“Tout est perdu fors l’honneur” (All is lost save honor), François I, King of France, is supposed to have written after the battle of Pavia in 1525. Never-say-die defiance of this sort has a mythmaking quality that contributes to the way the French nation would like to perceive itself. In the summer of 1940, the German army took six short weeks to conquer France. For whatever political, social, or military reason, the French by and large did not have the honor of fighting for their country.

A few more weeks were enough to put into place a national humiliation that future generations have had to live with as best they could. Marshal Philippe Pétain, aged eighty-four and resting on a First World War reputation, persuaded his colleagues in the government to sign an armistice that put an end to the...


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