Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940

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W. W. Norton & Company, 1968 - History - 178 pages
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Marc Bloch wrote Strange Defeat during the three months following the fall of France, after he returned home from military service. In the midst of his anguish, he nevertheless "brought to his study of the crisis all the critical faculty and all the penetrating analysis of a first-rate historian" (Christian Science Monitor). Bloch takes a close look at the military failures he witnessed, examining why France was unable to respond to attack quickly and effectively. He gives a personal account of the battle of France, followed by a biting analysis of the generation between the wars. His harsh conclusion is that the immediate cause of the disaster was the utter incompetence of the High Command, but his analysis ranges broadly, appraising all the factors, social as well as military, which since 1870 had undermined French national solidarity. "Much has been, and will be, written in explanation of the defeat of France in 1940, but it seems unlikely that the truth of the matter will ever be more accurately and more vividly presented than in this statement of evidence." -- P. J. Philip, New York Times Book Review "The most wisdom-packed commentary on the problem set [before] all intelligent and patriotic Frenchmen by the events of 1940." -- D. W. Brogan, Spectator

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At the time Marc Bloch wrote Strange Defeat, France had lost territory and its political status was reduced to that of a puppet empire. 1940 was a dark year, and the coming years would force the French to lose hope in the goodness of their national Marseilles, motto, or constituent ideals as a competent force for good. The technics of war, from the point of view of a supply line Intelligence officer creates a distinct prism of analysis for historians that appropriately conveys the logistical predecessors of contingent and subsequent complete defeat at the hands of the Germans. That is, the two intertwining communications stressed in this book are the military losses during the rapid advance of Nazi Germany through France and the cultural capitulation spreading throughout France and the Allies like a disease under the stress of starvation, hardship, and absence of adequate leadership.
The importance of the Maginot line cannot be stressed enough in French plans. Like the Titanic, a great ship so formidably designed no one thought to include life boats except for cosmetic purposes, the French investment in concrete believed to stop a German incursion substituted for proper evacuation and withdrawal plans (52). The French hoped to avoid a war with Germany first through diplomatic means and if all else failed to repulse her by utilization of near limitless resources invested soundly in the same mechanics of warfare found in the First World War.
Germany correctly anticipated the French attachment to a static defensive structure (73). Engines had grown in size, and motorized transports, armored divisions, and even motorcycles traversed the countryside, sowing uncontrollable panic without even confronting the fortifications of the military (51). Bloch hypothesizes that if such an outcome were possible there may have been a path to victory in this early war with full and vigorous retreats to bring the French military together and to make a unified assault on German targets (40). Improper planning led to isolated units, without water or other necessary supplies, that Bloch was personally acquainted with as an officer of the fuel depots (38).
Hitler met with psychologists in the development of the Blitzkrieg in order to ensure that the war would exert the maximum effect on civilian and military populations possible. Mechanical means were used to boost the screech of dive-bombers, for example (54). The Battle of London showed the Luftwaffe capable of a good deal more than was deployed into France. The French likely would have required more than simple modifications to withdrawals to counter German invasion forces, should such an outcome be conceivable without dramatically changing the fundamental makeup of the French Army. Only half of the battle was lost on the field, however.
By the conclusion of military operations dramatic social class differences in France were extant, and the occupiers sought to exploit these as liberators or bringers of a new form of government: the tyrant or dictator. In the process of authoritarianism, the French would lose hope in their national Marseilles (138). For the first time, the Germans began to fail. Where the military had instilled fear in the mind of France, appropriately enough, intelligence operatives from Germany were thugs. Improper targets were chased, and fifth columnists inappropriately exploited, becoming one of the targets of blame (25). As a consequence, the Resistance lived on.
At the time Marc Bloch wrote, the France that De Gaulle described in London was a fairy tale. Even among the regular French population, “the Germany of Hitler aroused certain sympathies the Germany of Ebert could never have hoped to appeal” and the war seemed lost for the French people as well as the military (150). To Bloch, the political right had sold out to fascists and vassalized France while detracting their political opponents as warmongers. These were elements of a social class conflict with the bourgeoisie as their target. They had “refused to take the masses seriously, or they



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About the author (1968)

Marc Bloch was a French historian who cofounded the Annales School of French social history. He was captured and shot by the Gestapo in 1944 for his work with the French Resistance.

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