Two very recent books, written by two great historians specialists of France during the Second World War (The Assassinated Republic of Michele Cointet and The Pétain trial of Julian Jackson), lead us to reflect on the future of this country, from one of the darkest pages of its history: collaboration.

Although many other important books were written about this period, (starting with The Strange Defeat of March Bloch, a great historian and resistance fighter shot by the Nazis just before their defeat), these two, which I recently took the time to read with pen in hand, give us, in the light of what the archives have revealed to us, a new image, of extraordinary topicality, of what our country was in those days, its strengths, its weaknesses and the reasons why it is here today. Our country did not know, nor wanted, until recent years, to face its past; it has not yet learned the lessons that allow it not to make the same mistakes; it invented a past and made a legend of it.

Contrary to this legend, the military and administrative infrastructure of France, which collapsed in a few days, was not very far from having the means to resist the Nazi army; it would have taken only a few years to begin the rearmament and really lead it to forced march. Left and right, employers and trade unions, opposed it.

Contrary to this legend, the arrival in power of Marshal Pétain does not result from a decision desired by all the French unanimously gathered around a great military leader, nor from a cabal of pacifist movements. But a miserable maneuver of some politicians, who thought that the old soldier would not get the armistice and would be forced to withdraw after a few days in their favor. There followed a collapse, in general cowardice; then a coup.

Contrary to this legend, the appeal of 18 June 1940, which began to save France’s honour, along with all the other resistance fighters who remained in France, owes much to the circumstances: without the presence in Bordeaux of the plane that had brought him back the day before his mission in Great Britain, de Gaulle would never have been in London at the time of the armistice.

Contrary to this legend, Marshal Pétain was far, during the whole war, from being overwhelmed by the events or reached by the ravages of age, as his reactions still show in the last minutes of his trial, and his extreme attention, The European Union is committed to strengthening the status of the Jews throughout the war and to giving Hitler every guarantee of his personal will to cooperate.

Contrary to this legend, his trial was not an opportunity to unravel the collaboration and confront the root causes of defeat. Despite some magnificent testimonies, including that of Léon Blum, most of the hearings were occupied by disputes between a president of the court who was at least as “collabo” as the prosecutor, and three lawyers anxious to steal the spotlight from each other, under the gaze of an often worldly and distracted public, in a tiny room crushed by the heat.

Contrary to this legend, the Marshal was not confronted with his worst crimes. In particular, the fate of the Jews in France, of which few people spoke seriously until the middle of the 1970s, was hardly discussed at all during the three weeks of the trial.

What lessons can be learned for today? Of course, comparison is not right and the situation of France is in a thousand respects very different and much better than the day before the defeat of 1940. Nevertheless, a new brutal defeat, of another nature, again seemingly inexplicable, threatens us. Failing, once again, to have made the necessary effort, in time, to prepare the social, cultural, political, financial, industrial and geopolitical future of the country.

If great historians, with the same seriousness as Cointet and Jackson and with the same hindsight (that is to say in 80 years, in 2104), analyze the situation of today, they will undoubtedly have the same dismayed look as them before a State in quasibankruptcy, dictators threatening our doors, institutions battered, some business leaders who think only of their finances, poorly integrated minorities, a political life of extreme violence, a relaxed return of anti-Semitism and xenophobia, lucid people shouting in the desert, small ambitions that clash, so-called elites too often narcissistic, who fight for posts, who refuse to face in time the difficult problems, They are all falling back on each other. Until some, perhaps, once again, make the sacrifice of their lives to save, for a time, the country from an announced decadence.