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Bizet, Citizen Soldier


Composer Georges Bizet was a patriot. But the Franco-Prussian War and the occupation of Paris by Prussian troops put his patriotism to the test. It was 1871, and France was on the brink of civil war. In a letter to his uncle, Bizet summarized the situation:

“Thirty thousand men in Montmartre, Belleville, et cetera. Twenty-five thousand of who gave up at the first gunfire. In Paris, three hundred thousand men, a disgrace never to be forgotten, three hundred thousand cowards. I should say two hundred and ninety-five thousand because about five thousand men–I was among them–went to offer their services to the government. Despite our small numbers, despite our defective weapons, despite the lack of ammunition, we would have gone into action–insane as that sounds.

“They kept us waiting for eighteen hours. We saw not one superior officer, were not given a single order. At midnight some kind of staff officer showed up and advised us to go home.

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“Yesterday two of the Montmartre men called out to me, ‘Hey there, citizen, everything’s hunky-dory. Liquidate the reactionaries and save the social order.’

I said, ‘My lambs, have you thought of the Prussians?’ ‘What Prussians?’

‘Why the Prussians from Prussia, for pity’s sake. They’ll be on our necks.’ ‘No – this time we’ll boot ’em out for you!’

I looked the fellow right in the eye and said, ‘Yes, but this time you’d better not turn tail and run.’ The expression on his face said that he knew I had him pegged.”

Georges Bizet, writing from Paris in 1871 as the city slid into anarchy and violence brought on by the Franco-Prussian War. A few weeks later he and his wife would flee the city

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