Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 6, 1934 – Riots Ignite French Civil War

As the Great Depression dragged on worldwide, France along with the rest of Europe writhed with quasi-revolution. As the middle class depleted and a full belly approached luxury status, people began to approach the political extremes in desperation. Votes were wild in France with each party seeking to cure the nation’s woes, and five governments were elected and suspended between May 1932 and January 1934. People lost faith in the parliament and searched for other options such as socialism or fascism. In the elections leading up to the great uprising of the right, the moderate leftists had won the government under Camille Chautemps. When the scandal of the Stavisky Affair broke, it became obvious how many ministers were involved in the embezzling and false bonds schemes. Chautemps resigned, giving his presidency to party-member Édouard Daladier, who began firing “anti-government” officials such as the rightist prefect of the Paris police, Jean Chiappe.

The dismissal of Chiappe brought out the wrath in the growing right. They organized demonstrations and parades in the streets of Paris that evolved into an all-out riot. While initially still very loose in confederation, François de La Rocque, leader of the nationalist Croix de Feu, decided that action must be taken. He called for the citizens to unify around him and announced a new constitution that would make France bold and rich again, revitalized with the morals of Catholicism and spirit of Gaul. The coup d'état did not work initially as the leftists still held many of the reigns of government and rallied against the right. Within days, the riots turned to organized warfare with battles around government offices. Daladier called in the army to protect the constitution, but few actually appeared. In the chaos, it is said that only the Anarchist party was pleased.

Gradually the army formed up into support of the Nationalists or the Republicans. The Nationalists established a new government in the south, electing hero of Verdun Philippe Pétain as president after the recommendation of the newspaper Le Petit Journal. Noted commander of the armored divisions in Poland during the Great War, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Gaulle, became a hero in the battles of advanced armored vehicles attacking the many outposts of the leftist Republicans attempting to hold Paris. Support for the Nationalists poured out of fascist Italy as well as the growing Nazism of Germany. The Republicans, meanwhile, garnered voluntary support from the international community, especially the Soviet Union, while few nations were keen to become directly involved.

The war eventually went the way of the Fascists, and France became another bastion for the right in 1936, the same year a similar civil war erupted over the Pyrenees in Spain. Again, Fascism would win the day as Emilio Mola became dictator. Meanwhile, France would put its new rigorous political system to work spreading through its many colonies, which had gone into various degrees of decay after the World War. New Imperialism would seize the public mood, as it would in Italy and Germany, who made their own expansions into Ethiopia and Eastern Europe, respectively.

When Germany invaded Poland, Britain began to take a stand, but it seemed alone as France quietly applauded the sentiment of Lebensraum. With the invasion of Denmark, however, Britain declared war on Germany and soon found itself on the defensive from Axis French colonial forces in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. The German pushes eastward, however, would eventually throw Hitler into war with the Soviet Union. The United States would eventually be brought into the fight by Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which would spur the invention of atomic weapons that would finally settle the war.

As the war ended, the colonial landscape would take very different form. The dependence on locals for defense and administration would spark the decolonization of the British Empire into a commonwealth. The French colonies, meanwhile, would be managed by joint missions from the Allies. As the Cold War settled in, numerous former colonies in regions such as French Indochina, the Caribbean, and West Africa would fall to communism as corruption and lack of First World support caused locals to appeal to extremism to alleviate economic woes.

In reality, La Rocque became a moderating force wishing to adhere to the constitution for change in France. Daladier resigned after re-establishing public order, and a counter-demonstration by the left on the 9th proved that the right was not in a dominant conspiracy. A National Union government formed under former president Gaston Doumergue, and France would find itself divided only after being invaded by Germany in the early days of the Second World War.

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