The Government of the Republic
WHATEVER CONCERNS THE OLD WORLD CONCERNS FRANCE
By GENERAL CHARLES deGAULLE, Leader of Provisional French Government
Delivered in the Palais Chaillot, Paris, France, September 13, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 73-75.
DURING the eighteen days which elapsed after the surrender to our troops of the enemy holding Paris, a wave of joy, pride, and hope exalted the French nation. All the countries of the world witnessed the impact of the liberation, which freed five sixths of our territory, in particular the capital, and which clearly brought in the limelight our people's will to fight, their enthusiasm and wisdom. If there were some people who still doubted the determination of our oppressed nation and its ability to rule itself, I believe they know now how matters stand.
At any rate, today's meeting, organized by the Council of Resistance, which inspired and coordinated right here— at the price of great dangers and losses—the fighting waged against the enemy and usurpers, is manifestly symbolical. Gathered here with the National Resistance Council—to which I wish to address the thanks of the Government and the whole nation—are the representatives of the peers of the nation, men of all origins and political creeds, who stood in the front lines of those who are waging the fight.
Everyone can see that a single flame inspires and a single reason guides all these leaders of France. It is impossible to find an audience which would be more qualified and worthy to hear of the country's future.
The powerful military force of Germany, which rested upon the exceptional capacity for fighting, enterprise and suffering of a powerful fanaticized nation; this force which furthered the designs of an ambitious man, who was aided by the defeatism and sometimes the treachery of the statesmen of countries which he wished to enslave in his attempt to rule the world—this force has been pushed back and humiliated. The edifice which was defeated months, years ago, was attacked this time with strength and daring and appears to be crumbling in its very foundations. The horizon is golden with the light of victory. New and bloody efforts will no doubt still be necessary, in order to obtain a direct and total victory. But no matter what may be the obstacles, and the length of time needed, it is henceforth certain that France will have its share of the victory.
We wish to pay wholehearted tribute to the brave and chivalrous nations that are achieving victory with us. We pay tribute to the British Empire which declared war with us on September 3, 1939. After the reverse of 1940, the British Empire remained interdependent with our misfortunes by its determination; the British Empire is still beside us, fighting on our soil, until together we can crush our common enemy on his own territory.
We pay tribute to Soviet Russia, which after the 1941 aggression saw the German armies advancing deep into the Caucasus. But Russia was always able to find, in the admirable courage of its people, in the qualities of its fighting men, and by mobilizing its vast wealth, the energy for and the necessary means of driving out the invader, and crushing most of his war-like strength, in terrific battles.
We pay equal tribute to the United States, which in turn was attacked in December 1941 from Pearl Harbor to the far-reaches of the Pacific. During this war, the United States has become a powerful military nation and is now accomplishing gigantic undertakings overseas. It has already seized bases which will make it possible to attack Japan itself in the near future. We pay tribute to the valiant Polish, Czecho-Slovakian and Greek nations who were entirely submerged by the hated tide, but like us they never despaired and they are now seeing the dawn of liberation.
But if we who are accustomed to both great tragedies and great successes know that each of the countries that form with France the team of freedom, nobly deserves the esteem and friendship of France, we also can judge ourselves too clearly to ever forget our initial tragedy. We know that we too were unprepared for this new kind of war; we had not yet recovered from the terrific loss of human lives, which were wasted in the previous war; as the advanced guard of democracies we were tragically isolated, with nothing to protect us—neither a protective body of water nor vast territories—and we were submerged by Germany's mechanized force and suddenly precipitated into material and moral confusion which made it possible for defeatism and treachery to paralyze the will to conquer in many of us. But, when in 1940, all of Germany's tanks, guns, and planes relentlessly strove to beat us, then these tanks, guns, and planes were cutting into our flesh, and not into the flesh of other nations.
Subsequently, in spite of oppression, darkness, solitude, false propaganda, the persistent servitude imposed by the usurpers who were then in power, the great mass of the French people never believed the defeat was permanent.
Our flag never disappeared from the battlefields.
Right after Vichy's submission in June, 1940, the French nation began the slow and difficult climb which led it out of the depths. The flame of French resistance was not fated to die out, and it did not die out. Some day when there is time, others will sum up what this cost us in losses, anger, and tears. We must simply note that our armies which were assembled, man after man, first in the far-reaches of our Empire, then on the Mediterranean shores, gave valuable help in the battle of Africa, which in three years time liquidated Mussolini's Empire and drove the Germans out of Lybia and Tunisia.
We must note that our troops played an important part in the great Italian victories and at the same time, valiant units rose up spontaneously from our nation's sorrow and hope, and were formed on metropolitan territory, under the very eyes of the enemy, in spite of indescribable difficulties hamstringing their organization, equipping, and officering— and began the fight at the first signal.
Lastly, we must note that in the battle for France, all that was accomplished by our formations, either by the manoeuvres and attacks, of the large campaign units, or by detail action, which was undertaken everywhere by units of the interior—was largely responsible for the Allied success.
