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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 Sean Kennedy University of New Brunswick email@example.com This stimulating and valuable collection of essays deals with the catastrophic French defeat of 1940 from virtually every conceivable angle. The contributors provide diverse perspectives on the talents and shortcomings of the Third Republic's military leaders, their relationship with the politicians, and the manifold troubles, some of them self-inflicted, that the French experienced in dealing with the Americans, British and Soviets. This review will concentrate upon the essays dealing with domestic politics and public opinion. In this realm, of course, many scholars have posited a close connection between the upheavals of the 1930s, the disaster of 1940, and the advent of the Vichy regime. However, as William Keylor notes, such a causal relationship is not self-evident. The pre-1914 Republic was also characterized by polarization, yet the regime survived the German onslaught and eventually triumphed. Conversely, errors in military strategy and a lack of allies might well suffice to explain the Nazi victory a generation later. The contributors to The French Defeat of 1940 are far from unanimous on these matters, but they all have enlightening things to say, and collectively demonstrate how sophisticated the scholarship on this disaster has become. In some respects, Omer Bartov's essay "Martyr's Vengeance" sounds a familiar note in its emphasis upon the long-term roots of the French collapse, but his approach and sources are innovative. In contrast to their eastern neighbors, he argues, the French were never able to reach a consensus on the meanings and implications of the First World War. Whereas in Germany attitudes towards the experience of 1914-1918 ultimately converged in a seething nationalist resentment, in France opinions remained sharply divided, resulting in paralysis. Bartov bases his conclusions on a wide variety of evidence, ranging from representations of the Great War experience in contemporary literature to political posters, memorials, and the films of Jean Renoir. In responding to Marc Bloch's call for a total history of interwar France in order to understand the country's subsequent fate, Bartov is surely right to adopt such a broad perspective. Moreover, he is alert to some of the paradoxes of Third Republic politics, such as the significance of the 'war-revolution nexus', namely, the widespread belief in right-wing circles that the leftist Popular Front would lead France into a war from which a bloody revolution would result. The upshot of this was that for several years during the 1930s normally bellicose nationalists instead tended to emphasize the need for conciliation with Germany. On this matter there was convergence between their views and those of integral pacifists such as Félicien Challaye, who at first strongly opposed domestic fascism but also desperately sought to avoid war. But the evolution of French public opinion between 1938 and 1940 was not as straightforward as Bartov implies. As William Irvine demonstrates, by the summer of 1939 the situation had changed. The Popular Front had been sundered, the war-revolution nexus was far less of an issue, and the Daladier government enjoyed considerable support even as it adopted a firmer line in dealing with Hitler. Though a distaste for war with Germany was still evident among elements of the political class, many pacifists had a sense of being marginalized, and the public seemed committed to defending France. If, as Irvine concludes, in the summer of 1939 "France was morally and materially ready to confront Nazi Germany" (95), then attention must turn to the drôle de guerre. Did the rediscovered national consensus prove too fragile to sustain the political and diplomatic shocks of 1939-40? The essays by Elisabeth du Rèau and John Cairns underscore the intractability of the problems faced by prime minister Édouard Daladier - not the least of which was his rivalry with his finance minister and eventual successor, Paul Reynaud. Du Réau sees Daladier as wanting to galvanize the French people and working to cooperate effectively with Britain, but falling short when it came to creating a sufficient sense of urgency. In his speeches he denied that the objective of the Anglo-French coalition was the overthrow of Nazism; instead he asserted that the goal was "to put an end to a system of international relations founded on brute force." (108) Such an approach satisfied elements of the right and far right, who did not wish the French war effort to involve a crusade for democracy, but it arguably left many centrist and centre-left politicians less motivated than could have been the case. Du Réau also notes Daladier's failure to secure the cooperation of the significant element of the Socialist party which was willing to support the war effort. Despite these shortcomings, though, she does not think that the last governments of the Republic were without their merits. "The right picture", she concludes, "is in half-tones." (124) Cairns elegantly details the crisis which removed Daladier from his post after nearly two years in office. As does du Réau, he notes that Daladier had supported a French intervention in the Russo- Finnish war partly to bolster general morale, but also, it seems, in response to anticommunist critics such as Pierre-Étienne Flandin. Flandin and others had questioned why, since the Nazis and the Soviets were now linked by their August 1939 pact, France did not strike at the USSR. But instead of being able to engage in an action which would mollify domestic critics while avoiding the major battle with the Germans on the Western front, in March 1940 Daladier was faced with a Finnish defeat and a sharp rebuke, leading to his downfall. Anglo-French relations had been strained to boot. The British, with reason, expressed doubts over the wisdom of engaging the Soviets, though Cairns also points out that they did not understand the French domestic situation very well. Finally, the crisis led to the formation of Reynaud's government, which did not enjoy a broad base of support. Cairns leaves us with a ominous