The notion of the “French intellectual” makes a decent man reach for a gun.  Almost as odious as its Manhattan equivalent, it evokes images of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Derrida and Bernard-Henri Lévy.  Evil degenerates, enemies of God and man.

Gen. Pierre-Marie Gallois, who died on August 23 in Paris at the age of 99, was a French intellectual of a very different kind.  He was a patriotic Frenchman contemptuous of what France has become, a proud European who therefore loathed the European Union, a royalist loyal to the republic, a practicing Catholic who loved the Orthodox Serbs.  A good man.

Gallois will be remembered primarily as the architect of France’s nuclear-deterrence doctrine.  A geopolitical realist who believed in “peace through fear,” in 1956 he convinced Charles de Gaulle that France needed her own force de frappe, independent of the United States.  Some weeks before, he successfully urged the same point on the Socialist prime minister, Guy Mollet.  His reasoning was clear: “In the mid-fifties the ballistic missiles could not reach America, but it was obvious that, after some years, these weapons could hit American soil . . . As soon as Americans were on the frontline[,] as we were already, they would change their strategy.  Then, my country, and possibly other countries of Europe, had to find a substitute for a North American commitment.  The defense of Europe was nonconditional before, but it would be conditional later.”

He was right, of course, but the conditionality only became apparent after the Cuban Missile Crisis, six years later.

Three days after speaking to Mollet, Gallois met De Gaulle: “I went to see General de Gaulle at Hotel La Perousse, where every Wednesday evening he was receiving friends . . . I stayed with him until three in the morning, showing him some 40 charts . . . He said that it is not necessary to have the same number of weapons as the other side; what is mandatory is to be capable to arrachet—to ‘tear off’ one arm of the foe. . . . He said to me, ‘Look, Gallois, you should take some rest now; in the future, I shall take care of your career.’  So I went back home, and I told my wife that I had just met Louis XIV, and that my name was written down on his list.”

In 1958 General De Gaulle came to power and transformed the budding force de frappe into “the weapon of the French nation,” as Gallois put it, “having in mind that the effects of these weapons are so terrible, that you cannot share their use, and that only a nation may decide to use them.  Using such a weapon as a last spasm; accepting to die standing straight, instead of dying laying down.  It was really a last resort weapon.  You cannot share such a weapon with another state.”

The general died standing straight.  His latest book—the last of a dozen—was published less than a year ago.  His last major interview is less than six months old.   His mind outlived his body.

Gallois was one of the most impressive men I have met.  Back in 1993 I enjoyed his hospitality at his sprawling flat at No. 8, rue Rembrandt, just south of the Parc de Monceau.  He was in his early 80’s then, a dynamo of physical and mental energy dividing his time between an insane writing and speaking schedule and the painting of a five-story mural on the courtyard side of the building.  It was an old love: Before joining the French air force in 1935 he had studied art and worked for a company that created lighted ads that hung on the Eiffel Tower.  Speaking in a staccato English, he insisted that a true soldier has to be an artist at heart: “You need a vision, an image of what lies beyond, a sense of the greater reality.”

His vision was shaped by the trauma of France’s debacle of May 1940.  Gallois fled from Algeria, where he was posted, to London, placed himself at De Gaulle’s disposal, and joined the RAF.  A decade after completing 30 bombing raids over Germany, as France’s representative at SHAPE, he saw in the atomic bomb the only opportunity for his country to regain that great-power status that he knew was no longer rightfully hers on the basis of her economy, demography, or spirit.

The alternative was to accept France’s fatal dependence on the United States—a “totalitarian democracy” devoid of any sense of its normal limits.  He agreed with Sen. Pierre Biarnès that America was becoming “unbearable” in the imposition of her brand of quasimoral, mercantile hegemony on the rest of the world.  He saw that the United States sought to désouverainise European nation-states.  Germany went along with this “monstrosity,” he told me, although it is not at all in Germany’s interest, because “the flawed idea of ‘one Europe’ is an old obsession for the Germans.”  To push that dream, old nation-states have to be destroyed, which explains why the United States was so hell-bent on undermining Russia and Serbia.  France should have responded by rebuilding links with “our traditional allies,” Gallois believed, and his views on the Balkans could have come straight from the pages of Chronicles.

Disgusted by overt U.S. support of Croats and Muslims, Gallois wondered, in an article published in Le Figaro on September 30, 1993, “Should we return to the kind of political stability and territorial arrangements imposed by the Austro-Hungarians on one half of the Balkans and the Turks on the other half, with Germany, tomorrow, in place of the Dual Monarchy of yesterday, and the new Turkey as the latter-day Ottoman Empire?”  His rhetoric was prescient: 17 years later, Croatia and Slovenia are firmly in the German orbit within an ugly caricature of “Europe,” while neo-Ottomanism thrives east of the old Military Border.

Pierre-Marie Gallois was the last in a long line of European geopolitical thinkers—from Klausewitz and Jomini to Liddell Hart and Guderian—who combined superbly honed analytical skills with hands-on soldiering.  He was also among the last to grasp that certaine idée de l’Europe, and to live by it.