Culture matters. It mattered centrally to the Germans as they sought to establish a New Europe under German-Nazi hegemony. It mattered to the Vichy government as it sought to rid France of any vestiges of the Third Republic, to create a nationalistic, conservative society, and to ingratiate itself with the occupier with a policy of deliberate collaboration. It mattered because Paris was the center of Western Culture until 1940. Culture matters because it is what brings all the strands of society together and, in one way or another, reveals society to itself.
The overwhelming majority of works dealing with the German occupation of France and the Vichy regime, deal with the political and military aspects of that difficult period, though some do focus on how ordinary citizens behaved during those years. What has been missing has been a thorough analysis of the "culture" community as it related to the Germans. This void is what Mr. Spotts' "Shameful Peace" seeks to fill and mostly succeeds. This is not an exhaustive listing of who did what to whom during those years; not everybody who was anybody then is worth the memory. Spotts takes each of the elements of what we usually regard as "culture": literature, painting, sculpture, music, popular entertainement, publishing, theatre, film and, selecting representative figures, analyses their behavior, i.e., answers the question did they collaborate or not, what form did collaboration, resistance, abstention, or flight take, what were the ramifications of their actions, how they fit within the German and Vichy schemes, and what was their respective aftermath with the Liberation. This is well structured analysis and narrative, a pleasure to read that becomes something of a page turner. The moral terrain is challenging as it dwells on choices people made, people with whose work one is familiar and of unquestionable merit to this day. The surprises come in the details as, in general, one is already aware, in many of the cases, about who collaborated and who did not. When discussing painters (Picasso, Matisse, etc.), it is interesting to also see dealers discussed, and how several (even "protected" Jewish ones) were more than willing to procure for Goering, Goebbels and Hitler the "old masters" they so craved. The Paris art market flourished during the occupation.
In the summing up of the period, when discussing trials during the "depuration", after the liberation, Spotts frames the underlying questions clearly: "In a country where ideas have always been more important than facts, the question was whether the accused should be judged for their opinions as well as their deeds. That led to further question whether opinions could become deeds when they called for action - such as arrest, assassination, or deportation. And behind this lay the still broader issue of the responsibility of artists and intellectuals to society." Indeed, these are the questions that underly the text. Indeed such were the times that accepting a dinner invitation from the occupier could be construed as a demoralizing factor to the resister. Had not the Spanish established a strong, universal operating principle during the Napoleonic invasion that the primary and most legitimate responsibility during an "occupation" is to resist it?
I recommend in tandem a more specific analysis of the film industry during the occupation, Evelyn Ehrlich's Cinema of Paradox: French Filmaking under the German Occupation and Alice Kaplan's work about Brasillach, The Collaborator: The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach.
The book contains interesting illustrations. It is not footnoted. However, sources for each chapter are detailed in a separate section at the end.