Diplomacy and Conflict • Negotiating Peace: Diplomacy During WWII
Born in Lille, France, on November 22, 1890, de Gaulle was arguably France's greatest 20th-century statesman. In 1909 he joined the French Army and three years later graduated from the French Military Academy at Saint-Cyr. He fought in World War I and was severely wounded twice. Promoted to captain in September 1915, de Gaulle was wounded a third time and captured by the Germans at Verdun in March 1916.
After the war, de Gaulle returned to Saint-Cyr as professor of history. Later he taught at the École de Guerre and then served for a time as aide-de-camp to French Army commander Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. De Gaulle also became a theorist of the new high-speed armored warfare and in 1934 published an important book on the subject. Had his ideas been followed, the 1940 defeat of France by the Germans might never have occurred.
When World War II began, Colonel de Gaulle commanded a tank brigade. As the start of the May 1940 battle for France began, he received command of the 4th Tank Division. The division achieved one of the few successes scored by the French Army, and on June 1 de Gaulle was promoted to brigadier general. Within a week Premier Paul Reynaud brought him into his cabinet as undersecretary of state for national defense.
When a new defeatist government took power in France, on June 17, 1940, de Gaulle left Bordeaux for London. A day later he spoke over the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) airwaves and urged French citizens to continue the war against Germany. De Gaulle headed the French Resistance in World War II, but his wartime relations with the British and Americans were often difficult. De Gaulle acted as if he were a head of state, while the British and Americans persisted in treating him as an auxiliary. De Gaulle was embittered by British efforts to dislodge the French from prewar positions of influence in Syria and Lebanon and by the continued failure of the Allies to consult him in matters regarding French interests.
From late August 1944 de Gaulle ruled France as provisional president. He was determined that France would retain its role as a Great Power. To reestablish French influence in Asia, in late 1943 the French Committee of National Liberation had called for the future creation of an expeditionary corps to participate in the war against Japan and liberate Indochina. After the liberation of France in 1944, the provisional government authorized the creation of a Far East Army. On June 4, 1945, de Gaulle, acting with the National Defense Committee, decided to create an expeditionary corps of two divisions for Indochina, command of which went to an unenthusiastic General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc.
In mid-August 1945 the National Defense Committee decided to send the expeditionary force along with a naval squadron centered on the battleship Richelieu, already in the Far East, and three aviation groups of about 100 aircraft. De Gaulle wrote in his memoirs that "The sending of troops was the condition on which everything else depended. Seventy thousand men had to be transported along with a great deal of material. This was a considerable undertaking, for we had to begin it in a period of demobilization and while we were maintaining an army in Germany. But it was essential, after yesterday's humiliation, that the arms of France give an impression of force and resolution." At the same time, in perhaps the most fateful decision in the coming of the Indochina War, de Gaulle appointed Admiral Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu to be high commissioner to Indochina and charged him with restoring French sovereignty over the Indochina Union.
In January 1946, when political parties in France rejected his plan for a strong presidency, de Gaulle abruptly resigned. He spent the next years writing his war memoirs. Meanwhile, the Fourth Republic was stumbling toward disaster. In May 1958, having survived the long war in Indochina, the Fourth Republic finally collapsed under the weight of another war, this one in Algeria, and de Gaulle returned to power, technically as the last premier of the Fourth Republic.
The Fifth Republic
De Gaulle's preservation of the democratic process was his greatest service to France. His Fifth Republic brought the strong presidential system that he had long advocated. The most pressing problem remained that of Algeria, which became independent in 1962. In foreign affairs de Gaulle was arguably less successful, largely because he sought to reassert a French greatness that was gone forever. He saw France as leader of a "third" European force, between the two superpowers. De Gaulle pushed the development of a French atomic bomb and then a nuclear strike force, the Force de Frappe, to deliver it. His entente with Konrad Adenauer's Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) was a success, and he began the process of détente with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. More questionable was his withdrawal of France from the military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), although he gave strong support to NATO when the West was pressured by the Soviets. He twice vetoed British entry into the Common Market, cut France's close ties to Israel, and called on Quebec to seek separation from Canada.
De Gaulle also lectured the Americans on Vietnam. He warned President John F. Kennedy about involvement in Indochina, telling him "that intervention in this area will be an endless entanglement." On the defeat of a national referendum in 1969, which he made a test of his leadership, de Gaulle again resigned and retired to write his final set of memoirs. He died at his home in Colombey-les-Deux Églises on November 9, 1970.
Among honors he has received for his publications are two John Lyman Book Awards from the North American Society for Oceanic History (1989 and 2000), the Rear Admiral Ernest M. Eller Naval History Prize for best article in naval history (2000), the Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize for best book in naval history (2004), two Society for Military History awards for best reference work in military history (2008 and 2010), and four American Library Association RUSA Outstanding Reference Source awards (2009, 2010, 2014, 2015).
Crozier, Brian. De Gaulle. New York: Scribner, 1973; De Gaulle, Charles. Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor. Trans. Terence Kilmartin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971; De Gaulle, Charles. The Complete War Memoirs. 3 vols. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964; Gaulle, Charles de. The War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle, Vol. 3, Salvation, 1944–1946. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960; Gras, General Yves. Histoire de La Guerre d'Indochine. Paris: Editions Denoël, 1992; Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle, the Rebel, 1890-1944. Trans. Patrick O'Brian. London: Collins Harvill, 1990; Lacouture, Jean. De Gaulle: The Ruler, 1945–1970. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1972.
Tucker, Spencer C. "Charles De Gaulle." World History: The Modern Era, ABC-CLIO, 2020, worldhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/317038. Accessed 20 Jan. 2020.
Entry ID: 2171547