Maréchal Pétain

Durendal has posted an article by N.D.C. Wansbutter, Esq. a contributor about the late Maréchal Pétain. Villanized after the inglorious surrender of the France to the Germans in 1940, he was the hero of Verdun in the First World War. It was Pétain who returned the morale of the French Army after the mutinies of 1917 and restored the French esprit de corps.

Today marks 57 years since Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain, Marshal of France, Chef de l'État Français, and Saviour of Verdun died in captivity on the Île d'Yeu. He is a man who's been almost universally villainised as a "traitor" and "collaborator" -- but the more I read about him, the more I'm convinced that these are but convenient labels and the real reason he is condemned is because of his attempts, as Chef de l'État Français to return his homeland to the ideals of a rural, agricultural, traditionalist, Catholic society.

Had he been a secular liberal like his successor, Charles de Gaulle, I'm quite certain that rather being condemned to death for collaboration, the founders of the Fifth French Republic would have merely characterised him as a good man who did what he could in impossible circumstances. For this is exactly what he did: when President Albert Lebrun invited Maréchal Pétain to form a government in June 1940, the Maginot Line had already been outflanked by German armour and the best and most modern French armies lost in the encirclement. The Germans had total air supremacy. Paris had been occupied. Pétain therefore decided to sign an armistice rather than fight a lost cause. It would seem that the great hero of WWII, Churchill, agreed with this assessment since he had already refused air support to France, believing the decisive battle was now to be fought in Britain. Considering the hopelessness of the situation, and the fact that Catholic just war theory does not allow for suicidal waging of a lost war, Maréchal Pétain's actions take on a new light.

Thanks to Mark and Nicholas at Durandal, with a tip of the beret.

de Brantigny

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