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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 Paul du Quenoy Georgetown University firstname.lastname@example.org Joel Blatt has presented a stimulating collection of essays delving into a subject of which twentieth century scholars have never tired, France's complete military and political collapse in just five weeks in the late spring of 1940. While Blatt's volume includes contributions from many noteworthy scholars on a variety of engaging topics, the arrangement of the different chapters is not always the most logical. For that reason this review will study the articles in a somewhat different, and hopefully more cogent, order from that in which they appear in published form. In examining the various factors behind France's defeat in 1940, it is difficult to avoid the first scholarly study of the subject, Marc Bloch's _Strange Defeat_. Most chapters in Blatt's volume refer directly or at least allude to Bloch's account, one which is all the more poignant in light of the author's personal participation in the campaign of 1940 and his tragic fate as a resistance fighter captured and shot by the Germans in 1944. In the second chapter Carole Fink presents an interesting study of Bloch's life during the phony war, detailing his growing pessimism with the war effort and increasingly irritable disposition. For Fink, this period in Bloch's life was an important factor in the development of _Strange Defeat's_ far-reaching indictment of French government and society in the interwar period. Fink's article makes an interesting point of departure, for most of the rest of the contributions accentuate one factor or another as critical to understanding the decline of France's ability to defend itself and its ultimate doom in 1940. This is particularly true for the book's first chapter, Nicole Jordan's study of the French military's strategic flaws in the 1940 campaign. The essence of her argument is that the domination of French strategic thinking by the older generation of officers who had cut their teeth in the First World War was the primary cause of the defeat. For Jordan most of the responsibility rests with the French Commander in Chief, General Maurice Gamelin, and his idea of a "continuous front" defined by defensive fortifications in eastern France and projected mobile operations in the Low Countries. While Jordan makes a number of very solid points with regard to Gamelin's conduct of the war in its early days (especially his refusal either to use modern communications technology or to move his command post to the front lines), there are nevertheless some problems with her analysis. First, her emphasis on strategic flaws rests on the premise that the French army was "not hopelessly outclassed in material terms" (29). This point is often brought up with regard to the number and quality of French tanks, but is misleading. Although France actually outnumbered Germany in the number of battle-ready tanks at its disposal in 1940, the French general staff's failure to organize them into armored divisions placed serious limitations on their efficacy in battle. This was, of course, a strategic flaw, but it was neither a new factor in 1939-1940, nor was it solely Gamelin's idea. The use of tanks as a defensive weapon fell into step with the generally defensive nature of French military policy all through the interwar period, and it is difficult to argue that the military in general, or Gamelin in particular, were wholly responsible for it. In another category, it is made evident by Jordan's colleagues in other chapters of the book (discussed below in greater detail) that France's weakness in combat aircraft in 1940 was a rather acute problem. Secondly, the author's reading of Bloch suggests that Gamelin's later efforts at self-vindication were a pure example of scapegoating, since, in her view, Bloch's treatment dismisses any serious criticism of French political and social life in the 1930s as a cause behind the defeat. This reading is interesting, considering that Bloch does actually focus on a number of domestic social and political problems as leading factors in the defeat, a fact correctly noted by Fink's study of Bloch in 1939-1940. Study of some of these domestic problems are well represented in the book. Omer Bartov's study of French social and cultural history in the interwar period (Chapter III) is very appropriate in laying out the contours of literary movements, popular pacifism, and the national and local cultures of mourning and memory. Bartov's treatment is one of rare distinction in that it includes many overlooked nuances in the relation of these movements to political life, though its one possible shortcoming is that it forgoes direct reflection on how cultural attitudes and values played out in the defeat. William Irvine (Chapter IV) presents a provocative reassessment of what would benefit Bartov's article. His examination of interwar politics focuses heavily on the last two years before the outbreak of war and offers the well-argued view that Daladier's turn away from Popular Front socialism re-enlisted the center and right (even elements of the extreme right at that) into a national consensus that supported war. Convincingly, Irvine has found an interesting body of evidence showing some very unusual suspects lining up with the Third Republic against Nazi Germany, including even people like Colonel de la Rocque, Jacques Doriot, and Raymond Brasillach. Irvine's study suggests that the militant left also became willing to cooperate with a government that was clearly growing in its willingness to stand