Magazine article The Spectator

A Patriot -- Up to a Point

Magazine article The Spectator

A Patriot -- Up to a Point

Article excerpt

THE DEATH OF JEAN MOULIN: BIOGRAPHY OF A GHOST by Patrick Marnham John Murray, 20, pp. 290

In June 1999, the review ESPOIR, the monthly publication of the Fondation Charles de Gaulle, produced a special number largely devoted to Jean Moulin and to his role in the French resistance. It was a hommage and it quoted the famous speech by Andre Malraux, when Moulin's remains were installed in the Pantheon, hailing him as the Carnot of the Resistance.

But the few lines written by the editor of ESPOIR in his introduction were very different. He reminded readers that Moulin had been very close to Pierre Cot, a minister in the Popular Front government of 1936, and that they had organised the smuggling of arms to the Spanish Republicans, contrary to official government policy. He particularly mentioned that the Soviet archives had revealed how Pierre Cot had been their `honourable correspondent'. After giving other examples of Moulin's personal friendships with certain important communists he made particular mention of how, when in London, he concealed his past relations with Andre Labarthe, who was serving with Free France but working for a revolution in France. Finally, the editor suggested that it could have been because he ceased to serve the party that he met his death.

It is this interpretation of the `affaire Jean Moulin' that Patrick Marnharn follows in his elegant and thoughtful exploration of the subject. The fact that the editor of ESPOIR was forced to resign when members of the Fondation objected vigorously to what he had written doubtless encouraged Marnham. He shows occasional contempt for many French attitudes to the Resistance and speaks of amnesia and hypocrisy, as well as the moral superiority constantly assumed by the French Left.

He has written a biography of Moulin as well as an examination of the details that are relevant to his betrayal and death in 1943. We are shown a man who is not immediately attractive in spite of his extraordinarily successful career in the prefectorial corps. His difficult relations with his father, his unsuccessful marriage, tendencies towards secrecy and selfindulgence, are clearly described:

One event as depicted by Marnham illustrates his approach. It is well known that after the defeat Moulin remained in Chartres as Prefect, and together with the representatives of the mayor and bishop, surrendered the town to the German forces on 17 June 1940. But almost immediately he found himself at odds with the Germans since he refused to sign a declaration stating that French women had been assaulted and raped by French Senegalese soldiers. He was beaten up and put in prison. There, fearing that he would again be made to suffer and might give way, he preferred to commit suicide and he cut his throat. He was saved from death by local people but was not assaulted again by the Germans. Marnham's version is much less heroic. He describes Moulin as carefully cutting himself close to his chin so that he made a wound that did not sever any major artery but which would bleed and look dangerous. Furthermore, Moulin waited until he heard the guard arriving before cutting himself. Thus he achieved the maximum of publicity with the minimum of danger.

Marnham is always ready to admit to ignorance. …

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