Thursday, November 4, 2021

Michael S. Neiberg's "When France Fell"

Michael S. Neiberg is the award-winning author of Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe, Fighting the Great War, and Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, among other books. He is Professor of History and the inaugural Chair of War Studies at the United States Army War College.

Neiberg applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, When France Fell: The Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the Anglo-American Alliance, and reported the following:
I have to hand it to Ford Madox Ford. Page 99 sits at the crux of my entire argument. The setting is Washington in September 1940. France had just fallen and senior American officials were deciding what to do about it. Fear that the Germans might gain control of the French fleet or access to French ports sent those officials into a panic. The entire structure of pre-war American defense and security had suddenly turned upside down. France, once a key part of that structure, now seemed like a clear and present threat if it cooperated with Germany.

On page 99 I start to trace the convoluted arguments Americans used to justify recognizing the Vichy French government, even while evidence mounted of its complicity with Nazi war efforts. Ambassador William Bullitt, just back from Paris, warned Roosevelt that “you will be unable to protect the United States from German attack” if Germany took the French fleet. Previous scholars have argued that the United States recognized Vichy reluctantly in order to forestall this possibility. But that explanation is too simple. Americans also saw much that they admired in the new regime. It was avowedly non-communist and its leaders professed (disingenuously) that they wanted to keep France pro-American.

Backing Vichy also meant that the United States could disavow itself of Charles de Gaulle, then a renegade brigadier general who had fled to Britain and begun to build a Free France movement from London. The Americans disliked and distrusted de Gaulle, who returned the sentiments. But the British had backed him, all his faults notwithstanding. The end result, as I argue in the remainder of the book, was a policy choice in Washington that nearly destroyed the alliance with Britain.
Learn more about When France Fell at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Dance of the Furies.

The Page 99 Test: The Blood of Free Men.

The Page 99 Test: Potsdam.

--Marshal Zeringue