III: The Wayward Press
Sad indeed is the plight if the American Gaullist. You and I and Secretary McNamara alike have all been deprived of our New York Times; and that is horrible enough. But for anyone who does not believe that Charles de Gaulle is some diabolical combination of Louis Napoleon and Bertrand Russell, breakfast reading of late has been an experience verging on the traumatic.
The Gaullist plows through 18 pages of violent crime in the Boston Herald, searching for some comforting words by C. L. Sulzberger, and finds instead James Reston's notice that God (Reston has a pipeline) is getting jealous of de Gaulle's pretensions.
Reston is by no means the only offender, although he was the closest to the seats of spiritual and temporal power. Almost the entire American press has turned its turns toward de Gaulle, as if on signal. That, of course, is their privilege. But in the process, some ideas that deserve debate have been palmed off as fact.
One such myth is that de Gaulle wants to exclude American influence from the Continent, and substitute for it a purely French hegemony. this is a gross exaggeration. Since 1940, when de Gaulle first mortgaged France to the overwhelming power of the Anglo-Saxons, this gravest concern has been to preserve French liberty of action without trying to go it alone. The long arm of American support has fingers at the end, and it is the grasp of these fingers that de Gaulle wishes to loosen. Yet no one knows better than he how little France would gain from isolation.
If the "unity" which de Gaulle is accused of violating is nothing but a sterile, forcibly-imposed facade of unanimity, then perhaps the alliance would fare better in disunion. But if unity resides in common aspirations, and in defense against a common threat, then free debate over policy threatens nothing, except John Kennedy's personal pride.
A second popular half-truth is that de Gaulle is trying to build a neutralist "third force." Sometimes it is given suggested that his ulterior goal is a separate French bargain with the Soviets (a prospect which doubtless alarms the Harvard community less than it does the public at large). This particular myth has gone so far that the recent renewal of an old Franco-soviet trade agreement was described in the press as the harbinger of disaster.
Such charges are ludicrous, especially since less than a year ago Washington was bridling at de Gaulle's intransigence over Berlin, and at his skepticism about disarmament negotiations. Neutralism and ultra-anti-Communism are not a workable combination.
In the case of de Gaulle, it is last year's critique which is accurate. Since 1958 de Gaulle has constantly flanked the U.S. on the "right," just as the British have flanked us on the "left." From the French viewpoint there was grave concern when Khrushchev, during the Cube missiles crisis, opened a private pipeline which bypassed the Western allies and went straight to Kennedy. Now Kennedy, after dropping Skybolt without informing the British, is putting through the same pipeline a test ban treaty which the French don't like and on which they are not being consulted. Under these circumstances, de Gaulle may well want to conduct an independent foreign policy. But his differences with the U.S. take him farther from an entente with the East, not close to it.
There is a third misconception currently being heard, which owes its popularity to the skillful presentation of Louis Halle. In a recent issue of the New Republic, Professor Halle wrote that de Gaulle "has known how to use the power to obstruct, which is the only power available to hose who lack what is required for leadership. ... He sits supreme in the Elysee Palace and exerts his power by saying no."
Halle reaches this extraordinary conclusion by ignoring a number of facts.
Between 1940 and 1946 de Gaulle rallied the French Empire against Vichy, forged unity out of the diverse elements of the Resistance, and carried a united France into the battle against Germany. Since his return in 1958 he has ended the Algerian War, broken the OAS, cemented the tie between Bonn and Paris so that it might outlast his own life, released most of French Africa from colonialism, presided over the economic resurgence of his country, ended the paralytic reign of the French splinter-party system, and initiated the building of a unified France under a popularly-elected President. This is rather more than most men have been able to achieve in the space of 11 years.
(This is the third in a series of four articles on Kennedy and de Gaulle)