Alas, France

16Mar08

The thinking behind the collaboration of Vichy France during World War II:

“Until late in the war, Petain and Laval were convinced that Britain would soon surrender; and Laval’s temporary replacment, Admiral Francois Darlan, believed that a German Europe was superior to one dominated by Britain…. For most of the war and in the crucial years when the leaders of Vichy determined how to respond to German demands, they believed France’s future lay within the orbit of a new European order dominated by the Nazi masters in Berlin.”

And how well did that thinking work out for them?

“Under even the most optimistic scenario that Vichy’s policy makers could have believed, where the war ended in 1942 and there was an immediate termination of occupation costs, the financing of the transfers to the Nazis imposed a minimum welfare cost equal to a 12.6 percent reduction of consumption for 20 years plus the cost of financing a debt overhang equal to 88 percent of steady-state GDP.”

Sadly, the war didn’t end in 1942 and the “optimistic” scenario didn’t occur. What happened instead:

“The average daily caloric intake of adults fell from 2,500 calories before the war to 1,200-1,500 during the occupation…”

All of this from a very interesting article in the latest Journal of Economic History, “How Much Can a Victor Force the Vanquished to Pay? France Under the Nazi Boot” by Occhino, Oosterlinck, and White. The title of the article seems to focus on German decisions about how much to extract from France, but the real topic is the dilemmas and decisions faced by the leaders of Vichy France as they struggled to be loyal vassals and accommodate German demands, in order to secure a better position for France in the post-war, Nazi-dominated, new world order which the Vichy leaders accepted as inevitable.

God save me from ever having to face such decisions.

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