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On the eve of World War II, France controlled a colonial empire second in size only to that of Britain. It was an empire over twenty times as large as the home country, and it contained one and a half times as many inhabitants. By 1962, only scattered remnants were left. The French had fought long and hard to prevent the loss of their colonies, and the process of decolonization in the French Empire was violent and brutal, especially in Algeria. Why, then, was the French extraction from Algeria so difficult? France's actions were to a great extent the consequence of the imperialist ideas that persisted among the political elite and the public. They believed that France had a humanist colonial vocation and that empire was part of the nation's greatness. After France was decolonized, French society and politics had to readjust their ideologies according to France's new international role. The impact of decolonization of French politics and society was profound.
After WWII, there was a wide spread belief in the value and legitimacy of the French Empire. The French, after all, had strong ties with their colonies and saw many of them as a part of France. Bets, Clayton and Sorum all argue that the decline in France's stature in the world, culminating in its collapse in WWII and its impotence in the immediate postwar period, added a non-rational force to the belief in the legitimacy and value of France's empire. The movement for colonial liberation was seen as another external threat to France. In other words, in the aftermath of WWII, France wanted to secure its position in the international arena and be respected as a legitimate global power. Indeed, opinion polls reveal that when WWII ended, the French people who were used to possessing an empire, expected that it would remain French, and wanted to keep it. In the words of one observer, while public opinion was "ready to accept any transformation, even a radical one, of the colonial system," it was "absolutely not disposed to allow the slightest attempt at secession." (1) Even as late as 1958, a poll showed that 52% of the French people wanted integration, while only 41% wanted Algerian independence.