Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Alsace-Lorraine and Prussia

Alsace-Lorraine is a French state, comprised of 5,500 square miles....roughly ten percent the size of Alabama.  The geographic description?  Well....it's mostly farming land, surrounded by forests, and some coal fields in the local region.Strasbourg is located there, and stands as a fairly large town with major connections to the European Union today (their hub, so to speak).

Alsace-Lorraine is also one of those ten little stumbling blocks leading into World War I.  Historians glance over it....usually put up a paragraph, and then move on.

Prior to the 1870s period....Alsace-Lorraine was simply a French state, with a large concentration of Catholics (over seventy percent).  Prior to the consolidation of German states and cities into the Prussian empire....the locals enjoyed a bit of business with their neighbors and peppered their language with both French and German.  Most locals probably felt they were destined to be a trading point between the Germans and the French....and little else.  The Franco-Prussian War changed that.

The war was actually brief (July 1870 to May 1871).  What can be said in terms of military tactics related to the short war....is that Germany was fully prepared, and moving on day one.  A plan set into motion, with troops at the right positions within days....not weeks or months.  The French probably never saw it coming or just felt it was another tension episode and nothing else.  Toss in modern weapons and newer technology....the Prussians were easily prepared for battle.

In terms of literature and writings over the brief war.....it was one of the most published episodes in European history.  The Prussians....as victors....enjoyed the writings and gained some glory over the perceived heroic actions.

So when the smoke cleared, there was the peace agreement, and this split among the Prussian government became obvious.  Bismarck and the Bundestag didn't see any big reason to annex Alsace-Lorraine as a state into Prussia.  A fair amount has been written over the objections and lack of benefits.  Other than some coal reserves, which Prussia already had in abundance....it served no real purpose.

However, this was Prussia, and there's only groups that really matter when it comes to authority and decisions.  The Prussian military saw Alsace-Lorraine as a buffer-zone, and as a "gift" for the efforts put into this brief war.  The Kaiser tended to agree.  So in the end, Alsace-Lorraine took down the French flag, and put up the Prussian flag.  They would be a German state.

You can imagine this type of scenario playing out today and how locals would be sarcastic and cynical over their new boss and flag.  From 1871 to 1913....Alsace-Lorraine was more of a thorn in the side of Prussia, than an asset.

In the beginning, Prussia was tolerant of the French language being used, and the native school system continue on with no real significant changes.  It wasn't until the 1890s....that things tended to draft off into a negative situation, and the younger generation who grew up in this situation....are the ones who were more frustrated.

To say they were accepting of the deal...would be wrong.  The 1871 peace treaty had one singular piece which dealt with residents of Alsace-Lorraine....you had a year to announce that you didn't like the deal, and you could leave.  What historians say....is that ten percent of the region's residents packed up and moved back into France.  After that point, if you stayed....you were a Alsace-Lorraine Prussian....more or less.

Generally, for two decades.....things kinda simmered.  To be truthful, the Prussians kinda left the locals to their own management, with only minimal connections back to Prussia itself.  Of course, the one ingredient into this episode that no one really thought much about.....there had to be Prussian troops in Alsace-Lorraine.  

Generally, what Prussians felt about residents of Alsace-Lorraine?  Well....the term inferior got brought up daily.  It would be the same as Americans viewing Mexico today.  Prussian troops in the area.....took this attitude and displayed it openly.

So tomorrow....I'll blog the key event which dragged Alsace-Lorraine directly into the war....the Saverne Affair (or Zabern Affair if you are a German).

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