‘VIVE LE QUÉBEC LIBRE’: GENERAL DE GAULE HAS PRECIOUS LITTLE TO TEACH US ABOUT LIBERTY AND FREEDOM IN QUÉBEC OR CANADA
When people in Québec and the rest of Canada think of the separatist movement in Québec, they often think of that historic moment that was immortalized on the balcony of Montréal City Hall back in 1967. General Charles De Gaulle was visiting our country to mark the Centennial year of Confederation, and we wanted to underline the special relationship that our country had with France, seeing that so many of our young men and women had fought in that century, on two separate occasions, to liberate France from German occupation, and that our province was, and still is, one of the founding civilizations of our country.
General De Gaulle, however, had other things in mind. His country’s foreign spy service already having begun to infiltrate the separatist movement in Québec, he was preparing an historic ‘coup de théatre’, which still reverberates throughout our country. At a crucial juncture in his speech, he cried out, in a patriotic voice, ‘Vive le Québec libre’, or ‘long live a free Québec’. Wherein the crowd went wild with jubilation. It was as if he had said out loud what many only dared to say in their head.
He instantly touched off a powder keg of political and economic unrest in Québec, which had already been brewing since at least before the Quiet Revolution took off with the election of Jean Lesage in 1960. Bombings and strikes increased, as well as the now infamous October Crisis, which occurred in October 1970 wherein James Cross, the British Trade Commissioner, and Pierre Laporte, the provincial minister of Labour, were both kidnapped. Cross was later released unharmed, whereas Laporte was assassinated in captivity.
These events served very much to polarize opinion in Québec for or against separation, because the army was called out to quell the unrest, and the War Measures Act invoked, effectively declaring martial law, and temporarily suspending many civil liberties under the pretext of restoring law and order.
What many people don’t realise is just how off the beaten track General De Gaulle really was, and just how much he was motivated by personal factors such as spite, and resentment towards the United States and Britain than anything else, when deciding to make his now iconic public appearance.
General De Gaulle was a highly-decorated and brave soldier who had fought many battles in WWI and had been wounded several times and had almost died on at least one occasion. However, by the time that WWII rolled around, he was older, and less of a field commander, and more of a political leader, leaving the actual fighting to younger commanders.
General Charles De Gaulle was the exiled leader of the so-called ‘Free French’ forces in WWII, and had fled to Britain, where he lived out the rest of the war, returning triumphantly, once his men, led by such brilliant field commanders as General Leclerc, had fought their way through France, and all the way into the German Fatherland. Not only that, but a lesser-known, but equally-important group of black African colonial troupes had come from the south, in an operation called ‘operation anvil’, liberating France from that direction.
These brave men were mostly Africans from France’s colonies on that continent, and were still living under France’s colonial domination, and were being asked to fight and die to liberate a country which, still, up to that point, had denied them the rights of ‘Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’.
De Gaulle was good at making speeches from the safety of his haven in Britain, which, by the way, became the last bastion of liberty, freedom, and democracy in Europe, after France had so readily capitulated at the beginning of the war, so as to spare Paris the destruction that was eventually to be so readily unleashed upon London by Hitler’s Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. France eventually set up a collaborationist government in part of the country at Vichy, which aided and abetted the Nazis in their process of rounding up Jews and sending them off to the death camps in Poland.
Britain, however, stood up to Hitler, and gave safe haven to the likes of De Gaulle, so that he could send messages of hope to the resistance over in France, and eventually help win the war. However, the British and the Americans were not impressed with just how easily the French had rolled over in the face of the Nazi advance, and were in no mood to give a place of very great importance to De Gaulle and his Free French forces in the eventual liberation of their own country and the rest of the continent.
Because of this, De Gaulle felt slighted, and carried this sense of personal slight and resentment with him into the post war period, going even so far as to withdraw France from certain military structures of NATO, and pursuing their own nuclear option, which they called the ‘Force de Frappe’, independent of the rest of NATO, feeling that said organization was far too dominated by America and Britain.
De Gaulle then proceeded to go and start meddling in the affairs of former British and French colonies such as Canada, reopening old colonial-era wounds, which we were desperately trying to heal after over two hundred years, and actively stirring up separatist sentiment in Québec with his inflammatory rhetoric on the balcony of Montréal City Hall.
It’s no wonder Canadians in the rest of the country don’t like him: He was the leader of a liberation movement in his own country, where he did none of the actual fighting in the field, leaving that to the rest of his countrymen, as well as tens of thousands of brave men from the country which he would then turn around and denigrate and advocate for its destruction. His liberation movement was also aided by men from lands which his own country denied the very liberties and freedoms which they fought and died to defend. And furthermore, he did all of this from the safety of a country which had had the courage to stand up to the tyranny of the Nazis, whereas his country had not, the former country thereby suffering tremendous damage to its capital city, whereas his own was spared by surrendering.
And lastly, he did all of this liberating from the safety of one of the world’s oldest democracies, the likes of which spawned such lands of liberty, freedom and democracy as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and which he was to go on to thank and show his gratitude towards for having liberated his own country twice in the same century, by brazenly advocating for the dissolution of the former, simply to satisfy his sense of pique at having been slighted.
I therefore firmly believe that General Charles De Gaulle is a very poor example of someone who should in any way be in a position to lecture, much less exhort us, as Québecers, or Canadians, in the finer elements of liberty.
Let us hope that the dearly-departed General’s words will not come back to haunt us too readily. We as Québecers and Canadians are far too attached and fond of our liberty and freedom, as they exist today, to let such chauvinistic posturing distract us from our pursuit of peaceful cohabitation and coexistence in the great Village we call Canada.