Ten Billion Letters

David Coward

  • Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War by Martha Hanna
    Harvard, 341 pp, £17.95, November 2006, ISBN 0 674 02318 8

In August 1914, France mobilised jubilantly. ‘La Patrie’ was in danger and men and women of all classes and stations rallied to its defence. Florid voices on the clerical, aristocratic, conservative right defined patriotism grandly, as a mystical religion rooted in the land. Others, more worldly but no less exalted, were clear that patriotism was a hard-won secular tradition under constant threat from socialism, collectivism, anarchism, internationalism, individualism and now, most urgently, from the latest migration of Teutonic barbarism. When war broke out, President Poincaré’s call for an end to internal division and ideological strife was universally accepted. Politicians, intellectuals, civil and religious leaders sank their differences and rose as one to declare that serving France was an obligation, a duty, a privilege.

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