Charles de Gaulle
Charles-André-Joseph-Marie de Gaulle (22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970), in France commonly referred to as le général de Gaulle, was a French military leader and statesman. During World War II, he reached the rank of Brigade General and then became the leader of the Forces Françaises Libres ("FFL" — the "Free French Forces"). Between 1944 and 1946, following the liberation of France from German occupation, he was head of the French provisional government. Called to form a government in 1958, he inspired a new constitution and was the Fifth Republic's first president, serving from 1958 to 1969.
- All my life I have had a certain idea of France.
- Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France.
- Opening sentence of his Mémoires de guerre.
- I have understood you!
- Je vous ai compris !
- Said before the population of Algiers after they had called upon him to take power, June 4, 1958.
- Long live free Quebec!
- Vive le Québec libre!
- Said in 1967 on the balcony of Montréal City Hall. It caused a diplomatic uproar with Canada and inflamed the Quebec sovereignty movement.
- France has no friends, only interests.
- Clementine Churchill: "General, you must not hate your friends more than you hate your enemies"
- De Gaulle (in English): "France has no friends, only interests." (De Gaulle did not speak specifically of France, but of all nation-states, including Britain. This remark was in line with his saying "Men can have friends, statesmen cannot",*Les hommes peuvent avoir des amis, pas les hommes d'Etat., in Interview, December 9, 1967).
- Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.
- Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est toute l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde.
- 23 November 1959, Strasbourg. The phrase shown in bold is the most often quoted excerpt. De Gaulle was expressing his vision of Europe's future.
- Now she is like everyone else.
- Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.
- Spoken at the funeral of his daughter Anne, who had Down Syndrome, February 1948
- When we were children, we often played war. We had a fine collection of lead soldiers. My brothers would take different countries: Xavier had Italy; Pierre, Germany. Or they would swap around. Well, I, gentlemen, always had France.
- Reminiscing during an ocean voyage to Tahiti, quoted in The Atlantic, November 1960
World War II
- France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war.
- La France a perdu une bataille, mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre.
- Poster À tous les Français (To All Frenchmen), August 1940.
- À tous les Français was designed and displayed in London to accompany the Appel du 18 juin (Appeal of 18 June) following defeat at the Battle of France. The pair are considered to be the founding texts of the Résistance.
- At the root of our civilization, there is the freedom of each person of thought, of belief, of opinion, of work, of leisure.
- A la base de notre civilisation, il y a la liberté de chacun dans sa pensée, ses croyances, ses opinions, son travail, ses loisirs.
- Speech, November 25 1941.
- Let us be firm, pure and faithful; at the end of our sorrow, there is the greatest glory of the world, that of the men who did not give in.
- Soyons fermes, purs et fidèles ; au bout de nos peines, il y a la plus grande gloire du monde, celle des hommes qui n'ont pas cédé.
- Speech, July 14 1943.
- "Do you know that you have caused us more trouble than all the rest of our European allies?" "I do not doubt it. France is a great power."
- Conversation with Anthony Eden, recounted in de Gaulle's Mémoires de guerre. Quoted in The Atlantic, November 1960.
- It is unnecessary, for the Republic has never ceased to exist. I was the Republic.
- Reply in August 1944 to a statement of regret that the windows of the Hotel de Ville in Paris were not opened for the crowd outside cheering the reestablishment of the Republic. Quoted in The Atlantic, November 1960.
Fifth Republic and other post-WW2
- I am retiring. I have a mission, and it is coming to an end … France may still one day need an image that is pure. She must be left this image. If Joan of Arc had married, she would no longer have been Joan of Arc.
- Said to Pierre Bertaux in 1944, as recounted in The Atlantic, November 1960
Supported General Douglas MacArthur during his row with President Harry Truman by saying MacArthur was:
- "A foreign military leader whose daring was feared by those who profited by it." De Gaulle said that MacArthur's critics should "pay deserved tribute to the legendary service of a great soldier".
- from William Manchester's "American Caesar".
- I am a man who belongs to no-one and who belongs to everyone.
- Je suis un homme qui n'appartient à personne et qui appartient à tout le monde.
- Press conference, May 19 1958
- Why do you think that at 67 I would start a career as a dictator ?
- Pourquoi voulez-vous qu'à 67 ans je commence une carrière de dictateur ?
