The experience of war brings to light not only the power of language, but also its power to distort or conceal the truth Essay

uring the Second World War language was a vital tool and could be used effectively in propaganda such as posters and poems and even in politicians speeches such as that of Charles De Gaulle in 1940. The power of language in these sources can be used as a device to distort or conceal the truth. I will use sources such as ‘l’appel du 18 juin’ and the poem ‘les lillas et les roses’.

Firstly ‘l’appel du 18 juin’ was the infamous speech by Charles De Gaulle whilst he was in London. It was his call for the French not to give up against Nazi Germany.Within this speech we can really see the power of the language used by General De Gaulle as he uses many public speaking techniques such as rhetorical questions and repetition. He says ‘mais le dernier mot est-il dit? L’esperance doit-elle disparaitre? La defaite est-elle definitive? ’ Obviously these are rhetorical questions, which cannot be answered by the audience, but the intent is to engage them in thinking and to consider what answer they could give to the question. However one could also suggest that De Gaulle’s use of rhetorical questions can be seen as a weakness.Perhaps he is not confident enough to assert his point so the use of a rhetorical question allows others to disagree and it is not necessarily looking for agreement.

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De Gaulle repeats ‘nous’ when he says ‘ nous avons ete, nous sommes’. Firstly the use of saying ‘ We’ shows a united France. They are struggling in tough times whilst they are under occupation but De Gaulle is saying they will fight it together hence the use of ‘nous’ and the repetition of it.

Then we have De Gaulle personifying France by saying ‘elle n’est pas seule! Elle n’est pas seule’.By saying she this is personification and this is very powerful for those who hear it as it makes France, the country, seem like one of them. Another person who has the same problem as all the other French people at the time. Throughout the speech Charles De Gaulle uses many short, concise sentences that he repeats to really get it into the listeners head. Perhaps the repetition is due to the fact that he is broadcasting this message over the radio and it is not in writing in front of the reader. He lists ‘ toutes les fautes, tous les retards, toutes les suffrances’.These are three negative things so by repeating ‘tous’ he’s emphasising what the French people have been going through.

‘Le destin du monde est la’. Again this is another potent phrase used by De Gaulle in his speech as he really puts everything into the perspective of the entire world not just France or Europe. He is saying that everything is down to this; the French cannot give up and they will still fight. Finally during his speech De Gaulle uses many strong words such as ‘s’eteindre’ et ‘la flamma’ and together they form a metaphor as he says the flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished.Describing the French resistance as a flame shows that they have flair and they wont burn out and will still keep fighting so long as the fire is still alight. It is a speech filled with powerful techniques and there are even some parts, which might have concealed the truth. Also the fact that not many people heard the speech shows us that not everything which was said at the time might have been true but it worked very well and changed the attitude of the French people who had just heard from their leader the day before that they have given up.

Les lilas et les roses’ by Louis Aragon can also give us an insight into the power of language and the way in which it concealed or distorted the truth during the second world war.Right at the beginning of the poem we see Aragon writing ‘mai qui fut sans nuage et Juin poignarde’. Therefore it is immediately making reference to the tragic events which hit France in May and June of 1940. Aragon in fact had military experience so he felt what the rest of France was feeling at the time. He had even been awarded the croix de Guerre in 1939 for his heroics.Throughout the poem Aragon shows signs of nostalgia as he says ‘je n’oublierai jamais les jardines de la France’. The poem also has a lot of meaning as May is the month of the lilac and the lilac also happens to be the national flower of France.

Then we have the rose, which symbolises love therefore; perhaps the juxtaposition of the two could show patriotism. Aragon starts with the traditional spring but then the mood changes when he says ‘juin poignarde. ’ Perhaps one could see this as a hidden message aimed at Petain.It means stabbed in June and could be referring to Petain who signed the armistice with Hitler. Aragon then repeats ‘je n’oublierai jamais…’ throughout the poem which shows the importance of memory and it is also in the future tense so that the French realise they must be remember in the future what is happening at the time. Nature in the poem is key to represent the war. For example Aragon uses ‘au vent de la panique’. It is not described as typical spring but instead as a savage force and this is what the war was.

Nature is really being personified here in this case and it is also seen in ‘le trouble de soirs. Also the geographical references made by Aragon in the poem are very important as he mentions ‘lilas des Flandres’ and ‘roses d’Anjou. ’ The field of Flanders was from the First World War in which the Nazis invaded Belgium during the month of May.

And then we have Anjou, which is in fact, a region well known for growing roses. These are the last words of the poem and perhaps this symbolises rebirth and hope. These two sources both reveal the power of language during the war and even how they concealed or distorted the truth.What we can see from ‘les lilas et les roses’ is the loss of hope after the invasion of France and how they were perhaps betrayed by Petain. Nobody expected the French to win and victory seemed a long way away. Aragon has showed this in the poem and how spring has lost its meaning.

As for General De Gaulle he used many persuasive and powerful techniques in his famous speech and again revealed how France were in a terrible situation. However with his speech he tried to make them still believe that all was not lost. They could still get through if they kept fighting. It was inspirational speech and certainly worked for the French people.


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