12 September 1944 - Speech at the Palais de Chaillot
During the eighteen days that have elapsed since the enemy forces holding out in Paris capitulated before our troops, a wave of joy, pride and hope has swept the French nation. The country and the whole world have seen that the shock of this liberation, which has been carried out in five-sixths of our territory and particularly in the capital, has spotlighted the fighting spirit, the enthusiasm and the wisdom of our people. If there were still people anywhere who wondered what the oppressed nation really wanted or whether the people had the capacity to dominate their own fate, I imagine that they have now seen the light.
In any case, today's meeting was organized by the Council which inspired and co-ordinated on the spot and in the face of terrible dangers and losses, the action carried out against the enemy and the usurpers and which is itself magnificently symbolic. The National Council of the Resistance, which I thank on behalf of the Government and of the whole country, is assembled here with representatives of the high offices of State and others from many backgrounds and of all shades of opinion who placed themselves in the front rank of those who led the fighting. Who could fail to notice that a single flame animates them and identical reasoning led all of them - the elite of France. It would not be possible for me to find a better qualified or more deserving audience to talk to, as I mean to, about the present and the future of our country.
At last German military power has been pushed back and humiliated. It was bolstered by the exceptional fighting capacity, the enterprise and the willingness to suffer of a great people who had become fanatics, seconded by ambitious auxiliaries and helped by defeatism and sometimes treason by certain leaders of the nations it wished to enslave. Favoured also by the dispersion of the libertyloving nations, Germany hoped to dominate the world ! The edifice the Germans had built over months and years has been attacked with strength and audacity and seems to be shaken to its foundations. The horizon is golden with the light of victory.
To seize this victory as it ought to be seized, that is to say complete and total, new and bloody efforts will still have to be made. But whatever the efforts and however long they last it has already been decided that France will play her part.
With full hearts we pay tribute to the brave and dear nations who are helping us to carry off the victory. Our homage goes to the British Empire who, like us, drew their swords on September 3rd 1939, and who thereafter saved Europe by their resolution nearly alone. They now triumph with us on our soil while waiting for the moment when we shall go together to conquer our common enemy finally, and in his own country.
Our homage goes to Soviet Russia who, after the aggression of 1941, saw the German armies advancing to the gates of Leningrad and Moscow and penetrating to the depths of the Caucasus. Owing to the admirable courage of her people, the virtues of her fighting men and the organization of her vast resources she was able to find the energy and the means of chasing the invaders and breaking up the main part of their fighting force in terrible battles.
Our homage goes to the United States of America, attacked in turn in December 1941 and at first thrown back to the extreme limits of the Pacific, but who knew how to become a great military power and to carry out immense operations across an ocean, which brought Europe to life again. At the same time bases have been wrenched from Japanese hands and soon the heart of Japan itself will be menaced.
Our homage goes to the gallant Polish, Czechoslovak, Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourgeois, Norwegian, Yugoslav and Greek nations who were entirely engulfed in the abominable tide but who, like us, never despaired. Now it is their turn to see their liberation dawning.
But a people like ours is accustomed to great disasters and great glories. We know how to acknowledge that each of the States which make up the team of liberty-loving nations, with us, has merited our affection and our esteem. We also know how to measure and judge for ourselves, with no illusions, the role we ought to play in the forthcoming victory.
We have certainly suffered enough never to forget our initial disaster. Ill-prepared as we were for the new form of warfare, despite the gigantic losses which we accepted in the course of the last battle, nearly isolated in the forefront of the democracies and lacking the protection of either seas or vast spaces, we found ourselves engulfed by Germany's mechanical strength. The moral and physical disorganization which resulted enabled defeatism and treason to paralyse the will to win in many people. Nevertheless we were already in the fighting line on September 3rd 1939. In 1940 all that the Germans could muster in tanks, guns and planes was directed towards our defeat ; these tanks, guns and planes, while they carved up our flesh, were prevented from carving into the flesh of others. Later, in spite of oppression, the darkness of isolation, lying propaganda and the obstinate servility of the usurpers of power, the mass of the French people never admitted defeat and our flag was never missing from the battlefield. Immediately the disaster had taken place the nation started on the slow, hard, climb which led them from the abyss. The flame of the Resistance had to be kept burning and it was.
