America and the French Nation, 1939-1945

America and the French Nation, 1939-1945

America and the French Nation, 1939-1945

America and the French Nation, 1939-1945


Hurstfield analyzes American responses--diplomatic, military, intellectual, and popular--to the plight of the French nation during World War II, as the constitution of the Third Republic was suspended, Petain ruled in Vichy, the Germans administered Occupied France, DeGaulle organized the Free French movement, and an internal French resistance slowly gathered strength. Interweaving diplomatic and intellectual history, the author combines analysis with a sensitive account of American currents of opinion.

Originally published in 1986.


This study is conceived as an essay in American history, an exploration of American behavior toward France during the Second World War. After 1940, the French nation, defeated and divided, offered to an apparently sturdier republic a remarkably complex spectacle of divided loyalties and fratricidal conflict. Some splinters from this fracture, the French émigrés, presented themselves in the United States, for closer scrutiny. The American investigation of France during this period thus took a number of forms.

Of these, diplomacy was the most public, and remains the most straightforward to chronicle. Very simply, it consisted of a steady reliance upon representatives of the French nation who were in no way associated with the French resistance or the movement around General de Gaulle. The successive appeal of these men, Marshal Pétain, Admiral Darlan, General Giraud, to American policymakers, from President Roosevelt downward, is thus one central topic to be examined in this book.

But alongside these political and military developments, other, less formal exchanges were occurring. These cannot be so precisely described. Some of them, in addition, ran athwart the actual course of diplomacy. For while the American administration was conducting its policy, a vocal element within the American public campaigned for a reversal of that policy, and for wholehearted recognition of de Gaulle. The result was an unusual situation, in which the administration was criticized by its usual admirers and supported by its usual enemies. This historical anomaly commands attention quite irrespective of any influence that public opinion may have exercised on events.

The book is so organized as to attempt to do justice to these themes. It is broadly chronological, and can be read as a consecutive narrative. At the same time each chapter examines a distinct area, which may be the experience of one particular person or group, or the course of a particular episode. Always the aim has been to consider a point of intersection between the two countries. The frequent direct quotations are intended to convey something of the polemical flavor of what proved to be, on all sides, a deeply controversial encounter.

The author of a work such as this has the very pleasant experience of acquiring debts that both parties know can never be adequately repaid. My earliest teacher of American history, Professor H. G. Nicholas, was a generous, tactful, shrewd, witty, endlessly knowledgeable supervisor. Professors . . .

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