How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
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 that no indulgence should be shown them. Until they receive their final release from the nation, they all are legitimately under suspicion. But it also goes without saying, among people who retain an elementary sense of justice, that an investigation conducted by disinterested persons and the strict observance of legal forms throughout any subsequent trial are the prerequisites to any declaration of guilt which can be considered acceptable. The Vichy Government, product of a coup d'état, is not competent to conduct such an inquiry and preside at such a trial.
Even the fundamental principle of the separation of powers is absent in the constitutional acts promulgated by the Vichy Government from time to time. The Marshal and his Ministers constitute at once the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches. But supposing the Vichy state were free of all original sin, supposing its edicts conformed to the ideas of public order held by the vast majority of Frenchmen, who after all have been accustomed for more than a century to representative institutions, still that state would be disqualified by one ineradicable flaw from sitting in judgment. It is a sovereign state only in fiction. It is in bondage to its German conqueror. It thus is incapable of assigning responsibility for France's disaster at the hands of that conqueror. Frenchmen will rightly esteem any judgment made in its name in such a connection an act of political revenge, an act of force, and the execution of the will of a foreigner. In view of this, the integrity of the individual judges who sit on the case is not particularly important.
The Supreme Court held its first public hearings on February 19, 1942. Seventeen months had elapsed from the start of the investigation -- months filled with legal bickering between the presiding judge, M. Caous, formerly president of the criminal division of the Court of Juridical Appeals (Cour de Cassation), his colleagues, the attorney-general, M. Cassagneau, and the Minister of Justice. The latter office at first was held by Raphaël Alibert, a partisan of the Action Française, then by Joseph Barthélemy, former professor in the faculty of law at Paris, former deputy, a light-witted person who had been violently in favor of Munich. M. Caous is of Breton and peasant origin. Persons who know him have told me that he is honest and enlightened. Now there probably are few Frenchmen more abysmally parochial than judges and state's attorneys. It seems, however, that this M. Caous has seen something of the world. Indeed, he has visited the United States, and it is possible that the Statue of Liberty stamped its image on his heart! I give these details, to the best of my knowledge, simply to provide as much background as possible. For a time another member of the court of juridical appeals, M. Lagarde, replaced M. Caous as presiding judge; but early in January 1942 M. Caous was reinstated. So far as we can judge by outward appearances, M. Lagarde had been found even less likely to fall in with governmental requirements than M. Caous.
Meanwhile two important events had taken place. For one thing, the indictment had been changed. The accused were no longer charged with having declared war on Germany without adequate reason, or with having provoked Germany to war. Their sole offense now was defined as having insufficiently prepared their country for its hour of trial. Secondly, by means of Constitutional Act 7 (January 21, 1941), Marshal Pétain had conferred upon himself all the prerogatives of administering justice. He now proceeded to condemn Gamelin, Daladier, Blum, Reynaud and Mandel to life imprisonment (October 17).
The first of these events, which took place after Laval's dismissal, perhaps indicated some feeling of shame and hesitation on Pétain's part, or at least the recognition of something distasteful in the difficult task which was at hand. However far they had gone astray, however strong might be their personal leanings toward collaboration, could French Ministers -- whose daily task it was to keep within bounds the arbitrary demands of the forces of occupation -- provide the Nazis with a further implement of torture without awakening terrible retribution from the French people? A full and detailed confession of guilt for the outbreak of the war would have been just that. Furthermore, even with the help of all the lies which Laval and Bonnet might cook up, would it have been possible to dispose of the formidable bill of particulars against Germany set forth in the French "Yellow Book" of December 1939? Bonnet's help was of course available. His asseverations have been recorded by a certain demagogue of the Right, Philippe Henriot, in a pamphlet, "How Peace Died: the Trial of the Guilty" (Comment mourut la paix, le procés des responsables). Pétain and his henchmen probably shrank from the risky procedure of utilizing the services of a minister who wanted to forget that he himself was, after all, the author of the declaration of war. Moreover, there is some evidence that their hands were forced by certain members of the Court.
It is difficult to see how the second event did not lead the Supreme Court to strike the whole procedure from its calendar. The sentence pronounced by Marshal Pétain on the basis of the findings of a "drumhead" court conducted by a former political chief in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a former Ambassador to Madrid and to Brussels, Count Peretti de La Rocca -- an extravagant admirer of Franco and quondam emissary of Big Business at Burgos -- meant that a new trial revived the hated procedure of double jeopardy. But Vichy had made up its mind to disregard any inconvenient juridical principle. It had proclaimed new laws creating new offenses and declared them retroactive over a period of ten years. It now did not hesitate to abolish the provision against double jeopardy.
