“The General” by Elaine Morales

De Gaulle (1890-1970) was in every sense a contradictory character — Jean Lacouture, an earlier biographer, called his colossal personality “a battlefield” — with tensions between “restraint and hubris, reason and sentiment, classicism and romanticism, calculation and provocation”. He was “a soldier who spent most of his career fighting the army; a conservative who often talked like a revolutionary”. And Gaullism “succeeded in becoming the synthesis of French political traditions reconciling the left to the state and the right to the nation, the left to authority and the right to democracy”. He was able to achieve this unifying transcendence because of the “legitimacy” — his favourite word — he had acquired during the Second World War as leader of the French government in exile.

Lewis Jones (2018)
Charles De Gaulle during World War II

Early Years

Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle was born on November 22, 1890 in the region of Lille in the Nord Department. His family, specially his uncle and his grandfather inspired him to learn about history and inserted him into the lecture word. He learned compositions and was passionate about poetry. At the age of fifteen, he anticipated the future when wrote an essay with the title “General de Gaulle”, in which he imagined he was the leader of the French army on its victory over Germany in 1930.  Years later, he joined the French army placing his father and his own intellectual interests about history and his country. During his first years of serving the army, he demonstrated strong abilities besides his physical qualities (height: 6’5”), and five years later he was promoted to sergeant. During his studies at the academy he started being an average student, and then he increased his skills, intelligence, knowledge, and personality being on the top of his class. The time of being proved arrived to his live when the World War I stayed. 

World War I

After two months he rejoined the army as commander of the 7thCompanyand two months later he was assigned regimental adjutant. He performed a good job on his position, earning the Croix de Guerreand ascending to Captain. Once again, he received a bullet on his left hand and was out of battle during four months. Once his abilities led him coming back, he rejoined the forces, leading the 10thcompany again. For last time, he received bayonet wound on the left thigh after being stunned by a shell. He survived the effect of this incidents and the consequences of poison gas, but was captured by the Germans. 

During the first days of the war he was wounded while performed as platoon commander in the Battle of Dinant.He received a bullet on his knee and was hospitalized enough time to criticize the methods of the French Militia. There were three aspect that De Gaulle found erroneous about the military tactics: the over-rapid offensive, the inadequacy of French generals, and the slowness of English troops. 

PRISON

De Gaulle spent almost three years on prison under the German regimen. He got depressed because he was absent on the War. This situation was for him a fatality. His passion for the battle were so strong than got him frustrated about being incarcerated. He never complained about the food, the situation, the lonely, the exile; his only concern was not being part of the French army.  He used this time to read, to learn German, to discuss with other prisoners about military strategies and possibilities of victory. He also wrote his first book “ Discorde chez l’ennemi” which was published on 1924 and explained the division and issues within the German troops. When the war was terminating, he was liberated, and came back to his father’s home with his three brothers who survived the war. 

Preparation

Charles went to Poland to as staff of the French Military Mission to Polandand earn the decoration of Virturi Militari. Once back in France he studied at the Ecole de Guerreduring two years, in which his grades were good, but never excellent. His professor Moyrand referred to him as an intelligent man, with unique attitudes as leader and as soldier, and as extremely arrogant with excessive amount of self-confidence.  One year later after finishing his studies, Charles published an essay on tactics depending of the circumstances, which constituted for many a response to his professor Moyrand. The same decade, he published other articles and lectures such as “Historical Role of French Fortresses”, “Leadership in Wartime”, and “Prestige”, ending on the formation of his book The Edge of the Sword. He came back to Ecole de Guerre as a commandant, but this time with the position of commander as he had sworn years earlier. Gaulle continued writing, even proposing his tactics to the senator, arguing for his concepts and ideas and earning prestige amount the militaries. 

Tanks and rapid maneuvers rather than trench warfare. 

On his book published on 1934, named Toward a Professional Army, he explained his position against the old trench warfare and the benefits of the use of tanks and rapid maneuvers. He believed so much on himself and was strong about his ideals, he defended his war strategies and his book was a success. Gaulle sold more than 700 copies on France and the thousands of copies on Germany (good numbers for that time and topic). After his book, he earned more respect and prestige across the country, and his tactics were criticized in France and followed in Germany. He was a well-known figure when he published his new book France and her Armyin 1938. 

