Charles Andre Marie Joseph de Gaulle was one of the most prominent Frenchmen to ever live. This is partly the reason why I selected him. Being part French, I have an interest in Frances History and society, both of which de Gaulle had a great part in. He fought hard for his country in WWI and bore the scares of battle for the rest of his life. In WWII he inspired the people of occupied France to fight for their liberation and led the French Resistance against Hitler and the Nazis. By forming the Fifth Republic, he replaced a weak government with a stable and effective one.
Charles de Gaulle was born November 22, 1890 in his mothers parents home in Lillle, according to the custom of that time. His father, Henri de Gaulle, was a teacher at the College of Immaculate Conception, a well know Jesuit College. He was baptized the day after his birth, and christened Charles Andre Marie Joseph. He was the third born out of five children.
Charles was the biggest out of the five children and usually got his way. He enjoyed playing war games with his brothers and neighboring children. In these games, Charles was always the French and always wanted to be in command. On his tenth birthday, Charles father took him to see a play about the son of Napoleon and his second wife, Marie Louise. This play made Charles decide that he wanted to be a soldier.
Charles went to the Immaculate Conception College wear his father taught. While there he learned to admire the Jesuits for their discipline and scholarship. Charles enjoyed French history, had a very good memory, and was well liked by his classmates.
After his graduation from the Immaculate Conception College, Charles applied to Saint Cyr military College. The prerequisite was one year in the military, so Charles was attached to the thirty third-infantry regiment. While there he was promoted to corporal and then sergeant. He graduated in 1912 thirteenth in his class. Then he went back to the thirty-third infantry, and met Philippe Petain. On October 1, 1913 Charles was promoted to Lieutenant.
When World War I broke out in 1914 De Gaulle was still with his regiment. On August 15, he was in his first battle at Dinant in Belgium. There he was wounded from a shot in the leg. He was taken to a hospital in Arras, from there he went to Paris for an operation and then he went to Leons for rehabilitation.
In the winter of 1914 de Gaulle rejoined his regiment and took part in several successful reconnaissance missions. He was wounded again by fragments of a mortar that permanently tore his left hand. Because of this injury, he had to wear his wedding ring on his right hand.
Charles came back to his regiment in June 1915. At that time, the German general, Falkenhayn launched an offensive at Verdun. Petain was in command of the French defense. De Gaulle was ordered to lead an advance party and arrange takeover from the departing 110th regiment. The Germans attacked and overran most of the French positions, including the one that de Gaulle was in. There Charles was wounded from a bayonet thrust and lost consciousness.
It was this last battle where he was captured by the Germans. While a prisoner, de Gaulle tried to escape five times but was recaptured every time because of his height (Ledwidge23). In response to his repeated escape attempts, de Gaulle was put in the punishment camp of Inglstadt in Bavaria. There he spent 120 days in solitary confinement. While at the camp, de Gaulle read the German newspapers and gave lectures on the war to his fellow prisoners. Charles remained in the punishment camp for the rest of the war.
When Charles got back to France, he went to visit Petain who became a hero for his defense of Verdun. After this visit, the two men became friends. In the spring of 1919, de Gaulle took service with the volunteers of the French Military Mission to Poland to help build up the countries armed forces. While there, Charles taught at the officers training school at Rembertow.
While in Poland, de Gaulle was able to witness the British, Italian, and American missions, and thought that they were just there to make money. Charles also had ideas of how the French military power should be used. He wanted France to retain hold of the left bank of the Rhine, but the treaty of Versailles gave the land back to the Germans. De Gaulle left Poland in 1920 but was sent back when the Russians advanced on Warsaw. He saw some action as combat commander in the Polish counter attack. This forced the Russians back and made peace possible.
When de Gaulle returned to Paris, he was appointed Assistant Professor of History at Saint Cyr. While de Gaulle was in Poland, it was rumored that he had a romance with a Polish princess and may have fought a duel on her account (Ledwidge27). In 1919 Charles met Yvonne Vendroux at a party. They were married on April 6 1921 at the Church of Notre Dame de Calais. They had three children together, Phillipe December 1921, Elizabeth 1924, and Anne 1928 who had Downs Syndrome.
