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Pacifism In France Between Ww1 And Ww2

This article considers the attitude of French teachers and the French education system to war during the First world war and immediately after, how did that attitude changed in the 1920’s and why.The term moral disarmament ‘A pacifist yet a patriot` and how far this phrase how far this phrase represented the attitude of French society in the 1930’s

Date : 11/01/2016

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Uploaded by : Paul
Uploaded on : 11/01/2016
Subject : History

Case study - France and pacifism in the 1920’s and 1930’s

During the four years of World War, the vast majority of schoolteachers were loyal supporters of the national war effort. From 1914 to 1918 teachers mobilized their students to aid their nation in war and to embrace the values and assumptions of the war culture that engulfed them. For several years after the armistice school lessons continued to resound with nationalistic and militaristic assumptions. “Little French Children, Do Not Forget!” admonished one typical post-war textbook, encouraging young students to associate their own wartime memories with narratives of German barbarism and French valour. In the 1920s, a complex blend of socialist internationalism and republican humanism, promoted by a new and powerful national teachers’ union, the Syndicat national des institutrices et des instituteurs de la France et des colonies (National Teachers’ un ion [SN]), played a role in shaping teachers’ emerging critique of militaristic education. So too did feminist and feminine pacifism, both of which exerted a strong influence over the predominantly female teaching profession. Increasingly, teachers around the country called upon children to remember the war, not to exult in national triumph, as their textbooks insisted, but to mourn the fallen and share in the nation’s bereavement.

By the mid-1920s, scores of French primary schoolteachers began readily identifying themselves as pacifists, and they sketched out a new mission for the nation’s schools: the moral disarmament of France. “Désarmement moral” was a term just gaining cultural currency in the mid-1920s, as hopeful internationalists across Europe began to lay the cornerstones for a more peaceful world order. Proponents of moral disarmament insisted that no amount of international arbitration or economic cooperation would effectively prevent the return of war unless the peoples of the world first abandoned their national prejudices and embraced cross-national understanding as the keystone of global stability. Such a project of “cultural internationalism,” was largely driven by European cultural elites who, in the 1920`s and 1930`s, actively sought to promote intellectual cooperation across national boundaries. At the same time, however, the project had an important populist component, as evidenced by the recommendations of the Committee on Moral Disarmament, which met as part of the World Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1932. There committee members recommended using the new mass media of radio and cinema to advance the cause of mutual understanding, but they also maintained that the most important work of moral disarmament would have to be conducted in the schools. Education, the committee concluded, was “the key to all other measures.”

French teachers focused on purging classroom lessons of the images, symbols, narratives, and values that had led their generation to accept war without question in 1914, in particular those that dehumanized Germans, applauded military heroism, and romanticized war. To such ends, the SN launched a vast campaign against “bellicose” textbooks, and by the late 1920`s, it already bore fruit. In revised textbooks, once-epic narratives of the Great War were recast as tragedies. A new moral message of the events of 1914 to 1918 began to emerge, “War is atrocious for all fatherlands.”

France’s republican schoolteachers never repudiated patriotism between the wars. Interwar French teachers, like their predecessors, rooted their ideological beliefs in the revolutionary tradition of 1789, and they taught students to equate love of country with democratic progress. They continued to teach that the French nation was endowed with a unique civilizing mission, a belief that led most teachers to celebrate the French empire with their students even as they presented France as a beacon of peace in an unruly world. Pacifist teachers recognized that peace-loving nations had gone to war in the past. France’s own revolutionaries – the famed volunteers of 1792 – did not hesitate to take up arms when they perceived that their fatherland was threatened. While a fringe of teachers on the conservative right accused the pacifist majority of denigrating the army and preaching outright defeatism in the event of war, in fact, only a small group of teachers on the far left ever questioned whether France should defend itself if attacked. As convinced pacifists, most teachers worked hard to foster international solidarity, to cultivate support for the League of Nations, and to teach their students to work for peace, but as devoted republicans, they also made certain children appreciated that when all else failed they, like all French citizens, should be prepared to lay down their lives for their country.

For much of the interwar era, loyal devotion to the France and a fervent hatred of war were not incompatible. By the late 1930`s, however, with fascist powers on the rise in Europe, circumstances had changed. Throughout most of the 1930`s, teachers’ union leaders remained firmly attached to their pacifist principles, arguing against military intervention in the Spanish Civil War and celebrating the conclusion of the 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler. Yet with each mounting crisis, dissension grew and by early 1939, by which point most French teachers had resigned themselves to the necessity of war. While in a few notable cases pacifism led to defeatism and eventually collaboration, nearly all teachers proved willing to support a war against the Nazis, and a large number joined the Resistance. Contrary to what others have claimed, this patriotism did not exist despite the efforts of pacifist schoolteachers in the 1920`s and 1930`s it existed, in no small part, because of them. For nearly two decades, in classrooms across the country, schoolteachers sought to inculcate the values of patriotism, republicanism, and pacifism, and, in doing so, helped to mold the complex political culture that characterized interwar France.

Q4. In your view did French attitudes to war seriously weaken the nation’s ability to resist in 1940 or were other factors more important. Give reasons for your answer

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