Danger: English Lessons

R.W. Johnson

  • Power and Glory: France’s Secret Wars with Britain and America, 1945-2016 by R.T. Howard
    Biteback, 344 pp, £20.00, October 2016, ISBN 978 1 78590 116 4

In his monumental biography of De Gaulle, Jean Lacouture describes a meeting of the Free French in London in 1941 at which several of the younger members expressed their admiration for Churchill. In response De Gaulle warned them ‘never to forget that within him breathes the soul of Pitt’. What he meant was that every true Englishman is, at least potentially, an opponent of France. In De Gaulle’s view of history – a European history – England and France had struggled for supremacy for the best part of a thousand years. For most of that time France had been the dominant power, but now its great empire wasn’t just overshadowed but outmatched by the even greater British Empire. For De Gaulle France was not itself if it was not the leading power in Europe. By 1941, however, the opponent was no longer Britain: it was ‘les Anglo-Saxons’. Asked what was the most important international development of recent times, De Gaulle replied: ‘The fact that the Americans speak English.’

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