picture on the eve of the German offensive, characterized by an amalgam of Franco-British animosity and growing influence on the part of the antiwar lobby. There was even talk of Daladier conniving with Pierre Laval to return to power and arrange a peace treaty. Clearly evident, too, was the visceral anticommunism which characterized not only domestic politics but had also led to the espousal of various operations against the Soviets, ranging from the intervention in Finland to the bombardment of Caucasian oil fields. It is hard not to see a foreshadowing of the Vichy regime in this ideological evolution which served to distort France's strategic priorities. The political infighting of 1940 also had more immediate military consequences, as General Gamelin found himself fending off Reynaud's efforts to displace him. Yet when it comes to linking the political struggles of the Phoney War with the collapse, one is still left asking what sort of influence Pierre Laval and others who balked at war would have had if the German offensive had been countered more successfully. Moreover, even though by that time a significant element of the French elite preferred to see Stalin as the primary enemy, it is less clear how their attitudes affected the performance of the troops in the front line. Carole Fink's contribution on Marc Bloch during the drôle de guerre demonstrates the gamut of emotions experienced by an especially acute front-line observer. Bloch was obviously full of anxiety and critical of many aspects of France's war effort, sensing many of his countrymen to be complacent and the French and British leadership to be inadequate. Fink also makes clear, however, that these moments of gloom alternated with a stimulation provided by his military responsibilities, and a hope that a firm defensive line could hold against a German attack. Obviously, Bloch was not a typical soldier, but some of his perceptions were no doubt widely shared even if they remained unarticulated. Evident from Fink's account is the deleterious effect of the long period of inactivity following the outbreak of war, something which Bloch personally struggled to counteract. But even the boredom and the possible self-doubt resulting from the 'phoney war' did not prevent many French units from fighting hard after 10 May 1940. In addition to frustration and hatred of Communism, xenophobia and more specifically antisemitism are frequently described as prominent features of the 'mood' of 1939-1940. In her detailed and thoroughly documented essay, Vicki Caron illustrates how prevalent such sentiments were. The Nazi-Soviet Pact, she notes, "cast a cloud of suspicion over all foreigners in France" (140) and led to a wave of internments. Yet Caron also points out that at all times countervailing attitudes and pressures were operative. In April 1939, Daladier's government had made it easier for foreigners to join the regular army. While the prevailing climate after the Nazi- Soviet Pact and the declaration of war neutralized this, and thousands of former residents of 'Greater Germany' subsequently found themselves in squalid detention camps, the government eventually responded to domestic and foreign criticism on this score. Thousands of internees were released, and it was decided that foreigners would be used in the war effort. Sadly, serious problems - including antisemitism on the part of Foreign Legion and other service commanders - persisted, and the German attack led to a renewed panic and the launching of another series of internments by Reynaud's government. Caron's final verdict is, not surprisingly, critical. She argues that the French government was clearly not prepared to fully mobilize for war; by treating the refugees so poorly it had wasted an important opportunity. She also endorses the views of former refugees who believed that the internments reflected at best an inability to determine priorities, as argued by Lion Feuchtwanger, or at worst outright defeatism, as maintained by Hans Habe. But for Caron it is imperative that distinctions be drawn between the outlook of the Third Republic and that of Vichy. While xenophobia was a prominent current before and during the drôle de guerre, it was always contested; only under Vichy did it fully prevail. Caron's conclusions with regard to the refugee question might be extended to a broader generalization about the relationship between the political and moral crises of the 1930s, the French defeat, and Vichy. While not wishing to present the various contributors' views as making up a seamless argument, I believe that as a whole their findings point to several postulates. The first is the need to trace the various inflections of political change and public opinion of this period carefully. From the capitulation at Munich through the recovery of 1939 to the partisan battles of the drôle de guerre, there were crests and troughs in the processes of forging a political consensus and galvanizing the people. Secondly, it may well be that an analysis of domestic developments during this period tells us more about the roots of the Vichy regime than the actual defeat of 1940. This is not to say that strains in civil- military relations or prolonged inaction had no bearing on the outcome of the Battle of France. Yet in discussing the evolution of the popular mood it is possibly easier to trace linkages between longer periods, in this instance the final years of the Third Republic and the opening months of Vichy. Thirdly, however, the impact of the defeat in and of itself must not be underestimated. If some of the late Third Republic's political discourse featured a virulent anti-communism which could be blind to patriotism, as well as a disturbing xenophobia and antisemitism, the authoritarian nationalists were only fully legitimized when the army's collapse seemed to confirm that the regime had long been rotten to the core. Ultimately there can be no definitive answer to the question of whether the defeat could have been avoided. But by incorporating a range of approaches and interpretations, this book does a superb job of demonstrating the intricacies of this acutely troubling problem, as well as the talents of the historians who have studied it.