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Dying for France: Experiencing and Representing the Soldier’s Death, 1500-2000

In the past century Western attitudes toward the soldier’s death have undergone a remarkable transformation. Widely accepted at the time of the First World War – when nearly ten million soldiers died in uniform – as a redemptive sacrifice on behalf of the nation, the soldier’s death is increasingly regarded as an unacceptable tragedy.

In Dying for France Ian Germani considers this transformation in the context of the history of France over the expanse of five centuries, from the Renaissance to the present. Blending military history with the history of culture and mentalities, Germani explores key episodes in the history of France’s wars to show how patriotic models of the soldier’s death eclipsed those inspired by the aristocratic code of honour, before themselves giving way to disillusioned representations. First-hand testimony of soldiers, surgeons, and others provides the basis for vivid descriptions of how a soldier encountered death, on and away from the battlefield. Works of art and print culture are used to analyze how soldiers’ deaths were represented to the public and to discern how popular attitudes evolved over time. Encompassing France’s major external conflicts and its civil wars, this study also considers the experiences of soldiers recruited from the French colonial empire.

Relating changes in the perception of military mortality to broader changes in society’s relationship with death, Dying for France highlights essential turning points in the rise and fall of the patriotic ideal of the soldier’s death.

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