A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and by Philip H. Gordon

By Philip H. Gordon

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The second major consequence of France’s two colonial conflicts (more important where European defense was concerned) was their decimation of French fighting forces. Although the recruitment of foreign troops and the ban on sending conscripts to Indochina kept the numbers of French soldiers there relatively low (never more than seventy thousand), the drain on the officer corps was much more serious.

From the very start of the postwar era, France was more preoccupied with its global than with its European role. It was not long after V-E Day that the French army, already largely decimated by the events of June 1940 and still stunned by the experience, had to take up arms abroad. Four years of war had unleashed feelings of nationalism and desires for independence in the French empire and trying to thwart these desires became the overwhelming focus of the French army for more than a decade after World War II.

De Gaulle’s vision of France was also based in part on an a priori concept that he felt no need to justify in any other way: France had a special right and duty to play the role of a world power simply because it was France. To de Gaulle, more than numbers and material factors were involved in the determination of human and national enterprises. Like the philosopher Henri Bergson, whose works he read as a youth, de Gaulle believed there was more to life than simple scientific calculations that ignored intuition and élan.

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