May 2003 Journal

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From Gallia to Gaullism

For all that France has always claimed to be the epicentre of Catholic Europe – starting point of the Crusades, and residence of half a dozen counter-Popes – she has habitually played a maverick role. In the mid-sixteenth century, when Christendom quaked before the advancing Turks, she egged them on for her own power-political advantage. For the same reason, her chief minister, the Catholic Cardinal Richelieu, deployed French troops in the Protestant interest during the Thirty Years’ War.

In the 1919 Treaty of Versailles Clemenceau imposed heavier burdens on Germany than his co-signatories had intended – yet a mere 21 years later Marshal Pétain outdid the rest of Continental Europe in his willing collaboration with the occupying Germans.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Channel, Franco-British co-operation was so mired in difficulty that Churchill described the Cross of Lorraine – emblem of de Gaulle’s Free French – as the heaviest cross he had to bear throughout the war.

In the 1950s Gaullist France strained every nerve to escape from the inferior status her wartime fate had condemned her to. As senior partner to more populous Germany (whose Nazi past obliged her to punch below her weight), she set about unifying Europe around a Paris-Bonn axis. This gave her sufficient leverage to exclude the United Kingdom from the Common Market, to exasperate America by contracting out of NATO’s integrated command structure, and to threaten Canada with the secession of Francophone Quebec province. In addition, she assiduously wooed the Arabs and built Iraq’s nuclear reactor (which Israel speedily blew up). She also subsequently projected herself as patron of sub-Saharan Africa (including Zimbabwe).

Today Chirac discharges de Gaulle’s bequest by thwarting America’s global designs, curtailing Britain’s influence in Europe, and pursuing her own advantage in the Middle East with blithe disregard for Israeli interest.
Richard Grunberger

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