In this definitive history, William R. Keylor traces the tumultuous relationship between Charles de Gaulle and a host of other key twentieth-century figures: his former mentor Marshal Philippe Pétain, who headed the collaborationist government in the southern French city of Vichy as the German army occupied the northern two-thirds of the country; Sir Winston Churchill, the British prime minister whose government supported and financed de Gaulle and the Free French, but who clashed with the French leader on a number of hot-button issues; and, most critically, the six American presidents from FDR to Nixon. Keylor uses the metaphor “thorn in the side” to emphasize the fact that challenges from the intrepid French leader were often an annoyance to the Americans, who all had many more important issues to deal with—World War II for Roosevelt and Truman, the Cold War for Eisenhower, and the Vietnam War for Kennedy and Johnson. Richard Nixon alone had an excellent relationship, but the two men overlapped for only four months before de Gaulle’s retirement. Thoroughly researched and deeply knowledgeable, this gripping book will appeal to all readers interested in contemporary French and US history.
In this elegantly written and extensively researched book, Keylor provides an excellent account of how six US presidents—from FDR and his stubborn refusal to recognize the leader of Free France to Richard Nixon and his embrace of the founder of the Fifth Republic—have dealt with the de Gaulle challenge. At a time when the United States and Europe—as de Gaulle believed was inevitable—seem bound to drift further apart, this is a must-read.
General Charles De Gaulle, the prickly leader of the Free French during World War II and later president of the Fifth French Republic, crossed swords with five successive presidents of the United States, establishing real rapport with only one of them—Richard Nixon. William Keylor gives us a lively, thoughtful, and deeply researched account of these relationships.