Charles de Gaulle

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Charles de Gaulle

Charles-André-Joseph-Marie de Gaulle (22 November 18909 November 1970) was a French military leader and statesman. During World War II, he reached the rank of Brigade General and then became the leader of the Forces Françaises Libres ("FFL" — the "Free French Forces"). Between 1944 and 1946, following the liberation of France from German occupation, he was head of the French provisional government. Called to form a government in 1958, he inspired a new constitution and was the Fifth Republic's first president, serving from 1958 to 1969.


Most famous

  • All my life I have had a certain idea of France.
    • Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France.
    • Opening sentence of his Mémoires de guerre.
  • I have understood you!
    • Je vous ai compris !
    • Said before the population of Algiers after they had called upon him to take power, June 4, 1958.
  • Long live free Quebec!
    • Vive le Québec libre!
    • Said in 1967 on the balcony of Montréal City Hall. It caused a diplomatic uproar with Canada and inflamed the Quebec sovereignty movement.
  • France has no friends, only interests!
    • Clementine Churchill: "General, you must not hate your friends more than you hate your enemies"
    • De Gaulle (in English): "France has no friends, only interests!"
  • Yes, it is Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, it is Europe, it is the whole of Europe, that will decide the fate of the world.
    • Oui, c'est l'Europe, depuis l'Atlantique jusqu'à l'Oural, c'est toute l'Europe, qui décidera du destin du monde.
    • 23 November 1959, Strasbourg. The phrase shown in bold is the most often quoted excerpt. De Gaulle was expressing his vision of Europe's future, implicitly not including the United Kingdom.
France cannot be France without greatness.

World War II

  • France has lost a battle, but France has not lost the war.
    • La France a perdu une bataille, mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre.
    • Proclamation, June 18 1940.
  • At the root of our civilization, there is the freedom of each person of thought, of belief, of opinion, of work, of leisure.
    • A la base de notre civilisation, il y a la liberté de chacun dans sa pensée, ses croyances, ses opinions, son travail, ses loisirs.
    • Speech, November 25 1941.
  • Let us be firm, pure and faithful; at the end of our sorrow, there is the greatest glory of the world, that of the men who did not give in.
    • Soyons fermes, purs et fidèles ; au bout de nos peines, il y a la plus grande gloire du monde, celle des hommes qui n'ont pas cédé.
    • Speech, July 14 1943.

Fifth Republic and other post-WW2

Supported General Douglas MacArthur during his row with President Harry Truman by saying MacArthur was:

  • "A foreign military leader whose daring was feared by those who profited by it." De Gaulle said that MacArthur's critics should "pay deserved tribute to the legendary service of a great soldier".
    • from William Manchester's "American Caesar".
  • I am a man who belongs to no-one and who belongs to everyone.
    • Je suis un homme qui n'appartient à personne et qui appartient à tout le monde.
    • Press conference, May 19 1958
Charles de Gaulle statue
  • Politics, when it is an art and a service, not an exploitation, is about acting for an ideal through realities.
    • La politique, quand elle est un art et un service, non point une exploitation, c'est une action pour un idéal à travers des réalités.
    • Press conference, June 30 1955
  • No policy is worth anything outside of reality.
    • Il n'y a pas de politique qui vaille en dehors des réalités.
    • Televized speech, June 14 1960
  • How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?
    • Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?
    • Les Mots du Général, Ernest Mignon, 1962
  • I am not ill. But do not worry, one day, I will certainly die.
    • Je ne vais pas mal. Mais rassurez-vous, un jour, je ne manquerai pas de mourir.
    • Press conference, February 1965, denying rumours that he secretely had a terminal disease
  • Men can have friends, statesmen cannot.
    • Les hommes peuvent avoir des amis, pas les hommes d'Etat.
    • Interview, December 9 1967.
  • The future does not belong to men...
    • L'avenir n'appartient pas aux hommes...
    • Speech, December 1967
Charles de Gaulle statue
  • Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.
    • Recalled on leaving the presidency, Life, May 9, 1969


