REPLY TO MARSHAL PÉTAIN
Charles de Gaulle
THE SPEECHES OF GENERAL DE GAULLE pp. 5-7.
This, Marshal Pétain, is the voice of a French soldier, speaking to you by wireless from across the sea.
Yesterday I heardyour voice, with which I have long been familiar, and listened, not without emotion, to what you said to the people of France in justification of your actions.
First, you described the military inferiority to which our defeat was due. Then you stated that, confronted with a situation which was considered hopeless, you had assumed power in order to obtain an honourable peace from the enemy.
Next, you declared that, in view of the conditions laid down by the enemy, there was no other choice but to agree to them and remain in Bordeaux, or else reject them and take
refuge in the Empire in order to continue the struggle from across the Mediterranean. You added that you had considered it your duty to remain in Bordeaux.
Finally, while admitting that a most cruel fate awaited the French people, you urged those same people to bring about a national recovery in spite of everything through work and discipline.
Marshal, in this hour of shame and anger for our country, there must be a voice to answer you. And this evening that voice is mine.
Admittedly, it has been shown that our military inferiority was appalling. But to what was this inferiority due?
It was due to a faulty military system. France was crushed, not indeed because we were outnumbered by the Germans, and certainly not because they outdid us in courage, but purely and simply because the enemy mechanized force launched to attack was superior to ours in strength and manoeuvrability. Everyone who took part in the fighting knows that. If France had no such armament of her own, if her troops had been trained only for defensive and stationary warfare, whose, Marshal, was the blame?
After the war of 1914-1918 you were in charge of our military organization: until 1932 you were Commander-in-Chief; in 1935 you were Minister for War. During all that time you were the highest military authority in France, but did you ever so much as raise your voice to propose, to request, to demand the reforms which were so imperative?
And yet, on the strength of the magnificent services rendered during the last war, you assumed the responsibility of asking the enemy for an armistice.
You were inveigled into the belief, Marshal, that this armistice, requested by a great soldier like yourself at the hands of other soldiers, would be an honourable one for France. But now, I imagine, your last illusions are gone. There is nothing but dishonour in this armistice. Two-thirds of our territory have been handed over to be occupied by the enemy—and by what an enemy! Our army is to be completely demobilized. Our officers and men who have been taken prisoner by the enemy are to remain in captivity. Our Fleet, our planes, our tanks, and our weapons are to be surrendered
intact, so that the Axis can use them against our Allies. The country, the Government, and you yourself are to be
reduced to servitude. Did France need a man like you,
Marshal—you, the Conqueror of Verdun—to negotiate and agree to the conditions of such bondage? Anyone would have done.
But you say that you thought it possible, that you thought it your duty, to subscribe to them. You dismissed as absurd any further resistance in the Empire. You regarded as contemptible the efforts now being made—and the far greater efforts still to be made—by our Allies of the British Empire. You refused in advance to draw upon the vast resources of America.
You have been playing to lose, and have thrown in your hand and made us empty our pockets, as though not a single trump remained to us. All this was due to a kind of deep despondency and morose scepticism which was perhaps largely responsible for the breakdown of our forces in France when it came to making a final stand.
And in the same way, Marshal, you now urge France —a country delivered up to the enemy, plundered and downtrodden by our hereditary foe—to resume her labours, put her house in order and set about national recovery. What sort of an atmosphere is this in which to strive towards national recovery? By what means, and in the name of what faith, is the miracle to be wrought? At this moment France lies prostrate beneath the jackboot of Germany and the slipper of Italy.
I believe you when you say that France will rise again—but it will be in freedom, it will be in victory. Throughout her Empire, throughout the world, here, in England, her sons are gathering and forming organized forces. The day will come when our arms, forged anew in distant lands, but sharpened to a keen edge, will join with those of our Allies and, perhaps, of other countries which have not yet rallied to the cause of freedom, and we shall return triumphant to our native land.
Then, and then only, we shall be in a position to build France anew.