De Gaulle, Charles
De Gaulle, Charles 1890-1970
Charles de Gaulle was the leading French statesman of the twentieth century. His military career spanned both world wars and his political career, interrupted by a temporary retreat from public affairs in the 1950s, occurred during the hardships of the 1940s and then a number of serious challenges to political stability in the 1960s. As a military commander, he advocated an aggressive, tactical approach to warfare; as a politician, he was often careful in internal matters but more outspoken in international affairs.
De Gaulle was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and at an early age he showed an interest in military affairs. He entered the Military Academy of Saint-Cyr at the age of nineteen and then joined the military in 1913, commissioned as a lieutenant. He fought in World War I (1914-1918), including at the famous 1916 battle at Verdun, and he spent almost three years as a prisoner of war. After the war, he taught at his alma mater and also attended the École Supérieure de Guerre (a war college). In 1925 Marshal Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) promoted him to the staff of the Supreme Defense Council. Two years later de Gaulle began serving as a major in the occupation army for the Rhineland, an experience that illustrated the German potential for military action. Although the French prided themselves on what they saw as the impenetrable Maginot Line, in 1933 de Gaulle wrote an article arguing for a professionalized and armored French army.
When World War II (1939-1945) began, de Gaulle was commander of a tank brigade. In 1940 he was promoted to brigadier general, a position he held until his death. In the same year, he became the French undersecretary of state for defense and war, but he left the government almost immediately when Pétain became head of the government and indicated that he wanted an armistice with the Germans. De Gaulle went to England, where he began to encourage the French to continue fighting the Germans. In August 1940 he was sentenced to death by a French military court for treason. Although de Gaulle had no political base, he was deeply committed to a free France. He formed a shadow government, eventually known as the Free French Forces, although his military background was not attractive to French liberals and his condemnation of the Pétain government meant that French conservatives held little regard for him. He also had problems with the Allies, often because of his strong commitment to a free France. De Gaulle maintained contact with French resistance groups, and he broadcast radio appeals to his fellow citizens, creating increased national recognition of his leadership.
In 1943 he moved to Algiers, Algeria, where he formed the French Committee of National Liberation. He served as co-president of the committee with Henri Giraud (1879-1949), but successfully moved Giraud out of the role, signaling his political abilities. In August 1944 de Gaulle returned to Paris with the victorious Allied armed forces; he refused to meet with the envoy Pétain sent to establish peace, and de Gaulle became head of the new French government.
De Gaulle resigned, however, in 1946 because of his dissatisfaction with the power of the various political parties that formed a new Fourth French Republic. For twelve years de Gaulle argued against the republic because he saw it as too similar to the Third French Republic, which he thought had been unable to govern effectively. He organized a loose party, the Rally of the French People, which became powerful enough to win a sizable number of seats in the French National Assembly, but he left the group in 1953. His political activity ended temporarily in 1955, when he began to work on his memoirs, but in 1958 he returned to public life.
By the end of the 1950s, France was embroiled in a military and political conflict in one of its colonies, Algeria. De Gaulle presented himself as a candidate for prime minister in 1958, and the National Assembly authorized him to change the French constitution; in December 1958 de Gaulle was elected president of France. His changes to the nation’s constitution strengthened the position of the presidency, including giving the president ruling powers during emergencies. Despite that centralization of power, de Gaulle supported the democratic principles of the government; he also made sure he was a highly visible and even personable president, spending a great deal of time giving addresses and speaking with individual citizens. De Gaulle’s ministers were often friends from World War II, and they assisted him in maintaining a strong presidency.
Algeria presented a very difficult set of problems when de Gaulle became president, a situation that deeply split French liberals and conservatives. The former argued for Algerian independence, while the latter advocated that Algeria ought to remain a colony. The Algerian insurrectionists wanted only freedom, and de Gaulle recognized that he had to free the country. French military leaders in Algeria, however, moved against de Gaulle, forming the Secret Army Organization and taking control of Algeria in 1961. This organization indicated that it was ready to actually attack France, but de Gaulle used his presidential powers to thwart them; French citizens and the French military sided with de Gaulle. Although the Secret Army Organization continued to fight de Gaulle, using bombings and assassinations, de Gaulle’s broad support resulted in his ability to establish Algeria’s independence in 1962.
Once the Algerian situation was settled, de Gaulle moved to other national issues, including reinvigorating the economy, developing France’s own atomic bomb, and instituting constitutional changes to establish independence for France’s other colonies. Nevertheless, the position that he held upon his election in 1958 was no longer as secure because he had solved the Algerian problem. He again turned to constitutional changes as a means to strengthen his position. Previously, an electoral college consisting of local politicians elected the president; in 1962 French citizens chose between de Gaulle’s resignation and a constitutional amendment that allowed direct election of the president. The referendum was a decisive victory for de Gaulle, and his party gained control of the National Assembly later that year. As a result, de Gaulle was able to further his plans to develop France into an international power, focusing on independent actions. For example, the year after his reelection as president in 1965, he withdrew France from the military branch of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), although France remained part of the Atlantic Alliance, a political association.
