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 army officer and statesman who led Free France against Nazi Germany in World War II and chaired the Provisional Government of the French Republic from 1944 to 1946 in order to restore democracy in France. In 1958, he came out of retirement when appointed President of the Council of Ministers (Prime Minister) by President René Coty. He rewrote the Constitution of France and founded the Fifth Republic after approval by referendum. He was elected President of France later that year, a position to which he was reelected in 1965 and held until his resignation in 1969.
Le Fil de l'épée (1932)
- 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.
- 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.
- Character is the virtue of hard times.
- Le caractère, vertu des temps difficiles.
Vers l’armée de métier (1934)
- 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.
- 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.
La France et son armée (1938)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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), 3 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. Quoted in de Gaulle: "La France n'a pas perdu la guerre: discours et messages", pg 114
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Now she is like the others.
- Maintenant, elle est comme les autres.
- Spoken at the funeral of his daughter Anne, who had Down Syndrome, February 1948. Quoted in De Gaulle by Julian Jackson
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 the 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."
- A foreign military leader whose daring was feared by those who profited by it.
- On General Douglas MacArthur (1951). De Gaulle said MacArthur's critics should "pay deserved tribute to the legendary service of a great soldier". Quoted in American Caesar by William Manchester.
- 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 (1954).
- 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. Quoted in "Le Général de Gaulle et la construction de l'Europe" (1967), pg 33.
- 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, 19 May 1958. Quoted in "Carnets secrets de la politique" (1958) by Jean Raymond Tournoux.
- 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, 19 May 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.
- 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.
- "in the whole of Algeria there is only category of inhabitant: there are none here but fully-fledged Frenchmen, fully-fledged Frenchmen with the same rights and the same duties."
- 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.
Mémoires de guerre (1954, 1956, 1959)
- 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.
- The leader is always alone before bad fates.
- Toujours le chef est seul en face du mauvais destin.
- Difficulty attracts a man of character, for it is by embracing it that he fulfills himself.
- La difficulté attire l'homme de caractère, car c'est en l'étreignant qu'il se réalise lui-même.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 that 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
- England in effect is insular, she is maritime, she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries; she pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions. In short, the nature, the structure, the very situation that are England's differ profoundly from those of the continentals.
- Press conference in Paris explaining his rejection of Britain's application to join the European Economic Community (14 January 1963), quoted in The Times (15 January 1963), p. 6
- What England has done across the centuries and in the world is recognised as immense. Although there have often been conflicts with France, Britain's glorious participation in the victory which crowned the First World War—we French, we shall always admire it. As for the role England played in the most dramatic and decisive moments of the Second World War, no one has the right to forget it. In truth, the destiny of the free world, and first of all ours and even that of the United States and Russia, depended in a large measure on the resolution, the solidity and the courage of the English people, as Churchill was able to harness them. Even at the present moment no one can contest British capacity and worth.
- Press conference in Paris (14 January 1963), quoted in The Times (15 January 1963), p. 6
- Macmillan had crossed the Atlantic to throw himself into the arms of Kennedy to whom he sold his birthright in exchange for a dish of Polaris... Let us always recall this obvious truth. The Common Market cannot remain the Common Market and at the same time absorb Great Britain and her clients. The British would only enter in order to break up the machine.
- Comments recorded in Jean Raymond Tournoux, La Tragedie du General, quoted in The Times (27 November 1967), p. 9
- 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!
- Said in 1967 on the balcony of Montréal 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 Quebec sovereignty movement. The speech sparked a diplomatic incident with Canada's government, and was condemned by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, who said "Canadians do not need to be liberated."
- Some even feared that the Jews, hitherto widely dispersed and who had remained what they had always been, that is to say, an elite people, sure of itself and domineering, once they were together again in the lands of their former grandeur might transform into a burning, conquering ambition the heart-moving wishes voiced since nineteen centuries: next year in Jerusalem.
- Certains même redoutaient que les Juifs, jusqu'alors dispersés, mais qui étaient restés ce qu'ils avaient été de tout temps, c'est à dire un peuple d'élite, sûr de lui-même et dominateur, n'en viennent, une fois rassemblés dans le site de leur ancienne grandeur, à changer en ambition ardente et conquérante les souhaits très émouvants qu'ils formaient depuis 19 siècles : l'an prochain à Jérusalem.
- Press Conference, 27 November 1967 INA archive of the video
- The future does not belong to men...
- L'avenir n'appartient pas aux hommes...
- Speech, December 1967
- Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.
- Attributed to de Gaulle by Romain Gary, Life, May 9, 1969
- Men may have friends, statesmen cannot.
