Autonomy and Responsibility: France and World War II
The decision to enter into war is usually a great struggle involving many factors. Some countries, however, such as France in 1940, do not have much choice in the matter. France’s leaders struggled with the feelings of autonomy and responsibility. France's struggle entering into World War II was in the difficulty in fulfilling its dual responsibility to the people of France and to the rest of the world whom both maintained conflicting beliefs about the approaching war. The French people desired peace, while the other countries required France to go to war to defend itself against
Germany, so France’s struggle with autonomy and responsibility began long before World War II did.
France was a major part of the end of World War I. They had a strong, respected army, and the country had faith in its military strength. The Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War consisted of five separate treaties between the allies and Germany. Perhaps the most important for France was the formation of the League of Nations. This was a union of countries who agreed to pursue common policies after reaching a common decision, especially in times of war, to establish and maintain peace. The main powers in this league were Britain, France, Italy, the United States, and Japan. The League of Nations gave the countries a sense of responsibility to protect one another. The treaty also guaranteed that if Germany were to attack France again, the United States and Britain would offer aid to France. Germany was also forced to reduce its army to 100,000 men on long-term service as a stipulation of this treaty.1
Despite the terms of the League of Nations, France alone worked to restrain Germany who failed to follow the terms of the treaty. It fulfilled its responsibilities to the other countries, but was not given the same in return. In the end, The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and backed out of the League of Nations. Great Britain was so weighed down with their expenses from the war that it did the same. France now lost any hope of aid in a German invasion and was now only working for itself. It had a great sense of duty to its own people and their safety and no longer one of the greater world community since it felt betrayed by the Allied powers. Although France was always an autonomous country, it was now even more so without any attachments to other nations. Sergeant Maginot of France said "We are always the invaded, we are always the ones to suffer, we are always the ones to be sacrificed."2 The bitter feeling of betrayal were difficult to overcome, but France still felt that Germany needed to be suppressed for the safety of it’s own people.
France had a general distrust of Germany. There was a great fear that if more serious measures to stop Germany were not made then the next generation would be seeking a war of revenge. The French public opinion earnestly desired a just...