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André Malraux and the warrior spirit

General Military Review No. 56
History & strategy

Le général d’armée de Lattre de Tassigny remet la croix de chevalier de la Légion d’honneur et la croix de guerre avec palme à André Malraux, alias le colonel Berger, chef de corps de la brigade indépendante Alsace-Lorraine qui a combattu au sein de la 1re armée. © Pierre Raoul VIGNAL/ECPAD/Défense
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Wars are won with warriors, not soldiers.Hope.

The author uses the operational experience of André Malraux during two very different conflicts to distinguish the military from the warrior. His exceptional destiny, his political convictions and his political commitment are an outstanding illustration of the warrior spirit manifested in singular and even controversial circumstances.

Unlike most people who practice this or that profession, the soldier rarely has the opportunity to practice his profession in real conditions. To take the term literally, some minds may even go so far as to argue that, logically, the profession of arms is not a profession, but an "accidental employment". Pushing the logic, or paradox, to its very limits, it can even be argued that it ceased to be a profession the day the "soldier of fortune" gave way to the "professional soldier," that is, in the 17th century, during the Thirty Years' War. That is to say, when the mercenary troops, maintained and employed for the sole purpose of war, were replaced by permanent armies, which continued to receive pay, even when there was no war.

We are here, at the heart of the alternative between "military" and "warriors". Even if the "military" asserts itself and wants to pose as "a war professional", it will never be recognized as a true warrior. This dilemma between "military" and "warrior" underlies L'Espoir, one of André Malraux' masterpieces , largely autobiographical, where the author gives free rein to his fabulous imagination to oppose the "military" to the extreme.The author uses his position to seize power through the weapons that the State has entrusted to him to defend it, and the "warrior", who uses his position to seize power through the weapons that the State has entrusted to him to defend it.the Spanish citizen, who spontaneously stands up to oppose this pronunciation, even though he has no "professional" qualification to do so. In 1944, having federated the maquis of Corrèze, it was as commander of the Alsace-Lorraine Brigade, that the same Malraux found himself engaged. in the Vosges, alongside the "soldiers" of the 1st Army, a new war experience which he brought back in Les Noyers de l'Altenbourg.

These two "warrior" experiences, André Malraux's command of the España squadron in 1936 and the Alsace-Lorraine Brigade at the Liberation, were to serve as a backdrop to this approach to the "warrior".

"A man is the sum of his acts, of what he has done, of what he can do" , wrote André Malraux in La Condition humaine. Malraux's personal actions prior to his participation in the Spanish Civil War are therefore important and demonstrate a perfect constant on his part: to be at the forefront of the anti-fascist struggle, an ideology that ravaged Europe in the 1930s.

As an active member, alongside André Gide, of the Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, he has been militating since 1933 for the liberation of the country.In 1933, he campaigned for the liberation of Dimitrov, leader of the International, who had been arrested in Nazi Germany following the fire at the Reichstag, a fire manipulated and orchestrated by the Nazis. He even went, still in the company of Gide, to bring a petition to this effect, from French intellectuals to the Nazi leaders. On this occasion, according to his wife, he met Goebbels to hand it to her. This raises the question of Malraux' ideological position. Undeniably, he was never a Marxist. But, by efficiency in action, he advocates and participates in the alliance with the communists, to fight against what he considers to be absolute evil, fascism, whether Italian, Nazi in Germany or, later, Franco in Spain.

It is in this capacity, and in this spirit, that, "putting his skin to the end of his ideas" according to the Trotskyist expression , he is part of the French delegation that goes to Moscow, to the 1st Congress of Communist Writers. Within this delegation, he rubbed shoulders with André Gide, Pasternak and Aragon. In Moscow, he met Maxime Gorki1In his speech, he advocates alignment with the International in political terms for the sake of efficiency, but he is nevertheless fiercely opposed to this.He is a fierce defender of the writer's freedom of thought and expression, as soon as he leaves the political arena for the strictly literary field.

But Malraux's destiny was to be turned upside down during the Spanish military putsch against the Republic. On the very day that Franco organised an airlift between Morocco and Spain, July 17, 1936, thanks to his knowledge and (family) connections, Malraux was sent to Spain by Pierre Cot, Minister of Air in the Popular Front government, to assess the "air situation". Malraux had absolutely no competence or experience in this matter. Returning to Paris 48 hours later, he convinced the minister and his chief of staff (Prefect Jean Moulin) of the absolute necessity of providing air support to the Spanish government, since the majority of the Spanish Air Force had taken up the rebels' cause. Cot divided up the missions: Jean Moulin had to provide fifteen old Potez aircraft to the Government, while Malraux, who had been put in touch with Corniglion-Molinier, was responsible for the air support.2 whom he'd known since their 1934 joint raid on Yemen, had to recruit pilots. That will be the España Squadron . All this is done before President Leon Blum, under British pressure, resigns himself to a policy of non-intervention.

