What was really said Emmanuel Macron on Philippe Pétain ? How spoke before him the other presidents of “the man of Verdun” ?

[updated at 7 November 2018 at 14h26] Saturday, at the hotel des Invalides, a solemn tribute will be given to the “chief members” who have worked for the victory of France in 1918, noted the spokesman of the armed forces, Patrick Steiger. This announcement has elicited some comments on the possibility that either as well hailed the memory of marshal Pétain, who was celebrated as a true hero at the end of the war. Of course, the president of the Republic could not do the economy of a clarification on the matter, while he prepares the ceremonies of 11 November. And Emmanuel Macron, on-the-go Charlevile-Mézières, has not kicked into touch, when asked about the topic this Wednesday, November 7 : “Marshal Pétain has been, during the First world War, also a great soldier, it is the reality”, he said in front of a few journalists, adding : “The political life as the human nature are sometimes more complex than what we would like to believe”.

The head of State has felt that it was a “legitimate” tribute should be rendered “to the marshals who have led the army to victory, as each year”. Emmanuel Macron knows that he touches upon a very sensitive topic, very explosive. Marshal Pétain is very singular in the history of France, he was regarded as one of the principal architects of the victory of Verdun, before being deposed and sentenced to death for having headed the regime that collaborated with the nazis. “I’m still opposed to the defeatism French or the complacency towards any ideology. But I recognize the part that our marshals and our armed forces have played. To him we owe the victory [in 1918],” said Emmanuel Macron, who was keen to add that the man was “led of the choices are grim”.

wreaths laid on the tomb of Pétain in 1968

Acknowledge the role of Philippe Pétain in the First world War is a delicate balancing act, but Emmanuel Macron is not the first president to be appropriate. In may 1966, when general de Gaulle commemorate the 50 years of the battle of Verdun, Douaumont Ossuary, he had these words : “If, by misfortune, at another time, in the extreme winter of his life, in the middle of events is excessive, the wear and tear of the age led by marshal Pétain to failures reprehensible, the glory that he acquired at Verdun, that he had gained at Verdun, twenty-five years ago and he kept driving then the French army to victory cannot be challenged or infringed by the homeland” (see here a story of the INA that refers to).

Jacques Chirac, just 40 years after, was his speech in general, to commemorate at Douaumont the 90th anniversary of the battle of Verdun. Again, in a long speech, it was question to emphasize the importance of the choices made by the military at Verdun, while recalling the “dishonor” of the Vichy regime : “One man was able to make the decisions that will lead to victory. He will be remembered as the winner of Verdun. This man is Philippe Pétain. Alas, in June 1940, the same man, having reached the winter of his life, will shower his glory upon the choice of a disastrous armistice and the disgrace of the collaboration,” he said. Jacques Chirac insisted on the responsibilities of France which is lost in the collaboration : “This tragedy the French is part of our history. Today we can look at in the face,” he said. While considering “the man from Verdun, Jacques Chirac, however, has put an end to a tradition that was introduced : never again a French president has deposited wreaths on the tomb of marshal Pétain, a gesture made by Charles de Gaulle in 1968, and then by Valéry Giscard d’estaing in 1978, and by François Mitterrand in 1988.

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