  • The sword is the axis of the world and grandeur cannot be divided.
    • L'épée est l'axe du monde et la grandeur ne se divise pas.
    • in Vers l’armée de métier.
  • Nothing great is done without great men, and they are great because they wanted it.
    • On ne fait rien de grand sans de grands hommes, et ceux-ci le sont pour l'avoir voulu.
    • in Vers l’armée de métier.
  • France was built with swords. The fleur-de-lis, symbol of national unity, is only the image of a spear with three pikes.
    • La France fut faite à coups d'épée. La fleur de lys, symbole d'unité nationale, n'est que l'image d'un javelot à trois lances.
    • in La France et son armée.
  • The desire of privilege and the taste of equality are the dominant and contradictory passions of the French of all times.
    • Le désir du privilège et le goût de l'égalité, passions dominantes et contradictoires des Français de toute époque.
    • in La France et son armée.
Charles de Gaulle with Winston Churchill
  • Nothing builds authority up like silence, splendor of the strong and shelter of the weak.
    • Rien ne rehausse l'autorité mieux que le silence, splendeur des forts et refuge des faibles.
    • in Le Fil de l'épée.
  • It is better to have a bad method than to have none.
    • Il vaut mieux avoir une méthode mauvaise plutôt que de n'en avoir aucune.
    • in Le Fil de l’épée.
  • Character is the virtue of hard times.
    • Le caractère, vertu des temps difficiles.
    • in Le fil de l’épée.
  • Anything can happen someday, even that an act conforming to honour and honesty can end up, at the end of the line, as a good political decision.
    • Tout peut, un jour, arriver, même qu'un acte conforme à l'honneur et à l'honnêteté apparaisse en fin de compte, comme un bon placement politique.
    • in Mémoires de guerre.
  • The leader is always alone before bad fates.
    • Toujours le chef est seul en face du mauvais destin.
    • in Mémoires de guerre.
Charles de Gaulle with Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King
  • Difficulty attracts the characterful man, for it is by grasping it that he fulfils himself.
    • La difficulté attire l'homme de caractère, car c'est en l'étreignant qu'il se réalise lui-même.
    • in Mémoires de guerre.
  • The government has no propositions to make, but orders to give.
    • Le gouvernement n'a pas de propositions à faire, mais des ordres à donner.
    • in Mémoires de guerre.
  • France cannot be France without greatness.
    • La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur.
    • in Mémoires de guerre.


  • The graveyards are full of indispensable men.
    • Les cimetières sont pleins d'hommes indispensables.
    • Sometimes attributed to Georges Clemenceau.
  • How do they expect a one-party system to work in a country which has over 246 different kinds of cheese?
    • In reference to the possibility of a Communist coup in France.
Charles de Gaulle in Chad with Govenor-General Félix Adolphe Éboué
  • Always go for the highest position, it is generally the least crowded.
    • Prenez invariablement la position la plus élevée, c'est généralement la moins encombrée.
    • Attributed by Henri Amouroux.
  • The important things which were said to humanity were always simple things.
    • Les choses capitales qui ont été dites à l'humanité ont toujours été des choses simples.
    • Attributed by André Malraux.
  • Treaties are like roses and young girls; they last while they last.
    • attributed to President Charles de Gaulle, from On Franco-German treaty talks, Time 1963-07-12, quoted in Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, compiled by James B. Simpson (1988) [1]; also The Economist (London) 1972-03-18, at 6, as cited in Chapter 6, note 47 (page 427) of Antonio Cassese (2001) International Law. Oxford. ISBN 0198299982.
  • You may be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination.
  • That's a tall order, indeed.
    • Vaste programme, en effet.
    • his response to a heckler who yelled Mort aux cons! (Death to the idiots!)
  • To Général Jacques Massu : Alors Massu, toujours aussi con ? (So, Massu, still that stupid?)
    • Général Jacques Massu's answer : Toujours aussi gaulliste, mon Général. (Still that gaullist, general!)
General de Gaulle, from the film Divide and Conquer
  • I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.
    • A reference to Georges Clemenceau's quote "War is too serious a matter to be left to the military."
  • There are three roads to ruin: by gambling, which is the quickest; through women, which is the most pleasurable; and through taking the advice of experts, which is the most certain.
  • In the name of policy, change your friends.
    • Answer to a politician who told him : "In the name of my friends, change your policy!"
    • "Au nom de mes amis, changez de politique !" "Au nom de la politique, changez d'amis."
    • Attributed by Marcel Jullian.
  • Within ten years we shall have whatever is necessary to kill 80 million Russians. Well I reckon one does not light-heartly attack people who are able to kill 80 million Russians, even if one can kill 800 million French, that is if there were 800 million French.
    • « Dans dix ans, nous aurons de quoi tuer 80 millions de Russes. Eh bien je crois qu'on n'attaque pas volontiers des gens qui ont de quoi tuer 80 millions de Russes, même si on a soi-même de quoi tuer 800 millions de Français, à supposer qu'il y eût 800 millions de Français ».
    • About French nuclear deterrence
Charles de Gaulle
  • Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word.
  • Why do you think that at 67 I would start a career as a dictator ?
    • Pourquoi voulez-vous qu'à 67 ans je commence une carrière de dictateur ?
  • Of course one can jump up and down yelling Europe ! Europe ! Europe ! But it amounts to nothing and it means nothing.
    • Bien entendu, on peut sauter sur sa chaise comme un cabri en disant l’Europe ! l’Europe ! l’Europe ! mais cela n’aboutit à rien et cela ne signifie rien.
  • They make me laugh with their "Rubicon": "Rubicon", "Rubicon", what does it mean ?
    • Ils me font bien rire avec leur Rubicon : Rubicon, Rubicon, à quoi ça rime ?
    • untranslatable pun on "à quoi ça rime" ("what does it mean?", but literally "what does it rhyme with?") ; "Rubicon" rhymes with "con" ("arse")

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