This article examines the wartime career and postwar purge trial of Pierre Boisson, governor-general of French West Africa from 1940 to 1943. Boisson, who kept West Africa loyal to Vichy and repelled the Anglo-Gaullist invasion of Dakar in September 1940, seemed destined for a harsh punishment when he was arrested in late 1943. But Boisson’s actual crimes proved hard to pin down. Like many in the wartime Empire, he claimed he had always stayed loyal to the interests of eternal France, beating off German and British advances with equal determination while maintaining the authority of colonial institutions. For Boisson, the best means to defend the always fragile conceit of colonial rule was to rally to the forces of order, authority, and tradition. But as his case shows, these were malleable terms that could be invoked by accusers and accused alike, and Boisson’s fate hinged on the meaning assigned to them by the High Court and by his countrymen.


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pp. 305-341
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2004
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