"In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant" - Charles de Gaulle
French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle, was born in Lille in 1890, the son of a headmaster. He graduated from the Military Academy St. Cyr in 1912, thirteenth in his class, and served in the infantry through World War I. During the interwar period he became a vocal proponent of mobile armored devisions which he saw as critical to modern warfare. Having angered his superiors with his outspoken views, he was only a colonel at the outbreak of World War II but quickly rose to Brigadier General and, in 1940, led one of the few successful counter-attacks during the Battle for France.
In June 1950, the French Prime Minister appointed him Under Secretary of State for National Defence and War, and put him in charge of coordination with the UK. When France fell he escaped to Britain and gave, via the BBC, his now famous radio broadcast exhorting the French to resist the German invasion. In August 1940 he was court-martialled in absentia by the Vichy regime (the puppet regime that controlled most of France during the German occupation) and condemned to death for treason.
With support from the British government, de Gaulle and his family settled in England, from where he organized and led the Free French Forces, until 1943 when he moved his headquarters to Algiers. By the time France was liberated in 1944, de Gaulle was head of the government in exile and in effective control of all French colonies except Indochina (broadly speaking: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam).
After a brief time as Prime Minister of the French Provisional Government after the war, he resigned and formed his own political party, the Rally of the French People (RPF). The RPF failed to win power and he dropped out of politics altogether in 1953.
That was until 1958, when the government that had been formed after World War II, known as the Fourth Republic, collapsed (after 20 prime ministers in 11 years) leaving the country in crisis. De Gaulle was voted in as Prime Minister and promptly led the writing of a new constitution to found the Fifth Republic, which replaced the former parlimentary goverment with a semi-presidential system in which both a president and prime minister are involved in daily political activity (which remains France's form of government). De Gaulle became the new Republic's first President, a position he held until he resigned in 1969.
Aparently, the 6' 5" President was always careful with money, taking great care to separate his private expenses from official funds while in office. On his retirement he refused the substantial pensions available to him as both a retired general and president, and instead took the pension of a colonel.
He died suddenly a little over a year after leaving office, two weeks short of his 80th birthday. At his request, he was buried quietly without any presidents, ministers or heads of state in attendance; and his tombstone bears the simple inscription Charles de Gaulle, 1890-1970. He was survived by his wife of 49 years, and two of their three children.
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