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Revising myths of Vichy France

Choices in Vichy France: The French under Nazi Occupation, by John F. Sweets. New York: Oxford University Press. 306 pp. $24.95. John Sweets, a professor of history at the University of Kansas, has previously written about ``The Politics of Resistance in France'' (1976). In ``Choices in Vichy France,'' he suggests that recent revisionist history (not only scholarship, but also films like ``The Sorrow and the Pity'' and ``Lacombe Lucien'') presenting the French as a nation of collaborators may be even more misleading than the earlier myth of a nation of resisters.

In this book, Dr. Sweets takes the town of Clermont-Ferrand as a microcosm to be examined as the key to a larger picture. In meticulously documented detail, he recounts the attempts of the Vichy to impose their ``New Order'' -- replacing individual rights with so-called ``principles of the community'' -- and he describes how members of this particular French community supported or merely accepted, ignored or actually resisted these new policies. He concludes that resistance -- on some levels -- was more widespread than is commonly supposed.

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This fine study, the product of extensive research, unquestionably adds substantially to our sum of knowledge. But whether Clermont-Ferrand is indeed a microcosm, or merely a limited portion of a vast mosaic, remains debatable. There is always some danger, in such an enterprise, of failing to see the forest for the trees.