In international affairs, de Gaulle sought to convince nations that neutrality was preferable to aggression, but that approach meant he was seen as opposing the United States because he wanted the United States to withdraw from Vietnam. He also encouraged stronger relations with the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries under Soviet rule, and the People’s Republic of China. De Gaulle argued that Europe had the potential to disengage from the influence of the United States. Internal strife, however, resulted in a serious weakening of de Gaulle’s position; in May 1968 university students and left-wing unionists in France nearly toppled the government, and de Gaulle had to return from an international trip to initiate a state of emergency. Although the coalition of leftist resistance quickly fragmented because the French Communist Party did not view the students as genuine radicals, de Gaulle did not emerge as a victor. French citizens opposed the rebellion and supported de Gaulle, but when in 1969 he again proposed a constitutional change, this time to reorganize the Senate, the voters rejected the proposal. De Gaulle resigned from the presidency, and Georges Pompidou (1911-1974), who had served as France’s prime minister from 1962 to 1968, became president. De Gaulle retired, planning to finish his memoirs; he died of a heart attack in 1970.
Charles de Gaulle’s stature, in France and internationally, seems to be readily apparent and yet resists interpretation. He was able to form a liberation army and government during World War II, and he brought France through the bloody war for independence in Algeria. Although he was at the center of so much military and political activity, he resisted personification of his work, asking his supporters not to use his name as a party identification; nevertheless, they were indeed known as Gaullists. His attempts to create an internationally independent France attracted a great deal of attention, but did not necessarily result in political influence.
Cogan, Charles. 1996. Charles de Gaulle: A Brief Biography with Documents. Boston: Bedford.
De Gaulle, Charles. 1971. Memoirs of Hope: Renewal and Endeavor. Trans. Terence Kilmartin. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Lacouture, Jean. 1990-1992. De Gaulle. 2 vols. Trans. Patrick O’Brian and Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.
Peyrefitte, Alain. 1994-2000. Cétait de Gaulle. 3 vols. Paris: Editions de Fallois, Fayard.
Williams, Charles. 1993. The Last Great Frenchman: A Life of General de Gaulle. London: Little, Brown.
Philo A. Hutcheson
"De Gaulle, Charles." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/de-gaulle-charles
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Charles André Joseph Marie De Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie De Gaulle
The French general and statesman Charles André Joseph Marie De Gaulle (1890-1970) led the Free French forces during World War II. A talented writer and eloquent orator, he served as president of France from 1958 to 1969.
Charles De Gaulle was born on Nov. 23, 1890, in the northern industrial city of Lille. His father, Henri, was a teacher of philosophy and mathematics and a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, in which the Prussians humiliatingly defeated what the French thought was the greatest army in the world. This loss colored the life of the elder De Gaulle, a patriot who vowed he would live to avenge the defeat and win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. His attitude deeply influenced the lives of his sons, whom he raised to be the instruments of his revenge and of the restoration of France as the greatest European power.
From his earliest years Charles De Gaulle was immersed in French history by both his father and mother. For many centuries De Gaulle's forebears had played a role in French history, almost always as patriots defending France from invaders. In the 14th century a Chevalier de Gaulle defeated an invading English army in defense of the city of Vire, and Jean de Gaulle is cited in the Battle of Agincourt (1415).
Charles's great-great-grandfather, Jean Baptiste de Gaulle, was a king's counselor. His grandfather, Julien Philippe de Gaulle, wrote a popular history of Paris; Charles received this book on his tenth birthday and, as a young boy, read and reread it. He was also devoted to the literary works of his gifted grandmother, Julien Philippe's wife, Josephine Marie, whose name gave him two of his baptismal names. One of her greatest influences upon him was her impassioned, romantic history, The Liberator of Ireland, or the Life of Daniel O'Connell. It always remained for him an illustration of man's resistance to persecution, religious or political, and an inspiring example he emulated in his own life.
Perhaps the major influence on De Gaulle's formation came from his uncle, also named Charles de Gaulle, who wrote a book about the Celts which called for union of the Breton, Scots, Irish, and Welsh peoples. The young De Gaulle wrote in his copybook a sentence from his uncle's book, which proved to be a prophecy of his own life: "In a camp, surprised by enemy attack under cover of night, where each man is fighting alone, in dark confusion, no one asks for the grade or rank of the man who lifts up the standard and makes the first call to rally for resistance."
De Gaulle's career as defender of France began in the summer of 1909, when he was admitted to the elite military academy of Saint-Cyr. Among his classmates was the future marshal of France Alphonse Juin, who later recalled De Gaulle's nicknames in school—"The Grand Constable," "The Fighting Cock," and "The Big Asparagus."
