July 14, 2012

Bastille Day

Today in history, 7 Aristocrats were freed from a French prison.

The garrison consisted mostly of crippled veterans who wished to continue serving their country and who were sent to the Bastille because it needed guards and the aristocratic prisoners were not considered particularly formidable.
  In the politically charged July of 1790 a leftist revolutionary mob was protesting outside  when they heard one of the prisoners shout from the window that the prisoners were being executed. The prisoner, The Marquis DeSade was lying (as he was wont to do), but this greatly incited the crowd. Two days after he was removed they attacked in an attempt to seize the gunpowder rumored to be there and free the prisoners. They stormed the fortress and were driven off with small arms fire and suffered some casualties. 
   The garrisons commander, was quite inexperienced and, in any event,  had very limited alternatives available. Basically he could surrender or fire his cannon into the faces of a crowd of his fellow Frenchmen. Because his position was not strategically important, the prisoners were just 7 decadent nobles he entered into negotiations with the protestors. 

For his magnanimity he was dragged from the prison and he and  his garrison were butchered.

Regards the 7 prisoners :

Jean Antoine Pujade, Bernard Laroche, Jean Béchade and Jean La Corrège were forgers; they were recaptured and put back in another prison a few days later. Hubert de Solages and Whyte de Malleville were aristocrats imprisoned at the request of their own families; they too were back in jail within a week. Finally, Auguste Tavernier had been accused in 1757 of a connection with an attempt to assassinate Louis XV, and was undoubtedly mad; he was transferred to an asylum.


But look on the "bright" side. This was the first step to sticking it to those nasty fatcats...

...the definition of which got rather fungible rather quick.

Very fungible indeed...

Among those who initially went along with the revolution was the population of the region called Vendee.

Three years after the Bastille fell The Committee of Public Safety decided to impose ruinous taxes and a draft. The Vendeeans protested that this was in violation of the principle of 'Libertie'. They were informed that 'Egalitie' required coercion and thus trumped 'Libertie' ('Fraternitie' was, in actuality it seems, a punctuation mark) The Committee of Public Safety then decided to abolish the church and imprison those who would not renounce God. The good people of Vendee protested...then when their emissaries ended up a foot shorter (from the top) they revolted. 

The Committee of Public Safety had an answer...45,000 troops. They did not fair well and were replaced with a larger force, which did not meet with success until the locals powder and shot became depleted. The leader of the punitive force wrote one of the most appalling requests for clarification of an order ever.
General Turreau inquired about "the fate of the women and children I will encounter in rebel territory", stating that, if it was "necessary to pass them all by sword", he would require a decree.

General Turreau's Infernal Columns marched across the Vendee and when it was all over another general, one General Francois Joseph Westermann penned another letter to the The Committee of Public Safety.
"There is no more Vendée... According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all."

 Westermann had an inflated opinion of his efficiency, estimates of the death toll in the Vendee range between 117,000 and 400,000 out of a population of 800,000.  Given the nature of the perpetrators and victims I suspect that there is a tendency to minimize the death toll. Thus, it's probably a bit to the high end of the median of that estimate...far from everybody. Still, ...he tried....and besides...Westermann's fellow Jacobins spread this utopian joy throughout France and under Napoleon through Europe.
But WAIT There's More!
 The French revolution inspired Mao, Stalin, and many third world thugs with body counts that are by comparison mere rounding errors! So those hippies 222 years ago today REALLY made a difference...and isn't that worth celebrating!?

I won't be.

Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternite
These are incompatible principles.

For Equality to be enforced one must ignore the liberties of those who have that which others desire. Fraternity is loyalty and can't exist if one is asked to turn on those who fall out of favor in the name of equality.

While there are things one can do to enable social mobility enforced equality requires a bunch of unequal overseers to enforce it.

Freedom is not free.
Free men are not equal.
Equal men are not free.

These three things are the real lesson of the conflict that grew out of the fall of the Bastille.

...and yet there are still those who look to it as an inspiration and not a cautionary tale. Those people should inspire considerable concern in the rest of us.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 08:16 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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