France 1890-1914
Domestic Policy
France 1918-1929
Domestic Policy
France in WW I
the Economy

France in World War I : Domestic Policy

For the French general public, the war came as a surprise. President RAYMOND POINCARE was the leading political figure; soon all major political parties, believing that France (and her ally Russia) were the victims of an unprovoked aggression, joined in the support of the war. An all-party government, the UNION SACRE was formed, even including two socialists (Millerand, Delcasse). The press supported the war, printing stories of (alleged) German atrocities. The government, however, for three long years was to play second fiddle to the chief of staff (1914-1916 Gen. Joffre, 1916-1917 Gen. Nivelle).
Politicians critical to the war had a difficult stand. Although there was little enthusiasm for the war, most of the French supported it as genuine patriots. French propaganda called upon the SPIRIT OF JEAN D'ARC to lead France.

French confidence in the superiority of her arms and military leadership was tested when German forces circumvented the French cordon of border fortresses and, marching through Belgium, threatened Paris. The French government evacuated the city, moved to BORDEAUX. Then, at COMPIEGNE, 40 km outside Paris, the German advance was stopped by Marechal FERDINAND FOCH, and the Germans were evenb pushed back a couple of kilometers. Then the front stabilized. The all-party coalition had shown first signs of breaking up in 1915, when a faction within the socialist party began to question government policy.
The war turned out to be a long war of exhaustion, the front in France being the deadliest battleground in the entire war. In what is referred to as the BATTLE OF VERDUN (1916), Germany pursued the goal of wearing down the French. Verdun was held, to the credit of General HENRI PHILIPPE PETAIN ("they will not pass"). Yet France had suffered immense losses, and in 1917 large segments in the French army was close to mutiny. Just at that moment the US entered the war, providing the French with the hope that victory again was possible.
Having suffered tremendous losses, the French shipped colonial troops over from Africa and sent them to the trenches. The sight of Africans in French uniforms infuriated many Frenchmen, who even threw stones at them, a sign that racism was wide-spread.

As most men of working age had to serve in the army, many women had to take their place in the factories and offices. The press was censored, as was the mail. In 1917 exotic (nightclub) dancer MATA HARI was arrested, tried for treason and executed.

Biography of Georges Clemenceau, by Arthur Montague
Biography of Raymond Poincare, from World at War
DOCUMENTS Images from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : June 1917 : over 50 % of French soldiers strike; Mata Hari's Arrest, Oct. 15th 1917
Documents : Letters by Sylvester Benjamin Butler, 1916-1920 (a US servicemen who was stationed in France for some time)
Image : l'Aigle Boche (the German Eagle), a strategy board game, posted by Memorial - Le Mur de Donateurs
Library of Congress
Posters featuring French victims, posted by Library of Congress
French WW I posters, posted by Library of Congress
La Grande Guerre 1914-1918 a travers les Revues d'Epoque, posted by Olivier, in French; click "Les Revues Françaises"
L'Illustration Vol.72 No.3727, Aug. 1st 1914, Vol.72 No.3728, Aug. 8th 1914, Vol.72 No.3729, Aug. 15th 1914, Vol.72 No.3730, Aug. 22nd 1914, posted by Gutenberg Library Online, in French
REFERENCE Roger Price, A Concise History of France, Cambridge Concise Histories, 1993, pp.209-218
Philippe Bernard and Henri Dubief, The Decline of the Third Republic 1914-1938, (Fr. Or. 1975, Eng. Trsl. 1985) Cambridge UP 1993, KMLA Lib. Call Sign 944.0814 B518d
Article : France, in : New International Year Book 1914 pp.261-272, 1916 pp.236-247, 1918 pp.222-232 [G]
Rudyard Kipling, France at War. On the Frontier of Civilization (1915), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Joseph G. Butler Jr., A Journey through France in War Time (1917), posted by Gutenberg Library Online
Entry : France, in : Statesman's Year Book 1918 pp.806-841 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 6th 2002, last revised on September 14th 2008

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