Charles de Gaulle

            Born in 1890 to a Franco- Prussian war hero in Lille, France, Charles de Gaulle was surrounded by war for the majority of his life. At the young age of nineteen, de Gaulle enlisted in the French armed forces, and soon thereafter, in 1912 he joined an infantry regiment. During World War I, de Gaulle was wounded three times and held prisoner by the Germans till the end of the war.  Fueled by lessons learned from attending Saint-Cyr military school and the teachings of his infantry leader and war hero, Philippe Petain, de Gaulle had formulated his own recipe for military success. He believed that a “successful leader must personify national grandeur and increase his power and prestige by distancing himself from the people” (Larson, 1427). Later on, de Gaulle would author another militarily philosophical piece preaching the utilization of the tank as a major asset in the French armed forces. This piece, called Vers l’armee de métier or “Army of the Future” had little impact on war strategy until 1940. With the invasion German invasion of France, the Third Republic buckled and was occupied by Nazi-installed Vichy government headed by de Gaulle’s infantry leader and mentor, Philippe Petain. During this time, de Gaulle fled to London to broadcast a message to his French brothers and sisters to never stop resisting the Germans. Also known as “The Appeal,” on June 18, 1940 de Gaulle urged his countrymen, “Whatever happens, the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished” (de Gaulle).

            At this time, de Gaulle enacted his military philosophy to regain control of France with the help of the United States and Great Britain. With the liberation of France came the fall of the Third Republic paving the way for a newly founded Fourth Republic. Fearing the same problems would plague the new republic, de Gaulle vanished from the French assembly until he was summoned due to civil unrest in Algeria, one of France’s African colonies. Charles de Gaulle had the diplomatic stature and ability to remedy the situation.  When the assembly reconvened in 1959, the Fourth Republic had been abolished and de Gaulle was commissioned to guide the formation of a new French constitution.  “The balance of power was shifted from the national assembly to the president” (Larson, 1429). This shift accompanied with de Gaulle’s decision to influence instead of rule Algeria caused a wave of civil unrest amongst European settlers and the army stationed there. De Gaulle survived several assassination attempts and by 1962 France was no longer occupying Algeria (Larson, 1429).

            Charles de Gaulle was most known for being a war hero in France, but he did make some controversial decisions as president. “It was said that de Gaulle loved France but not the French” (Larson, 1429). He spent the majority of his presidency building a global image France rather than building a solid economic and social infrastructure. His foreign policy and perspective were controversial; including the support to found a French nuclear weapons program and the withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The treatment of France by the U.S. and Great Britain during WWII stuck with de Gaulle, motivating him to speak out often against both. “He argued that the British government was too subject to the United States’ policies…and he publically objected to American involvement in Vietnam” (Larson, 1430).  In the sixties, de Gaulle originally supported Israel and its formation; yet, after the Six Day War in 1967, de Gaulle changed his and France’s mind choosing to support the Arab states (Bass, A27).  This was controversial in determining not only the relationship between France and Israel, but also France’s relationship with Great Britain and the United States. However, de Gaulle knew that by opposing their ideologies he would still seem more formidable as well recognized.  “Charles de Gaulle merely understood that America is bound to defend France and that much power and influence in the world can be gained by opposing some of its policies” (Langois).

            Charles de Gaulle was a statesman and a formidable international diplomat who modernized the French image after World War II. He is also a war hero and major political and cultural icon. France’s major airport is named after him, as well as the French navy’s only nuclear aircraft (Wikipedia).  He played a major role, whether it good or bad, in France’s foreign policy. His relations with the United States, Great Britain, China, etc. paved way for France’s modern foreign policy decisions. De Gaulle gave women the right to vote in France and established a social security system, giving each citizen an identity (Chirac).  Charles de Gaulle was a major political figure in France in the past and his legacy is still evident throughout French policy and culture.

Bass, Gary J. “Op-Ed Contributor – When Israel and France Broke Up –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010.

“Charles de Gaulle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.”Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <

Chirac, Jacques. “Charles de Gaulle | TIME Europe Magazine | 60 Years of Heroes.”Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews – N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <

de Gaulle, Charles. “The Appeal.” BBC. London. 6/18/1940. Address.

Langois, Jean-Pierre. “To Paris, With Thorns and Roses – Letter –” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., 3 Jan. 2005. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <

Larson, Eugene S. “Charles de Gaulle: President of France.”The Twentieth Century. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2010. <

Report by ES


About mlleminor

Instructor in MCL French Division at the University of Kentucky
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