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The French empire between the wars

Imperialism, Politics and Society

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Martin Thomas

In the twenty years between the end of the First World War and the start of the Second, the French empire reached its greatest physical extent. At the end of the First World War, the priority of the French political community was to consolidate and expand the French empire for, inter alia, industrial mobilisation and global competition for strategic resources. The book revisits debates over 'associationism' and 'assimilationism' in French colonial administration in Morocco and Indochina, and discusses the Jonnart Law in Algeria and the role of tribal elites in the West African colonies. On the economy front, the empire was tied to France's monetary system, and most colonies were reliant on the French market. The book highlights three generic socio-economic issues that affected all strata of colonial society: taxation and labour supply, and urban development with regard to North Africa. Women in the inter-war empire were systematically marginalised, and gender was as important as colour and creed in determining the educational opportunities open to children in the empire. With imperialist geographical societies and missionary groups promoting France's colonial connection, cinema films and the popular press brought popular imperialism into the mass media age. The book discusses the four rebellions that shook the French empire during the inter-war years: the Rif War of Morocco, the Syrian revolt, the Yen Bay mutiny in Indochina, and the Kongo Wara. It also traces the origins of decolonisation in the rise of colonial nationalism and anti-colonial movements.

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Thomas Martin

How can potential future terrorists be identified? Forming one of the four pillars of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST, Prevent seeks to answer, and act on, this question. Occupying a central role in security debates post-9/11, Prevent is concerned with understanding and tackling radicalisation. It carries the promise of early intervention into the lives of those who may be on a pathway to violence.

This book offers an innovative account of the Prevent policy, situating it as a novel form of power that has played a central role in the production and the policing of contemporary British identity. Drawing on interviews with those at the heart of Prevent’s development, the book provides readers with an in-depth history and conceptualisation of the policy. The book demonstrates that Prevent is an ambitious new way of thinking about violence that has led to the creation of a radical new role for the state: tackling vulnerability to radicalisation. Foregrounding the analytical relationship between security, identity and temporality in Prevent, this book situates the policy as central to contemporary identity politics in the UK. Detailing the history of the policy, and the concepts and practices that have been developed within Prevent, this book critically engages with the assumptions on which they are based and the forms of power they mobilise.

In providing a timely history and analysis of British counter-radicalisation policy, this book will be of interests to students and academics interested in contemporary security policy and domestic responses to the ‘War on Terror’.

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Martin Thomas

Between 1940 and 1945 the French empire divided against itself. This book presents the events in the French empire in the 1940s, and traces the period of wartime French imperial division, setting it within the wider international politics of the Second World War. It discusses the collapse of France's metropolitan forces during the second week of June 1940, which became a calamity for the French empire. The final breakdown of the Anglo-French alliance during the latter half of 1940 was played out on the African continent, in heavily defended French imperial territory of vital strategic importance to Allied communications. The Vichy empire lost ground to that of the Charles de Gaulle's Free French, something which has often been attributed to the attraction of the Gaullist mystique and the spirit of resistance in the colonies. Indo-China was bound to be considered a special case by the Vichy regime and the Free French movement. Between late 1940 and 1945, the French administration in Indo-China was forced by circumstances to plough a distinctive furrow in order to survive intact. The book discusses the St Pierre and Miquelon affair, and the invasion of Madagascar, and deals with the issue of nationalism in North Africa, before and after the Operation Torch. The contradiction between the French commitment to constitutional reform and the few colonial subjects actually affected by it was echoed in the wartime treatment of France's colonial forces.

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Martin Thomas

This chapter examines three of the most notorious mass killings of the Algerian war. It includes the Constantine massacres of August 1955, the lethal ambush of a French army patrol near the Palestro gorge, in May 1956, and the war's single largest incident of mass civilian killing, at Melouza a year later. The first marked the war's decisive reversion to an asymmetric dynamic of targeted Front de Liberation Nationale killing and mass security force reprisals. The second was a more conventional military encounter in which this asymmetry of Algerian versus French losses was reversed. And the last confirmed the conflict's descent into fratricidal killing and unacknowledged Algerian-on-Algerian civil war. In each case, perpetrators and victims differed. Yet the rhetorical outbursts surrounding each instance of massacre evinced remarkable similarities in the ways such violence was supported, condoned or condemned. Each of these events also triggered heightened levels of French military repression.

