BETWEEN PERSISTENCE AND CHANGE
THE NATURAL AROMA of moist turf still hung in the air. A midday downpour had laid the dust on the Longchamp, but the martial enthusiasm of the anxious throng that packed the viewing stands had not been dampened in the least. By 3 o'clock, over 100,000 patriots had made the short journey through the Bois de Boulogne from Paris to the parade grounds. For 6 years the Republic had celebrated Bastille Day with a great military review. Because no Frenchman wanted to remember a time when it had not been so, a new tradition had been born.
No one was disappointed by 14 July 1886. The main attraction was the dashing new minister of war, General Georges Boulanger. 1 Since January, his flurry of reforms had energized the army and turned the heads of a bored populace. Military education was modernized and reorganized. Many of the exemptions and loopholes were removed from France's compulsory military service. He improved food in the mess halls, painted sentry boxes with red, white, and blue stripes; and permitted the soldiers to be men again by allowing them to grow beards. Boulanger's energy and machismo told patriots that there would be surprises for the Hun if war broke out.
Indeed France was in the midst of a remarkable military revival. From the shambles of an army left after the debacle of 1870, its generals and politicians had reconstructed an impressive force.