Constitutional Act 7, put into force more than a month after Laval's dismissal, was really aimed at the latter. The Marshal had been incensed by some shady monetary dealings laid to that politician's door during recent negotiations with Germany. Peyrouton and Raphaël Alibert (then, respectively, Ministers of Interior and Justice), who had planned and executed the palace revolution of December 13, 1940, thought thus to get rid of him forever. But the Germans promptly extended their shield over Laval; and the unused weapon afterwards was directed against the Republican Ministers as the most convenient way of doing away with a supreme court which had proved troublesome. Whereupon Joseph Barthélemy had pangs of conscience. Had not the five men been sentenced without being heard? After some hesitation, the former procedure was resumed.
The Supreme Court held over twenty hearings, the last of them on April 2. It then adjourned for the Easter vacation. On April 14 a decree suspended further hearings.
In his Reichstag speech of March 15, Hitler had lashed out against the Court. All he cared about was that France should accept the guilt for the war. He saw that the heated arguments going on between the accused, the witnesses, the public prosecutor and the presiding judge over deficiencies in French preparations for national defense would inevitably lead the French people, probing into the causes for their defeat, to turn more and more against the collaborationists and, if that were possible, more and more against Germany. It must be admitted that this interpretation of Hitler's was quite justified. As the trial progressed, Pétain, Laval and many another, soldier and civilian alike, came to see with increasingly dreadful clearness just what awaited them on the day when, France once again free, they themselves would in turn be the subjects of searching and painful crossquestioning.
From the very outset the trial went askew. Everything had been planned to drive home the accusations lodged against the former Ministers who now stood in the dock. Gamelin (was he playing the Government's game?) answered the first of the presiding judge's questions by refusing to testify. He was horrified, he said, at the thought of taking part in any proceeding which amounted to an accusation against the French Army. Thus it seemed likely that the public prosecutor would aim his fire exclusively at Daladier, Blum, the other ex-Ministers and the single permanent official whose fate had been linked with theirs. Blum and Daladier, however, asserted boldly that it was the failure of the military which had been fundamental. From the start they took a very high-handed tone with the Court and the state's attorney. Moreover, several of the witnesses called were rather revealing in their discussion of army matters. The consequence was that the entire High Command as constituted in 1940 and earlier years was constantly under discussion. This meant, of course, that Marshal Pétain himself became involved.
There sat Gamelin, motionless, lips tightly closed. Almost it seemed as though all of France's other military leaders, even the one who in fact was the most powerful, were present though invisible, like God in Racine's "Athalie." But certainly they were not present in their most advantageous guise. The presiding judge and the public prosecutor allowed the name of the Head of the State constantly to be introduced into the pleadings. To anyone who recalls the speeches delivered before the Madrid Atheneum in the months and years before Primo de Rivera's dictatorship this is a most striking fact. For there shafts often were aimed at Alfonso XIII, who was of course implicated in the Anual disaster; but, except by a slip, the speakers did not go further than more or less veiled allusions. Why was M. Caous so forbearing? Such a procedure cannot have been foreseen either by the state or by the Court as a whole. If it had, the Court would not have ruled against the accused when they objected to having all acts prior to June 6, 1936, the day when the Popular Front Cabinet assumed office, excluded from the purview of the trial. Nor would the Court have sought so strenuously to rule out Pétain's management of affairs while Commander-in-Chief (up to 1931), Inspector of Air Defense (1931) and War Minister (February-November 1934). Of course Blum and Daladier in any case had plenty of ammunition for attacking the Pétain of 1936-1940, in which period he was President of the Higher Council for National Defense and indulged himself in a bit of military writing. Nor did they fail to use it. But in practice they were allowed much wider scope. Pétain, incidentally, was not protected by a convenient provision against lése-majesté. Had his advisers forgotten to ask him to sign beforehand the appropriate, if mis-named, "Constitutional Act"?
