.  At the last joint meeting of the Anglo-French War Council, Churchill described de Gaulle as imperturbable, relaxed, and yet alert and — most of all -- with a plan….!  The plan was a far-fetched (a redoubt across the Breton peninsula, but he was the only Frenchman at the table with positive action in mind, indeed, the only one to make eye contact with the English.  The others stared down at the table top in silence.  Beaten men, they were defeated.  When Churchill passed de Gaulle leaving the room he paused and said to him ‘Vous êtes la France.’ Little did either of them know what was to come.

Though commissioned to ask what terms the Germans would offer, Prime Minister Pétain instead declared a unilateral ceasefire in his second day in office, and capitulated to the Germans with no effort to negotiate or permit the government to choose exile as the Dutch, Danes, and Norwegians had done in preceding weeks. Some say that Pétain's actions were thus illegitimate.

In London two days after the capitulation de Gaulle went to the microphone in defiance of the obvious facts that France was lost; in defiance of the government of Pétain; in defiance of a great deal of public opinion in France that the war was over, and thank God for that! In defiance of the French community in London which wanted nothing so much as a low profile.
  
De-gaulle-radio.jpg 'France has lost a battle; the war goes on!'

There is much more to tell but it is best read.  Instead of going into those details, let us take a look at the man himself.  He married Yvonne, he said, because she had the best mind.  He read most of his manuscripts to her, when possible, and accepted her judgement on style.  His daughter Ann was born mongoloid and thereafter much of the family life revolved around her.  There was never any question that she, Ann, would be secreted away in an institution though that was the common practice at the time.  To the extent possible Ann would have an ordinary life with her siblings. His sons all carried arms in the Free French military.

_Anne_de_Gaulle.jpg Anne de Gaulle, 'Maintenant elle est comme les autres.'

Second only to Yvonne was lifelong influence of his father and then his brothers.  They were a close knit clan and stayed that way.  The adverse publicity that Charles brought to the name of de Gaulle was worn as a badge of honour.  By 1944 the Vichy Regime had rounded up all of his relatives and they were deported to German slave camps. That included his elder sister, cousins, nieces and nephews, and few of them survived the ordeal. Is it any wonder that later he refused any truck with the Vichy Regime, despite the insistence of President Franklin Roosevelt. Non!

De Gaulle, the rebel, has an impressive CV.
1.In 1912 a very junior lieutenant de Gaulle advocated mobility in a unit commanded by Pétain that singular proponent of fortifications.
2. In 1917 Captain de Gaulle lectured senior field officers on the stupidity of ‘attack at all costs’ against machine guns which many of them had ordered.
3.In 1924 Captain de Gaulle published articles in both popular and technical journals arguing that circumstance determines success, contrary to the French Army credo of doctrine.  He is sent to Poland as an observer.  
4.In 1927 he lectured future generals on the importance of sergeants in combat, not High Command.   
5. In 1928 Captain de Gaulle refused to comply with General Pétain’s demands for intellectual flexibility.  He is posted to Syria.  
6.In 1934 Captain de Gaulle published a book opposing the doctrines of High Command predicting that the next war will be won by massed tanks supported by aircraft which will punch through any defensive (Maginot) line.  
7.In 1937 he published yet another book disputing the doctrines of high command against the express wishes of Pétain.  
8.In 1940 de Gaulle mailed a tract denouncing the conduct of the war to 80 superior officers.  
9.Against orders to do nothing, Colonel De Gaulle launched his tank regiment on a reconnaissance in force against the German, netting 500 prisoners, and proving that French tanks can best Panzers. 
10. On his own initiative in 1940 General de Gaulle launched the only counter-attack the French Army offered, briefly cutting Guderian’s line of communication.  
11. In1940 in London General de Gaulle re-directed a French shipload of military equipment diverted to England.    

Philippe Pétain rescinded de Gaulle’s promotion to General, put him on the army’s inactive list, retired him from the army, stopped his army pension, declared him a traitor, withdrew his citizenship, and launched legal proceedings in abstentia against him in both compliant civil and military courts where he was sentenced to death. Lest that all seem comic opera it is sad to say that others likewise tried in astentia did fall into the hands of Vichy authorities and were executed. Italy, Portugal, Spain, and even in one case the United States surrendered individuals to Vichy arrests.  Likewise those who fled to French colonies (from Algeria to Madagascar) were sometimes arrested and returned to Vichy where they were murdered. Shades of 'Casablanca.'

