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__________________________________________________________________ H-DIPLO ROUNDTABLE Joel Blatt, ed., _The French Defeat of 1940: Reassessments_ (Providence and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1998). Roundtable Editor: Sally Marks Reviewers: Paul de Quenoy, Samuel Goodfellow, Sean Kennedy, Eugenia C. Kiesling ____________________________________________________________________________ Review by Eugenia C. Kiesling United States Military Academy Military History Institute/United States Army War College Eugenia.Kiesling@carlisle.army.mil "Is it really necessary, fifty or more years later, to remind people what a great disaster it was?" (345) From that modest beginning, Stanley Hoffman goes on to offer brief but trenchant insights into the significance of 1940 for future generations of Frenchmen. Noting the comparative lack of scholarship about the fall of France--"a stunning contrast between the proportions of the May-June 1940 catastrophe and the role it plays in the country's intellectual production" (356), Hoffman reminds us that the "the most serious event in the nation's modern history" has stimulated little historical inquiry. His own essay provokes thought about the events in question and about how nations remember catastrophe. Arguing that 1940 largely divorced French intellectuals from politics, Hoffman speculates about the consequences of that particular fissure for French confidence as a nation-state. Hoffman's essay, the final piece in the volume, has the advantage of breaking new ground rather than rehashing the events of 1940. Perhaps huge historical events ought to be reconsidered every fifty years whether they need it or not, but the prospective reader of _The French Defeat of 1940: Reassessments_ can be forgiven for wondering what remains to be said about the catastrophe itself. Rather than identifying the unanswered questions, Joel Blatt's introduction sketches the contents of the essays, notes that their authors "both agree and disagree,"and vouchsafes that "[his] own explanation of the defeat is pluralistic," (8) including lack of allies, political division, and poor military strategy. Absent from the introduction, and from many of the essays, is discussion of the existing (and presumably inadequate) historiography of the fall of France. Blatt would have done well to rein in his metaphors lest "The arrival of France at the railway station of 1940 pulling a train with few allies and few advantages" (8) collide with Daladier's encircled "French wagon train" (9) of the following paragraph. Fortunately, this pedestrian introduction, with its implied threat of reassessment whether the events need it or not, does not do justice to the component essays. One of the most gratifying features of the book is the underlying assumption, explicitly stated by William R. Keylor and William D. Irvine but undoubtedly shared by many of the authors, that decadence does not explain 1940. As Keylor puts, it, the historian "must take care not to seek an explanation of the causes of the French defeat through the lenses of its political consequences" (205). That France fractured politically after military defeat does not mean that political fissures caused military failure. It is not clear that France was significantly more divided in 1940 than in 1914. If France had been overwhelmed militarily in 1914, the union sacré would have been forgotten. Irvine sums up the thesis neatly: "But it was not decadence that led to 1940; it is 1940 that has led us to view the late Third Republic as decadent" (99). Irvine's essay "Domestic Politics and the Fall of France in 1940" makes a case for fundamental French unity against Germany. In spite of bitterness about the reversal of gains made by labor during the Popular Front and painful memories of the Great War, Frenchmen on the Left worked hard to rearm France. Those on the Right, on the other hand, recovered their loyalty to the republic after the fall of the Popular Front on 30 November 1936. Both parties were willing to fight, even for the comparatively abstract objective of recovering conquered Danzig (96). Whatever political machinations went on in Paris, the army remained grimly confident. As Irvine insists, "...in the crucial hours of May-June 1940 even the most savage opponents of the democratic republic nonetheless believed France worth fighting for" (98). There is much that is appealing in Irvine's well-written and strongly argued piece, although the reader may be seduced by a preference for seeing France fall to the German Army rather than collapse internally. Irvine might find some small reinforcement for his case in recent studies showing that rural (that is most of) France had been far less enthusiastic about war in 1914 than official sources allow. If the poilu of August 1914 went to war with resignation, then his sons and grandsons do not suffer so much in comparison. If not decadence and lack of national will, then what? If all of the authors could be brought to agree on anything about 1940, it is that the French failure was fundamentally military. However much diplomatic, political, economic, social, and cultural weaknesses exacerbated France's military situation, none of these factors made military defeat inevitable. The centrality of military failure, specifically strategic mistakes on the part of General Gamelin, is assumed (except by Martin Alexander) throughout the volume. It is also assumed that better military performance might have prevented the debacle of 1940. Thus, Blatt's introduction ends with the speculation that the whole business would have turned out differently had the French Army deployed differently. Given this premise about the contingent nature of the French military defeat, it is unfortunate that the two essays addressing the issue are the weakest in the collection. Nicole Jordan's essay, the first of the volume, sets the tone by accusing Gamelin both of strategic incompetence