Useful Notes: Charles De Gaulle

Charles De Gaulle (1890-1970) was a French military and politician, who gained notability during World War One, embodied himself as the voice of La Résistance during World War II and emerged once again as President of France from 1944 until 1945 and from 1958 until 1969.

As a general, he became the chief of the Free French Forces during World War 2 after the fall of France. Talked on British radio on June 18th 1940 about fighting on. Needless to say, he became a hero of La Résistance. Became President due to his being rock-like and firm in the face of the Algerian War, although it turned out that he wasn't firm and rock-like the way his supporters wanted, and in fact gave Algeria its independence. Canadians remember him best for his infamous "Vive le Québec libre!" comment at Expo 67 in Montreal, which emboldened Quebec separatists and pissed off English Canadians (and Quebec federalists) to no end while he was annoyed when then Canadian Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau threw back at him asking how would he like it if the Canadian Prime Minister went to France and said "Brittany for the Bretons"). He also was quick to put France and (West) Germany on the road to reconciliation and cooperation, which was formalized in the Elysée friendship treaty of 1963, signed by him and chancellor Konrad Adenauer. Despite his charisma and popularity, he was seen more and more as dictator-like as his term went on, and was considered way too conservative for the France of The Sixties - May 1968 will attest as much. He managed to survive the May 1968 revolt by calling a snap election where his party won a crushing majority, but quit after a referendum on reforming the Senate and administrative divisions was overwhelmingly defeated, because he had promised to resign if it failed. He is still seen as one of the greatest Frenchmen of all time - expect to see a monument to his memory and an important street or place to be named after him in any French town you visit. Famously depicted as very tall, with a big nose, wearing a military uniform with the trademark two-starred kepi and forming a "V" with his raised arms.

De Gaulle was the most important French politician of the 20th century, whose influence on his nation's politics is still felt to this day. He is also the only French politician from that time period who is internationally famous and instantly recognizable to this day. His huge length and extravagant behaviour made him a colorful character and he received various shout-outs in popular culture over the decades.

