30 thoughts on “Bastille Day”

  1. Please take your finger off the trigger, Madame Liberte, you wouldn’t want to shoot the photographer.

  2. I was in Paris once on Bastille Day. Great fireworks over the Seine. However, if you read “Paris in the Terror,” you will know where modern politics came from, especially the leftist variety.

  3. The Reign of Terror was ten months. All of French history cannot be judged by the Terror. The Revolution deposed a corrupt, incompetent monarchy which was reducing the country to starvation and ruin — hmmmm, sounds familiar. Destroying the monarchy was a good thing. When Lafayette gave George Washington the key to the Bastille, Washington did not object to the elimination of despotism, even one that had fought on his side.

  4. Well, Lexington, we might judge French history by the number of sociopathic statists that nurtured their beliefs in Paris before returning to devastate their home countries.

  5. “All of French history cannot be judged by the Terror.”

    Nor can it be judged by the Frenchmen who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII, who far outnumbered the resistance, or the majority of Frenchmen who passivley accepted Nazi rule.

    Nor can French history be judged by the Frenchmen who identified their Jewish neighbors to the French police who then collected the French Jews for their final trip to Auschwitz. Those people far outnumbered those who hid Jews from the Nazis.

    Can we compare the French to the Danes and the Bulgarians who refused to deport their Jewish citizens? Or is that unfair as well.

  6. The “IDF girls with guns” genre is a proven crowd-pleaser. “IDF girls with guns in bikinis” is a particularly favored sub-genre.

  7. To mark Bastille Day here, the local public radio station was broadcasting Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots … and the announcer said several times, it was for Bastille Day. I can only think that it was the first opera that anyone thought of, with a setting in France … but a tragedy about the state sanctioned and mob-enabled murders of French Protestants?
    Really? Surely this was not France’s proudest hour …
    (more about Les Huguenots here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Huguenots )

  8. Ginny, we might also judge France by other things. We might judge the USA by only the worst things in its history, tear up the rest of the record and pretend that is fair and just. We might forget that the revolution threw off an oppressive, crushing despotism that was crushing the life out of its people. We might forgot that Lafayette gave the key to the Bastille to George Washington, which he most graciously accepted, as a symbol of resistance to tyranny. We might forget that France was a free and open society compared to most places on the Earth for most of the last 200 years, since 1815, a haven for refugees, a stand bearer for liberty in the eyes of most of the word. We might forget that they have generally have elections and courts and a free press during that whole time. We might forget that Teddy Roosevelt spoke of the two great republics as beacons to mankind. We might forget that France has been a seedbed and a hothouse of art and literature which has been the joy of the world throughout much of this time. We might forget that the French fought like to tigers to stop the Germans in 1914-18. We might forget that they were outfought in 1940 by the Germans, who were man for man better than anybody. We might forget that they were on our side throughout the Cold War, posturing aside. We might forget that the whole stupid and false slander about “surrender monkeys” began when the French, very wisely as it turned out, chose not to participate in our fiasco in Iraq.

    Really, can we blame Pol Pot on France, yet ask that the USA be judged on its whole record?

    I think not.

  9. I visited the Resistence Museum in Paris. I expected great things, but honestly, I’ve seen bigger hubcap collections by the side of the road.

  10. As Americans we have … as they say of some relationships … a complicated affair with France. Ages ago I wrote about it on the ncobrief.com blog –

    France meant so much to us, after all, and not just when it came to cooking, and an appreciation for fine food and wines. It meant marvelous architecture and interior decoration, translated into the American landscape, gallery after gallery of paintings, the Impressionists and Moderns and all. France was Monet’s Gardens, salons filled with witty conversation, the fountain of elegance in couture clothing, Madeline and the old House in Paris Covered in Vines, Chartres and the soaring galleries of the Louvre. France was the very last word in sophistication. It was where our aspiring artists and intellectuals went to acquire their training and polish, and American tourists tried for a bit of the same— although always with a feeling that such heights of worldly savoir-faire were well beyond them … and being pretty certain that the headwaiters were laughing at them anyway.