- Press conference, May 19 1958 (De Gaulle was changing the constitution to make government more efficient, after decades of impotent parliamentary regime, and he mocked journalists who claimed he was establishing a dictatorship).
- Politics, when it is an art and a service, not an exploitation, is about acting for an ideal through realities.
- La politique, quand elle est un art et un service, non point une exploitation, c'est une action pour un idéal à travers des réalités.
- Press conference, June 30 1955
- No policy is worth anything outside of reality.
- Il n'y a pas de politique qui vaille en dehors des réalités.
- Televised speech, June 14 1960
- How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?
- Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?
- Les Mots du Général, Ernest Mignon, 1962
- So, it is true that one’s homeland is entirely human, emotional and that it is the root of action, of authority, of responsibility from which one can build Europe. What elements? Well, [nation] States, because only States are valid, are legitimate, in this respect, in addition they are capable of… As I have already said and I repeat, that at the present time, there cannot be any other Europe than that of the States, apart of course from myths, fictions, parades. From this solidarity depends all hope of uniting Europe in the political field and in the field of defense, as in the economic field. From this solidarity depends, therefore, the destiny of Europe as a whole, from the Atlantic to the Urals.
- Alors, il est vrai que la Patrie est un élément humain, sentimental et que c’est sur des éléments d’action, d’autorité, de responsabilité qu’on peut construire l’Europe. Quels éléments? Eh bien, les États, car il n’y a que les États qui, à cet égard, soient valables, soient légitimes et en outre soient capables de réaliser… J’ai déjà dit et je répète, qu’à l’heure qu’il est, il ne peut pas y avoir d’autre Europe possible que celle des États, en dehors naturellement des mythes, des fictions, des parades. De cette solidarité dépend tout espoir d’unir l’Europe dans le domaine politique et dans le domaine de la défense, comme dans le domaine économique. De cette solidarité dépend, par conséquent, le destin de l’Europe tout entière, depuis l’Atlantique jusqu’à l’Oural.
- Press conference, Elysée Palace, Paris, 15 May 1962
- I am not ill. But do not worry, one day, I will certainly die.
- Je ne vais pas mal. Mais rassurez-vous, un jour, je ne manquerai pas de mourir.
- Press conference, February 1965, denying rumours that he secretly had a terminal disease
- Of course one can jump up and down yelling Europe ! Europe ! Europe ! But it amounts to nothing and it means nothing.
- Bien entendu, on peut sauter sur sa chaise comme un cabri en disant l’Europe ! l’Europe ! l’Europe ! mais cela n’aboutit à rien et cela ne signifie rien.
- Interview on a presidential campaign, December 1965 INA archive of the video (De Gaulle meant that he wanted to build a European Union on realities, i.e. the existing nation-states with their respective interests – not on slogans and abstractions)
- Long live Montreal, Long live Quebec! Long live Free Quebec!
- Vive Montreal; Vive le Québec! Vive le Québec libre!
- From a balcony at Montreal City Hall, with particular emphasis on the word 'libre'. The phrase, a slogan used by Quebecers who favoured Quebec sovereignty, and de Gaulle's use of it, was seen by them as lending his tacit support to the movement. The speech sparked a diplomatic incident with Canada's government, and was condemned by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, saying that "Canadians do not need to be liberated."
- Men can have friends, statesmen cannot.
- Les hommes peuvent avoir des amis, pas les hommes d'Etat.
- Interview, December 9 1967.
- The future does not belong to men...
- L'avenir n'appartient pas aux hommes...
- Speech, December 1967
- Within ten years, we shall have the means to kill 80 million Russians. I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.
- Discussing the Force de Frappe. Quoted in The New York Review of Books, 29 April 2010.
- Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.
- Recalled on leaving the presidency, Life, May 9, 1969
- The sword is the axis of the world and grandeur cannot be divided.
- L'épée est l'axe du monde et la grandeur ne se divise pas.
- in Vers l’armée de métier.
- Nothing great is done without great men, and they are great because they wanted it.
- On ne fait rien de grand sans de grands hommes, et ceux-ci le sont pour l'avoir voulu.
- in Vers l’armée de métier.
- France was built with swords. The fleur-de-lis, symbol of national unity, is only the image of a spear with three pikes.
- La France fut faite à coups d'épée. La fleur de lys, symbole d'unité nationale, n'est que l'image d'un javelot à trois lances.
- in La France et son armée.
- The desire of privilege and the taste of equality are the dominant and contradictory passions of the French of all times.
