Winning French Minds
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 8 Nov 2023
Full Title: Winning French Minds: Radio Propaganda in Occupied France 1940-42
I have a small number of contacts in the publishing industry who would suggest books to me. Earlier this year, a colleague at Casemate reached out and told me about Winning French Minds, a new title that they had just released that was very different from the majority of recent titles. Having finally gotten a chance to finish it, I definitely have to agree! The author Denis Courtois generally divided up the book into three main sections, with one dedicated to the programming British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) foreign-language service created to sway the opinions of French civilians, another dedicated to the programming of Vichy Radiodiffusion Nationale created to garner support for rebuilding France, and the final main section dedicated to the programming of the German-controlled Radio Paris created to push the case of a German-centric new European order. Each of these three sides had very different agendas and goals, but all three recognized the importance of popular support during these first three years of the defeated and subjugated France. It was interesting to see how each of the three handled the topics of the food shortage (and thus the rise of the black market), export of labor from France to German, Anglo-French military conflicts and civilian casualties, political opinions of the French youth, and a wide number of others. While I truly believe that I generally still learn something new out of each book that I pick up, I felt that every chapter of Winning French Minds delivered something new, not only because French language radio being a less-frequented area of study, but also due to the author's ability to tie these radio efforts to events surrounding the French people and events unfolding on the European geopolitical stage. It was apparent to me that Courtois had done extensive research through the archives of BBC, Radio France, and others. While closing the book, the author posed an enlightening connection between radio programs during the WW2 era, which could feel distant with the passage of time, and how we consume reporting on the events happening in Syria and Ukraine, through 21st century mediums such as social media. This was certainly a piercing reminder that while history consisted of events of the past, what we learned from the study of history would shape our understanding of the current, and thus affecting the events to come.
I had reviewed this title in the printed format. To my knowledge an audio book edition does not exist nor are there plans for one. However, it could be interesting should the author ever consider the possibility. Rather than simply quoting the broadcasts, actually including the surviving radio recordings on the audio book could be extremely interesting! I would, of course, need to learn French, but that would be a different topic altogether.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939