    France was my collection of cookbooks, and Peter Mayle in Provence, Van Gogh’s fields of sunflowers, Chartres floating like a stone ship in a field of golden wheat, me negotiating country roads and traffic circles in tiny towns, and Blondie’s Asterix and Obelix comics. It was buying a copper pudding mold at Dillerhain, and carrying a heavy box packed full of porcelain cooking things on packed subway train car, and watching a street musician plug his electric guitar onto a portable amp, play some fast boogie-woogie, pass the hat and dash off at the next stop. France was also fields of lavender in Provence, and fields of crosses in Flanders and Normandy. We had a history with France, after all.

    It’s been an on-again, off-again history at that, more troubled than most Francophiles like to admit. France is usually visualized— starting with Henry James– as the elusive and mercurial girlfriend, but it strikes me these days that France is more like an erratic and long-time occasional boyfriend. Most women have had a brush with that sort: the guy who swoops in and sweeps her off her feet, because he is attractive, and lots of fun, sometimes handsome, always cultured, at home in the world. It never lasts, because he starts to make her feel lumpish and homely by tactlessly criticizing her clothes, or preference in books and friends. Or he is denigrating her in front of his friends, laughing at her behind her back, even while he helps himself to anything he pleases of hers. And then he borrows a lot of money — never repaid — or throws a horrendous scene in a public place, and is off again for a good long time, leaving her furious and embarrassed, and wondering if he really some sort of sociopath after all. Eventually, after a couple of rounds of this, she deletes his phone number, and doesn’t answer his messages.

    (The rest of this is here -http://www.ncobrief.com/index.php/archives/the-fantasy-country/)

  11. “the majority of Frenchmen who passivley accepted Nazi rule.”

    I have read accounts of the Normandy invasion which point out that French peasants (actually farmers) were sullen and not helpful to the invading troops. The images from “The LOngest Day” movie were revisionist in showing enthusiasm for the invasion. Having said that, I must point out that the proprietor of the cafe at Pegasus Bridge did open his cafe to use as an aid station for wounded British paratroopers. The cafe is still there and is run by his daughter who made our lunch when we visited in 2006.

    I also did not write that the Terror lasted long but that it set the path for modern politics, especially of the leftist variety. Read Citizens and you will learn that much of the REvolutionaries were actually members of the nobility who, like the present elites, absorbed the theories of Rousseau and followed them to their own destruction. I cannot recommend that book highly enough. My review of it is here.

  12. Lex, I love France and have spent many pleasant times there. World War I killed millions of Frenchmen, just as the Franco-Prussian War killed the monarchy. Louis Napoleon started the Franco-Prussian War to try to stop France’s eroding position in Europe. France had caused the Industrial Revolution to occur in England by exiling the Huguenots. The Germans had invented organic chemistry and France was stuck with a second class industrial capacity. The tactics of WWI were awful as the lessons of the US Civil War were ignored. German cavalry officers observed the Confederates in action and learned mobile artillery tactics from them. The 1870 Prussian army was all vaccinated. The French army was not. The French lost many thousands to smallpox in 1870.

    The British suffered from bad generals almost as much as the French. For example, both US and Canadian military doctors knew about blood transfusion before WWI. It was introduced in France in 1917 when the Americans arrived. The French did have battlefield x-ray as Marie Curie paid for mobile x-ray trucks and trained people to staff them.

    The French defeat in 1940 was a huge surprise and was the result of two factors. 1) a German officer was lost in 1939 with the German war plans. Hitler was afraid he had fallen into French hands so he changed everything. He adopted the Manstein plan. This was the Ardennes attack that surprised the French. 2) The French did not know how to use tanks. De Gaulle had written a book on tank tactics as a Lt Colonel. Manstein studied his book. The French tanks were better than the German in 1940 but were dispersed with the infantry.