Word War II

During War II he was the command of the 4thArmoured Division, he wrote books, criticized strategies and was in front of tanks battles. During the German invasion, he was directing the attack at Montcornet and was defeated several times by the enemies.  He rejected order of withdrawal and advance into the field, enjoying one of the few victories of French.  During this period, he was so secure about his tactics, rejecting superiors advises and confronting the Germans face to face. Then, he was given a mission to go to London, many of his collagenous had rejected and he accepted. On his biography he specified the depression and frustration he felt forming part of this mission. This meant his recognition of the government and a decided break from the French Army. During this time, he had several ideological problems with Churchill, demanding the rights of the French Committee (Jones, 2018).

Churchill and De Gaulle (1944)

Free French

He was recognized as the leader of the Free French and confronted as usually problems with his superiors. Gaulle’ wife and daughter had to move constantly while in London, and they were living separated for the general. He was a public figure and counted with admires in France, while the Vichy sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and the court martial in absentia condemned him to death. After agreements and conversations, he formed the Free French National Council and then the Free French Air Force which cost him almost being killed in a plane sabotage on April 21st, 1943. To the other hand, president Roosevelt refused to accept him and even when their relationships started to improve, De Gaulle was not a trusted person to the American government. He stayed with his ideals and was clear on every meeting, he asked for being recognized as a leader figure of Free French. On June 14 of 1944 Charles went back to France in the wake of invading army. France welcomed him as deserved, and he headed the first allied troops to enter the capital: “Leclerc’s Free French second armored division. Sometime later, he was also the head of the provisional French government. In the elections of 1945, he failed to win enough votes and retired from the public life (Rudolph, 2016). The major cataclysm of France has passes, but Charles De Gaulle was not satisfied with the results, writing the following phrase:

It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge.”

Charles De Gaulle. 

The President of the Fifth Republic

The official felt that France did not need him, or at least that his ideals were so pure for a country still on recovery. He wrote his book Memories of the War. When the Fourth Republic stayed, he planted his disposal for the country. Algeria returned the power to him after winning the war, and he was assigned as president of the Fifth Republic. Instead of following Argelia’s interests, the president stayed by the France’s benefits, creating discomfort and resulting in the white revolution in Algiers. He suffered attempts against his life at this time.

His labor most important during this period were:

  • Trying to convert France in an atomic power rose
  • Healing the relationships with German
  • Making the first attempts of inserting Britain to the European community
  • Tour for 10 Latin American countries.

On the elections, he was reelected on the second ballot for seven years. Between his achievements during this period are:

  • Tour of 6000 miles around the Soviet Union. 
  • He signed the declaration for the closeness between Eastern and Western Europe. 
  • Called to EEUU to withdraw from Vietnam during a speech on Cambodia. 
  • For his peaceful position he made of Paris a neutral point for meetings between EEUU and Vietnam. 
  • He launched the first nuclear powered submarine in 1967.
  • One of the most controversial elements during these years was his visit on 1967 to Canada, where he used the slogan “Vive le Quebec libre” encouraging the French-Canadian separatism. 
  • He continued with his foreign policy by visiting the Soviet Union, Poland and Romania in order to increase their relationship. 

“The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”

Charles De Gaulle


Rival French Leaders shaking hands only for the show

De Gaulle government was categorized as a “dictatorship”, and years later he admitted on his letters to his son that for ten years he was really a monarch (Jones, 2018). Young students started to fight for their rights and the necessity of taking part on the decisions of the country. This point in the French history is considered the major crisis of Gaulle. He left the country without notification and returned when military security was assured. He stayed with his arrogance and self-confidence, and at this time this characteristic is shown on the phrase he uses to refers to the revolutionary students: “When a child gets angry and oversteps the mark, the best way of calming him is to give him a smack.” (Jones, 2018). He negotiated with the students and workers, but a little later he dissolved the parliament. He won one more time the elections but was unpopular and considered too old for the government. He resigned the presidency on April 28thof 1969. He published his book The Renewal, the first of three book Memoirs of Hope, this was considered the fastest seller in France. When he was almost 80 years old, he died suddenly at his home with the company of his wife on November 9thof 1970.  France and the whole world felt his death. 

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”

Charles De Gaulle