F. Patrick Butler

Book VIII- Charles de Gaulle arrogant autocrat

Book VIII- Charles de Gaulle arrogant autocrat

"I cannot think of anything more unpleasant and impossible, than having this menacing and hostile man in our midst, always trying to make himself a reputation in France by claiming a position far above what France occupies, and making faces at the Allies who are doing the work."

Winston Churchill

Chapter 1: Feet of Clay

Chapter 1: Feet of Clay

Americans (those old enough to remember him) hate Charles de Gaulle. We saved his country in WWII and he thanked us by trying to muscle the United States and Britain out of Europe and forsaking NATO. The story is told that when de Gaulle demanded that all American forces be withdrawn from France as part of the deadline he had set for the expulsion of American forces, President Johnson instructed Dean Rusk, his Secretary of State, to ask bitterly: 'Do you want us to move the American cemeteries out too?'

Whether American, British, German, or even French, you have to get in line to hate de Gaulle. Biographers, seeking adjectives to describe the man, have come up with an impressive list. To cite only one by Charles Williams, de Gaulle was: immensely able and conceited, brilliantly arrogant, infuriating obstinate, aloof, a nuisance, a scold, susceptible, sulky, prickly, suspicious and remote. None other than Churchill's daughter-in-law, Mary Soames, told de Gaulle during a conference, "Mon Général, you should be very careful not to hate your friends more than your enemies." Balancing the paradox between the personage and the person, contrasting "a very cold, ruthless, and proud public man" with de Gaulle's gentleness for his daughter, Anne, afflicted with Down Syndrome, still seems to leave the scales unfavorably unbalanced.

Perhaps the troublesome part is acknowledging that de Gaulle, despite his irascible reputation, also personified the French character in his single-minded devotion to his country, and in his skill and strength in its service. He was undaunted in alienating a goodly share of his electorate in pursuit of what he thought was right. If de Gaulle's disdain for the United States and the French anti-Americanism angers its citizens, perhaps a modest self-examination would be in order. Americans, for example, find it patently easy -- and wax pathetically ignorant --when equating French aloofness and her foreign policy with the demeanor of their French waiter. The twenty-first century has been ushered in by a rapidly maturing European Union, lead by France and Germany, creating for the first time a real look at what could be the future United States of Europe, an immensely powerful economic and political competitor to America. Was de Gaulle in part responsible? Or did he lead France into a series of international "grand design" ambitions that eventually crippled the future of his beloved France, leaving world leaders to question his sanity?

At the latest count, some 1500 books and articles have been written about de Gaulle analyzing in scholarly detail almost every aspect of a long life. While there have been many biographies of de Gaulle, the prince of which is the three-volume work by Jean Lacouture, the finest English biography is by Charles Williams, The Last Great Frenchman. No matter what conclusions these works draw on this extraordinary and contradictory personality, of this there is no dispute, he was unparalleled in his time; like Williams put it, he was in fact, the last great Frenchman.


"All my life, I have thought of France in a certain way. This is inspired by sentiment as much as by reason. The emotional side of me tends to imagine France, like the princess in the fairy stories or the Madonna in the frescoes, as dedicated to an exalted and exceptional destiny. Instinctively I have the feeling that Providence has created her either for complete successes or for exemplary misfortunes. If, in spite of this, mediocrity shows in her acts and deeds, it strikes me as an absurd anomaly, to be imputed to the faults of the Frenchmen, not to the genius of the land. But the positive side of my mind also assures me that France is not really herself unless in the front rank;...that our country, as it is, surrounded by the others, as they are, must aim high and hold itself straight, on pain of mortal danger. In short, to my mind, France cannot be France without greatness." (Taken from the first page of Charles de Gaulle's book, War Memoirs.)



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