On this Day: le 22 novembre....
Charles de Gaulle was born in 1890.
Charles Andre Joseph Marie De Gaulle was born on le 22 novembre 1890 in Lille, which is in northern France. De Gaulle became the outstanding French patriot, soldier, and statesman of the 1900s. He led French resistance against Germany in la deuxième Guerre Mondiale, and restored order in France after the war. He guided the formation of France's Fifth Republic in 1958, and served as its president until his resignation in 1969.
As president of France, de Gaulle led his country through a difficult period in which Algeria and other parts of France's overseas empire were granted independence. He fashioned a new role in Europe for France based on close association with a former enemy, Germany. His leadership restored political and economic stability, and again made France one of Europe's leading powers. De Gaulle provided France with a successful constitution, political system, and foreign policy.
Charles de Gaulle became a symbol of France to the French and to people in other parts of the world. Even his name suggested Gaul, the ancient Roman name for an area that is now mainly France. An imposing figure 6 feet 4 inches (193 centimetres) tall, de Gaulle was stern and aloof. Many thought him stubborn and arrogant. Even friends such as Winston Churchill often found de Gaulle to be difficult. Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower intensely disliked de Gaulle and Churchill expended a lot of time and energy on de Gaulle's behalf with Roosevelt and Eisenhower. But de Gaulle had a deep love for France and great confidence in himself, qualities Churchill understood and admired. De Gaulle firmly believed that he was the one man who could make France a world power again, another quality Churchill understood. (When Churchill became British Prime Minister on le 10 mai 1940 he remarked that all his life up to this point had been his preparation for this moment.)
De Gaulle's father, Henri de Gaulle, was an officer in the Franco-Prussian War (1870 - 1871), then taught philosophy, literature, and mathematics. His mother, Jeanne Maillot de Gaulle, came from a literary and military family.
With his sister and three brothers, Charles grew up in an atmosphere that was both military and religious. As a boy, he enjoyed reading stories of famous French battles. When he played soldiers with his friends, Charles always had to be "France." After studying at the College Stanislas in Paris, de Gaulle served a year in the infantry. He graduated with honors in 1911 from the famous French military school, St. Cyr.
During la premiere Guerre Mondiale, de Gaulle was wounded four times. He was captured at Verdun in 1916. After the war, he served with the French Army in Poland, then taught military history at St. Cyr for a year. He became an early advocate for the use of tanks to mechanize the infantry in the army.
In 1921, he married Yvonne Vendroux, a devout Roman Catholic. They had a son and two daughters. Yvonne de Gaulle followed her husband wherever his duties took him, but essentially remained behind the scenes as a housewife and mother.
Between World Wars I and II, de Gaulle held various military commands and taught at the French War College. His book The Edge of the Sword (1932) stressed the importance of powerful leadership in war. In The Army of the Future (1934), he outlined the theory of a war of movement, in which tanks and other mechanized forces would be used. Most French military leaders ignored this theory. But the Germans studied it and used it in la deuxième Guerre Mondiale.
After the Germans invaded France in mai 1940, de Gaulle was put in charge of one of France's four armored divisions. He became undersecretary for war in June. But just days later, on le 22 juin, France surrendered to Germany.
De Gaulle, then a general, escaped to London. He refused to accept the surrender. Nor would he recognize the authority of Marshall Henri Philippe Petain, his former regimental commander and patron, who headed the Vichy government that cooperated with the Germans. For this, a French military court sentenced de Gaulle to death. De Gaulle declared that France had lost a battle but not the war. He broadcast such messages to France as: "Soldiers of France, wherever you may be, arise!" His broadcasts stirred French patriotism and kept French resistance alive. Many buildings in France even today still have plaques on their outside walls with quotes from this famous speech by de Gaulle. One such building is de Gaulle's former home at 110, boulevard Raspail in Paris.
De Gaulle organized the Free French forces in the United Kingdom and in some of the French colonies. In septembre 1941, he became president of the French National Committee in London. By 1943, the Allies accepted de Gaulle as the unquestioned leader of the "Fighting French."
