Did most French people change their opinion about who contributed most to the defeat of Nazi Germany?

13

It seems implausible, but I have found many sources citing this image:

enter image description here

If this is true is it unique to France or do other countries follow a similar pattern in change of opinion?

user1721135

Posted 2017-12-19T17:53:54.017

Reputation: 1 278

1

@WS2 the death toll in the USSR was horrendous, but remember that you don’t win by dying for your country, but by making the enemy die for theirs: https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/04/24/war/

– Andrew Grimm – 2019-03-11T20:22:21.637

The Soviets also dealt the most damage to Germany and destroyed their army. – user1721135 – 2019-03-12T06:02:26.037

@user1721135 It depends what you mean by "most damage" - the Anglo-American blanket bombing campaign from 1943 levelled many German cities - with up to 90% demolition in some cases. – WS2 – 2019-03-12T07:36:18.403

1@jjack Islands have both advantages and disadvantages. The fact of being an island makes you more difficult to invade and occupy. But when it comes to feeding your population, and you are dependent on the Atlantic convoys, it is another matter. When my mother was expecting me in 1944, like all pregnant women, she got a special ration book permitting her cod liver oil, orange juice,and among other things two eggs a week instead of one. – WS2 – 2019-03-12T07:43:10.963

@Brad- I don't speak French at all and it seems pretty clear to me. Granted, I understand enough Spanish and Latin to understand most of the words but still the flags are a dead giveaway. – Savage47 – 2019-11-14T04:59:08.433

@user1721135- The Soviets dealt damage, yes, but they also received far more damage. Before the war was over the soviets were literally down to old women fighting with sticks. I'm not kidding (look it up) . Germany could have easily wiped them off the face of the Earth in a matter of days but instead chose to take their oil fields. Why? They were more concerned about a invasion by the only other super power on Earth than being beaten by old women with sticks. – Savage47 – 2019-11-14T05:04:45.010

2You should reword this to be less biased. Also WWII was a team effort, no one country "defeated Nazi Germany" – Gramatik – 2017-12-19T18:03:48.783

1I'm no expert on WWII, but surely most people would agree the Allies defeated Germany, but to which extent each individual member contributed to the victory would be mostly opinion and open to wild variations of interpretation, no? – None – 2017-12-19T18:03:56.430

3Can we get the translation of the text in the image? – BradC – 2017-12-19T18:06:19.170

3From the French perspective, and who played the biggest role in the actual invasion and liberation of Nazi-occupied France, is there a reason why you think this is "implausible?" – PoloHoleSet – 2017-12-19T18:32:26.203

5It's implausible because most French probably believe that France defeated Germany. – user4012 – 2017-12-19T18:43:45.233

1I have edited the title to be less biased. As to why it seems strange: 1) the opinion seems to have changed 180°, which in and of itself is strange 2) The US joined the war very late and did not contribute as much as the Soviet to the defeat of Nazi Germany, this is a very widely accepted fact. – user1721135 – 2017-12-19T18:48:07.633

Rough translation of the graphics title: Who, according to you, contributed more to the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945? – user1721135 – 2017-12-19T18:49:41.260

3This is a much better question post-edit, but I think it belongs on [Skeptics.SE], not here. It's still not about "governments, policies and political processes", unless you consider polling a "political process". – Bobson – 2017-12-19T20:27:57.570

1@Bobson I consider the process in which public opinion is changed by foreign policy and government action (also known as propaganda) relevant. Of course I can only assume that this is what happened. I assume something along those lines must have happened in France, if the claim is accurate. Skeptics may also be a good fit actually as it does seem hard to believe. – user1721135 – 2017-12-19T21:01:29.633

@user1721135 - A question about why this change happened, and whether the government (of either the US or France) encouraged it could be on topic. Whether or not an infographic is accurate is less so. – Bobson – 2017-12-19T21:20:50.823

1@user1721135 To be more precise, Soviet Union joined WW2 quite early, already on 17th September 1939, but unfortunately on German side. In joining on Allies side, both the SU and the USA did that in 1941. – Shadow1024 – 2017-12-19T21:58:38.210

7The French in 1941 probably had been watching the Eastern Front from 1941 until 1944, waiting for significant German defeats. The end then came fairly quick, between June 6th 1944 when the Western Allies landed in Normandy, until around December 1944. Nowadays they just remember from school that they were freed by the US in 1944. So maybe that's a normal thing that the view changed over time. – jjack – 2017-12-19T22:37:44.923

