Nearly 50 years after his death comes this exhaustive biography and reassessment of Charles de Gaulle’s political career.
As Jackson (History/Queen Mary Univ.; The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940, 2003, etc.) notes, de Gaulle was not easy to peg politically. He emerged from a tradition of “social Catholicism” that “sought to overcome class struggle by finding a middle way between capitalism and socialism.” What de Gaulle was, pre-eminently, was French, fervently devoted to his nation. During World War I, he had been a junior officer under Marshal Pétain, whom he would oppose when France capitulated to the Germans at the beginning of World War II; Pétain’s role, de Gaulle thundered, put him “on the road to treason.” De Gaulle evacuated to London and set up a Free French government in exile, and he was so much of a thorn in the side of the Allies in demanding an equal place at the table that Jackson writes Churchill said something along the lines of, “Each time I have to choose between you and Roosevelt, I will choose Roosevelt.” Yet, because of de Gaulle, France did have an equal part as an occupying power of Germany after the war. Jackson writes clearly, if sometimes with a touch too much lingering detail, of de Gaulle’s maneuvering to play both sides against the middle in such instances as the near civil war that broke out in France over the anti-colonial war in Algeria, which nearly led to a modern coup d’état, and of de Gaulle’s elaborate efforts to calve the European powers away from American influence and into the French sphere. Throughout, Jackson insists, de Gaulle, though often considered conservative, was a modernizer who “celebrated scientific progress, economic and social reforms and the modernization of the armed forces.”
A long but excellent, highly useful addition to the library of modern European history as well as the political history of World War II and the Cold War.