Charles taught at Saint Cyr for one year before being accepted to The Senior War School (Ecole Superieure de Guerre) in Paris in November 1922. Charles and his professors disagreed over defensive tactics. De Gaulle believed in free offensive use of tanks. Because of the difference of opinions, de Gaulle graduated with a second class degree. It is said that Petain may have intervened on de Gaulles behalf. If he didnt, Charles may have gotten a third class degree. Because of the second class degree, de Gaulle was posted in Germany. Petain recalled him, and put him on the Supreme War Council.
Late in 1927 de Gaulle was left the Supreme War Council to take command of the 9th Light Infantry Battalion at Trier and assume the rank of major. In 1929 de Gaulle was posted to the Headquarters of the army of the Levant in Beirut as chief operations and military intelligence.
De Gaulle returned to Paris in late 1931 to receive a post in the Secretarial- General of the Supreme Council for National Defense. In 1937 Charles was promoted to Colonel commanding the 507th Tank Regiment at Metz, this meant that he had to abandon his campaign to create a motorized corps (Ledwidge 43).
World War II starts. De Gaulle was posted from Metz to Lower Alsace to take command of the fifth tank army. On May 15 1940, de Gaulle is ordered to stem the German advance and buy time while a defensive position is established to protect Paris. He completed the objective but the Germans moved west toward the coast. On May 28 30 de Gaulle is ordered to reduce the bridgehead across the Somme. De Gaulle attacks late in the afternoon and takes the Germans by surprise. He did not achieve his objective, but captured 500 prisoners and war materials.
In 1940 de Gaulle was made Under-Secretary of State for National Defense under the current Prime Minister, Reynaud. The 8th of June, de Gaulle was sent to London to ask Winston Churchill for more aid for France. This visit left an excellent impression on Churchill. When de Gaulle returned to France, he pressed even more urgently for the French government to relocate to Africa but Reynauds defeatist advisors were pushing for an armistice. The pressure of the war forced Reynaud to resign. De Gaulles former friend, Petain took Reynauds position and pushed for an armistice with Germany.
After France signed the armistice with the Axis powers, de Gaulle secretly left France to go to London to continue the fight for France. There he was announced as leader of all free Frenchmen. Between 1940 and 1944, de Gaulle worked to gain support from the French colonies around the world. He worked extensively with the British government, and the rest of the Allied nations to preserve Frances good name by using the Free French Forces to help fight the Germans.
In June, the Free French Forces went to Dakar in hopes of gaining control of the naval base and seaports there. The attack was unsuccessful. In September of 1941, the Free French Forces had their first successful confrontation with the Germans. Five and a half thousand men in a light division under General Koening defended Bir Hakim for fourteen days before completing a successful withdrawal. This was the first time that the French forces had proven to be a match for the Germans. This prompted the change of the official title of Free France to that of Fighting France.
In June de Gaulle made a radio address to France from London urging the people of France to help the liberating forces to fight the Nazis. This directly contradicted the announcement that Eisenhower made earlier for the French public to stay quiet until the Allies approached. The reaction to de Gaulles announcement was magnificent, but many Frenchmen were killed. De Gaulle considered this a worthy sacrifice in order to restore honor to France.
In June de Gaulle landed on the beaches of Normandy after nearly four years of being away from his homeland. From there he visited the villages of Isigny and GrandCamp. In those two villages, de Gaulle was greeted with intense enthusiasm and unquestioned authority from the town citizens.
On July sixth de Gaulle went to Washington to discus the Post War world. Roosevelt made it clear to de Gaulle that he thought that France would never return to being a prominent world power. De Gaulle also believed that the Soviet Union had this view of France also. The British, in de Gaulles opinion, wanted France to be a back up power in Europe with the British being the supreme European power.
With the Allies pushing the Nazis out of France, de Gaulle entered Paris on August 25. On the 26th de Gaulle appeared at the Arc de Triomphe to celebrate his return to France (Ledwidge180). His childhood dream of being recognized by the people of France for his faithful service to his country was realized that day.
