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Most overrated leader of WW2

LAURENCE REES: And the single most overrated leader?

WILLIAM HITCHCOCK: Well I am among other things a French historian so it pains me to have to name Charles De Gaulle as one of the most overrated leaders of the Second World War. That’s not to say that he’s unimportant or insignificant but De Gaulle, like so many Second World War figures, would rest on his laurels and would build up a reputation about himself after the war that had so much to do with his alleged achievements in the Second World War. Much of De Gaulle’s political appeal from 1945 on in France right up through, not just his first presidency, but his second presidency, had to do with him as being the man of 18th June 1940, the man who saved France in its hour of need; off he went to London, rallied France behind him, he stood steadfast, he created space for France at the table of the great powers, and so on and on. Much of this is myth. I think he’s an extraordinary figure and a fascinating man who had a lot of courage and a lot of guts but I think he overrated himself and his contribution to winning the Second World War and to leading France in its time of need, I think it was sometimes to the expense of the local Resistance inside France itself.

LAURENCE REES: And of course Roosevelt loathed him with a passion.

WILLIAM HITCHCOCK: Well of course he did, but De Gaulle made it so easy for anyone to loathe him because he was so difficult, and he was so obstreperous, so unwilling to be flexible, so unwilling to take a second tier position, when it was lucky that he was even in the room and that he was even taken seriously by Churchill who went out of his way for the first couple of years of the war to try to bring De Gaulle into the tent. And as you know the great crack of Churchill was that the heaviest cross he had to bear was the cross of Lorraine, and you could see why: it was very, very difficult to have to deal with a man of such ego, such national pride and yet so little real meaningful power.