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Martin Thomas

This introduction provides an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book traces the period of wartime French imperial division, setting it within the wider international politics of the Second World War. Neither the Vichy nor the Free French imperial authorities were masters of their own destiny. A truism perhaps, under Marshal Philippe Petain, the Vichy regime established in July 1940 governed only part of a defeated country under the gaze of the fascist powers. Control of the French empire was vital to the competing French leaderships of 1940-1944. The empire was a physical embodiment of what limited independence remained to the Vichy regime. The book evaluates the stability, the value and the strength of the empire, by considering the nature of Vichy and Free French colonial rule and the impact of that authority upon the local populations.

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Martin Thomas

In the imperial history of inter-war France, memories of the First World War should figure large. The experience of the Great War shaped interwar French attitudes to empire more than any other single event. After heightened French settlement following the First World War, colon representation was again increased to nine Deputies in 1927. In spite of the advances in military technology in the inter-war period, on the eve of the Second World War, French defence planners viewed the empire in terms reminiscent of the earlier conflict. Although both French civil and military planning for imperial defence became increasingly sophisticated from 1936 onwards, it was none the less assumed that fighting men would constitute the empire's major contribution to European war. As the Haut Comite Mediterraneen was taking on a new role as a quasi-intelligence agency, colonial reform acquired unprecedented importance within inter-war French politics.

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Martin Thomas

The collapse of France's metropolitan forces during the second week of June 1940 was a calamity for the French empire. The French supreme commander, General Maurice Gamelin, was made the scapegoat for the German breakthrough and was dismissed in disgrace at the height of the battle on 19 May. French defeat in Europe was bound to make the preservation of imperial control more difficult, especially in North Africa. In Tunis, popular unease over the French defeat was fuelled by the intimidating shadow of neighbouring Italian Libya and the rapid arrival of Italian armistice commissioners in the capital. In June 1940, the British government soon lost the initiative in persuading the French colonies to continue the fight. In spite of the prevailing conservatism within French colonial administration, during July and early August converts to the Free French cause emerged in a number of French territories.

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Martin Thomas

During August 1940 Winston Churchill's government confirmed its support for Free France. Following an agreement reached with the Prime Minister on August, Charles de Gaulle was officially permitted to recruit armed forces under Free French jurisdiction. By late 1940 the banks of Free French Africa relied upon the assurance of regular sterling transactions within individual colonies to assure their liquidity. Writing in mid-November 1940, the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Lloyd, concluded that the recent spate of Free French successes in Africa was at an end. The British blockade of Vichy Africa did not yield immediate results. With Operation Menace (the codename for the Dakar assault), de Gaulle became openly complicit in British attempts to destroy what remained of Vichy's overseas armed forces. In the event, the British and Free French contacts with Weygand were soon undermined by increased Vichy collaborationism.

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The empire goes to war

The Syrian campaign and Free French administration in the Levant, 1941–45

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Martin Thomas

Premier Raymond Poincare first officially confirmed French ambitions in Syria in 1912. Vichy administration and Free French administration shared much in common in that each sought to evade France's implicit obligation to quit the Middle East. Both the Free French and the British claimed that Vichy complicity in Axis support of Rashid Ali al-Ghailani's Iraqi revolt justified the Anglo-Gaullist attack on Syria on 8 June. The British empire and Free French columns that invaded the French Levant from Palestine and Transjordan on 8 June fell under the overall command of General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson. As the Levant was occupied by British land forces, the War Office bore primary responsibility for the cost of the occupation administration. By 14 July a Occupied Territories Committee had agreed that the best solution for Syria was a Free French administration with full executive powers.

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Empire as diplomatic incident

St Pierre and Miquelon and the Madagascar invasion, 1942

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Martin Thomas

The exclusion of the Free French left the way open for Britain's Middle East command to arrange a settlement in French Somaliland. In 1942 Djibouti was a minor unresolved problem for Charles de Gaulle. The major colonial prizes of French North and West Africa, both still firmly under Vichy control, were far more critical. Long after the dissolution of the first French empire in North America, St Pierre and Miquelon's fishing community remained faithful to France. The proposed occupation of Vichyite Madagascar also contributed to this inter-Allied friction, and actually took up more French National Committee time than discussion of French North Africa. Japan's relentless southward advance during the spring of 1942 transformed Madagascar's role within British strategic planning for the defence of the Indian Ocean. In the early months of 1942 the British government rejected further Free French proposals for a joint invasion of the island.