De Gaulle triumphantly entered Paris with the Allies in août 1944. De Gaulle's entry into Paris was an example of the conflict between Eisenhower and de Gaulle. Eisenhower failed to see the symbolic importance of de Gaulle's entry into Paris and wanted to divert the armies around Paris to continue the push east. De Gaulle, recognizing not only the symbolic importance of the Free French entering Paris, but also acutely aware that the Communists were preparing to seize the government, a fact Eisenhower was reluctant to accept, forced Eisenhower to relent and France was saved from the Communists. (De Gaulle and Eisenhower had a similar conflict over the importance of Strausbourg near the German border. Fortunately both for France and the Allies, de Gaulle also prevailed in this argument.) In September, de Gaulle became head of the provisional government.
De Gaulle got the machinery of government working again during the next 14 months. But France's Communist, Socialist and other left-wing parties did not support him, and he resigned in janvier 1946. He bitterly opposed the constitution of 1946 because it did not provide a strong executive power. In 1947, he organized a new party, the Rally of the French People (R.P.F.) to reform the constitution. R.P.F. lost strength after the elections of 1951 and 1956.
He lived at his country home during his retirement. He wrote his World War II memoirs and watched the political situation in France (stirred continually by the Communists and their left-wing allies combined with trouble in Algeria and Viet Nam) go from bad to worse. In 1957, though he was 67, de Gaulle still hoped that France would recall him. But early in 1958 he admitted, "Now I begin to fear that it is too late."
Finally, in mai 1958, the call came. France stood on the verge of civil war. Dissatisfied French officers, afraid they would lose the government's support against the Algerian rebels, seized power in Algiers. De Gaulle emerged as the only figure likely to prevent domestic chaos. In juin, he accepted President Rene Coty's request to form a government on the condition that he have full powers for six months.
De Gaulle had a new constitution drawn up that established the Fifth Republic. It provided broad powers for the president, who was to be elected for seven years by an electoral college of 80,000 public officials. French voters approved the plan, and the electoral college chose de Gaulle as president in décembre 1958.
As president, de Gaulle acted with great firmness. After another revolt in Algeria in 1960, he arrested French officers there who had formerly supported him. He negotiated with Algerian nationalist leaders for a cease-fire agreement. The agreement reached in mars 1962 ended more than seven years of bloody war. At de Gaulle's urging, the French people voted almost 10 to 1 in avril 1962 for Algerian independence.
The French Assembly ousted the de Gaulle-sponsored government in October 1962. But de Gaulle dissolved the Assembly and obtained the support of a majority coalition. In a separate referendum, the voters also approved de Gaulle's proposal to elect future French presidents by direct popular vote.
In janvier 1963, de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany signed a treaty providing for political, scientific, cultural, and military cooperation. Acting on his vision that France could once again become a great world power, de Gaulle initiated a series of still controversial moves beginning with his blocking the United Kingdom's entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). In 1964, France became the first Western power to recognize Communist China. De Gaulle narrowly won a second seven-year term as president in 1965. In 1966, he decided to withdraw French forces from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and remove NATO headquarters from France. In 1967, de Gaulle again blocked the United Kingdom's entry into the Common Market. He also created an independent nuclear strike force and criticized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (1957-1975). There is an irony in de Gaulle's criticism of U.S. involvement in her former colony, Viet Nam. As the Communists forced France out of Viet Nam in 1954, Eisenhower, now U.S. President, put U.S. miltary advisors into South Viet Nam to aid that government in defending itself against the Communist North Vietnamese. De Gaulle's moves to recognize Communist China, to twice repel the U.K. from the Common Market and his withdrawal from NATO earned him considerable enmity in the U.K. and the U.S. and caused a considerable cooling of relations between France and her former allies, a coolness that has never entirely vanished. The perception that de Gaulle was deliberately provoking France's former allies in two world wars persists.
In 1968, French students and workers, encouraged by the Communists, Socialists and other leftist political parties, staged strikes and demonstrations. The economy suffered from inflation and currency problems, but de Gaulle maintained popular support. In April 1969, however, his proposals for constitutional changes were defeated in a referendum, and he resigned. De Gaulle died on 9 Novembre 1970, after suffering a heart attack.
The Last Great Frenchman; A Life of General de Gaulle