“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

Equality in Death: The Life of Joseph-Ignace Guillotine


CC 4.0 by unknown, Musee Carnavalet

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was born on March 28, 1738 in Saintes, located in southern France– he was an aries. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin always excelled within his studies in Reims, France; he was interested in the arts and for a brief period of time, he became literature professor at the University of Bordeaux. Despite his success, Guillotin left for Paris and soon became an established physician, one of the best in the city. He was instrumental in the beginnings of the French Revolution as a chosen representative in the Estates General. One of the more outspoken members, Guillotin advocated for an equal representation of all of the classes and more non-nobility citizens in the Estates General, one of its undeniable flaws. He even supported women’s rights to be represented amongst the Estates General, something very uncommon during this time. Dr. Guillotin was a very outspoken and intelligent man. In a culture where almost everything is predetermined based on your social status and there is not much freedom to use other skills in a professional field, a literature major and professor moved forward towards an intricate field: medicine. Even in today’s “progressive” society, this is not common in France nor is it often even imagined by those lucky enough to continue their education, yet Dr. Guillotin accomplished this feat and much more. Not only did he then become an established doctor, but he also never gave up his literature background; by using his foundations as a scholar and writer, he became an active politician fighting for human rights- something that once was the core value of the Revolution, but became twisted along the way.

Despite his infamous killing machine, the guillotine, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a capital punishment abolitionist; he was staunchly against any practices revolving around executions. He believed that all of the current killings were unnecessarily cruel and was simply sorted based on your class in society. Whenever people of the lower, working classes were sentenced to death, they would often be: hung, which could take hours if improperly executed, quartered, painfully ripped apart by horses running in different directions, or even sentenced to the breaking wheel, where one’s bones would be broken and then bludgeoned or stoned to death. Wealthier or upper classes, would be privileged with the opportunity to be beheaded, however, this too had many issues. Each family or individual would have to hire their own executioner, with some being swifter and “better” than others. Otherwise, those families on the lower tier of the upper class would often risk hiring executioners who may have dull blades or simply would not complete the job in one swing; nonetheless, it always depended upon how much money you were willing to spend, even on your death bed.

These injustices, along with his personal experience as a doctor, pushed Guillotin to advocate against the death penalty, often writing many pamphlets criticizing against it. However, as time elapsed and the gruesome executions continued to occur, Guillotin realized that he should switch his focus to solving the most immediate concern: the way in which people are being tortured to death. This concern is what led him to propose to the National Assembly a law that would make the guillotine the official instrument of capital punishment, until its abolition in 1981. He oversaw the development of the first prototype and advocated for its use within the Assembly, that led to its successful use. Many critique Dr. Guillotin for the contradictions between his actions and his morals, and label him as a hypocrite for going against one of his fundamental beliefs against capital punishment. However, I fully disagree with these critiques of his character. Rather than being a hypocrite, Dr. Guillotin was an actor of change. The only reason why he chose to oversee the development of this machine was because he recognized that at this specific point in time, despite all of his efforts, he was not going to be able to prevent death nor would he be able to prevent capital punishment. Injustices were still occurring based on social class, people were still being tortured to death so he needed to make a decision, a change. He was an intelligent person and considering the political and societal environment at the time, this was the only solution to prevent unnecessarily cruel deaths.

CC 4.0 by the New Yorker, 2009

After its invention, the guillotine soon became the favorite object of the National Assembly and its successors soon after. During its height in the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre, between 1793-1794, almost 2,600 people had been sentenced to execution. By 1799, it was an upwards count of over 15,000 who had been beheaded. The guillotine did not discriminate between class, as was Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s main purpose, it claimed the lives of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as well as common thieves and those who were “against the state.” Also, during Nazi Germany, Hitler was reported for using the guillotine and killed around 16,500 people by decapitation.

CC by 4.0, Georg Heinrich Sieveking 1793

Despite this widely used machine, Dr. Guillotin did not want to be associated with it nor did he ever wish for his name to be used in connection with the machine because, as previously mentioned, he was a staunch capital punishment abolitionist. Moreover, he only aimed to invent this device to provide equality in death for all French citizens; he did not believe that they should be subjected to cruel and unnecessarily violent deaths. The guillotine was never intended to be such a public nor entertaining event. He wished that it would take place in a private center, however, he was horrified by the increasing fanfare and bloodlust for dire entertainment amongst his fellow citizens. It is easy to see why he and his family petitioned the French government to change the name of the machine; after they were rejected, they decided to change their family name altogether.

