Vichy used much of the moralising rhetoric that had been favoured by the French Catholic Church in the century since the Revolution. The regime denounced the ‘esprit de jouissance’ (pleasure-seeking) that was allegedly responsible for the defeat, promising ‘moral recovery’. This resonated with a Catholic tradition of moralising major events, as in 1789, 1870, and 1914….
The Catholic hierarchy converted a complex national disaster into a moralising myth, which suited what the Jesuit Henri de Lubac called the ‘masochistic’ spirit of those times. Victory, some senior ecclesiastics argued, would have led to further moral degradation; defeat afforded a ‘heaven-sent’ opportunity for regeneration. Victory in 1918 had proved a wasted opportunity; perhaps 1940 could be different? The Catholic writer Claudel regarded defeat as a form of deliverance, confiding in his diary: ‘France has been delivered after sixty years from the yoke of the anti-Catholic Radical party (teachers, lawyers, Jews, Freemasons). The new government invokes God … There is hope of being delivered from universal suffrage and parliamentarism.’
Similar attitudes seem quite prevalent in the West these days, especially among our hordes of jet-setting Jeremiahs, but one wonders how many Japanese citizens felt the same way on this day 63 years ago. How many members of the ruling elite of Imperial Japan felt let down by their masses and determined to teach them a lesson? Certainly a good many ordinary citizens were ready to sacrifice their elites in return for peace.