Last modified on 1 February 2014, at 20:07

The Collapse of the Third Republic

The Collapse of the Third Republic (1969) by William L. Shirer examines the collapse of the French Third Republic in 1940 at the outset of Hitler's Western invasion during World War II.

  • The Treaty of Guarantee came out of a proposal by Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, at the allied conference of Paris as a compromise to Marshal Ferdinand Foch's insistence that the Franco-German border be pushed back to the Rhine. Foch felt that this new border would prevent another German invasion into France. The Germans had invaded France from across the Rhine five times within a century in 1814, 1815, 1870, 1914, and 1918.
  • Along with Foch, the French Premier, Georges Clemenceau had demanded that Germany's Western border be fixed at the Rhine. Clemenceau relented when the Treaty of Guarantee was proposed. However Foch insisted that the French occupation of the Rhineland was crucial to halting future German aggression.
  • What the French wanted above all else from the peace settlement was a guarantee of their security, and for reasons difficult now to comprehend their chief allies, Great Britain and the United States, never quite understood this -- perhaps because Woodrow Wilson, the American President, and Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, lacked a sure grasp of European history. The French could not ignore that history. They could not forget that since the days of the Huns invaders had broken into their fair country some thirty times from across the Rhine.
  • What Wilson and Lloyd George failed to see was that the terms of peace which they were hammering out against the dogged resistance of Clemenceau and Foch, while seemingly severe enough, left Germany in the long run relatively stronger than before.
  • In terms of relative power in Europe, Germany's position was actually better in 1919 than in 1914, or would be as soon as the Allied victors carried out their promise to reduce their armaments to the level of the defeated.
  • By 1922, General Hans von Seeckt, commander of the German armed forces, was secretly advising his government: "Poland's existence is intolerable, incompatible with the essential conditions of Germany's life. Poland must go and will go". He added that Poland's obliteration "must be one of the fundamental objectives of German policy...With the disappearance of Poland will fall one of the strongest pillars of the Versailles Peace, the hegemony of France."
  • There was much idle talk at the Conference of Paris about the disappearance of four mighty empires, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish. But the cynical Clemenceau, at the head of the French delegation knew that the strongest of them remained -- even though it had reluctantly become a Republic.
  • Prodded by the implacable Foch, Clemenceau at first demanded that Germany's western border be fixed at the Rhine, with the French army standing guard on the left bank and the German population on that side formed into an autonomous state dominated by France. Lloyd George and Wilson would have none of it. "You're trying to create another Alsace-Lorraine," Wilson charged.
  • Lloyd George suggested a compromise. If France relinquished her claims on the Rhine, Britain and the United States would guarantee France's boundary against future German aggression. Wilson agreed and treaties to that effect were drawn up. Marshall Foch, pressed by the uncompromising PoincarĂ©, (former French Premier), made one last desperate effort to save for France the only natural barrier there was against the hereditary enemy.
  • "If we do not hold the Rhine permanently [Foch told them] there is no neutralization, no disarmament, no written clause of any nature, which can prevent Germany from breaking out across it and gaining the upper hand. No aid could arrive in time from England or America to save France from complete defeat."
  • The Naval Pact was signed in London on June 18, 1935, without the British government having the courtesy to consult with France and Italy, or later, to inform them of the secret agreements which stipulated tht the Germans could build in certain categories more powerful warships than any the three Western nations then possessed. The French regarded this as a betrayal. It was. They spoke of being cheated by their wartime allies. They were.
  • As the Premier who had pulled France together in the closing period of the war, [Clemenceau] realized what so many Frenchmen tended to forget, that without British and American help the war could not in the end have been won. He saw too that without Anglo-American promises of military aid in the future it would be beyond France's power to repel the next German invasion. He had been promised that aid in return for giving up the security of the Rhine, which his generals had demanded. Now France had neither.
  • The deceit of the Allies would have fateful consequences. Germany, even under Hitler, would never have risked invading France again if her rulers and her generals had known in advance that Britain and America would oppose it by military force. The U.S. Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Guarantee brought a certain responsibility on the United States for the subsequent course of events which pushed western Europe to the brink of destruction by Germany.
  • The Senate's action did not spare the American republic in the end. It only made the reconquest of western Europe from the Germans, when the Second World War came, infinitely more costly in American lives and treasure than it would have been had a President's word been honored in the first place by the Senate. The United States, supremely complacent in its shortsighted isolation, was lost as a factor in guarding the peace of Europe it had helped to win, and in which its fate would always be intertwined.
  • The Naval Pact was signed in London on June 18, 1935, without the British government having the courtesy to consult with France and Italy, or later, to inform them of the secret agreements which stipulated tht the Germans could build in certain categories more powerful warships than any the three Western nations then possessed. The French regarded this as treachery, which it was. They saw it as a further appeasement of Hitler, whose appetite grew on concessions.
    • Book Three, Chapter 15, Aftermath: Widening of the Gulf: 1934-1936, discussing the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.

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