Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 37

France on Trial: The
Case of Marshal Pétain
Julian Jackson
Belknap Press, 2023
Review by Diane Kiesel
arely does a book title so
aptly describe what the
reader will find inside as Julian
Jackson's France on Trial. In
writing about that nation's effort
to hold Marshal Philippe Pétain
accountable for collaborating with
the Nazis while leading unoccupied
France, the author reveals the
culpability of an entire nation.
Pétain was found
guilty of treason
and sentenced to
death after evidence
that the government
he established
in Vichy to
protect France
from the enemy
came to resemble
that of the enemy.
During its fouryear
Vichy France would suspend civil liberties,
impose rigid censorship, imprison political opponents,
approve anti-Semitic laws, and round
up Jews for slaughter in concentration camps.
The Pétain trial took place before the famous
Nuremberg trials. At Nuremberg, with the eyes
of the world watching, U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Robert H. Jackson, the United States' chief
prosecutor, urged participants to " summon
such detachment and intellectual integrity to
our task that this trial will commend itself to
posterity as fulfilling humanity's aspirations to
do justice. "
That didn't happen between July 23 and August
15, 1945, in the cramped, hot courtroom in
the Palais de Justice in Paris. Instead, Pétain was
subjected to a political trial. " It was inconceivable
that Pétain would not be found guilty, " the
author writes, and justice had little to do with it.
In the American criminal justice system where
trial by a fair and impartial jury is sacrosanct, the
Pétain trial was as shocking as it was strange.
The jury of 24 angry Frenchmen consisted of 12
former members of the Resistance and 12 prewar
members of Parliament who had not supported
Pétain's rise to power. No impartiality
there. One-third of the book is devoted to a
quotidian account of the trial - a raucous affair
where jurors shouted out questions and insults,
and at least one of the three judges presiding
over the case was a friend of the Pétain family.
The octogenarian Pétain sat expressionless in
an armchair in the center of the packed courtroom
in full military uniform, minus any decoration
except one medal. At times he seemed
deaf and perhaps senile.
It is hard to appreciate Pétain's hard fall from
grace, although Jackson, a professor and expert
on 20th-century French history, meticulously
explains it. Pétain was to the French after the
First World War what General Dwight Eisenhower
was to the Americans after the Allied landing
in Normandy. Pétain was the hero of the 1916
Battle of Verdun and had risen to commander
of all the French armies. In 1931 he was given a
ticker-tape parade on Lower Broadway in Manhattan.
French schoolchildren recognized his
On May 10, 1940, Germany invaded France.
A little more than a month later, the Germans
marched into Paris and France fell. The Third Republic,
the official French government on the
eve of the invasion, fled first to Tours and then
to Bordeaux - with its leaders bickering all the
way about how to respond to the German war
The country's premier, Paul Reynaud, was opposed
to appeasing the Germans. He'd named
Pétain as vice premier because he thought the
elder hero would be good for French morale.
Pétain and other ministers urged an armistice,
while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
proposed that Britain and France merge into
one country to fight Hitler. Reynaud wanted to
move the government to French North Africa.
Without a consensus, Reynaud resigned. Pétain
became the country's leader on June 16 and,
believing France to be defeated, agreed to an
armistice days later. It handed over approximately
two-thirds of France to the Nazis and left
a free zone in the south with the seat of government
at Vichy. Charles de Gaulle, appointed undersecretary
of state for defense by Reynaud,
left for London to continue the fight from there.
If Pétain thought appeasement would save his
country from the harshest of Nazi persecution,
he was wrong. Required to pay the costs of the
occupation, France imposed strict rationing.
At first the public may have hoped the hero of
Verdun was secretly working against Hitler or
funneling aid to de Gaulle in London, but those
hopes were dashed in October 1940 when a
picture of Pétain shaking Hitler's hand appeared
in newspapers worldwide. He was consequently
viewed as an active collaborator.
In 1942, when the Allies landed in North Africa,
the Germans overran the rest of France in retaliation.
It was Pétain's last chance to denounce
the Fuhrer, decamp from France, and join de
Gaulle's forces, which by then were headquartered
in Africa. Instead, the 87-year-old puppet
head of state chose to remain and assist in imposing
increasingly harsh conditions on his
country in the name of its Nazi occupiers.
Pétain was tried by the post-war government
headed by de Gaulle, who referred to him as
" the father of defeat. " But what, exactly, was
Pétain's " treason " ? The author asks, " Was the armistice
itself treason? Was there a realistic alternative?
. . . Had he abused the powers he had
been granted? Could collaboration be defended? "
De Gaulle thought the crux of the crime
was the armistice itself, from which all the subsequent
evils flowed - a government willing to
hand over Jews for death and French citizens
for slave labor in Hitler's Germany.
Pétain was condemned to death, but because
he was nearly 90 when the sentence was handed
down, not even de Gaulle had the stomach
to carry it out and he commuted it to life in prison.
According to Jackson, to this day polls show
that among the French there is still no consensus
on whether Pétain was a traitor to France for
collaborating with the Nazis or a hero who sacrificed
himself to try to save his country and was
unjustly condemned for it. Jackson's provocative
book raises many questions. Nearly 80 years
later, there are still no clear answers.
Diane Kiesel is a retired acting justice of the New
York Supreme Court, an adjunct professor of law,
and the author of several books on legal topics.

Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024

Notice to Members
From Our President
Calendar of Events
Practice Management
Toward Well-Being
Defending Diversity: Rise of DEI-Focused Practices
Will Law Firms Stay the Course on Improving Diversity?
Unlocking the Potential of Diverse Talent
We Belong: Black Students in the IP Talent Pipeline
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Her Legacy Lives on Through Us
Get to Know The Appellate Project
Speaking Up for Lawyers With Invisible Disability
Special Section: 25 Years of the Youth Law Fair
Taking the Stand
Worth Reading
Member Spotlight
On Further Review
Attorney Briefs
Speaking of Ethics
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 1
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 2
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 4
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Notice to Members
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Calendar of Events
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Toward Well-Being
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Defending Diversity: Rise of DEI-Focused Practices
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 11
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 12
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 13
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Will Law Firms Stay the Course on Improving Diversity?
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 15
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 16
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 17
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Unlocking the Potential of Diverse Talent
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 19
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - We Belong: Black Students in the IP Talent Pipeline
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 21
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 22
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 23
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: Her Legacy Lives on Through Us
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 25
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Get to Know The Appellate Project
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 27
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Speaking Up for Lawyers With Invisible Disability
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 29
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 30
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 31
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Special Section: 25 Years of the Youth Law Fair
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 33
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Taking the Stand
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 35
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 36
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 39
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - On Further Review
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Speaking of Ethics
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 43
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 45
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - 47
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - A Slice of Wry
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover3
Washington Lawyer - March/April 2024 - Cover4
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