15 november 1941 - Speech
London, 15 November 1941
The traveller climbing a hill pauses from time to time to gauge the distance covered and take his bearings. In the same way, we thought it well to meet today in response to the moving invitation of the Français de Grande-Bretagne, to fortify ourselves with this concrete evidence of our unity and gather strength to go forward on the hard path of war in our country's cause. This will be easy, because, despite the tumult of war, we now realize more clearly than ever what we are and what we are fighting for. We are confident that the path we have chosen is the best for France.
What are we ? The answer is simple. Seventeen months ago, all but one day, the question arose and was answered. We are Frenchmen drawn from every walk of life and from every party, who have decided to join forces and fight for our country. Each one of us has taken this step of his own free will, acting quite simply and without any mental reservations. It would, I think, be unfitting to dwell here on the sacrifices and sufferings this has meant for all. Each one of us alone knows in his secret heart what it has cost him. But it is from our self-denial, just as much as from our unity, that we draw our strength. From these embers has leapt a steady flame, burning brighter and higher day by day. It is the flame that burns in the spirit of France, the flame that tempers our strength.
We have obeyed the call of France. In that hour of disaster and despair when our world seemed to come crashing down, the question which had to be answered was whether our great and noble country, delivered to the enemy by an act of the blackest treachery in all history, would find among her sons men bold enough to raise her standards from the dust. The question was whether an unimpaired Empire of sixty million inhabitants would play any part in this struggle for the life or death of France. The question was whether any single belligerent part of our territories would remain at the side of our brave Allies who continued to fight for their salvation and our own. The question was whether France would be silenced for ever or, worse still, whether the world would think it recognized her voice in the execrable imitation given by traitors and foes.
The question was, finally, whether in the night of servitude the star of hope would ever shine again to revive the nations spirit of resistance and prove that France is still one of the defenders of freedom.
We have had but one goal from the outset, and it remains unaltered today. Towards that goal we have marched unhesitatingly. We have never faltered. I think the world will marvel when it learns the poverty of our means. We were in no way organized ; we had neither troops nor officers ; no arms, no planes, no ships ; no administration, no budget, no hierarchy, no regulations. Very few people in France knew anything about us, and to foreigners we were just likeable dare-devils without a past and without a future.
And yet not a single day has passed without an increase in our strength. You all know how difficult, and sometimes cruel, were the various stages of our forward march. You all realize the material and moral obstacles we had to overcome. You all know the importance of the French territories, the degree of military strength and the weight of influence we managed to bring back into the war solely to serve our country. We were a mere sprinkling of men. Now we are solid as a rock. We have won back the right to be regarded as proud and free Frenchmen. Above all, we have reforged the links of French unity among our enslaved compatriots, strengthening them in their will to resist and be avenged, and steeling them in their resolve that France shall one day recover her greatness.
One thing is clear : France, despite the fact that she was stunned by a military defeat which her leaders deserved, but she herself did not ; despite her confusion of spirit when betrayed by the men she regarded as symbols of honour ; despite the pressure brought to bear on her by the enemy, sometimes in the form of unspeakable outrages and sometimes in the guise of honeyed offers of alleviation and collaboration ; despite the persecutions and spying of an abject regime, and merciless attempts to corrupt the minds of the people by onesided propaganda, one thing, I repeat, is clear : France has not renounced herself in any way. Through the mist of blood and tears with which her enemies sought to blind her, France has seen that the only path to salvation is the one chosen for her by those of her sons who are still free.
On this point, there is no difference whatever between Frenchmen in Brazzaville, Beirut, Damascus, Nouméa, Pondicherry, and London, and their compatriots in Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, and Strasburg. Apart from a handful of wretches and a roomful of scoundrels who, through panic, folly, or greed, gambled on a French defeat and provisionally hold sway by trickery, imprisonment, and famine, the nation has never before shown such unanimity. It is literally true that every Frenchman today lives only for the liberation of his country. And it is equally true that for forty million Frenchmen the very idea of victory is inseparable from that of a Free French victory.
It is easy to understand that as we became a tangible and growing reality and, above all, as the secret loyalty of France to our cause grew increasingly apparent, many people both at home and abroad became anxious to know what manner of men the Free French were, and what were their aims. However hard and long the war may be, it must result in some kind of national and international order. It is therefore only natural that people should wonder what attitude will be adopted in this respect by the great new force which is known as Free France until such time as it is merged by victory with France herself.
It is true that to the question : "What are the aims of Free France ?" people entirely unconnected with the movement often hasten to provide the answer. The most contradictory mentions have been ascribed to us, both by the enemy and by the kind of friends who, doubtless from an excess of zeal, cannot refrain from voicing suspicion concerning our ten tendencies. One of the few diversions that come my way in the course of my work is that sometimes I compare these various statements. It is amusing to see that the Free French are accused on the same day - even at the same hour - of fascist tendencies, of paving the way for the restoration of a constitutional monarchy, of working for the re- establishment of the parliamentary Republic, of planning to reinstate the pre-war politicians (especially those who are of Jewist race or pledged to Freemasonry), or else of being resolved on the triumph of Communist doctrines. And, as regard our foreign policy, we hear the same voices declare, as the case may be, that we are anglophobes plotting against Great Britain ; that we are really working in collusion with Vichy ; or again, that we make a point of handing over to Great britain various parts of the French Empire that rally to our cause. It seems unlikely that anything we say or do will put an end to these allegations. But it is nevertheless important to state, both for ourselves and for others, what our policy is.
