l i f e o f t h e s w o r d
He retired to write his memoirs, which were sifted through by the censors to make them as politically correct as the ruling dispensation required. Now, almost forty years after his death in 1974, Russian soldiers can earn an Order of Zhukov.
The greatest disappointment in this well-written and meticulously researched biography is Roberts’s deconstruction of one of my favourite stories about Zhukov. In Moscow on 12 September 1942, with Stalingrad under attack, Zhukov is supposed to have whispered to the army chief of staff, in Stalin’s presence, about another possible strategy. The dictator’s ears pricked up and Operation Uranus, the famous encirclement of Paulus’s army, was born. Roberts cannot find any record that Zhukov was in Moscow with Stalin on that celebrated day. Did Zhukov make it up? I like to think just this once that Zhukov was right and the historical record at fault. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 13
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Keeping the Flame Alive In the Shadow of the General: Modern France and the Myth of De Gaulle By Sudhir Hazareesingh (Oxford University Press 238pp £18.99)
French historians have long been inter- ested in the Nachleben, or ‘after life’, of significant markers of national identity, arguably the greatest development in French historiography since the Annales School. Pierre Nora’s seven-volume Les Lieux de Mémoire is epic testament to that, all attractively abridged into the trilogy Realms of Memory for more casual AngloSaxon readers. The essays range from Joan of Arc to the Tour de France, via Jacobin festivals and the tricolor.
The Oxford historian Sudhir Hazareesingh has had the bright idea of giving similar monographic treatment to the Big Daddy of modern France: Charles de Gaulle, or ‘Pops’ as his security people called him. Unthinking Anglo-Saxons regard him as a Gallic marplot, rather than the great twentieth-century statesman he was – certainly the greatest Frenchman since Napoleon.
The initial steps in de Gaulle’s remarkable odyssey were not auspicious. A published tank expert and junior minister in the French government, de Gaulle realised that, though France was overrun by the Germans, it was a mighty empire and the Franco-German conflict was part of an unfinished global struggle. Hence he defied the capitulation of the Pétain government and, with Churchill’s blessing, raised the flag of resistance from his new base in London. On 18 June 1940 he broadcast his justly famous Appeal: ‘The flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.’
Hidden away in Carlton Gardens is a statue commemorating the battles of the London years.
There this aloof, taciturn and touchy man fought off rival claimants to represent France, unifying the fractious Resistance and, despite the ill will of Roosevelt, returning in triumph to his country as national liberator, as symbolised by his famous march along the Champs-Elysées in August 1944. Having presided over the restoration of democracy, de Gaulle abruptly resigned in January 1946, believing that the Fourth Republic’s weak parliamentary set-up lacked enough governing power to achieve grandeur and national recovery. For more than a decade he sulked at his retreat at Colombey-lesDeux-Eglises in the Haute-Marne, until he returned in May 1958, at the height of the Algerian crisis, as first President of a Fifth Republic fashioned according to his authoritarian wishes. His decade of epic silence contrasted favourably with the constant chatter of the political classes.
It was during this second decade in power that the final element of Gaullism was put in place – the General was a doughty defender of French national interests, ready to abandon the Algerian settlers, and to defy the overweening Americans and their little insular client. He withdrew France from NATO’s joint command, he witheringly criticised the Vietnam War, and he repeatedly vetoed British membership of the EEC on the grounds that the island was a Trojan Horse for US interests. After failing to get his way in a referendum in early 1969, he resigned the presidency and retired to Colombey, where he died in November 1970.
Hazareesingh’s book is a painstaking reconstruction of the key elements of the legend, which began with the General’s own efforts in his War Memoirs to depict himself as the lone redeemer, and ended with the conversion of La Boisserie, his home at Colombey, into a national shrine (a Cross of Lorraine, forty-five metres high, accompanies a gravestone of monumental simplicity). As such, In the Shadow of the General is a useful example of the b o ok s hop
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