France and the Nazi Menace: Intelligence and Policy Making, 1933-1939

By Peter Jackson | Go to book overview

11

Decision for War

A NUMBER of persistent misperceptions have clouded our understanding of France's decision to go to war over Poland. Searching for evidence of defeatism, several historians have portrayed the Daladier government as stumbling into war, clutching blindly at the coat-tails of Great Britain and hoping against hope to avoid fulfilling its obligations to Poland.1 The evidence simply does not support this interpretation. France went to war in 1939 with a clear strategy and a growing confidence that Germany could be defeated in a long war. The alternative, to let Germany have its way with Poland, would have been to surrender to the Reich control of the natural resources it lacked to wage a guerre d'usure. This was deemed unacceptable by France's military and civilian leadership in September of 1939.

The decision was taken on 23 August 1939. News had broken of Ribbentrop's voyage to Moscow that morning. With tension over Danzig and the corridor reaching a crescendo, the entire French defence establishment assembled in Daladier's chambers on the rue St Dominique in the late afternoon.2 The meeting was called at the behest of Bonnet, who hoped to convince his colleagues that France must withdraw its commitment to Poland. Daladier opened the meeting by posing three questions. Could France stand by while Poland and Romania were wiped off the map of Europe? How could France oppose Germany? What measures should be taken for the moment? Bonnet mounted an outright attack on the guarantee. He warned that

1 Adamthwaite, France, 343–52; id., Grandeur and Misery, 220–3; Watt, How War Came,
544–50, 582–5. J.-B. Duroselle was less categorical at this stage but nonetheless concluded his
magisterial study with the observation: 'For this pacific people, war itself was the first defeat'
(La Décadence, 493).

2DDF, 2ème série, xviii, no. 324. For divers analyses of this meeting, see Adamthwaite,
France, 340–I; Young, In Command of France, 241–2; Duroselle, La Décadence, 474–6; and
du Réau, Daladier, 358–9.

-379-

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France and the Nazi Menace: Intelligence and Policy Making, 1933-1939
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1: The Intelligence Machine and the Decision Making Process 11
  • 2: French Intelligence and the Nazi Machtergreifung, 1933 45
  • 3: Intelligence and the National Socialist Gleichschaltung, 1933–1936 82
  • 4: Initial Responses to Nazi Rearmament: Intelligence and Policy, 1934–1935 109
  • 5: The Rhineland 161
  • 6: Intelligence and the Rearmament Programmes of 1936 178
  • 7: Paralysis 207
  • 8: Munich 247
  • 9: A Change in Perspective 298
  • 10: Girding for War 337
  • 11: Decision for War 379
  • Conclusion 388
  • Appendices 397
  • Bibliography 403
  • Index 435
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