L'Étrange Défaite (French, "Strange Defeat") is a book written in the summer of 1940 by French historian Marc Bloch. The book was published in 1946; in the meanwhile, Bloch had been tortured and shot by the Gestapo in June 1944 for his participation in the French resistance. An English translation was published by W. W. Norton in 1968.
The book focuses on the causes of the French defeat in the Battle of France in 1940, and in part uses a relatively long-term view similar to that in his history scholarship (see Annales School). The main thesis of the book is that the French leadership failed to recognize that, since World War I, "the whole rhythm of modern warfare had changed its tempo."
There are only three chapters: Presentation of the Witness, being a short personal history of a life devoted to historical study and interrupted by World War I; One of the Vanquished Gives Evidence, a factual account of his experience in the battle of France; and A Frenchman Examines His Conscience, a biting analysis of the thinking and actions of the generation between the wars.
Bloch reports a harsh and forthright view of the cause of the defeat as he and fellow officers saw it at the time (p. 20 of the printed French edition, p. 45 of the manuscript, written between July and September 1940): "... whatever the deep-seated cause of the disaster may have been, the immediate occasion was the utter incompetence of the High Command."
In a subsequent revision, however, he added a footnote that broadened the blame to non-HQ officers (p. 68 of the printed French edition, p. 145 of the manuscript, footnote dated July 1942): "failures in the troop command were substantially less rare than I had wanted to believe in the aftermath of the defeat. ... Certainly a certain morality crisis in class groups (among reserves as well as active officers) was deeper than one dared imagine." Chapter III then expounded on more general institutional and societal failures that hindered France's response.
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