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The French Genocide That Has Been Air-Brushed From History

The Secret History

On March 4 2011, the French historian Reynald Secher discovered documents in the National Archives in Paris confirming what he had known since the early 1980s: there had been a genocide during the French Revolution.1 Historians have always been aware of widespread resistance to the Revolution. But (with a few exceptions) they invariably characterize the rebellion in the Vendée (1793–95) as an abortive civil war rather than a genocide.

In 1986, Secher published his initial findings in Le Génocide franco-français, a lightly revised version of his doctoral dissertation.2 This book sold well, but destroyed any chance he might have had for a university career. Secher was slandered by journalists and tenured academics for daring to question the official version of events that had taken place two centuries earlier.3 The Revolution has become a sacred creation myth for at least some of the French; they do not take kindly to blasphemers.

Keepers of the Flame

The first major Revolutionary mythographer was the journalist and politician Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), who became the first President of the Third Republic of France in 1871. He made his name in the 1820s with a bestselling 10-volume history of the Revolution. Purely as history his work was sloppy and unreliable; but the point was to celebrate the subject, not examine it. Thiers does not excuse atrocities in the Vendée; indeed he scarcely mentions them.

Unlike Thiers, Jules Michelet (1798-1874) actually looked at documents when researching his seven-volume history of the Revolution (1847–53). Michelet, more than any other historian, is responsible for the official mythology representing the Vendée rebellion as a would-be civil war instigated by deluded, credulous peasants who did not understand that they were fighting against Progress itself—a kind of 18th Century version of the gilets jaunes protests.

Michelet blames the women of the Vendée for being “sincerely, violently fanatical” in relentlessly harassing their husbands until they drove them to take up arms against the Revolution. They were “champions of counterrevolution”; he criticizes them for their “love of the past; their force of habit; their natural weakness; and their pity for the victims of the Revolution.” With “unbelievable ingratitude, injustice and absurdity” they forced rebellion on their menfolk.

To Michelet’s credit, he does admit at least some of the Revolutionaries’ “excesses,” but only after insisting that there were atrocities on both sides. Yet he conspicuously avoids dealing with evidence of tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the Vendée—even those enumerated by the former Revolutionary soldier and politician Jean-Julien Savary (1753-1839), whose Guerres des Vendéens et des Chouans contre la République française (1824–27) Michelet described as “the most instructive work on the history of the Vendée.”

The first state-appointed mythographer of the Revolution was François Aulard (1849-1928), who held the inaugural Chair in the History of the French Revolution at the Sorbonne from 1891 to 1922. Aulard’s Histoire politique de la Révolution française (1901) institutionalized Michelet’s views on the Vendée rebellion. The rebels were insignificant, superstitious peasants (p.376) who were somehow also a great danger to the Republic (p.378). They may have been part of a grand international conspiracy for which convincing documentation has not yet been found.

Aulard seems not to have noticed the unprovoked mass slaughter of civilians by the Revolutionary Army in 1794. Yet he founded the Society for the History of the Revolution, edited the scholarly journal La Révolution Française, published countless collections of material over almost half a century of professional research, and trained his students to examine primary source materials systematically, insisting that they provide full documentation of all evidence. His mastery of archival resources was second to nobody’s. Something must have been wrong with his approach to history.

The ex-Communist historian François Furet (1927–97) has written about the activist historians who devoted themselves to the study of the French Revolution throughout the twentieth century.4 They were openly, passionately pro-Revolutionary. For the most influential historians who held positions of power in major French institutions, the French Revolution was not a research topic but an origin myth—the heart of their secular faith’s cosmology. How could they celebrate it if it led to genocide?

The ‘Inexplicable’ Vendée

The Vendée is a region in the west of France whose residents became renowned for their piety after Protestants were driven out of the area in the wake of King Louis XIV’s Edict of Fontainebleau (1685). Throughout the 18th century, the Vendée was, culturally, politically and economically, a backwater. The closest major city, Nantes, remains noted for its role in the slave trade.    

Vendéens seem to have welcomed the French Revolution, at least initially. Everybody was annoyed with high levels of taxation. Even the pious were fed up with what they had to pay to the Church. The problem was not so much with the clergy as with parish assemblies (fabriques), which controlled parish finances. Vendéens had little quarrel with the local nobility, who as a rule stayed in the region and knew the peasantry well. Few of them spent any time in Paris, Versailles or even Nantes. The nobles too resented centralized administration.

Conflicting Religions

On November 2 1789, the newly-created National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in Paris (formerly the National Assembly) declared that all revenue-generating Church property in France was to be nationalized. On April 19 1790 Revolutionary legislators decided to help themselves to the rest of the Church’s property. It would be sold; the wealth would be redistributed by the Revolutionary government.

On July 12 the NCA passed a law, the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, that completely subordinated the Catholic Church to the Revolutionary government, and forbade Catholic allegiance to any foreign authority (for example, the Vatican, or the Pope). There would be no more recognizing the authority of bishops who had been appointed by non-French powers. Clergy were also ordered to swear allegiance to the Revolutionaries. They were now to be made civil servants, completely subject to the new French state.

Most priests and bishops not only condemned the new Civil Constitution of the Clergy, but refused to swear the oath that would subject them to civil officials. Revolutionary authorities were concerned that people were still loyal to the clergy rather than them. In October the Directory of the Lower Loire was compelled to remind the clergy that they were being stubborn and had to do as they were told. But most priests remained disobedient.

On November 10 1790, 103 priests from the diocese of Nantes signed a sharply-worded letter of protest to the NCA condemning their authoritarianism. Legislators were shocked and angry at the ingratitude. A few months later the Bishop of Nantes ordered his clergy to reject the Civil Constitution. Nine out of ten did not need to be told. The Revolutionary authorities had no choice but to appoint new bishops from among those few priests who had sworn to subject themselves to the NCA.

On June 26 1791, the NCA declared its right to deport or exile “refractory” clergy who had refused to swear the oath. Only obedient “constitutional” clergy who had pledged their allegiance to the NCA were allowed to carry out any duties. Soon there was a shortage of priests; most parishes now had nobody legally to carry out baptisms, weddings, or funerals. Churches were locked up by authorities. Yet citizens continued to show up to church on Sundays, even when the doors were sealed and the priest was imprisoned or in hiding. Force was necessary to maintain the NCA’s new regulations on religion.

The people refused to show up to Masses celebrated by “constitutional” priests. Indeed the “constitutional” clergy were widely ridiculed as cowards, traitors and infidels. Frequently they were subjected to physical assault. But they were public officials now, and could be protected by the armed forces if necessary, particularly when the faithful showered them with dirt, manure and rocks, or kicked them and spat in their faces.

On September 20 1792, the National Convention (NC) replaced the NLA, which had supplanted the NCA, which had been formed in July 1789 from the original National Assembly (established in June 1789). The Revolutionaries’ position on the clergy remained consistent. They did not want good priests, or intelligent priests, or well-educated priests, or priests who knew their parishes and the needs of their parishioners: they wanted priests who would obey them, follow orders and not talk back. The clergy stood in the way of their plans to conscript three hundred thousand men for the Revolutionary army.

Civil Disobedience

On March 6 1793, all Catholic churches not served by “constitutional” clergy were permanently closed. On March 7, a recruitment law went into effect. Revolutionary leaders, legislators, municipal authorities, administrators and government functionaries in general were of course exempt from military service.

