'All quiet on the French front' : The First World War centenary in France and the challenges of republican consensus

Varley, Karine (2015) 'All quiet on the French front' : The First World War centenary in France and the challenges of republican consensus. Comillas Journal of International Relations, 2. pp. 86-99.

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    Abstract

    The 2014 centenary commemorations of the First World War in France were described by many commentators as being marked by a level of consensus that stood in marked contrast with the broader political environment and the divisive memories of the Second World War. Yet despite shared desires to honour the poilu as a symbol of the sacrifices of all French soldiers, this article argues that the appearance of consensus masks deeper tensions between memories of the First World War and the ideas and values underpinning the French Republic.During the war and the period thereafter, myths of the nation in arms served to legitimise the mobilisationand immense sacrifices of the French people. The wars of the French Revolution had established the notion of the responsibility of the French people to defend their country, creating a close connection between military service, citizenship and membership of the nation.However, these ideas were challenged by memories of the mutinies of 1917 and of the punishment of those who had disobeyed orders.Having long been excluded from official commemorations,in 2014 the French government sought to rehabilitate the memory of the soldiers shot as an example for committing acts of disobedience, espionage and criminal offences. The memory of these soldiers fuelled disagreements over how far soldiers had willingly consented to fight and sacrifice their lives.Indeed, claims that soldiers had been unwilling “victims” undermined myths of the “Sacred Union” of 1914 and the very foundations of republican concepts of the nation.