Vichy Radio and Rhetorical EntrapmentFebruary 24, 2011
Yesterday Kay Chadwick from the University of Liverpool gave a very interesting seminar in the Institute on Philippe Henriot. Henriot spent six months as the Vichy French Minister of Information during the first half of 1944. Henriot gave a new impetus to Vichy communications – he personally broadcast twice a day and in particular directly engaged the Free French of Radio Londres. It was this duel that was the focus of Kay’s talk. Both sides sought to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the other. The monthly reports on public opinion compiled for the Vichy government commented on the public fascination with the duel and the fact that Vichy’s broadcasts were at least attracting public attention.
In listening to the talk I was reminded of the post Habermasian arguments about the force of rhetoric in international politics made by by authors like Thomas Risse or Frank Schimmelfenig. By engaging in debate with the Free French Henriot was implicitly agreeing to be bound by rules of argument. While Henriot never openly admitted defeat at points he abandoned lines of attack in implicit acknowledgement of an effective rebuttal. A notorious anti-semite Henriot challenged the right of Pierre Dac as a jew to speak for France but he abandoned the line of attack after Radio Londres pointed out that Henriot’s family came from Alsace-Lorraine and that he had nothing to say about the German annexation of the territory essentially that Henriot couldn’t speak for France because he was German. When the rural resistance, the Maquis, was driven from the plateau of Glieres in Haute Savoie in March 1944 Henriot claimed this as a victory for the Vichy paramilitary force the Milice. Once Radio Londres was able to report that in fact the Milice had failed and that the plateau had been captured by a German force, Henriot abandoned the topic.
In the end the notoriously unpopular Henriot was assassinated by the resistance. While the duel attracted attention it’s not clear how much of an impact it actually had on the French public. It may be that the attraction was more out of fascination with the debate itself. Nevertheless a fascinating perspective on a little known topic.