The question of Malraux's relations with the communists once again arose. In fact, these were non-relations, since Moscow had not yet resolved to intervene in Spain. Indeed, the Spanish Communist Party was in a very small minority, even marginal. The Governments were divided between the socialists of the PSOE ("social-treaters"), the anarchists ("the class enemy") and the Trotskyists ("the filthy beast"). Only later did Stalin grasp the interest in drowning the international brigades.3. Negrin, the head of the Spanish government, although very close to the communists, bitterly complained that Moscow was sending him more political commissioners than colonels to fight!

It was in this context that Malraux was led to engage his squadron. Singular unit! According to all accounts, discipline was absolutely non-existent. It was the Soviet. Malraux couldn't exercise the slightest command in the tactical sense of the word, he had no competence, and he knew it. But, he was the leader, endowed with a very strong charisma, and systematically took part in each raid in an execution post (machine-gunner). All the testimonies agree to underline that the pilots, devoid of any ideological motivation, but very interested in the high salaries paid by the tandem Cot & Moulin (on the secret funds of the French government), were in fact simple and good mercenaries. Even if they did not always understand everything that "Comrade Malraux" told them, they had a natural form of respect for him and admired his physical courage. The mere threat of a return to France, the only serious sanction, also allowed Malraux to establish a semblance of formal authority. Thus the España squadron was successfully engaged in the successive stops the Republicans made on the rebels in their march on Madrid, operations during which they were forced to deploy. When the squadron, renamed "Malraux Squadron ", was incorporated into the Republican Army for the Battle of Teruel, although its leader was "promoted" to lieutenant colonel, they were apprehended by the rebels.The apprehensions made about Malraux by the commander of the government air force, Hidalgo de Cisneros, who was not considered to be a paragon of military formalism, were often not well received, given the particular functioning of this unit.

Malraux left Spain in 1937. In 1938-39, he returned there to make a propaganda film which proved to be counter-productive: in fact, this film blatantly illustrated the limits of the Republicans' military action, which made simple local peasants designate targets by aerial reconnaissance, by putting them in their planes; but, totally illiterate, they were completely unable to transfer the observed terrain to a map (which they could not read) which, in this type of mission, is absolutely unacceptable.

Still on the subject of his relations with the communists, Malraux rightly observed that the anarchists wanted to make immediate revolution, while the Spanish communists wanted first to build an army, defeat fascism and then make revolution. That is why they were totally opposed to the confiscation of land and its redistribution, which may come as a surprise but should be seen in this context. Nevertheless, in 1937, when the International sided with all its might with the governments.4The aim of the war was not only the armed struggle against Franco's regime, but also the physical liquidation of Trotskyists and anarchists. Thus, when, during the summer, Barcelona was the scene of fratricidal fighting between governments and Marty (nicknamed the "Butcher of Albacete") was acting in the same way at the head of the International Brigades, Malraux fell silent and remained absolutely silent. He never denounced them, as his biographer Jean Lacouture reproaches him, who writes: "On the massacres perpetrated in Catalonia by the Stalinist communists, there are words of Malraux that we will miss forever . »

In 1944, having joined the Resistance late in 1944 in liaison with Lieutenant Colonel Jacquot.5 André Malraux is in charge of the O.R.A. of the area and federates the maquis of the Dordogne, Corrèze, Lot and Tarn. Formed from Alsatian and Lorraine refugees, it is quite naturally that he baptised his unit Brigade Alsace-Lorraine. He called himself "Colonel Berger".

Arrested by the Germans, he was released when Toulouse was liberated, allowing him to take his place. He managed to get his rank approved, met Lattre in Dijon, and joined the First Army. He will be engaged within the 10th D.I. of FFI origin commanded by General Billotte, mainly in the Vosges, when the First Army took charge of the defence of Strasbourg and Lower Alsace, evacuated by the 7th US Army, following the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944.

The Brigade's chaplain, Father Bockel, defined it himself as a band of "savages", students, workers and peasants from Lorraine and Alsace. But, thanks to Malraux, they felt they were much more than they thought they were. Indeed, as far as the command of his 'brigade' was concerned, Malraux applied the same principles as for his Spanish squadron: operationally, he relied entirely on Jacquot. However, it must be understood that the orders, given by Colonel Jacquot alone, would certainly not have had the same scope as the same orders, designed by Jacquot of course, but validated by Malraux.

This is how Malraux would bring to his fighters from the maquis, this transcendence that allowed them to realize that there was more in themselves than what there could be in an ordinary resistance fighter. Like the pilots in Spain, they did not always understand everything Malraux told them, but they followed him instinctively. Malraux was actually more of an emblem than a real warlord.

