Organizing for War: France, 1870-1914

TitleOrganizing for War: France, 1870-1914
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsChrastil, Rachel
Number of Pages226
PublisherLouisiana State University Press
CityBaton Rouge

By the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Germany occupied one-third of French territory, thousands of Alsatians and Lorrainers had flooded into France, and 140,000 French soldiers had died. France's crushing defeat in the most significant European armed conflict between the Napoleonic wars and World War I cast long shadows over military garrisons, meeting halls, and kitchen tables throughout the nation. In this new book, the author provides a history of French provincial citizens after the Franco-Prussian War as they came to terms with defeat and began to prepare themselves for a seemingly inevitable future conflict. The author provides the first examination of the problems facing provincial France following the war and the negotiations between the state and citizen organizations over the best ways to resolve these issues. She also reinterprets postwar commemorative practices as an aspect of civil society, rather than as an issue of collective memory. By the 1880s, the author shows, the Franco-Prussian War had receded far enough into the past for French citizens to reassess their roles during the war and reorient themselves toward the future. Believing that they had failed in their duties during the Franco-Prussian War, many French men and women argued that citizens could and should take responsibility for the nation's war effort, even before hostilities began. To this end, they joined the Red Cross, gymnastics clubs, and commemorative organizations like the Souvenir Français, especially in areas of the country that had faced occupation and that anticipated future invasion. Using extensive archival and published sources, the author traces the evolution of these private or semiprivate associations and the ways in which those associations affected the relationship of citizens with the French state. Through a reinterpretation of these civilian groups, the author asserts that the associations encouraged French citizens to accept and even to prolong World War I.

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