Charles De Gaulle

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Charles De Gaulle

Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (pronunciation) (Lille, November 22, 1890-Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, November 9, 1970) was a French soldier, politician and writer, president of the French Republic from 1958 to 1969, inspirer of Gaullism, promoter of the Franco-German reconciliation and one of the influential figures in the history of the construction process of the European Union.

With the rank of captain he fought in the First World War, being imprisoned and wounded several times. During the interwar period he held various military positions, in particular that of Secretary of the National Defense Council (1937-1940), under Marshal Pétain. Before the surrender of his country against the German invaders during the Second World War, he founded in his exile in London the Free France movement against the Vichy government and continued the struggle from the colonies and supporting the internal resistance. After the liberation of France, he headed the provisional government of the Republic until 1946.

In 1958 he became president of the Republic and during his mandate he had to face the resolution of the Algerian war, the renewal of the political system with the establishment of the V Republic, the drive of the European project or the social movement from May 1968, until his resignation in 1969.

In 1921 he married Yvonne Vendroux, with whom he had three children: Philippe (Paris, 1921), Élisabeth (Paris, 1924-2013) and Anne (Tréveris, 1928-1948).

Charles_De_Gaulle’s Biography

First World War

Lieutenant at the beginning of the First World War, is promoted to the rank of captain. Wounded in his baptism of fire in Dinant on August 15, 1914, he joins the 33rd Infantry Regiment on the Champagne front to lead the 7th company. He was wounded again on March 10, 1915, at the Battle of the Somme. Determined to fight, he disobeys his superiors by attacking the enemy trenches. This act cost him an eight-day suspension in his duties. Meticulous, willful and stubborn officer, his intelligence and courage distinguish him to the point that the commander of the 33rd Infantry Regiment offers to be his deputy.

On March 2, 1916, his regiment was attacked and almost destroyed defending the town of Douaumont, near Verdun. His company is diminished after merciless combat and the survivors surrounded. He then tries to cross the enemy lines, but for the third time he is seriously wounded with a bayonet. He is forced to surrender to the German troops who, after curing him, intern him.

After an unsuccessful evasion attempt, he is transferred to the fort of Ingolstadt, in Bavaria, a concentration camp for the restless officers. An “unfortunate exile” were the words with which he described his luck to his mother. In this period he became friends with another prisoner, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, who would become one of the most important Soviet generals. In order not to get bored, de Gaulle organizes for his fellow captives papers on the state of war. But, above all, he tries evasion five times, without success, since his great stature makes him too visible. It is released after the armistice. Of his two and a half years of captivity he will keep a bitter memory, considering himself a “revenant”, a useless soldier who has not served for anything.

World War II

Charles de Gaulle in 1942.

Between 1932 and 1937, during the interwar period, de Gaulle was assigned to the General Secretariat of National Defense, where he was able to learn about the French national defense policy, with which he was permanently in disagreement, because he considered that the armies modern, and France had to have one, advanced towards the great motorized bodies, towards the tanks and towards the aviation, something that France did not appreciate, believing the French military commanders that the model of the future war would be similar to the First World War, for what his defensive tactics were based on fortifications like the Maginot Line.

To expose his ideas of Gaulle he wrote the book L’armée de metier in 1935, for it acquired great notoriety, but that brought him formidable enemies and detractors who accused him of «promoting the war with Germany» or who dismissed his opinions as absurd. Precisely Marshal Philippe Pétain was one of the military leaders who most doubted the ideas put forward by de Gaulle.

During the invasion of France, in 1940, he tried to convince the Government to leave France and settle in the Algerian colony, from where France would recover and remain free of the dishonor of an armistice. With the fall of the government of Paul Reynaud and the establishment of the Petain regime, his former leader, and with the support of Pierre Laval, knew that the new authorities would not continue the war against the Third Reich and on the contrary they would plan the French surrender. p>

As the surrender of France was imminent, de Gaulle left the country on June 16, 1940 and left for Great Britain, from where he assumed command of Free France or French Combatant until the triumph of the allies, relying on his Appeal of June 18, 1940.

