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France from 1939 to 1945


World war 2 to France
World war 2 to France

The failure of the Third Republic to deal effectively with the Depression was accompanied by the collapse of its foreign and military policy. Until 1936 the rise of Nazi Germany caused little controversy in France. The government responded to growing Nazi power by attempting to strengthen ties with France’s central and eastern European allies, establish new agreements with Italy and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and renew the old entente with Britain. But after the Popular Front government came to power, the right, which portrayed the Popular Front as the prelude to a communist takeover, began to see Hitler as less of a menace than Blum. The left, torn between its old pacifism and its fears of creeping European fascism, was divided on whether to confront or negotiate with Germany.

Clearly, the majority of the French people wanted to avoid war at almost all costs, and British pressure to do so inclined France toward a policy of appeasement. In 1936 France merely protested Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland, despite the fact that this move violated the treaties of Versailles and Locarno.

While the Popular Front was in power, Blum declined to aid the Spanish Republic, which was fighting a brutal civil war against anti-Republican forces led by Franco and supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (see Spanish Civil War). Since the right favored Franco, Blum feared a civil war in France if he intervened in the Spanish conflict. In March 1938 France acceded to Germany’s annexation of Austria. At the Munich Conference (see Munich Pact) in September 1938, France violated its own defense treaty with Czechoslovakia by agreeing to German occupation of the Czech Sudetenland. The next March, France stood by while Germany occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Only on September 3, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland, did France and Britain reluctantly declare war. Even then France took little offensive action beyond participating in a naval blockade of Germany, still hoping that something might be worked out.

Such paralysis, far from thwarting Nazi aggression against France, only invited it. The German attack on France in May 1940 was no repetition of the attack of September 1914, which had stalled out very quickly. Hitler directed his massed tank divisions north of the Maginot Line through the supposedly impenetrable Ardennes forest. France and the rest of the Allied Powers did not lack men and material, but they were unprepared strategically. In six weeks Hitler won the decisive victory that had eluded the Germans in World War I. Seventy years after the Battle of Sedan, France was once again an occupied nation. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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