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Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (pronunciation) (? · i) (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).
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.
Charles de Gaulle with Nixon.