“All might have been well had de Gaulle been an ordinary General or even an ordinary man. He is not. He is an extraordinary man. He is an eagle with bad habits. Winston, who is a house-trained eagle, does not see claw to claw with him.” —Harold Nicolson
by Will Morrissey
Excerpted from a thoughtful paper was delivered at the “Churchill and France” panel sponsored by The Churchill Centre at the American Political Science Association meeting, August 2007.
Aristotle describes the magnanimous or great-souled man, but he does not say what would happen if two of them came into the same room. And what if two such men came together during the greatest and most noteworthy of wars, a war in which the most dangerous tyrannies of all time contended against one another, and also against the greatest republics? Would we not need a Thucydides as well as an Aristotle to help us understand this event? We do have something in a way as valuable: the writings of Winston S. Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, who worked for and against one another. From their writings we know they quarreled, not only over English policies in French colonies and over the conduct of the war itself, but more importantly over the political character of the immediate postwar settlement, both in France, the conquered republic, and in Germany, the conquering then conquered tyranny. We also know that they cooperated, often in measured opposition to their mighty wartime allies—the United States of Franklin Roosevelt and the Soviet Union of Josef Stalin. By 1946 America and Russia, the regime of democratic republicanism and the regime of undemocratic despotism, each held the destinies of half the world in its hands. Neither Churchill nor de Gaulle wanted that, but in their unflinching way each saw it happening and conceived of geopolitical strategies, first to meet Germany’s threat, then to meet the consequent rise of America and Russia. In all that they wrote on these matters both exhibited the quality André Malraux would see in de Gaulle: “He was shrewd and even, sometimes, clairvoyant. But his intelligence had more to do with the level of his thought, what Chateaubriand called the intelligence of greatness of soul.”