by Raoul Aglion; The Free Press; 239 pages.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Charles de Gaulle spent most of World War II furious with each other. Raoul Aglion, one of de Gaulle’s delegates to America during the early 1940s, was a witness to this diplomatic war within a war between a French general seeking political recognition and an American President determined to make his allies play by his rules. Aglion’s engaging book examines how public opinion, egos, and politics influenced Roosevelt’s resistance to and ultimate acceptance of de Gaulle.
Though Roosevelt and de Gaulle is a memoir, the author does not rely solely on memory and anecdotes. This is a well-researched and documented history of Free France’s relationship with America. As an insider to the discussions between Roosevelt’s administration and de Gaulle’s government-in-exile, Aglion writes with authority about America’s paradoxical policy of aiding de Gaulle while officially recognizing the Nazi-dominated Vichy government, a policy that continued, incredibly, for almost a year after America and Germany were at war. Roosevelt believed de Gaulle to be autocratic as a leader and insignificant as an ally; for years he waited for a different French resistance leader to emerge. Aglion’s account of FDR’s mocking the austere general in mediocre French is a revelation compared with the two leaders’ own stately descriptions of their meetings. Though Aglion still bristles at the memory of the aggressive resistance to de Gaulle from the American government and especially from French expatriates and intellectuals, he is just as forthright in acknowledging that confusion and dissension in his own diplomatic camp greatly hindered the Free French effort. Aglion, in fact, knew what was happening in America far better than did de Gaulle, who even years later had not learned that the head of his own delegation had been undermining his credibility at every turn.
Roosevelt and de Gaulle does an excellent job of covering an underappreciated side of World War II. Perhaps the book’s chief virtue is that the author is a modest man, a characteristic that FDR found irritatingly lacking in de Gaulle.