In the Vendée, the NC’s call for conscription was not received with universal enthusiasm. When the District Commissioner at Thouaré tried to announce the official decree to the people, he was met with forty peasants armed with sticks who chanted “holy freedom, sacred freedom.” One of them shouted:

You have killed our king, you have chased away our priests, and you have sold off the property of our Church. Where is the money? You have spent it all. Now you want our bodies? No! You will not have them!

Other peasants at Saint-Julien-de-Concelles asked:

What? You expect us to go fight for this government? To go fight at the command of men who have turned the administration of this country upside-down, executed our king, sold all the Church’s land and want to subject us to priests we do not want whilst they send the real leaders of our Church to prison?

They told the Revolutionaries to get their hands out of the people’s pockets and give them back their old priests. If they were as free as Revolutionary propaganda said they were, why were they not free to work in their fields and be left alone?

The revolt in the Vendée began in earnest on March 10 with coordinated attacks across the countryside, mainly on officers of the National Guard who were stationed outside officially-sanctioned churches to protect the “constitutional” clergy inside.

Riots erupted in the towns. Roaming mobs began to ransack Revolutionary offices, armed with hoes, pitchforks and other agricultural equipment. Mayors and “constitutional” clergy alike were physically attacked. At Machecoul and Challeau, the municipal administration buildings were burnt to the ground. Officials and Revolutionary “patriots” were forced to flee the countryside and seek shelter in wealthy bourgeois enclaves in towns where their principles were more welcome.

Revolutionary officials in Paris had no choice but to pay attention to the people’s rebellion. The NC was itself in some turmoil: influential politicians were trying to replace the ineffectual Executive Committee with what would eventually be called the Committee for Public Safety. Whilst the government tried to reorganize itself again, Revolutionary authorities gathered intelligence in the Vendée. They would have to make an example of the rebels or they would lose control of the rest of the country.

Clearly the Revolutionaries were faced with a conspiracy so menacing that everyone touched by it would have to be exterminated in case the moral pollution was contagious. Forty-five thousand troops were sent to put down the rebellion.

Hillbillies with Pitchforks

The rebels’ volunteer army numbered between 25,000–40,000 peasants whose main fighting experience consisted of drunken brawls in village taverns. They had no uniforms; most wore “sabots” (wooden clogs) instead of boots. Yet they consistently managed to beat back well-armed, experienced professional soldiers. A few had hunting rifles and were excellent shots; but the vast majority were armed with pitchforks, shovels and hoes. When the Revolutionary forces retreated, the reblels went back home to attend to their farms so that their families would not starve.

Revolutionary generals did not expect them to fight so fiercely. Of course, the rebels had no reinforcements behind them, and they knew that if they did not repel the Revolutionaries their homes would be destroyed, and their families butchered. The Vendéens were not paid for their fighting. Their main rewards for winning a battle was not being slaughtered for a little while longer. Under the circumstances, their discipline was outstanding, as even the Revolutionary generals admitted.

The Revolutionaries did not enjoy losing to a gang of peasants, and began officially to describe them as “brigands.” Now that they were “brigands” they could be treated like the criminals that they were. As the “constitutional” priest Abbé Roux, vicar of Champagne-Mouton, assured his Revolutionary masters on May 7 1793, in front of his remaining parishioners:

The sons of the Charente region await your orders to exterminate these brigands who are tearing apart our beloved nation. You, Citizens, stand firm at your posts: do not lose sight of the traitors and conspirators: never forget that if you show mercy, you will be feeding vampires and vultures within the precincts of this city, and one day they will drink deeply of the blood of those who saved them from the vengeance that their crimes deserve.

Justice for Brigands

From April 1793, local authorities began to round up suspected brigands in groups of 30 or 40 and execute them without trial. But as General Beysser noted in a dispatch to his colleague General La Bourdonnaye on April 11:

…a man’s death is soon forgotten, while the memory of burning down his house lasts for years.

Revolutionary forces usually ensured that there was nobody at home when they burned down brigands’ houses. They also started firing cannons at churches.

The Revolutionary armies established foundries for cannons in friendly territory: there were many churches throughout the Vendée that they had not yet fired upon. Also, in the interests of public safety, they had to go house to house to confiscate as much metal as they could find. Anything could be used as a weapon against them, even a fork. The Revolutionaries also confiscated church bells wherever they could. Not only to be melted down for cannonballs: also, some brigands seemed to be using them for signaling.

Conveniently, the Revolutionary authorities still had enough money left over from the sale of Church lands to pay for surveillance committees and other security officials. They established two criminal tribunals in the Vendée to reassure loyal citizens that even brigands who were not immediately shot would encounter some form of justice. Revolutionary armed forces were encouraged to take property from the families of brigands, particularly when the men were away fighting and there was nobody at home to defend the weak, the sick or the elderly.

By the end of June the Revolutionary armies were struggling to maintain order: their men were refusing to fire on the brigands; some were even deserting their posts, and abandoning the cause of Progress. But the Revolutionaries, unlike the brigands, could actually replace men who were killed, wounded or AWOL. Another 20,000 battle-hardened soldiers were dispatched to the Vendée. As General Salomon had reminded his men (June 17 1793) while they waited for reinforcements:

This is a war of brigands: it calls for all of us to become brigands. At this point we have to forget all military regulations, fall en masse on these criminals and hound them relentlessly: our infantry must flush them out from the underbrush and the woods so our cavalry can trample them in the plain. In a word: we must not let them regroup.

They had already begun to destroy windmills and bell towers; now they started systematically demolishing houses and chateaux, and any other structures that looked like they might serve in the future as safe houses for brigands. They did not yet have the manpower to burn down forests or ravage agricultural land to any significant degree; at least they could let the brigands know that they had nowhere to hide.

Purification Begins

The Revolutionary Army now outnumbered the brigands, and was far better armed. As the summer went on they began to regain territory and drive the brigands back. Now the killing could begin in earnest. The Revolutionaries preferred not to take prisoners. There would be no clemency or mercy for the brigands. As winter approached it was clear that the insurrection would not survive for long.

The Committee for Public Safety sent Jean-Baptiste Carrier to Nantes: he arrived on October 20 1793 and stayed there until the middle of February. Carrier pioneered the technique of drowning brigands to save money on bullets. During his four months as the Committee’s representative in Nantes, 452 alleged brigands were acquitted and released from prison, 1,971 were executed by normal means, 3,000 or so died of disease, and 4,860 were drowned. Perhaps 3,000 prisoners survived.

At first, drowning was used to deal with “refractory” clergy. On November 16 1793, 80 priests were drowned together in a boat; on December 5 or 6 a further 58 were disposed of in the same manner; 10 days later drowning was opened up for brigands more generally, and 129 Vendéens were drowned.

It became customary to drown brigands naked, not merely so that the Revolutionaries could help themselves to the Vendéens’ clothes, but also so that the younger women among them could be raped before death. Drownings spread far beyond Nantes: on 16th December, General Marceau sent a letter to the Revolutionary Minister of War triumphantly announcing, among other victories, that at least 3,000 non-combatant Vendéen women had been drowned at Pont-au-Baux.    

