The Army Museum looks back on the gigantic shock of 1940

Our current disarray in the face of the virus which threatens our health and the lives of some of us interrupts our activities and our leisure activities, incessantly occupies our conversations, perhaps gives an idea, on a scale of course infinitely reduced despite the abuse of the warlike metaphor, of what the French lived eighty years ago. In forty-five days disappeared the army which defended them, the Republic which governed them, and quite simply the freedom which they enjoyed.

From May 10 to June 25, 1940, France experienced military defeat, foreign invasion, deaths and injuries from bombardments and battles – more fierce than one might think – the exodus of millions of civilians, the ‘sending 1.8 million soldiers into captivity, submitting to arbitrariness by the Nazi occupier over 55% of its territory, submitting the remaining 45% to a neofascist regime, and finally the plundering of its resources , resulting in food rationing and daily difficulties.

These are the different dimensions of this gigantic shock that the exhibition traces through a museography certainly classic, but pedagogically effective.

These are the different dimensions of this gigantic shock that the exhibition “Comme en 40…”, presented at the Army Museum, through a museography certainly classic, but pedagogically effective. She describes, through newsreels, newspaper extracts, posters and sometimes unpublished documents, the distance between public confidence in victory and its gloomy nostalgia for civilian life and peace. But also the inability of military and political elites to understand the nature of the enemy they face. Then the chain of disasters, the immense panic which spreads the civilians throwing themselves on the roads, the generals unable to organize the counter-offensive, the government which oscillates between the strategic withdrawal on the British ally and the colonial empire , and an armistice that would save the beaten army from surrender by returning the responsibility for the defeat to political power.

Mechanism of a disaster

It was this last choice that won on June 17 under pressure from the military – Pétain, vice-president of the Council, and Weygand, commander-in-chief of the armed forces -, against the advice of Paul Reynaud, president of the Council, of De Gaulle, Secretary of State for War, and de Mandel, Minister of the Interior (among others). Taking advantage of Reynaud’s resignation, Pétain takes the latter’s place, sends a delegation to sign the armistice under German conditions, on June 22, and, once it has entered into force on June 25, the full powers are voted on. , on July 10, to establish the regime which will know how to purge France of the perpetrators of its “decadence”: the Jews, the Communists, the Democrats. During this time, the only member of the government to have chosen exile, de Gaulle, from London, called for the continuation of the struggle.

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