On November 22, 1890, Charles de Gaulle was born in Lille, France. He is best known for leading Free France against the Nazi occupation in World War II, then becoming the symbol of post-war France by organizing the Fifth Republic in 1958 and serving as president until 1969. He was also a decorated officer in World War I.
Much has been made about what some called his “regal bearing and fastidious nature.” After leading the French under the Cross of Lorraine during World War II, his ally the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill exclaimed that “of all the crosses I have had to bear, the heaviest was the Cross of Lorraine.” In de Gaulle’s defense, he said “When I am right, I get angry. Churchill gets angry when he is wrong. We are angry at each other much of the time.” He also once said “I cannot prevent the French from being French.”
President Richard Nixon devoted a chapter to de Gaulle in his book Leaders. Nixon remembered him as someone who was also “exceptionally kind, gracious and thoughtful, no less in my years out of office than when I was in office.” (p. 41) Nixon thought there was no doubt that de Gaulle considered himself next in a line of French saviors, but the general also said “Perhaps this time I am one of those thrust into leadership by the failure of others.” Certainly his leadership and influence cannot be underestimated. A de Gualle quote (as repeated by Nixon, p. 74) gives the best summation I’ve ever read about the war: “In the Second World War, all the nations of Europe lost; two were defeated.”
Charles de Gaulle died on November 9, 1970. His instructions were for a funeral without pomp, only a private ceremony. His body was in a plain oak coffin borne by villagers. The government held a huge memorial service at Notre Dame Cathedral anyway.
Leaders by Richard Nixon (Warner Books, 1982).
The Writer’s Almanac, November 22, 2017 (https://writersalmanac.org/?utm_campaign=Writers+Almanac&utm_medium=email&utm_source=sfmc_&utm_content=)