After graduation Second Lieutenant De Gaulle reported in October 1912 to Henri Philippe Pétain, who first became his idol and then his most hated enemy. (In World War I Pétain was the hero of Verdun, but during World War II he capitulated to Hitler and collaborated with the Germans while De Gaulle was leading the French forces of liberation.) De Gaulle led a frontline company as captain in World War I and was cited three times for valor. Severely wounded, he was left for dead on the battlefield of Verdun and then imprisoned by the Germans when he revived in a graveyard cart. After he had escaped and been recaptured several times, the Germans put him in a maximum security prison-fortress.
After the war De Gaulle went to general-staff school, where he hurt his career by constant criticism of his superiors. He denounced the static concept of trench warfare and wrote a series of essays calling for a strategy of movement with armored tanks and planes. The French hierarchy ignored his works, but the Germans read him and adapted his theories to develop their triumphant strategy of blitzkrieg, or lightning war, with which they defeated the French in 1940.
When France fell, De Gaulle, then an obscure brigadier general, refused to capitulate. He fled to London, convinced that the British would never surrender and that American power, once committed, would win the war. On June 18, 1940, on BBC radio, he insisted that France had only lost a battle, not the war, and called upon patriotic Frenchmen to resist the Germans. This inspiring broadcast won him worldwide acclaim.
Early Political Activity
When the Germans were driven back, De Gaulle had no rivals for leadership in France. Therefore in the fall of 1944 the French Parliament unanimously elected him premier. De Gaulle had fiercely opposed the German enemy, and now he vigorously defended France against the influence of his powerful allies Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt. De Gaulle once stated that he never feared Adolf Hitler, who, he knew, was doomed to defeat, but did fear that his allies would dominate France and Europe in the postwar period.
By the fall of 1945, only a year after assuming power, De Gaulle was quarreling with all the political leaders of France. He saw himself as the unique savior of France, the only disinterested champion of French honor, grandeur, and independence. He despised all politicians as petty, corrupt, and self-interested muddlers, and, chafing under his autocratic rule, they banded against him. In January 1946, disgusted by politics, he resigned and retreated into a sulking silence to brood upon the future of France.
In 1947 De Gaulle reemerged as leader of the opposition. He headed what he termed "The Rally of the French People," which he insisted was not a political party but a national movement. The Rally became the largest single political force in France but never achieved majority status. Although De Gaulle continued to despise the political system, he refused to lead a coup d'etat, as some of his followers urged, and again retired in 1955.
Years as President
In May 1958 a combination of French colonials and militarists seized power in Algeria and threatened to invade France. The weakened Fourth Republic collapsed, and the victorious rebels called De Gaulle back to power as president of the Fifth Republic of France. From June 1958 to April 1969 he reigned as the dominant force in France. But he was not a dictator, as many have charged; he was elected first by Parliament and then in a direct election by the people.
As president, De Gaulle fought every plan to involve France deeply in alliances. He opposed the formation of a United States of Europe and British entry into the Common Market. He stopped paying part of France's dues to the United Nations, forced the NATO headquarters to leave France, and pulled French forces out of the Atlantic Alliance integrated armies. Denouncing Soviet oppression of Eastern Europe, he also warned of the Chinese threat to the world. He liberated France's colonies, supported the Vietnamese "liberation movement" against the United States, and called for a "free Quebec" in Canada.
De Gaulle had an early success in stimulating pride in Frenchmen and in increasing French gold reserves and strengthening the economy. By the end of his reign, however, France was almost friendless, and his economic gains had been all but wiped out by the student and workers protest movement in spring 1968.
De Gaulle ruled supreme for 11 years, but his firm hand began to choke and then to infuriate many citizens. In April 1969 the French voted against his program for reorganizing the Senate and the regions of France. He had threatened to resign if his plan was rejected and, true to his word, he promptly renounced all power. Thereafter De Gaulle remained silent on political issues. Georges Pompidou, one of his favorite lieutenants, was elected to succeed him as president. Charles De Gaulle died at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises on Nov. 9, 1970.
De Gaulle's War Memoirs (3 vols., 1954-1959; trans. 1955-1960) is available in a single volume as The Complete War Memoirs of Charles de Gaulle (1964). The first volume of his postwar memoirs is Memoirs of Hope (trans. 1971). His The Edge of the Sword (1959; trans. 1960) is a personal credo on the qualities of leadership. Jean Lacouture, De Gaulle (1964; trans. 1966), is one of the best biographies, written by an astute French observer. Jean R. Tournoux, Pétain and De Gaulle (1964; trans. 1966), is a study of the relationship of the two men from World War I. A biography in three parts, examining De Gaulle's roles as soldier, savior of his nation, and statesman, is David Schoenbrun, The Three Lives of Charles de Gaulle (1966). Other more specialized studies include Jacques de Launay, De Gaulle and His France: A Psychopolitical and Historical Portrait (trans. 1968); Anton W. DePorte, De Gaulle's Foreign Policy, 1944-46 (1968); and Raymond Aron, De Gaulle, Israel, and the Jews (1968; trans. 1969). □
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de Gaulle, Charles
The French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle led the Free French forces in their resistance of Germany during World War II (1939–45). A talented writer and spirited public speaker, he served as president of France from 1958 to 1969.
