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Eighty years of editorial freedom
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Char es de Gaulle, 1890-19 70:
The last from an era of giants
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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 1970
NIGHT EDITOR: LARRY LEMPERT
At Casablanca in 1943 with Churchill and Roosevelt to plan war
By DAVID SPURR
THE AVENUE Duquesne in Paris is a
quiet enough little road. Two rows of
tall and venerable shade oaks are ar-
ranged on either side of the street in
military style, and each old. oak is em-
braced by an iron picket guard circling the
base of the tree.
The Countess de Saint Quentin rides by
on the same bicycle she has been riding
for the past 40 years. She wears an old
wool coat and has a bottle of cheap red
wine and a copy of Le Figaro packed in her
wicker basket. She smiles politely at the
Baron D'Esparron, a wheezy, plump old
man with dirty socks under his sandals.
The baron's little dog yaps at the old
countess, and the old baron tugs him away
in the other direction, murmuring father-
ly words of admonishment as they b o t h
waddle down the street.
Behind the high grey wall on the left as
you walk toward the Seine, hundreds of
unseen, well-fed, well-behaved young men
are shining their boots, marching stiffly
back and forth in the dust, and poring
over old accounts of colonial wars.
St. Cyr - France's national military
IT WAS HERE in the first decade of this
century that a scholarly and aloof
young boy with a monumental nose first
dreamed of greatness. Those who knew
Charles de Gaulle at that age say that
he immersed himself so completely in the
study of history that the legendary figures
of the French past were more alive to him
than those who shared his room or sat
at his table.
"De Gaulle, c'est la France", says old
Mme de Saint Quentin. She sits in her
ancient apartment, five floors up with-
out an elevator, and watches the traffic
pass by the tomb of Napoleon in the dis-
tance. The heat doesn't always work in
the apartment, and the old floorboards
have begun to sag and split. But the walls
hold the vacant faces of her noble ances-
tors, and the furniture is Louis XIV.
She hears a sentimental song from a
huge, ornate radio in her parlor. "We
French, you know, we didn't always agree
with De Gaulle. In fact many of us very
much disliked him, but you know, we al-
ways voted for him anyway, because he
demanded our support as a father de-
mands discipline from his children. De
Gaulle was a true man of state. It's very
And it was not only the fading aristo-
cracy that gained a feeling of security un-
der the absolute authoritarianism of De
Gaulle's personal and political power. It
was also the petite bourgeoisie -- a close-
handed, cautious middle class reeling from
the devastation left by two world wars;
until the very end, even the students and
workers felt awed by the aura of De
Gaulle's personality, and by his fantastic,
impossible dream of recreating France into
the world's single great power.
LIONIZED AS THE modern savior of
France during World War II when he
spearheaded the Free French movement,
De Gaulle had a brief and stubborn bout
with politics after the war. It ended in
1946 when he quit as leader of a provis-
ional government riddled with factional
Following the failures of a series of poli-
tical regimes that cast French society and
economy into utter chaos during the next
decade, De Gaulle again rose to power
in 1958 as leader of the Fifth Republic
on a wave of nostalgic nationalism.
The new French political spirit em-
braced De Gaulle's new constitution, which
gave the president dictatorial control over
the legislature - he had the power to dis-
solve the national assembly. But it was
not domestic policies that enchanted the
French at that time. It was instead la
grande illusion of French international
greatness which De Gaulle's career and
person symbolized in a time when France
was suffering the humiliation of losing
her colonies in Asia and Africa.
And to the French mind, nothing is
worse than humiliation.
The high-pitched, almost desperate na-
tionalism that seized the French people
at that time is reflected in the indignant
observation by novelist Romain G a r y :
"It is a painful reflection on the state
of our western democracies that the very
reference to any idea of greatness makes
them shrink and tremble with anger. One
feels inclined to ask the western world
if it considers Man a study in smallness.
and if democracy should be viewed as an
enterprise in avoiding heights and as a.
jolly effort to have everyone wallow to-
gether in mediocrity."
De Gaulle in this springtime of his power
said he imagined France as "the princess
giving that country, long considered an
integral part of France, its independence.
-He rewrote the French constitution to
give greater powers to the president.
-He withdrew French forces from the
integrated military commands of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization, and ordered
American troops to leave their bases in
-He blocked all proposals for any kind
of supranational authority within the Com-
mon Market, insisting that France remain
free from outside economic intervention.
