Stunning Ingratitude of De Gaulle

image In 1945 did Charles De Gaulle really say to Winston Churchill, in reference to the military aid that the Allies provided to France to defeat Germany, that "We shall stun you with our ingratitude"? Monday, November 22 was the birthday of De Gaulle, and a number of right-leaning blogs marked the occasion by posting this quotation (they seem to have picked it up from an article in the Belfast Telegraph). So did De Gaulle really say this?

Even though the tense verbal exchanges between De Gaulle and Churchill are well known, this particular remark sounded hoaxy to me. A quick google search didn't turn up any source that could verify the remark, though it did pull up an essay noting that Churchill once quoted to De Gaulle a passage from Plutarch: "ingratitude towards great men is the mark of a strong people." So it's possible that De Gaulle responded to this comment by saying that the French would stun Churchill with their ingratitude (in which context, the remark would be a compliment).

However, a second, more thorough google search revealed that the 'stunning ingratitude' quotation has been attributed to a number of other people besides De Gaulle. This 2003 article in attributes it to the prime minister of the Hapsburg Empire: When, in 1848, Tsarist Russia intervened to put down an insurrection in Hungary, thus saving the Hapsburg Empire which was then in deep trouble, the Hapsburg prime minister commented that: "We shall astonish the world with our ingratitude."

But quite a few other people (including the conservative columnists Pat Buchanan and George Will) credit the remark to the Italian statesman Camillo Benso Cavour: The Sardinian minister who guided his country to the unification of Italy in the mid-1800, Cavour, did so with French help in a war with Austria. Without the French Army the Austrians would probably still have been ruling Northern Italy in 1914. Cavour's comment was that someday the Italians would astonish the world with their ingratitude to France.

I suspect that Cavour is the true source of the saying. In which case, it's ironic that a remark originally referring to ingratitude towards France has now come full circle and is being used to demonstrate (supposedly) the ingratitude of France.

History Military Politics

Posted on Sat Nov 27, 2004


I hate to think that Pat Buchanan and George Will are right about anything, since both of them are usually such limitless fonts of nonsense, but I think I've heard the quote before in reference to Italy, not France.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Mon Nov 29, 2004  at  01:49 PM
No, I mean Cavour or some other Italian (I don't remember who, but I don't think it was Mussolini) said about the Italians that they would astonish the world with their ingratitude. I don't claim to know the real origin of the quote, but somehow it just doesn't seem like something DeGaulle would say.
Posted by Big Gary C  on  Mon Nov 29, 2004  at  05:22 PM
The Austrian quote refers to the Crimean war, IIRC, a few years after the Russians had saved Austria's bacon. The Austrians were thought obliged to support Russia, and the way in which they astonished the world was by staying neutral. Eventually they helped negotiate/force an end to the conflictwhich might have been the most useful thing they could do anyway.
Posted by David Bofinger  on  Mon Jun 20, 2005  at  07:38 PM
I recall reading this comment in an old book about the second world war; it would have been Churchill who was quoting the remark to DeGaulle..
Posted by Jeha  on  Sun Jan 21, 2007  at  03:38 AM
This article refreshes my knowledge about the historical events of second world war.
Posted by Suzanne Morrison  on  Thu Apr 03, 2008  at  04:34 AM
Someone said "that some acts are so great that they can ONLY be returned with ingratitude"
Posted by Nonesuch  on  Wed Jun 04, 2008  at  12:38 AM
That is very interesting. I had questioned the authenticity of this quote. Thanks for the information!
Posted by Richard  on  Tue Sep 08, 2009  at  12:53 AM
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