It is interesting to note for example, that out of the 350,-000 prisoners which according to official figures were left in Allied hands since the beginning of the battle for France, up until September 10, 105,000 surrendered to French troops— nearly 50,000 of which surrendered to our Rhone Army, 20,000 surrendered to Leclerc's soldiers, and more than 35,000 surrendered to our Forces of the Interior which have been fighting at all points of the territory since the news of the Allied landing.
It has been announced that even more prisoners were captured. This proves that France in spite of the innumerable difficulties which it encountered in the interior and abroad, was also able to achieve its victory, because it was determined to do so.
It is really not necessary to explain how and why this will of our nation gives it the right—yes, the right—to state its rights, in the settlement of the war. Therefore, we wish to believe that finally this right will no longer be contested, and that the official isolation of France—of which all those who speak and act in its name have suffered—will be replaced by the same kind of relations, which it has been our privilege and custom to entertain with other great nations. But by succeeding in remaining in the struggle, France did not only help itself. By so doing, France has made just and possible the association in the work which will ensure the security of all, and the world organization in a state of peace.
A state of peace, indeed, for without it, it is impossible to see how security, world organization or peace could be validly and permanently established. Yes, we believe it is in the supreme interest of mankind, that the provisions which will regulate the future of defeated Germany must not be discussed nor adopted without France; because it is a fact that France is the nation which has been the most concerned with this disagreeable neighbor and nothing efficient can be accomplished without the assistance of the principal person concerned.
We believe that none of the European problems of today and tomorrow can be solved without France, because France is so deeply integrated into Europe, that everything which concerns a portion of the Old World directly concerns France—and vice versa; and because the French have a truly remarkable experience of European problems, and also to be frank, because many Frenchmen are gifted with truly remarkable common sense. And, also, we believe that it will not be possible to regulate the political, economic and moral conditions under which the men of tomorrow will live, without taking into consideration the 80 million men, who are living under the French flag. Moreover, many men believe that any important human construction would be weak, if the seal of France were not upon it.
It is true that it will not be enough to regain our rank. We must also hold it. While in the depths of sorrow and insults, in which France has been plunged for more than four years—and from which it has emerged today—the French nation weighed the causes of its temporary misfortunes—those for which France was responsible, and those for which others were responsible. France also saw the ways and means of returning to its vocation of freedom and grandeur.
In order to achieve this, an extraordinary national unanimity was formed by our people in the midst of trials. This is the gigantic force to which the government is appealing, in order to fulfill its mission in serving the nation. It is the government's right and duty to appeal to this force, because it is the government of the Republic. Undoubtedly, the tidal wave which passed over France swept away the organisms by which the nation's will was normally expressed. Undoubtedly the majority of citizens believe that deep reforms must be made in the workings of our institutions. Therefore, there does not exist any other means—neither by rights nor in fact—of building the new edifice of our democracy, than by consulting the sovereign French people.
As soon as the war is ended, that is as soon as the territory has been entirely liberated, and when the prisoners and deportees have returned to their homes, the government will ask the nation to elect by universal suffrage—among all the men and women of France—the representatives who will form the National Assembly. Up until then the Government will accomplish its task with the help of the Consultative Assembly, enlarged in order to be as representative as possible of public opinion, and whose nucleus will be formed by the experienced men who at present make up the National Resistance Council. But, when sovereignty has been re-established in the persons of the representatives who have been elected by the nation, the Government will hand over to them the provisional powers of which it had assumed charge. If the Government is democratic this is not only because it intends to lead the nation according to its wishes, until the new start of the French democracy, but also because thp Government is applying and will apply the laws—and just laws—which were adopted by the nation when it was free—and which are known as the laws of the French Republic. Of course, we cannot state that they are all perfect. But such as they are, they are the law. As long as national sovereignty has not modified these laws, it is the duty of the government—even of the provisional government—to enforce them, in their spirit and to the letter, just as the government has done, without hesitating or weakening, for more than four years among the men who were living in territories which were successively wrested from the enemy or Vichy.
Of course, circumstances have some times forced the Government to create provisions which were not formulated by our laws, and to associate the Consultative Assembly in the elaboration of these provisions. But the government has done so on its own responsibility, which the Nation has justly recognized as whole. It will be incumbent on the future representatives of the country to decide whether or not they shall be transformed into laws.
If we were not firmly supported by these principles only despotism and chaos would result, and the Nation does not want this. But by applying these principles, we shall find the conditions for order, efficiency and justice. As no humanundertaking can do without these conditions for order, efficiency, and justice, there is all the more reason why they are needed in the present situation of the country. First of all, we are waging war, and I say so frankly, until the enemy has been crushed, we are not yet through with the war.
Everything tends to prove that in spite of the terrible losses he suffered on the Eastern Front, in spite of the desertion of all but one of his satellites, the enemy is making ready to launch another great battle, in an attempt to protect his territory until the winter, thereby hoping to slow up the offensive operations of the Franco-Allied armies. We intend to participate as much as possible in this battle, and in the ones which may follow. The same will be true concerning the occupation of Germany. In other words, we must put into practice the policy which will form important units, which, as the ones we now have, will be capable of maneuvering, fighting and defeating—on any field of battle—a powerful and determined adversary.