The country that de Gaulle inherited from the Nazis was in shambles. France was dependent on the U.S. for all of its needs including food, oil, supplies for the rebuilding of industry, and war materials for the armies that needed to be raised for the war effort. Even though the U.S. gave all these materials to France, de Gaulle believed that the U.S. was afraid of the revival of France. Never the less the provisional government that was instituted was recognized by the Allies. On the 2nd of December, de Gaulle met with Joseph Stalin. De Gaulle was reported to have respected Stalin. He saw him as a great Russian, a man who wanted greatness for his country (Ledwidge188). On this visit, a friendship treaty was signed between France and the Soviet Union.
Stalin apparently didnt share this admiration for de Gaulle, because at the Yalta Conference, Stalin and Roosevelt were against giving a part of Germany to France. Churchill, on the other hand, was for it, and he later convinced Roosevelt that it was a good idea also, and France was given a piece that was divided between the U.S. and England. De Gaulle was upset at not being invited to the Yalta Conference, and said that if he were there, Poland would have been saved from Communism because of the Franco Russian treaty.
The Vichy government, which surrendered to the Nazis, was put on trial for treason. Petain, who was president at the time of the surrender, was put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. De Gaulle states in his memoirs that if he had the power he would have had Petain serve two years in prison and then would be granted clemency. 10,842 collaborators were put to death without a trial before de Gaulle was able to gain control of the provisional government, and another 770 were executed after a trial.
While on a visit to the Americas, de Gaulle attended a meeting with President Truman. In that meeting Truman promised to loan France over one and a half billion dollars. While in Quebec, de Gaulle arranged a secret meeting with three French scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, they told de Gaulle about the atom bomb (Ledwidge 205).
A new Assembly was created to create a new constitution, and elect a president. De Gaulle was elected president. The assembly then started to create a new constitution. De Gaulle had no part in this process and that frustrated him. The assembly wished to return to a government that was similar to the Third Republic. In de Gaulles opinion, that government was the reason for the defeat of France to the Germans. As a form of protest against this new government, de Gaulle resigned from office.
After the resignation from office, de Gaulle spent most of his time at home with his wife and his daughter, Anne. In 1946, he started the Anne de Gaulle Foundation for handicapped children. Anne died of phenomena at the age of twenty. In 1952 and1956, de Gaulle had to have eye surgery to try to fix his deteriorating eyesight. In an interview, de Gaulle commented on Trumans decision to dismiss MacArthur during the Korean War, saying that If America had listened to MacArthur in 1951, she would have won the war.
De Gaulle thinks of his years in the Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (RPF) as the least distinguished of his career. The RPF was anti-Communist and anti-Fourth Republic. These years were also when de Gaulle was most friendly to the U.S. and the most hostile toward the Soviet Union. The RPF came about from the intensity of the Cold War and the launching of the Fourth Republic in 1947 (Ledwidge 214). The new movement focused heavily on the Fourth Republics weakness to provide a stable form of government to France. After a booming start, in which there were nearly one million applications for membership in the first month of its existence the movement slowly started to loose strength due to the American Russian balance in Europe. In 1953, de Gaulle detached from the RPF and once again went into retirement.
After his detachment from the RPF, de Gaulle lived in relative, peace and quietness. In October 1954, de Gaulle released his first volume of his War Memoirs entitled LAppel. It met with great success. On June 30 1955, de Gaulle had a press conference to formally announce, his retirement. The second volume of his memoirs, LUnite was released in 1956 and met with the same, success as his first volume.
In 1958, France stood on the verge of civil war over what to do with the independence of Algeria. French officers took control over the Algerian government and demanded that de Gaulle head a new government. With the permission of the Assembly, de Gaulle drew up a new constitution giving much more power to the executive branch. It also made a president to be elected every seven years by an Electoral College of 80,000 public figures. 79 percent of the French electorate voted in favor of the new system. In December of 1958, de Gaulle was elected the first president of the new government.
In March 1962, France signed a cease-fire with Algeria ending over seven years of war. On July 3 France recognized the independence of Algeria. De Gaulle finally solved the problem that called him back to active politics.
