THE coup d'état which put an end to the Third Republic took place on July 10, 1940. On that day the French National Assembly -- that is, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies in joint session -- conferred full powers on Marshal Pétain, "for the purpose of promulgating through one or several acts a new constitution for the French State." With the Germans only 25 miles away, the members of Parliament scarcely could resist the manœuvres and threats of Laval, proxy for the Marshal, who did not himself condescend to be present. The next day the constitutional provisions of 1875 were thrown overboard entirely and the way cleared for dictatorship. For Laval, it was only a beginning. He set himself the further task of dissolving the regional and municipal councils, dismissing wholesale the officials who remained loyal to the fallen régime, tracking down his personal foes, attempting to discredit democracy and the Republic forever.
Among other things, Laval decided to bring five men to trial: Edouard Daladier, Premier from April 10, 1938, to March 20, 1940, and continuously Minister of War since June 6, 1936; Léon Blum, Premier in 1936-1937 and again for three weeks in 1938; Pierre Cot, Air Minister under Blum in 1936-1937 and under Chautemps in 1937-1938; and Guy La Chambre, who succeeded Cot in the Chautemps Cabinet and held the same post under Daladier. Since popular resentment made omission of General Gamelin impossible, he likewise was included. Later on, after Laval went out of office, a sixth defendant was belatedly added -- P. Jacomet, secretary general of the Ministry of War, detailed, from 1938 on, to supervise armament. The original indictments were not drawn up until October; but a Supreme Court of Justice had already been constituted on July 30 by Constitutional Act 5, with functions determined by a law of the same date.[i]
It is quite normal that after such an appalling national disaster, the men responsible during preceding years for the management of defense and the army should be called to account, and
Loading, please wait...