The Revolutionaries were drunk with blood, and could not slaughter their brigand prisoners fast enough—women, children, old people, priests, the sick, the infirm. If the prisoners could not walk fast enough to the killing grounds, they were bayoneted in the stomach and left on the ground to be trampled by other prisoners as they bled to death.

General Westermann, one of the Revolution’s most celebrated soldiers, noted with satisfaction that he arrived at Laval on December 14 with his cavalry to see piles of cadavers—thousands of them—heaped up on either side of the road. The bodies were not counted; they were simply dumped after the soldiers had a chance of strip them of any valuables (mainly clothes).

No brigand would be allowed to return home: Westermann and his men slaughtered every possible brigand they could find, until the roads of the area were littered with corpses. December 29 was a particularly successful day, with a bumper crop of 400 Vendéens who were butchered from behind. But General Westermann’s single finest day of slaughter took place at Savenay, on December 21. As he announced, to an appreciative and grateful Committee for Public Safety:

Citizens of the Republic, there is no more Vendée. She has died beneath our sabre of freedom, with her women and children. I have buried her in the woods and marshes of Savenay. Following your orders, I have crushed her children under the hooves of my horses, and massacred her women … who will give birth to no further brigands now. There is not a single prisoner who could criticise my actions—I have exterminated them all….

At Savenay, 3,000 brigands were killed, with another 4,000 taken prisoner to be shot later on.

The Revolutionary generals also decided to end the lives of Vendéens who had stayed home during the rebellion or had somehow managed to return home. As early as December 20 soldiers were combing the countryside in search of candidates for extra-judicial executions. Some compared the process to hunting rabbits: none of the prey was armed. They were never guillotined, because these were mere peasants and artisans; there were few onlookers who would be particularly interested in watching them die.

The Crusade for Liberty

The Vendéen department of the Revolutionary government issued an official proclamation on 12th Frimaire of Year Two of the Revolution (December 2 1793) promising peace and security to the citizens of the region:

It is time…for the French to come together as one and the same family. Your people have disappeared; commerce has been annihilated; farming has withered away thanks to this disastrous war. Your delusions have resulted in many evils. You know it. Even so, the National Convention, which is as great as the people it represents, has forgiven and forgotten the past.

It is decreed by law…that all the people known as rebels in the Vendée … who lay down their arms within a month of the decree, will neither be sought out nor bothered just because they rebelled.

This law is not a fake amnesty. We have come in the name of the National Convention, who put us in charge of executing the law, to bring peace and consolation, speaking the language of clemency and humanity. If the bonds of blood and affection are not entirely broken, if you still love your country, if your return is sincere, our arms are open: let us embrace like brothers.

In fact, it was a fake amnesty. On January 17 1794, General Turreau set out with two armies of six divisions each on a ‘Crusade of Liberty’ to deal with what remained of the brigands. He ordered his lieutenants to spare nobody: women and children were also to be bayoneted in the stomach if there was the slightest hint of suspicion. Houses, farms, villages and thickets were all to be set on fire. Anything that could burn would have to burn. Soldiers in the ‘Infernal Columns’ of the Crusade had explicit instructions to wipe out every last possible trace of resistance or rebellion.

Crusaders for Liberty were relatively sparing in their use of the bayonet. Men, women and children were more often shot, or burned alive in their houses. Some of the Crusading soldiers had the idea of lighting ovens, stoking them and baking Vendéen families in them. Babies were not spared; nor were toddlers or small children. The usual practice was to kill babies in front of their mothers, then kill the mothers. Young girls were often drowned, after first being raped. Widows were usually beaten, insulted and drowned. Though there was no established standard procedure.

Not all brigand corpses were dumped, or left in the ruins of their homes. Many bodies were skinned for their leather. On April 5 1794 at Clisson, General Crouzat’s soldiers burned 150 women alive to extract their fat to use as grease. Though on the whole the soldiers of the Crusade for Liberty were rarely so enterprising: they were well paid, and any profits they made were incidental. The Crusade was expensive: in total as many as 62,000 soldiers took part.

For all the Crusaders’ systematic efficiency there were numerous unforeseen logistical difficulties with their work. Eventually they had to see about burying the bodies of the brigands who had not been drowned. The sheer mass and quantity of corpses posed a potential health risk to General Turreau’s men. Yet many brigands had survived. As the Revolutionary bureaucrat Marie-Pierre-Adrien Francastel later complained: “There are still 20,000 unslit throats in this miserable province.”

Eventually the killing ended. On February 17 1795, what was left of the brigands’ leadership signed a peace treaty with the Revolutionary government, which generously allowed Vendéens who had been rendered destitute by the destruction of their property and livelihoods to join the Revolutionary army; though their numbers would be strictly limited and they would be kept under strict watch in case they had any ideas. The brigands’ rebellion never really ended; Revolutionaries were occasionally compelled to take further action, as at Chanzeaux on April 9 1795, when besieged rebels were burned alive in their church. At least their freedom of religion had been officially restored (January 21 1795).

Provisional Conclusions

Reynald Secher estimates that just over 117,000 Vendéens disappeared as a result of the brigands’ rebellion, out of a population of just over 815,000. This amounts to roughly one in seven Vendéens fatally affected by military actions and the Crusade for Liberty. Though some areas lost half their population or more, with notably heavy losses at Cholet, which lost three fifths of its houses as well as the same proportion of its people. Colleges, libraries and schools were destroyed as well as churches, private houses, farms, workshops and places of business. The Vendée lost 18 percent of its private houses; a quarter of the communes in Deux-Sèvres saw the destruction of 50 percent or more of all habitable buildings. Other consequences of the Crusade for Liberty included a widespread epidemic of venereal disease. 

Latterly, historians have tried to characterize the extermination of the brigands as a genocide. The jurist Jacques Villemain argues that the Revolutionary government may fairly be charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide. Though this would be anachronistic: the correct term is “populicide,” which was first used by the Revolutionary intellectual François-Noël “Gracchus” Babeuf in his ground-breaking 1794 study On The System of Depopulation, a text that also provides the first detailed account of Jean-Baptiste Carrier’s executions by drowning at Nantes.

A Lasting Legacy

General Turreau’s career demonstrates how easily a thirst for blood can be harnessed to the pursuit of noble ideals. Despite criticism, and a short prison term, he was eventually rewarded for his leadership during the Crusade for Liberty, and spent eight years as Napoleon’s ambassador to the United States (1803–11). His name is inscribed on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, at the top of the 15th column, along with those of other heroes who fought for the principles enshrined in the French Revolution’s original motto: “LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY—OR DEATH”. 

 

Jaspreet Singh Boparai is a former academic. He has previously written for Quillette under the pen name “Sandra Kotta.”

Feature image: Le massacre de Machecoul by François Flameng

Citations

1 Reynald Secher, Vendée: du genocide au mémoricide: mécanique d’un crime legal contre l’humanité (preface by Gilles-William Goldnadel; afterwords by Hélène Piralian and Stéphane Courtois, Éditions du Cerf 2011) p. 78. 

2 An English translation is available: see Reynald Secher, A French Genocide: the Vendée (translated by George Holoch), University of Notre Dame Press 2003. Much of this essay relies on the second French edition of this text (2006).

3 See Secher’s 20,000-word memoir on the subject: La désinformation autour des guerres de Vendée et du genocide vendéen, Atelier Fol’fer (Collection l’Étoile du berger) 2009.

