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Sunday, December 26, 2010

De Gaulle and Wikileaks

It's been a while since I've written. I'm enjoying my time back home in St Louis, USA, and at the same time, prepping my business for the year to come. However, in the midst of all this, I came across something that I felt would be worthy of an article.

A few days ago, I finished an excellent book called Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris written by Graham Robb. It covers various stories on famous historical figures and events from the late 1700's through the past decade. I'll return to the book in a moment.

When I worked as a World War II guide in Paris, I often finished my tours by discussing Charles De Gaulle and his march into Paris on August 26, 1944. He marched down the Champs-Elysees, through the Place de la Concorde, had a brief ride in a car, and arrived for a service at Notre Dame. As he led an entire parade, shots rang out, first in the Place de la Concorde, and then in front of, and even inside of Notre Dame. Throughout the whole event, the only one that seemed to show poise was De Gaulle himself, as he essentially ignored the shots around him, even though he was the likely target. This moment raised him to the status of a near-deity in France, and helped his cause for many years to come in establishing himself as the leader of the French.

Though De Gaulle himself claimed that it was the Communist opposition which was trying to assassinate him and cause disorder, this case to this day remains unsolved.

I feel that a lot of groups could be to blame here (one of many communist factions, the remaining Nazis as the city had been liberated from them the day before and some die hard soldiers were still fighting to the death), an interesting point of view that I have tried to argue is that he could orchestrated the attempt himself. Here's why:

1. De Gaulle seemed to ignore the whole thing. Even as shots were fired at him, he did not speed up, nor slow down. He just kept his leisurely pace.

2. People were injured from gunshots, but there is a good chance that they came from soldiers that were marching in the parade (De Gaulle invited an entire division to march with him), who started firing wildly in the midst of the confusion following the shots at De Gaulle.

3. Perhaps the most intriguing piece of evidence is that no one ever saw a bullet come near De Gaulle. Several dozen shots were fired, one would figure that if he was the target that a shot at least come within a few feet of him. It's not like he was trying to move out of the way either. At a height of 6'5", he should have been an easy target.

4. He eliminates his political opposition by blaming the whole thing on them. This won't help the communists come in to power, and basically ruined years of work to get to where they were in the political arena. The communist movement has never recovered in France.

5. No one was ever caught. Well, a couple of guys were, but nobody was ever really sure who they were and they beaten to death before anyone could figure it out. Some thought they were French, others German. Even as the shots continued at Notre Dame for close to an hour, the gunmen somehow got away. A French police officer was found standing around in the bell towers, from where the shots originated, after some people finally decided to track down the shooters, and everyone just assumed he was up there trying to catch the perpetrators.

De Gaulle seemed to have an unbelievable amount of luck. He survived a ridiculous amount of assassination attempts, in particular during the 1960's, where they seemed to be a regular occurrence. No matter how intricate and well planned the attempt, something always seemed to go wrong for the bad guys, and De Gaulle would escape unscathed.

To reference Parisians, Robb writes a chapter on De Gaulle and François Mitterand and the attempts on their lives, and though he doesn't outright say De Gaulle organized the his own assassination attempts, he does seem to hint at it:

In all of the emergencies he had faced in the last twenty years, he had never made a secret of the fact that it was sometimes necessary to deceive the electorate in the interests of the nation. Most of the electorate admired him for saying so. It was commonly believed that without a leader who knew how to fool his enemies, France would never survive in a world of treachery and violence (Robb, 343).

In the midst of the Wikileaks scandal in which many have jumped on the side that misleading the public is wrong, this gives a voice to the side that these papers should not have been released, as misleading the public may be for the greater good. Though there have been quite a few slip ups brought to the forefront with the release of thousands of diplomatic cables, the cables have also shown that many of the secret activities were done for the greater good.

Was De Gaulle right in misleading the people? He may or may not have been referring to one or many of these assassination attempts, we may never know. Though De Gaulle was generally respected in France for admitting to misleading the people, would something like that fly today in France, the United States, or anywhere else?

If you have something to add, I would love to hear it. Bonne Année!

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

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