and, unfortunate neologism, "scapegoatism." In an essay which begins by charging other historians with failing to examine the actual operations of 1940, Jordan cites no operational studies and ignores the entire literature on interwar French military planning and doctrine (save for one article by Robert Doughty). It is difficult to find much good to say about General Gamelin (let alone anything new since the publication of M. Alexander's comprehensive _Republic in Danger_), but even staunch opponents of the French commander should take issue with Jordan's implausible and contemptuous description of his Belgian strategy as one for a "cut-price war on the periphery." (22). Jordan makes far too much out of Gamelin's perfectly natural hope that Germany begin any military adventures in the east. Rather than implying that France's allies could fight in her stead, he merely recognized the obvious truth that France would do better in a two-front war. Specific discussions of eastern operations at the Collége des Hautes Études de la Défense Nationale were, as Jordan's neatly puts it, "romanticized" (20) and do not prove that France actually planned for such a war (see E. C. Kiesling, _Arming Against Hitler_, University Press of Kansas, 1996, 55-59). Even less persuasive is Jordan's suggestion that Gamelin viewed the expected conflict in Belgium as a "cheap" solution to France's military problem. Gamelin had no illusions about the bloodletting involved in defensive combat. John C. Cairns is much closer to the mark when he refers to "the grim prospect of the grande bagarre on the North-East front that Gamelin forecast for 1941" (294). A long defensive struggle in Belgium would be "cut price" only in the sense that French territory would not provide the battleground. From the French, if not necessarily the Belgian point of view, surely that was not a contemptible objective. Jordan uses the phrase "strategic and tactical incoherence" (15 and 17) to explain French failure. Yet the French "long-war" strategy was logical and cohered neatly with French operational and tactical concepts. If anything, the French army erred in the direction of excessive coherence in refusing to examine the foundations of its carefully constructed doctrinal edifice. A second military history piece in the volume, Philip Bankwitz's discussion of 1940 and 1944 also offers more platitudes than analysis in its discussion of the fall of France. Bankwitz excoriates Gamelin for making a plan designed to deal only with one possible German plan and condemns him for not foreseeing that Germany would adopt a "Blitzkrieg." But Bankwitz uses "Blitzkrieg" not as a defined military doctrine but as shorthand for "short, apocalyptic" war. Moreover, he admits that Blitzkrieg had "to be imposed on [Hitler's] now submissive Generalstab." (334) How much should Gamelin have altered his defensive arrangements to meet a theory that even contemporary military historians define, if at all, mostly by allusion to the 1940 campaign, a theory that constituted an "abrupt departure from military orthodoxy and knowledge," and that replaced careful planning with "short-range contingency plans" (334)? How guilty was Gamelin for not predicting that Germany's military leaders would adopt a plan so contrary to their reigning military theory that Bankwitz himself refers to a "victory of pure chance" (334)? More useful is Bankwitz's account of his own service with the French Second Armored Division in France, especially the illuminating vignettes about its commander Field Marshal Philippe Leclerc and his relationship with Charles de Gaulle. If the two essays on the military events of 1940 are disappointing, the standard is much higher for those dealing with the crucial period of the Phoney War. Since, how France used--or misused--that precious eight months between her initial declaration of war and the German onslaught has never been comprehensively studied, it is good to see that six of the thirteen essays deal specifically with this period. Among them is the remaining military history piece in the book, Martin Alexander's study of Anglo-French military cooperation during the Phoney War. Alexander, always a bit quick to explain away General Gamelin's deficiencies, does offer a salutary reminder of the difficulties France faced in communicating her situation to Britain. Ironically, given the modern tendency to disparage prewar French military competence, Gamelin's problem was that the French Army looked too strong to require British help. How to rectify French weaknesses, especially in fighter aircraft and armored divisions, without making them public? Confident in French defenses, Britain could reserve her aircraft for home defense and mobilize her military resources at what seemed to France a desultory pace. Exploiting his expertise on Gamelin, Alexander offers useful observations about Gamelin's increasingly hostile relationship with Edouard Daladier over the course of the Phoney War. Given that he chose to move from Anglo-French relations to Gamelin's leadership, it is unfortunate that he did not say more about Gamelin's comparative inactivity in the spring of 1940. "After March 1940, Gamelin paid no further personal visits to inspect preparations along the front" (325). Why? If France failed to take full advantage of the "Sitzkrieg," surely Gamelin bears much of the responsibility, and Martin Alexander is the historian best placed to tell us about it. A less senior French officer's activities are the subject of Carole Fink's essay on the letters of Marc Bloch. This is too interesting an essay for one to be put off by the several military historical oddities in the early pages. Most are trivial. Bloch claimed to be France's oldest reserve captain but was surely not the oldest reserve officer in the French army (43). Some are platitudinous--the "resolute high spirits of 1914" and the "Polish-style Blitzkrieg." Two offer intellectual puzzles. What does describing the 1940 defeat as "a calamity