4 See Furet’s Penser la Révolution française, Gallimard 1978 (translated into English by Elborg Forster as Interpreting the French Revolution, Cambridge University Press 1981), as well as his more general essays on historiography in L’Atelier de l’histoire, Flammarion 1982 (English version: In The Workshop of History, translated by Jonathan Mandel, University of Chicago Press 1984).

Principal sources for this essay:

Jean-Joël Brégeon and Gérard Guicheteau. Nouvelle histoire des guerres de Vendée. Paris: Éditions Perrin 2017. 380 pp.

Patrick Buisson. La grande histoire des guerres de Vendée. Preface by Philippe de Villiers. Paris: Éditions Perrin 2017. 300 pp.

Reynald Secher. La Vendée vengé: le genocide franco-français (new edition). Paris: Éditions Perrin 2006. 351 pp.

Jacques Villemain. Vendée 1793-1794: Crime de guerre? Crime contre l’humanité? Génocide? Une étude juridique. Paris: Éditions du Cerf 2017. 305 pp.

126 Comments

    • Saw file says

      Thank you, Mr. Boparai.
      Although obviously one sided, this is a fascinating (ghoulish) snapshot of a dark period in history.
      Vive la revolution!

      • wmcraig says

        If you like this kind of history read about the Inquisitions. For your most enjoyment read Foxes Book of Martyrs. The real flavor of blood lust along with ti’s explanations and justifications can be found in Limborch’s History of the Inquisition.

        You will find at the heart of these atrocities Rome and the Holy See. Rome is no more Christian that is a Talmudic Jew. And you can learn that from public documents and statements of Rome and the Scriptures themselves.

    • Adam says

      wow….all the Glory of the Glorious Revolution burnt to ash in 10 minutes of reading. Thank you for undoing years of undergraduate classes at Monash.

  1. Charlie says

    Excellent piece. The French Revolution provided the template for revolutions in the name of progress to be used as an excuse for some people to exercise their blood lust and cruelty beneath a veneer of morality. A Breton told me of similar murders occurred when the Bretons tried to protect The Church. Those instigating Revolutions tend to be good at harnessing the services of people who enjoy killing and inflicting pain on others. As M Shalamov said ” the lust for power, for unpunished murder is great. 95% of cowards are capable of lethal meanness after a light threatening and I saw what a a forcible argument a simple slap could be for an intellectual.”

    A Briton who lived in France in the late 1940s and early 1950s said the French have not fully recovered from the Revolution and this helps to explain why.

    • jakesbrain says

      “The surest way to work up a crusade in favor of some good cause is to promise people they will have a chance of maltreating someone. To be able to destroy with good conscience, to be able to behave badly and call your bad behavior ‘righteous indignation’ — this is the height of psychological luxury, the most delicious of moral treats.” –Aldous Huxley

  2. Damian O'Connor says

    The re-writing of history to suit a particular narrative is all too common, I’m afraid, and the Left are experts at it,

    See my ‘A Short Guide to the History of South Africa’.

  3. codadmin says

    Vendee = ‘Deplorables’

    The pre-conditions are certainly in place.

    • Galway Boy says

      Except that we deplorables will not be fighting back with sticks, clubs and farm implements.

      • Using AR-15 against Google killing robots will be even more uneven than the vandean genocide, except there will be no mass rape.

        • Omega Man says

          Most things do not respond well to high velocity bullets. Battery powered servos and hydraulics are no exception, and once the robots are down, it will be the population that deployed google robots that will be on the receiving end of extermination -and mass rape will probably be back on the table.

  4. Cédric says

    The “vendée” massacres are taught at school in France. There is a debate as to whether it is genocide or war crimes, but it is more about the definition of genocide than about the facts that are well established. And it’s no problem to celebrate the Revolution, the French are not obsessed with purity as our American friends can sometimes be.

    • Aylwin says

      Thank you, Cédric, for that perspective. I’m grateful for Quillette for introducing me to a particular part of history, but the piece seems to be selected to get their conservative, idealogical readers whipped into an indignant frenzy. Go folks!

      • Cédric says

        Oh! I didn’t see it that way. Like the “Venezuela” thing, every time a conservative talks about socialism ?

        • Tersitus says

          Seems to me “the ‘Venezuela’ thing” speaks for itself.

      • @Aylwin

        “…the piece seems to be selected to get their conservative, idealogical readers whipped into an indignant frenzy.”

        I confess I missed that aspect of it.

        What parts of the article do that? Or is it the subject matter itself?

        • It’s the claim that this has been left out of history books. In fact this is well known, well accepted history that is commonly taught in any class on the French Revolution. There’s no “leftist revisionism” here – only a conservative straw man. (The history itself, as told here, seems pretty accurate – no objections on that point.)

          • Uh, it is absolutely left out . I’ve never heard of this amount of detail, but I’m not French. The French revolution is taught , or was, in the US , as a cautionary tale of how a revolution goes nuts and why so many protections were put into the US constitution early on. To say everyone knows this happened it oddly dismissive… and sad.

      • Why would anyone born and raised in the Anglosphere be whipped into an indignant frenzy over just another story about the French behaving badly? To our lights, the French have been behaving badly since 1066 CE; Norman Yoke and all that.

        • (a) the conquest of 1066 was an achievement of the Normans, not the French. Those same Normans would be at war continually with the king of the Franks (which is the proper tribal title if we are going back before the 13th century). (b) medieval European princes lived for conquest. Why is the Norman conquest of that cold and worthless island so uniquely significant to you? (c) the “British yoke” is a far more significant historical condition than what you accurately call the “Norman yoke”. What is the nature of this special knowledge you claim for the “anglosphere”?

      • Cville Centrist says

        In my secondary and university education(a top 2 university in my country). Slavery, racism, genocide, imperialism are only taught as European problems.
        No one coming out of a “liberal” education knows about the Islamic slave trade in Africa, Islamic expansion(Islamic Imperialism), the slaughter of entire cities, harems, rapes, raiding, etc.
        Most people come out of school fearing a new Inquisition or Puritanism, and think Andalusia was a paradise of flowers and tolerance.
        The world could use some perspective.

    • No purity obsessions here. I cheerfully wish all socialists the fate of Danton, Desmoulins, Meyerhold, Mayakovsky, Shumyatsky, Trotsky, Bukharin, etc., just as they have no regret after consigning people like me to the fate of the Vendéeans.

      • Cédric says

        @MB The Revolution gave France, republic, democracy and human rights. This is what France is celebrating with its Revolution, not the bloodbath.

        • The Jacobins have little to do with either democracy or human rights, as we understand them today.
          On a more general note, it is strange that some people’s contribution to this conversation is to proffer that the conversation is unnecessary, because French people are bored with it and only people obsessed with purity sweat the small stuff.
          I was aware of most, but not all, the facts presented. The women burned to collect their fat are new to me.
          Far be it from me to object; who likes a scold. Let leftists have their fun! But this can spread beyond their circle (as in the case presented: from Paris to Vendée), so some caution is needed. Hence, this article was a necessary warning.

        • Stephanie says

          Cedric, “human rights” aren’t worth much if they don’t apply to dissidents. Democracy clearly was only for those that towed the party line.

    • Charlie says

      If murder and rape of women and children is not impure, What is?

      • @ Charlie

        Not believing in the theory that anything necessary to make a socialist state?

