Book Review: The Inviolable Pledge

The Inviolable Pledge:  March 1, 1871 – March 1, 1918, by various authors

This book is a strange one, and one that made me feel a lot less friendly towards French political aims during World War I.  This work is made of various political speeches over the course of the late 19th century and early 20th century by French politicians who sought to use the Alsace-Lorraine problem as a way of whipping up patriotic and nationalistic fury against the Germans.  During the Franco-Prussian War, the French had been defeated and forced to give up the territory to Germany.  Germany’s rule was, as might be imagined, less than gentle, and the subject was a sore spot for the French.  Of course, this book presents the cause of the people of Alsace-Lorraine as being something that is near and dear to the hearts of the various ambitious French politicians here, but one does not get the feeling that these speakers had genuine concern for the well-being of the area, but very much wanted it to be a part of France and not a part of Germany, and it seems that neither side thought of any other option but to switch the territory back and forth based on who won in war last, which is unpleasant to say the least.

Fortunately, this book is short at less than 50 pages.  Most of what is written here is from politicians whose ethics and whose understanding of geopolitics and whose concern for the well-being of the people of Alsace-Lorraine is highly limited and whose perspective is hopelessly partisan in favor of France.  From speakers like Paul Labbe and Antonin Dubost and Paul Deschanel and one Mr. Welschinger and Jules Siegfried and Maurice Barres and Stephen Pichon and Georges Clemenceau and Charles Gruel provide plenty of discussions of the supposed attachment of the people of Alsace-Lorraine to France, attack the Germans as being barbarians of the worst kind, and try to stir up popular hatred against Germany as a means of reversing the verdict of the Franco-Prussian War.  But all of the people included here are French of Paris or Bordeaux, not of the people of Alsace-Lorraine.  The reader is supposed to believe that French politicians have the best interests of their lost provinces at heart and that the only way to properly look at the Germans is with contempt, and the result is deeply unpleasant and highly dishonest, and terrible politics to boot.

Among the most frustrating aspects of this book is that the authors think that it demonstrates some sort of positive and worthwhile pledge to the people of Alsace-Lorraine, that it was obviously popular for French politicians of the Third Republic to grandstand on the subject.  What bothered me about this book though was that no one thought to have the people of Alsace-Lorraine speak for themselves.  Nowhere here is there a discussion of what the people of the area itself wanted.  No one asks them whether they would have preferred a less heavily centralized state than either the French or German models and to have had the autonomy that they possessed in the period before they were taken over by the French in 1648, something that the authors seem at pains to minimize, arguing for some sort of mystic ties going back to the Celtic period rather than seeing both Alsace and Lorraine as being border territories like Luxembourg which could have found some sort of peace as a neutral buffer state rather than being passed around like a hot potato over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.  That solution does not appear to be something these writers could imagine, though.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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