Article One of our policy is to wage war - that is, to develop and strengthen to the greatest possible extent the French effort in the conflict. I need hardly say that in every sphere we are acting in close co-operation with our Allies, and particularly with the British Empire. Indeed, to England belongs the matchless merit of having faced Fate alone, with magnificent courage, in the darkest hour. Moreover, this great people, sometimes accused of a certain lack of imagination, immediately perceived, through the mind and heart of a Churchill, that the handful of Frenchmen who managed to escape had brought away with them the eternal soul of France. Now we have something to promise in return : we shall be at the side of this ancient England, faithful and loyal, to the last evening of the last battle. And we look forward eagerly to the day when circumstances will allow us to give some help - however modest at first - to our Russian Allies in their heroic resistance. We are in close collaboration with our Polish, Czech, Greek, Jugoslav, Dutch, Belgian, and Norwegian Allies. We believe such solidarity to be of the utmost importance, because their territories have met with the same fate as our own, and they, like France, suffering inexpiable oppression, are yet strong in national resistance. Nor can we conceive the liberation of Europe without their restoration and full reparation for the martyrdom they endure. We unreservedly associate ourselves with the moral and material action of the United States, without which there can be no victory. We gratefully avail ourselves of the help they are giving in so many ways to all who fight for world freedom. We are striving to justify and encourage the heartening friendship extended to France in her hour of trial and struggle by so many nations throughout the universe.
But however highly we prize these ties, which are both a help and an obligation, we hold that, in our common interests, the present and future efforts of the Free French should remain France's own effort. We are all the more anxious to serve her interests, defend her rights, and fulfil her obligations, since we know her cause to be that of the free peoples. Nothing can deter us from following the historic vocation of our country, and nothing can make us forget that her greatness is the sine qua non of world peace. There can be no justice if justice is not done to France !
That is why we are fighting, that this Thirty Years War, sprung upon us by German aggression in 1914, may be brought to an end and followed by sanctions, so that France with all that belongs to her, may emerge intact, her losses credited and her security guaranteed.
In fact, we make no distinction between what is due to our country and what is owing to nations which were and still are our Allies and associates in the same perils and against the same enemy. The free peoples have learned from cruel experience the meaning of the words "community of rights and duties", and they know the cost of disregarding this principle. We have all paid dearly enough to realize that the common ideal of these free peoples can be nothing more than an academic charter unless the security of each one of them is established as a real and practical fact and international solidarity is properly organized.
Although the present plight of our country - crushed, pillaged, and betrayed - makes it essential that we strain every nerve to win the war, we cannot remain indifferent to the destiny which can and should be hers in the sphere of domestic politics : all the more so as France's temporary disaster has brought about a complete upheaval of the very foundations of her existence, swept away her former institutions, fundamentally altered the status of each individual and, above all, aroused a passion of resentment in the hearts of the people. It has been said that this war is a revolution, and that is truer of France than of any other nation. A country paying so dearly for the errors of her political, social and moral system, as well as for the faint-heartedness and treachery of so many of her leaders ; a country suffering so cruelly from the efforts of the enemy and his collaborators to bring about her physical and moral disintegration ; a country whose men, women, and children go starving, ill-clad, and cold, while two million of her sons are detained for months, for years, in prisoners' huts, concentration camps, convict settlements, and cells ; a country which is offered no other solution and no other hope than forced labour for the benefit of the enemy, fighting between her own children and her faithful Allies, repentance for having dared to bar the way to Hitler's mania for domination, a country ordered to bow down before the image of Father Defeat - that country is necessarily a fire smouldering under the ashes. Without any shadow of doubt, when France emerges from her terrible ordeal, we shall witness a tremendous national revival.
Need I say that the Free French, of all people, could never wish to oppose such a transformation ? On the contrary, they claim to be perhaps best qualified to help in its achievement, by setting an example of unity and devotion to service. and bringing to the task new hearts and new minds. We know that the overwhelming majority of the French people - ourselves among them - utterly condemn the anarchicall abuses of a decadent régime : travesty of government, justice rendered under constraint, business frauds ; well-paid sinecures ; sale of privileges, and the appalling tyranny exercised by rulers who are themselves enslaved by the enemy ; mock laws ; bargaining ; oaths under duress ; discipline enforced by a system of informers and hidden microphones. It is our firm belief that a great cleansing wave must rise from the depths of the nation and sweep pell-mell before it the causes of the disaster and the whole superstructure built on the capitulation. For that reason, Article Two of our policy is that the people must be allowed to choose for themselves as soon as circumstances make it possible for them to say freely what they want and what they will not tolerate.
We believe that the foundations of the future institutions of France can best be defined by the three mottoes of the Free French. We say : "Honour and Country", meaning thereby that the nation can live again only through victory and endure only through the cult of her own greatness. We say : "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", because we are resolved to remain faithful to the democratic principles established by our forbears and drawn from the genius of our race - those very principles now at stake in this life and death struggle. We say "Liberation", and we use the term in its widest sense, for if our efforts must not cease until the enemy has been defeated and punished, it is equally necessary that they should result in the establishment of conditions in which every Frenchman may live, think, work, and act in dignity and security. That is Article Three of our policy.
The path of duty will be long and hard, but perhaps the drama of war has reached its climax. Perhaps Germany, in her turn, is already beginning to experience the fascination of disaster which for so long paralysed only her enemies. Perhaps Italy will soon be once again, in the words of Byron : "The lone Mother of dead Empires." But, whatever the appointed hour, whatever the price of victory, we have staked out a claim for our country. From now on, our only aim, our only interest, our only honour is to remain to the end Frenchmen, worthy of France.