up to Hitler by military means. Though he acknowledges that these developments fell short of the union sacree of 1914, his article is definitely one of the more provocative "reassessments" included in the volume. Vicki Caron's study (Chapter VI) of French refugee policy in 1939-1940 is an interesting representation of how interwar ambivalence prevented the government from constructing any cohesive refugee policy, especially with regard to refugees from Nazism. Many political dissidents and "Greater Reich" Jews were placed under suspicion and even detained early in the war. Those who were released from internment camps (where conditions were quite horrible) often only gained their freedom by submitting to coerced enlistment in the French Foreign Legion. More tragic still, many of these refugees were re-interned after the German breakthrough in May 1940, and several thousand of them faced the unpleasantness of being turned over to the Nazi regime which they had fled in the first place. Interestingly, this policy was devised by the loyal republican Interior Minister Georges Mandel, himself of Jewish extraction. Caron's presentation of these events as haphazard, if ironic, consequences of the confusion caused by military disaster holds very true. By implication it suggests that the more malevolent tendencies of Vichy were not lying dormant within existing institutions and simply waiting for the right moment to make their appearance. Caron's concluding suggestion that a more effective means of organizing refugees - and anecdotal evidence does point to their personal enthusiasm for combat - to fight the Germans might have made a difference in the outcome of the war is, however, somewhat less convincing. Most of the rest of the volume deals with the various challenges, opportunities, and failures in France's foreign relations before the war and how these various problems impacted the defeat. Franco-British relations are especially well represented. Three chapters are devoted to them, all of which bring forward new and interesting assessments of 1940. Elisabeth du Reau's work on Edouard Daladier's role in the first months of the war (Chapter V) is particularly provocative in that it suggests both a greater amount of domestic efficiency within France and more cohesiveness in Franco-British cooperation than many depictions. Indeed, du Reau characterizes Daladier's ministry as highly pragmatic, focusing on the prime minister's strict definition of French foreign policy in terms of national security as opposed to peace at any price. The appointment of the efficient technocrat Raoul Dautry to head the Ministry of Armaments in September 1939 is offered as another example of pragmatic preparation for war. So, too, is Daladier's determination to expand the conflict on Germany's periphery, a strategy that helped precipitate his downfall in March 1940. It is at this point that du Reau's analysis moves into cross-Channel relations. Another aspect of what the author believes to be Daladier's pragmatism is demonstrated by the early and understudied economic cooperation between the allies in 1939-1940, which included a pronounced role for the young and not yet famous Jean Monnet. In the author's view the depth and seriousness of this cooperation exceeded the economic ties of the First World War and helped stimulate both limited American assistance in 1939-1940 (particularly in sales of sophisticated combat aircraft to France) and the early galvanization of American military production. While du Reau acknowledges that this did little to help France in 1940, her wider conclusion that "the foundations of transatlantic cooperation had been laid down in 1938-1940" (122) is somewhat overstated, as is the implication that the foundations of rosy Franco-British relations were also laid down in that period. France categorically refused to accede to Churchill's offer of comprehensive political union in 1940 and de Gaulle's wartime relationships with both Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt were tortured and often quite bitter. In subsequent years de Gaulle's France excluded Britain from the Common Market for a decade, withdrew its armed forces from NATO's integrated command structure at the height of the Cold War, and has kept up spirited economic tensions with the English-speaking world that are still with us today. John C. Cairns (Chapter X) and Martin S. Alexander's (Chapter XI) contributions dwell on the military aspect of cross-channel cooperation and reach the conclusion that the relationship was much more tense than is traditionally thought. Both authors bring out a substantial amount of mutual mistrust, demonstrating with authority that the British feared "dove" tendencies in the French leadership, while the French, especially the military command, were often under the impression that they were to bear the brunt of the fighting and casualties once war flared. Alexander's article brings out the latter point in impressive detail. Indeed, British reluctance to engage in joint military planning, commit more than two RAF squadrons to the continent, and even carry out the rescue operation at Dunkirk all seemed to reinforce the French leadership's impression that their allies were willing to "fight on land to the last Frenchman" (303). Cairns chapter complements this analysis with an assessment of some of the personal tensions, focused mainly around British perceptions of French complacency and French perceptions of British overconfidence. Two chapters are devoted to France's relationship with the United States. Robert J. Young (Chapter IX) offers a nice study of informed