What this cost in loss of life, in anger and in tears will be calculated at leisure by others than us. Let us simply say that our armies, which were rebuilt man by man, at first in the depths of the Empire, then on the shores of the Mediterranean, played an important role in the Battle of Africa which liquidated Mussolini's Empire and chased the Germans from Libya and Tunisia in three years. Let us remember that our troops played a decisive role in the great victory over Italy. Let us remember that at the same time gallant units, springing spontaneously from national suffering and national hope, were being formed on metropolitan soil under the very noses of the Germans, and despite indescribable difficulties of organization, armament and leadership. These units went into battle at the first command. Finally, let us remember what our forces have accomplished in the Battle of France, both by the manoeuvres and attacks carried out by our big battle formations and by the smaller actions carried out everywhere by units of the Interior Forces. Both have contributed substantially to the coalitions success. It may be worth noting that of the 350,000 Germans who, according to the official figures, were taken prisoner by the Allies between the start of the battle and the 10th September, 105,000 surrendered to French troops : nearly 50,000 to our Rhône Army, 20,000 to Leclerc's soldiers and more than 35,000 to the Forces of the Interior all over the country. Since then higher figures have been announced. Obviously in other times and in other circumstances we should have done more and better than that. But who can deny that, in spite of the terrible internal and external conditions to which France had been reduced, she has fought for the right to have signed the victory documents.
It is unnecessary to explain how and why this continuity of will and, I may add, of effort on behalf of the people in the war gives us the right, yes I say the right, to express our views and safeguard our interests in the forthcoming solution of the world conflict. Let us hope that this right will soon cease to be contested and the kind of official relegation of France from which those who spoke and acted in her name have suffered so greatly will be replaced by the sort of relations which we have been honoured and used to having with other great nations for several centuries past.
By keeping France in the battle, it is not only France herself who has benefited. She has behaved in such a way that it is just and possible to associate her with the negotiations which will safeguard the security of all nations. It is difficult to see how a peaceful world organization could be viable or durable without her or could lead to security, world co-operation or peace.
Yes, I believe that it is in the best interests of mankind that the dispositions which will decide the fate of the defeated Germans tomorrow should not be discussed or decided without France. I believe this because no power is more directly interested than France in all that concerns a neighbour who has preoccupied her greatly for the last two thousand years. It would be very risky to build any sort of structure without the party that it interests most. We believe that it would be a grave mistake to decide anything which concerns Europe without France. France is integrated into Europe in such a way that anything which affects any part of the old continent affects her directly. By the same token anything which affects France affects the rest of Europe. Furthermore, France has the distinction of being able to bring an experience which has been bought fairly dearly to the discussion of any European problem. She is also trusted to a fairly exceptional degree by many. Finally we believe that to decide the political, economic and moral conditions in which the inhabitants of the world will have to live after this present drama without France would be a foolhardy undertaking. After all, one hundred million loyal men live beneath our flag in the four corners of the earth, and, moreover, many men like us believe that any great humanitarian undertaking would be arbitrary and fragile if it lacked France's imprint.
It is true that to recover her rank is not all. She must also be able to keep it. At the bottom of the ocean of suffering and outrage into which she was plunged for more than four years and from which she is now emerging, France has been able to assess the causes of her temporary misery : those for which she was herself responsible and those for which others are to blame. She can also see the means and the way of getting back her proper role : that of defender of liberty and glory. In order to get there and as a result of their trials, our people have found an extraordinary national unity. It is on this immense strength that the Government relies in fulfilling its tank of serving the country.
It has the right and the duty to call on this strength because it is the Government of the Republic. Obviously the tidal wave which swept over France washed away the organizations which usually act as spokesmen for the national will, equally obviously the great majority of French citizens have decided that profound reforms must be brought to the functioning of our institutions. This is why there is no other way, either legally or actually, to establish a new edifice for our democracy but by consulting the sovereign people of France. As soon as war-time conditions allow, that is to say as soon as all our territory has been freed and our prisoners and deportees have been brought home, the Government will ask the country to elect, by universal suffrage of all Frenchmen and women, representatives who will meet as the National Assembly. Until this time the Government will carry out its duties with the help of an enlarged Consultative Assembly. This will be designed to give as authoritative an expression as possible to public opinion. Naturally the tried men who form the National Council of the Resistance today will be its starting point. But as soon as sovereignty has been re-established in the shape of those legally elected by the nation, the Government will hand over to them the provisional powers which it has assumed at present.
If the Government is a Republican one it is not only because it has undertaken to lead the nation according to its wishes and interests until French democracy can start up again, but also because it has and will apply the laws, the just laws, which the nation passed when it was free and which are called the Republican laws. Of course we do not claim that all of them are perfect, but such as they are they are the law. So long as the sovereign nation has not been able to modify them it is up to the executive powers, even if, as in this case, they are provisional, to see that they are carried out in the spirit and the letter. This we have done, without doubt or deviation, for more than five years amongst all men and in all territories that we snatched successfully from the Germans or from Vichy. Obviously circumstances sometimes forced us to take measures which are neither formulated nor codified, and to get the Consultative Assembly to help us. But the Provisional Government alone bears the responsibility, as the nation rightly recognizes. Those to be elected in the future will have to decide whether to make them into laws or not. Unless we hold firmly to these principles, we shall have nothing but instability and chaos which the nation does not want. By applying them we shall find order, efficiency and justice.
