Sisley Huddleston. France, the Tragic Years (1939-1947): An Eyewitness Account of War, Occupation and Liberation. Western Islands, 1965.
This is another book from the John Birch Society’s Americanist Library. Originally, it was published in 1955 by Devin-Adair, a conservative publishing house. Sisley Huddleston was a British journalist, who later became a citizen of France. As the title indicates, the book talks about France from 1939 to 1947, which includes the years leading up to World War II, the war itself, and the aftermath of the war.
I glazed over much of this book. There were many technicalities about French politics, both internal and also external. (“External” refers to France’s relationship with other nations.)
But the book still has many gems. Huddleston, at times in the book, takes a moment to talk about French culture or political theory, to respond to critics, or to offer historical insights that may be classified as historically revisionist. Some items:
—-France traditionally was not a warlike nation. Overall, Huddleston sympathizes and roots for France.
—-Franco was not eager to side with Hitler and stalled in doing so.
—-Mussolini invaded Ethiopia as revenge for what Ethiopia did to Italy in the late nineteenth century.
—-Russia instigated Hitler to invade Russia by making outlandish demands. Russia’s goal was to get that invasion over and done with, before Hitler had the time to make Germany even stronger such that it could defeat Russia.
—-The U.S. sided with China over Japan prior to World War II because FDR previously had successful business dealings in China. Consequently, FDR sought to contain Japanese imperialism, leading to the sanctions that provoked Japan’s attacks on Pearl Harbor. Huddleston thinks that the U.S. should have been friendlier to Japan.
—-Huddleston speaks highly of WWII historical revisionists William Henry Chamberlin and Harry Elmer Barnes. In many respects, he overlaps with World War II revisionism. He believes that peace could have been accomplished with Hitler in the years leading up to World War II, making World War II unnecessary. Huddleston criticizes the Allies for attacking France, including French civilians, in an attempt to weaken Germany. The aftermath of the war, in which the Allies sought to decimate Germany and prevent it from becoming a significant power ever again, was not only cruel but also prevented a counterweight against Bolshevism in Europe from emerging, resulting in the fall of Eastern Europe to the Soviets. For Huddleston, the atomic bomb was utterly unnecessary to end World War II. The Allies were wrong to demand unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan, who were already willing to surrender. Where Huddleston diverges from WWII historical revisionism is that he is not entirely pro-German, anti-French, and anti-Churchill. Huddleston narrates that Hitler attacked civilians in other countries, was cruel to France, and lacked any right to Vichy France.
—-Huddleston defends Philippe Petain, a leader of Vichy France, against charges that he was a dictator and a traitor. This can get tedious, but there are times when the defense comes alive, as Huddleston depicts Petain as a republican.
—-Huddleston’s political philosophy is difficult to pin down. On the one hand, he laments that the Cold War undermined the cultural distinctiveness of European countries by pressuring them to conform to either Soviet or American political culture. In light of this, he does not seem to think that certain European authoritarian system are necessarily bad. On the other hand, Huddleston is a bit of a libertarian, so he prefers democratic capitalism to authoritarian and collectivist systems. Huddleston’s stance towards war is also difficult to pin down. He laments that the U.S. permitted the Soviets to gain a foothold in Europe by failing to be tough, yet he also seems to oppose American participation in the Cold War.
—-The John Birch Society published this book because Huddleston, in significant areas, agrees with its ideology. Huddleston is anti-Communist. He bemoans that FDR gave ground to Russia during and after World War II, along with the Communist influence in the French Resistance and de-Gaulle’s government. In contrast with the Birchers, Huddleston does not come across as a conspiracy theorist. He acknowledges that industrialists supported Hitler and the Bolsheviks, but he does not see that so much as a conspiracy as an understandable attempt on the part of industrialists to protect themselves: German industrialists sought protection from the Bolsheviks and thus supported Hitler, and some industrialists wanted protection from Hitler and thus supported the Bolsheviks.