Book Review: Occupation, the Ordeal of France, 1940 – 1944, Ian Ousby
Ian Ousby is a non-professional historian who has grappled, successfully, with a highly charged and complicated topic, the period from the fall of France in 1940 to a military assault by Germany through its internal political upheavals following the lost war and the subsequent change in government known as the Vichy period. Ousby provides an excellent overview of the major political events that occurred prior to the outbreak of war in 1939, the actual military campaign of 1940, and the immediate fall/usurpation of the Third Republic of France into the Vichy government structure under Petan. (The legality of such this change is one of the issues debated by historians and people in 1944 in France and Ousby provides a brief summary of aspects of this controversy in the period in his final chapter.) Overall the book is strong in its initial examination of the events under the Vichy period but the heart of the book is a series of chapters examining the cultural and social impacts of the Vichy regime upon France and its citizens, a useful exercise in historical review but also one that skims on chronically the actual events of the Vichy period in detail. Generally social histories can be forgiven such shortfalls but Ousby is attempting to write a general history that can allow someone who knows very little of the events in France from 1940 to 1944 to better understand the period, by omitting details of the political actions of the Vichy government Ousby leaves the reader with a feeling about the oppressive nature of the Vichy regime but less information about what that regime did politically to rule France.
As well Ousby does very little work on the impact politically that Germany had upon conquered France, Ousby touches upon some of the economic impacts and the minimal headway the Vichy regime was able to make in lowering the impact of paying the Occupation costs to Germany, but Ousby goes no further. He provides no information on what those economic impacts were on France in the form of goods moved, lightly touches upon the demand for French goods and arms by Germany, and also only lightly describes the structures of government and political action in both Occupied France and Free/Unoccupied France. In doing so his work leaves the reader swimming a bit when discussing the years from 1940 to 1944 in a soup of impressions, emotions, and reactions with minimal moorings of what the actions where that people were reacting to during that period. That said though this is an excellent introductory history on the subject and is highly recommended for any general readers interested in the Occupation of France or French history from 1940 through 1944.