Order, efficiency and justice, without which no human enterprise can succeed, are obviously necessary in our country's present situation. Firstly we are at war and I say frankly that unless the enemy crumbles suddenly we have not finished with the war. Everything goes to show that the enemy, despite terrible losses in the east and the west and despite the defection of all the satellites but one, is preparing to launch a great new battle to try to cover her territory until the arrival of winter, which they hope will slow up the French and allied offensives. In this battle and in the ones which may follow, France means to participate as fully as possible. The same will hold good for the occupation of Germany. This means that we must have as a military policy the formation of large units, able as our present units are, to manoeuvre and conquer, wherever they may be and on any battlefield, an even more powerful and resolute enemy. The ardent youths who banded together to fight in our Interior Forces will supply the man-power for those new formations. As in the volunteer battalions of 1791 and 1792 they will bring the national army a treasury of ardour and valour. I can tell you that such a division is already forming in Brittany. I am hoping that another will be formed in the Paris region. I am sure that still others can be constituted elsewhere without prejudicing the thousands of individuals or fractions of units who have gone or will be going to join our great front-line units. All French soldiers are an integral part of the French Army, and this army must remain, like the France to which it belongs, one and indivisible.
In many areas it is true to say that the great liberation battles took place without involving massive destruction but it is equally true that other areas have been terribly ravaged. Moreover the enemy is still holding out in the whole or in part of fifteen of our departments and in particular in a large number of our seaports. For the moment our rail, canal and sea communications have mostly been paralysed by destruction of all sorts and our railway rolling stock and road vehicles have largely disappeared. In addition transport destined for the armies naturally takes priority over that available for the civil population. The innumerable requisitions made by the enemy since 1940 on all our resources and particularly on our stockpiles, our raw materials, our machines and our fuel, have resulted in a considerable impoverishment of our means of production. Finally, military considerations will make it impossible for our allies to import much material into France for some time to come. In short, as every Frenchman well knows, we are going through a difficult period. The Liberation will not mean plenty ; on the contrary, severe restrictions will continue and great efforts of labour, organization and discipline will have to be made. We can be sure that the situation will improve steadily, but the improvement will be slow. This the nation has accepted : in spite of our sufferings we have decided to put up with these trials bravely. As a great people, we will not waste, but in the present will build for the future.
For it is the future which is important, the future towards which millions and millions of Frenchmen and women look with ardour and confidence, the future which the whole nation wants to make into a rebirth. Yes - a rebirth. The cost to our power, our unity and even our substance of the negligence, mediocrity and injustice which we practised or tolerated, and also, it must be admitted, the lack of resolution or continuity on the part of our rulers who lacked energy and clear ideas - all this we can see sufficiently clearly to be determined to change things.
I will sum up the principles on which France means to build her new national life. Everyone will be given the maximum freedom and the spirit of enterprise will be encouraged. In certain cases, however, individual interests will have to give way in the general interest. The great resources of communal wealth must be exploited and run not in the interests of the few but to everyone's advantage. The coalitions of interests which weighed so heavily on the condition of men and even on state policy itself must be abolished once and for all so that all the sons and daughters of France can live, work and bring up a family in strength and dignity.
But the noblest principles in the world have to be carried out before they are of any value. The whole population realizes that its happiness and its greatness depends, in the first place, on its own efforts. It is the duty of the Government as soon as it becomes possible to do so to produce conditions without which progress would be retarded or injustices perpetuated. The law already gives the Government powers to see that the standard of living of French workers rises as French production rises and to requisition or confiscate for the State certain big public utility companies or other enterprises while waiting for national sovereignty to be fully restored. It is also the Government's duty to see that unjustifiable profits made through working with the enemy are used for the community ; it must fix the prices of food and control foreign exchange until such time as supply is equal to demand. But in order to make steady progress, first in war and later in peace, towards a new France, other things and many more things are needed. There must be a vast and resolute national effort.
It is to this effort that I summon the nation. We know the state in which we are, materially, demographically and morally. We know which things have been destroyed and which are mediocre in every sphere. We know how much is missing for the task which lies ahead. We also know what our land is worth, our soil and our Empire. And what we ourselves are worth as farmers, workers, shop-keepers, technicians, managers, inventors or thinkers, if only we could work together in the friendliness and self-discipline of a strong people. We know what our fathers were able to make of France when they were numerous. We know too that there is not a young man or young woman in the country who does not dream of living free, strong, loving and happy and working for a great era and a great country.
The plan for the utilization of our material, intellectual and spiritual resources will be drawn up by the Government as the war progresses. It will be drawn up in the light of the decisions taken by the other world powers since everything now depends upon and will start from our territory. It will be drawn up on the advice of the qualified organizations : those representing labour, production, research or constructive thinking. This war in which we shall vanquish the enemy who aspired to enslave us all will turn into a struggle against all who oppose our progress. You, men and women of the Resistance, you who bear the mark of the Cross of Lorraine, you who were leaders in the fight for honour and freedom, tomorrow and for its own good, you will have to draw the country towards greater efforts and greatness. It is only then that we shall have won a great French victory !