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  • Writer's picturePaul D. Wilke

Marshal Philippe Pétain's Message to the French Youth

A few months ago when I was visiting the World War II sites up in Normandy, I came across a little shop in Arromanches-les-Bains selling military antiques. Among the usual array of stahlhelms and antique medals, I found an original framed propaganda poster from Vichy France (1940-1944).

Background: After France's catastrophic defeat in June 1940, Nazi forces occupied most of France, including Paris. What was left was a rump French state headquartered in Vichy and headed by World War I hero Marshal Philippe Petain. The Vichy regime was ultra-conservative, anti-democratic, anti-semitic, and strongly authoritarian, with the 84-year old Petain at the top.

The poster below is a pep talk of sorts from Petain to the demoralized French youth. It's also a fascinating window into a regime forged in defeat and destined to cover itself in permanent dishonor during its brief existence.

Anyway, I've translated the text below to the best of my ability for non-French readers. As far as I can tell, it appears to be the text from a December 1940 radio broadcast made by Marshal Petain.

If you are interested, I've written a longer post here looking at Pétain's time in power.


Translation of the Text


Begin Translation

" It is to you, French youth, that I'm addressing today. You who represent the future of France and to whom I have devoted particular attention and concern. You are suffering at the present and are worried about the future. The present is dark indeed, but the future will be bright if you know how to show yourself worthy of your destiny.

" You are paying for faults that are not yours. It is a hard truth that must be understood and accepted instead of being subjected to it or fighting against it. So the trials become beneficial, tempering body and soul and preparing it for a healing tomorrow.

" The unhealthy atmosphere in which your elders lived destroyed their energy, softened their courage and has led them through flowery paths to the greatest catastrophe of our history.

" In order to properly undertake steep paths, you will learn to favor the joy of difficulties surmounted over easy pleasures.

" Meditate on these maxims: Pleasure lowers; joy elevates; pleasure weakens, while joy strengthens.

" You hold within you the principle and the love of hard work. It is an essential part of man's dignity and his efficiency. Effort carries in itself a moral reward before it gets translated into material profit that comes sooner or later, anyway.

" When you have to choose a profession, keep away from the temptation for immediate gains and minimal pain. Better to aim for those quality professions that demand a long and serious apprenticeship. That's why our national workforce once exhibited an unchallenged superiority. Once you've chosen your career, know that you will have the right to take your place among the elites. They are entitled to command only based on work and merit. In this hard struggle to achieve the rank that your abilities allow, always reserve a place for social and civic virtues, for mutual aid, for selflessness, and for generosity.

" The selfish maxim, which was too often held by your elders - with every man for himself and no one for all - is absurd in itself and disastrous in its consequences. Understand well, my young friends, that this individualism of which we boast as a privilege, is at the heart of the evils of which almost led to our demise.

" We must rebuild, but the necessary element for this rebuilding is to eliminate destructive individualism, which is destructive to the family through the breaking or loosening of bonds, it's the destroyer of work, against which it proclaims the right to laziness, (and it's the) destroyer of the Fatherland, whose cohesion destabilizes and unity undermined.

" Only self-sacrifice gives its full meaning to individual life. It connects it to something bigger, which broadens (the self) and magnifies it.

" In order to conquer everything that life holds in happiness and safety, every French person must begin by forgetting themself. Whoever is incapable of being part of a group, of acquiring the vital meaning of a team, cannot claim to serve, that is to say, to fulfill his duty as a man and a citizen.

" There is no society without friendship, without trust, without dedication. I'm not asking you to abdicate your independence. Nothing is more legitimate than the passion that you have for it. But independence can be perfectly accommodated with discipline, while individualism inevitably leads to anarchy and finds no other remedy than tyranny.

" The surest way to escape from both is to achieve a sense of community, both socially and nationally.

" So learn to work together, to think together, to obey together, to share your joys - in a word - (learn) to cultivate among yourselves a team spirit; (in doing so) you will prepare the foundation of the French order which will permit you to happily face the enormous work of national recovery.

" My dear friends, there is a symbolic similarity between the hard season, which inflicts on us its privations and its sufferings, and the painful period that our country is going through. But, in the dead of winter, it is important that we keep faith for the return of spring.

" Young French people, France, today stripped bare, one day soon will become green and bloom again. May the spring of your youth soon blossom in the spring of resuscitated France.

End Translation



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