In the writing of history, much depends upon angles of vision. The Cold War as seen from Washington and London has long been a familiar story, and with the availability of new materials we are getting some sense of how it looked from Moscow and Beijing as well. The view from Paris, though, has always been indistinct. To the extent that historians have dealt with it at all, they have done so in such a way as to portray the French as passive and unsure of themselves, buffeted by geopolitical forces beyond their control. Feeble, irresolute, and shortsighted, the Fourth Republic, we have been led to believe, was not a great power but a power vacuum. Few inside or outside France regretted its demise when General Charles de Gaulle killed it off in 1958; even fewer historians have seen it as playing any significant role in the early history of the Cold War.
William Hitchcock's France Restored vigorously challenges this conventional wisdom. Writing from French sources and from a French perspective, he shows how the much-derided Fourth Republic, despite the humiliating weakness from which it initially operated, seized the initiative and reshaped the course of post-World War II European history. Having reconciled themselves to the principle that West Germany would recover and reintegrate itself into Western Europe, the French skillfully manipulated that process--particularly through their proposals for a European Coal and Steel Community and a European Defense Community--in ways neither the Americans, nor the British, nor the Germans had anticipated. They thereby largely determined the pace and method of German reintegration, ensuring that it complemented their own interests.
Hitchcock's argument suggests several ways in which we need to reconsider the early history of the Cold War in Europe. He shows that military and economic power did not always determine what happened: the French compensated for the absence of such capabilities with careful planning and crafty diplomacy. American hegemony, Hitchcock emphasizes, allowed remarkable autonomy on the part of American allies, and it is probably fair to say that the United States responded to French initiatives during the years 1949-55 as frequently as Paris responded to those emanating from Washington. Hitchcock provides a new explanation for why European integration took off as rapidly as it did: the French saw it as a way of "containing" Germany without appearing to do