Early life and inspirations
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was born on November 23, 1890, in the northern industrial city of Lille, France. His father, Henri, was a teacher of philosophy and mathematics and a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), in which Prussia (today known as Germany) humiliatingly defeated the French. This loss colored the life of de Gaulle's father, a patriot who vowed he would live to avenge the defeat and win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. His attitude deeply influenced the lives of his sons, whom he groomed to aid in France's restoration to the greatest European power.
From his earliest years, both his father and mother immersed de Gaulle in French history. For many centuries de Gaulle's ancestors had played a role in French history, almost always as patriots defending France from invaders. In the fourteenth century, a Chevalier de Gaulle defeated an invading English army in defense of the city of Vire. Jean de Gaulle is cited in the Battle of Agincourt (1415).
Perhaps the major influence on de Gaulle's formation came from his uncle, also named Charles de Gaulle, who wrote a book about the Celts, the ancient people of western Europe. The book called for union of the Breton, Scots, Irish, and Welsh peoples. The young de Gaulle wrote in his copybook a sentence from his uncle's book, which proved to be a prediction of his future life: "In a camp, surprised by enemy attack under cover of night, where each man is fighting alone, in dark confusion, no one asks for the grade or rank of the man who lifts up the standard and makes the first call to rally for resistance."
De Gaulle's career as defender of France began in the summer of 1909, when he was admitted to the elite military academy of Saint-Cyr. Among his classmates was the future marshal of France, Alphonse Juin (1888–1967), who later recalled de Gaulle's nicknames in school—"The Grand Constable" and "The Big Asparagus" (because of his height).
After graduation, in October 1912, Second Lieutenant de Gaulle reported to Henri Philippe Pétain, who first became his idol and later his most hated enemy. (In World War I [1914–18] Pétain was the hero of Verdun. During World War II [1941–45] he surrendered to German leader Adolf Hitler [1889–1945] and collaborated with the Germans while de Gaulle was leading the French forces of liberation.)
De Gaulle led a frontline company as captain in World War I and was cited three times for valor, or courage. Severely wounded, he was left for dead on the battlefield of Verdun and was later imprisoned by the Germans when he revived in a graveyard cart. After he had escaped and been recaptured several times, the Germans put him in a maximum security prison-fortress.
After the war de Gaulle went to general-staff school, where he damaged his career by constantly criticizing his superiors. He criticized the concept of trench warfare and wrote a series of essays calling for a strategy of movement with armored tanks and planes. His superiors ignored his works. The Germans, however, did read him and adapted his theories to develop their triumphant strategy of blitzkrieg, or lightning war, with which they defeated the French in 1940.
When France fell, de Gaulle, then an unknown brigadier general (a military officer above a colonel), refused to surrender. He fled to London, convinced that the British would never surrender and that American power, once committed, would win the war. On June 18, 1940, on British Broadcasting Company (BBC), he insisted that France had only lost a battle, not the war, and called upon patriotic Frenchmen to resist the Germans. This inspiring broadcast won him worldwide honor.
Early political activity
When the Germans were driven back at Normandy in 1944, de Gaulle had no rivals for leadership in France. Therefore, in the fall of that year, all of the members of the French Parliament agreed in their vote and elected him premier. De Gaulle had fiercely opposed the German enemy, and now he vigorously defended France against the influence of his powerful allies Joseph Stalin (1879–1953) of Russia, Winston Churchill (1874–1965) of Great Britain, and Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) of the United States. De Gaulle once stated that he never feared Hitler, who he knew was doomed to defeat. He did, however, fear that his allies would dominate France and Europe in the postwar period.
By the fall of 1945, only a year after assuming power, de Gaulle was at odds with all of the political leaders of France. He saw himself as the unique savior of France, the only champion of French honor, grandeur, and independence. He despised all politicians as corrupt and only out for their self-interests. The politicians then banded against him. In January 1946, disgusted by politics, he resigned and retreated into a silence to ponder the future of France.
In 1947 de Gaulle reemerged as leader of the opposition. He headed what he termed "The Rally of the French People," which he insisted was not a political party but a national movement. The Rally became the largest single political force in France but never achieved majority status. Although de Gaulle continued to disagree with the political system, he refused to lead a coup d'etat, or a sudden overthrow of the government. He retired again in 1955.
Years as president
In May 1958, a combination of French colonials and militarists seized power in Algeria and threatened to invade France. The weakened Fourth Republic collapsed, and the victorious rebels called de Gaulle back to power as president of the Fifth Republic of France. From June 1958 to April 1969 he reigned as the dominant force in France.
