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Organizing for War

France, 1870-1914

240 pages / 9.00 x 6.00 inches / 1 map

ebook available

West European History | French History

  Hardcover / 9780807136799 / October 2010

By the end of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Germany occupied one-third of French territory, thousands of Alsatians and Lorrainers had flooded into France, and 140,000 French soldiers had died. France's crushing defeat in the most significant European armed conflict between the Napoleonic wars and World War I cast long shadows over military garrisons, meeting halls, and kitchen tables throughout the nation. Until now, no study has adequately addressed the complex, lasting effects of the war on the lives of ordinary French men and women. In this stimulating new book, Rachel Chrastil provides a lively history of French provincial citizens after the Franco-Prussian War as they came to terms with defeat and began to prepare themselves for a seemingly inevitable future conflict.

Chrastil provides the first examination of the problems facing provincial France following the war and the negotiations between the state and citizen organizations over the best ways to resolve these issues. She also reinterprets postwar commemorative practices as an aspect of civil society, rather than as an issue of collective memory. By the 1880s, Chrastil shows, the Franco-Prussian War had receded far enough into the past for French citizens to reassess their roles during the war and reorient themselves toward the future. Believing that they had failed in their duties during the Franco-Prussian War, many French men and women argued that citizens could and should take responsibility for the nation's war effort, even before hostilities began.

To this end, they joined the Red Cross, gymnastics clubs, and commemorative organizations like the Souvenir Français, especially in areas of the country that had faced occupation and that anticipated future invasion. Using extensive archival and published sources, Chrastil deftly traces the evolution of these private or semiprivate associations and the ways in which those associations affected the relationship of citizens with the French state. Through a novel interpretation of these civilian groups, Chrastil asserts that the associations encouraged French citizens to accept and even to prolong World War I.

Rachel Chrastil is an assistant professor of history at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Praise for Organizing for War

“Chrastil has organised a wealth of material in impressive fashion. . . . An impressive achievement.”—H-France

“[A] very engaging and well-written book. . . . Organizing for War, rooted in regional case studies offering the important perspective of decentered history, manages to provide fresh insight.”—Journal of Modern History

“Chrastil has given us a rich and insightful work. . . . [she brings] flair for research and . . . lucid insight to this valuable study.”—American Historical Review

“Chrastil has fashioned an outstanding historical narrative: one that greatly enriches the depths and subtlety of our understanding of the Franco-Prussian War, World War One, and the crucial era between the two. Anyone serious about any of those subjects needs to read this book.”—Journal of Military History

"An original and insightful analysis of how civil society in France responded both to the trauma of war and defeat in 1870-71 and the challenges of national recovery. By concentrating on civic society, Chrastil effectively turns our attention away from the hoary question of revanche-did the French state actively seek to avenge the loss of 1871?-to examine the multifaceted reality of how ordinary French men and women worked together in civic associations that tackled the problems created by war and its aftermath. This approach tells us much that is new about how the Franco-Prussian War affected France after 1871, and at the same time helps us understand why and how French civil society responded as it did during and after the Great War of 1914-1918."—Martha Hanna, author of Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War

"Citizen action rebuilt France after the crushing defeat of the Franco-Prussian War, but in Rachel Chrastil's insightful presentation, a vibrant civil society was not an unmitigated good: it also produced a society dedicated to military preparedness and ready to accept the carnage of the First World War.Organizing for War encourages scholars to reassess the relationship between civil society and democracy by demonstrating that a densely structured voluntary sector may produce negative as well as positive effects."—Carol Harrison, author of The Bourgeois Citizen in Nineteenth-Century France: Gender, Sociability, and the Uses of Emulation

"Organizing for War: France, 1870-1914 makes important contributions to our understanding of turn-of-the-century France, to the evolution of French republicanism, and especially to the impact of the Franco-Prussian War and French society's psychological and physical preparation for the First World War. Deeply researched but also straightforward and brisk in style, Organizing for War shows us how the traumatic experience of the Franco-Prussian War shaped France's response to the crisis of July 1914."—Margaret H. Darrow, author of French Women and the First World War: War Stories of the Home Front

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