        Look at the post – birth abortion discussion?

        Revolutionary ‘s only have one thing in common. No morals, ect.

    • anon says

      Im not even 19, and I have never heard of these events at school. Hell! I thought it was considered as a conspiracy theory until last year (because of how frequent it’s denial was).

    • Are you sure that you’re not mistaking the vendee genocide with “The Terror”? The latter is definetely told. However I’m sure that I’ve never heard about the vendee genocide in any lesson (it may have been in the history book, though). Until last year, I thought that the vendee genocide was at side with conspiracy theories. People who dared to bring the genocide up weren’t treated kindly.

    • Shawn T says

      Just read how not obsessed with purity the French can be.

  5. yendi dial says

    Chouan, en avant par Saint Denis par Saint Jean… as the song goes. We has studied it at school although the word was massacre and not genocide. However, regardless of the qualificative, there are still scars from the regicide in the political system today. The excellent Puy du Fou entertainment park talks about La vendee during the revolutionary years. Not forgotten. Thank you

    • Bad faith and idiocy make for a typically left-wing cocktail.
      The debate is about historiography, not history.

  6. Jay Raskin says

    This is not history, but a one-sided polemic. It does not describe how many people the citizens of the Vendeé killed. It does not describe the situation in France which was fighting a war against invading armies at the time.
    Before judging actions we need to understand the situation as viewed from multiple sides. Without that, we learn nothing.
    Evils and angels do not exist now or in history. Underneath both are human beings struggling to exist.

    • yandoodan says

      Jay Raskin: “It does not describe how many people the citizens of the Vendeé killed. It does not describe the situation in France which was fighting a war against invading armies at the time.”

      You have managed to make not one, but two justifications for bayoneting children in the stomach, and in as many sentences. It’s a common claim. Anti-Semites use it for Hitler’s mass-murder of Jews; Stalinists use it for the mass-murder of the Kulaks; white supremacists use it for lynchings. It’s a tip-off. “Of course it was a very naughty thing to do, but you need to put in perspective.”

    • jakesbrain says

      It does not describe those things. It does, however, describe young women being stripped naked and raped before being drowned, children being shot in front of their mothers who are then themselves shot, and houses being burnt. No amount of perspective will decrease the perfect hideousness of those actions.

    • Larry says

      It also doesn’t describe how many of the drownings on the coast or tidal estuaries were carried out.

      Grounded hulks were used. They were packed full of manacled, naked prisoners at low tide and the victims left there to drown as the tide came in. When it receded the next batch were taken out, where they had to remove the bodies of the previous batch, and then wait for their own deaths.

      It was the first example of industrialized murder, even more so than the beheadings of The Terror.

  7. MMS says

    Fascinating and sad… What happens when zealots on either extreme of the political spectrum put their ideals ahead of human decency… But I guess today moderates are just “meh”…

  8. maps says

    I’m French – we study this in great detail from ages 11-18 in public primary, middle and high school. It’s no secret that the French Republic was built on the crimes of both the Vendée War and the Terror under Robespierre.

  9. Bretonne says

    A well written piece but not sure why this is spun as “no one knew”. This is common knowledge to anyone who has studied French history – other countries don’t whitewash their history like America.

    I look forward to Jaspreet Singh Boparai’s next piece on American History – the real story. THAT would be informative to Americans I am sure. They have little to no understanding of their own history.

    • Jay says

      The fact that you become defensive and feel the need to deflect your historical angst on to Americans highlights the necessity of this type of historical reflection. A great article by Boporai unfortunately followed by sad whataboutisms by several uncritical French readers.

  10. GSW says

    As other commentators have noted, there is nothing “secret” about the Vendée war or about the controversies in France over its significance. In fact, this essay doesn’t advance our understanding of the subject beyond the lengthy Wikipedia page on the subject. For an instructive discussion of the significance of the Vendée in relation to the French Revolution and international conflict in the 19th and 20th centuries, I can recommend David A. Bell’s excellent The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare.

  11. jpattitude says

    French history of their revolution and the Napoleonic Wars is largely propaganda. And it has been supported and defended by historians even to the modern day. It’s almost ridiculous. Look at how they defend the genius of Napoleon for example: to anybody with an objective viewpoint, the genius in the war was Wellington, not Napoleon. Yet to this day the French become angry and irrational if someone even suggests that Napoleon not only made mistakes, he seemed incapable of learning from his mistakes.

    • maps says

      Hi! I’m French. I have yet to meet a single of my countrymen/women becoming angry and/or irrational when Napoléon is mentioned. He was an admittedly atrocious leader who led to the deaths of tens of thousands of his soldiers (among others) and we spare no details in highlighting his many faults, again, through our public education system.

  12. podybman says

    While it’s always interesting to read about Massacre des Vendéeens, the title is pure clickbait.
    Not only is this topic deeply covered for two years in French schools (as long as the revolution itself), it’s still regularly mentioned and debated at Presidential Elections, there are well known songs, movies are regularly broadcasted on French TV and many people still have the Vendée flag stickers on their car for remembrance …

    It’s pretty much the same secrecy as civil war in the USA …

  13. Northern Obaerver says

    The real issue is not how French Citizens remember or forget the Revolution, Napoleon and the Vendée; it is how modern western leftist choose to ignore or rationalize the crimes of revolutionary France and revolutionary politics, ethics and morality. That’s the point not French national sentiment; it’s the smug positivism built on the deaths of many.

    • Otis in Ohio says

      Bingo. When you debate the French Revolution with American sympathizers, including those who profess themselves well-versed in French history, they don’t mention things like this (they’ll also apologize for the likes of Robespierre–because he himself was eventually consumed by the violence of that period, he must be portrayed as virtuous!) In the United States at least, where French history isn’t always taught at this level of detail in high school, it’s easy to miss events like this. In the education system and the media, we’re bombarded with the message that conservatives or the Right more generally are uniquely evil instigators of violence. “HITLER,” “HITLER,” “HITLER” is drilled into your head to the exclusion of much else, even (sometimes) Stalin–and never mind that, in the grand scheme of things, the fascist reaction against communism had more roots in what happened in 1790s France and post-Darwin eugenics-era American liberalism/progressivism than the conservative wings over that time span in the UK and the US. So, yeah, for the Anglosphere-centric audience of this mag, the info can be both new and scintillating and provides a more rounded perspective on some history that is too often presented by our professors in the form of thinly veiled proto-Marxist agitprop.

