DE GAULLE by Bernard Ledwidge


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During his lifetime, de Gaulle cultivated the idea that he was France--and because of the enormity of his personality, because he did in fact rise to the occasion, because his war memoirs are literary classics, he and his admirers have made the interpretation stick. Ledwidge, a former British diplomat stationed in Paris during de Gaulle's last three years in office (and no mean writer himself), does nothing to tarnish the image. De Gaulle, born into a royalist family, is depicted as a natural leader who knew early that he'd be a soldier. His developing political views are somewhat obscured by Ledwidge's characterization of Charles Maurras' L'Action Francaise, de Gaulle's favorite newspaper, as ""royalist""; actually it was on the far fight, and squarely anti-Semitic in the Dreyfus affair. Though de Gaulle never relinquished the mystical notion of the French nation he got from Maurras, his relations with French Jews improved when Zionist groups were the first to rally to the Free French in 1940 (and many individual Jews quickly joined the Gaullists). But in shifting French support away from Israel after the 1963 Six Day War--and describing Jews, like Maurras, as a ""dominating"" people--he seemed to revert. Ledwidge, however, merely notes that the pro-Arab swing had important material advantages for France. He takes the view throughout, indeed, that de Gaulle made only tactical mistakes; that he always had France's good in view. During World War II, de Gaulle is clearly the hero, sticking to his vision of a revived France while Roosevelt plans a postwar world without a major French presence; and when Churchill wavers in his support for de Gaulle under Roosevelt's pressure, the seeds are sown for later French independence from the ""Anglo-Americans."" Ledwidge concedes that de Gaulle's Fifth Republic was tough on the opposition and given to rule-by-decree; but he insists, with cause, that stability and prosperity were the fruits. (Ledwidge also asserts that the students who rioted in 1968, triggering de Gaulle's last great crisis, were motivated by sex, not politics--which makes the succeeding unrest appear to be Communist-inspired, rather than a groundswell.) But even if overzealous in its regard for de Gaulle, and without an independent historical perspective, Ledwidge's account is polished and informative--and a better place to start than Brian Crozier's discursive two-volume Life.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's