As president de Gaulle fought every plan to involve France deeply in alliances. He opposed the formation of a United States of Europe and British entry into the Common Market. He stopped paying part of France's dues to the United Nations, forced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters to leave France, and pulled French forces out of the Atlantic Alliance integrated armies.
De Gaulle had an early success in stimulating (to make excitable) pride in Frenchmen and in increasing French gold reserves and strengthening the economy. By the end of his reign, however, France was almost friendless, and his economic gains had been all but wiped out by the student and workers protest movement in spring 1968.
De Gaulle ruled supreme for eleven years, but his firm hand began to anger many citizens. In April 1969 the French voted against his program for reorganizing the Senate and the regions of France. Immediately afterwards de Gaulle resigned and remained silent on political issues. Charles de Gaulle died at Colombey-les-Deux-Églises on November 9, 1970.
For More Information
Whitelaw, Nancy. A Biography of General Charles de Gaulle: "I Am France." New York: Dillon Press, 1991.
Williams, Charles. The Last Great Frenchman. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1993.
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de Gaulle, Charles
Charles de Gaulle (shärl də gōl), 1890–1970, French general and statesman, first president (1959–69) of the Fifth Republic.
The World Wars
During World War I de Gaulle served with distinction until his capture in 1916. In The Army of the Future (1934, tr. 1941) he foresaw and futilely advocated for France the mechanized warfare by which Germany was to conquer France in 1940. In World War II he was promoted to brigadier general (1940) and became undersecretary of war in the cabinet of Premier Paul Reynaud.
De Gaulle opposed the Franco-German armistice and fled (June, 1940) to London, where he organized the Free French forces and rallied several French colonies to his movement. He was sentenced to death in absentia by a French military court. The Free French forces were successful in Syria, Madagascar, and N Africa. In June, 1943, de Gaulle became copresident, with Gen. Henri Honoré Giraud, of the newly formed French Committee of National Liberation at Algiers. He succeeded in forcing Giraud out of the committee, and in June, 1944, it was proclaimed the provisional government of France.
The Postwar Period
De Gaulle's government returned to Paris on Aug. 26 and was recognized by the principal Allies. He was unanimously elected provisional president of France in Nov., 1945, but he resigned in Jan., 1946, when it became obvious that his views favoring a strong executive would not be incorporated into the new constitution. Many of the rightist elements had gathered under the Gaullist banner, and he became (1947) head of a new party—Rassemblement du Peuple Français [Rally of the French People]—which claimed to speak for all Frenchmen and to be above factional strife but which, nevertheless, took part in subsequent elections. The party had some temporary electoral success, but in 1953 de Gaulle dissolved it and went into retirement.
Algeria and Internal Affairs
In 1958, after the military and civilian revolt in Algeria had created a political crisis in France, he was considered the only leader of sufficient strength and stature to deal with the situation. He became premier with power to rule by decree for six months. During this time a new constitution, which strengthened the presidency, was drawn up (1958). The constitution also provided for the French Community, the first step toward resolving imperial problems. De Gaulle was inaugurated as president of the new Fifth Republic in Jan., 1959. He decided to allow Algeria self-determination. This decision led to several revolts in Algeria by French colonists who opposed independence. Finally in 1962 an agreement was reached that provided for Algerian independence.
In domestic affairs de Gaulle attempted to restore French national finances by devaluing the franc and creating a new franc worth 100 old francs. Much of de Gaulle's program consisted of an attempt to raise France to its former world stature. He argued for French parity with the United States in NATO decisions and promoted French development of atomic weapons. In 1966, he withdrew French troops from NATO and ordered the withdrawal of NATO military installations from France by Apr., 1967.
The Final Presidency
De Gaulle was reelected to a second seven-year term in 1965. Although he rejected limitations on French sovereignty, he supported participation in the Common Market but strongly opposed British membership in it. He fostered ties with West Germany and established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. In May, 1968, student demonstrations protesting French political and educational systems were followed by huge workers' strikes that nearly toppled the Gaullist government. Nevertheless, in elections held in June, the Gaullists were returned to power. In 1969, after being defeated in a referendum on constitutional reform, de Gaulle resigned as president.
See De Gaulle's War Memoirs (tr., 3 vol., 1955–60; repr. 1984) and Memoirs of Hope (tr. 1972); biographies by P. Masson (1971), B. Crozier (1973), D. Cook (1984), J. Lacouture (2 vol., 1990–92), C. Williams (1995), and J. Fenby (2012); A. Werth, The De Gaulle Revolution (1960), P. M. Williams and M. Harrison, De Gaulle's Republic (1960), R. Aron, An Explanation of De Gaulle (1965), J. Hess, The Case for De Gaulle (1968), A. Hartley, Gaullism (1971), P. Alexandre, The Duel: De Gaulle and Pompidou (1972).
