Strange Defeat (French: L'Étrange Défaite) 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 executed 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 in the interwar period.
Bloch raised most of the issues historians have debated since. He blamed France's leadership:
- What drove our armies to disaster was the cumulative effect of a great number of different mistakes. One glaring characteristic is, however, common to all of them. Our leaders...were incapable of thinking in terms of a new war.
Guilt was widespread. Carole Fink argues that Bloch
- blamed the ruling class, the military and the politicians, the press and the teachers, for a flawed national policy and a weak defense against the Nazi menace, for betraying the real France and abandoning its children. Germany had won because its leaders had better understood the methods and psychology of modern combat.
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):
"[W]hatever the deep-seated cause of the disaster may have been, the immediate occasion was the utter incompetence of the High Command."
Bloch is also critical of the Allies, specifically of the behaviour of British soldiers and of the High Command in the retreat in Belgium. 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.
- Bloch, Marc (1968) . Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 [L'Étrange Défaite]. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-31911-8.
- Marc Bloch, Strange Defeat: a Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 (Oxford U.P., 1949), p 36
- Carole Fink, "Marc Bloch and the drôle de guerre Prelude to the '"Strange Defeat'" p 46
- Fink, Carole. "Marc Bloch and the drôle de guerre prelude to the 'Strange Defeat'" Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques (1996) 22#1 pp: 33-46. in JSTOR