- Le désir du privilège et le goût de l'égalité, passions dominantes et contradictoires des Français de toute époque.
- in La France et son armée.
- Nothing builds authority up like silence, splendor of the strong and shelter of the weak.
- Rien ne rehausse l'autorité mieux que le silence, splendeur des forts et refuge des faibles.
- in Le Fil de l'épée.
- It is better to have a bad method than to have none.
- Il vaut mieux avoir une méthode mauvaise plutôt que de n'en avoir aucune.
- in Le Fil de l’épée.
- Character is the virtue of hard times.
- Le caractère, vertu des temps difficiles.
- in Le fil de l’épée.
- Anything can happen someday, even that an act conforming to honour and honesty can end up, at the end of the line, as a good political decision.
- Tout peut, un jour, arriver, même qu'un acte conforme à l'honneur et à l'honnêteté apparaisse en fin de compte, comme un bon placement politique.
- in Mémoires de guerre.
- The leader is always alone before bad fates.
- Toujours le chef est seul en face du mauvais destin.
- in Mémoires de guerre.
- Difficulty attracts the characterful man, for it is by grasping it that he fulfils himself.
- La difficulté attire l'homme de caractère, car c'est en l'étreignant qu'il se réalise lui-même.
- in Mémoires de guerre.
- The cabinet has no propositions to make, but orders to give.
- Le gouvernement n'a pas de propositions à faire, mais des ordres à donner.
- in Mémoires de guerre. (Secretary of State De Gaulle so replied, in early June 1940, to Admiral Darlan, whom he was asking to transfer what was left of the French army to North Africa)
- France cannot be France without greatness.
- La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur.
- in Mémoires de guerre.
General de Gaulle was the de facto leader of the Free French Forces which had escaped to London in World War II. Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, a hero of world War I, had signed an armistice (agreement to end fighting) with the invading forces of Nazi Germany, and led the Nazi-collaborating government of Vichy France in the south. The Nazis had occupied the north of France. De Gaulle was opposed to surrender and had left France on June 15, 1940 after Pétain made clear he wanted to do so.
Three days later, de Gaulle obtained special permission from Winston Churchill to broadcast a speech via BBC Radio over France, despite the British Cabinet's efforts to block the broadcast. In the speech, de Gaulle reminded the French people that the British Empire and the United States of America would support them in an effort to retake their land from the Nazis. On June 18, 1940, at 19:00, de Gaulle's voice was broadcast nationwide.
Speech of June 18
- "The leaders who, for many years, were at the head of French armies, have formed a government. This government, alleging our armies to be undone, agreed with the enemy to stop fighting. Of course, we were subdued by the mechanical, ground and air forces of the enemy. Infinitely more than their number, it was the tanks, the airplanes, the tactics of the Germans which made us retreat. It was the tanks, the airplanes, the tactics of the Germans that surprised our leaders to the point to bring them there where they are today.
- "But has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!
- "Believe me, I speak to you with full knowledge of the facts and tell you that nothing is lost for France. The same means that overcame us can bring us to a day of victory. For France is not alone! She is not alone! She is not alone! She has a vast Empire behind her. She can align with the British Empire that holds the sea and continues the fight. She can, like England, use without limit the immense industry of United States.
- "This war is not limited to the unfortunate territory of our country. This war is not finished by the battle of France. This war is a world-wide war. All the faults, all the delays, all the suffering, do not prevent there to be, in the world, all the necessary means to one day crush our enemies. Vanquished today by mechanical force, we will be able to overcome in the future by a superior mechanical force.
- "The destiny of the world is here. I, General de Gaulle, currently in London, invite the officers and the French soldiers who are located in British territory or who would come there, with their weapons or without their weapons, I invite the engineers and the special workers of armament industries who are located in British territory or who would come there, to put themselves in contact with me.
- "Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished. Tomorrow, as today, I will speak on Radio London."
Quotations about de Gaulle
- Looks like a king in exile.
- From one of de Gaulle's instructors at the École de Guerre in Paris, as quoted by The Atlantic, November 1960
- Present at Casablanca but excluded from every talk that mattered was Charles de Gaulle. No one seemed to know quite what to do with him. But before the conference was over, his differences with the Allies had been patched up somewhat, and his future role had been much clarified.
- C.L. Sulzberger, in his book The American Heritage Picture History of World War II (1966), p. 317