Arming Against Hitler
France and the Limits of Military Planning
Eugenia C. Kiesling
In May-June 1940 the Germans demolished the French Army, inflicting more than 300,000 French casualties, including more than 120,000 dead. While many historians have focused on France's failure to avoid this catastrophe, Kiesling is the first to show why the French had good reason to trust that their prewar defense policies, military doctrine, and combat forces would preserve the nation.
Kiesling argues that France's devastating defeat was a consequence neither of blindness to the German military threat nor of paralysis in the face of it. Grimly aware of the need to prepare for another war with its arch enemy, French leaders created defense preparations and military doctrines in which they felt confident.
“A superb work that will find its place as one of the indispensable books on the subject.”
“Kiesling has done her research well, delving into a wide range of sources in an effort to view the parameters of French military thinking in the 1920s and 1930s, without the heavy baggage of hindsight.”
—Journal of Strategic StudiesSee all reviews...
“This is a very valuable book, essential reading for anyone interested in the French collapse of 1940.”
—American Historical Review
“A compellingly distinctive and original contribution to our understanding of the period.”
—John Sweets, author of Choices in Vichy France: The French Under Nazi Occupation
“A brilliantly written and important book that adds substantially to our understanding of the French experience in 1928–1939, as well as the true nature of national security planning and military reform.”
—Robert Doughty, author of The Seeds of Disaster: The Development of French Army Doctrine, 1919–1939 and The Breaking Point: Sedan and the Fall of France, 1940
Rather than simply focusing on what went wrong, Kiesling examines the fundamental logic of French defense planning within its cultural, institutional, political, and military contexts. In the process, she provides much new material about the inner workings of the French military, its relations with civilian leaders, its lack of adaptability, and its overreliance on an army reserve that was poorly organized, trained, and led. Ultimately, she makes a persuasive case for France's defense options and offers a useful warning about the utility of the "lessons of history."
The lesson for contemporary policymakers and strategists, Kiesling suggests, is not that the French made mistakes but that nations and armies make policy and strategy under severe constraints. Her study forcefully reminds us how hindsight can blind us to the complexities of preparing for every next war.