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Charles de Gaulle: A life of political influence

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-11-09

As France celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's death, takes a look back at highlights from the life and career of the man widely considered to be modern France's most influential leader.

1890: De Gaulle was born on November 22 in the northern industrial city of Lille.

1916: While serving as a soldier in World War I, de Gaulle was captured by the German army and held as a prisoner of war for 32 months.

1940: As commander of an armed division of French soldiers during World War II, de Gaulle led one of the few successful armoured attacks against German tank forces during Germany’s invasion of France in 1940. This earned him a promotion to the rank of Brigadier General.

Later that year, de Gaulle delivered a radio address from the BBC in London, denouncing the French government's truce with Germany and encouraging French people to continue to resist Nazi occupation. The address sealed de Gaulle’s position as leader of the Free French Forces, who continued to resist Germany and its allies after France's surrender.

1944 – 1946: De Gaulle was given a hero's welcome after the liberation of Paris in 1944. He later acted as prime minister of the Provisional Government of the French Republic, an interim administration that oversaw France after the fall of the pro-German Vichy regime.

1958: De Gaulle was voted back into power as prime minister after the collapse of the Fourth Republic. He was a key voice in writing the constitution that established the Fifth Republic, and was elected president later in the year.

1959 – 1962: De Gaulle implemented sweeping economic reforms (including the re-valuing of the French currency, the franc) and pursued a foreign policy platform based on his belief that France should possess an independent nuclear arsenal and should be autonomous in relation to the US and the Soviet Union. He advocated a strong, influential “Europe of nations”, in which the various European countries would collectively serve as a viable counterweight to the US and the Soviet Union.

De Gaulle also oversaw the end of the Algerian War, granting independence to Algeria in a decision that riled French settlers in the colony, as well as France’s military, which had backed de Gaulle during his return to power

1962 – 1967: Throughout this period de Gaulle's government intensified its role in guiding the economy. De Gaulle is credited with having boosted French economic development, encouraging industrial expansion and ambitious infrastructure projects.

De Gaulle also focused on raising France’s profile and pursuing French interests on the international stage. He began diplomatic relations with Communist China; withdrew France from NATO's integrated military command; toured Latin America; publicly denounced US involvement in the Vietnam War; spoke out in favour of Quebec separatism; and shifted French policy in the Middle East, bolstering alliances with Arab nations and distancing himself from Israel.

1968 - 1969: Under fire from France’s left-wing Socialists and Communists, de Gaulle was made even more vulnerable by the widespread student protests and worker strikes that swept the country in May of 1968. Though his party strengthened its majority in legislative elections, de Gaulle’s image as a distant, conservative authoritarian figure took its toll; his reform proposals were rejected in a referendum, and de Gaulle resigned from the presidency.

1970: De Gaulle died from a sudden heart attack at his home in Colombey-les-Deux-Église on November 9. He was 79.

Date created : 2010-11-09


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