Daladier and Blum could boast, and no one could dare gainsay them, that as early as October 1936 they had set French rearmament in motion by obtaining from Parliament a credit of 14 billion francs, later increased to 20 billion. "This was the moment," said General Hering, one of the witnesses, "which marked the beginning of the renaissance of the French Army." To be more accurate, what the general described as the renaissance of the French Army had begun with the restoration of the two-year term of military service in the spring of 1935.[ii]
It can hardly be sufficiently emphasized that the one-year term of military service brought the French military system to ruin. After 1936, the old skeleton began again to take on muscles, tendons, flesh. But the French Army, besides needing men, also needed up-to-date arms. And it is a fact that the leaders of the Popular Front were the first to give orders on a large scale for such weapons, seeking to rectify the damage done by their predecessors, the Pétains and Lavals, who in 1934 and 1935 had foolishly reduced the expenditure for armaments at the very time when Germany's leaders were already preparing the massive production which was to get into full swing in 1937. Unfortunately, however, the Popular Front did not subordinate its political policies to the fulfillment of this military program. "We were caught short," Daladier asserted before the Chamber of Deputies on December 22, 1939; "we were going to be ready early in 1941." Still, the fact remains that they gave the first impetus to a necessary movement which their predecessors had blindly postponed. He and his colleagues might have pointed out that in an article in the Revue des Deux Mondes (October 15, 1936), Weygand was pleased to note that the parties formerly most opposed to military effort had at last changed their tune and were giving great heed to army needs.
It would also have been open to Daladier to insist that Pétain had compromised national defense (as the future was to demonstrate) by discouraging the fortifications planned for the Sedan sector. Pétain had been dominated by the unhappy idea that in this region the hills and forests of the Ardennes, backed by the deep ravine of the Meuse, made the approach of German forces next to impossible. In actual fact, the Germans traversed the Ardennes (following cavalry actions, and not in an unforeseen tidal wave) on May 11 and 12, and crossed the river on the day following. They thereby were able not only to defeat the 9th and 2nd French Armies defending this sector, but immediately undermined the 7th and 1st French Armies and the British Expeditionary Corps, placed in echelon northwards all the way to Holland. Struck at its base, the pyramid toppled over. In all this business Pétain had played a part, even though Gamelin's was the direct responsibility. Others were involved, too, of course, among them General Georges, Prételat, president of the committee on fortifications, and General Corap, commandant of the Amiens region and responsible for the execution of the works surrounding Sedan before his defeat at that place.[iii]
But responsibility for these things is joint rather than individual. Pétain had assumed other responsibilities which were altogether personal by taking umbrage at General de Gaulle's ideas about what is now generally known as the Blitzkrieg, and specifically regarding the use, independently of the armed mass, of the tank-airplane combination as a tool for breaking through continuous fronts. At one of the Riom hearings the preface written by Marshal Pétain for a book by General Narcisse Chauvineau, of the Engineers, was read aloud. (Narcissus! . . . what an admirably appropriate name to pick out for a representative of the corporate entity called the French General Staff!) Both the book and its preface are specimen catalogues of all the mistakes it was possible to have made by 1940 in the realm of strategy and tactics. Pétain, while commander of a battalion or lieutenant colonel, had been a professor of infantry tactics at the war college some ten years before the First World War. Against Colonel de Grandmaison, advocate of the offensive spirit, he had preached the doctrine of "fire superiority," which he perhaps confused with the superiority of the defensive. While he was War Minister in 1934, he summarized his theory as follows, using as point of reference the vicissitudes of the last war:[iv] "The French, led astray by a wrong interpretation of their experience in 1870 and by the study of Napoleonic campaigns, which always were distinguished by violent break-through tactics, hurled themselves foolhardily against the Germans in the first weeks of August. They were beaten and forced to give up the mysticism of the offensive and to fall back on a greater strategical prudence. From August 23 on, the Germans in turn made the same mistake. They never were able to recover from it." Vive la tranchée! Incidentally, let it be noted that Daladier in one of his Riom pleadings lauded General de Gaulle (who is under sentence of death by the Vichy Government) and asserted that he was proud of having been the one to make him a general. This is not true. Daladier rather stood in the way of the advancement of the prophet of mechanized warfare. But the mere fact that, with an eye to public opinion, he wished to stake out a claim to a share of de Gaulle's national and military reputation indicates the degree to which that reputation has established itself among the enslaved Frenchmen of 1942.
The solid part of Daladier's defense was his attack on the General Staff. In other things he greatly overstated his case. When he said that in 1940 the French Army possessed everything necessary to defeat the enemy he simply did not speak the truth. However, the figures which he produced of the number of warplanes still in existence on the day of the Armistice is substantially correct. Most of them had been sent to North Africa by the commander-in-chief of the air forces, General Vuillemin.
