Europe’s Perpetual Wars – Franco-Prussian Edition

A common understanding is that the root cause of World War II lay in World War I, which itself has been called a consequence of the earlier French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Since that 1870 war is another of the huge holes in my education, I tracked down a pre-Woke history of the conflict – “The Franco-Prussian War: the German invasion of France, 1870 - 1871”, by Michael Howard, 512 pages, (1961).

As for the causes of war in Europe, the answer appears to be that it is turtles all the way down. The Prussians in 1870 were angry about earlier French invasions, which stemmed from even earlier conflicts between those uniformly white Europeans …

The immediate casus belli in 1870 was ridiculous, even by the standards of Europe. The Spanish had asked a junior member of the Prussian ruling Hohenzollern family to accept the then-empty throne of Spain. Napoleon III treated this “Hohenzollern Candidature” as an insult to France, and the slide into conflict began. As Mr. Howard writes: “Thus, by a tragic combination of ill-luck, stupidity, and ignorance France blundered into war with the greatest military power that Europe had yet seen, in a bad cause, with her army unready, and without allies”.

In Mr. Howard’s telling, Prussia was hardly a well-oiled machine, with tensions and disputes between King (later Kaiser) William, diplomat Bismark, and army chief von Moltke. But the French side was much worse.

France prepared to attack in the summer of 1870, but the Prussians pre-empted the planned French assault. The Prussians with their South German allies invaded France and in the space of a few months eliminated three separate 100,000+ man French armies – the first trapped uselessly in the fortress of Metz in eastern France; the second utterly destroyed at the Battle of Sedan near the Belgian border; while the third threw down their arms and walked across the border into Switzerland. By then, Napoleon III was himself a captive in Prussia, while his politically powerful Empress had fled to England. Paris was cut off, besieged, and hungry. France was prostrate. And yet the Prussians had difficulties finding any authority in France that could reliably surrender and end the war.

The message from this and other European misadventures is that it is a lot easier to start a war than to end one – a lesson “Joe Biden” should have learned from his debacle in Afghanistan, and a lesson to which we should all pay heed in the current mess in the Ukraine.

As a side note, I am an enthusiast of older histories which were written before Political Correctness undermined academia. Mr. Howard’s 1961 history has many footnotes in which he supports statements in his text with quotes from relevant French and Prussian sources – quotations in the original French and German. Hey! He was writing for an educated audience; we all read French & German, don’t we?


Bismarck resigned or was dismissed in 1890. He died in 1898.

The concert of Europe he mostly created remained intact for 24 years after his dismissal


From MVC’s website, an interesting satire piece vaguely connected.

As an aside, William S. Lind recently published the New Maneuver Warfare Handbook (Amazon link)

His announcement in this article.