CC 4.0 by Gunnar Kaestle

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was an active advocate for human rights in France and was one of the leaders in advocating for structural change. In his Petition of the Citizens Living in Paris, this pamphlet argued for the humane and egalitarian executions as well as an equal representation within the Estates-General for all citizens. Once elected as a representative within the National Assembly, he was able to pass a law that required all sentences of death to be carried out by his machine. During a follow up speech in 1789 defending his machine, he has been quoted as saying, “Now with my machine I take off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it.” Many critics soon shamed his words and ridiculed him and his speech in various periodicals, nonetheless, he stayed dedicated to getting his plan approved and passed into law.

CC 4.0 by Welcome Collection

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin struggled with the legality of the death penalty. While morally he knew that he could not stand behind or support capital punishment, within his government, he struggled to defend against it. This same fight is one that is held all over the world in the current international system. As of 2017, there are about 142 countries around the world that have abolished the death penalty and many more that have not used it within the past 10 years or allow the penalty in extraneous circumstances. Nonetheless, in the United States, the death penalty is legal in 30 states, including Florida. As a prospective criminal attorney with hopes of living and working within Florida, this same battle is a reality that I may face. Whether I will be on the prosecution or the defense is still a mystery, however, I will be faced with the same dilemma: how does one justify capital punishment? This is something that I have and will continue to struggle with as I move throughout my law career. Thankfully, in part to Dr. Guillotin, society does not have to face the torturous deaths that were rampant during these times. However, despite the newfound “equality in death,” the death penalty is still an extreme and permanent punishment. Death cases do carry a heavy toll on one’s heart because an actual life is on the line, whether or not you are on opposing sides of the bench, the fate of an entire person’s life rests in your hands. While I am against the death penalty, as I do not feel it is within mankind’s authority to end a person’s life, because the method is egalitarian and not painful, it does make the extreme decision to do so a lighter burden to many. Nevertheless, the law does not entirely reflect nor does it care about “feelings.” It also would be wrong to deny that in extreme cases, the thought of capital punishment would be so heinous; for example, it would seem almost crazy that people would be against Ted Bundy getting the death penalty. But still, should humans be the ones to decide on life and when to end it? This is still something that I struggle with and will continue to do so throughout my entire career. Nonetheless, these discussions should occur within our society and should reflect the beliefs of all of the citizens. Dr. Guillotin’s arguments have helped to propel the fight to abolish capital punishment all over the world.

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin lived a life dedicated to trying to achieve equal rights for all people, regardless of social or economic class. Though his machine helped to define a Reign of Terror, he did not advocate for any of the senseless killings to occur. As a proponent for equality under the law as well as equal representation, he has helped to shape our society today. Though creating this machine had made it easier to execute people by justifying the lack of pain, he also did create an egalitarian way for all to be executed and put an end to a torturous death that was common to the previous eras. His writings have been used to help abolish capital punishment in France and all over the world, while it has also served to ensure that those states that continue to practice capital punishment do so in a way that does not discriminate against anyone and is as painless as possible. He truly changed the landscape and redefined what it meant to have equality in death.

Madame Guillotine, The Scarlet Pimpernel Broadway Musical

References:

Britannica, T. E. (2017, October 26). Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/guillotine

Death of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/death-joseph-ignace-guillotin

Death Penalty Facts. (2019, March 22). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/us/death-penalty-fast-facts/index.html

Joseph Ignace Guillotin – Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia. (2018, July 28). Retrieved from https://alchetron.com/Joseph-Ignace-Guillotin#-

Joseph Guillotine – The Doctor of Death | History Channel on Foxtel. (2017, June 09). Retrieved from https://www.historychannel.com.au/articles/joseph-guillotine-the-doctor-of-death/

Russo, N. (2016, March 25). The Death-Penalty Abolitionist Who Invented the Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/the-man-behind-the-guillotine-opposed-the-death-penalty/475431/

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2275.html

Team, R. C. (2018, October 14). Death penalty: How many countries still have it? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45835584

Study Abroad Info Session March 2019

THE WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY HOW
OF FIU HONORS EUROPE STUDY ABROAD
WITH PROFESSOR JOHN WILLIAM BAILLY
March 19, 2019 AT 3:30 PM IN RB 120 – 3 HONORS POINTS

Join Professor Bailly for an introduction to the France, Italy, & Spain study abroad programs of the FIU Honors College. Meet students that have completed the programs and have all your questions answered. Whether you are going to Europe in Summer 2020 or considering 2021 or 2022, this session will be helpful.

Check out #fiuhonorsabroad2018 on Instagram for photos from Espana, France, & Italia

LEARN MORE ABOUT EACH PROGRAM

Espana Study Abroad
France Study Abroad
Italia Study Abroad

 

AUTHOR(S) AND LAST UPDATE
Stephanie Sepúlveda & John William Bailly  18 March 2019
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