In April de Gaulle banned all American nuclear weapons from France (Ledwidge 272). De Gaulles reasoning for this was to protect France from a nuclear strike from the Soviet Union in order to take out American weapons in France. De Gaulle also played a part in the Cuban Missile Crisis. In August French Intelligence passed information to the U.S. about the arrival of nuclear weapons in Cuba and de Gaulle proclaimed that France would back America if a war broke out.
In 1963, de Gaulle blocked Great Britains entry into the European Economic Community (EEC). His reasoning was that Britain was ahead of France in nuclear weaponry, and if France had let Britain in the EEC, then France would be behind Britain economically and militaristically. Also in 1963,de Gaulle signed a treaty with Adenauer who was president of Germany providing for political, scientific, and military cooperation with Germany. Then in October of 1964, France and the Soviet Union signed a Treaty of Commerce.
In the election of 1965, de Gaulle was up for reelection. His biggest opponent was Francois Mitterrand. Polls showed that de Gaulle had 66 percent of the vote to Mitterrannds 23 percent. Based on the poll, de Gaulle felt that he had no need to campaign and would rely on public opinion to carry him to victory. His calculations were upset by the television. Because of the generals ignorance of the powers of television, he lost 15 points between the first and the last poll taken. This prompted de Gaulle to start to campaign. De Gaulle won the election with 54.5 percent of the vote (Ledwidge 315).
De Gaulle criticized the American dominance of NATO and the intrusion of the French jurisdiction of the international staffs and activities of NATO. In 1966 de Gaulle requested that the French forces be withdrawn from NATO to further secure the independence of France. He felt that Frances involvement in NATO subjected France to automatic war at the decision of strangers. His request was completed in 1967 with little reaction from NATO or the French public. In September, de Gaulle condemned the American involvement in the Vietnam War. In his speech he states that several countries in Africa, Latin America, and Europe share his view on the war, but de Gaulle doesnt say why he is against American involvement.
The Six-Day War was probably the single worst public reaction to de Gaulles foreign policy. De Gaulle made a bad decision by suspending the supply of arms to Israel until he thought that there would be no threat of aggression from them. In many peoples opinion, the Israeli attack on Egypt was in part caused by de Gaulle. Another public reaction against de Gaulle was the fact that he wanted the freedom of Canada from British rule. This was considered by many to be the opinion of de Gaulle himself and he acted alone. In May 1968 rebellious students and striking workers brought the French economy to its knees. The students wanted de Gaulle to resign from power, and the strikers wanted better pay and labor conditions. De Gaulle miraculously persevered through this hard time. De Gaulle stood before the crowd of protesters and appealed to the nation for support against the communist conspiracy and the crowds gradually subsided over the next few weeks (Ledwidge 357).
On April 27, 1969 a referendum was held. De Gaulle announced in an interview on the 10th that if he lost, he would retire. In the referendum, 52.41 percent of the votes that were cast were against de Gaulle.
After the referendum, de Gaulle returned to Colombey. De Gaulle went to Ireland shortly after retreating to Colombey. While there his opponent in the referendum, Georges Pompidou, won the presidential election. De Gaulle sent him a telegram of congratulations. When de Gaulle returned to Colombey, he worked on his Memoirs of Hope. Later he paid a visit to Spain. De Gaulle died from the same fate that took his fathers life, a ruptured blood vessel on November 9 1970 at the age of 79.
Charles de Gaulle served France faithlessly his entire life. His tireless efforts to preserve Frances good name during WWII and the legacy he left on the French government are a testament to that. This again is the reason I have chosen de Gaulle as my topic for the research paper. He was one of the greatest Frenchmen to ever live, but unlike other famous French heroes, like Napoleon, and Joan of Arc who died in the hands of their enemies, de Gaulle died peacefully in his own house, in the country he loved.
1) Bernarnd Lewdwidge; De Gaulle: Saint Martins Press New York
2) www.Iwfsmarin.com Charles De Gaulle:
3) Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 98; Charles Andre Joseph Marie:
4) The world Book Encyclopedia Volume 5
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