Daladier cannot be exonerated by mere proof that such-andsuch a specific error is attributable to Gamelin or to some other general officer, and does not fall on his own head. Strictly speaking, he may be right; yet each error is his own fault also. For just short of four years, from 1936 to 1940, he was the civilian head of National Defense. And as far back as 1933 he already for some ten months had held the portfolio of War. His most pressing duty was to appraise Gamelin's character and abilities and to replace him if he judged him inadequate for his job. This he failed to do. And the worst of it is that he often had his doubts. At certain moments, with the insight sometimes characteristic of the pathologically weak-willed, he intuitively apprehended the soft spots in the High Command. But he was as unable to set institutions right as he was to change individuals. When he tried to organize a general staff for national defense -- something which might have supplied a French equivalent to the unified handling of the Wehrmacht -- he stopped halfway, yielding, in effect, to Darlan's opposition, for the Admiral was indignant at the idea of being subordinated to an army officer. Be it noted that for this proposed supreme command -- which proved in the end an empty title -- he had chosen Gamelin (January 21, 1938).
Now, if we limit our attention to war production, we must ask why on earth Daladier insisted on not creating a Ministry for Armaments until October 1939, when the war already was several weeks old? To have presumed that the work could be done by a mere bureau in the War Ministry, directed by a second-rate man like M. Jacomet, was sheer folly.[v] In a speech before the Chamber of Deputies on March 22, 1938, Daladier showed that he would not hear of setting up a Ministry for Armaments until mobilization had been decreed. To make such a change, he repeated over and over, would upset all that already was under way. A deputy asked whether the incidental disorder should not be avoided precisely and above all after war had actually begun. Nothing pried Daladier loose from his formula.
Probably it is wiser not to go into the question of the air force. Here Pierre Cot and Guy La Chambre can settle their accounts only at each other's expense. Each point on which you acquit the one must be levelled as an indictment against the other, and vice versa. The brutal fact is that in March and April of 1938 the monthly production of planes did not amount to 20, and that in November 1937 British Ministers had thought it necessary to draw the attention of their French colleagues to the dismal state in which the French aviation program was being allowed to languish.
The list of Daladier's mistakes and failings is indeed long. Granting all that has been said about him here, and more besides, the High Command nevertheless revealed itself as even more noxious than the War Ministry to the interests of France. Frequent references were made at the Riom trial to a supply of uniforms, blankets and shoes, valued at 2 billion francs, which eventually was unearthed at Troyes after the soldiers had suffered for a long time from a great shortage of such things. Quartermaster General Bernard -- and Gamelin himself, breaking his silence -- had to acknowledge that only the distribution services, which means the High Command itself, were to blame. That is only a single example. It may be asked whether Gamelin's illconsidered strategy would not have sufficed to counteract even the most thorough preparations, supposing such had been made. On this point I sympathize with Daladier's claim that others are more guilty than he.
I have said that at Riom there could be no proper justice. The trial thus became a political struggle. Daladier fought his case courageously. And in this he gave moral comfort to the French people, overwhelmed as they were by the capitulation and the travesty of the "national revolution." Daladier is indeed a strange fellow. Undoubtedly he is honest and devoted to his country. Yet he is curiously devoid of will-power when called upon to make a careful and well-thought-out decision. But though he lacks the ability to resolve the endless debate which goes on within himself, he can be stung into taking a position in public, and then he will strike yeoman blows. Then, and then only, does he live up to the name which the English and American press often bestowed upon him, "the bull."
The attitude of the generals called as witnesses deserves notice. There were a number, but I mention only former commanders of armies or members of the Superior War Council: Blanchard, Besson, Touchon, Réquin, Hering, Mittelhauser, Huré. They seem to have given honest testimony. They exposed the gaps in military preparations and to this extent confirmed the charges of the public prosecutor. But, apart from Réquin, who expatiated on the effects of Communist propaganda as his main explanation of defeat, they all tended in the same direction as Daladier, admitting, for instance, the gyrations of the Superior War Council in the matter of the use of tanks and airplanes. "I did not understand what a Blitzkrieg meant," said Mittelhauser, "before the Norwegian fiasco." Several criticized the Cabinets before 1936, that is, before the Popular Front. General Besson did not scruple to say that the French troops could have held their ground if they had not been thrown forward into Belgium -- a biting indictment of the former Generalissimo. One man alone -- Hering -- uttered a few words in pity of his fallen chief.
