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FRANCE: A Case for Frenchmen

3 minute read

The liberation of France will see more than a clash of Allied and German arms. It will also see a clash of Frenchmen and Frenchmen. On one side will be General Charles de Gaulle and his Algiers Liberation Committee, armed with extensive blueprints for a mid-invasion and postwar French Government. On the other side: none other than that veteran of defeat and collaboration, 87-year-old Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain. In Vichy’s twilight, the tarnished star of Pétain is rising.

Algiers Thrust. From the Liberation Committee last week came a Fourth Republic blueprint. Presumably by agreement with the Allied High Command, the Gaullists first plan local, mid-invasion elections wherever the military campaign permits. To the President of a Provisional Assembly, chosen at these elections, De Gaulle and the Committee would proffer their resignations, resume office only by consent of the Assembly. Next, a new constitution would provide for general elections at war’s end. The final, hoped-for result: a permanent, stable French government.

Constitutional changes already drafted at Algiers are enough to give postwar France a new political façade. Woman suffrage, long sought, would be granted. Prewar France’s helter-skelter system of party representation in the Chamber of Deputies would be revised, with elections on a proportional basis. And the position of the Premier and his Cabinet would be strengthened; no longer would Premiers of France be hired & fired like casual help in a Christmas-week rush. All this sounded like the kind of democracy which Charles de Gaulle might gladly head.

Vichy Parry. When Marshal Pétain attempted recently to promulgate his own eleventh-hour “democracy” (TIME, Nov. 29), he proved himself still to be a man to watch. His move was shrewd. Its purpose : to attract the many Frenchmen who still revere his name, the many who fear the wrath of Gaullist and guerrilla alike when liberation comes, the many who have something to lose in a postliberation purge.

Swiss newspapers reported that 100 ex-Senators and ex-Deputies had pledged Pétain full support, had followed their leader in denouncing Germanophile Pierre Laval. In passing, they took a vicious, inaccurate but perhaps effective cut at Charles de Gaulle—they said that he had “deserted the war declaration of 1939 and left France to suffer alone.”

Pétain’s adherents could claim that they, and they alone, were the last-elected representatives of the French people. The old Marshal could claim that he had stayed with France in its blackest hour. However specious such claims may be, the Frenchmen of France will be the judges.

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