Originally posted on National Post | Full Comment:
It was a winter killing in a summer palace. On the afternoon of Dec. 24, 1942 — 70 years ago — a young man entered the so-called Palais d’Eté, the main administrative building of Algiers, in what was then the French colony of Algeria. He lingered in a waiting area until his target returned to the palace from a late lunch. As the target approached the door of his office, the young man moved forward, brandishing a French naval pistol. The target happened to turn around at that moment and was hit by two shots, in the face and chest. Death followed within hours, ending the career of Admiral Darlan, one of the most controversial figures of the Second World War.
Best known under the given name “François” — although he has also been referred to as “Jean” — Darlan was born in 1881, and his life was defined by the French navy. The navy did him much good, cultivating his organizational skills and bringing him through the ranks to its highest positions (including chief of staff, 1937), but it also warped him.
As noted by military biographer Mark M. Boatner III, French fleet officers of Darlan’s generation typically hated the British. As well, the navy apparently did not improve another aspect of Darlan’s life: Holocaust historian Saul Friedlander has stated that he “displayed open anti-Semitism in the French Catholic conservative tradition.” All this would come together in the Second World War.