Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle (French: [ʃaʁl də ɡol] ( listen); 22 November 1890 – 9 November 1970) was a French general and statesman. He was the leader of Free France (1940–1944) and the head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic (1944–1946). In 1958, he founded the Fifth Republic and was elected as the President of France, a position he held until his resignation in 1969. He was the dominant figure of France during the Cold War era and his memory continues to influence French politics.
Born in Lille, he graduated from Saint-Cyr in 1912. He was a decorated officer of the First World War, wounded several times, and later taken prisoner at Verdun. During the interwar period, he advocated mobile armoured divisions. During the German invasion of May 1940, he led an armoured division which counterattacked the invaders; he was then appointed Under-Secretary for War. Refusing to accept his government's armistice with Nazi Germany, de Gaulle exhorted the French population to resist occupation and to continue the fight in his Appeal of 18 June. He led a government in exile and the Free French Forces against the Axis. Despite frosty relations with Britain and especially the United States, he emerged as the undisputed leader of the French resistance. He became Head of the Provisional Government of the French Republic in June 1944, the interim government of France following its Liberation. As early as 1944, de Gaulle introduced a dirigiste economic policy, which included substantial state-directed control over a capitalist economy which was followed by 30 years of unprecedented growth, known as Les Trente Glorieuses ("The Glorious Thirty").
Frustrated by the return of petty partisanship in the new Fourth Republic, he resigned in early 1946 but continued to be politically active as founder of the Rassemblement du Peuple Français (RPF) party, which means "Rally of the French People." He retired in the early 1950s and wrote a book about his experience in the war titled War Memoirs, which quickly became a classic of modern French literature. When the Algerian War was ripping apart the unstable Fourth Republic, the National Assembly brought him back to power during the May 1958 crisis. He founded the Fifth Republic with a strong presidency, and he was elected to continue in that role. He managed to keep France together while taking steps to end the war, much to the anger of the Pieds-Noirs (Frenchmen settled in Algeria) and the military; both previously had supported his return to power to maintain colonial rule. He granted independence to Algeria and progressively to other French colonies.
In the context of the Cold War, de Gaulle initiated his "Politics of Grandeur," asserting that France as a major power should not rely on other countries, such as the US, for its national security and prosperity. To this end, de Gaulle pursued a policy of "national independence" which led him to withdraw from NATO's military integrated command and to launch an independent nuclear development program that made France the fourth nuclear power. He restored cordial Franco-German relations to create a European counterweight between the Anglo-American and Soviet spheres of influence through the signing of the Élysée Treaty on January 22, 1963. However, he opposed any development of a supranational Europe, favouring a Europe of sovereign nations. De Gaulle openly criticised the US intervention in Vietnam and the "exorbitant privilege" of the US dollar. In his later years, his support for an independent Quebec and his two vetoes against Britain's entry into the European Economic Community generated considerable controversy.
Although re-elected President in 1965, in May 1968 he appeared likely to lose power amid widespread protests by students and workers, but survived the crisis with backing from the Army and won an election with an increased majority in the Assembly. De Gaulle resigned in 1969 after losing a referendum in which he proposed more decentralization. He died a year later at his residence in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, leaving his Presidential memoirs unfinished. Many French political parties and figures claim the Gaullist legacy.
De Gaulle was ranked as "Le Plus Grand Français de tous les temps" (the Greatest Frenchman of All Time).
On 9 November 1970, two weeks short of what would have been his 80th birthday, Charles de Gaulle died suddenly, despite enjoying very robust health his entire life (except for a prostate operation a few years earlier). He had been watching the evening news on television and playing Solitaire around 7:40 p.m. when he suddenly pointed to his neck and said, "I feel a pain right here", and then collapsed. His wife called the doctor and the local priest, but by the time they arrived he had died from a ruptured blood vessel. His wife asked that she be allowed to inform her family before the news was released. She was able to contact her daughter in Paris quickly, but their son, who was in the navy, was difficult to track down, so President Georges Pompidou was not informed until 4 am the next morning and announced the general's death on television some 18 hours after the event. He simply said, "Le général de Gaulle est mort; la France est veuve." ("General de Gaulle is dead. France is a widow.")
De Gaulle had made arrangements that insisted his funeral be held at Colombey, and that no presidents or ministers attend his funeral—only his Compagnons de la Libération. Despite his wishes, such were the number of foreign dignitaries who wanted to honor de Gaulle that Pompidou was forced to arrange a separate memorial service at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, to be held at the same time as his actual funeral. The only notable absentee was Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau, possibly because he was still angry over de Gaulle's cry of "Vive le Quebec libre" during his 1967 visit.
The funeral on 12 November 1970 was the biggest such event in French history, with hundreds of thousands of French people—many carrying blankets and picnic baskets—and thousands of cars parked in the roads and fields along the routes to the two venues. Special trains were laid on to bring extra mourners to the region and the crowd was packed so tightly that those who fainted had to be passed overhead toward first-aid stations at the rear. The General was conveyed to the church on an armoured reconnaissance vehicle and carried to his grave, next to his daughter Anne, by eight young men of Colombey. As he was lowered into the ground, the bells of all the churches in France tolled, starting from Notre Dame and spreading out from there.