De Gaulle provides examples of

  • Affectionate Nickname: The Man of June 18th, named after his Rousing Speech on June 18, 1940.
  • Answers to the Name of God: One time his wife walked in on him while in his bath, and promptly exclaimed "Oh my God!" To which Charles replied: "You may call me Charles, dear, I've learned to remain humble."
  • Arch-Enemy: The Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), who repeatedly tried to kill De Gaulle after Algeria gained independence.
  • Bad Ass: Coolly shrugged off several close-run assassination attempts over his life.
    • He also finally brought some political stability to France during his tenure in office, and resolved the Algiers crisis, combined with his stature as the most popular man in France to force the politicians who had held him in contempt to push through several reforms. After the May'68 crisis, he was also willing to step down and prevent everything he had worked for up to that point from being destroyed.
  • The Big Guy: De Gaulle was a tall man, whose length was often exaggarated in caricatures, transforming him into somewhat of a giant.
  • Blasting Time: Famous for raising his arms in a V-pose in the air, while clenching his fists.
  • Canadian Accents: Once named the Quebecois The French of America, but was corrected by a journalist of that region that Quebecois are actually Americans who speak French.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Though himself an Aversion, said aversion created the Trope in the world's consciousness. The truth is a lot more complex. Few people (like General Charles De Gaulle) saw the point in fighting on once France had 'already lost' The Battle Of France - Marshall Pétain's coup had a lot of popular support - and they saw no hope of Germany ever being defeated. But once they became certain that Germany would lose the war (Stalingrad, North Africa, Kursk) resistance groups were founded and were ready to welcome The Allies' return with some of the best espionage work the world has ever seen. General de Gaulle's Free French Forces also contributed several thousand combat troops to battles such as Bir Hakeim, Monte Cassino and Ouistreham (on Operation Overlord's D-Day), and once France was liberated they formed an army several hundred thousand strong to take over support roles and free up Anglo-American troops for the front lines.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: How US and UK diplomats see him.
  • The Coup: After declaring Algeria independent some French militaries tried to take France by coup in 1961, but their attempt was thwarted.
  • Deadpan Snarker: A quality learned in the army ans maintained through his whole life.
  • Departemental Issues and Snails and So On: De Gaulle famously asked: "How can you govern a country that has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?"
  • Eponym: Gaullism, a poltical movement in France.
  • Everything Is Better With Crosses: The Croix de Lorraine was the symbol of the Free Frenchmen during World War One and was later adopted as a symbol of the gaullistes.
  • Founder of the Kingdom: Founder of France's 5th Republic, he's seen as this now in the French media (and sometimes in international media too). In classical fashion, he's often favourably compared to current political leaders, as more insightful, more honest, more respected and respectable, more cunning, etc than all of those who came after him, but especially (surprise, surprise) the current ones, whomever it is.
    • Especially telling is how he was often caricatured by his adversaries as Louis XIV, another notable Founder of the Kingdom, for his way of ruling the 5th Republic.
    • Régis Debray (a former boon companion of Che Guevara) wrote a highly sympathetic biography of De Gaulle (from a left perspective) and compared his myth and stature in French Culture as similar to Napoleon's albeit with one major difference:
    "You simply do not put an adventurer who worked for himself or his family on the same level as a commander-in-chief serving his country. ... Regrettably, Gaullism and Bonapartism have a number of features in common, but Napoleon and de Gaulle do not have the same moral value. ... the first wanted a Holy French Empire without the faith, a Europe under French occupation. The second wanted to rescue the nation from the emperors and establish a free France in a free Europe"
  • French Jerk: De Gaulle was stereotyped that way in The Sixties, for his stubborn and self important behaviour during international politics. While all he did was following Realpolitik.
    • He personally kept the United Kingdom from joining the European Union because he found UK too much Atlantist (i.e. too close of USA's stance in international politics) and that it would weaken the ambition of the Union. Decades later, one cannot really say he was wrong, given the UK's Spoiled Brat behaviour in EU.
    • He also withdrew France out of the integrated command of NATO in 1966 (unlike popular belief, France never left NATO per se).
    • Making France an atomic power wasn't greeted with much delight by other nations either... Except the nuclear program had begun years before he came back to power, under the 4th Republic (which was Italia-grade pro-American). It simply happened to come to fruition when De Gaulle was in power.
    • To young students in 1968 he was the symbol of everything that was old, conservative and out-dated.
  • Gag Nose: De Gaulle's nose is often exaggarated in caricatures.
  • I Am the Noun: De Gaulle reportedly said to Churchill "I am France" two times in heated arguments during WWII: in November 1940 in London, and in 1943 at the Casablanca Conference. Churchill was understandably even more infuriated by this claim. De Gaulle then calmly made the perfectly accurate point that if the Prime Minister didn't see him as the French authority, why did he even bother to discuss and negotiate with him? In reality, Churchill needed De Gaulle so he wouldn't be left alone between Roosevelt and Stalin. De Gaulle understood this perfectly and used it as an (untold) bargain chip while utterly refusing to be limited to this part.
  • Gauls with Grenades: Famous for making France an atom power in 1960. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is still named after him to this day.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Together with Joan of Arc, Louis XIV and Napoleon Bonaparte the most famous Frenchman in history. In 2005 in the French version of 100 Greatest Britons he was named the number one Greatest Frenchman of all time.
  • Landslide Election:
    • Interestingly averted in France in 1965: this was the first direct presidential election in postwar France, and Charles De Gaulle was expected to win handily, seeing as he was the war hero and architect of the Fifth Republic. His opponent was future president François Mitterrand, running on behalf of the CIR, a temporary coalition of all the major non-Communist left-wing parties. De Gaulle was so confident in his victory he only announced his candidacy a month before the vote and didn't campaign actively. Mitterrand surprised everyone and did way better than was expected, grabbing just enough votes to prevent a first-round victory for de Gaulle (44% vs 31%, six points below the required amount) and securing 45% of the votes in the second, considerably narrowing de Gaulle's victory margin to 55%. The lack of a Landslide Election is now considered one of the first signs of de Gaulle's later decline and loss of power.
    • In 1968 France was nearly brought to a revolution during France's biggest general strike ever, itself triggered by the students' protests. Everybody expected De Gaulle being forced into abdication, but he was re-elected with an overwhelming majority of votes. Still, a year later he did resign.
  • Magnificent Bastard: There is no other way to describe how he came back to power. Or how he came to Algeria soon after and made a speech ending with "I understood you" without really promising anything to anyone, making everybody believe what pleased them most, while giving him free rein to end the Algerian War.
  • Meaningful Name: Could he really have another destiny with a name evocative of the Gaul? Though linguists say his name has no relation whatsoever with it. At the beginning of Free France, some even thought it was a pseudonym, given it wasn't uncommon at the time (Leclerc's true name was Philippe de Hauteclocque).
  • Military Coup: France 1958. The French armed forces, dissatisfied with government policy in Algeria, occupied over the island of Corsica and threatened to seize Paris and take power though force if Charles De Gaulle, WW2 President-in-Exile and war hero, weren't brought back as prime minister. The parliament relented but fortunately De Gaulle had no plans to institute a military dictatorship. Further conflicts between the military and the civilian government continued through the following years.
  • NATO: De Gaulle withdrew France from the NATO in 1966 and asked non-French units (mostly American ones) to leave Francenote ; de Gaulle pursued this partly out of a desire to maintain French control over its own foreign policy (including the ability to pursue a separate peace with the Soviets in a prospective World War III) and partly because he bristled at what he saw as a close partnership between the United Kingdom and United States steering NATO's policies. France continued to be part of the alliance (it kept troops in West Germany during the Cold War to assist in its defense and made separate agreements with the US to have French units reintegrate back into NATO's command structure in case war broke out), but compared to the (enforced-by-backroom-strongarming) unity of the Warsaw Pact NATO didn't look as unified.
  • Nice Hat: His two-starred kepi.
  • La Résistance: Became the symbol of the French resistance during World War Two. To this day, whenever a French resistance fighter during World War II is presented he will in some way be based on De Gaulle.
  • Realpolitik: Summed this attitude up nicely: "France has no friends, only interests."
  • Rousing Speech: De Gaulle had a talent for making engaging speeches, but his Crowning Moment of Awesome was the speech he made on June 18, 1940, after His government surrendered after the hero of the previous war, Marshall Philippe Pétain, was put to power. He was a brigadier general in London, with no army, navy or air force. His country was clearly on the track of fallen powers and he was virtually unknown to many Frenchmen, compared to Pétain, a decorated veteran and war hero of World War One. Still De Gaulle managed to gain the trust of occupied France and became forever nicknamed as the man of June 18.
    • One could add his speech during the failed Generals' putsch of April 1961. De Gaulle appeared on television (and radio) in his uniform to denounce the plotters and directly appealed to the French people for help. Thousands of soldiers who'd been wavering in their loyalty saw or heard the speech and turned against the conspirators, causing the coup to fizzle out.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The plot of The Day of the Jackal revolves around a hired assassin trying to murder De Gaulle, because he gave Algeria its independence.
    • De Gaulle has a cameo in the Suske en Wiske album De Kaartendans when Wiske says: People come to a jumble sale to find books that help them with their problems. Cut to a shot of De Gaulle consulting a book about Algeria.
    • In the Suske en Wiske album Het Mini-Mierennest Tante Sidonia imitates him, causing Wiske to think that it is De Gaulle himself.
    • In the original version of Tintin Tintin And The Picaros Thompson and Thomson think of any last words, while standing in front of a firing squad and suggest: People of San Theodoros, I've understood you. This is a reference to Charles De Gaulle, who in 1959 said to the Algerian people wanting independence: People of Algeria, I've understood you.
    • Nero: In Nero against the F.F.F. Adhemar is kidnapped by the French intelligence service to use his scientific knowledge. When Nero and Meneer Pheip try to find out where he is residing they are informed: That's confidential. Nobody knows, except for Charles himself, while a huge foto of him lures in the background.
    • Young Indiana Jones: As a young adult Indiana Jones meets him during World War One, after they are both taken prisoner of war. When they try to escape Indy is able to flee, but De Gaulle is recaptured.
    • His head is seen in a jar in Futurama.
    • In The Simpsons "The Trouble With Trillions'' Mr. Burns steals a Trillion Dollar Bill that was intended to re-build France after WW2. While waiting for the never arriving money the De Gaulle knockoff declares: "I say we just act snooty to [the Americans] forever!"
    • Appears as a character in the videogame Swarm on the Somme.
    • Is seen on the television in The Triplets of Belleville.
    • Dougal in The Magic Roundabout is named after De Gaulle — or at least that's what the French creators thought when they saw the English version.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Popular presumptions about about what De Gaulle did, said or thought are often quite far from what really happened.
  • The Ultimate Resistance: De Gaulle once said about France's nuclear weapon arsenal: I truly believe that one does not light-heartedly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: With Winston Churchill.