As to anti-semitism, consider this. When De Gaulle secured control over Algeria and Tunisia in 1943, his critics, including that completely cock-eyed American ambassador Robert Murphy, said de Gaulle was stirring up the Arabs. What de Gaulle did to stir up Arabs was stop the deportation of Jews from Algeria to Germany, which the Vichy governor François Darlan had been doing assiduously while Murphy looked on.

De Gaulle was long suspect to both British and American authorities because the Free French he assembled included communists, socialists, nationalists, royalists, reactionaries, regionalists, fierce individualists, and every other political stripe. All he asked was that they fight the common enemy under the tricolor.

From that radio broadcast on 18 June to July 1944, de Gaulle went from the most junior general in the French army to the head of the provisional government of France. It was a long, hard road with many setbacks, a lot of mistakes, and much opposition, but in its course he brought France back to life. In November 1944 there were 350,000 Free French troops in Western Europe. General Alphonse Juin's First French Army played a decisive role in Italy. General Phillipe LeClerc’s army liberated the south of France. Earlier in Africa Generals Jean Lattre de Tassigny and Pierre Koenig held the flank for the British at El Alamein. All of this started with that one man with an idea at a microphone. Though it was a capital offence to listen to his broadcasts in Occupied and Vichy France, Vichy authorities estimated his audience at three million (3,000,000)! What did John Stuart Mill say about one man with an idea? In this case de Gaulle's idea was France.

By the way, I note once again with interest that de Gaulle never promoted himself, unlike all those tyrants that his enemies likened him to. He retained his rank as a brigadier general. Every other general outranked him, including those who served at his command in the Fighting Free French. Even from the first days in London at least two full generals and an admiral of the fleet put themselves at his command. They recognised leadership beyond rank.

Despite the efforts of Ambassador Murphy, acting for Roosevelt, to undermine and displace de Gaulle he continued and in a coup de main in 1943 the Resistance in its many forms joined together briefly to recognise General de Gaulle as the voice of fighting France. The many European governments-in-exile in England recognised de Gaulle's committee as the sovereign of France, too, though it took the Anglo-Saxons powers much longer to do that thus sewing the seeds for future resentments.

Even in early 1944 Ambassador Murphy was still plotting some kind of transfer of allegiance of the remnant of Vichy to the Allies bypassing de Gaulle completely and recognising Pétain as the sovereign! The same Pétain whose primer minister Pierre Laval was an ardent Nazi. A plot that de Gaulle scuttled but which he never forgot. Put the shoe on the other foot: What if de Gaulle had endorsed Thomas Dewey against FDR in 1944?

Finally, D-Day and the invasion of France was planned without any participation from the Free French, and the plan was to occupy France and install military governors. Believe it or not. This was an insult de Gaulle never forgot. This is a story in itself. Within days of 6 June, de Gaulle with a small entourage marched onto a British ship, unauthorised, bound for the Normandy beaches, went ashore, and installed the first Free French prefects in the smoking ruins of town halls. As he strode down roads and streets that had just been fought over, he was mobbed by the locals. They had no doubt who their leader was.

As to the book itself, the judgements are few but very finely drawn. The prose is elegant, though there are too many distracting translator’s notes asterisked into the text * and ** and *** and, on one page, ****.   Readers should note that the French grammar is preserved in a literal translation that often throws an English reader used to word-order grammar.  There are also many cryptic references to figures and events in French history that escaped me.  

Lacouture is a journalist of the old school, one who values truth, seeks several sources for confirmation, interviewed everyone he could and who prefers understanding to glib judgements, and leaves conclusions to the reader, altogether a now vanished breed.  He would never get a job at the ABC.

PARIS-Jean-Lacouture-2-photogriffon-goodheidi.jpg Jean Lacourture

I read the two volumes of this biography in the 1990s when Kate gave it to me, and this is a second reading.  I will read the second volume soon.

While on a round of errands in the city yesterday I made a point of going to the Korean Cultural Office on Elizabeth Street. Earlier I had read John McDonald’s review of an exhibit there, and I regard Honest John as a very reliable cicerone in matters of art. In addition, I have happy memories of the semester I spent at Korea University in Seoul. Finallly, I had walked by the KCO office a time ago on the way to meet some comrades for lunch at the Greek Club nearby. The conjunction of these stars led my steps, along with Google Maps, to the exhibition of Lee Lee Nam’s digital art.

