French-German enmity

French-German enmity

French–German "hereditary" enmity [Julius Weis Friend: "The Linchpin: French-German Relations, 1950-1990", [] ] ( _de. Deutsch–französische Erbfeindschaft, _fr. Esprit de revanche) describes the three centuries of hostile relations and "revanchism" between France and Germany, from the Thirty Years' War to World War II, after which it has been overcome. After 1945, French-German relations became the key to European integration.

Historical Context

France and Germany both trace their history back to being united in Charlemagne's Carolingian Empire before the Treaty of Verdun of 843 divided it into three kingdoms, with the Western and Eastern parts developing into the modern nations, while the central part of Lothair I gave name to Lorraine, an area to be disputed for 1100 years to come. Ambitions to the senior imperial status and the implicit role of leadership over Western Europe that it held were a continual source of friction between France and the states of Germany throughout the medieval and early renaissance periods.

France–Habsburg rivalry

The sequence of events started in 1516 with the France–Habsburg rivalry between the Bourbon kingdom of France and the House of Habsburg, the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and, by marriage, of Spain and the Netherlands. Thus, France was surrounded on three sides by Habsburg rulers, and most conflicts of the centuries to come were with them.

17th century French expansion

The Thirty Years’ War left large parts of Germany devastated. During that war, which was mostly a Catholic-vs-Protestant conflict, the Catholic French troops sided with the Protestants against the Austrian-led Catholic Imperial forces. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 gave France limited control over Alsace and Lorraine. France consolidated her hold with the 1679 Treaties of Nijmegen, which brought the towns under her control. In 1681, France occupied Strasbourg. In the following decades France continued to take advantage of Austria's constant warfare in the East to expand at its expense.

French–Prussian enmity

In the 18th century, the rise of a new German power, Prussia, forced Austria to ally with France in the Seven Years’ War.

Since the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, the leaders of monarchic states not fought only against another, among fellow monarchs, but against a people, which carried the conflict to new levels. The French "Levée en masse" conscription made armies grow to hundreds of thousands.

Napoleon put an end to the millennium-old Holy Roman Empire in 1806, forming his own Confederation of the Rhine, and reshaped the political map of the German states, which were still divided. The wars, often fought in Germany and with Germans on both sides as in the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig, also marked the beginning of what was explicitly called "French–German hereditary enmity". Napoleon directly incorporated German-speaking areas such as the Rhineland and Hamburg into his First French Empire and treated the monarchs of the remaining German states as vassals. Modern German nationalism was born in opposition to French domination under Napoleon. In the recasting of the map of Europe after Napoleon's defeat, the German-speaking territories in the Rhineland adjoining France were put under the rule of Prussia.

French–German enmity

Nineteenth Century

During the first half of the 19th century, many Germans looked forward to a unification of the German states, though most German leaders and the foreign powers were opposed to it. The German nationalist movement believed that a united Germany would replace France as the dominant land power in Western Europe. This argument was aided by demographic changes: since the Middle Ages, France had had the largest population in Western Europe, but in the 19th century its population stagnated (a trend which continued until the second half of the 20th century), and the population of the German states overtook it and continued to rapidly increase.

The eventual unification of Germany was triggered by the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and subsequent French defeat. Finally, in the Treaty of Frankfurt, reached after a lengthy siege of Paris, France was forced to cede the Alsace-Lorraine territory (consisting of most of Alsace and a quarter of Lorraine), and pay an indemnity of five billion francs to the newly declared German Empire. Thereafter, the German Empire was widely viewed as having replaced France as the leading land power in Europe.

The World Wars

The desire for revenge ("esprit de revanche") against Germany, and in particular for the recovery of the “lost provinces” of Alsace and Lorraine (whose importance was summed up by the French politician Gambetta in the phrase: “Never speak of them; never forget them!”) remained strong in France over the next 50 years and was the key French war aim in World War I. The Allied victory saw France regain Alsace-Lorraine and briefly resume its old position as the leading land power on the European continent. France was the leading proponent of harsh peace terms against Germany at the Paris Peace Conference. Since the war had been fought on French soil, it had destroyed much of French infrastructure and industry, and France had suffered the highest number of casualties proportionate to population. Much French opinion wanted the Rhineland, the section of Germany adjoining France and the old focus of French ambition, to be detached from Germany as an independent country; in the end they settled for a promise that the Rhineland would be demilitarized, and heavy German reparation payments. On the remote Eastern end of the German Empire, the Memel territory was separated from the rest of East Prussia and occupied by France before being annexed by Lithuania. Alleged German failure to pay reparations under the Treaty of Versailles in 1923 (Germany being accused of not having delivered telephone poles on time), France responded with the occupation of the Rhineland and the industrial Ruhr area of Germany, the center of German coal and steel production, until 1925. Also, the French-dominated IOC banned Germany from the Olympic Games of 1920 and 1924, which illustrates French desire to isolate Germany.

However, the UK and the US didn't favor these policies, seen as too pro-French so Germany soon recovered its old strength (most of the war reparations were cancelled under the pressure of the UK and the US), then from 1933 under Adolf Hitler, began to pursue an aggressive policy in Europe. Meanwhile France in the 1930s was tired, politically divided, and above all dreaded another war, which the French feared would again be fought on their soil for the third time, and again destroy a large percentage of their young men. France's stagnant population meant that it would find it difficult to withhold the sheer force of numbers of a German invasion; it was estimated Germany could put two men of fighting age in the field for every French soldier. Thus in the 1930s the French, with their British allies, pursued a policy of appeasement of Germany, failing to respond to the remilitarization of the Rhineland, although this put the German army on a larger stretch of the French border.

