SOLDIERS OF THE NIGHT: The Story of the French Resistance by David Schoenbrun
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SOLDIERS OF THE NIGHT: The Story of the French Resistance

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Political history chiefly, not heroics: the most extensive account in English of the two French Resistances--that of the Underground against Vichy and the Nazis, and that of de Gaulle against all other claimants to authority over fallen France. . . including, prominently, the Allies. The narrative is choppy and fragmented and relatively unshaped; but it is strongly driven--both by Schoenbrun's admiration for de Gaulle (whom he first encountered as a U.S. intelligence officer in North Africa, before reporting from Paris for CBS) and by his reaction against The Sorrow and the Pity and other scouring portrayals of wartime France. The story climaxes, here, not in the euphoric 1945 liberation of Paris, but in a secret meeting there in May 1943: a meeting which brought together the feuding democratic Resistance groups, north and south; the tightly-knit Communists; and representatives of the prewar political parties--to form a united provisional government under the de Gaulle banner, a crucial step for all concerned and for the future of France. The refractory Resistance movements, suspicious of de Gaulle as an autocrat, had finally won his acceptance of their need to take immediate action (pre-liberation) on their own initiative--a demonstration, Schoenbrun writes, of de Gaulle's ""political perception and flexibility."" De Gaulle--after three years of slights by the Allies (who were still propping up his rival Giraud)--was now ready to present them with a fait accompli: he would return to France as the popular choice. And, as one of Schoenbrun's informants commented in 1977, inclusion of the dreaded Communists probably ""prevented an outbreak of civil war. . . at the liberation."" Within a month the architect of that remarkable accord, de Gaulle's emissary Jean Moulin, was seized by the Gestapo and tortured to death--a ghastly episode in a book that, on the whole, downplays human drama (though Schoenbrun does sedulously reexamine the various seizures--still controversial in France--to try to assess blame). The excitement comes rather from grappling with the issues--finally and most significantly, American connivance with de Gaulle in fostering ""the illusion"" of Paris' self-liberation (that ""led to the further illusion. . . that France was again a great world power""). Out of the plethora of details comes, finally, a memorable and important book.

Pub Date: June 18th, 1980
Publisher: Dutton