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"The truth behind the French Resistance myth " Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 12:35 p.m. PST

"Thirstily swallowed by a humiliated France, the dominant narrative of the French Resistance was cooked up by General de Gaulle – "Joan of Arc in trousers", Churchill testily called him – when he addressed the crowds outside the Hôtel de Ville on August 25, 1944. "Paris liberated! Liberated by its own efforts, liberated by its people with the help of the armies of France, with the help of all of France."

Yet, as Robert Gildea exposes in this comprehensive survey of the French Resistance, the myth that the French freed themselves is largely poppycock, like de Gaulle's boast that only "a handful of scoundrels" behaved badly under four years of Nazi occupation. (One example: by October 1943, 85,000 French women had children fathered by Germans.) Most of the population didn't engage with their revolutionary past until the last moment, when the chief thing they recaptured was their pride. The first French soldier into Paris was part of a regiment "called 'la Nueve' because it was composed mainly of Spanish republicans"…."
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Pan Marek Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 1:04 p.m. PST

The great French documentary, "The Sorrow and the Pity" dealt with this at length.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 2:12 p.m. PST

Historians are in the truth business, and rightly so. But nations need myths. They tell us what we ought to do and give us a standard to measure ourselves against. Who wrote that "the belief that one British soldier is the equal of three Frenchmen has sometimes enabled him to beat two"? The belief in the Resistance may someday be of more service to France than the French Forces of the Interior were to the Allied cause.

But I find it very odd that the author is astonished that the French Army was in POW camps. When an army surrenders and no peace is made, that's where an army belongs. He also fails to note--except in relation to sending laborers to Germany--Petain's efforts over the years to have many of his soldiers released. You can argue about damage to the dignity of France or harm to the Allied cause, but Petain one way or another had at least a third of them released prior to D-Day. No small thing if you were one of the half-million or so set free.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 2:18 p.m. PST

Hmm. Scanning the Table of Contents and through the limited text shown on Amazon, this book also appears to be maintaining the really big part of the myth that The Resistance was primarily based in the metropole. The huge foundation of de Gaulle's and Free France's legitimacy came from the soldiers and material from Cameroon, French Equatorial Africa, and some of the Pacific colonies. Which ironically enough relied heavily on forced conscription and labour in the grand colonial style. De Gaulle without Free French Africa was just an eccentric General with a room in London.

Printed in 2015, the author might have been aware of a 2014 publication, Free French Africa in World War II : The African Resistance, Eric T Jennings; English edition 2015, Cambridge University Press.

I'll probably pick up Gildea's book at some point.

Personal logo ochoin Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 9:04 p.m. PST

But nations need myths.

I would suggest they're dangerous. Start believing your myths and next thing you know you'll fall victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is "never get involved in a land war in Asia."

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 10:11 p.m. PST

Ochoin, both are true.

londoncalling02 Aug 2018 4:16 a.m. PST

Even as a youngster, growing up with all the "Italian jokes" I knew that far more could have been said about the French behaviour. Of course the winners write history.

A great shift from their incredible sacrifices only a few years earlier.

Frontovik02 Aug 2018 5:46 a.m. PST

The myth was necessary to prevent civil war in 1946 and sideline the communists.

Ceterman Supporting Member of TMP02 Aug 2018 6:01 a.m. PST

+1 ochoin. +1 londoncalling.

Steve Wilcox02 Aug 2018 10:50 a.m. PST

Forgotten Weapons did a feature on Vercors recently, it was interesting to see modern-day footage of the terrain:

Fred Cartwright02 Aug 2018 11:12 a.m. PST

But they did save the painting of the fallen Madonna with the big b**bies by Van Klomp. So they weren't completely useless. :-)

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP02 Aug 2018 11:32 a.m. PST



Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP02 Aug 2018 11:39 a.m. PST

The folks who did work in the Resistance did a stunningly brave and good job!

It's just that after the war it was better for folks to believe that most everybody was in the Resistance and hardly anyone was eagerly complicit in the Vichy regime.

foxbat02 Aug 2018 1:11 p.m. PST

londoncalling, the myths about the Italians in WW just hold as little water as thos eabout the French. And IIRC, weren't they created by the BBC jingoistic reporting in the wake of the success of Operation Compass?