that exceeded Waterloo, Sedan, and even Dien Bien Phu" say about the disproportionate impact of events Indochinese on the Western consciousness (39)? Which passages in Polybius led Fink to conclude her essay by introducing him at the prototypical historian of "human causes" (53)? But this is an important essay because the actions of individual soldiers provide a means of understanding French military preparations during the Phoney War. First assigned as a liaison officer to a British unit and then placed in charge of petrol supplies for French troops in the north, Bloch was well placed to describe both the poor Anglo-French relations and the inadequacy of French logistical preparations for the key movement in the Belgian theatre. His reiterations of questions like "Why are we fighting?" reveal how poorly the French High Command had prepared its troops, morally as well as physically, for the challenge ahead. The contrast between this reserve captain's astute criticisms and the French high command's lack of zeal in addressing problems provide an informative snapshot of the issues faced by the French Army during the Phoney War. Other essays discuss not soldiers but diplomats. As William R. Keylor points out, French soldiers in 1940 were called upon to fight their war under much less advantageous diplomatic conditions than those enjoyed by their fathers. France survived the Great War with the help of three major and several minor co-belligerents. Her long-war strategy for surviving a second round against Germany assumed that at least two of these erstwhile partners, Great Britain and the United States, would enter the ring. Robert Young's seminal _In Command of France_ has done much to clarify the complex relationship between France and Great Britain. How it came to be that France went to war in 1940 without the support of the two other key potential allies, the Soviet Union and the United States, demands further study. While Michael Jabara Carley shows how French anti-Bolshevism militated against a resurrection of the pre-1914 Franco-Russian military alliance, Keylor describes a fascinating contrast between French assumptions about American wartime aid and the reality of American isolationism and, indeed, hostility. These two excellent articles capture a pernicious French inability to plan for the worst case. Few Frenchmen accepted that the German threat could justify flirting with the Soviet devil. Nor would many acknowledge that the "long-war" strategy required France to pay the asking price for American support. In his summary of Franco-Soviet relations in the context of French politics during the interwar period, Carley shows how the political implications of the issue barred France from following a stable policy towards the communist giant. Moreover, British anti-Bolshevism discouraged France from giving serious consideration to Soviet overtures. Here, though Carley does not comment on it, is an illustrative difference between 1940 and 1914. In 1914, rash French promises to Russia reflected certainty of British aid, even in the absence of a military pact. The more concrete Anglo-British agreements of the 1930s did not, however, give France the confidence to treat with Russia in defiance of British sensibilities. Carley's treatment of Franco-Soviet relations is political and diplomatic, without assessment of the military value of a Soviet alliance or discussion of how the political preferences of French commanders shaped their opinions of Soviet military capabilities. But Carley's work helps to redress the balance of the debate, which has perhaps focused too exclusively on such practical questions as how Russia could have effectively aided France and her allies. Even weak Franco-Soviet military arrangements would have caused Hitler to think twice before invading Poland. Keylor's work on the difficult interwar relationship between the United States and France reminds us that one of the pressures leading France to Munich was that America, far from defending the Versailles system, supported German revisionism "in such a way as to strengthen the hand of those in France who favored rapprochement with, rather than resistance to, the new regime across the Rhine" (225). Particularly interesting is Keylor's description of Ambassador William Bullitt's efforts (supported in Washington by Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle) to persuade France to accept German domination of Central Europe as the price of Franco-German rapprochement(227-9). Another important part of the essay deals with the obstacles--some internal, some American, some British--that impeded French purchase of desperately needed military aircraft from the United States. Ultimately, one cannot read Keylor's piece without reflecting upon the fact that France never re-evaluated her strategy in view of the absence of American guarantees. "Hope," as one says in classes on military theory "is not a method." Keylor leaves the reader convinced that the United States had little love for France and, in particular, that the naval-minded Franklin D. Roosevelt was not much bothered by the fall of a continental power to Germany. Another essay, Robert J. Young's comparison of French and German cultural representation in the United States in 1939-1940 suggests, however, that Americans did love the French, or at least that American readers of _The New York Times_ loved French culture much more than they did German. France skillfully used her artists and entertainers to carry the message of French cultural superiority across the Atlantic. By the end of 1940, "...the French had already won the war of words and ideas, hands down" (268). One possible reaction to Young's fascinating and characteristically literate study is "so what?" Given the military outcome of the 1940, Hitler was probably not particularly miffed by defeat in the overseas cultural competition. But if Richard Overy's theory that Allied victory in the Second World War resulted in part from moral