Napoleon III - Emperor of the French

File this under incompetent leaders of great states, right next to George W. Bush: 

The Paris of today that everyone dreams about was given to us in the 1860s and 70s by this man, Napoleon III, and his civil servant, Baron Haussmann.  His reign began in liberal democratic enthusiasm, progressed to despotism by way of coup d’état, and ended in dismal, utter, spectacular, and mind bogglingly stupid failure. 

He was manipulated into provoking a war with Prussia, convinced he would win in a walkover.  Bismarck, Prussia’s leader, couldn’t have asked for a more pliable victim.  The military catastrophe is chronicled in the first part of Zola’s book, The Debacle.  thousands of desparately hungry, exhausted soldiers marching to and fro over the French landscape, despondent and demoralized as they realize that they are being led by a gang of complete idiots. 

Think of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 without the wild hilarity, and you’ll have a notion of what I’m reading now.  In the film, The Life of Émile Zola, there is a scene early on in which the general staff is incensed at Zola about this book – they are out to get him. 

After the disaster came the Paris Commune, with its murder, insurrection, and brutal suppression.  Then, as time heals all wounds, socialist, communist, and liberal came together across their political differences to slake their thirst for revenge (la revanche!)  against Germany.  Much to the consternation of some leftists, dreaming of international solidarity, the worker’s parties supported France’s lunge into WWI – the time to regain lost territory had come at last.  More lambs to the slaughter.

4 Responses to FIASCO!!

  1. Man of Roma says:

    Yeah, Bismark humiliated the French, who let their hate grow against the Germans. When the French won WWI, their chests puffed with pride and their hearts soaked with hate, they starved and humiliated back Germany to such an extent that the humus for Hitler was being prepared …
    more or less, but not totally far from truth.

  2. Man of Roma says:

    By the way, there have been a lot of fiascos in French history over the centuries. The British have been smarter, no doubt. A friend of mine, a nice parisien half French and half British, told me: “Les Français sont un peu cons”.

  3. lichanos says:

    Hard to believe that the French and the Germans spent so much treasure and blood pummeling each other over the same few miles of ground for nearly 100 years.

    I am finishing the book – the siege of Paris and the Commune uprising remain. The book is savage in its realism and detail. I am truly surprised to read such stuff in a novel from the early 1890s. This is the stuff we associate with Norman Mailer or Saving Private Ryan.

    I will post when I finish it. Right now, I’m taking a light hearted break with Casanova’s memoirs.

  4. Man of Roma says:

    Oh, Casanova’s memoirs, such marvellous book(s). My father used to read them a lot in the original French version. I wonder where all those volumes have disappeared.

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