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François Mitterrand & the French Mystery

924 words

Translated by Greg Johnson

In the center of all the questions raised by the sinuous and contradictory path of François Mitterrand is the famous photograph of the interview granted to a young unknown, the future socialist president of the Republic, by Marshall Philippe Pétain in Vichy, on October 15th, 1942.

This document was known to some initiates, but it was verified by the interested party only in 1994, when he saw that his life was ending. Thirty years earlier, the day before the presidential election of 1965, the then Minister of the Interior, Roger Frey, had received a copy of it. He demanded an investigation which went back to a former local head of the prisoners’ association, to which François Mitterrand belonged. Present at the time of the famous interview, he had several negatives. In agreement with General de Gaulle, Roger Frey decided not to make them public.

Another member of the same movement of prisoners, Jean-Albert Roussel, also had a print. It is he who gave the copy to Pierre Péan for the cover of his book Une jeunesse française (A French youth), published by Fayard in September 1994 with the endorsement of the president.

Why did Mitterrand suddenly decide to make public his enthusiastic Pétainism in 1942–1943, which he had denied and dissimulated up to that point? It is not a trivial question.

Under the Fourth Republic, in December 1954, from the platform of the National Assembly, Raymond Dronne, former captain of the 2nd tank division, now a Gaullist deputy, had challenged François Mitterrand, then Minister of the Interior: “I do not reproach you for having successively worn the fleur de lys and the francisque d’honneur [honors created by the Third Republic and Marshall Pétain’s French State respectively – Trans.] . . .” “All that is false,” retorted Mitterrand. But Dronne replied without obtaining a response: “All that is true, and you know very well . . .”

The same subject was tackled again in the National Assembly, on February 1st, 1984, in the middle of a debate on freedom of the press. We were now under the Fifth Republic and François Mitterrand was the president. Three deputies of the opposition put a question. Since the past of Mr. Hersant (owner of Figaro) during the war had been discussed, why not speak about that of Mr. Mitterrand? The question was judged sacrilege. The socialist majority was indignant, and its president, Pierre Joxe, believed that the president of the Republic had been insulted. The three deputies were sanctioned, while Mr. Joxe declared loud and clear Mr. Mitterrand’s role in the Résistance.

This role is not contestable and is not disputed. But, according to the concrete legend imposed after 1945, a résistant past is incompatible with a Pétainist past. And then at the end of his life, Mr. Mitterrand suddenly decided to break with the official lie that he had endorsed. Why?

To be precise, before slowly becoming a résistant, Mr. Mitterrand had first been an enthusiastic Pétainist, like millions of French. First in his prison camp, then after his escape, in 1942, in Vichy where he was employed by the Légion des combattants, a large, inert society of war veterans. As Mitterrand found this Pétainism too soft, he sought out some “pure and hard” (and very anti-German) Pétainists like Gabriel Jeantet, an old member of the Cagoule [the right-wing movement of the late 1930s dedicated to overthrowing the Third Republic – Trans.], chargé in the cabinet of the Marshal, one of his future patrons in the Ordre de la francisque.

On April 22nd, 1942, Mitterrand wrote to one his correspondents: “How will we manage to get France on her feet? For me, I believe only in this: the union of men linked by a common faith. It is the error of the Legion to have taken in masses whose only bond was chance: the fact of having fought does not create solidarity. Something along the lines of the SOL,[1] carefully selected and bound together by an oath based on the same core convictions. We need to organize a militia in France that would allow us to await the end of the German-Russian war without fear of its consequences . . .” This is a good summary of the muscular Pétainism of his time. Quite naturally, in the course of events — in particular after the American landing in North Africa of November 8th, 1942 — Mitterand’s Pétainism evolved into resistance.

The famous photograph published by Péan with the agreement of the president caused a political and media storm. On September 12th, 1994, the president, sapped by his cancer, had to explain himself on television under the somber gaze of Jean-Pierre Elkabbach. But against all expectation, the solitude of the accused, as well as his obvious physical distress, made the interrogation seem unjust, causing a feeling of sympathy: “Why are they picking on him?” It was an important factor that reconciled the French to their president. It was not an endorsement of a politician’s career. It was Mitterrand the man who had suddenly became interesting. He had acquired an unexpected depth, a tragic history that stirred an echo in the secret of the French mystery.

Note

1. The SOL (Service d’ordre légionnaire) was constituted in 1941 by Joseph Darnand, a former member of the Cagoule and hero of the two World Wars. This formation, by no means collaborationist, was made official on January 12th, 1942. In the new context of the civil war which is then spread, the SOL was transformed into the French Militia on January 31st, 1943. See the Nouvelle Revue d’Histoire, no. 47, p. 30, and my Histoire de la Collaboration (History of the collaboration) (Pygmalion, 2002).

Source: http://www.dominiquevenner.fr/#/edito-nrh-54-mitterrand/3845286

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3 Comments

  1. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

    Would the Order Mitterand proposed in ’42 be anything like the French equivalent of a warrior-priesthood focused on cultural transformation?

    Is there a lesson for us, or am I projecting wishfully on this desperate situation?

    What’s In YOUR Future?

    Focus Northwest

    • White Republican
      Posted May 20, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

      It’s possible that creating an order of the kind you have in mind was the objective of the École nationale de cadres, which is examined in John Hellman’s book, The Knight-Monks of Vichy France: Uriage, 1940-1945 (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997). I haven’t read this book, but you can do a google search for reviews of it, and form an idea of its contents. Hellman has written extensively about “non-conformist” and “third way” thinkers in France. (I write “in France” as some of these thinkers–e.g. Simone Weil, Alexandre Marc, Robert Aron, and Arnaud Dandieu–did not descend from Gauls. Nevertheless, their ideas are interesting. Weil, for example, wrote of the need for roots, advocated the suppression of political parties, and seems to have been highly critical of Judaism. She also seems to have made some perceptive comments on National Socialism.)

      I definitely think that some kind of aristocracy needs to be created. Liberal democrats would have us believe that there is no alternative to their monstrous and morbid regime. Liberal democracy entails “the superiority of the lowest type of man” (Francis Parker Yockey). This may well secure its hegemony, for by corrupting all strata of society, by destroying all sense of hierarchy, and by indoctrinating everyone with its corrupt values and ideas, it destroys all effective opposition. Many people criticize the workings of liberal democracy, but few condemn its principles. The latter are apolitical in practical terms and often appear to be solitary reactionaries, eccentrics, and Cassandras without any political ambition or talent. (In the popular mind, the greatest sin in politics is not error, but weakness.) The reactionary-minded seem to be content to say that the world is going to the dogs, the traditionalist-minded seem to be content waiting for the Kali Yuga to pass over, and the libertarian-minded want politics supplanted by economics (although politics, both big and small, is an ineradicable part of human behaviour). None of these positions is truly political.

      But while liberal democracy has secured its hegemony, it has by no means secured its longevity. Historically speaking, liberal democracy is a novelty, and it is doubtful that it will last. The question is whether we will die with it or whether we will survive it. Perhaps the solution lies in the creation of what Jean Thiriart called a “historical party,” though not necessarily on the precise model Thiriart envisaged, that will destroy the existing regime and create a new one. Such a party needs to master the disciplines of thought and action appropriate for a long war rather than a short battle.

  2. Posted May 21, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Simone Weil (nothing to do with Simone Veil). Well worth having a look at.

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