  14. This is not a secret, as others have mentioned in this thread. The Vendée had seen massacres and expulsions before…of the Protestants by the devout Catholic great-grandparents of the victims of the Revolution. The French Revolution was no more left-wing than the American one, opening the way for capitalism to overthrow feudalism. There has been no shortage of massacres in France, from the Albigensians to the working-class revolutionaries (as left as you can get) of the Paris Commune in 1871. The latter were just put up against walls and shot

    • The Protestants also massacred Catholics, in many occasions, both during and before the 30 Years’ War, not to mention Cromwell’s and subsequent rulers’ treatment of the Irish Catholics. If you listen to some American politicians, Catholics should still not have political rights.
      How could a Catholic population feel safe with Protestants in its midst? The revocation of the edict of Nantes was the safe course of action.
      If the Vendeeans knew that the French government was coming to avenge those Protestants’ expulsion, by banning the Catholic faith, they should have resisted ten times more strenuously, because no quarter is given in wars of religion.
      The French Revolution was very left-wing, with property confiscation, the massacre and torture of hundreds of thousands, the banning of Christianity, the attempted killing of an entire class of people. The revolution it resembles most closely is the Russian, not the American one.
      Only the Count of Artois foresaw what would happen. Had there been more like him, the massacre could have been avoided. But many nobles were in fact not opposed to a revolution. Even Louis XVI was a hero of the American Revolution, also playing at reform in France, before being executed by the French revolutionaries for his efforts. He deserved it, for being so indecisive and conciliating, unlike his brother. Not sure about the Vendeeans, though — did their naivete, in welcoming the revolution in the beginning, really earn them their fate?
      Anyway, forewarned is forearmed. The suppression of the Paris Commune, just like the June Days of 1848 and the Thermidorian reaction before it, avoided an incredible bloodbath.
      As for capitalism, who cares. Kim Jong Un and his relatives will set up capitalism in North Korea any day now, just like the grand-children of the Communists are doing in Russia, in China, in Cuba, etc.. Capitalism is natural. The question is how many capitalists you have to kill in order to become the capitalist yourself.

  15. Robert Franklin says

    It seems that this is always the outcome of revolutions that are, at base, ideological. Certain elites anoint themselves as the keepers of the revolutionary truth and all who differ end up dead. Over the centuries, we’ve collected a fair number of points on this graph.

  16. I agree with the French Nationals on this thread; however, I have been looking into the French Revolution on my own and after listening to multiple lectures on Audible (one example), I can confirm that there is a measure of North American propaganda relating to the French Revolutionary war and the atrocities committed during that period.
    During an Audible lecture series, the professor of French history referred to the mob who captured of the French Royal family as a “procession.” I’m no expert, but if you think that carrying the severed heads of the Swiss Guard on pikes, pillaging Versailles, and terrorizing the Royal family is an act of a “marvelous procession,” then there’s a problem with your politics.

    There may be no illusions surrounding the French Revolution in France, but there certainly is in North America.

    • Nicolas says

      then why does the author not engage with any of these North American misconceptions?

    • jakesbrain says

      Quite so. The Vendee massacres may be remembered in France, but not outside of it — just as an example, this essay was the first time I myself ever heard of them. It is a hideous and disgraceful affair which foreign historians have quite thoroughly suppressed from their accounts of the Revolution.

  17. Christopher Burd says

    You use the acronym NLA, but you never define it.

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  19. podybman says

    I also find funny to define the French Revolution as “leftist” when, along with the American revolution, it’s the basis of modern capitalism … but ok.

    • yandoodan says

      Obviously, you can’t call the French Revolution “Leftist” because of it’s association with Marxism, as Marxism hadn’t been invented yet. Rather, it was “Leftist” in the sense that it called upon a violent revolution originating in the lowest classes, in the belief that it would bring about a purified communal utopia once the counter-revolutionaries had been extirpated.

      Taking this further, the utopia would not be merely a happy place to live, but rather a place where the people, once purified, regress to a closed society, where they merge together, drops in an ocean. When this happens they shed the dreadful freedom that comes from mere existence, that plagues you every moment in your ignorance and isolation, and the anxiety that comes with it. (Popper called this the strain of civiliation. You don’t normally think of Popper as an existential philosopher, but there you go.)

      • Yandoodan, terms “left” and “right” in the political sense come from the French Revolution. Members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king, who sat at the president’s right, and revolutionaries, who sat to his left.

      • podybman says

        The French Revolution doesn’t originate in the lowest classes but in the bourgeois class.
        Bourgeois fomented it while sitting at Café du Parnasse and private “salon” by people belonging to clubs like the Club des cordeliers.

        If you picture yourself farmers with forks, you’re really far from reality and might be confusing with the Révolte des sans-culottes.

      • podybman says

        Left and right have nothing to do with marxism lol.
        It actually takes its root from the French Revolution where reformists sat on the left and conservatists sat on the right. In that sense, the revolution is indeed “left” (but then the Empire too … so …) but if we look at it with today’s views, we have the bourgeoisie calling for the right to use its capital. It’s nothing leftist in the definition of today.

    • For my money Cromwell’s Commonwealth and Protectorate were the ur-source of modern Western capitalism.

  20. Gustav says

    It’s curious how atrocities made in the name of liberalism are never seen as indictments of the liberal ideology but the ones made in the name of communism are.

    • dirk says

      Not so strange, Gustav, depends completely on the blogs (and their signatures) you visit. What do you think Russian children were taught about the French Revolution , Liberalism and Capitalism in the Sovjet time? And maybe even now somewhere else?

  21. “Michelet, more than any other historian, is responsible for the official mythology representing the Vendée rebellion as a would-be civil war instigated by deluded, credulous peasants who did not understand that they were fighting against Progress itself—a kind of 18th Century version of the gilets jaunes protests.”

    I think this sentence is deeply irresponsible and commits the grave sin the author commits other scholars of making – connecting one’s enemies and allies in the present day to events in the past in order to smear them. You have absolutely no basis to call the yellow vest protesters “deluded, credulous peasants” fighting against a religious capitalized notion of “Progress” like a theist would capitalize God. Absolutely abysmal and hypocritical use of history for ideological aims.

  22. Vagabond says

    Meh. That was but one of many outrages and massacres that characterise the history of the region. Read “The pursuit of the millennium” by Norman Cohn to put it in perspective. History will repeat itself with even more viciousness when the Islamic republic of France is born a couple of generations hence.

  23. Pingback: Genocide in the French Revolution – the Vendée from 1793 to 1795 « Quotulatiousness

  24. Jean-Pierre Rupp says

    Whenever I was taught about the French Revolution as a kid it was being portrayed as a good thing. But no conversation about the subject could escape from mention of the guillotine and mass executions. I have always been troubled by victors who deem it necessary to kill their defeated enemies in cold blood. That speaks about their character more loudly than their military success. What is written here in horrific, but entirely within what I would expect from the French Revolution.

  25. dirk says

    I fear, every nation has had its genocide, smaller or bigger, recent or old. The Germans massacred the whole Herrero tribe in South Africa, with more or less consent of their own anthropologists. The Dutch once massacred the whole Ambon population (except a few fugitives), that refused (logically) to sell their nutmegs to the Dutch only, to ensure a monopoly of that nutmeg (very profitable business due to that monopoly). The Dutch Colonial Company criticed this behaviour, though, and that colonial misbehaviour is taught on elementary school. In the colonial museum KIT of Amsterdam (yes, that exists),this misbehaviour is extensively shown, as well as other less severe actions, and no longer any positive actions and policy, such as the railways built there, the extensive irrigation systems, schools, medical services etc etc. It’s worse, when our former prime minister once tried to say something positive about the development works in the East, he was booood away by all present there and then, left and right, young and old, and whenever his name is called now, everybody starts laughing, oh yes, that one, the one who was praising our colonial past.

    What about the US record in massacring/genocide?

    • Saw file says

      @dirk
      Unless you redefine the meaning of “genocide”, no genocide occurred during the colonization of Canada.
      The extermination of the inland Inuit by the northern ‘Indian’ tribes (using firearms) may be the exemption though

      • dirk says

        Maybe, Saw file, I reason too much as a European, with their old and colonial (or empiral) histories. Of course, Canada is so young, born only after the declaration of all those human rights manifests, that they may claim to be free of such horrendous crimes.