-He vetoed British entrance into the
-He recognized Communist China and
sought freedom from the influence of the
two cold war powers - the United States
and the Soviet Union.
-He built France's atomic and hydro-
gen bombs, and the means to deliver them.
economic malaise which had caused it re-
mained. Moreover, the aura of De Gaulle's
personality which had once given him ab-
solute authority now seemed oddly archaic.
People began to make fun of De Gaulle for
the first time. Students put up posters
with a grossly caricaturized picture of the
old general over the words, "Le chienlit,
c'est lui!" (The pigsty-it's him!).
An overproud D Gaulle finally stepped
down from power in April of last year after
a referendum on regional reforms failed.
The man who had said, "I am only inter-
ested in De Gaulle as a historical figure",
at last retired to the rural tranquility of
BY THE TIME De Gaulle retired, he
had already become as legendary a
figure in French history as Napoleon Bona-
parte. He had taken on the habit of speak-
ing about himself in the third person, like
an old Bourbon king, and one got the im-
pression that he already thought of him-
self as a statue in a public square-cold,
There were several attempts on his life,
and even then De Gaulle seemed to hold
himself above the situation confronting
him. Once, when he and his wife Yvonne
were making the 160 mile drive from Paris
to Colombey, a group of sympathizers with
the Algerian rebels opened fire from the
roadside. With bullets shattering the car
windows, De Gaulle considered it beneath
his character to lower his head to protect
himself, and remained erect until the
It is that kind of unshaken pride that
has above all endeared the man to the
French people for so many years, for it
reveals an essential element of the French
mind. That element is pride and some-
thing more - something rooted very deep-
ly in the culture and social consciousness
of a people who have always been sur-
rounded by hostile nations.
De Gaulle represented an almost Ro-
mantic spirit of greatness which seemed
to demand that France transcend its social
problems in order to achieve something
higher He was not the kind of man who
could roll up his sleeves and tackle the
day-to-day problems of taxes, education,
agriculture, and labour. He was a spiritual
leader who suited the French need to
"elever le debat" - to approach a ques-
tion at its highest level.
His career in a grander way reflects
the mind of old Mme de Saint Quentin on
the Avenue Duquesne, who is cold in the
winter, but who takes comfort from the
portraits of her ancestors on the wall.
TO HAVE REJECTED De Gaulle's re-
ferendum and vote the old general out
of power last year was a historically signi-
ficant action of the French people - an
action which suggests that France is at
last ready to look to its acute domestic
problems rather than dwell on heroes
of the past.
But the French are still a cautious peo-
ple. They look at change in the way a king
who is afraid of being poisoned loks at his
dinner - it might be good, but in any
case it must be tasted very slowly.
The question which remains, now that
\ the king is dead, is whether French so-
ciety can wash the dirty linen of its
social problems without losing that spec-
ial dignity and spirit which have made the
French culture the greatest in the world.
* * *
(David Spurr is a former Daily night
editor. A senior majoring in English,
he has spent the past two summers
working as a reporter in the Paris
Charles de Gaulle
in the fairy tales, or the Madonna in the
frescoes, as dedicated toward an exalted
and exceptional destiny. Instinctively, I
have the feeling.,that Providence has
created her either for complete success or
for exemplary misfortunes."
DURING HIS 11 YEARS in office, De
Gaulle ran a one-man show. Premiers
and ministers were sometimes reduced to
office-boy roles. Policy statements w e r e
often made at news conferences, where
cabinet ministers learned about them for
the first time.
De Gaulle became famous for the words,
"De Gaulle is not on the left nor on the.
right. Nor in the center. He is above."
In brief, these were some of his major
-He gave French areas of Africa their
-He rid France of the Algerian war by
DE GAULLE CONSIDERED military and
foreign affairs his special concern, and
was always directly involved in decisions
concerning those areas of government. As
a result, however, a rapidly degenerating
social and economic situation in the
schools, factories, and farms was ignored.
That situation finally exploded into an-
archy in May, 1968, when students spread
revolution in the streets of Paris, work-
ers all over France 'went on strike, and
farmers began dumping and burning their
produce in public places.
Aided by a massive show of military
force supported mostly by the white-collar
level of French society, De Gaulle finally
restored order after several weeks, de-
claring, "la reforme oui, le chienlit non"
- reform yes, a pigsty no.
De Gaulle had quelled the rebellion in
the only way he knew, but the social and bureau of United Press International.)
In formal presidential dress, 1959
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