Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order 1940-1944
Robert O. Paxton's classic study of the aftermath of France's sudden collapse under Nazi invasion utilizes captured German archives and other contemporary materials to construct a strong and disturbing account of the Vichy period in France. With a new introduction and updated bibliography, Vichy France demonstrates that the collaborationist government of Marshal Pétain did far more than merely react to German pressures. The Vichy leaders actively pursued their own double agenda -- internally, the authoritarian and racist "national revolution," and, externally, an attempt to persuade Hitler to accept this new France as a partner in his new Europe.
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This book is scholarly and densely written in places but quite enlightening. It gives a detailed, nuanced account of the Vichy government and describes all of the many factors at play before and during 1940-1944. For instance, I had no idea how seminal the influence of the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War was to French reactions to 20th century events. Paxton shows that many little understood forces were at play during the Vichy years and that 'collaboration' was not always considered despicable. He shows that it is not enough to think in black and white terms when studying this time period. If you are interested in a fleshed out examination of the whole spectrum of ideas, thought, and actions of the era, and you are willing to slog through some sections of heavy reading, this is the book for you.