Despite excitable claims on book jackets, the number of original historical discoveries that truly alter our thinking about the past are few and far between. All the more reason to celebrate, therefore, when the genuine article comes along: Simon Kitson's brief study of a neglected area of the politics of Vichy France is just such a work.
Ever since Robert O Paxton's Vichy France: Old Guard and New Order and Marcel Ophuls's documentary The Sorrow and the Pity appeared forty years ago, our view of Vichy has been a uniformly black-and-white one – or rather, just black: that the regime presided over by the aged Marshal Pétain was pro-German, anti-Semitic, reactionary, ultra-Catholic and all in all a thoroughly bad thing. Kitson's work challenges that view in one important aspect: the policy of Vichy's military and police intelligence services was, in secret deed contrasting to its leaders' words, anti-German.
It does not absolve official Vichy from the enormities associated with it: the grovelling collaboration with the occupation of its country; the enthusiastic persecution of Jews at the Nazis' behest; the fawning attempts by its premiers Laval and Darlan