Aspects of French propaganda during the Vichy period: 1940 – 1944
            French attitude after the blazing fast, six-week defeat of the French army can only be described as fear and shock. To see the assumed most powerful land military in Europe[1] so quickly defeated brought feelings of astonishment similar to those found at the closing of the Franco-Prussian war. The confusion only continued for the citizenry after the newly ascended Prime Minister, Phillippe Pétain, and his cabinet negotiated and signed a widely promulgated armistice agreement. This armistice would establish the historically known Vichy French government that oversaw the French territory in South-East France. The Vichy government, while occasionally arguing against German demands attempting to infringe on the autonomy of the administration, was systematically collaborationist. It would take many years, until the premier of “The Sorrow and the Pity” in 1969 and the publication of Robert Paxton’s ground-breaking work in 1972, for the true extent of the desire for collaboration to be realized.[2]
The initial reaction to these realizations was one of rebuke from French historians who were often of the opinion that the Vichy government not only collaborated with the Allied forces, but actively resisted German orders.[3] While the opinion of Paxton has been widely accepted among historians and the general populace, there still exist contention over the reasoning for the collaboration. Some hold to the opinion that the Vichy government was collaborating with Germany purely on a perverse sense of survival instinct, found similarly throughout other communities contemporaneous to Vichy such as Jewish ghettos[4],  while others argue that Vichy collaborated with ideological motives in mind.[5] One, often ignored, piece of evidence for the latter view is the fervent creation of propaganda throughout Vichy rule. This paper will examine the nature of and themes found in the, often detached yet heinous, propaganda produced by the Vichy government and its collaborators. It will also show through this examination that, as far as the creators, perpetrators, and recipients, of the propaganda are concerned, there existed sentiment and ideology markedly similar to that of the National Socialist platform.
The Propaganda Wing
            Before the creation of the Vichy system and under the republic of France, many civil liberties had already been suspended and wartime ministries created. This included the ministries of propaganda[6], which was first led by playwright Jean Giraudoux.[7] While the Vichy administration was often cruel and tyrannical, it became the job of propagandists to portray a loving and necessary government. Initially, the ministries of propaganda attempted to assuage the general population through persuasion instead of the typical authoritarian tactic of forceful compulsion.[8] Initially, the ministry found much success, thought to be due to the post-traumatic stress caused apathy of much of the citizenry of France.[9] Over the course the administration, the two ministers responsible for the creation and perpetuation of propaganda were replaced twenty-three times, collectively.[10] The obvious consequence of this was the wavering nature of the propaganda, not in terms of content, but in terms of sentiment, often changing tone and feel from vitriolic to passive heartlessness.[11]
What would not see change throughout the rule of the Vichy government is the sycophantic yet ideological nature of the creations from the propaganda ministries.12 The ministries of propaganda, and indeed the Vichy government, were not subject to German dictation of themes or aspects of their propaganda, they merely followed trends already present in Fascist ideology and French opinion, and in pursuit of their own goals as an administration.[12] This commitment to their ideology can be partially inferred from the post war treatment of propagandists, which were treated much harsher than their other bureaucratic counterparts.[13] In summation; the propaganda wing of the Vichy administration seems to have been run by those who were committed to the ideologies expressed in their creations and not detractors who used their assignments as a way to survive the war.
Cult of Pétain
            Phillippe Pétain would quickly become the leader that people of France wanted after the failure of the French republic to hold back the German army. Pétain started his rulership as popular and well liked by the people of France, seeing nearly universal acceptance of his appointment as the last Prime Minister of the republic.[14] Pétain was given a government falling apart after the utter defeat of the French military and mass dissent of the French people. The populace feared a return of the trench warfare found in the first world war[15] and continuation of the war in North Africa, which Hitler feared as well.[16] It would be after consideration of these facts that Pétain, to the relief of the French people, would choose to seek an armistice with Germans in June of 1940.[17] Propagandists would quickly seize the opportunity of Pétain’s popularity to make him into the steady and near divine leader the still shell-shocked citizens desired.
