“Certainly, everyone – and especially myself – can grasp why, in the minds and hearts of certain soldiers, there could have been born some other brand of hope indeed the illusion, that simply by wishing it things could be changed from what they really are to what one desired them to be.... But once the State and the nation have chosen their path, military duty is spelled out once and for all. Outside its guidelines there can be, there are only lost soldiers.”—President de Gaulle addressing 80 generals and admirals and 2,000 other officers, Strasbourg, November 23, 1961.
This is the first book to encompass the fifteen-year postwar cycle of discontent in the French Army, with a well-written, sequential treatment of both the Indochinese and Algerian conflicts. Thematically, it pursues the threads of decolonization, institutional failure, military alienation, cold war, doctrinal struggle, and Gaullist policy to reveal the stimulus that “impelled this army, often unwillingly, toward a political vocation.”
Since 1947 the French military establishment has been doggedly engaged in wars in which it had neither allies nor the active sympathy of much of its own population. While the French government had ordered the Army to fight and win, first in Indochina and later in Algeria, it furnished neither the means nor the desperately needed political direction. Thwarted in its mission, confused and misunderstood, the Army moved dangerously toward direct conflict with its legitimate master, the civil government.
Rich in background Lost Soldiers not only analyzes the issues but re-creates the very atmosphere of the period covered. The study concludes with some observations on the role of military groups in modern democracies.
This book will prove essential to the historian, the political scientist, the military analyst, and the military officer. The more general reader will find it a lucid account, an invaluable aid in understanding contemporary France.