Friday, August 17, 2007

Revolution and Total War

More on David Bell's book. (Via LRC) To quote:

Within weeks, France was pitted against most of Europe. Even Robespierre came on board, now on his way to becoming the architect of the Terror. War was imagined as bringing about, in Bell's words, "an extraordinary break in human history". With it came delusional fantasies of romantic self-expression that condemned hundreds of thousands to grisly ends. Bell cites the military engineer Lazare Carnot declaring to a soldier who had lost his face: "None of us would refuse glory at the price it cost you." Although the French deputies balked at killing the British prime minister, they called for the extermination of his subjects. Total war, as opposed to "limited" war, was born; it was now in the hands of glacial types like Saint-Just, whose savage methods, coupled with France's demographic advantage, led to the republic's astonishing string of victories. In 1793, when the Catholic and royalist Vendée area rose up in internal rebellion, the republic's response was certainly total: an estimated 250,000 men, women and children perished "out of a principle of humanity", as General Carrier put it during the mass drownings at Nantes. The "hell columns" anticipated the SS by a century and a half, yet Bell points out that the names of some of the worst butchers still adorn the Arc de Triomphe: like Vichy or Algeria, the Vendée remains an awkward cyst in the national psyche. For Bell, it is the place where total war "was first revealed to its full, gruesome extent". Share

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