Sadly, veterans of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War have (likely) passed away. But it was not so long ago that French newspapers would run occasional mentions of an ‘incident’ involving a grizzled French military vet throwing his Merlot at a middle manager from an international conglomerate. Those irrepressible old coots came to their loathing of MBAs honestly, as the last survivors of a war which helped turn the world into the dull, competence-worshipping boot factory we find ourselves in today.
In the middle years of the 19th century, the European balance of power was shifting (as was its wont). France found itself with another Napoleon as Emperor, albeit one pursuing liberal economic policies and looking after the French reputation for classy living. Just as one great album can make a band’s reputation, so too did the recent memory of Napoleon Bonaparte kicking everybody’s ass linger in European minds. Or at least in French minds. Napoleon III felt this strongly enough, in fact, that he took the time to declare, “The Empire means peace,” as if everybody was still worried.
To the Northeast, meanwhile, Prussia was on the rise. The 1866 Austro-Prussian War had made Prussia the dominant German state, and now they were busy constructing a modern military. Chief of the General Staff Helmuth von Moltke turned Prussia’s General Staff (already unique in Europe) into its most formidable weapon of war. His intense and superb officer training created highly skilled and motivated officers who could be trusted to ably and quickly maneuver the armies placed under their command. While France maintained the European tradition of an officer corps concerned with carefully sculpted facial hair and chic winter tunics, the Prussian General Staff was an unparalleled war-mongering think tank, devoting all their time to applying science, industry, and history to military advantage.
In addition to a superior, if somewhat less entertaining, army structure, the Prussian state also benefited from the leadership of the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck. This aristocrat spent a rather unimpressive spell in the Prussian army among the bosoms of buxom beerwenches. As he aged and the wenches’ affections waned, Bismarck turned his attention to the other great pastime of the aristocratic class: political machinations. Armed with the forward-thinking notion that the great questions of the day are decided “through iron and blood,” Bismarck set out to unify the German states. Goaded by tension relations and Bismarck’s cagey diplomacy (or lack thereof), France declared war on Prussia on July 19th, 1870. Seen as the victims of French aggression, the other Germanic states came to Prussia’s defense.
France’s war mobilization effort was hampered by paperwork, confusion, and fur-trimmed parade gaiters which did not match the regimental livery. By contrast, the Prussian General Staff used the dense Prussian railroad system to mobilize nearly half a million troops in three weeks. The well-equipped and well-trained Prussian forces won a series of victories over the French in August 1870. As the Prussians moved into France (the beginning of that habit), Napoleon III and his top general Marshal MacMahon decided it was a good time to tackle the pressing issue of prison reform. They formed an army out of 130,000 pressed-in prisoners from Parisian jails. Surprisingly, this army lacked discipline.
In a last-ditch attempt to stop the Prussian advance, Napoleon and MacMahon fortified their forces on high ground around the city of Sedan in Northern France. Sadly, they did not occupy the highest ground (a reoccurring problem: see Dien Bien Phu). The Prussians surrounded Napoleon’s army, set up their best-in-class artillery on the higher ground, and fired down upon the French troops. On September 1st, after a few days of shelling and some disastrous charges, Napoleon III surrendered. The Prussians captured the French Emperor, over 100,000 French soldiers, and several thousand monogrammed silver cigarette cases. While fighting continued until 1871, the war was essentially over.
Drink: Iron and Blood
- German apple cider
- Bierstiefel (aka the German beer boot)
- iron shot glass
- red food coloring
- Lay the groundwork for a unified drink by placing the ingredients together on a table.
- Prepare a hearty shot of 60/40 Goldschlager to Jager.
- Pour yourself a Bierstiefel of warm apple cider.
- At the opportune moment, drop the shot into the cider, unifying the German ingredients.
- Add red food coloring to taste (depending on your views on the necessity of blood in solving the questions of the day).
- Drink victoriously and salute a brilliant future!