Ce livre répond enfin à l'image insultante que Robert Paxton, aidé de quelques historiens français soucieux de banaliser la francisque de François Mitterand, a réussi à donner aux américains de la France sous l'occupation.
Il est intéressant de s'apercevoir que Robert Paxton, le mal étant fait, n'hésite pas à commenter très favorablement et sans réserve un livre qui démantèle sa propre thèse d'une France de collabos.
Pour donner un avis neutre sur ce livre [mon impatience que soit répondu à Robert Paxton risquerait s'y trouver trop émotivement engagée], voici l'avis dépassioné de Mr B. Yates, lecteur américain.
Choices in Vichy France by John Sweets is about life under the Vichy government. This book focuses mainly on Clermont-Ferrand, which is the largest town near Vichy. The thesis comes in two parts. First, the author believes that the regime attempts to build a "New Order." The second thesis is, as the author puts it, "At no point did the French people exhibit much enthusiasm for the Vichy government's efforts to remake France" (viii). The author also believes that researchers dealing with this subject should be very careful in examining the size of collaboration and resistance. The author stated about his research, "I found that more people chose to oppose the Vichy regime and fewer people actively collaborated than I anticipated" (viii). This book reexamines the Vichy government by taking an in-depth look into Clermont-Ferrand.
In this book, Sweets attempts to show how the Petain government tried to remake France into an authoritarian state, which the majority of the people disapproved of. Petain's government was a right wing government and against the Popular Front, which was a coalition between socialists and communists (31). Yet public schools often used propaganda in support of Marshal Petain. This made cooperation with teachers important and most teachers who believed in Popular Front ideas were allowed to keep their jobs as long as they did not put those ideas in the classroom. Petain rewarded those who acted like the ideal civilians. This included students who performed well in school and women who had a lot of children. Students were often rewarded with "Marshal's commendations and women were rewarded with medals engraved with Petain's likeness" (49). It also demonstrated the effects of the Vichy government's policies. Books thought to have inappropriate material were banned. These books included pornography and political ideas that went against Petain's regime (52). Petain's government acted like an oppressive regime that poorly tried to get public support by repressive policies.
Sweets believed that Petain's government had a lack of support. There were shortages of food. Pork was often absent from the market because fixed prices were set so low that farmers did not want to provide any because it was not worth the cost. Because of the shortage of food due to Vichy government's price fixing policy, most people viewed their political representatives as enemies (81). Sweets believed Hitler wanted the Vichy government to keep France quiet and to provide economic support for Germany instead of being part of the New Order (174). He also believes his study of Clermont-Ferrand has demonstrated that the Vichy regime became unpopular much more quickly than has often been suggested (160). This is what Choices in Vichy France was about and Sweets did it in an effective way.
This book is well documented and effectively uses primary sources. The author includes an extensive bibliography along with his notes per chapter. The bibliography was divided up into books and articles. The primary sources are only listed in the notes section. This book uses more primary sources than secondary, which is more believable because it provides more accurate information. The majority of the primary sources used were from the Clermont-Ferrand archives. These include police reports, public official reports, and monthly prefect's reports. These are useful because they provide firsthand accounts of what happened. The book also uses statistics for its analysis. In the first chapter, "War, Occupation, and Society," Sweets uses economic statistics to show how France shifted from a manufacturing society to an agricultural society. The statistics also provide a better understanding to the difficulties of French civilians' lives. Statistics showed this by high inflation with inadequate food available to them. For example, "In March 1941 local officials calculated that 62 percent of an average household budget in Clermont was spent on food" (15). The author also listed the many different wages for occupations at Clermont-Ferrand from 1942-1943. This was useful for comparing wages among different occupations and to see the effect of inflation. The primary sources used were successful in providing useful information.
The secondary resources used were books and articles. Sweets often referred to Robert Paxton's book Vichy France to provide an alternative viewpoint for disagreement. For example, he refers to Paxton when he writes, "The actions of Milice had been the most obvious example of the validity of Robert Paxton's argument that step by step the Vichy regime was drawn `into trying to do the Germans' dirty work for them'" (97). He then concluded saying, "But the patent and unequivocal rejection of the programs and actions of the Milice and the ultracollaborationist organizations should not obscure the fact that the more modest authoritarianism of Vichy's New Order had also been rejected decisively" (97). This is an effective rebuttal because it used effective sources to back up his claim. Sweets uses secondary sources along with primary sources and statistical analyses for his methodology in order to back up his findings.
This book contributes to its genre of World War II books by providing a different perspective on Vichy France. Books on Vichy France usually try to portray France as being either resisters or collaborators. This book does the opposite as it demonstrates that there were more people in the middle. The author suggests that researchers of this topic need to be careful about the amount of involvement of collaborationists and resisters because they are usually overestimated (viii). This book provides a new interpretation to a genre that tries to explain life in occupied France.
The title of the book is reasonable. Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation is appropriate because it is clearly about the choices people had to make under Nazi rule. Civilians had to decide to what degree to support the Vichy government. This decision to support Petain's regime varied among civilians with different political backgrounds. The Vichy government dealt with difficult decisions to the degree that they forced their agenda onto the public. The chapters of the book examine the different choices French civilians had. The title of this book is effective for reflecting the content.
This book's layout is appealing. The book is organized well with eight different chapters that are clearly defined. The first chapter is titled "War, Occupation, and Society" and gives a good introduction on how the war affected the economic conditions, which affected the choices that the occupied civilians had to make. Another important chapter was "Public Opinion at the Grass Roots," which examined public opinion at the bottom of the social spectrum. This is important because public opinion at the grass roots better reflects the popularity of the government from its civilians. Another interesting chapter was "The Outcasts." This chapter examines the role of communists and others who did the opposite of what the Vichy government wanted.
This book lacks a variety of illustrations and photos. The author should have considered having more pictures of some of the political leaders during Vichy France to show who they were. The bulk of illustrations in the book are propaganda posters, which provide a better understanding of the Vichy government's push to remake France. A map or two also would have been helpful to know where Clermont-Ferrand was located in relation to Vichy. Overall, this book's layout has a lot of positives in its written format but lacks in illustrations.
John Sweets has the necessary qualifications to write this book. He received his PhD from Duke University and is a professor of history at the University of Kansas. His research focuses on 19th and 20th century France. A lot of his research focuses on Vichy France. He has written other books on France during World War II. His most notable title was The Politics of Resistance in France, 1940-1944. Sweets education and expertise on the subject give him the proper credentials for writing this book.
Overall this is a good book that is well written and provides a different perspective from other books on Vichy France. Choices in Vichy France is also informative. This book demonstrated that not everybody was either a resister or a collaborator. People disapproved of the Vichy government policies but did not necessarily participate in resistance. This book also covers a lot of material about different aspects of the Vichy regime. Choices in Vichy France is useful for anybody who is looking for statistics during occupation since this book has lots of them. This book would be a great addition for anybody who wants a better understanding of the Vichy government.