A replica of the tall ship L’Hermione leads a parade of ships to New York harbor. It was a fitting ceremony on the anniversary of American independence, and a reminder of the debt we owe to the French for our independence.
The original ship arrived in Boston on April 28, 1780 with the hero of the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette. He brought news of France’s financial and military support for the Revolution. Lafayette first came to America in 1777 and fought bravely for the American cause, most famously at the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777).
Read the story of the original ship and Lafayette’s voyage here:
Lafayette’s Second Voyage to America: Lafayette and l’Hermione | Journal of the American Revolution.
Replica of the tall ship L’Hermione
The Battle of Waterloo is one of the most famous battles in history since it marks Napoleon’s ultimate and final defeat. Escaping from the island of Elba, where he had been exiled after his first defeat, Napoleon took power once again of the French empire only to be defeated by the British and Prussians a few months later at Waterloo.
But as the 200th Anniversary of this battle approaches, its commemoration poses a dilemma for those countries involved in the conflict, France in particular. Alan Forrest, author of Great Battles: Waterloo, examines the difficulties presented by this commemoration. He asks, “Is it appropriate, in the twenty-first century, to celebrate, joyously, an engagement that resulted in the deaths of so many soldiers in a single day? Should we not remember Waterloo more for the scale of the sacrifice it demanded of the men who fought and the families they left behind, or for the fact that it ushered in a century of relative peace following the Congress of Vienna? Or is it more about the colour of the military spectacle – as will doubtless be exemplified in the re-enactments of the battle that will take place on 18 June and the days following?”
Read his thoughtful examination of the commemoration here:
History News Network | Just What Exactly Are People Commemorating on the 200th Anniversary of Waterloo?
Painting of the Scots famous cavalry charge at the Battle of Waterloo by Elizabeth Butler: Scotland for Ever!, 1881
The history of the Paris Commune is little known in the United States, but this history is not only riveting it has important lessons to offer. In 1871 the working class of Paris seized control of the government in Paris. However, the short-lived rule of the Communards ended with the massacre of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 by the French army. John Merriman recounts this tragedy in Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune. In his review of this book, Ron Briley sees this book as “provid[ing] an opportunity for contemporary readers to revisit the Commune and consider its legacy—for global capitalism has failed to provide the ending of history and dawning of a new age of prosperity following the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Read the entire review here:
History News Network | Review of John Merriman’s “Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune”
Robert Zaretsky argues that teaching patriotism and national values in France could make a difference in dealing with their Muslim population. Although he admits, “Singing ‘a Marseillaise’ or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance may not be enough. But if teachers can help students want to live up to those ideals, and live together, it may be some kind of beginning.” I think that Zaretsky has confused the universal ideals (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) championed during the French Revolution with patriotism/nationalism. Fostering nationalism in schools is the exact opposite of what they need to do! Instead they need to start living up to their professed universal values (something we need to work on as well). Anyone familiar with the history of nationalism would balk at the suggestion that patriotism is the solution.
Can teaching patriotism protect France? – Ideas – The Boston Globe.
Juan Cole has an interesting take on the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack: “This horrific murder was not a pious protest against the defamation of a religious icon. It was an attempt to provoke European society into pogroms against French Muslims, at which point al-Qaeda recruitment would suddenly exhibit some successes instead of faltering in the face of lively Beur youth culture (French Arabs playfully call themselves by this anagram).” It is certainly a possibility, but I’m not convinced at this point. It has happened before (as Cole points out) so it is not out of the question. However, this would assume that these men were carrying out an Al-Qaeda strategy rather than being lone wolves. At this point we don’t know enough. Either way, Cole is correct that this event will polarize the French population unless they have the fortitude to follow Cole’s advice: “The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.” Read his entire essay at:
History News Network | Sharpening Contradictions: Why al-Qaeda attacked Satirists in Paris.
The historian Robert Zaretsky makes an interesting comparison between the Frenchmen who volunteered to fight for Hitler during WWII and the Frenchmen who are volunteering to fight for ISIS today. I think it’s a useful reminder that this kind of thing is not new.
Zaretsky writes: “Drawing these parallels between France’s past and present is more than a simple parlor game. Instead, they offer lessons that are both sobering and comforting. From one generation to the next, there will always be those susceptible to the siren call of millenarian movements that offer a heightened sense of purpose, along with the weapons and language to pursue it. Moreover, just as historians rightly underscore the extremely small percentage of Frenchmen who joined the Charlemagne ranks, future historians will no doubt do the same in regard to the French contingent in ISIS. Finally, that the parallels should recall to France, whose large Muslim community already and unfairly serves as a lighting rod for many discontents and disappointments, that Islam is no more responsible for the bloody-minded recruits to ISIS than liberalism was for those who flocked to the colors of the Charlemagne Division seventy years ago.” Read his entire article at:
History News Network | Why Now Is the Time to Remember the Thousands of Frenchmen Who Volunteered to Fight for Hitler.