Blog Post - Views on the Economy and the World

Germany’s Defeat of France in 1940

| June 10, 2020

Evidently, France is re-reading Strange Defeat, a 1940 book by Marc Bloch that analyzed how the country fell so quickly to the German invasion in World War II.  The French are looking for clues as to why they have done less well in the current pandemic than Germany.

I recommend a later 2000 account of that surprising French defeat: Strange Victory, by the late Harvard historian Ernest May.  Hitler’s plan was a reckless gamble, which his generals thought would fail.   What I got out of the subsequent events described in the May book is not what is described on a dust jacket.  The invasion in the spring of 1940 succeeded, not because of a lack of French will to fight or a lack of awareness that the Germans would go around the Maginot Line, but rather by luck.  The outcome turned on some trivial events that could just as easily have gone the other way.  (The unlikely crash landing of a small German plane at Mechelen-sur-Meuse was particularly consequential.)  When the gamble succeeded, Hitler’s generals were powerless to oppose him in the still more reckless gambles to come.

I am somehow reminded of some reckless gambles undertaken by American presidents who came to office in elections that turned on trivial events that could just as easily have gone the other way.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Frankel, Jeffrey.Germany’s Defeat of France in 1940.” Views on the Economy and the World, June 10, 2020,