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.
William R. Keylor is professor emeritus at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. He has received the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Methodist Scholar-Teacher Award; has been a Fulbright scholar; and has been awarded fellowships by the Guggenheim Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, and the Earhart Foundation. He is an elected member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies and a former president of the Society for French Historical Studies, and was named Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Mérite by the French government.
Chapter 1 The Young Charles de Gaulle, 1890–1940: Before the Fall of France
Chapter 2 Fallen France, 1940–1941: Occupation, Collaboration, and Exile
Chapter 3 FDR and de Gaulle, 1940–1945: A Cold Shoulder from the “Stubborn Dutchman” to the “Stubborn Frenchman”
Chapter 4 France’s Role in the Postwar International Order
Chapter 5 Truman and de Gaulle, 1945–1946: A Brief Encounter with Pinpricks
Chapter 6 De Gaulle in the Political Wilderness, 1946–1958: Failed Attempt at a Comeback before Success
Chapter 7 Eisenhower and de Gaulle, 1958–1961: Two Wartime Buddies in Power
Chapter 8 Kennedy and de Gaulle, 1961–1963: JFK’s Grand Design Derailed
Chapter 9 Johnson and de Gaulle, 1963–1968: Distant Antagonists
Chapter 10 Nixon and de Gaulle, 1969: Realism Triumphant and Mutual Admiration
Chapter 11 De Gaulle and the United States: A Long and Contentious Relationship
A Note on Sources
About the Author
De Gaulle’s personal relations with his American counterparts ran the spectrum from virtually non-existent (Johnson) t0 disdain and distrust (FDR) to exceedingly cordial (Nixon). This aspect of the book provides a fascinating window into the history of the time, but is perhaps of limited applicability to today’s foreign policy analyst or practitioner. Yet Keylor’s story becomes both interesting and potentially quite useful when he describes how de Gaulle deftly navigated, and in other respects shaped, the postwar European landscape.... What Keylor’s history ultimately shows us is that de Gaulle was perhaps the best friend we never knew we had.
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—dealt with the de Gaulle challenge. At a time when the United States and Europe seem bound to drift further apart—as de Gaulle believed was inevitable—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 only with the sixth—Richard Nixon. William Keylor gives us a lively, thoughtful, and deeply researched account of these relationships.
From World War II through the upheavals of Vietnam, Charles de Gaulle infuriated and antagonized American presidents. Yet his worldview reflected his profound patriotism and his belief that France had a destiny to shape world affairs. William Keylor’s empathy for France, his mastery of the vast source material, and his skill as one of our leading diplomatic historians make this insightful study of Franco-American relations during de Gaulle’s long career a delightful and essential book.