Book Review: The Question Of Alsace-Lorraine

The Question Of Alsace-Lorraine, by Jules Duhem

This book is disappointing because it appears to indicate that the author wishes to discuss the question of Alsace-Lorraine in a balanced and fair-minded way and merely ends up repeating tired and stale French talking points about the inviolable nature of the tie of the region to Germany.  As is commonly the case when reading about political matters, the author has a strong opinion and does nothing to reach out to those who might be skeptical (where not hostile) to the claims or perspective of the author.  I happen to be of the belief that there is a genuine question about the way that Alsace-Lorraine could avoid being caught between France and Germany and could avoid being ruled by regimes whose harshness and linguistic and nation-building projects led to massive emigration as was the case for Alsace-Lorraine in the 17th century when it was taken over by France and in the 19th and early 20th century when it was taken over by Germany.  Some of my own ancestors were German-speaking people from Alsace-Lorraine who fled French rule by moving to the United States, and I’m not buying that French rule was any less cruel than Germany’s was, which puts me at cross-purposes with the author.

This book is about 200 pages long and it is divided into eight chapters and two parts.  The first part, which is by far the longer, contains five chapters that begin with the question of Alsace-Lorraine (1), then move on to the view about Alsace-Lorraine that is held by the German Empire (2) as well as France (3), and then a supposed discussion of the Alsace-Lorrainers own view of their place in Western Europe (4) as well as the question of how the dispute was to be settled (5).  By and large the author demonstrates himself to be firmly on the side of the French, and is highly selective about the evidence he includes to bolster his judgments, stacking the deck pretty heavily against the Germans and neglecting the case the Germans have for the French having behaved just as they did in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The second part of the book then explores a general review of the question of Alsace Lorraine (II) with an introduction, as well as a look at the geographical (6), historical (7), and political aspects of the question (8) from the point of view of the French.

This book would be vastly better if the author was able to fairly deal with the German claims and to point to the behavior of both France and Germany with regards to Alsace-Lorraine and also avoid the false dilemmas that would insist on the area being either controlled by France or Germany in a centralized state.  The author admits that the people of Alsace-Lorraine want greater federalism–why has it not been given to them?  It would not seem a difficult thing for a region with a mixed linguistic and ethnic composition that has had a complex history to be given some autonomy as well as a policy of respecting both French and German interests.  It is not surprising that neither France nor Germany has thought to do this when they were ruling over the country in the period after the Revolutionary War, but an author is not bound to support either the case of France or Germany, but can adopt a separate plan that represents the well-being of the people of Alsace-Lorraine themselves and not one would-be tyrant or another, as seems to be the case in most of the works one can find on the question.  It is a shame that the author missed the opportunity to really bring out the question of Alsace-Lorraine rather than presenting the French case as if it was true.

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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