This week in the War, 11–17 August 1941: The evil wind

Marechal Philippe Petain [Public domain, wiki]

Marechal Philippe Petain [Public domain, wiki]

On 12 August 1941, Vichy’s head of state Marshal Philippe Pétain made a radio broadcast to the people of France. He had felt an evil wind (vent mauvais) blowing across many areas of France, he told them.

He said that the National Revolution was still unrealized, that the new order he was seeking to impose had not yet come about. Freemasons, political parties and those who put their personal interests ahead of their country were all to blame. The British radio, the BBC, had helped add to the confusion, Pétain said.

Pétain then announced a series of totalitarian measures: the suspending of all political parties, the introduction of special courts and the doubling in size of the police force. He appointed Admiral Jean-François Darlan as Vichy Minister of National Defence. (Although anti-British, Darlan would fulfil the promise that he once made to Churchill: no ship of the French fleet would be allowed to fall into German hands).

Pétain praised the country’s farmers and miners, who continued to toil and received little in return, and he spoke well of the million plus French soldiers who still languished in prison camps in Germany.

Finally (as quoted the following day in the New York Times), he ended on an inspirational note: “If a beaten country is divided against itself, it dies. If a beaten country can unite, it is reborn. Vive la France!”

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