Philippe Pétain

French military and political leader (1856-1951)

Henri Philippe Benoni Omer Joseph Pétain (24 April 1856 – 23 July 1951), generally known as Philippe Pétain, Marshal Pétain (Maréchal Pétain or The Lion of Verdun), was a French general who reached the distinction of Marshal of France, and was later Chief of State of Vichy France (Chef de l'État Français), from 1940 to 1944.

Philippe Pétain


  • Neither Germany nor Italy have doubts. Our crisis is not a material crisis. We have lost faith in our destiny...We are like mariners without a pilot.
    • Statement (April 1936), quoted in Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 182.
  • My country has been beaten and they are calling me back to make peace and sign an armistice...This is the work of 30 years of Marxism. They're calling me back to take charge of the nation.
    • Remarks to Francisco Franco in Madrid, Spain (c. 17 May 1940) after French Prime Minister Reynaud called Pétain back to France to raise morale against the German offensive, quoted in Howard J. Langer, World War II: An Encyclopedia of Quotations (Routledge, 2013), p. 157.
"The earth, it does not lie".
  • La terre, elle, ne ment pas [The earth, it does not lie].
    • Speech (25 June 1940), quoted in Philippe Pétain, Discours aux Français, 17 juin 1940-20 août 1944 (Paris: Albin Michel, 1989), p. 66.
  • The only wealth you possess is your labour...France will become again what she should never have ceased to be—an essentially agricultural nation. Like the giant of mythology, she will recover all her strength by contact with the soil.
    • Speech (August 1940), quoted in Pavlos Giannelia, 'France Returns to the Soil', Land and Freedom, Vol. XLI, No. 1, January-February 1941, p. 23 and Eugen Weber, 'France', in Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber (eds.), The European Right: A Historical Profile (University of California Press, 1966), p. 113.

Quotes about PétainEdit

  • Remember that France has always had two strings in its bow. In June 1940 it needed the Pétain "string" as much as the de Gaulle "string".
    • Alleged remark by Charles de Gaulle in December 1946 to Colonel Rémy, quoted in Henry Rousso, The Vichy Syndrome. History and Memory in France since 1944 (1991), p. 34
  • Le Maréchal-paysan [The Marshal-peasant].
    • Nickname from the Vichy years, quoted in Amy S. Wyngaard, From Savage to Citizen: The Invention of the Peasant in the French Enlightenment (2004), p. 194 and Michael Tracy, Government and Agriculture in Western Europe, 1880–1988 (1989), p. 215
  • Pétain never gave me the idea of a General whose personality or genius could lead huge armies to victory in a war where, at the right moment, a crashing attack was essential to defeat your formidable enemy. He was an able man and a good soldier. But he was essentially a Fabius Cunctator. He was careful and cautious even to the confines of timidity. His métier after the 1917 mutinies was that of a head nurse in a home for cases of shell-shock. ... Pétain did it well and successfully. There is no other French General who could have done it as well. ... Nevertheless, Foch's summing-up of him to Poincaré will be acknowledged by those who knew him as accurate and fair: “As second in command, carrying out orders, Pétain is perfect, but he shrinks from responsibility, and is not fitted for a Commander-in-Chief.” Both Poincaré and Clemenceau constantly complained of his pessimism. He was inclined to dwell on the gloomiest possibilities of a situation. Poincaré, in his Diary, said that in the German offensive Pétain was “defeatist.” He would have made an ineffective Commander-in-Chief for Allied Armies confronted with the problems of 1918.

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