Une question d’honneur entre gentilshommes? Les officiers français prisonniers et l’usage politique de la parole d’honneur pendant la guerre franco-prussienne de 1870-1871

Translated title of the contribution: Honour among gentlemen? : Captured French officers and the politics of parole d’honneur in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870/71

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Abstract

Much ink has been spilled over whether the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 constituted a milestone on the road to total war. While the present article does not propose to settle the debate, it challenges the binary approach to Franco-German enmity that informs many explanations for the excesses on both sides. Honing in on the large number of prisoners taken by the German (372,000) and French (8,000) armies, the article argues that the conflict produced some surprising transnational convergences in the way captives interpreted patriotic duty and honour. Thanks to Europe’s rich heritage of ‘cosmopolitan customary law’, officers enjoyed the right to give parole in return for freedom of movement in captivity. Any abuse of this privilege put at risk not only an officer’s personal honour as a gentleman but the reputation of his sovereign and the good name of the nation whom he served. Yet French officers’ temptation to abscond grew when their country faced a shortage of experienced commanders after the disastrous capitulations of Sedan, Strasbourg and Metz. The escape of three high-profile generals, Aguste Ducrot, Eugene Barral and Albert Cambriels, makes clear that the ensuing moral dilemma divided opinions across national borders and generated affinities between enemies who held to the same honour code.
Translated title of the contributionHonour among gentlemen? : Captured French officers and the politics of parole d’honneur in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870/71
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)107-122
JournalRevue d'histoire du XIXe siècle
Volume60
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2020

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