Emmanuel Macron’s decision to honor Marshal Pétain at the Invalides on the occasion of the centenary of the end of the First World War sparked a heated controversy Wednesday disturbing the memory journey of the head of state in the Northeast.
“It is legitimate for us to pay tribute to the marshals who led the army to victory, as every year, my chief of staff will be present at this ceremony,” said Emmanuel Macron, interviewed by journalists.
Saturday, Macron argued that the head of the Vichy regime Marshal Pétain had been “during the First World War a great soldier” before leading “fatal choices” during the Second by collaborating with the Nazi regime.
During World War I Pétain led the French Army to victory at the nine month long Battle of Verdun. After the failed Nivelle Offensive and subsequent mutinies he was appointed Commander-in-Chief and succeeded in repairing the army’s confidence. Pétain remained in command throughout the war and emerged as a national hero. During the interwar period he was head of the peacetime French Army, commanded jointed Franco-Spanish operations during the Rif War and served twice as a government Minister.
Vichy France (French: Régime de Vichy) is the common name of the French State (État français) headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II. Evacuated from Paris to Vichy in the unoccupied “Free Zone” (zone libre) in the southern part of metropolitan France which included French Algeria, it remained responsible for the civil administration of all France as well as the French colonial empire.Most of the overseas French colonies were originally under Vichy control, but with the Allied invasion of North Africa it lost one colony after another to Charles de Gaulle‘s Allied-oriented Free France. Public opinion in some quarters turned against the French government and the occupying German forces over time, when it became clear that Germany was losing the war, and resistance to them increased. Following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944 and the liberation of France later that year, the Free French Provisional government of the French Republic (GPRF) was installed by the Allies as France’s government, led by de Gaulle. Under a “national unanimity” cabinet uniting the many factions of the French Resistance, the GPRF re-established a provisional French Republic, thus apparently restoring continuity with the Third Republic. Most of the legal French government’s leaders at Vichy fled or were subject to show trials by the GPRF, and a number were quickly executed for “treason” in a series of purges (épuration légale). Thousands of collaborators were summarily executed by local communists and the Resistance in so-called “savage purges”
Pétain, who had voluntarily made his way back to France via Switzerland, was also put on trial for treason by the new Provisional government, and received a death sentence, but this was commuted to life imprisonment by de Gaulle. Only four senior Vichy officials were tried for crimes against humanity, although many more had participated in the deportation of Jews for internment in Nazi concentration camps, abuses of prisoners, and severe acts against members of the Resistance. Pétain died in 1951.