What did Winston Churchill mean by the quote below?
The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen.
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The speech was part of a secret session briefing on the situation in North Africa on 10 December 1942. The original papers are held at the UK National Archives under reference PREM3/442/12.
That quote was part of a section that read:
“I now turn to examine a peculiar form of French mentality, or rather of the mentality of a large proportion of Frenchmen in the terrible defeat and ruin which has overtaken their country. I am not defending or still less eulogising this French mentality. But it would be very foolish not to try to understand what is passing in other peoples's minds and what are the secret springs of action to which they respond.
The Almighty in His infinite wisdom did not see fit to create Frenchmen in the image of Englishmen. In a State like France which has experienced so many convulsions—Monarchy, Convention, Directory, Consulate, Empire, Monarchy, Empire and finally Republic— there has grown up a principle founded on the ‘droit administratif’ which undoubtedly governs the action of many French officers and officials in times of revolution and change. It is a highly legalistic habit of mind and it arises from a subconscious sense of national self-preservation against the dangers of sheer anarchy.
For instance, any officer who obeys the command of his lawful superior, is absolutely immune from subsequent punishment, Much therefore turns in the minds of French officers upon whether there is a direct, unbroken chain of lawful command, and this is held to be more important by many Frenchmen than moral, national or international considerations. From this point of view many Frenchmen who admire General de Gaulle and envy him in his role nevertheless regard him as a man who has rebelled against the French state ...
... We all thought General Giraud was the man for the job, and that his arrival would be electrical. In this opinion, General Giraud emphatically agreed.”
[text from Winston S. Churchill: Secret Session Speeches]
General Giraud had slipped into Vichy France where he made his identity known to the authorities. He tried to convince Marshal Pétain that Germany was going to lose the war, and that France should therefore resist the German occupation.
His views were rejected, although the Vichy government did refuse to hand Giraud over to the Germans.
As another answerer pointed out, the context was the difference between the willingness of the British and the French to carry on the struggle against the Germans from their overseas (e.g. African) colonies, and specifically on during Operation Torch.
The differences were best summed up in Wikipedia article on France's Descartes:
Descartes laid the foundation for 17th-century continental rationalism, later advocated by Baruch Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, and opposed by the empiricist school of thought consisting of Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Leibniz, Spinoza and Descartes were all well-versed in mathematics as well as philosophy, and Descartes and Leibniz contributed greatly to science as well.
That is, the French were "rational," and tended to have their actions dictated by a chain of reasoning, while the British were more "empirical, that is, more likely to react intuitively to what their senses and data told them.
The French "reasoned" that their French homeland was under German occupation, therefore, resistance should "logically" end. The British "sensed" something different from their empirical approach ; 1) that the Axis were more than capable of bungling, at least in North Africa and 2) the power of the United States would eventually supersede Axis power. These differences in thought process explained the differences in willingness to fight the Axis in North Africa.
Other answers give good perspective on the meaning of the phrase... having to do with the French character, but there is a subtext here as well.
From the Book of Genesis:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Dear old Winston is taking a jab at the French here, jokily implying that Englishmen are created in God's image but Frenchmen are later, and lesser creation.