While John’s review whet my appetite, it did not quite prepare me for the reality. In a surprising large space, darkened, I was alone with the works projected on Ultra High Definition screens; thank you, Samsung. Lee Lee Nam has taken traditional Korean, and a couple of European, images and recast them as video.

The result is delightful, captivating, and amusing. I took some video with the iPhone to show Katester who was otherwise engaged while I disported. The effect is to breath a great deal of life into those spare ink paintings that are otherwise, truth to be told, lifeless and repetitive. None of the images on the official web site do the work justice.

3. Shin Saimdang - Egg Plant and Grasshoppers, LED TV-2.jpg

Imagine the aubergine stalks swaying gently in the breeze as the butterflies float by while the grasshoppers hop now and then, and you have it.

For more information cut-and-paste this link into the browser.
http://www.koreanculture.org.au/LeeLeeNamDigital


P.S. I do not post my video for fear of the Copyright Storm Troopers who patrol these blogs.

Baton Rouge, 1935. More Huey Long. And when he fades from the scene the lightbulb dims considerably.

When I read Wiliam Hair’s biography of Huey, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, I came across other titles related to Huey including this work of fiction. The premiss is that Huey, well aware of the Neanderthal character of many around him, and venality of others, wanted an outsider he can trust next to him. This is Nathan Heller, Chicago P.I. whom Huey earlier met on tour. The money takes Nathan to NOLA where he discovers it is NOT the Big Easy.

Collins does a good job in bringing to life an array of distinctive characters, of course, most of all Huey P. Long at the height of his ambitions and national acclaim with eyes firmly set on the 1940 presidential election. Note that year, 1935; it is the year Huey was murdered. When that happens about halfway through the novel, the energy on the page dissipates.

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The first half is a ride on the Huey Long circus, as one of the bit players terms it, and the second half is Nate Heller’s succession of interviews with witnesses and retainers, which are in comparison lifeless, repetitive, and -- sin for a krimie writer -- boring.

By the way, there is a lot to like about the Huey shown here. His energy. His wit. His absolute rejection of anti-semitism. His spurning of the appurtenances of fascism. There is also a lot to dislike, to be sure. Domineering. Crude. Tyrannical. Careless.

There has never been a satisfactory explanation of what happened when Long was murdered, still less why it happened. The hangers-on were quick to bury him and blame the lone assassin, Dr Weiss. END OF STORY. No Warren Commission here to air everything twice over and give the conspiracy theorists fuel. But then they spontaneously combust without need of fuel. The speculation has since been continuous. Something of the range is indicated in this list.

1.Sic semper tyrannis. Dr Weiss was a public spirited citizen who had had enough.
2.Weiss had a personal motive because his father-in-law was about to be made victim by Long,
3.Weiss had a personal motive because Long was about smear the whole family with the greatest Southern curse, Negro blood somewhere up the family tree.
4.Weiss had a personal motive because Long had violated Weiss’s wife.
5.Weiss missed when he shot but the fusillade fired by Long's simian bodyguards hit and killed Huey either directly or by ricochet.
6.There was a second gunman in the crowd who took advantage of the ruckus that Weiss made when he confronted Long to kill Huey. See (2)-(4) above.
7.Huey had crossed organised crime once too often, in his quest to finance a national campaign, and he was hit.
8.Huey had infuriated Standard Oil once too often and it acted.

The list goes on. Most accept Weiss as the agent, if not firing the fatal bullet. What Aristotle called the 'proximate cause; but not necessarily the 'final cause.' (Now I know why I wrote that paper on Aristotle's Four Causes in graduate school!)

Collins’s imagination puts a new spin on this well trodden list. Hooray!

SPOILER ALERT. Despite Long's ambitions, there were those about him who supposed he would never make it to the White House in D.C. and his ambitions for it were undermining the flow of graft in Louisiana. The Long Machine, now well established, would work better without Long. Ergo, one of his closest, and most venal, lieutenants did it to take over the Machine and keep it focussed on graft, not on an empty national, political ambition.

This is one of a long series of krimies featuring Nathan Heller. I will read more in due course.

It is well researched to be sure, but I still wondered if car radios were as common in 1935 as implied in the text, and I wondered how one went about renting a car in New Orleans in that year.

20131015-1.jpg

Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa as the back notes proudly proclaim. Take that Bill ‘Cheap-Shot’ Bryson. Muscatine is near Davenport on the Father of Waters for those who know Iowa. Collins must be chained to a keyboard there, given the long list of titles on Amazon.

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