    France has never gotten over Napoleon. The French Revolution did not go as wrong as the Bolsheviks did but it ended with a very unhealthy society. Dreyfus was a symptom.

    I do think the French have a more realistic society in many ways than we do now. Their energy and medical systems are superior to ours. Their politics are worse, if possible.

  13. Michael: Citizens (by Simon Schama) is an excellent book. It was published in 1989, and Schama clearly wanted to establish a parallel between Louis XVI and Ronald Reagan. But, from the book and the facts extant at the time that the real parallel to pauvre Louis was Gorbachev.

  14. Francis Cammaerts, who I spent some time with in 2001, was a British SOE agent who organized resistance activities over a wide area of Southeastern France. He told me that most of the ordinary people in the area were highly supportive of his efforts, and singled the housewives out for special praise.

    I wrote about the campaign of 1940, and the political/cultural environment leading up to it, here.

  15. The Terror was far longer than 10 months, and was not restricted to Paris. From 1790-1796 [with most of the actions taking place from 1793 on] the Republican government tried to destroy the people of the Vendée [lower Loire Valley]for the crime of believing that the Pope was the head of the Catholic Church and not whoever sat in Paris.

    As it happens, Thursday I attended a lecture on the war in the Vendée. Priests and nuns who would not renounce their faith were guillotined as “Enemies of the People”. Because the guillotine was so slow; men, women, and children were drowned en masse or burned alive. They did try shooting, but it cost too much in powder and shot, reflecting one of the problems with the later German Einsatzgruppen. One of the Generals sent by the Committee of Public Safety [François Joseph Westerman], wrote back in a report [prematurely, because the war went on]:

    “There is no more Vendée, Republican citizens. It died beneath our free sword, with its women and its children. I have just buried it in the swamps and the woods of Savenay. Following the orders that you gave to me, I crushed the children beneath the horses’ hooves, massacred the women who, those at least, will bear no more brigands. I do not have a single prisoner to reproach myself with. I have exterminated them all…”

    Rapine and murder by the Armies of the Republic was the norm, and as many as 400,000 civilians were killed in an area the size of Arapahoe County east of Denver.

    Ginny mentioned the number of sociopathic statists who were nurtured in post-Revolutionary Paris. That was brought up in the lecture; for the amoral “Revolutionary Morality” that slaughtered men, women, and children in the Vendée without regard for guilt or innocence has found its amplified echo in the “Socialist Morality” that is at the heart of every Leftist movement since, including those today in this country.

    This is not a defense of the Ancien Regime who; on a good day, with a downhill run, and a blazing tailwind, were as ….. Functionally Uncomprehending as a football bat. The Regime deserved to die. But that which followed did not necessarily have the virtue to deserve to live.

    By the way, the holiday today is because of a mob surrounding and attacking the Bastille, to liberate the prisoners there. After storming it and killing all of the guards, the “mass of prisoners” turned out to be 4 convicted forgers, two insane inmates who had to be taken to Charenton Asylum, and the Comte de Solages, who was imprisoned by his own family after committing a series of sexual assaults. Not exactly prisoners of conscience. But the whole affair was …. very French.

    Subotai Bahadur

  16. I strongly recommend Emmanuel Todd’s Making of Modern France to anybody interested in why France is what it is. Todd is a French demographer and anthropologist who gets into the deep roots and family systems issues that characterize the various (and quite different) regional cultures within the borders of France.

  17. Interesting points from so many here. Michael you are an excellent reviewer. Did not know why that is the reason Hitler adopted the Manstein plan. I remember in Germany – being stationed in the Saar region, seeing the remnants of the Siegfried Line – the Germans answer to the Maginot Line. They too were stuck in the WW1 thinking.

    I do believe that without the help of the French there would not have been a successful outcome to the American Revolution.