Thosae about the French have a more local origin. You can trace back the 1st whiffs of the stink to Petain himself, who needed to whitewash himself and the Army high command of teir c responsability in the debacle. A myjth was created, denouncing the spirit of enjoyment that had replaced, with the FRont Populaire and the paid vacations, the old spirit of sacrifice. That was of course utter B ; in the course of the 5 weeks it took from the Sedan breakthough to the Armistice, no dfewer than 92 000 French soldiers lost their lives, a rate quite comparable with that of the 1st World War.

Truth be told, in the wake of the debacle, the basic FRench people were lost and baffled : how had it happened? I read some letters of my grandfather who, at 40, had been moilised into the FRench Army postal service. I had known him all my life spitting on Petain, but these letters, written in the immediate wake of the blitzkrieg, were quite different, as he was swallowing whole the Petainist line. And why wouldn't he have, at that time Petain was ome sort of demigod. Factor in a few British shells at Mers el Kebir, and it is no surprise Petain had at first no trouble containing the Resistance. In essence, teh FRench people were astonshed by the quickness of the defeat, coming to grips with teh sorrow and shame of seeing teir country occupied as well as with teh hardships brought by the said occupation, and on top of that being remorselessly told by their government it was all theor fault because of their cowardice.

But eventually, things started to change, as more and more countries entered the war against HItler. If you call a resistant only those listed in teh various organisations and movements, you speak in tens of tousands, which is very few. This makes sense as recruiting was very dangerous, and to be efficient, the REsistance needed to employ as few people as needed. But you had a lot of other ways to resist. Passing leaflets, or food to the collectors of the Maquis, hiding people… Not only that, but everything would do. 2 anecdotes from what my mother told me of teh war which she lived as she was a teen. Our family home is a big house in teh center of what was then a village (now a growing town ).
My mother helped her grandmother run a little shop in teh back of the house, where German soldiers came to buy whatever trifles were for sale. She never failed to tell them how lucky they were to be here, and commiserate with the comrades of those who were sent to Russia. A very modest bit of demoralization, but you do whatever you can do. She also hada history teacher who had admiration for Petain and did not hide she supported him. She made the class repeat the motto of the time "Always higher!". The girls were sick of it, of the teacjer and of Petain, so, one day; when she entered the classroom, she found the pupils standing on the tables. When she asked why, she was answered that they were following the 3always higher" motto. MOdest stuff indeed, but it was quite widespread and revealed the water in which the REsistance fish could swimm.

Now, how effective was this resistance? Eisenhower himself estimated their value at that of two divisions, in intelligence, sabotage and outright insurrection firefights all over the French territory. Since I have visisted Oradour, I have mixed feelings about the last, but they were there… If yu think Ike was just being polite, then there is still the AMGOT (Allied Military government of Occupied Territories) which was supposed to take over Frace rather than the Resistance. In fact, the currency notes were already printed… But teh Resistance and De Gaulle united to put a stop to it, and won (which did not pease Roosevelt in the lesst). Serious historians agree that the Communist danger was overblown, the fact is it was unacceptable for teh Resistants to go from one occupation to another. This said, the claim that the French liberated themselves singlehandedhly was but a communist propaganda tripe, useful at a time they were fighting the local version of the Cold War, but it was never accepted outside of their ranks here

In 1969, de Gaulle lost a referendum and chose to resign, letting his successors lead a more atlanticist policy. Victors write history, and it was politically expedient to belittle de Gaulle and the Resistance, so we had a new generation of historians denouncing the "Resistantialism", starting with Henri Amouroux's work. The truth is that everyone tried to cope with hadships of the Occupation, was more sympathetic to the Resisatnce, but had no opportunity to b emore active or lacked the skills to do so

I'll just conclude with a few figures : throughout the war, 6000 000 French were killed, comparatively to 420 000 for teh US and 450 000 for the UK. Ah, and Minimo, when you speak of the forces out of fRance which rallied de Gaulle throughout the war, you speak of the FFL (Free Frebch Forces). The REsistance is specifically in teh occupied zone, and is aclled FFI (Interor FRench Forces) so the book is correct here.

Edit : dang, what a wall of text! My apologies ;)

Legion 402 Aug 2018 1:21 p.m. PST

Eisenhower himself estimated their value at that of two divisions, in intelligence, sabotage and outright insurrection firefights all over the French territory.
I had read/heard similar.

Of course we do know the Free French Forces fought well in North Africa and Italy before the Normandy landings. Then across France, etc.

Marc33594 Supporting Member of TMP03 Aug 2018 12:13 p.m. PST

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend".

--The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP03 Aug 2018 12:35 p.m. PST



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