The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview

7
The Price of Success

Soult's success in helping Belgium achieve independence proved ultimately very expensive for French interests. Intervention in the Low Countries had sounded the tocsin of nationalism in Germany, and France's brash foreign policy, always eager to make gains -- especially, so it seemed, at German expense -- helped slowly but irrevocably to dissolve the barriers of particularism and distrust that plagued the German states. Inside France, the victory seemingly justified the government's aggressive foreign policy. At the same time it strongly suggested that the army was perfectly adequate to sustain similar initiatives -- perhaps in the Rhineland or northern Italy.

What the politicians and popular press might trumpet as French might, newly displayed in Belgium, was viewed with few illusions by the army itself. French boldness had stirred potentially powerful enemies; the crisis had nearly resurrected the Quadruple Alliance. Having escaped this frightening possibility in 1830-1832, the army was haunted by this vision for the rest of the decade. In the vanguard of such a coalition would stand the German Confederation. Over the next seven years as the army considered important institutional changes and examined new weapons and tactics, it began to watch Germany ever more carefully, viewing the Confederate powers as an increasingly important member of any anti-French coalition.

All the French Army's attempts to elicit increased funding or raise its troop strength to meet this threat failed. Efforts to increase its forces foundered in an aura of success that cloaked the country's persistent anti-militarism and desire for retrenchment in army funding. Even during the continuing crisis of 1830-1832 parliament had balked at Soult's attempts to reform army recruiting. 1 The war minister had sought to rectify the major weakness in the 1818 (Gouvion Saint-Cyr's) law: its failure to provide France with trained reserves. His efforts ultimately foundered on the fundamental dichotomy that was to doom every attempt at recruiting reform before 1870: the bitter debate over the army's role as an agent of social control. Conservatives were well satisfied with the long-service, politically reliable, professional army. Realizing fully how much the French people, especially the increasingly powerful bourgeoisie, resented compulsory military service, the Right saw no advantages in cre

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