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Daladier, Édouard (1884–1970)

DALADIER, ÉDOUARD (1884–1970)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

French politician.

É douard Daladier, having given up all political activity in the last decade of his life, was already mostly forgotten when he died at the age of eighty-six, though he had been one of the prominent figures in French politics during the 1930s and, except for the period from July 1926 to March 1930, had served in the government continuously from 1925 to 1940. The son of a baker from Carpentras in the south of France, he was intellectually very gifted, placing first in the history agrégation, the French teaching certification examination, of 1909. But he devoted very little time to teaching. In 1911, at the age of twenty-seven, he was elected mayor of his native town of Carpentras. He served in World War I, achieving the rank of infantry lieutenant, and received the Croix de Guerre with four citations for bravery. The war marked him profoundly. After it ended, he devoted himself entirely to politics. A member of the Radical Party, he was elected deputy of the Vaucluse region in 1919 and continuously reelected until 1940. He very quickly stood out from the mass of deputies. After the victory of the Cartel des Gauches (Left-wing cartel) in 1924, Premier Édouard Herriot, also a professor (of literature)—Daladier had been his student in Lyon—appointed him minister for the colonies. Although these two men were both part of the Left and members of the Radical Party, their political views were quite different. Herriot was a moderate radical and Daladier more of a leftist. He was closely allied with the socialists, though he never believed in socialism.

Daladier played his major political role during the 1930s, concerning himself with three major issues: the incapacity of certain institutions to prevent permanent governmental instability; the economic and social troubles related to the world crisis; and the increasing external threats occasioned by the Nazis' rise to power in Germany. The France of Édouard Daladier's time was in crisis. As premier in 1934, he had to face the growing lawlessness of the far-right leagues. On 6 February, he was forced to resign. This only convinced him that in order to face the danger, the Radical Party over which he had presided had to strengthen its ties with other leftist forces. Despite Herriot's great reluctance, Daladier became an active supporter of the Popular Front, standing with the socialists and the communists. After the electoral victory of the Front, he was appointed vice president in Léon Blum's government, formed in June 1936.

Nevertheless, Daladier progressively distanced himself from the Popular Front—a growing number of radicals were disconcerted by its revolutionary aspects. Moreover, he had been interested in military issues for a long time and served as minister of war, and then of national defense, almost continuously from 1933 to 1940. He was aware of the contradiction between social measures such as reducing the workweek to forty hours and the large industrial effort necessary to rebuild the army, which had been more or less abandoned since World War I.

When he once again became premier in 1938, he severed his ties with the Popular Front and, with Paul Reynaud, his minister of finance, set about "putting France back to work." He set in motion a huge rearmament effort but was nevertheless still unable to provide the army with competent leaders. Still traumatized by the memories of the enormous number of casualties at the beginning of the war in 1914, he leaned toward a policy of defense.

Reluctantly, and with few illusions about its success, Daladier signed the Munich agreement with Adolf Hitler in September 1938 because he could not count on the support of the United Kingdom and because France was not ready for war. In November, he thwarted a general strike called to protest the government's intentions to modify existing social laws. He was enjoying great popularity when, in March 1939, Germany annexed what was left of Czechoslovakia. Daladier was determined to stand his ground. When Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939, France and the United Kingdom responded by declaring war. After a few days of hesitation, the French Communist Party officially came out in support of the German-Soviet pact signed that August and requested negotiations with Germany. Daladier dissolved the party and emerged as the leader of the powerful anticommunist wave that hit France at the time.

On the military level, however, the Allies chose a strategy of defense, as they were convinced that over time they would achieve considerable material superiority. This was the "phony war," which ended with the German offensive of May 1940. Daladier, accused of not waging war energetically enough, had been replaced in March by Paul Reynaud. After the 1940 defeat, Daladier would have liked to continue the fight from abroad, but a majority of deputies handed power over to Marshal Philippe Pétain, who signed the Armistice in June. Daladier was arrested under orders of the Occupation government in Vichy and was among those who stood accused at the Riom trials of being responsible for the war. But the trials were soon suspended under German pressure after a vigorous defense was mounted, especially of Daladier. He was handed over to the Germans and remained in detention until the end of the war.

Despite the violent allegations against him by the then very powerful Communist Party, which never forgave him for his attitude toward them in 1939, Daladier returned to France and to his old post of deputy for Vaucluse in June 1946. The Radical Party, however, was only a shadow of its former self, and it fused into a coalition of left-wing parties, the Rassemblement des Gauches Républicaines, an alliance of circumstance with little power. And while Herriot managed to become president of the National Assembly, Daladier never again played an important role. He made his presence felt with his opposition to the European Defense Community (EDC), paradoxically holding the same views as the communists. He was mayor of Avignon from 1953 to 1958 but, like many others, was swept out of office that year by the Gaullist wave and lost his seat as deputy. He never again sought to reclaim it.

Daladier was nicknamed the "Bull of the Vaucluse," but his determined attitude hid the fact that he was never able to be the man of action that everyone expected.

See alsoBlum, Léon; France; Munich Agreement; Popular Front; World War II.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berstein, Serge. Histoire du Parti radical. 2 vols. Paris, 1980–1982.

Borne, Dominique, and Henri Dubief. La crise des années trente (1929–1938). Paris, 1989.

Du Réau, Elisabeth. Édouard Daladier. Paris, 1993.

Rémond, René, and Janine Bourdin, eds. Édouard Daladier, chef de gouvernement, avril 1930–septembre 1939. Paris, 1977.

Jean-Jacques Becker

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