    And there were a lot more French collaborators than they wish to admit today. Eisenhower gave too much attention to de Gaulle , who certainly repaid us for that in 1966.

    The French Revolution, which I had heard was inspired by the American one, certainly ended up far bloodier to its own citizens.

  18. To me, the clear lesson of the French Revolution is that revolutions become more and more radical and draconian until they devour themselves. This has been repeated throughout history. The American Revolution was a fantastic anomaly and a tribute to the wisdom (along with some luck) of the Founders.

  19. “Eisenhower gave too much attention to de Gaulle , who certainly repaid us for that in 1966.”

    I am more of a De Gaulle fan. One interesting sidelight on him comes from Conrad Black’s biography of Nixon. That is the only Nixon biography I have read and it seems even handed, It turns out that De Gaulle and Nixon were close friends. Roosevelt hated De Gaulle and ordered Admiral Leahy to Vichy as ambassador. The Free French had an impressive shadow government in England before the invasion. That is where the French health care system was planned. After the war, the system was enacted and is still the best health care system in the world, in my opinion.

    I think Chirac was a much more obnoxious character than De Gaulle.

  20. “This is not a defense of the Ancien Regime who; on a good day, with a downhill run, and a blazing tailwind, were as … Functionally Uncomprehending as a football bat. The Regime deserved to die.”

    The term Ancien Regime conceals far more than it reveals. French history before the Revolution was not seamless. In the 16th century France was pretty comprehensively ruined by religious wars, and was not unified in language, culture, or law, either.

    In 1589, Henry IV assumed the throne and ended the religious war. He ruled for twenty years, and was succeeded by his son Louis XIII who ruled for 33 years, followed by Louis XIV 72 years, Louis XV 59 years, and Lois XVI who ruled for 14 years before the wheels came off.

    The Bourbon monarchs, aided by brilliant ministers, such as Richelieu, Mazarin, and Colbert, pursued some policies with fair consistency. They centralized the government, professionalized the bureaucracy, and unified the laws, the religion, and the language. All of these policies have been pursued, even perfected, by successive regimes, monarchical, and republican, alike.

    The Bourbons were not feudal monarchs, they want to transform themselves into modern autocrats. To that end they suppressed the nobility. One one hand the nobility was impoverished by a tax system based on internal tariffs and duties. On the other, they were forced to come to Versailles and participate in an empty and wasteful court life.

    The tax system created the dilemma upon whose horns the Bourbons were impaled. The harder they pushed, the less revenue it produced. They went bankrupt and seeking to reform the system the called the Estates General. The horse, having left the barn, refused to return. What happened next was far worse than the repressions of the Bourbons.

  21. “The tax system created the dilemma upon whose horns the Bourbons were impaled.”

    The tax system involved what were called “ tax farmers. They were individuals and families who bought from the monarchy a concession to collect taxes. They were hated by everyone and Lavousier, who was a tax farmer, lost his head to the Revolution, whose representative dismissed his wife’s pleas with the comment , “The Republic has no need of scientists.”

    Lavoisier was actually one of the few liberals in his position, although all tax collectors were executed during the Revolution. According to a (probably apocryphal) story, the appeal to spare his life so that he could continue his experiments was cut short by the judge: “La République n’a pas besoin de savants ni de chimistes ; le cours de la justice ne peut être suspendu.” (“The Republic needs neither scientists nor chemists; the course of justice cannot be delayed.”)[13]

    He was later exonerated by the Revolution. His property was restored to his wife, who had survived.

  22. That lass is probably a Commie.

    Anyway, after the Terror in Paris, after the Vendee, remember that Revolutionary France started its wars of aggression against its neighbours: the reactionary powers then reacted, as seems fit.

  23. Michael: The alternative to Tax Farmers is the system of central banks regulating local banks. The British adopted it from the Netherlands and it was their secret weapon in the 18th century when they beat France.

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