            As the Vichy administration cemented itself the true and stable government of France, so too did the propagandists go to work in creating a cult of personality surrounding Pétain. Pétain was shown as the stabilizing and fatherly figure of France, the man who saved it from the evils of another war that would cost the French people too much.[18] Propagandists would especially use Pétain as a symbol of solidarity and national unity and gave citizens the idea that Pétain was actively listening to their complaints and seeing their pain. So successfully did this work that it became common to utter, in the face of an injustice, “I’ll write to the Marshal[19]” or “Ah, if only the Marshal knew...”[20] Additionally successful was the creation of a fatherly figure in Pétain. It would be Pétain who would deliver lectures directed at those French who still felt bitterness and resentment towards the armistice and the Vichy administration.[21] It would also be Pétain who would plead with the citizens to turn in perpetrators of crimes towards German officers and administrators.[22]
            Propagandists took a special interest in targeting the children of France to be recipients of this genre of propaganda. The administration would begin placing large posters of Pétain in school classrooms, where they would take on a tone of ever watching by Pétain.[23] A heavy pressure was also placed on parents and youth to join the youth movements set up by the administration where they would see the same reverence for Pétain.[24] This tactic would also expand to the African French colonies where the war had not yet explicitly reached.[25] It became the job of propagandists, using Pétain’s calming yet tough appearance, to explain to the colonies that France, despite losing to the German military, was still powerful enough to maintain control.[26] Africa would eventually come around to seeing Pétain in the same manner as the French public, as a stabilizing and benevolent, yet distant, father figure, going so far as to referring to him as “papa” in a pledge of obedience found during “Imperial Week” celebrations.[27]
            Pétain would end the war in a position antithetical to his beginning, as one of Frances most unpopular figures.[28] The rise of Gaullism and the starvation of the French people, both in terms of food and any reason to feel confident about their futures, would cause Pétain to begin using German guards and secluded himself increasingly in his chateau in the Occupied Zone, disconnected and safe from the French public.[29] Up until the end though, Pétain would be surrounded by those of his administration that were convinced, and convinced the marshal, that he was the savior of France.[30] It is through this self-aggrandizing and the themes of the propaganda upholding the “cult of Pétain” that we can infer that the objectives of propagandists was to establish an authoritarian regime as a political goal and not as a technique for survival.
Anglophobic Propaganda
            Anglophobia, the distrust and fear of the British, was a constant and justly understandable feeling throughout French history. However, the sentiment would reach new conspiratorial and vitriolic heights during the Vichy administration. Initially, the view would not require propagandists to take hold in French thought, often being articulated by the highest-ranking politicians only weeks after the signing of the Armistice.[31] Laval, the Vice President of the Council of Ministers or Acting Head of the Government, would unequivocally argue that France has always suffered at the hands of British interests and it was his hope to see Britain defeated during the war.[32] Throughout the duration of the war, anti-British propaganda would become the most prominent and copious genre of propaganda.[33] This propaganda would be built upon three pillars as stated by Martyn Cornick “inadequate British support for France leading to the defeat; Britain’s perfidy, or treachery; and British designs on the French Empire.”[34] The unfortunate reality is that propagandists would be given an markedly easy time convincing large swaths of the French citizenry of the treacherous nature of the British after consistent military disasters such as Dunkirk, the shelling of the French fleet at Mers el Kébir, and consistent allied bombings of France that often killed civilians.[35]
            As previously discussed, French attitude towards the war was one of fear, namely at the possibility of a return to trench warfare that would once again cost France its youth.[36] This feeling was present from the beginning of the war, where French soldiers felt a pervasive sense of apathy when sent to fight against the Germans.[37] Because of this already festering frustration, propagandists were quite easily able to paint the war as a British plot or British diplomatic failing.[38] The propaganda wing found amazing success with this line of explanation, at least at the beginning of the war. They were able to use this sentiment to state that collaboration with the Germans was not only the best course of action to survive in the new Europe, but that it was natural to fight against British interests that would hurt France.[39]
            Throughout the war, the Vichy administration would be fighting against a rising wave of Allied collaboration and resistance on the part of the French people.[40] French citizens began listening to British and allied radio programs, including the BBC and de Gaulle’s, often preferring it as a way to get news about the war when Vichy programs would lie or omit.[41]  It quickly became the goal of the propaganda wing to convince the French people that aiding the allies was dimwitted and put citizens in danger of the true threat, the Allies. A particularly striking example of this can be seen in the propaganda short entitled Nimbus Libéré.[42] In this short, we are shown a French citizen tuning into a broadcast of de Gaulle’s, where promises are made of liberation (we are coming, we are coming) if the French people wait. This is paralleled by the Allied bomber, piloted by Disney characters popular at the time, beginning a bombing run. Nimbus and his family become excited at the news that liberation is coming only to be quickly wiped out by allied bombs.[43] This short, in addition to comic strips in the Nimbus series, speaks to the desire of propagandists to suppress the French practice of listening to BBC broadcasts, which often contained their own, pro-Allied, propaganda.[44]
            Anglophobic and anti-Allied propaganda would quickly begin to peter out and the Vichy administration would see, throughout the war, desertion and Gaullist resistors, especially in its colonial territories.[45] Through to the end of the war, until administrators began working on a way to peacefully transition[46], Vichy would continue creating and distributing anti-Allied propaganda.[47] The fact of the existence of the desperate and frantic attempt to quell these rebellions through the propaganda apparatus of the Vichy administration, again, speaks to the commitment of propagandists and bureaucrats to preserve the Vichy system after the assumed German victory and not just persist as a placeholder until the eventual victory of the Allies.
