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The Xenophile Historian

K. U. P.

(Kimball's Unauthorized Perversion)

A Military History of France

In February 2003 the following piece started traveling the e-mail and blog circuit, claiming that the lousy French military record was the real reason why French President Jacques Chirac refused to fight terrorism. This may be true, but he also apparently liked Iraqi dinars more than US dollars, judging from how much France invested in Iraq ($60 billion before we got involved). The original author is unknown; here it is, with some corrections and additions from me:

Gallic Wars - Lost. In a war whose ending foreshadows the next 2,000 years of French history, France is conquered by, of all people, an Italian. The only two French heroes in this conflict are Vercingetorix, who won a small battle before losing the big one, and Asterix--a cartoon character! (58-51 B.C.)

Battle of Chalons - Won. Attila the Hun invades France, going farther west than any other Asiatic conqueror, before he is stopped by a coalition led by another Italian. This leads to the First Rule of French Warfare: "France's armies are victorious only when not led by a Frenchman." (451 A.D.)

Various Wars of the Merovingian and Carolingian kings - Mostly won, but while the Frankish kingdom was based in France, the kings were really German, so this is another case of the First Rule in action. The most talked-about battle, however, was a defeat--the ambush of Roland, one of Charlemagne's knights, by the Basques. Appropriately, the French made this a popular literature subject for the rest of the Middle Ages. (5th-9th centuries A.D.)

Viking Invasions - Lost, and lost, and lost. Finally the French buy off the Vikings by giving them Normandy to live in. This is one of the few land-for-peace deals that actually worked. (9th-10th centuries A.D.)

Norman Conquest of England - Won, mainly because the Normans were not fullblooded French but Viking-French hybrids (see the First Rule and the previous entry). (1066)

The Crusades - Mostly lost. French kings participated in four of them (the 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 8th). They walked out of the Third Crusade before the fighting started, and lost the other three. (1096-1291)

Hundred Years War - A narrow win at the buzzer. After losing for most of it, France is saved by a female schizophrenic who faithfully followed the First Rule of French Warfare (see above). A few years after the war began, the French exported the Black Death to England. And they have the nerve to complain about British beef. (1337-1453)

Battle of Nicopolis - Lost. The French and Hungarians march into the Balkans to drive out the Turks, but only the Hungarians come back. France learns the hard way that while perfect observance of the code of chivalry may get minstrels to write songs and poems about you (see Roland above), it won't help you win battles. (1396)

Burgundian-French War - Won. Swiss mercenaries save the day by killing the Duke of Burgundy. This creates the Second Rule of French Warfare: "France only wins when someone else does most of the fighting for them." (1474-1477)

Italian Wars of the Renaissance - Lost. France becomes the first and only country to lose two wars against the Italians. (1494-1559)

Wars of Religion - France goes 0-5-4 against the Huguenots (French Protestants). (late 16th-early 17th century)

Thirty Years War - This started out as a war between Germans, but France eventually gets involved. Though invaded before the war ended, France claims a tie because her Swedish partner won. (1618-1648)

War of Devolution - Tied. Frenchmen take to wearing red flowerpots as chapeaux. (1667-1678)

The Dutch War - Tied. Dutch tulip growers turn out to be tougher than expected. (1672-1678)

War of the Grand Alliance (also called War of the Augsburg League and King William's War) - Tied. Four ties in a row cause deluded Frogophiles to label the seventeenth century as the height of French military power. (1688-1697)

War of the Spanish Succession - Lost. The war also gave the French their first taste of a Marlborough, which they have loved ever since. (1701-1714)

War of the Quadruple Alliance - Won, with help from the British, Dutch and Austrians (remember the Second Rule). (1718-1720)

War of the Polish Succession - Tied. (1733-1735)

War of the Austrian Succession - Tied. (1740-1748)

French and Indian War (called the Seven Years War in Europe) - Lost. Britain got Canada and India in one of its most lop-sided victories ever. (1754-1763)

American Revolution - France claims a win, though the English colonists saw far more action. Later on, Americans would see the French make heavy use of the Second Rule, and call it the "de Gaulle Syndrome." (1775-1783)

French Revolution - Won, primarily due to the fact that the opponent was also French. (1789-1795)

The Napoleonic Wars - Lost. Temporary victories (remember the First Rule!) due to leadership of a Corsican, who ended up being no match for a British footwear designer. (1796-1815)

Greek War of Independence - Won. France sits out most of the war, then jumps in when Britain and Russia intervene. The Second Rule of French Warfare strikes again. (1821-1829)

Crimean War - Won. Defeated the primitive Russian army, as partners of the advanced British army. Also, another Napoleon (III) was leading the French at this point, so both the First and Second Rules apply here. (1853-1856)

Second War of Italian Unification - Won, but claimed as a tie. Napoleon III defeats the Austrians twice, then decides to cut and run, leaving the Italians with only half the land he had promised them. (1859)

Mexican-French War - Lost, and the Mexicans have been celebrating Cinco de Mayo ever since. (1862-1867)

The Franco-Prussian War - Lost. Germany first plays the role of drunk frat boy to France's ugly girl home alone on a Saturday night. (1870-1871)

Colonial Wars in Africa and Indochina - Won, primarily because France used the Foreign Legion, whose soldiers are not French. However, both the Vietnamese and the Algerians would provide a payback later on. (1858-1912)

Boxer Rebellion - Won. Together with the British, Germans, Russians, Japanese, Italians, Austrians and Americans, the French beat the sabre-wielding Chinese Boxers and Manchus. (1900)

World War I - Tied and on the way to losing, France is saved by the United States. Thousands of French women find out what it's like to not only sleep with a winner, but one who doesn't call her "Fraulein." Sadly, widespread use of condoms by American forces forestalls any improvement in the French bloodline. (1914-1918)

World War II - Lost. Hitler and the German army sleep soundly through the winter after conquering Poland, then arouse themselves to conquer France in six weeks. Hitler dances in front of the Eiffel Tower, while the French command staff retreats to Algeria, to institute a crash language program that teaches French soldiers how to say "I surrender" and "We surrender" in German. Four years later, the French are liberated by the United States, Canada and Britain, just as they finish learning the Horst Wessel Song. De Gaulle of it all . . . (1939-1945)

First Indochina War - Lost. French forces plead sickness, take to bed with the Dien Bien Flu. Then France passes the Vietnamese problem to the United States, proving that misery loves company. (1946-1954)

Algerian Rebellion - Lost. Loss marks the first defeat of a western army by a non-Turkic Moslem force since the Crusades, and produces the First Rule of Moslem Warfare: "We can always beat the French." This rule had already gone into the military manuals of the Italians, Japanese, Germans, English, Dutch, Mexicans, Vietnamese and Eskimos. (1954-1962)

Suez Canal Crisis - Tied. France, along with Britain and Israel, are forced to withdraw from Egypt, even though there was no military defeat. (1956)

1998 and 2018 World Cups - Won. France surprises everyone by beating Brazil, the perennial favorite. Twenty years later, France wins again by beating Croatia. These don't count as military victories, but are included to show that victory is possible. Now, about Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France . . .

War on Terror - France resents being left out of George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil," and settles for membership in the "Axis of Weasels," along with Germany, Belgium and Russia. Then, keeping in mind its recent history, France surrenders to the Moslems just to be safe. Attempts to surrender to the Vietnamese ambassador fail after he takes refuge in a McDonald's. (2001-)

"Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion. You just leave a lot of useless, noisy baggage behind."--Jed Babbin, former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense

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