conviction (_Why the Allies Won_ [New York: W. Norton, 1996]) has any validity, then explaining the roots of Allied moral certainly is important. One nagging problem in the historiography of interwar Europe is why historians ascribe to the horrors of the Great War such different effects on Frenchmen and on Germans. The same war that is alleged to have inculcated in French veterans a horror of war left their German contemporaries yearning for the comradery of the trenches. The former shuddered at the prospect of another Verdun; the latter eagerly put on the uniforms of the SA and the SS. To some extent, this distinction has been exaggerated, thanks largely to the influence of the writings of Ernst Junger. Frenchmen were somewhat less pacifistic and Germans considerably less bellicose, than stereotypes suggest. But the issue continues to nag, and Omer Bartov's essay "Martyr's Vengeance: Memory, Trauma, and Fear of War in France, 1918-1940" reiterates the case for distinct national responses. "Hence we can say that while in Germany attitudes toward war, whether pacifist or militarist, Communist or fascist, by and large leaned more toward the use and organization of violence, in France precisely the opposite development can be seen, whereby even the militarists tended to reject the option of war..."(61). Bartov finds some fascinating contradictions in French repudiation of violence. In fact, many of them on his analysis rejected bloodshed so vehemently as to fight against its proponents (83). Bartov's essay does a good job of identifying key differences in the French and German experience, and his observations about the relationship between political affiliations and attitude towards violence are thought provoking. Still, his image of the French pacifist crying out for the blood of warmongers seems far fetched. Was it really true, moreover, that "War became a general obsession, perhaps even greater than in Germany of the late 1930s?" If the French were more outspoken about the prospect of war than were the Germans, was that a reflection of the difference between democracy and a police state? Human attitudes towards violence are terribly complex, but Bartov has opened the discussion in most useful way. The three essays not yet discussed tackle different aspects of that engaging question "What was France actually doing during the Phoney War?" Elisabeth de Reau offers a piece on Edouard Daladier's conduct of the war, Vicki Caron writes on French refugee policy, and John Cairns addresses the impact of the Winter War on France. De Reau's piece, which may have suffered in translation, is not up to her usual standard. She hints, but without sufficient detail, at key issues like the ineffectiveness of the civil-military coordinating entities and the weakness of the mechanisms for national mobilization. One and a half pages cannot adequately assess the French rearmament program. The text is choppy, with many ideas introduced too tersely for clarity. For example, what does "tank construction only became effective in March, and semi-product production in April" mean? (118). Like some of her co-contributors, she gives the word Blitzkrieg for more weight than it deserves. By contrast, Caron's essay is a detailed and nicely written study of a specific issue, the wartime treatment of refugees to France. She describes a dramatic shift in French attitudes towards refugees. From a potential source of labor and military manpower, they became overnight potential fifth columnists to be rounded up and incarcerated in abysmal conditions. Caron persuasively attributes this change of heart to the Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact, which aroused in France deep concerns about domestic and imported communism (140). The incarceration of refugees was a demonstration of poor mobilization of manpower and talent. Caron speaks of muddle, bureaucratic ineptitude, defeatism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. Her thesis--"this missed opportunity became emblematic of the political ineptitude and lack of determination that led to the debacle of June 1940" (128)--smoothly fits this apparently minor chapter into the larger story. The essay as a whole suggests both that France lacked the discipline to organize a war and the moral conviction to fight one. Cairns' excellent piece on French and British policy in relation to the Russo-Finnish War is another example of skillful use of a minor episode to illuminate larger themes. The Phoney War ought to have been a boon to France and Great Britain, a valuable respite in which to prepare militarily, politically, economically, and diplomatically for the inevitable German assault. Instead, France emerged from the Phoney War little stronger militarily than she had been in September 1939 and weaker in other respects. Cairns demonstrates how challenges of the Winter War intensified strains within the French government and the Anglo-French alliance. Trapped between British unwillingness to fight the Soviet Union in aid of Finland and French calls for action against communist aggression, Daladier appears to have taken refuge in drink. Daladier had worked since 1936 to give France a coherent national defense infrastructure. When he resigned the premiership in March 1940, he left a shambles. Cairns describes with insight the frictions that prevented Daladier from leading France effectively, the machinations that brought him down, and the leadership vacuum that resulted from his fall. It is not necessary, as Stanley Hoffman notes, to remind ourselves of the magnitude of the 1940 disaster, but that does not mean that everything on the subject has been said. These essays suggest that certain aspects of the fall of France are not yet fully understood and have offered useful solutions to some of them. Many of the remaining questions are military ones, specifically about what General Gamelin and his commanders did during the period of the Phoney War to make the French Army more ready for war.