The centenary of the First World War has given rise to numerous publications on this conflict. This editorial abundance contrasts very strongly with the scarcity of publications on what can be considered as the real first world war: the Seven Years' War (1756-1763). Edmond Dziembowski finally publishes at Perrin the great modern synthesis on this too often neglected event.
The Seven Years' War, a real World War I?
At the origins of the Seven Years' War, there is, as often, a simple accident. In 1754, in present-day Pennsylvania, Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville and Canadian officer, was killed by troops commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Washington. For a long time, the circumstances of his death were murky, with French patriotic writings having a good time attacking British ferocity. In fact, it seems today that the assassination of Jumonville was carried out by an Amerindian, the situation of these indigenous peoples becoming more and more untenable while the rivalry between the two colonial powers, France and Great Britain, was exacerbating. If all the ingredients were in place from the Jumonville affair, it was not until two years later that the conflict took an official turn. From 1756, this war started in America, gained European ground through the game of alliances and contaminated as far as India.
At first, the circumstances seem favorable to France. In America, the French can notably rely on the Amerindians to beat the pawn with the red tunics. They are indeed good connoisseurs of the terrain and adepts of methods of warfare which disconcert the enemy. France also inaugurates the reversal of alliances, finding itself here making common cause with Austria despite very divergent territorial interests. England, for its part, made an alliance with the Prussia of Frederick II. Little by little, with in particular the extension of the conflict to Europe and Asia, the situation turned around. French India is lost and, in Europe, Frederick II turns out to be a formidable adversary. These circumstances, combined with many others, lead to England's final victory.
Nevertheless, this war has changed a lot of things, both for the winner and the loser. In England, political life has become more radical, the press has become more virulent, the people are now an element to be reckoned with and not just parliament. Likewise, the question of taxation in America, which arises as a result of the debts generated by the war, lays the foundations for the future American Revolution. In France, patriotism has crept in everywhere, it is omnipresent in the cultural and literary landscape and already announces the patterns of thought at work during the Revolution; Edmond Dziembowski shows in particular that avatars of La Marseillaise exist from this period.
This book provides a good understanding of how major this conflagration was and how it helped shape a Europe whose great powers would remain the same until the First World War. It also largely defeats the idea of a "lace war" still too often associated with the 18th century.
Dziembowski also endeavors to show the important role that propaganda could have played during these years. The analysis is remarkable and we find there the favorite themes of the author. These are undoubtedly the most fascinating pages. Indeed, if the production of a modern synthesis required describing the different phases of the conflict, this large work therefore includes many pages of battle history. By doing so, it risks falling out of the hands of those who are not particularly fond of it. Moreover, insofar as it is published in partnership with the Ministry of Defense, this tropism is explained all the more. We regret it all the same a little because it also seems to generate a rather obsolete style with which the author is however not usually familiar. Perhaps we should suspect editorial advice. Indeed, this obsolescence also contributes to making this work a piece cut for certain prices, in particular of the French Academy. Also, it is not surprising that he won the Prix Guizot. Likewise, the Chateaubriand Prize, awarded by the Hauts-de-Seine General Council and which has nothing to envy of the French Academy in terms of conservatism, was awarded to him more recently. Hopefully, in the future, it is also the more innovative work of Dziembowski that will be recognized in this way.
Edmond Dziembowski, The Seven Years' War, 1756-1763, Perrin, 2015.