To the annoyance of many of us, the French have long exuded an attitude of moral and intellectual superiority — a self-appraisal that, in my view, falls far short of reality.
Consider, if you would, that the history of France literally drips with blood. For starters, we have the savage repression of the Knights Templar, which during the Crusades amassed the largest standing army in the Christian kingdom, and were the leading bankers as well. Pope Clement V felt challenged, so at his order the French King Philip IV had “fifty-four Templars burned alive on one morning in Paris,” according to John Robinson’s 1991 book “Dungeon, Fire & Sword.” The Knights Templar vanished overnight.
Or the French Revolution and its aptly-named sideshow, The Terror. The British historian David Andress estimates that the Revolution brought death to “one-half million or more,” thousands condemned as “traitors” by ad hoc military courts. To make these murders more “efficient,” the revolutionists devised a guillotine to chop off heads at an assembly-line pace.
The Napoleonic wars, the product of an empire-hungry general? France ravaged Europe for more than a decade; historians estimate the body count, military and civilian, at between 3.5 million and 6.5 million persons.
Ancient history? In part, perhaps. But the French propensity for violence was grotesquely illustrated once again in 1871, when politically disenchanted Parisians took up arms against the government in the name of a “more just society.”
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