Zach – We have an interesting topic today. Usually I come up with topics through random research and tangents. One interesting thing leads to another and I find a forgotten corner of history. Today is a piece of history that’s always been in the open but never paid attention to. Last week I was looking at “Operation Torch” where the Allies invaded North Africa and the Vichy French fought back.
I was confused. Here was something I didn’t understand but wanted to. So, I delved into a topic I knew little about in order to find out the truth of this matter.
Anna – Let’s get into it and see if we can make sense of Vichy France. With us we have Countess Matilda of Tuscany: personal face wrecker to the Pope, Gaspar Correia: imaginative historian and conquistador. And lastly we have St. Olga of Kiev: Russian convert to Christianity and expert at blood soaked rampages.
Matilda – Let’s start with the military crisis that created Vichy France. Having fought the Germans before, I know how stubborn they can be in battle. The French were completely unprepared for the German invasion in 1940. Their tactics were outdated and they had no desire for war. After the destruction of WWI, the French people simply had no stomach for a fight. The German tactics rolled over the French army and France was occupied in a matter of weeks.
Anna – How did France respond to this total defeat? That’s a rather complicated answer. The response depended on the group. Some military and government leaders fled and went to either England or the French colonies. Some welcomed the Germans because they feared the English even more. Others simply gave up and accepted it. Most, including the average person, just wanted to live in peace. The question was, what cost were they willing to pay for this peace?
Zach – This is what will define the Vichy government, peace at any price, even if that price was war. The ease of the German defeat crushed the French spirit so completely that they had no hope of ever regaining their independence. So, instead of fighting back, they just ducked their heads and rolled over. They saw no way of fighting the Germans. The French had another problem: they were completely divided. The socialists hated the conservatives, the conservatives hated the Republicans, the Republicans hated the liberals and everyone hated the communists. The conservatives (don’t confuse these terms for modern political ones) accepted the occupation because they like Germany’s focus on strong leadership, family and strength. The socialists accepted the Nazis because they liked the Nazi’s focus on socialism with government ownership of private business and social programs. The communists accepted it because at the time Germany was allied with Soviet Russia. Seeing German troops goosestepping around Paris seemed a small price to pay for survival. They feared that if they fought back, they’d lose their country completely.
Olga – (Laughs) Oh, these Frenchies, they so proud of they freedom and thought they could work with German mean men.
Gaspar – Yes, the French, who hated the former Republic, were glad to see it go and viewed the occupation as a chance to set their government right. They changed their constitution and set up a WWI hero named Petain as a virtual dictator.
Matilda – Germany didn’t occupy the entire country because they had better things to do. As long as France didn’t get uppity they were left alone for the time being. They mistakenly interpreted this as a good sign. In reality it was that France was now beneath their notice and was cheaper to let France police themselves. Petain started trying to negotiate with Germany as if they were equals. They wanted to maintain the independence by pleasing their new masters. They hoped that if they collaborated with their evil overlords they would prove useful and work as partners. I remember when Germany invaded my beloved Tuscany and I rolled over and surrendered…oh wait, that’s right. I fought back against the entire Holy Roman Empire. Hmmm…
Gaspar – There were a few problems with trying to negotiate in a rational manner on equal terms. One: they had nothing Germany wanted that they couldn’t just take. Two: German wasn’t rational. Three: Germany had no desire to work with the French. The Big Evil H wanted revenge, not friendship. He’d rather lose the war than have his men march shoulder to shoulder with Frenchmen. This is why he deployed undead soldiers to occupy France to free up his living soldiers for the rest of Europe.
Olga – Fire works against zombies, dah?
Anna – The Germans laid down the terms of the armistice and the French accepted them. But that was not all, the French wanted to go further. They wanted to fight against the British. In fact, the Germans were so surprised at the willingness of the French to work with them, that they distrusted them even more. They were like a small, annoying dog trying to get its master’s attention.
Zach – The Vichy French didn’t see the realities of the situation. They thought this Germany was the same Germany they’ve been dealing with for the past thousand years. They saw a post war Europe where Germany dominated several partners. They thought Germany could be rational. But slowly the Germans kept taking away freedoms and liberties. For the first year, 1940-41, the resistance was practically non-existent. This could be due to shock from such a total defeat, to an idea that they could finally make France how they wanted, to the fear that England would come in and take over. They wanted to maintain their overseas empire.
Olga – Okay, okay. I still no understand. Why do French peoples no fight back? I get it. They want peace, yes? But I no take crap like they take. I fight back and burn German houses down…with them in it.
Anna – Many were more afraid of a possible British invasion and the chaos and destruction that would come with it.
Olga – They too scared to fight. That is sad. Theywant be slaves and safe than risk danger and be free. I don’t think I like these Vichy French peoples.
Zach – In 1942, the Allies invaded North Africa and the Vichy French fought back. They wanted to impress the Germans to show they could be partners. They also didn’t want to lose their overseas territories to the English. The Allies destroyed the French navy while they were still in port in a matter of hours. Another humiliating defeat. A few days later, Germany occupied the rest of France. Now the illusion of autonomy was proven false to everyone but the most fanatic of pro-Vichy politicians.
Gaspar – What about this famous Resistance I keep hearing about?
Zach – At first they had to hide. After the 1940 invasion, the idea of resistance was met with disdain and a French jackboot to the face. Young men didn’t have local support so they would flee to the mountains and hills and fight any way they could including assassinations and bombings. As Germany ran out of slave labor from Eastern countries, they began to take men from France. As time went, they wanted more and more laborers and instead of being packed up in train carts, they fled to the mountains and joined the resistance. Think about it, these men wanted to fight for their country, but their own country didn’t want them too. That makes the handful of Resistance fighters that actually fought back, that much more impressive. They were the real heroes while the rest of the country were tripping over themselves to please the Nazis.
Anna – But now we have to talk about something even more unpleasant. The Germans demanded that France deliver their Jews to them. At first it was only the foreign Jews that came to France as refugees, but as the quotas increased, they began to deport French citizens. Out of 76,000 Jews that they deported, only about 3,000 ever returned. In contrast, Fascist Italy fought back against the deportation of Jews and Bulgaria flat out refused. France didn’t care as long as they pleased their overlords.
Olga – Now I really no like this Vichy France place. I go burn their houses down.
(Olga gets up and leaves.)
Gaspar – Is that alright that she just left? I mean, she might just burn down the first house she sees.
Anna – It’ll be fine……………right?
Zach – What could go wrong? I wasn’t sure what I’d find when I started digging around the history of Vichy but I wasn’t expecting this. What I saw was the desire for safe slavery at any cost. They were willing to fight England, deport Jews and help the Nazis. I was hoping to find some real reasons for what they did, maybe some secret resistance against the occupiers. I was hoping the battle in Northern Africa was a fluke, but it turns out, Vichy France wanted to fight England much more. This is my opinion, but what I found I thought was absolutely pathetic.
Anna – This makes the Resistance much more heroic in my eyes. Dugal, the exiled French general that fought to regain his country, faced opposition from his own countrymen. There were real heroes in this story, but they weren’t working with Vichy France.
Zach – As always, I encourage the reader to investigate this story and find out for yourself. Maybe your opinion may be different than mine. Two people can look at the same set of facts and come out with completely different conclusions. (Disclaimer: I’m not talking hating on the entire French people or their history, just this one period of time that was led by cowardly and weak politicians. )