        • Saw file says

          After the the “7years’ war”, there was never an insurrection against the British government in Canada.
          Occasionally the USA would attempt (unsuccessfully) to invade Canada.
          I’ve always considered the ‘American Revolution’ to be the first civil war in the USA.
          Depending on how you define it, the Riel Rebellion or the Fenian Uprising could be exceptions, though.

      • Cultural genocide is also a concept and considering Canada’s history of abuse of Natives at Indian schools, you may want to rethink your assertion there.

        • dirk says

          @ Jeffrey: if you want to extend the concept to cultural genocide, there is probably no nation on earth still on daily term committing this form of genocide. We have the case right now of closing down an islam school (trying to, against the freedom of education) where we suspect that the teachers are too eager to indoctrinate the students with salafism and other undemocratic ideas). Cultural genocide??

    • Cville Centrist says

      @Dirk
      Your post, while not incorrect, is a good reflection of Eurocentric guilt and the problem with the current humanities paradigm.
      The same could be said of the Han in China, the Mongils, the Islamic Expansion, Masa Musa, the Aztechs, and the Comanche.
      The idea that European imperialism, genocides, and slavery are exceptional and unusual in the human experience is racist by definition.
      The scope, relative magnitude, and murderous epusodes in Islamic, African, Asian history are every bit as cruel and horrific as anything that befell Native Americans and First Nation peoples.
      This us why a leftist humanities education fails here, and why nations currently under its yolk are tearing themselves to shreds.
      History should be taught as a human individual experience, and not as an ideologically slanted intersectional one.

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    • dirk says

      What I know , Saw, is that it took far into the 19th century before the first Canadian rebellions against the British colonial government began, so, rather recently I would say. The Ambon genocide by the Dutch took place at a time that massacres of rebellious masses were more rule than exception/exemption, whatever. Luther even preached one to start against the peasants in Bavaria. Both much earlier than the French one in the Vendee.

      • Saw file says

        After the completion of the “7 yrs’ war”, there was never an insurrection of British rule in Canada.
        The USA occasionally (unsuccessfully) attempted to invade to land gab.
        The Fenian Uprising or the Riel Rebellion could be exceptions, depending on definitions.

    • dirk says

      I just only now see, closer reading, that you (sawfile) didn’t mean massacres by Canadian government, but as the ones committed on what is Canadian territory now, since Colon. OK, I wasn’t talking about that, but about the nations such as the European ones, but also about the US and the Latin nations. Are the latter ones free of committing massacres since Colon? Comparable with the Ambon or Vendee crimes? Of course, we are not taking here about tribal and civil wars, neither about war crimes.

      • dirk says

        One of these unambiguous examples of genocide of the young nation of Haïti was the complete eradication of all whites by general Dessalines, once discussed in another thread of Quillette. Though, again here, with exception of the Polish soldiers fighting for freedom at the side of the blacks. Their grandgrandgrandchildren still live somewhere in the mountains of Haïti. Lucky ones!

  27. Strawberry Girl says

    I was in Paris during the bicentennial of the French Revolution. I remember seeing various posters commemorating the event defaced with “genocide.” You don’t hear very much about the Vendee unless you dive deep into France’s history.

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  29. Pingback: the Vendee Uprising, in the press | historyncsu

  30. Bill Conlon says

    “It took us a long time to get rid of the effects of the French Revolution 200 years ago. We don’t want another one.”-Margaret Thatcher

  31. Nicolas says

    So, will Quillette apologize for peddling a conspiracy theory about historiography?

  32. Richard says

    I was a history major in college and took an upper level course on the French Revolution with one of the most respected professors in the department. He was old school, very demanding and very tough, but the class was excellent and I learned a lot.

    However, I never learned about this. I don’t know if it was an ideological decision on the part of the professor, or if he wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the event (unlikely), but for whatever reason this wasn’t covered. I’m grateful to the author and to Quillette for publishing this important work!

    • dirk says

      I think, Richard, this has to do with the extent to which you are a good and proud nationalist. Especially young and/or imperial nations such as France, China and US will not so quickly admit their misfits as smaller (less important) and older nations like Denmark and the NLs will do. I have experience with these sentiments in African nations, rather young ones (though without much influence), and not quick to admit any misbehaviour (but rather eager to expose the colonial misbehaviour of the European nations and the US). And what about Arab (and Turkey) nations? You better swallow your criticism when there.

  33. Saurabh says

    I have heard several times that the truth eventually come out. I don’t believe it anymore. We only get to hear the truth that does come out. The News of today will be the History of tomorrow.

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  35. dirk says

    Mental experiment: the veil of ignorance of Rawls applied to the Vendee massacre (not intra- but international now, for a change): We don’t know about the backgrounds, where? which tribe or nation? but it was 200 yers ago) but somewhere in the world, there was a massacre, as described, with ships full of drowned innocents, women, children, hayforks, generals, directions from above and cruel actions, what would be the reactions, here on Quillette or anywhere else??. Quite easy, I think. Yes, that’s how it went so often, 200 years ago, and in that and that context (starting small, with elbowing and rebellion, then retaliations and orders from above, and superiors gone amuck, crazy, cruel without limits…….. we humans are angels and beasts, it all depends. Nothing new under the sun.

    Okay, that’s with the veil, but now without. The writer is not French, the situation was a concrete happening in France, and the commenters are mostly American, but also some French. How are the comments now? Let me try.
    Frenchman 1: yes, that’s what happened, we know, nothing to hide, it’s taught in details in our schools, why should we hide?
    Frenchman 2: never heard about that episode, is that really true??.
    Frenchman 3: and whatabout the Americans, the massacres there, the Sandcreek, Cherokees and such??

    American 1: Maybe there, in the continent, Europe, not with us, never.
    American 2: That’s how revolutions end always, so happy we live in a free nation
    American 3: Totalitarianism, the left and socialism are one and the same thing, we should be careful

    What moved me most in the comments above: Lydia, shocked by her daughter shocked by that sweet old Italian lady, and neighbour (so, one of us, innocents), telling about her sweet youth memory of an encounter with fascist Mussolini. Can this really be?? That a kid is upset/surprised by that? Is this the USA?? BTW, Lydia, I am old, European, and understand even this! That’s why I came with that Mastroianni/Loren movie Una giornata particolare (corrected now).

  36. Shawn T says

    Thanks for the article. History is utterly fascinating. Not just the facts or quasi-facts or selected facts, but how it both reflects and frames our present. Also the way different people view it. Some commenters are insulted that some sort of distortion of facts is highlighted. Others see lessons for the present. Some filter events through a modern moral lens. It is as fun to read the comments as it is the article. My children are often in the moral lens camp. I think modern education teaches history with a heavy dose of judgement. I often remind them that history is simply something that happened in the past. It will color the present and future. It can’t be changed. We can’t correct it or make it right. We are all who and where we are because all of these events, good and bad, happened. Change any of it and we would no longer be who and where we are. From direct personal history to broader world history it is the same. Debates and discussion of context and importance are fun and stimulating and sometimes even important. Keep these articles coming!

  37. D L Reynolds says

    Fascinating piece, horrifying tale. Well done, many thanks.

