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Tag: France

Nineteenth-Century Guerrilla and Counter-Insurgency Warfare: Conference Report

Written by Tom Lawrie. The overall historiography of insurgency and counter-insurgency is generally both Eurocentric and regionalist, lacking a truly definitive, overarching study of global guerrillaism and the general response from established authorities. This two-day symposium organized by Mark Lawrence and the Centre for the History of War, Media and Society pledged to put the study of insurgency and counter-insurgency in a truly global context, bringing in papers that focussed not only on the cradle…

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Belgian Neutrality and its Reinterpretation ahead of the First World War

Written by Mario Draper.

Léon Arendt will not be a familiar name to most readers. His role as the Political Director at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1896 to 1912 was hardly likely to make him a household name beyond Belgium’s borders. Yet, his conceptualisation of these borders and of Belgium’s wider relationship with neutrality – imposed in perpetuity by the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia) in 1839 – marks him out as a singularly important figure in defining the strategic paradigm at the outbreak of the First World War. For here was a man who proposed the controversial view in 1911 that neutrality was but a tool of independence and not an end in itself. In other words, were neutrality to jeopardize continued independence, Belgium was within its rights to reinterpret its duties and forgo its strict adherence to the 1839 Treaty of London. 

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Paris Underground: Subterranean Resistance and the Nazi Occupation

Lion de Belfort, Place Denfert-Rochereau

Written by Nigel Perrin.

Paris’s vast underground spaces have long been associated with revolution, resistance and clandestine activity of all kinds. Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables vividly depicted the city’s sewers (a stratum of the city he researched in some detail) as a literal and metaphorical underworld where criminals, fugitives and the dispossessed lurked under the feet of respectable citizens. But it is the 177 miles of interconnecting tunnels and quarries, commonly referred to as the “Catacombs” (despite only a tiny fraction ever being used to accommodate the dead) that have become suffused with a spirit of resistance. Here government troops pursued the revolutionaries of 1848 and the communards of 1871, and the far-Right Comité secret d’action révolutionnaire (better known as La Cagoule) planned to topple the Popular Front government of the 1930s by infiltrating the foundations of the Senate and other government buildings. In August 1944, the underground played a crucial role in a new uprising. From a disused air-raid shelter in Montparnasse, Henri Rol-Tanguy, the Paris chief of the Forces françaises de l’intérieur (FFI, the combined resistance forces operating under de Gaulle’s leadership), fought to liberate Paris from German occupation. His call to Parisians to rally to the barricades and defeat the oppressor held great cultural and historical resonance, while his heroic leadership came to exemplify the ingenuity and resourcefulness of a lightly-armed resistance against a much larger and better-equipped professional army.

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The Merci Train: Remembering the World Wars in 52,000 Objects

Written by Ludivine Broch.

It is well-known that France and the French are haunted by the Second World War. Numerous studies have shown how memories of resistance, collaboration and deportation have risen, fallen and clashed since 1945. Yet these studies generally explore memory through the lens of political, judicial and cultural elites. How did people feel at the grassroots level? Did the French Resistance dominate their history and memory of the war, like it did at the national level?

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