- Les hommes peuvent avoir des amis, pas les hommes d'Etat.
- Quoted in Les trois views de Charles de Gaulle by David Schoenbrun (1965)
- 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.
- "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."
- 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.
Quotes about de Gaulle
- Leahy also watched with dismay as General de Gaulle's militant supporters eclipsed the leaders Leahy believed had the real interests of France at heart. De Gaulle, who had now taken the Cross of Lorraine as his personal symbol, was too ruthless to fail.
- Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 237
- Leahy was by no means ready to accept the tall, vainglorious Frenchman as the natural leader of French interests. In common with most of his staff who had been with him in Vichy, he distrusted de Gaulle and his French Committee of National Liberation (FCNL). As early as the previous September, Leahy had expressed his views to friends in the State Department, and "Doc" Matthews had sent him a collection of letters and reports from Murphy and others naming chapter and verse of how de Gaulle and his followers had consistently undercut Giraud. Leahy had no particular brief for Giraud, but he was the one recognized by the British and Americans as French military leader in the Mediterranean. For the same reason de Gaulle had been kept in the dark before Torch- because his headquarters could not keep a secret- Giraud concealed from the FCNL his invasion of Corsica in September until just before the landings. De Gaulle's response was to use the FCNL, which he now dominated, to deprive "the French Commander-in-Chief of the authority and freedom of action which both he and our own military leaders have felt was essential. Such behavior, Leahy felt, was all of a piece with what was to be expected from Charles de Gaulle and his Free French. There was no living with de Gaulle, but because of decisions made by Churchill and FDR, Leahy had to try.
- Henry H. Adams, Witness to Power: The Life of Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy (1985), p. 238
- De Gaulle has an excellent library, I took a look at it in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises. He is a very smart man, is a very far-looking man, and a very experienced man. So I have made the best possible experiences with Mr De Gaulle.
- Mr De Gaulle is very much a realist, even very realistic.
- Konrad Adenauer, in an interview with Günter Gaus, 1965
- Did it have to come to this? The paradox is that when Europe was less united, it was in many ways more independent. The leaders who ruled in the early stages of integration had all been formed in a world before the global hegemony of the United States, when the major European states were themselves imperial powers, whose foreign policies were self-determined. These were people who had lived through the disasters of the Second World War, but were not crushed by them. This was true not just of a figure like De Gaulle, but of Adenauer and Mollet, of Eden and Heath, all of whom were quite prepared to ignore or defy America if their ambitions demanded it. Monnet, who did not accept their national assumptions, and never clashed with the US, still shared their sense of a future in which Europeans could settle their own affairs, in another fashion. Down into the 1970s, something of this spirit lived on even in Giscard and Schmidt, as Carter discovered. But with the neo-liberal turn of the 1980s, and the arrival in power in the 1990s of a postwar generation, it faded. The new economic doctrines cast doubt on the state as a political agent, and the new leaders had never known anything except the Pax Americana. The traditional springs of autonomy were gone.
- Perry Anderson, "Depicting Europe", London Review of Books (20 September 2007)
- 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
- When I came to England in the late 60s, Sergeant Pepper was ruling the land, de Gaulle was the Great Satan
- "Fear and loathing" (2001)
- During his stay in London King was presented to King George VI at Buckingham Palace. His Majesty, wearing the uniform of an admiral of the fleet, received King in a sitting room where he was at work on papers. Whiskey or tea was offered, and as King had given up spirits for the duration of the war, he gladly accepted the tea, which was ready. The King reminisced agreeably about his cruises in the Royal Navy, and asked the admiral about his own with such tact that the audience, in retrospect, resembled a chat between a couple of old sailors. None of this comfortable atmosphere prevailed when General de Gaulle called at Claridge's to pay his respects to King and Marshall. Stark, who throughout the war skillfully conducted many negotiations with the Free French, had arranged the meeting. De Gaulle, feeling himself to the the head of a state, seemingly considered that he should be called upon, but as it had been pointed out that he had two stars, while Marshall and King had four, he presented himself at Claridge's, although with rather ill grace. He appeared at the proper time with a single aide, but conducted himself very stiffly, and after delivering himself of a long speech in French, in which he asked for many things that we needed ourselves at that moment, took his departure. It was scarcely a call calculated to make friends!
- Ernest King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 405-406
- In the course of the Casablanca Conference, General de Gaulle, who was in London, had been invited by the Prime Minister to come to North Africa. De Gaulle was offended that he had not been invited further in advance, and in one way and another proved to be his usual difficult self. Mr. Eden, the Foreign Secretary, had to exert great pressure to induce him to leave London for Casablanca. When he arrived there the firmest treatment by Mr. Churchill was required to persuade him to call upon Giraud. Finally in the interests of at least good public feeling a "shot-gun marriage" was arranged. At a press conference on 24 January, De Gaulle and Giraud were made to sit in a row of chairs, alternating with Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, and to be photographed shaking hands. As the newsreel cameras finished their work, each French general dropped the other's hand as though it were red hot.
