Greater France and the Great War

Saturday, January 4, 2014: 10:00 AM
Columbia Hall 11 (Washington Hilton)
Richard S. Fogarty, University at Albany (State University of New York)
I will discuss France’s role in the First World War by keeping “La plus grande France” (or “Greater France,” as the combined entity of the nation and its overseas possessions was known) very much in focus.  In keeping with the roundtable’s aim to widen the story of the war beyond the Western Front, the essay will examine both the ways the war affected France’s colonies, reaching into the lives and spaces of empire in profound ways, and the contributions of the colonies to the war effort, providing men and other resources to help France prosecute the war on the Western Front and beyond.  The participation of more than 500,000 non-European colonial subjects as soldiers, and another 200,000 as workers, in the war effort in Europe is a vivid part of this story, but the economic and financial contributions of the colonies were also important.  All these aspects of colonial participation in the French war effort affected the war, metropolitan France, and the colonies themselves in profound ways.  Greater France’s war story is critical to an understanding of the Great War as a whole not only because the decisive fighting on the Western Front occurred on French soil, but also because the huge extent of the French colonial empire at the time—then the world’s second largest and stretching from North and West Africa, to Madagascar, Indochina, the Pacific, and the Caribbean—helped ensure that the war was truly global.  In short, in concert with other contributions to this roundtable discussion, taking the role of empire seriously—both generally and in the specific case of Greater France—is critical to helping us to understand the Great War in all its magnitude and complexity.
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