1917 and the French Mutinies

Tuesday, November 14, 6 p.m.

When the French army emerged from the Great War victorious and exhausted in 1918, most people were happy to forget that one year earlier it had been shaken by a massive wave of disobedience, the 1917 mutinies. At the time, tens of thousands of soldiers refused to advance in the trenches, shouted “down with the war!” and seemed to threaten the war effort itself. This event left ambiguous traces in primary documents and in the memory of the war, mainly through the fate of the dozens of mutineers who were executed, while historians sought to minimize the mutinies extent or seriousness. Yet a renewed look at the mutinies, and at the discourses and practices of disobedience within them, can tell us much about the experience of war: what triggered protest and collective action? What were the aims and hopes of the mutineers, and to what extent were their actions framed in the languages of pacifism or class? How were soldierly and masculine identities affected by the crisis? How did the French senior command react and regain control of these men, and what was the lasting impact of this event on the way the war was waged? Can the French mutinies be compared to the Russian and German revolutionary disobedience of 1917-18? In short, what makes an army put down its weapons, or continue to fight?

This program is proudly presented in partnership with Park University, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy with support from the French Mission du centenaire de la Première Guerre mondiale.