During these years he wrote the book L’Appel (1940, 1941 and 1942), where he exposes his vision of war: the enormous tragedy of the occupation, the defeatist spirit, the surrender to the enemy, the call to not give up from London, the organization of Free France, the struggle for the dignity of France in defense of all France and the contributions that these French rendered to the allies, by organizing armed forces to participate in decisive battles against the Wehrmacht.

He became the most visible military leader of liberated France and, thanks to this prestige, presided until 1946 the Provisional Government of the Republic.

Fifth Republic

Charles de Gaulle with Nixon.

After a long period away from public life, returns to the political arena to solve the entrenched problem of Algeria, a French colony that wanted to become independent, and the endemic political instability of the IV Republic.

France, on the brink of civil war due to tensions between the central government, disunited and disorganized, and a right-wing group, pro-colonists of Algeria, called Organization of the Armée Secrète (OAS) that demanded the smooth repression and plain of the Algerian independence movement of Ahmed Ben Bella, and with serious financial imbalances inherited from this situation, he resorted to it moments before a coup d’etat broke out against the last Prime Minister Pierre Pflimlin. De Gaulle took office immediately (June 1, 1958), achieved full power from President Coty and the General Assembly and proceeded to create the V Republic, massively approved in a referendum that same year. The following year, de Gaulle would obtain the presidency winning with 78% of the votes to the communist Georges Marrane, who barely achieved 13%, and 9% nbsp;% the independent André Châtelet. This would be the only French presidential election carried out by an electoral body of around 80,000 people composed of deputies, general councilors and representatives of the councils. Taking advantage of the momentum gained, he favored the creation of a movement (he did not want it to be called a party) around his figure, the Union for the New Republic (UNR).

Thus creating the ideology of Gaullism (in French: Gaullisme) of a third-positionist type with touches of conservatism.

This stage is characterized by its firm opposition to the United States, through a reaffirmation of French sovereignty that will be reflected in the departure of the integrated military structures of NATO (to which France would return in 2009, during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy) and in the request for gold conversion of the French reserves of dollars, which caused a global financial crisis, which was one of the factors that forced Nixon to suspend the convertibility of the dollar into gold in August 1971. < / p>

Finally, after a bloody unconventional war (guerrillas, attacks …) Algeria became independent in July 1962, putting an end to the most bloodthirsty problem of the Government of Gaulle. It meant a radical turn in French foreign policy, which abandons past colonial aspirations and focuses its sights on European construction.

On January 22, 1963, Germany and France reconciled after the signing by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer of the Elysée Treaty. Dissonances with neighboring countries for the construction of the European Common Market reduced the popularity of De Gaulle on the domestic front, which was affected by the 1965 presidential elections. In those elections, de Gaulle was not able to prevail in the first round, since he won the 44 % of the votes, 34 points less than six years before. Faced with this situation, de Gaulle was about to renounce his candidacy and withdraw from politics for what he considered a reprobation, but finally presented himself and won with 54% in front of the 46% of the Left Federation, which headed again Mitterrand.

In the final stage of his Government, he faced an upsurge of social conflict that will result in the so-called «French May» (1968, a student and worker revolt that forces the fall of the cabinet of the Gaullist Prime Minister Georges Pompidou). After these events, de Gaulle calls a referendum on the regions in France to achieve greater legitimacy, but loses. Defeated, will resign and withdraw from politics. He died of an aneurism on November 9, 1970, leaving his memories unfinished.

De Gaulle left an indelible imprint on French politics of the past and present century, since a good part of his ideas are still present in present-day France, under the current of the so-called «Gaullism». In his honor the name was changed to the Parisian square of «L’Étoile» (place where the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is located) by Charles de Gaulle square.

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