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The Complete War Memoirs

Reading date: Aug. 1, 2017

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Summary and personal opinion

Since I have been a little kid, I have always been passionate about history. The Second World War fascinates me particularly, for several reasons. First, being born, as my entire family, in Northern France in the 80’s, it means that my grand-parents (all born in the 30’s) lived a part of their childhood under the Nazi Occupation. When I ask them about details of this tragic past, it is mesmerizing to imagine the experience they lived between May 1940 and August 1944. Second, the geopolitical settlement that ended this global tragedy had so many impact that understanding the cause and aftermath of WWII is compulsory to understand our World today.

As far as I’m concerned, as a European, there are 5 majors figures that illustrate this conflict: Hitler, of course, Churchill, Staline, F.D. Roosevelt and de Gaulle. Churchill and de Gaulle both wrote their own memoirs of the conflict period, and it’s been a long time since I want to read them. I finally started with de Gaulle a month ago. It was so fascinating that I read the 3 volumes in 10 days.

The book is divided into three main sections:

  • L’Appel (The Call) 1940–1942
  • L’Unité (The Unity) 1942–1944
  • Le Salut (The Salvation) 1944–1946

Even if the core story is France-centered (of course), the global issues are well addressed, and all along, everything is presented in such a clear and detailed way that sometimes it feels like reading a novel. This is no surprise that we learnt in 2014, decades after he passed away, that he has been proposed to be the 1963 laureate of the literature Nobel priz.

The first volume starts by explaining how France ended up with such a poor preparation in the dawn of the conflict, when Hitler decided to invade Poland in September 1939. De Gaulle reminds us how, several times during the 30’s, he and a few others tried to convince all the different French governments to prepare for a terrible German revenge, powered by unprecedented warfare techniques: fighter jets, Panzers, submarines… He makes immediately clear that, according to him, the weakness of France at the end of the 30’s was due to a weak political power, itself due to the parliamentary regime that he always hated. After detailing how fast the country went down during the Blitzkrieg of May/June 1940 (also known as Battle of France), and not without mentioning his insistent, but unheard, suggestions to the government of quickly moving the power to Africa, where France at this time had a lot of colonial territories and could carry on the war from there, he explains how he decided to leave France for London, refusing to admit the armistice that French “officials” decided to sign.

Read the rest of my review on my Medium post!

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