- Ernest J. King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 425
- Prior to the landings De Gaulle had made it clear that he wished to be definitely recognized as the ruler of France, and claimed that he alone had the right to give orders to the people of France. Once the landings had taken place these difficulties did not diminish, and the Joint Chiefs during their stay in England had a taste of these complications when De Gaulle undertook to change the regulations about the use of United States currency in France by American troops. The Joint Chiefs sent General Koenig, who, as the commander of the French forces of the interior, was serving as a direct subordinate of Eisenhower's in the Allied organization, and asked him what the difficulty was. It appeared that Koenig could not see De Gaulle's point either. As Eisenhower was troubled about the correct manner of managing civilian affairs in France until a proper organization could be set up, he asked the Joint Chiefs what to do, and they proposed that he at once send a message to the President, suggesting that if De Gaulle would not cooperate properly, another Frenchman be designated to manage French civilian affairs, and that De Gaulle be ignored, entirely. The Joint Chiefs did not stay to hear the answer from the President, but later that evening they received word that he had concurred.
- Ernest J. King and Walter M. Whitehill, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952), p. 551
- Charles de Gaulle (born 1890) spent two and a half years during the First World War as a prisoner of war in Wilhelmine Germany; in the Second, he initially commanded a tank regiment. Then, after the collapse of France, he rebuilt the political structure of France twice – the first time in 1944 to restore France’s essence, and the second time in 1958 to revitalize its soul and prevent civil war. De Gaulle guided France’s historical transition from a defeated, divided and overstretched empire to a stable, prosperous nation-state under a sound constitution. From that basis, he restored France to a significant and sustainable role in international relations.
- Henry Kissinger, Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy (2022)
- His [that is, Roosevelt's] determination to go his own way, his insistence on informing himself through his own idiosyncratic avenues of communication, his deliberate short-circuiting of the proper channels of responsibility- all these had defects of their virtues that now and then led him and the country astray. His two great failures were France and China. These historic civilizations of depth and pungent flavor, to which he was instinctively and without reluctance attracted, defeated his best efforts to incorporate them in an all-embracing view of the postwar world. In each instance he was badly advised, and there is no great artfulness needed to see where the bad advice came from and why he listened to it. But evidence was also available to him that de Gaulle was a far more powerful personage than he had imagined and Chiang Kai-shek was a far weaker one: he chose not to act on it. He wanted a revived but malleable France that would be willing to give up its empire and a united but nationalist China that would be a "great nation," able to fill the vacuum left by Japanese defeat. He got neither.
- Eric Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (1987), p. 12-13
- When he was appointed to command the North African expedition, Eisenhower was briefed by Robert Murphy, our diplomatic representative there, on the "bewildering complexities" of the quarrels among not only the French factions but Spanish, Arab, Berber, German, and Russian as well. "Eisenhower listened with a kind of horrified fascination," wrote Murphy, "to my description of the possible complications... The General seemed to sense that this first campaign would present him with problems running the entire geopolitical gamut- it certainly did." What he could not have realized was that it would also place him in the crossfire between two towering political personalities, Franklin Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle.
- Eric Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (1987), p. 421
- De Gaulle's greatness consists in the fact that, by two or three gestures of command in foreign affairs, he was suddenly able to transform the confusion of civil life in post-war France into a concerted harmony, to command renewed respect towards the institutions of the state, and to establish stable government where there had previously been chaos.
- Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism: Third Edition (2001), p. 179
- It was the crucible of 1940 that transformed the obscure colonel of the battle of France... He emerged from it with his qualities of courage and self-reliance, audacity and daring, but also with his defects of ingratitude, vindictiveness, duplicity and prejudice; all inherent in the metal, but turned into steel by the ordeals of that terrible summer. In 1940 he proclaimed himself Joan of Arc [a misattribution; see above]. It was not long after the Dakar fiasco that he told the British Foreign Secretary, "Je suis la France". ... He did not need to learn from Churchill a creed we sometimes seem to have forgotten but would do well to remember: boundless love of country and complete faith in its destiny... de Gaulle, absolutely alone, has rebuilt his shattered country on the ruins of defeat, and has made France stronger, and her influence greater, than it has been for a century.
- Edward Spears, Two Men who saved France: Pétain and De Gaulle (1966), pp. 217-218
- 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