"de Gaulle, Charles." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/de-gaulle-charles
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De Gaulle, Charles André Joseph Marie
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Gaulle, Charles de
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de Gaulle, Charles
Born November 22, 1890
Died November 9, 1970
French general, political leader, and
president of the Fifth Republic
After Adolf Hitler's forces invaded France in 1940, many French people worked to free their country from the Nazis. The head of the resistance movement working from outside France during the World War II, Charles de Gaulle proved a bold and courageous leader. He also led the first French government established after the war, and helped to define France's postwar identity. His critics said that he was arrogant and never willing to compromise, but not even they could deny that he loved his country deeply. In fact, de Gaulle's personal ambitions and his desire for a strong, independent France were closely intertwined; at one point he even said, "Je suis la France" (I am France).
An early dedication to France
De Gaulle was born in the northern town of Lille, located near France's border with Belgium. His father was a teacher and headmaster of a Jesuit school. Although Charles was not an excellent student, he had a very good memory and did well in the subjects that interested him, especially history. As a boy, he liked to pretend he was a soldier, and even when he was very young he imagined himself growing up to serve his country in some way.
It's not surprising that the young de Gaulle decided to pursue a career in the army, a choice that required him to spend his first year after graduating from preparatory (high) school serving as a soldier. When his year in the army was over, de Gaulle entered a military academy called Saint-Cyr, graduating in 1912.
Fighting in World War I
De Gaulle enlisted in the 33rd Infantry Regiment. His commanding officer, Colonel Philippe Petain (1856-1951), was so impressed by the young man's performance that he quickly promoted him from sublieutenant to lieutenant. When World War I (1914-1918) began, de Gaulle fought in Belgium. He was wounded twice, in 1914 and 1915, before taking part in the Battle of Verdun, in which he was again wounded and finally captured by the Germans. During his thirty-two months as a prisoner of war, de Gaulle made five escape attempts.
His army career advances
After the war, Poland and Russia got into a dispute over their borders. Poland was fighting Russia's Bolshevik army (the Bolsheviks were the party, led by Vladimir Lenin, that took control of Russia after its 1917 revolution). De Gaulle joined a Polish cavalry unit to gain valuable military experience and move ahead in his military career. While on leave, he married a girl named Yvonne, the daughter of a Paris biscuit manufacturer.
When Poland and the Soviet Union finally made peace, de Gaulle returned to France and lectured on military history at his old school, Saint-Cyr. He also attended the Ecole Superieure de Guerre (Higher Military School) in order to qualify for a higher rank. There he was known as a brilliant but arrogant student who didn't like to be criticized. His instructors were ready to give him a failing grade, but his old friend Petain—who was now a field marshal—made sure he received the high grade that would allow him to earn a promotion.
While rising through the ranks of the army, de Gaulle published a number of articles and books on military topics. In one of these, The Army of the Future (1934), de Gaulle recommended that the French army be reformed through the use of mechanized, mobile warfare and especially armored tanks. Few of his superiors, however, were ready to listen. They still believed in using a system of fixed fortifications to defend their country. Only a few years later de Gaulle was proved correct when the German army successfully invaded France.
The Germans invade France
In the fall of 1939, Germany invaded Poland. France and Great Britain responded to Hitler's aggression by declaring war on Germany. Fighting didn't start between the countries until May 10, 1940, when the Germans attacked France. The German army, which had made the change to mechanized, mobile warfare, rolled its tanks easily over France's fixed fortifications. On the same day, Germany also invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg in order to extend its European empire.
Before the invasion de Gaulle had been assigned to a tank unit in Alsace, France. On May 11, de Gaulle was to lead an armored division that had been very quickly assembled and that was not very well prepared to fight against the Germans. Nevertheless, his forces made a good showing in several battles, and he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. On June 5, de Gaulle was called to Paris, where French premier Paul Reynaud named him undersecretary of state for national defense.
Making the call to resistance
At this time, the prospects for a French victory looked bleak, and many French leaders wanted to make peace with Germany. De Gaulle was among the few who thought France should keep fighting, even if the government had to move to a safe spot in North Africa, where France had control of the colonies of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Equatorial West Africa.
On June 16, the government of France was taken over by the Nazis, who established a new French government headed by Petain, de Gaulle's old patron. Petain's government agreed to move to the southern city of Vichy and to cooperate with the Nazis, who would have control of northern France, including Paris. Throughout the war, the French leaders who were working with the Nazis would be known as the "Vichy Government."
Meanwhile, de Gaulle had flown to London aboard a British aircraft. He had made a good impression on Britain's prime minister, Winston Churchill (1874-1965; see entry), who allowed de Gaulle to use the BBC (British Broadcasting System) to make a four-minute "Call to Honor," in which he urged all French people to resist the Nazis. "Believe me!" de Gaulle exclaimed. "Nothing is lost for France! The same methods which have defeated us may one day bring us victory."
