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What De Gaulle Really Said

In response to:

Liberators from the October 11, 1990 issue

To the Editors:

At the beginning of his essay “Liberators” [NYR, October 11], Robert M. Adams refers to an assassination attempt against de Gaulle:

Some years ago a society of malcontents planted a large bomb under the roadway leading from Colombey-les-deux-Eglises to Paris. They exploded it almost on time, and blew up, instead of General de Gaulle, a car full of his bodyguards and secretaries. The general emerged from his undamaged vehicle, surveyed the carnage with a professional eye, and said simply, “Dommage. Une belle sortie.”

This entertaining anecdote has all the markings of a historical myth in the making: sufficiently vague to be hard to place, but with a quotation in French to inspire authenticity. It is perhaps worth setting the record straight.

The “society of malcontents” can only be the OAS (Organisation de l’Armée Secrète) which in the early sixties opposed de Gaulle’s Algerian policies and instigated many terrorist attacks in France. The assassination attempt referred to is that of Pont-sur-Seine on September 8, 1961: Pont-sur-Seine is indeed on the road from Colombey to Paris, and a “plastic” bomb was used. (The other more famous assassination attempt at Petit-Clamart on August 8, 1962, fits Mr. Adams’ description even less well.) However, according to Jean Lacouture’s three volume biography of de Gaulle, published by les Editions du Seuil, only the bomb detonator—not the plastic itself—went off, no one was injured, and when de Gaulle got out of his car he roared “Quels maladroits!

Again according to Lacouture, the next day de Gaulle said to Louis Terrenoire that (my translation) “from a speculative and historical point of view, it would perhaps have been better than to die in one’s bed or in an accident.” Perhaps from this seed sprang up the myth passed on by Mr. Adams.

Henry C. Pinkham
Professor, Columbia University
New York City

Robert M Adams replies:

Dommage. Une belle histoire dépouillée.

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