Is there similar questionnaires between 1945 and 1994 to see if the change has been slow or incremental. Incremental change might've been fast right after the war if the French populace was getting more and more informed about it. – Communisty – 2017-12-20T12:57:36.123

4@user4012 In one sense France did contribute rather more than either GB or USA. US saw one in every 300 of its population killed, Britain one in every 100. France was one in every 69. That figure for the USSR was, hold your breath, one in every 7 - nearly 30 million people, many of them deliberately slaughtered during occupation by the Nazis, many from starvation. However, on behalf of my own country I would fail if I did not point out that we were the only ones in at the very start, who were still in at the very end. Britain was at war for longer than any of the other participants. – WS2 – 2017-12-20T13:13:49.890

@WS2 but don't islands have certain "privileges" warwise? Napoleon supposedly considered building a tunnel to invade Britain. The Romans managed without, but back then there wasn't a serious navy. – jjack – 2017-12-22T03:18:37.317

Answers

18

In short, yes the information presented in that graphic is well sourced and appears generally reliable.

The creator of the graphic is Olivier Berruyer who is French political blogger. His source is IFOP, a well established French polling company, with a history dating back to 1938. Olivier includes in his blog an image of a 1944 newspaper containing the summary of the poll.

Opinion polling in 1944 was not as sophisticated as today, and one should treat the exact values with a little skeptisim - France in 1944 was not the easiest place to poll, however this question was asked twice, once in Paris, and then countrywide (including regions that had been under Vichy) with the same general result. Most French people in 1944 believed that Russia had contributed most to the defeat of Germany.

When the same question was put again in 1994, most French people believed that the USA had contributed most.

There is a small subtlety in the original poll, It found that in 1945, most French people believed that the USA had contributed most to the liberation of France. It also notes that it the UK, in 2015, a majority feel that the UK contributed most.

To explain this change, first note that in 1945 the events of the war were recent and ongoing. French people were not answering from their knowledge of history, but their knowledge of current affairs. The massive loss of life on the Eastern Front was well known. France was allied to the USSR and people tend interpret the actions of allies more favourably.

In 1994, the war was history, and History as taught in schools tends to focus on what is of most interest: the history of our own country. It is no surprise that schools should do this, in fact it is almost inevitable, but it can lead to distortions. French people see world war 2 through the prism of French history, and therefore the key events of the war are seen to be the occupation and subsequent liberation of France. Many people also get their historical knowledge from popular culture and films, which being made in Hollywood tell the story of America's involvement in the war. So now when asked "Which country contributed most to the defeat of Germany", people actually answer the question "Which country contributed most to the liberation of France?", and so give the same answer that they gave in 1945: The USA was the biggest contributor to the liberation of France.

The shift in opinion matches the drop in support for the Communist party in France: 28.3% in 1946 (first party), 25.9% in 1951, 21.3% in 1973, 9.3% in 1993, 4.8% in 2002.

To summarize: The graphic appears to be correct. The reason for the change is the change in the relationship between France and USSR/Russia and the natural focus on French history by French people.

James K

Posted 2017-12-19T17:53:54.017

Reputation: 70 324

@Peter yes, agree, edited. – James K – 2017-12-20T12:56:21.863

2A complete answer should include the results of the communist party in France. 28.3% in 1946 (first party), 25.9% in 1951, 21.3% in 1973, 9.3% in 1993, 4.8% in 2002. Not sure which is cause and which is effect, but most certainly related. The PCF (Parti Communiste Français) spent a lot of energy defending the USSR, at least during the cold war. – Distic – 2017-12-20T13:41:25.667

@Distic Feel free to add your own answer, but I'll add your figures to my answer. – James K – 2017-12-20T14:52:13.140

Your answer is otherwise very complete. It only seems to me that Hollywood/the cold war (Stalin, Budapest... )/the secret german-soviet alliance at the beginning of the war have done a lot more than school (there were a lot of communist teachers in public school at this time). But I cannot prove that, and anyway you speak about those. So I have no reason to write another answer. – Distic – 2017-12-20T15:13:33.383

And sorry, I forgot, but the PCF was also first in 1951 (perhaps it is not relevant as 1951 does not appear in the question). – Distic – 2017-12-20T15:15:33.560