The Menlo Roundtable

Leadership in times of crisis: Marshal Philippe Pétain vs. Charles de Gaulle

Marshal Philippe Pétain and General Charles de Gaulle, both veterans of the Great War who deeply loved their country, had diametrically opposed reactions to the Nazi defeat and occupation of France in June 1940.

Pétain, who was already well-known as “the Victor of Verdun” in the Great War, took a pragmatic and provincial approach as the leader of the Vichy government. Working with the Nazis, he focused internally and tried to restore France’s morals which he thought had been corrupted. A relative unknown, de Gaulle was expansive and international. He leveraged his communication skills to rally idealistically against the Nazis from exile overseas. He encouraged the French Resistance and bet on the Allies to prevail while emphasizing France’s role in the world.

The leaders’ approaches and strategies varied so much because of their radically different visions for France: Pétain thought France would thrive if it embodied more conservative values and focused inward, while de Gaulle saw a republican France as part of the post-war international order.

Photo: Philippe Noyer, Imperial War Museums via Wikimedia Commons