Finally, however, Hitler pushed France and Britain too far, and they jointly declared war when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. But France remained exhausted and in no mood for a rerun of 1914–18. There was little enthusiasm and much dread in France at the prospect of actual warfare after the “phony war”. When the Germans launched their blitzkrieg invasion of France in 1940, the French Army crumbled within weeks, and with Britain retreating, an atmosphere of humiliation and defeat swept France.

A new government under Marshal Philippe Pétain surrendered, and German forces occupied most of the country. A minority of the French forces escaped abroad and continued the fight under General de Gaulle (the “Free French” or “Fighting French”). On the other hand, the French Resistance conducted sabotage operations inside German-occupied France. To support the invasion of Normandy of 1944, various groups increased their sabotage and guerrilla attacks; organizations such as the Maquis derailed trains, blew up ammunition depots, and ambushed Germans, for instance at Tulle. The 2nd SS Panzer Division "Das Reich" came under constant attack and sabotage on their way across the country to Normandy, suspected the village of Oradour-sur-Glane of harboring terrorists, arms and explosives, and wiped out the population in retaliation.

There was also a free French army fighting in the ally, numbering almost five hundred thousand men by June 1944, one million by December and 1.3 million by the end of the war. By the war's end, the French army occupied south of Germany and a part of Austria.

When Allied forces liberated Normandy and Provence in August 1944, a victorious rebellion emerged in occupied Paris and national rejoicing broke out, as did a maelstrom of hatred directed at French people who had collaborated with the Germans (most infamously, the shaving of the heads of French girls who had gone out with German soldiers). Some Germans taken as prisoners were killed by the resistance.

Post-war Relations

There was debate among the other Allies as to whether France should share in the occupation of the defeated Germany, due to fears that the long Franco–German rivalry might interfere with the rebuilding of Germany. However, it was decided to give the French a share in the occupation, and from 1945 to 1955 French troops were stationed in the Rhineland, Baden-Württemberg, and Berlin, and the areas were put under a French military governor. The Saar (protectorate) was only allowed to rejoin Germany in 1957.

In the 1950s, the French and the Germans finally discontinued the 300-year sequence of committing cruelties against one another, transforming their old enmity and the cycle of revenge into a new period of Franco–German cooperation that led to the formation of European Union. Since then, France and Germany (called West Germany between 1949 and 1990) have generally cooperated in the running of the European Union and also, often, in foreign-policy matters. For example, they jointly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, leading U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to lump them together as “Old Europe”.


*843: Treaty of Verdun: division of the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne into a Western Franconia realm (foundation of France), a central realm (Lorraine), and a Eastern Franconia realm (foundation of Germany).
*1214: Battle of Bouvines
*1250–1300: Philip IV of France's offensive territorial policy against the Holy Roman Empire
*1477: After the death of Charles I, Duke of Burgundy, the territory of the Duchy of Burgundy was annexed by France. In the same year, Charles' daughter Mary of Burgundy married Archduke Maximilian of Austria, giving the Habsburgs control of the remainder of the Burgundian Inheritance. Although the Duchy of Burgundy itself remained in the hands of France, the Habsburgs remained in control of the other parts of the Burgundian inheritance, notably the Low Countries and the Free County of Burgundy.
*1618-48: Thirty Years’ War
*1672–78: Franco–Dutch War between the Netherlands and France expands to a European conflict in 1673–74
*1688: War of the Grand Alliance
*1701–14: War of the Spanish Succession between the Houses of Bourbon and Habsburg
*1718: War of the Quadruple Alliance
*1733–35: War of the Polish Succession between the Houses of Bourbon and Habsburg
*1740–48: War of the Austrian Succession moved to the habsburgisch Netherlands -> main antagonists: France and Great Britain
*1754 and 1756–63: Seven Years’ War -> Prussia, Great Britain, and Hanover against France, Austria, the Russian Empire, Sweden, and Saxony
*1792-1815: French Revolutionary Wars
*1792–97: War of the First Coalition: Prussia and Austria, since 1793 also Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, Sardinia, Naples, and Tuscany against French Republic
*1794: Holy Roman Empire and France, French occupation of Austrian Netherlands (1795–1806 Batavian Republic)
*1799-15: Napoleonic Wars
*1806–07: War of the Fourth Coalition: Prussia, Electoral Saxony, Saxony-Weimar, and Brunswick against France
*1813: Battle of the Nations
*1840: Rhine crisis
*1870: Franco-Prussian War. The quick defeat of Napolean III led to the unification of Germany in the German Empire under Prussian leadership.
*1914–18: World War I, mostly fought in trenches in France
*1923–25: French Occupation of the Ruhr
*1940–44: The fall of France in World War II after few weeks, and ensuing four years of occupation and of Vichy France
*1945: French occupation of parts of Germany


External links

* [ French proposal regarding the detachment of German industrial regions] September 8, 1945
* [ France, Germany and the Struggle for the War-making Natural Resources of the Rhineland]
* [ French–German enmity in the "New York Times"]
* [ Fäßler, Peter: "Der Rhein, Deutschlands Strom, nicht seine Grenze"]

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