Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved
Mem. Ed. $22.99
Pub. Ed. $32.95
You pay $1.00
Review by Dennis Showalter
Speaking regularly of oneself in the third person is usually a sign of egomania or megalomania. With Charles de Gaulle it reflected an identification with France so complete that the man and the land became one. Relying on a sophisticated synthesis of published sources, Fenby presents de Gaulle as a man who not only saved his country twice in the twentieth century’s first seven decades, but established the foundations of a Fifth Republic that has endured into the twentieth century. None of his great contemporaries, Churchill, Stalin, Roosevelt, matched de Gaulle in longevity. None matched him in sense of purpose.
Charles de Gaulle was a man of the nineteenth century in his firm belief that the nation-state was history’s bedrock. Treaties, alliances, international organizations were instrumental: sustained while they were useful. At the same time, de Gaulle believed that a nation’s only consistency was change. He regularly described himself as the only true revolutionary in France, and matched words with deeds from his proclamation of Free France in 1940 to his ending of the Algerian War in 1962. Yet while a spokesman for modernization beginning with his advocacy of mechanized war in the 1930s, de Gaulle disliked using the telephones and wrote his speeches in longhand.
This pattern of paradoxes carried over into de Gaulle’s conduct of politics. Though fond of describing himself as acting from abstract principle, he knew how to feel his way in situations, from his tempestuous wartime relationship with Churchill and Roosevelt to his successful managing of France’s domestic crisis of 1968. Realistic and logical, a Cartesian in the best French sense of that term, de Gaulle also understood the art of the unexpected. He saw himself as a high-stakes poker player in a game where attitude counted for as much as the cards in one’s hand. It was not so much that de Gaulle knew when to bluff as that he read his opponents perceptively. If he seldom told outright lies, he was a master at shading the truth; and few statesmen have used the French language as effectively as Charles de Gaulle. If there was little give and take, and less camaraderie, in his direct encounters, whether with French soldiers and politicians or with foreign statesmen, de Gaulle understood—most of the time—just how far to take a situation in order to achieve the results he considered necessary. Some of the best passages in the book describe de Gaulle’s interactions with counterparts, from Franklin Roosevelt to Nikita Khrushchev. Seldom did he overbet a hand; seldom did he fold.
The career of Charles de Gaulle affirms the importance of individuals in shaping history. De Gaulle might not have stood successfully athwart events. Nor was he able to create a permanent majority of supporters, whether in the streets or at the polls. But he put a lasting mark on the France he loved and served, albeit de haut en bas. Fenby’s study is an appropriate recognition of de Gaulle’s achievements and legacy.
Hardcover Book : 736 pages
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing ( July 07, 2012 )
Item #: 13-649308
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 inches
Product Weight: 35.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)