From Charles I to Charles Taylor
4 Defeat in the Dock: the Riom Trial
The trial of political leaders for leading a country into national disaster was to be repeated twenty years after the Trial of the Six in Greece. The fame of the great Nuremberg trials has obscured historical memory of what was, in fact, the first major war crimes trial of World War II: the Riom trial of the leaders of the democratic Third Republic in France. Edouard Daladier and Léon Blum, both former prime ministers, General Gamelin, the former chief of staff, Guy La Chambre, the former minister of air, and Robert Jacomet, the former controller-general for the administration of the armed forces, were put on trial by Vichy France in 1942 for leading France into war and then losing it.
The regime known as Vichy France was born out of the ruins of France’s staggering defeat in May to June 1940, and it blamed the leaders of the Third Republic for that catastrophe. Like the Revolutionary Committee in Athens, Vichy needed a trial to bolster the legitimacy of its own ‘national revolution’ proclaimed by Marshal Pétain, a programme of national renewal based on the conservative and authoritarian principles of ‘work, family, country’ (travail, famille, patrie). The defeat had inflicted a terrible psychological blow on France, and an urgent need was felt for the re-establishment of solid reactionary principles after the parliamentary chaos of the inter-war years. Stunned by the suddenness of the Germans’ victory and the huge cost in lives – which had followed repeated...
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