ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The French Army and Politics 1870-1970 Review

Updated on June 4, 2019

There is no doubt that Alistair Horne, who has produced some positively magisterial works on French military history ranging from 1870 to the First World War to the disaster of 1940 and finally to the renowned "Savage War of Peace" in Algeria fought by the French, is a brilliant writer. Which only adumbrates the disappointment that one can feel in reading The French Army and Politics 1870 to 1970, a short book which works neither as a good introduction to the field, nor as anything particularly revealing for experts, nor even I would say, as a general reference work. Although readable and well written, as one would only expect from the excellent pen of Alistair Horne, as a work of history it falls flat.

With a normal chronological organization, this book offers little surprises in regards to its layout. An initial chapter lays out the course of events starting with some discussion of French history and debates over the army's role up until 1870, then in depth is dedicated to the French army up to 1900, during which period it enjoyed high prestige and importance, part of the need for strength and possible vengeance against Germany. Unfortunately for the army, it then lost much status during the Dreyfus Affair, followed by a frantic rebuilding and patriotic stance in the years just before the First World War, as is covered in the second chapter. This chapter also covers the dynamics between the French army and governance during the First World War. From 1919 to 1940 is a brief chapter about interwar military relations, mostly focusing on the military's hard-line policy against Germany immediately following WW1 and then its political role in seeking the armistice in 1940. A final chapter covers some of the maneuverings and stress laid on the army during WW2, followed by the army's relationship to political authority during the wars of decolonization, particularly Algeria, where it felt to be placed in an untenable position and part of it rebelled, and which also reflected the important differences in decision making between civilian and military political figures.

The Algerian War was perhaps the closest that France came to civil war in the 20th century (other than WW2) and certainly the period of time with the greatest turmoil between military and civilian leadership.
The Algerian War was perhaps the closest that France came to civil war in the 20th century (other than WW2) and certainly the period of time with the greatest turmoil between military and civilian leadership.

One can observe these weaknesses in its references during many events, when it will relate that space concerns limit its ability to discuss what occurred. Most notably, one could see this during the Dreyfus Affair, when the entire event is simply brushed aside under the assumption that the reader will know what occurred. For experienced readers this makes perfect sense - but why would somebody who already is well versed in French politics of the era be the target of a book which is a bare 90 pages long, almost skeletal and deeply lacking in detail?

Horne makes note of his debt to March to the Marne by Douglas Porch, and indeed, for the pre-1914 period, there is essentially no new information which Horne contributes. Even important parts which were mentioned in March to the Marne are little covered, such as debates over conscription, and there is no conveyance of the intricate statistics and analysis of who made up the French officer corps. This continues into the Interwar period, where again, conscription length time was a highly important aspect of military-civilian relations, with very extensive debates over the period of time of service and how many divisions to have. This entire nexus of the debate between the French Left and French Right about military service times and the importance of a professional or conscript army is little covered, save for a summary treatment towards the beginning. In the First World War, Joffre on multiple occasions had wanted to violate Belgian neutrality but had been dissuaded from doing so by the stern commands of his superiors: this too, is little mentioned, as are other operational controls placed upon the military.

The one area which seems somewhat redeemable is the post-1945 element, which although short, does at least bring some interesting material about the treatment of officers who had divergent paths in the Second World War, although this could have been heavily expanded upon - some of it for example, is observable in the treatment of The French Navy and the Second World War, where one could perceive an attempt to rewrite a history of the navy during the war to appease and heal the wounds present. It offers tantalizing material, such as the belief of the military as they themselves being a liberal force during the Algerian conflict, more sympathetic to the oppressed Algerian peasants than to the Pied-Noir colons, but does little to expand it. Differences between civilian and military objectives for victory, save for the disagreement concerning De Gaulle and his army, are little covered. It makes overall for a promising, but quickly cut short section of French military history.

Other books do a better job in covering this subject, with again, March to the Marne coming to the forefront. Strange Victory to some extent, to understand the French army and state in the Interwar period. Horne's other books, I am sure, do a far better job for the Algerian conflict. This book barely scratches the surface, but it also fails to provide a good general overall summary: it accomplishes very little in the end of counts, and in this is an unfortunate product from an otherwise gifted writer.


2 stars for The French Army and Politics

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)