By Philip H. Gordon
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Extra resources for A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and Gaullist Legacy
At no time since the collapse of the Maginot line in June 1940 was Western Europe the French army’s primary concern, and at no time after 1950 did French troops play a leading role there. From the very start of the postwar era, France was more preoccupied with its global than with its European role. It was not long after V-E Day that the French army, already largely decimated by the events of June 1940 and still stunned by the experience, had to take up arms abroad. Four years of war had unleashed feelings of nationalism and desires for independence in the French empire and trying to thwart these desires became the overwhelming focus of the French army for more than a decade after World War II.
In fact, so did territorial groupings larger than the state. Did not the Atlantic Community share many values and customs? The unit around which “societies” were formed had begun with the family and moved to the tribe to the city-state to the nation. 24 In this sense, “national” borders were artiﬁcial. What was worse, they provided the pretext for emotional nationalism, whose vulgarization had in the past caused not only trade wars but real wars, most recently in the disaster of 1939–1945. Thus, arguments like de Gaulle’s that nationstates were the only “legitimate” units of action were not only unsubstantiated but ultimately very dangerous.
Although it is probably impossible to establish precisely what all this cost in the aggregate, it is indicative that by 1962 an exceptional 68 percent of the French military budget—itself nearly 5 percent of GNP—was going to “operations,” a direct result of the overseas war. Moreover, added to the conﬂict’s ofﬁcial costs must be the huge economic opportunity cost of sending such a large proportion of the country’s young labor force abroad as conscripted soldiers. During a period of tight labor supply, worsened by negative demographic trends and a slowing of the postwar migration from agriculture to industry, the war had economic consequences well beyond the numbers found in the military budget.
A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and Gaullist Legacy by Philip H. Gordon