- Paperback: 438 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press; Revised edition (September 15, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231124694
- ISBN-13: 978-0231124690
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 31 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #236,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, 1940-1944 Revised Edition
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Tells us as much of the truth about Vichy as we are likely to have for a long time.... Paxton answers all the basic questions... in an even tone, with a vigorous style, allowing the devastating documents... to speak for themselves. (New York Times Book Review)
A disturbing account of the Vichy period, demonstrating how in the interests of stability, French national feeling favored collboration with the German-controlled regime.
Top customer reviews
The book was written some time ago (Kindle does not see fit to reproduce the copyrights, so my memory is that it was published around 1971) and is largely based on research in German archives which are available, rather than the French which were largely closed for a 70 year period. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the French archives were closed because a large number of French politicians and civil servants who continued in office, post-war, would have been compromised by their contents. There may now be better books, at least in French, that address this period after access to French archives.
Some of the book is slow going. A political system with dozens of splintering, rejoining, and relabeling parties is difficult for a non expert to keep straight. It may help to review an overview of the French government, at least to the point of understanding the relationship of President, Parliament, Prime Minister and the standing bureaucracy that supports them.
The Resistance is a small part of the book as it was a relatively small part of the story of France during the occupation. Paxton does make plain that Vichy government fought the French Resistance with as much or more ferocity as did the Germans. For an interesting window into one family's experience in the resistance, The Cost of Courage by Charles Kaiser is a good read. Kaiser is not a particularly gifted writer, IMO, but does graphically outline the risks, costs, and consequences of joining the resistance.
Although Paxton lays out his portrait of Vichy in great detail, he leaves it to the reader to connect the dots. Numerous times, I closed the book and thought about a point that he had just raised. For instance, I have long posited the freedom-loving US, Britain, and the Resistance as the happy middle, surrounded by totalitarian communists in the form of the Soviet Union and totalitarian fascists in the form of Nazi Germany. But the Vichy traditionalists posited the US and the Soviet at the extremes along the freedom continuum, but yoked by urges to reduce men and women to units of production and to wield hegemonic power in the post-imperial era ushered in by the end of WW II. Hmm.
At the very end of the book, Paxton constructs a "moral balance sheet." The ultimate driver of the Vichy leaders was their fear of social disorder as the highest evil. Commoners among the occupied, as well as the occupiers, made peace with men of evil to maintain a degree of normalcy in their lives. In the final paragraph, Paxton addresses the reader directly, noting that readers, as well as the author, will not identify with these commoners, but will instead be tempted to identify with the Resistance, assuring themselves that they too would have resisted. But Paxton warns that we are far more likely to have acted like the Vichy majority. He then sets the hook in the final three sentences of the book:
"Indeed, it may be the German occupiers rather than the Vichy majority whom Americans, as residents of the most powerful state on earth, should scrutinize most unblinkingly. The deeds of occupier and occupied alike suggest that there come cruel times when to save a nation's deeper values one must disobey the state. France after 1940 was one of those times."
Written in the early 1970s, these words alluded to the US occupation of SE Asia. In the introduction to the 2001 edition, Paxton admits that some of his judgments about Vichy were colored by his "loathing" of the Vietnam War. The frightening thought is that, over 40 yrs later, this paragraph is as applicable today to our occupation of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. Understanding the Vichy experience, we can begin to ask what Vichy dilemmas have we, the occupiers, imposed on these occupied peoples.
Most recent customer reviews
It's okay and is a resource for anyone interested in the not-too-talked-about history of France during WWII.Read more