American opinion on France, based interestingly enough on the editorials, cultural journalism, literary coverage, and fashion adds of the New York Times. It is probably not so surprising that educated public opinion in the United States favored democratic France and condemned Nazi Germany, but Young's chapter describes these views in more qualitative depth than one usually finds. Another important strength is the author's description of the French government's efforts to solidify American partiality through voluntary cultural and intellectual tours led by world-renowned figures like the writer Jean Giraudoux. William R. Keylor (Chapter VIII) neatly highlights the major points of contention in the Franco-American political relationship through the interwar period, especially the controversy surrounding the issue of World War I debt repayment and popular French fears of American cultural penetration. Nevertheless, Keylor argues, the French leadership viewed the United States, quixotically and without much concrete validation, as the ultimate bastion of its national security. This chapter is especially strong in its assessment of the early months of the war and the ambiguity of America's view of the new European war. While part of the French government's strong identification of America as a source of support issued from Roosevelt's attempts to lift the Neutrality Act and sell military hardware, especially much needed combat aircraft, some points of discouragement generally went ignored. Many prominent men in American political life, including veteran ambassador William C. Bullitt and senior State Department officials Adolph Berle and Sumner Welles, were crucially resistant to broad American involvement in the war against Hitler. Various French schemes to gain more financial credit in the United States, including an attempt to sell certain colonies to Washington, washed out. More controversial in its conclusions is Michael J. Carley's study (Chapter VII) of Franco-Soviet relations in the interwar period. Surveying the initial problems surrounding the establishment of diplomatic relations and the suspicion that sprung up around them later, Carley concludes that France's inability to place trust in Stalin was a critical factor in its defeat. Had the mutual assistance pact of 1935 been taken more seriously or had even closer relations been maintained, so the argument goes, Hitler would have faced an eastern counterweight which would have deterred his aggression altogether or at least hamstrung his ability to conduct a successful war in Western Europe. This argument is less of a "reassessment" than a resurrection of an older revisionist argument, which blames Hitler's early successes squarely on the West's ideologically-driven mistrust of the USSR. Carley's approach, however, is problematic. The balance of what we now know suggests that Stalin was probably even less trustworthy than Cold War Kremlinologists originally thought. Indeed, recent studies of the ideological dimension of Soviet foreign policy have for the most part vindicated the notion that Stalin was seeking to play off Western powers for the benefit of the USSR. The connection between "imperialist" war and revolution, a link that Carley's analysis explicitly dismisses, was in fact all too real. Russia's own revolutionary experiences in 1905 and 1917 were both linked to such wars, and the strategy of "divide and conquer" was emphasized in Soviet diplomatic thinking with a great deal of consistency. As for Stalin's reliability in a crisis, Igor Lukes's detailed archival work on the Munich Crisis has proved that Stalin pledged military support to the Czechs three days after they were forced to agree to the Munich Pact and two days after German troops had already marched into the Sudetenland. Carley neither takes this episode into consideration, nor does he explain why a Soviet pact with France would have been more reliable. As for potential Soviet effectiveness as an ally, it is doubtful that the Red Army would have been any stronger in 1939 than it was in the disastrous summer months of 1941. Indeed it would most likely have performed worse, since a majority of the Soviet officer corps, especially its leading advocates of military innovation, had just been imprisoned or eliminated in the purges of 1937-1938. Their replacements had been promoted for their loyalty to Stalin rather than their experience or expertise and had yet to benefit from the small scale, yet important, operations against Japan in 1939 and Finland in 1939-1940. To argue that narrow-minded forces of conservatism caused the collapse of France by not letting its government trust the weak and fundamentally untrustworthy USSR does not stand. Finally, the volume is well rounded out by two concluding chapters, which offer much needed perspective on the catastrophe of 1940 and its ramifications for postwar France. Phillip Bankwitz's reminiscences (Chapter XII) of his assignment to Jacques Leclerc's Free French 2nd Armored Division give the reader an impressive first hand account of the liberation of Paris, the resurrection of French fighting spirit throughout the liberation campaign, and an interesting sketch of Leclerc's wartime career. The essay also traces the development of mutual mistrust between France and the United States in the Cold War, though it ends with the warm suggestion that these differences were really not as deep as they appeared to be. Stanley Hoffmann's overview (Chapter XIII) of the defeat's place in postwar memory, politics, and intellectual life is also a fascinating read for those seeking wider meaning in the sad events of 1940.