The Legacy of the French War Hero Who Betrayed His Country and Its Jews

In 1918, Marshal Philippe Pétain was the most revered man in France—the heroic general who saved his country from the German onslaught at the battle of Verdun and led the army to its eventual victory. In the summer of 1945, at the age of eighty-nine, he was condemned to death by a special tribunal in Paris, although the sentence was commuted to life in prison. The crime of which he was tried and convicted was treason, but any moral reckoning would include his overseeing of the Vichy government’s enthusiastic efforts to deliver French Jewry to Hitler. Allen Lane reviews a “splendid” new book on the trial by Julian Jackson:

For four years, from the fall of France to the liberation, [Pétain] had steered the Vichy regime created from the wreckage of defeat into collaboration with the new continental hegemon, Adolf Hitler. Now, after eight months of wandering to escape the advancing Allies through eastern France to the castle of Sigmaringen in Germany and finally to Switzerland, he was in the custody of General de Gaulle’s provisional government.

His prestige and the popular confidence he inspired as French forces collapsed before the German Blitzkrieg were crucial to establishing the Vichy regime. The son of a peasant, he had a calm, grandfatherly presence and carefully cultivated his image as the embodiment of unchanging rural France, which underwrote the legitimacy that Vichy enjoyed. Whether, or to what extent, he became senile over the four years following the establishment of the Vichy government remains a controversial issue. He barely spoke at his trial, sometimes appeared confused and made great play of his deafness, yet these handicaps miraculously disappeared at key moments in the proceedings. His brutal disavowal of his old comrade-in-arms, the blind General Lannurien, who stumbled in his testimony for the defense, is a case in point. As Jackson pithily puts it, “Pétain was never shy of ditching his most devoted followers if necessary.”

In the longer term, the trial was intended to condemn Vichy France itself and its extreme right-wing ideology of authoritarianism, exclusive nationalism, and racism. Here it did not entirely succeed. Official France, of course, continues to repudiate the Vichy state as an illegal regime born of military defeat. Yet there are signs today that the “Vichy taboo” may be lifting. The most obvious evidence is the candidature of the extreme nationalist Eric Zemmour in the 2022 presidential election.

Read more at Literary Review

More about: Eric Zemmour, Vichy France, World War II


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount