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Rock of Contention: Free French and Americans at War in New Caledonia, 1940-1945

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Rock of Contention

Free French and Americans at War in New Caledonia, 1940-1945

Kim Munholland

264 pages, 8 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-57181-682-5 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (April 2005)

ISBN  978-1-84545-300-8 $29.95/£23.95 Pb Published (July 2007)

eISBN 978-1-78238-858-6 eBook

Hb Pb   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“This book is an excellent review of the history of New Caledonia during the war years and explains much about the current relationship between the United States and France.”  · Books-online

"The rigorous archival depth and scholarship of the book allows every twist and turn to be detailed down to the hour, and peopled by an array of characters whose self-belief and delusions would make a fictional tale appear absurdly unrealistic...the book provides ingredients essential for understanding the international history of the following forty years, at least."  · American Historical Review

“This book makes distinct contributions to the existing literature on French-American relations ... but it is also interesting in its own right.”  · Irwin Wall, University of California/Irvine


“This is a sharply drawn, deftly written, straight-laced exposure of the perceptions and biases that generated a lasting international ill will, with repercussions up to the present day.”  · Wisconsin Bookwatch

"This book deserves wider attention that just among historians of the South Pacific or of the American military... Each colony shows a microcosm of Franco-French disputes, of uncongenial relations between the Allies and of the inevitable confrontation between the French and the “natives” whose lives, in different ways around the imperial globe, changed because of the war. Munholland’s excellent study explores these issues, and also provides essential background to the post-war future of the French forced retreat from empire and its difficult engagement with its American ally."  · H-Net France

“…a clear, authoritative narrative…book that is at once wide-ranging and detailed - and welcome.”  · International History Review


What went wrong in Free French relations with Americans during World War Two? Two peoples, presumably sharing a common cause in a war to defeat the axis powers, often found themselves locked in bitter disputes that exposed fundamental differences in outlook and intentions, creating a profound misunderstanding or mésentente that was a major source of Franco-American conflict during the war and has persisted since then. The site for this dispute was the South Pacific colony of New Caledonia. By documenting carefully French policy toward the American presence in New Caledonia during the war, the author demonstrates the existence of a deep-seated suspicion, fear, even paranoia about the Americans that colored almost every phase of Free French policy. Revising traditional views, the author lays bare the roots of the antagonism, which stem from perceptions and biases.

Kim Munholland received his Ph. D. from Princeton University and, since 1963, has been a member of the history faculty at the University of Minnesota where he has taught Modern European and French History.

Subject: WWII History Colonialism
Area: France Asia-Pacific


List of Maps and Figures

Introduction: The Franco-American Mésentente

Chapter 1. The Free French and the Americans before Pearl Harbor

  • France under Siege
  • De Gaulle, the Formation of the Free French, and Colonial Resistance
  • Disaster at Dakar
  • The Empire Defense Council and the Allies in the Tropics
  • Free-French Representation in the United States

Chapter 2. The New Caledonian Rally to the Free French

  • Disunity in Local Allegiances and Foreign Interests
  • The Political Showdown Begins
  • The New Caledonian Coup
  • Pro-Vichy Partisans

Chapter 3. New Caledonia in Limbo: Preparing for War in the Pacific

  • Local and Foreign Anxieties over New Caledonia’s Defense
  • De Gaulle’s Desire for Centralized Control and the Brunot Mission
  • The d’Argenlieu Mission

Chapter 4. Going to Pieces: The 1942 Riot

  • The Americans Arrive: January–March ‘42
  • New Caledonia in Political and Military Crisis: April ‘42
  • Things Go Awry: May ‘42
  • Calm is Restored but, Mésentente Sets In: May–July ‘42

Chapter 5. The Rooster and the Eagle: Governor Montchamp, Admiral Halsey, and the American Occupation

  • Admiral Halsey’s Arrival
  • Guadalcanal, the Solomons Campaign, and the Expansion of U.S. Military Presence: August ‘42–August ‘43
  • The Governor’s Graveyard: Montchamp, d’Argenlieu, and Vergès

6. Governor Laigret and the American Economic and Cultural Challenge

  • Local Politics and the Arrival of Governor Laigret
  • Grievances and Complaints against the Americans
  • Laigret’s Anti-Americanist Campaign and Increasing Mésentente
  • American Ambitions for New Caledonia?

Chapter 7. Roosevelt and de Gaulle: Conflicting Visions of a Postwar World Order

  • Anticolonialism and Yankee Imperialism
  • Anti-Americanism and the French Empire
  • American Security and the Fate of the French Colonies in the Pacific Liberation, 1944

Chapter 8. From Combat Base to Rest and Rehabilitation Area: The American Departure

  • Governor Tallec
  • Autonomist Sentiment and Social and Labor Unrest
  • American Materialism, Entertainment and the Issue of Withdrawal
  • Anti-Communism versus Anticolonialism

Conclusion: V-J Day and Postwar Assessments, Accounts and Balances


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