It was in January 1945 that a major event took place for Malraux: the brutal and definitive break with the communists. Malraux no longer considered this alliance to be necessary because the reality of European fascism had disappeared or was in the process of disappearing: Italian fascism had fallen in August 1943, German Nazism was on the rocks, and Malraux, like many people, thought that Spanish Francoism could not survive the victory, not imagining for a moment that Truman could, for reasons of political tactics, keep it alive. It was with these ideas that Malraux, who belonged to the "National Liberation Movement", left his forty-eight hour brigade to attend the Congress of Resistance Movements in Paris. He opposed the Communist Party's attempt to core his movement, imposed its ideological and political independence and thus limited the Communist hold on the Resistance. From this date on, Malraux became an implacable opponent of communism and the International.

The end of the war was to mark the end of Malraux's war epic. From then on, he would have a political career, he would be Minister of State to the General for eleven years, pursuing his prolific literary activity in parallel. Nevertheless, in the course of this political career, his warrior past came to the surface during a rather lively exchange with someone who belonged to the same government and who, moreover, had nothing to be ashamed of from his own military past, quite the contrary: Pierre Messmer.

During a lunch attended by Malraux and the Minister of the Armed Forces, an "old FFL" who had fought in the ranks of the 13th D.B.L.E., Malraux, then Minister of State in charge of Cultural Affairs, wanted him to admit his war titles. Messmer was frank and unvarnished. The following dialogue began6 :

Malraux: I was told you thought we were amateurs .

Messmer: It' s true, we had five years of war, and you had five months .

Malraux: You forget that I was a colonel in two armies .

Messmer: Yes, but Colonel FFI. And no legion captain would have agreed to be placed under an FFI colonel.

The dialogue ended there. Messmer, trained in the mould of the Legion and military at heart, has never been sensitive to the lyrical illusion of war.7.

In the end, beyond this glorification of the warrior, which is in reality only second, the pre-war and wartime Malraux accomplished a literary tour de force without preconceived ideas.give way - and no doubt he is somewhat to blame for this - to reconcile art and action, by dint of inextricably blurring them, as he did.


1 In order to have an idea of the improbable destinies of that time, it is necessary to know that Gorky, a Bolshevik intellectual and doctrinaire, close to Lenin and of a faithfulGorky, a Bolshevik intellectual and doctrinal scholar, close to Lenin and with an unbounded loyalty to Stalin, had previously protected Pechkoff who, naturalized French at the end of the Great War, commanded a battalion of the French.Pechkoff, naturalized French at the end of the Great War, commanded a battalion of Leonidas in Morocco during the Pacification led by Lyautey, joined the Free French, was appointed General by de Gaulle and sent as ambassador to Chang Kai Check, then, with the rank of General of the French army, he was sent to France.néral de corps d'armée, appointed head of the French military mission to Mac Arthur, proconsul in Japan, at a time when France was engaged militarily in Indochina.

2 Another fabulous destiny: demobilised as a flight lieutenant in 1919, he became a journalist, while pursuing a rich aeronautical activity. During the Battle of France, he was one of only two fighter pilots to add aerial victories to his record of achievements from the previous war. In 1940, he joined the Free French Forces, formed bombing groups (he entrusted the command of the Lorraine group to Mendès France), flew many missions over Germany himself, and ended the war as a general, COMAIR de Larminat on the Atlantic Front. As Minister of the IVth, it was as such that, at 57 years of age, he beat the speed record between Paris and Marseille, at the controls of a Mystère IV, which Dassault had just delivered to the French Air Force.

3 A sign of the times, on graduating from the École Supérieure de Guerre in 1937, trainees were offered two positions as chief of staff of international brigades, in a detachment position outside the framework. One of them will be Captain Putz, cavalryman, who will be killed as lieutenant colonel in Alsace, as sub-group commander in the 2nd AD. Another special destiny!

4 While Italian fascists and German Nazis supported Francoism.

5 Saint-cyrien, he will end his career as army general, commanding the allied forces of Centre Europe in Fontainebleau from 1961 to 1964, after having commanded the FFA in Baden Baden.

6 Frédéric TURPIN: Messmer, le dernier gaulliste, Paris, Perrin, 2019, p. 188.

7 Nevertheless, it was Messmer, then president of the Association Présence et action du gaullisme, who proposed and obtained the transfer of André Malraux' ashes to the Pantheon, where he rests not far from Jean Moulin.

Title : André Malraux and the warrior spirit
Author (s) : Colonel (er) Claude FRANC

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Le commissaire à la Guerre passe en revue la 10e DI lors d’une visite à la division placée sous le commandement du général Billotte. Derrière les autorités, André Malraux. © Ernerst STACHE/ECPAD/Défense