'Twas Bastille Day on Monday, and the troops of the Republic paraded in front of the presidents of Syria, Palestine and Egypt.
Also that day a colleague returned from his holiday in the Vendee - the pretty bit of France just below Brittany, and site of the first truly modern massacres - a blueprint for future genocides.
When the Catholic people of the Vendee rose against the anti-clerical French Revolution, a policy of extermination was decided on by the young Republic - and ruthlessly carried out. Perhaps half the population were killed.
The French general Francois Joseph Westermann penned a letter to the Committee of Public Safety stating “There is no more Vendée. It died with its wives and its children by our free sabres. I have just buried it in the woods and the swamps of Savenay. According to the orders that you gave me, I crushed the children under the feet of the horses, massacred the women who, at least for these, will not give birth to any more brigands. I do not have a prisoner to reproach me. I have exterminated all. The roads are sown with corpses. At Savenay, brigands are arriving all the time claiming to surrender, and we are shooting them non-stop... Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment."
"Mercy is not a revolutionary sentiment". We were to hear those words a few more times in the next couple of hundred years.
They really were modern men and women, those revolutionaries.
"Not one is to be left alive." "Women are reproductive furrows who must be ploughed under." "Only wolves must be left to roam that land." "Fire, blood, death are needed to preserve liberty." "Their instruments of fanaticism and superstition must be smashed." These were some of the words the Convention used in speaking of Vendee. Their tame scientists dreamed up all kinds of new ideas - the poisoning of flour and alcohol and water supplies, the setting up of a tannery in Angers which would specialise in the treatment of human skins; the investigation of methods of burning large numbers of people in large ovens, so their fat could be rendered down efficiently. One of the Republican generals, Carrier, was scornful of such research: these 'modern' methods would take too long. Better to use more time-honoured methods of massacre: the mass drownings of naked men, women, and children, often tied together in what he called "republican marriages", off specially constructed boats towed out to the middle of the Loire and then sunk; the mass bayoneting of men, women and children; the smashing of babies' heads against walls; the slaughter of prisoners using cannons; the most grisly and disgusting tortures; the burning and pillaging of villages, towns and churches.
Back in the UK, some confusion in Guardianista land. Is, as Poll Pot asserts, everything getting better and better, thanks to those dedicated social workers ? Or, as Jeremy Seabrook would have it, is everything getting worse and worse - thanks to the evil forces of capital ? We'll let you be the judge.
Dalrymple. What is Poverty? is an old piece, but completely relevant to the debate.