European wars: the executive summary
1870: Franco-Prussian War
France felt it had been insulted by the
Germans and, confident of a quick and overwhelming victory, declared
war. Unfortunately for the French it was the Prussians who had the quick
and overwhelming victory. The Prussians charged the French a lot of
money for war reparations and took possession of Alsace-Lorraine, the
country's industrial heartland. The Prussian success encouraged the creation of the unified German state. The French were bitter and vowed
revenge: what's 'we wuz robbed' in French?
1914: First World War
Having entangled Britain and Russia in a web of alliances and
treaties, the Great War – the French revenge for 1870 – started almost
by itself. After the war France was instrumental in demanding immense
(unpayable) reparations from Germany and what was left of the Austrian
Empire. Austria and Germany were plunged into economic chaos, since the
only method to pay the reparations was to make the currency worthless. France
was also instrumental in creating Czechoslovakia, in which Czech
nationalists would be able to persecute the ethnic German minority in
1939: Second World War
Both the economic catastrophe in Germany and the resentment over the
humiliating treatment of the country after the Great War had lead to
political unrest and to the rise of the Hitler regime. The
persecuted German minorities in the east were among the greatest supporters of Nazism. As
they had done before the Great War, the French had once again created
yet another web of alliances and treaties, which, when Hitler moved to
recover the eastern territories, whose existence the French had
so unenforceably guaranteed, dragged all the participants into Second World War.
1945: Post Second World War
The French, most of whom had spent the Second World War safe
under the occupying shield of the Germans, recovered economically
relatively quickly after the end of the war. After a decade Germany's own
economic miracle began; its resentment at its defeat was held in check
by a widespread feeling of guilt and a spirit of pacifism that were
widespread throughout the postwar years.
Taking a panoptic view, the European Union and all its
predecessor organizations can be seen as a French socialist project paid
for by a penitent Germany. Nearly all of the key institutions of the EU
are based in France or its satellites; the Germans are allowed to host
the European Central bank in their financial capital of Frankfurt, but,
since the EU is running mainly on German money this is one of the few rational features of the EU.
The current head of the ECB is from Italy, a country admired for its
There have been no such things as 'European wars': there have only been
French-German wars which have dragged everyone else in to them. The best
way of avoiding 'European wars' in future is to have nothing to do with
either France or Germany, but certainly not with France.
Not rosy. Germany is starting to wake up to what it has allowed to be done to it
in the name of penitence; even the pacifists are getting tetchy, so that
the awakening may be quite robust. From a British point of view it is
much better to have nothing to do with France, Germany or the rest of the
EU and let them fight it out on their own this time. We'll even borrow a
French phrase for this: Cordon sanitaire.
Albert Bettanier (1851-1932), La tache noire (The black stain), 1887. Image: ©DHM/Berlin, analysis (French) L'Histoire par l'image
A French teacher pointing out the 'stain' of the German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine. The occupation took place in 1872, shortly after the disastrous Franco-Prussian War.
The flames of French resentment at the occupation were fanned and propagated down the generations until they finally flared up in the mutual butchery of the French and Germans at Verdun in the First World War.
The bloody action of the British and Colonial forces on the Somme in 1916 was intended as a diversion that would relieve the French at Verdun. 'So it goes'. [Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, (1969)]
Free extra! Pub-quiz crib sheet, 'European Wars' edition
For a pub-quiz held in England*:
- Q: Who started the Franco-Prussian War? A: The French
- Q: Who started the First World War? A: The French
- Q: Who gained most from the First World War? A: The French
- Q: Who started the Second World War? A: The French
- Q: Who spent the Second World War in safe occupation? A: The French
- Q: Who gained most after the Second World War? A: The French
- Q: Who started the European Union project? A: The French
- Q: Who gains most from the European Union project? A: The French
* In Scotland the answer to all questions is: The English.
If the quiz is being held in France please substitute any of the following answers for any of those above:
Les Boches, les Juifs, les Rosbifs
However, if the quiz is being held in Germany please substitute any of the following answers for any of those above:
Die Amis, George Dubya Bush, die CIA, Big-Oil, Atomkraft
Important note: under no circumstance should you use the French answers in Germany.