  38. Epirote says

    Whataboutism overdrive in the comments, as in any article that exposes the rubbish of dominant leftist historiography. Particularly amusing are the disingenuous retorts saying that “we all knew about the massacre”. Educated french people may know. This article isn’t about that. It is about the prevailing (and not just in the anglosphere) romanticized version of the Revolution that is passed as erudite research even today. It took me 30 years to learn of this, and I, while no sort of an intelectual, am reasonably well-read and have a particular interest in history. Make of that as you will (cue the responses calling me an ignorant buffoon).

  39. dirk says

    @ Epirote: if you are really interested in history and historiography (and hagiography), you must know that romanticed historiography is the rule in any national canon, and not the exception. Just imagine, the recent history that Algeria presents in their elementary school, for their future kids, or what France writes about it. The TRUTH doesn’t exist, yes, maybe in natural science or jurisdiction, but not in history. BTW, nobody is an ignorant buffoon, ignorant yes, maybe, about the things that don’t matter (subjectively).

  40. I wrote this in 2014, inspired largely by recently reading a history of the French Revolution:

    Typically revolutions go like this: First the revolutionaries rise against the old order, and a shitload of people gets killed. Then, if they win, they start fighting among themselves, and a shitload of people gets killed. Finally some faction wins and starts getting rid of everybody it doesn’t like (such as members of the losing factions, surviving representatives of the old order, people who are too uppity, people whose property or wives and daughters the new leaders want, people with the wrong ancestors, people who wear spectacles — as in Cambodia under Pol Pot — etc.), and a shitload of people gets killed. End result: Three shitloads of people get killed and the survivors are less free than before.
    Certainly there are exceptions, but this pattern is common enough to be considered the usual course of a revolution.

  41. Epirote says

    @dirk I appreciate your comment, but I think there is more to the usual callous and obtuse approach to Revolutionary history than French nation-building efforts. Early French Revolution historiography has been a template for the glorification of leftist ends-justifies-the-means movements since the Revolution itself. Leftism in general, and marxism in particular have a vested interest in hiding the grotesque episodes of revolutionary cruelty or filtering them through a disingenuous “clinical” (rather, opaque, imprecise and dehumanizing) lens.

    I’m not french, but in the present day I suspect french people have, as a general rule, access to a more nuanced, detailed and less romantic discourse and literary corpus on this episode of their history than other nations. Nationalism has long ceased to be the main engine that supports this distortion and obfuscation of history.

    • dirk says

      So, Epirote, you think that obfuscation is a left hobby, and that the right is more sincere and objective? I don’t think so, left and right both have interests (especially in their education of children) to paint a situation that suits the morals.
      Turkey will not easily admit that they committed a genocide, though, the rest of the world does. France, I fear, also will not admit that the Vendee was a genocide (though some agree), they will picture the massacre as an upheaval of peasants, a civil war with cruel casualties. How else can you instill national feelings in youngsters of 7 or 8 years old? What if you cannot teach them that the French are a special people, with special cultural features and a great history? Am I right here, Emmanuel? Same story of course for any European nation, of course, and for USA and Canada. I still remember very well what was told to us in the history booklets of elementary school, I tell you, quite another story than in that of the English , Spanish and the French (our enemies at times).

  42. Loran Tritter says

    Looks like the Yellow Vests have inspired a modern retelling of an obscure event in French history.

  43. David in Kent says

    Visiting Brittany as a schoolboy in the fifties I heard about this massacre, so it was not unknown. I was told it also explained why the Breton were so against Vichy in WW2.

  44. Epirote says

    @dirk Historical obfuscation may not be a leftist monopoly (though the Left is well on its way into cornering the market), but this in entirely besides the point. My observation is that in the episode that this article covers, nationalist motivated air-brushing such as the one you refer to is not the main obfuscating force at present. Marxist inspired pro-revolutionary discourse is. It certainly was in the numerous sources I’ve read that skillfully skirt around the subject. Anyway, you may carry on; I take my leave from the discussion.

    • dirk says

      Me too, epirote. Maybe others have still something to ad. Unless Quillette decides that it’s enough now!

    • dirk says

      Victor Hugo: “ecraser l’infame”, at any price, and in all strata. Rather totalitarian, but who can oppose it? Not me!

  45. Nakatomi Plaza says

    As always, Quillette is terrified of anything that smacks of revolution. As many posters here have pointed out, these atrocities are hardly lost to history. They’re the unfortunate product of violent revolution and massive governmental failure, it seems. If only the French had accepted the excesses of their government and their inability to mount a non-violent and systemic political change, right?

    And here’s the point: keep protecting the status quo with your reactionary drivel, guys. But you don’t get to act shocked with the next revolution comes, whether it comes at the hands of an old Jew from Vermont or a lot of pissed off unemployed people with pitchforks.

    Let them eat cake, no?

    • Cville Centrist says

      I assume you believe those with privilege(kulaks) are fair game in any “revolution”.
      The use of the term “reactionaries” comes straight out of the greatest mass murderers in world history.
      These “working class” people who will you speak of coming with pitchforks; Do you think the working class of rural, Rocky Mountain, Allegheny and Appalachian America will line up behind someone calling for “historical justice” against their ‘kulak” children because their skin lack the skin pigmentation for righteousness? Or will it be because their religious affiliation doesn’t agree with your moral paradigm?
      The “working class” are not going to be carrying pitchforks and waving red flags my friend.

  46. We, as french people, are generally proud enough to have accomplished the first “great” revolution, that’s right. And even we’re proud enough to severe some big heads. In my school time, la révolte des Vendéens (and the Victor Hugo’s famous book 93) was taught, but not highlighted as it should have been. The word “genocide” was unheard, even war crimes was too big an appellation for the national schoolbooks. Yes, we’ve been told about the killings but never in a sense which could disillusion us from “our revolution”. It’s a problem, no doubt.
    Comme dit le proverbe chez nous, “tout le monde a un cadavre dans le placard” i.e. as the saying goes in France, everybody’s got a corpse in the closet.

    • dirk says

      Merci pour ca, Jean. Very honest, and I wouldn’t have thought in any other direction, national history schoolbooks are like that.

  47. As always, Quillette is terrified of anything that smacks of revolution. As many posters here have pointed out, these atrocities are hardly lost to history.

    Why shouldn’t people be terrified of revolution? The language used to put down these peasants sounds a lot like the language used by “the resistance” to describe “deplorables”. I didn’t even vote for Trump and I’m scared by what I see happening.

    When people get it into their heads that their values should be universally held beliefs, and they’re so sure they’ve got a monopoly on virtue that enforcing universal values becomes a moral imperative, they might start by trying to persuade people that their values are right, but the next step always involves vilifying and dehumanizing anyone who refuses to see reason.

    And I don’t see much difference between how that is described here vs. how Sam Harris describes people who “refuse to see reason” in his book The End of Faith (spoiler: he argues that their refusal to be persuaded may make it ethically to kill them, not for what they do, but for what they believe), The common thread throughout the history of capital-P Progress & capital-R Reason: being purged not for a crime, but for an identity. Anne Applebaum in her book Gulag defines a gulag as a prison where you are sent not for what you do, but for what you are.

    “Imagine there’s no heaven…and no religion too…nothing to kill and die for…” – is it really “religion” that causes this tendency?

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