Conspiratorial
            While Anglophobia often exuded a conspiratorial attitude, propaganda directed at Jews and Freemasons often held a much more explicit nature.[48] There exists an attempt to explain Vichy’s anti-Jewish sentiment as a symptom of German occupation. However, this sentiment rings hollow in the face of legislation that excluded all Jewish and foreign interests in French economics, culture, and internal affairs.[49] Additionally, Freemasons were subjected to purges that saw them banned from public service.[50] Eventually, after propagandists had gone to work, Jews and Freemasons were blamed as the main force in starting the second world war.[51] While Britain was still subjected to accusations of this nature, it was said that Freemasons and Jews were the men truly behind those British interests.[52] During the Vichy administration and exclusively in France, Jews and Freemasons would suffer largely the same systems of oppression.[53] While in Germany, there existed the unquestionable horrors of the Holocaust that saw Jews more expressly targeted, the Vichy administration preferred using exclusionary and economic systems to rid France of corrupting influences.[54]
            Freemasons were the recipients of accusations mostly religious and political in nature, such as devil worship and being supporters of globalism and republicanism.[55] Jews, as in Germany, were commonly referred to as greedy, dirty, and evil in nature.[56] What remains different regarding Jews is that there is a lack of systemic violence like that found in Germany.[57] Together, Jews and Freemasons would take on the role of prime antagonist to the Vichy system. The pinnacle of this feeling is found in the work Forces Occultes, a propaganda film premiering in 1943.[58] In this film, we find explicit accusations of Freemasonry’s attempts at global domination and control, having started the war as a way to subdue the nationalistic Germany, which was resisting their attempts.[59] Only in resistance to this globalist agenda, the film posits, is it possible for the people of France to continue into the future free of the corrupting and republican Freemasons.[60]  Additionally, through this films use of symbology, we are shown of the close relationship between the Jewish conspiracy and Freemasons. Jewish caricatures are consistently shown as the shady, background figures that are observing and actively pulling the strings of the members of Freemasonry.[61] The Vichy administration would go on, despite some resistance, to start giving Jewish citizens to Germans, where they would eventually be sent to the Eastern death camps.[62]


Conclusion
            The Vichy administration would eventually end with the close of the war. Liberation came after years of starvation, subjection, and created mistrust on behalf of the Vichy administration. At once, a campaign to show Vichy as a necessary evil began, perpetuated by its highest-ranking officials, including Pétain.[63]  Pétain would state “I had only one goal: to protect you from the worst…If I could not be your sword, I tried to be your shield.”[64] It is true that around 2/3 of Jewish residents of Vichy were able to stay alive[65], in part thanks to Vichy’s compromises with the Germans. However, if Vichy was a government that collaborated purely out of an instinct of survival and a sense of duty to the French people, why would it try and convince its citizens to see Jews as dirty and evil?[66] Why would it attempt to convince the people of France to not listen to the BBC if it itself was collaborating with the Allies?[67] And why would the Vichy administration build Pétain into an enigmatic yet benevolent near deity if he was merely a hold over until the Allies were able to seize control once again? While this sentiment of collaboration for no other reason than survival seems realistic and was common throughout the war, in the face of the propaganda produced and proliferated by Pétain’s administration, it seems that it must be wholly discounted.



Bibliography
Austin, Roger. “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France: The Department of Hérault, 1940-44.” European Studies Review 13, no. 4 (October 1983): 455–82. https://doi.org/10.1177/026569148301300403.
Carroll, David. “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France: Xavier Vallat, State Anti-Semitism, and the Question of Assimilation.” SubStance 27, no. 3 (1998): 36. https://doi.org/10.2307/3685578.
Chabrol, Claude. The Eye of Vichy. Documentary, 1993.
Eric Jennings. “‘Reinventing Jeanne’: The Iconology of Joan of Arc in Vichy Schoolbooks, 1940-44.” Journal of Contemporary History 29, no. 4 (1994): 711–34.
