Feeling for People When It Was Needed Most
Beginning in 1938, the Nazis moved through
Europe, grabbing Czechoslovakia, sweeping through Poland, then Norway,
Denmark, Holland, Belgium and finally France, where in just a matter of
weeks the French defenses crumbled. Only the armored division under
the command of De Gaulle showed any meaningful resistance. Elevated
to a cabinet position, De Gaulle passionately argued that the government
be moved to French Algeria to continue the fight. There were also
negotiations he was part of, for a possible merger with England, when the
French government, in the town of Vichy, secretly negotiated an armistice
with Germany, in actuality, a surrender. Imagine the feeling of Frenchmen
as the land of Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Balzac, Victor Hugo, was literally
handed over to the Fascists.
De Gaulle, this was unthinkable. After arranging escape from France
for his wife and children, he himself just managed to make it to England.
On a sunny June afternoon, 1940 this mostly unknown two-star French General
appeared at 10 Downing Street and was greeted warmly by Prime Minister
for De Gaulle to speak to his defeated nation via the BBC. In The
Right Of, Mr. Siegel wrote, "The emotion...which all people hope for arises
from one's having been honest about the world." That night French men and
women heard De Gaulle say:
Speaking in full knowledge of the facts,
I ask you to believe me when I say that the cause of France is not lost....The
destiny of the world is at stake. I, General De Gaulle, now in London,
call on all French officers and men who are at present on British soil,
or may be in the future...to get in touch with me....the fight is not over,
the cause is not given up....Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance
must not and shall not die.
up in an ultra-conservative military family, De Gaulle was moved that those
responding to his call came mostly from the working class.
They were the ones risking their lives.
This had a profound impression on me and made me alter my opinions.
As Mr. Siegel said, "Every time a person felt
something...there was knowledge." De Gaulle was learning about people--who
he could really count on--and it made for more feeling in him.
next months and years, he worked to establish the Free French as a fighting
force, and they contributed importantly to the victory over the Nazis in
North Africa. He had to fight for respect from Churchill whom he
felt looked down on his defeated country, and wasn't happy that De Gaulle
was friendly to the Soviet Union. De Gaulle had a big feeling about
how the Red Army fought the Nazis, and memorized all the aspects of the
Battle of Stalingrad, that great battle in the fall and winter of 1942
and 43', which most people still do not know, was the turning point of
years under the Nazis, thousands of French were executed, hundreds of thousands
of French Jews were sent to concentration camps. So imagine the feeling
that day in late August, 1944 as De Gaulle's top unit--the 2nd Armored
Division of Brigadier Jacques Leclerc--which had fought all the way from
central Africa, entered Paris, routing the last Nazi holdouts; and then
the following day as De Gaulle himself walked with the people of Paris
to the Arc de Triomphe. Writes biographer Stanley Clark:
Almost everyone in tears... Paris had
seen a greater crowd in one small area....More than two
people were in the streets, and for once there was a trace of pride in
the way in which De Gaulle looked over that sea of eager faces and
reached out as if to grasp all the millions of hands stretched out in
More Feeling Tough or Weak?
In the Aesthetic Realism lesson I've been
quoting from, Mr. Siegel said:
when people show more [feeling] than they
want to show, they can regret it...Are you sure it is the tough thing in
you, or the weak thing?
I feel that as De Gaulle had his largest feelings, he did not think he
was strong. At the liberation celebration he was cruelly grudging
about the crucial role resistance fighters within France had played in
defeating the Nazis. He hardly recognized them, saying brusquely
that they should now see themselves as part of the French army, nothing
more. This was terrifically unjust. Of the resistance fighters, Mr.
Siegel wrote in an issue of The Right Of:
Some of the best French men and women were
in that. The history of the resistance has never been fully written;
some of the feelings had then can hardly be understood.
I think De Gaulle did not want to understand
those feelings--what they endured and were hoping for. Years later, shortly
before his death, he showed he was against himself for this, saying of
the resistance--"too little had been [reported] of how they fought and
how they died."
3 and conclusion