In the annals of Riom, the episode which now seems to stand out above all others is not Daladier's duel with the High Command, dramatic as it was, but the way in which the "national revolution," represented by the public prosecutor, was confronted with the institutions of the Republic. These found their voice in Léon Blum. Daladier also spoke for the Republic. But -- and the point is not to be forgotten -- Daladier is burdened with so heavy a past that to link his cause to that of the régime which was destroyed on July 10 would in truth be to give the Pétains and the Lavals too handsome an advantage. Daladier's public life was full of distressing inconsistencies both in national and international affairs; it will stand for the French Republic of tomorrow, as a symbol of something that must never happen twice.
Léon Blum is a different case. I myself have never had the least liking for the Socialist faith held by the leader of the "French section of the workers' international," to use an old-fashioned phrase. I never have understood how so keen a mind as Léon Blum's could, as a matter of doctrine, have refused until 1935 to support military credits and could instead have placed unlimited hopes in disarmament conferences. Hitler's bloody saturnalias ought to have opened Blum's eyes more promptly to the cruel forces at work in our political universe. But by the time the chief of the Popular Front formed his government in June 1936 his conversion had been consummated. He understood the danger to which France was exposed. He remained, of course, a sort of French Pythagoras, an ideologist who insisted on believing that in the end humanity will be ruled by "divine numbers." In many ways he merits criticism. But no one can question his patriotism, the rectitude of his intentions, or his courage. And in the terrible suffering which has borne down upon our country, he is one of the very few political figures in whom we can discern nobility of spirit. Hence it was his right, more than any other man's, to say to the judges on February 19: "Democracy and the Republic are on trial. We shall ever be their defenders."
The 40-hour week is the principal sin thrown in the face of the man who was Premier in 1936-1937. At Riom it was alleged that by limiting working hours (under the law of June 21, 1936) in order to reduce unemployment, he put France in a position of inferiority to Germany, where men sweated away in the factories for 50 or 60 hours. Moreover, he decreased the efficiency of establishments producing war matériel by a measure of nationalization which was, to say the least, inopportune. And, speaking generally, he disturbed industrialists and employers by regulating the hiring and firing of workers and by providing for workers' shop committees. His acceptance of the Communists in electoral and parliamentary alliance was alleged to have introduced a poison into the whole community. Thus the disease from which France suffered in the pre-war years had its source in his government. It had reached such a virulent stage by the spring of 1940 -- we add this on the strength of Pétain and Laval -- that to ward off death France had only one recourse. She must at any price come to an agreement with the German and Italian dictators; she must seek salvation in Hitler's "New Order"; she must abandon her British ally; and, after the defeat, she must bend all her forces on internal renovation. Such was the thesis developed against Blum. It seeks to legitimize the counterrevolution of July 10, in which met and joined hands not only the men who might broadly be described as "French National Socialists" -- Laval, Déat, Doriot -- but also the age-old enemies of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen," with Charles Maurras as their champion.
Just as Daladier had turned the charges levelled against him back against the High Command, so Léon Blum turned the tables, but against the whole structure of Vichy. He showed -- what was not very difficult -- that the advent of the Popular Front and the legislation enacted while it was in office, with the whole train of dangers necessarily involved, had been dictated by the quasirevolutionary movement which was sweeping through France before June 6, 1936. He showed also that this revolutionary movement had been called into being by the stupid monetary, financial and economic management of the many short-lived French cabinets between 1931 and 1933 (the time of the devaluation of the pound and the dollar), and of the administrations of Doumergue, Flandin and Laval in 1934-35. All of those politicians were advised and egged on by outstanding conservatives. Blind resistance to devaluation of the franc, which alone could have brought the French production costs into harmony with those of Britain and the United States, and ill-conceived efforts which aimed to accomplish the same end through budgetary and banking deflation, threw so many workers out of jobs and cut the wages of those who remained employed so drastically that a mass protest became inevitable. Vichy's plea of legitimacy, then, stands against a background of unequalled failure on the part of those who now claim to be regenerating France. Never did national income fall so low as under Laval in 1935; certainly it was not much more than half of what it had been under Poincaré in 1929. There would never have been a Popular Front if the gold content of our money had been reduced in 1934-1935. Admittedly, Blum undertook to forward a number of unhappy projects. The provisions of the 40-hour law, with its two-day week end, doubtless should have been very different. It can even be argued that they further exhausted the French national economy. But the miserable Vichy politicians of 1942 had been the first culprits. Blum has a good argument when he says that in 1936, during the weeks preceding his accession to power, internal revolution actually seemed more threatening than foreign war.
