Oui, Commissar! The Soviets Had a Secret Plan to Demoralize the French
Propaganda leaflets targeted rebellious sentiments
Originally published on May 20, 2014.
If the Warsaw Pact had invaded Western Europe in 1964, it planned to use a secret weapon to undermine French morale and induce French soldiers to hoist the white flag.
A piece of paper.
The Red Army’s blitz from Germany to the English Channel would have involved more than tanks and paratroopers. A barrage of propaganda would have called on Western soldiers to lay down their arms.
Soviet authorities planned to airdrop leaflets over NATO-held territory, according to documents found in the former Czechoslovakian military archives and published in A Cardboard Castle, a history of the Warsaw Pact.
This is the message that the political commissars of the Warsaw Pact hoped would convince Paris’ troops to surrender:
Liberated France, the France of tomorrow shall need you. Your family shall need to take care of them, your children shall need you to bring them up, your parents shall need you to provide for their comfortable old age. Your country shall need you to give her the strength of your hands, your mind, to make her recover her grandeur and happiness. Do you want to sacrifice your life, which is so badly needed, to the war for German interests?
French soldier! Give up fighting, save yourself for France.
Whom shall your death help? This war, into which Americans and Germans have drawn your country, is not your war. It is the war of North American monopolies, which attempt to subdue the the world under them. But what can the war bring you?
One suspects that many French soldiers instead would have asked themselves what Soviet military occupation would bring them. It’s hard to believe that this propaganda would have had any effect on a prosperous nation like France.
Striking a chord
And yet … this propaganda was written in 1964. Just three years earlier, French soldiers in Algeria, including elite paratroopers, had revolted against French president Charles De Gaulle’s government over the government’s plan to grant independence to Algeria.
Disgruntled French soldiers even plotted to assassinate De Gaulle, as depicted in the movie The Day of the Jackal.
Remember, we’re talking about France. An advanced, nuclear-armed state that was and still is one of the most greatest powers in the world. And yet in the early 1960s, it was on the edge of a military coup.
The Warsaw Pact surrender leaflet cleverly played on that same ideas that motivated France’s ’60s plotters. The appeal to “recover” the greatness and grandeur of a France still traumatized by Nazi conquest and collaboration and diminished by the loss of its Indochina and North Africa colonies.
Then there were the nationalistic digs at France’s allies—never a bad card to play with the French. Perhaps the Soviets could have struck a chord by evoking the “North American monopolies” working hand-in-hand with the same boche who goose-stepped down the Champs-Elysees in 1940.
Not that the Soviets would ever be so duplicitous, of course. But the Czech archives also contain another document—a 1964 war plan that called for Warsaw Pact forces to advance across Germany and capture Lyon—in France—within a week after the war began.
Surrender would not have revived France. It just would have made Soviet conquest easier.
It’s unlikely that French soldiers would have heeded a Soviet appeal to lay down their arms. If they had, they would have learned that Russian promises were not worth the paper they were printed on.