Général de Gaulle continue à nous inspirer

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning. Yesterday we celebrated the 80th anniversary of the famous speech pronounced by Charles de Gaulle, then a young and little known French military officer, in the BBC studios on June 18, 1940. In it, he encouraged his fellow citizens to resist the Nazi occupation and disobey the puppet collaborationist regime of Général Pétain. He was addressing a nation that no longer existed from a civic standpoint but whose spirit of freedom had taken to the woods to join the Maquis–the clandestine resistance.

At the time, almost all the European continent was subjugated by the Nazis and the military prospects were grim. However, he urged all the remaining loyal French soldiers and professionals to travel to British held-territory to re-assemble for a fight. Thousands heeded his call and they reconstituted the French Army with the emblem of the Croix de Lorraine; aided by the Allied army, they finally ended the Nazi occupation in 1944.


There was a bitter political dispute between Winston Churchill, the flamboyant British Prime Minister, and the upstart French officer, which delayed the planned discourse for a few days; Churchill wanted to wait until Pétain actually signed the armistice with the Germans. After the defeat in France and the massive evacuation of Dunkirk, the Brits stood alone, only protected by their insular nature and the might of the British Navy. Churchill had to walk a fine political line, trying to avoid making more enemies.

But there was another personal, and very important, difference between these two great political figures that has been discreetly avoided in history books. De Gaulle was at 1.96 meters a very tall man whose towering figure immediately caught the attention of everybody in the room. In contrast, Churchill was a short man, at 1.68 meters, who did not project a particularly attractive figure in public; his famously gruff, sarcastic and tempestous demeanor might have been a psychological compensation mechanism for it.

When Général de Gaulle toured several countries of South America in 1965, he visited our school, the Lycée Français of Montevideo, Uruguay. We were assembled in neat rows in the indoors gymnasium when he quickly stepped in with his retinue. He was so tall.

After a brief speech in French without a microphone to us (whose details we cannot remember) he waved his hand at all of us. Then the ranks broke off and the children surged forward to try to touch him. As we were in the fourth or fifth row, we resolutely climbed a mountain of students and reached the top. He was a little surprised to watch our stunt but, smiling, he extended his right hand; we could only grab his hairy wrist.

Merci beaucoup, mon Général!


Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

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