The men of Vichy not only were the ones who set fire to a train of terrible events in and outside France. They and their fellows sabotaged every effort by Blum, and then by Daladier, to remedy -- however inadequately -- the harm done by their badly framed legislation, and particularly the effort to quicken the tempo of armament deliveries. Not the least interesting thing about the Riom trial was the light it cast on such matters. For example, we find the Schneiders (proprietors of the Creusot works) refusing to coöperate with the Government in the establishment of factories in North Africa. What a rôle such factories could have played in 1940! In their Creusot plants, the Schneiders actually erected partitions to cut off completely the shops which were working on defense orders and had been nationalized, as though to advertise that they had ceased to concern themselves with what happened on the other sides of those walls. One of the relatives and business associates of the head of the family tried to get around Blum by approaching the Soviet Ambassador: if their factories were exempted from nationalization, he promised to deliver equipment long on order from Moscow. One name deserves to head the roster of infamy -- that of Renault, automobile manufacturer and Hitler's follower from the beginning. His son-in-law, appropriately, is one of Pétain's Ministers. The 40-hour law permitted certain licensed exceptions, to increase, when necessary, the rhythm of output; industrialists made use of such privileges only in order to discharge employees. Such goings-on, and many more of the same sort, were aired before the court. And I pass over the dirty work which paralyzed French diplomacy in Spain and elsewhere. Because of the changes in the indictment, this subject did not come under discussion.
In his "Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale," Ernest Renan draws up a balance sheet for the France of 1870. He was pessimistic about the direction which a republic based on universal suffrage would eventually take, and he urged his fellow citizens to entrust themselves to the traditional social hierarchy, to a monarchy which should be liberal but nevertheless forearmed against an overweening demos. The paragraphs in which he foresees an epoch of dictatorships designed to protect frightened societies -- an epoch, he writes, which would be the bloodiest of any history has known -- are worth rereading.
But, as things worked out, between 1934 and 1940 the French demos was a victim more of its leaders than of its own impulses. Its financial and economic leaders, its military leaders, pushed it into an abyss of material and moral degradation for which we find no parallel short of going back to the fifth century. The problem faced by those who must restore France after the victory of the United Nations will not consist merely in elaborating a new social and political régime. Whatever the second French Revolution may do, it will succeed only if it can recruit a better élite.
The importance of the Riom trial lies in its having presented Frenchmen with an ordered picture of their misfortunes. It is a summary picture: incomplete, sketchy, confused, questionable on many points. But the words of Blum and Daladier, spread about the country in spite of a lying or rigidly censored press, have set men thinking. A great boulder rests uneasily on the mountain top. The moment Germany is no longer there to keep it from toppling, it will plunge down.
Laval would have managed matters differently. He would have succeeded in finding be-rooed servants to do his will, and above all he would have known precisely how to guide them step by step to the appointed conclusion. When the assassins of King Alexander and Louis Barthou were haled before the Aix-en-Provence assizes in 1935, he exclaimed, "As against what I conceive to be the interests of the nation, justice doesn't count." By this he meant that he had resolved to manipulate the court so that Mussolini would not suffer any disquiet. I can almost hear him crying out against the powers that staged the trial at Riom: "What muddling fools!"
[i] It was amplified on September 24 by a decree specifically designed to strike at Paul Reynaud, Premier from March 22 to June 16, 1940, who had come to power too late to be indictable for the military defeat, and Georges Mandel, Daladier's Minister for Colonies, the soul of out-and-out resistance to Germany. According to the press, the former was tentatively charged with misappropriation of public funds, the latter with intrigues in London and Washington as well as with currency speculation. Reynaud, whose conduct as Prime Minister was equivocal, has been left in prison and has not had to face any court. Mandel, who has never yielded in the slightest particular, is in the same position.
[ii] This was thanks to the demand of General Weygand, who finally succeeded in overcoming Pétain's disinclination and hesitation -- Pétain, who, as Weygand put it, was "more timid than a Member of Parliament." Weygand was Commander-in-Chief until January 21, 1935. On other subjects, unfortunately, his ideas coincided with Pétain's.
[iii] The same men, Corap excepted, were responsible for the fact that only field works of middling importance were erected from Longuyon (the western end of the Maginot Line) to the sea.
[iv] Speech of August 19, 1934, at Charmes-sur-Moselle.
[v] An indication of M. Jacomet's intellectual powers is supplied by the fact that at the end of 1937 he still believed in the possibility of limiting armaments by an international control of national budgets.