At the culmination of the Second World War, several nations in Europe were devastated politically, socially, and economically because of the attack on Germany. The European countries were in pieces and a good number of people perceived that they would not recuperate from such an extensive damage.
Nevertheless, in the midst of these trying times in anticipation for a brighter future, a number of nations in Europe made great efforts to recover and restore power. During this time, a person by the name of Charles de Gaulle took the mantle to lead the nation of France. De Gaulle envisioned his country to become identified as a great global power.
He intended to lead the French people into their new blossoming future. He was seen as being at the forefront during his country’s engagement in the Second World War. However, he disappointedly turned down the offer of gaining government authority in the 1940’s. At last, in 1958, he regained his position with the hope of establishing his country’s autonomy and reinstating its influence in the world, but his intentions were not fully realized.
Early life and influences
On November 23, 1890, in the northern industrial city of Lille, a man named Charles de Gaulle was born to a nationalist, traditionalist, but quite socially progressive catholic bourgeois family (Blumberg, p.58; Simkin, para.1 ). He was the second of five children of Henri de Gaulle.
De Gaulle’s father, Henri, was a teacher of philosophy and literature at a Jesuit college. He ultimately established his own school. Henri was also a veteran of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, wherein the Prussians disappointedly conquered what the French considered as the strongest army at that time. This humiliating defeat made a great impact to the life of the patriotic Henri. He swore to retaliate and regain the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Henry’s attitude profoundly influenced the lives of his sons. Therefore, he brought them up to act as the instruments of accomplishing his revenge mission and the reinstatement of their country as the supreme power in Europe. From childhood, the parents of Charles de Gaulle taught him a lot about the history of his country.
One of de Gaulle’s great-great-grandparents, Jean Baptiste de Gaulle, served as a counselor to the king while his grandfather, Julien Phillippe de Gaulle authored a book about the history of Paris. On his tenth birthday, Charles was given this book as a present. He greatly treasured this book and read it many times.
Charles de Gaulle was also dedicated to the publications made by Julien Phillippe’s wife, Josephine Marie. One of the literary works by Josephine, The liberator of Ireland, greatly inspired the young man’s life. This book gave him a demonstration of a man’s struggle against religious or political discrimination. He emulated this example in his own life. Possibly the main influence on de Gaulle’s character can be attributed to his uncle, who was also called Charles de Gaulle. He authored a book on the subject of the Celts. The book called for the unification of the Breton, Scots, Irish, and Welsh people. Military Career De Gaulle did not go to a polytechnic college; he started his military career in 1909 on admission to the elite military academy of Saint-Cyr because of the passion he had for his home country.
One of his classmates at the school was Alphonse Juin who later played a pivotal role in the French army. After spending four years at the French military school, he reported to Henri Philippe Petain. Petain first became his hero and later one of his key opponents (In the First World War, Petain became the idol of Verdun, but during the Second World War he gave in to Hitler and cooperated with the Germans while de Gaulle was marshalling his country for freedom). During the dreadful Battle of Verdun in March 1916, captain de Gaulle was seriously injured. He was left for the dead on the combat zone. The Germans then took him as a prisoner of war.
De Gaulle made at least five fruitless efforts to break away from prison. He was then put under solitary confinement in a retaliation camp. When the war ended, de Gaulle made his way to a general-staff academy. At the academy, he hurt his military career by continuous disapprovals from his superiors. He wrote a number of publications on the idea of reorganizing the military. He disagreed with the static concept illustrated by Maginot Line and advocated for the use of armored divisions. His superiors ignored his claims. However, the Germans read his works and implemented his ideas to come up with a successful strategy referred to as blitzkrieg, or lightening war.
They used this military strategy to conquer the French forces in 1940. When France was defeated, de Gaulle, who was then a difficult to understand brigadier general, did not give in to the enemy forces. He escaped to Britain since he had the conviction that it was impossible for the British to capitulate and that the Americans would eventually be victorious. On June 18, 1940, he made a motivating broadcast on BBC radio that earned him global attention (Pedley, p.2).
In the address, he maintained that his country had only lost a battle, not a war, and encouraged his fellow citizens to avoid giving in to the Germans.
De Gaulle’s early political life
When the invasion by Hitler’s forces subsidized, de Gaulle had no serious competitors for the leadership of his country and he was collectively chosen by the French Parliament to be the country’s premier in 1944. Previously, he had intensely fought against the Germans, and now he painstakingly shielded his country against the influences of his strong allies. De Gaulle once said that the Germans, who were destined for defeat, did not frighten him but that he was only frightened by his allies’ alleged domination of Europe after the war. After one year of being in power, de Gaulle started to disagree with most of the politicians in his country. De Gaulle regarded himself as the matchless liberator of his country and looked down on other political leaders as petty, dishonest, and self-centered meddlers.
Therefore, in January 1946, sickened by politics, he resigned from his position. He then recoiled into a sulking silence to ponder about the future of his country. In 1947, he resurfaced as the opposition leader under what was termed as “The Rally of the French People.” Although he claimed that the Rally was not a political party but a national movement, it emerged as the greatest single political force in France. However, it did not attain majority status.
De Gaulle still looked down on the country’s political system and left political life again in 1955.
Life as a president
As de Gaulle foresaw, The Fourth Republic of France fell short of meeting the requirements of the citizens of France. In 1958, due to popular demand, he was reinstated to power as the president of France (Jackson, p.
70). As the leader of the country, he opposed every move to engage France in coalitions. He fought against the establishment of the United States of Europe, the entrance of Britain into the Common Market, the paying of French dues to the United Nations, and engagement of French forces in the Atlantic Alliance integrated armies. He also came against Soviet oppression of Eastern Europe, liberated France’s colonies, and assisted the Vietnamese in resisting invention by the Americans. De Gaulle recorded immense achievements during his earlier years as president. However, when his period in office was culminating, his country was almost friendless and experienced economic difficulties. He reigned for eleven years and the French people soon started feeling the pinch of his firm hand. In April 1969, he resigned from office after the defeat of his plan for reorganizing the Senate and the regions of France and Georges Pompidou, one of his preferred lieutenants, was chosen as his successor.
From then on, De Gaulle stayed away from politics until his death on November 9, 1970.
Charles de Gaulle was a leader of the French society who fiercely struggled to restore his country so that it could be identified as a global power. The efforts and decisions he made may not have been at all times right, but from his point of view, they were important for realizing his objectives.
Even though he never achieved his vision of France, he made significant contributions to ensure that his country is recognized as a global power.
Blumberg, Arnold. Great leaders, great tyrants: contemporary views of world rulers who made history. Wesport: Greenwood Press, 1995. Print.
Jackson, Julian. Charles de Gaulle. London: Haus Publishing Limited, 2003. Print. Pedley, Alan. As mighty as the sword: a study of the writings of Charles de Gaulle.
Exeter: Elm Bank Publications, 1996. Print. Simkin, John. “Charles de Gaulle.” Spartacus Educational. n.d.
Web. 22 Feb.2010.http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWdegaulle.htm