Geoff Watkins. “Review: Recent Work on France and the Second World War.” Journal of Contemporary History 37, no. 4 (2002): 637–47.
Ginio, Ruth. “Marshal Petain Spoke to SchoolChildren: Vichy Propaganda in French West Africa, 1940-1943.” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 33, no. 2 (2000): 291–312.
Gordon, Bertram M. “The ‘Vichy Syndrome’ Problem in History.” French Historical Studies 19, no. 2 (1995): 495. https://doi.org/10.2307/286785.
Greene, Naomi. “Mood and Ideology in the Cinema of Vichy France.” The French Review 59, no. 3 (February 1986): 437–45.
Holman, Valerie, and Debra Kelly, eds. France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor. Vol. 3. 3 vols. Contemporary France. Berghahn Books, 2000.
Jacques Adler. “The Jews and Vichy: Reflections on French Historiography.” The Historical Journal 44, no. 4 (2001): 1065–82.
Kitson, Simon. “From Enthusiasm to Disenchantment: The French Police and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1944.” Cambridge University Press 11, no. 3 (August 2002): 371–90.
Mamy, Jean. Forces occultes, 1943.
Ophuls, Marcel. The Sorrow and the Pity: chronicle of a french city under occupation. Documentary. Norddeutscher Rundfunk, 1969.
Paxton, Robert. Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition. Revised. Columbia University Press, 2001.
Porat, Dina. “The Jewish Councils of the Main Ghettos of Lithuania: A Comparison.” Modern Judaism 13, no. 2 (May 1993): 149–63.


[1] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 3.
[2] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001; Ophuls, The Sorrow and the Pity.
[3] Kitson, “From Enthusiasm to Disenchantment: The French Police and the Vichy Regime, 1940-1944,” 371; Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, xxi.
[4] See Judenrat  and Porat’s study “The Jewish Councils of the Main Ghettos of Lithuania: A Comparison.”
[5] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, xxvi.
[6] The ministries of state for radio and the ministry of information.
[7] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 221.
[8] Austin, “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France,” October 1983, 460.
[9] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 237.
[10] Paxton, 290.
[11] For examples of this, see Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy.
[12] Austin, “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France,” October 1983, 459, 456.
[13] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 333.
[14] Paxton, xxiv.
[15] Paxton, 12.
[16] Paxton, 9.
[17] Paxton, 8.
[18] Paxton, 14.
[19] Pétain was colloquially known as “The Marshal” or “Marshal Pétain”
[20] Austin, “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France,” October 1983, 461.
[21] Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy, 1993.
[22] Chabrol.
[23] Austin, “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France,” October 1983, 461.
[24] Austin, 340.
[25] Ginio, “Marshal Petain Spoke to SchoolChildren: Vichy Propaganda in French West Africa, 1940-1943.”
[26] Ginio, 291.
[27] Ginio, 291n1.
[28] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, xxiv.
[29] Paxton, 326.
[30] Paxton, 379.
[31] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:69.
[32] Holman and Kelly, 3:70.
[33] Holman and Kelly, 3:72.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Holman and Kelly, 3:76; Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 239; Paxton, 300.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 11.
[38] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:70.
[39] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 11; Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy, 1993.
[40] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, xxiv.
[41] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:82.
[42] Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy, 1993.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:77.
[45] Ginio, “Marshal Petain Spoke to SchoolChildren: Vichy Propaganda in French West Africa, 1940-1943,” 294.
[46] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 326.
[47] Austin, “Propaganda and Public Opinion in Vichy France,” October 1983, 476.
[48] Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy, 1993; Mamy, Forces occultes; Carroll, “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France.”
[49] Carroll, “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France,” 38.
[50] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 156.
[51] Mamy, Forces occultes.
[52] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:70.
[53] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 168–85.
[54] Paxton, 168–85.
[55] Paxton, 172; Mamy, Forces occultes.
[56] Chabrol, The Eye of Vichy, 1993.
[57] Carroll, “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France,” 49.
[58] Mamy, Forces occultes.
[59] Ibid.
[60] Ibid.
[61] Ibid.
[62] Carroll, “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France,” 45.
[63] Paxton, Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order, Revised Edition, 2001, 357–74.
[64] Paxton, 358.
[65] Paxton, 364.
[66] Carroll, “What It Meant to Be ‘A Jew’ in Vichy France.”
[67] Holman and Kelly, France at War in the Twentieth Century: Propaganda, Myth, and Metaphor, 3:77–84.

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