The Free French movement grows
Unfortunately, de Gaulle was not very well known, and at first it didn't seem that his radio messages were having any effect. Gradually, though, he gathered some supporters from among his fellow refugees. De Gaulle called his movement the Provisional French National Committee, but it came to be known as the Free French movement.
With the help of the British Navy, de Gaulle's forces gained enough strength to attack the pro-Vichy forces at Dakar, French West Africa (now Senegal). Although de Gaulle and his followers lost this battle, they continued to gain popular support, and by November 1940 they had about 35,000 troops and twenty warships. De Gaulle moved his headquarters to Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa (now Congo), and from there he declared that since no true French government now existed, "it is necessary that a new authority should assume the task of directing the French effort in the war. Events impose this sacred duty upon me. I shall not fail to carry it out."
Another turning point came in the spring of 1941, when the British and Free French overpowered the Vichy forces in Syria and Lebanon. After a small power struggle with the British over what should be done with the captured Vichy troops, de Gaulle convinced the British to allow him to try to persuade the soldiers to join the Free French. About 6,000 of the 25,000 Vichy soldiers did join de Gaulle. In June, the Free French won their first victory against the Germans at Bir Hakeim, Libya.
De Gaulle's power increases
Things did not always go smoothly between de Gaulle and the British, but his relationship with the United States was even stormier. The United States had maintained ties with the Vichy government, which was still the official government of France, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt distrusted de Gaulle, fearing that he had the potential to become a dictator. When the United States and Britain launched their invasion of North Africa—called "Operation Torch"—they did not invite the Free French forces to participate.
This made de Gaulle mad, but he was even angrier when the Allies (the countries fighting against Germany, Italy, and Japan) made an agreement with a Vichy commander, Admiral Francois Darlan, allowing him to administer all of France's colonies in North Africa except Morocco and Algeria, which the Allies would occupy. After Darlan's assassination in December 1942, de Gaulle worked out a power-sharing arrangement with General Henri Giraud (who had strong links to the Vichy government) and established the French Committee of National Liberation. Soon, however, de Gaulle edged out Giraud, who faded into obscurity.
By 1944, de Gaulle had been recognized by nearly everyone as the leader of the Resistance Movement (now known as the France Combatante or Fighting French) both inside and outside of France. In Nazi-occupied France, the Gestapo (Hitler's secret state police) responded by rounding up and imprisoning members of de Gaulle's family who were still in the country.
A triumphant return to France
When the Allies were planning the massive troop landing on northern French beaches that came to be known as the Normandy Invasion or D-Day, de Gaulle and his forces were not included. But de Gaulle did land in France on June 14, 1944, eight days after the initial Allied invasion. On August 25 he made a triumphant return to Paris, whose citizens greeted him with joy and gratitude.
By September, de Gaulle had announced the formation of a temporary government with himself as president. He immediately started working on the economic reforms France needed so badly at this time of transition. In October, both the United States and Britain officially recognized de Gaulle's government as legitimate.
Criticizing the Fourth Republic
Over the next few months, French leaders began planning their new, reorganized government, which they calledthe "Fourth Republic" and which would feature a strong legislative body and a weaker president. De Gaulle didn't like thisplan. He believed the president should have more power.Claiming that he did not want to "preside, powerless, over the powerless state," de Gaulle resigned the presidency on January 10, 1946, and returned to his country home.
De Gaulle started writing his war memoirs, but heremained interested and active in politics and particularly incriticizing the Fourth Republic. In the late 1940s he formed anorganization called the Rally of the French People, which advocated a strong chief executive and which expressed itsideas through Nazi-style rallies. This group gained a fair degreeof popularity for a short time but eventually collapsed, and deGaulle officially dissolved it in the early 1950s.
Back into the political ring
Several circumstances brought de Gaulle back to the forefront of French government. A dull economy and politicalsquabbling weakened the Fourth Republic in the mid-1950s.And in Algeria, which was still a French colony, tension wasincreasing between those who sought independence and thosewho wanted to maintain Algeria's colonial status, includingarmy leaders.
Members of the National Assembly were afraid there might be a coup (illegal government takeover, sometimesthrough physical force, by an unelected person or party), so in1958 they called on de Gaulle to return to his leadership role. He was considered the only figure strong enough to lead the nation at such a dangerous time.
Once again installed as France's president and the head of a new government called the "Fifth Republic," de Gaulle soon resolved the Algerian crisis by granting Algeria its independence. He spent the next decade improving France's position in the world, constantly asserting its independence from the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. He established ties with West Germany and diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, and he took steps to promote economic growth and modernization of industry.
Student and worker unrest
By the late 1960s France's economy had grown quite strong, but other problems were brewing. In 1968, French students revolted against their country's traditional political and educational systems and began demanding reforms as well as a voice in decision-making. Fighting broke out in the streets of Paris. Next a huge workers' strike threatened the survival of de Gaulle's government. Nevertheless, de Gaulle was reelected, partly because he had successfully convinced the voters that if he didn't win, the Communists (those who believe in a political system in which all property is owned by the community as a whole, rather than by individuals) might.
