Every time I look in Henri de Castries’ office at the handwritten note from General de Gaulle to Pierre de Chevigné, his grandfather, who, dated August 25, 1944 at 1:45 p.m., establishes the route he will have to follow. for its entry into Paris, I feel the thrill of history. The real one that this generation has known. It is therefore with pleasure that I read the biography that the historian Guillaume Piketty, author already of a remarkable Pierre Brossolette – A hero of the Resistance, devotes to Chevigné.
August 25, 1944 on one side, June 1958 on the other. Minister of National Defense in the Pflimlin government until the latter gave way to General de Gaulle, Chevigné was summoned to Matignon by the latter who asked him to join him; he refuses, replies that he will not follow him “under threat of bayonets”, finally blurts out: “you are no longer the man of 1940” and slams the door. An usher catches up with him at the request of the General who, Chevigné once in front of him, gives him the hug and murmurs: “Ah, Chevigné, that does not prevent feelings. »
All the originality of Chevigné is expressed in these two sequences. Unlike the other paladins of the Gaullist epic, the Courcels, Burin des Roziers, etc., his personal loyalty to the great man did not prevent him from moving away from him politically and establishing his own course of action. He is, from this point of view, the only one of his kind. Even Jacques Chaban-Delmas who was not a man of June 1940 would keep one foot in the Fourth Republic, another in political loyalty to de Gaulle. Chevigné will be himself.
During all the years of war, he will have with the General the feudal links that the first companions of 1940 maintained with their suzerain. Traveling from the Levant to Washington, from Washington to taking control of the liberated territories, he accepted the delicate missions, some of them frustrating, which, sure of his loyalty and skill, de Gaulle entrusted to him. Nothing symbolizes this esteem more than the photos of the descent of the Champs-Élysées showing him in the shadow of the General, but just a meter behind. From 1945, Chevigné decided to follow his own line of life. He joined the MRP like most Gaullists ready to find their place in the Fourth Republic. Member of Parliament, he built a stronghold in his Béarn and took part in the parliamentary games. But the man of action whom the war had revealed could not content himself with the joys and pleasures of the National Assembly. Eager to grapple with the realities on the ground, he jumped at the opportunity given to him in 1948 to become High Commissioner in Madagascar. It was no picnic. The island was in full rebellion and Chevigné had, above all, to restore order but, even if he showed a humanity with which the Fourth Republic was unfamiliar with colonial revolts, he nevertheless had a heavy hand with regard to the insurrectionary leaders.
This distant interlude completed, Chevigné leads the life of the political caciques in an Assembly regime: attentive to the control of his fief, trained in the governmental combinations of the Third Force, keeping his attention to military things to the point of being a time an irremovable Secretary of State for War, a skill that earned him the appointment of Minister of National Defense in the Pflimlin government and to be confronted with the events of May 1958, that is to say the sedition of part of the army of which he was the theoretical leader.
Throughout the years of the Fourth Republic, Chevigné kept moving away from Gaullism. Authentic MRP, marked by social Catholicism, attached to all stages of European construction, he never yielded to the sirens of the RPF. An inflexible republican, he did not want to endorse De Gaulle’s ambiguous game during the events in Algiers. Notwithstanding his emotional loyalty to the man of June 18, he does everything to quell the rebellious tendencies of the army staff, but the game is too unequal. If he votes yes to the referendum on the Fifth Republic in September, in accordance with the position of the MRP and contrary to that of Mendès France, to which he has become close, he repatriates to his lands in Béarn and moves away from the national political game. . In fact, like René Pleven, also a man of June 1940, Chevigné embodies a family of minds that the omnipotence of Gaullism swept from political history, this resistant, European, respectable MRP who, independently of feudal loyalty to General de Gaulle, never rallied, partly because of his own vision of the Republic and his loyalty to Europe. Companion of liberation and MRP is not an oxymoron: Guillaume Piketty reminds us.
French, free, Pierre de Chevigné (Ed. Tallandier) by Guillaume Piketty, 370 pages, 25 euros.