In 1969, de Gaulle proposed a number of reforms that would, he claimed, allow groups like students and workers to "share" power with government. When a referendum (public vote to express approval or rejection) on these reforms was defeated, De Gaulle resigned the presidency.
A quiet finale
De Gaulle again retired to Colombey and continued working on his memoirs, which he completed just before his death on November 9, 1970. At de Gaulle's request, no public ceremony was held to honor a man who had always been equally convinced of his country's greatness and his own fitness to lead it.
Where to Learn More
Cook, Don. Charles de Gaulle. New York: Putnam, 1983.
Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Colton, Joel. "Charles de Gaulle." [Online] Available http://www.grolier.com/wwii/wwii_degaulle.html (November 18, 1998).
Leader of the Free French resistance movement from outside France, Charles de Gaulle had such a deep love for his country he once proclaimed, "Je suis la France" (I am France).
The Women of the French Resistance
When the German army marched into France and took control of the country, many French citizens vowed to do whatever they could to resist. While de Gaulle led the Free French movement outside France, many secret resistance movements formed inside the country. They carried on a variety of activities, from attacks on German officials by fighting groups called the Maquis, sabotage (destroying buildings and equipment used by the Germans), and spying, to printing propaganda (material intended to persuade the reader to adopt a certain viewpoint) against the Germans.
In the decades following World War II, the deeds performed by the French Resistance were well known, but it has only been in recent years that the important role played by French women in the movement has come to light. Like women in the United States, French women found their options expanded by the war: since so many men had been called away to fight, their contributions were crucial. And within the resistance movement, they found a measure of equality with men that had not existed in their prewar world.
The tasks performed by French Resistance women were many and varied. In the first few years of the German occupation, they resisted openly through protests and demonstrations against the shortages of food from which the French people suffered. They also called for the return of prisoners of war (POWs, French men who had been arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis) and for the rightto send packages to POWs. But as the occupation continued, they took on even more dangerous and secret responsibilities, all of which could lead to arrest, torture, imprisonment, or even death if they were discovered.
Some women assisted the resistance movement in traditional ways, by performing office work or nursing those injured in clashes with the Germans. They opened their homes to those who were being chased by the Gestapo, whether they were Jews, Allied pilots whose planes had crashed in France, or resistance fighters. Farm women hid weapons, and documents were stashed in the apartments of city women. Before the war, fathers had been in charge of families; now, with men away from home, mothers took that responsibility.
A number of French women worked for the resistance in untraditional ways, especially those who served as "liaison agents." They traveled around the country at great risk to their own safety, carrying messages and money and looking for good hiding spots for weapons and fighters and good sites for parachute drops. A few women also participated as Maquis fighters, though this was not common. Women proved to be flexible, adaptable members of the resistance who showed initiative and had good ideas about what could be done. After the war, they said that they had learned through their resistance work how much they could do, even though peacetime brought with it a return to traditional women's roles.
Women Who Served in the French Resistance
Before the war, she had been a pacifist (someone who does not believe in killing or violence for any reason) who fought for working women's rights. With a man named Henri Frenay, she helped found Combat, one of the most active resistance movements. Albrecht had the idea of publishing a secret newsletter, which was widely read. She was captured and tortured three times by the Germans, and it is thought that she finally committed suicide.
A literature student, she was recruited into the resistance because she spoke English and could help with the hiding of Allied pilots. While in hiding herself, she wrote a novel, and after the war she published many books.
She went to London after the Germans arrived in France, but she used her knowledge of chemistry and her experience working in an arms factory to help the Free French. Bohec parachuted into France's Brittany region and taught young men how to use weapons.
Sister Edwige Dumas:
She helped care for the wounded of both sides after the Allies bombed the city of Calais, and she sheltered resistance fighters wanted by the Germans.
Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz:
General de Gaulle's niece, she followed the family tradition by becoming a member of the resistance, working with a movement of young people called Defense de la France. She was captured by the Germans and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.
Marie-Louise Le Duc:
Known as "Madame X" to the British, she helped those who wanted to escape from France (especially Allied airmen) by assisting with secret, nighttime pickups by British boats. She was arrested three times but always escaped.
She was an opthalmologist (doctor specializing in diseases of the eye) who fled to London but managed to be sent on active duty to North Africa. Later she accompanied Allied troops in their invasion of France.
She served as a liaison agent in Lyon, an unfamiliar city, which required her to memorize messages and addresses and to have few contacts with others. Vernay was caught by the Gestapo and deported (sent out of the country).
"de Gaulle, Charles." World War II Reference Library. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 18, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/educational-magazines/de-gaulle-charles
"de Gaulle, Charles." World War II Reference Library. . Retrieved January 18, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/educational-magazines/de-gaulle-charles