Analysis / Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys

France has never been shy of war; far from it, France is one of the most warlike countries ever to exist. However, this never translated into France becoming a normal, continent-spanning Empire (like the Qin, Han, Tang, Ming, Qing, Mughal, Persian, Mongol, Ottoman, or Roman Empires) but remaining a small, European-style state that was largely ethnically homogenousnote . At any rate, in a millenia of warfare France's incredibly bloody record has more than a few bright spots:

  • American victory in The American Revolution was achieved chiefly through French force of arms. The most pivotal role was arguably played by the French Navy, assisted by the Spanish, which kept the British from being able to reinforce or supply their forces in North America. The United States' Continental Army was led, trained, and equipped by and to the standards of the French Royal Army, though a German impostor did much of the 'training' bit.
  • The French ultimately won the Hundred Years' War against the English, with the help of a teenage farm girl as well as superior overall planning. In fact, the French actually came out of the conflict holding more territory than they had before. Still, the war was characterized by three 'hot' periods and two 'cold' periods. The English won decisively the first hot period, while the French won a limited victory in the second and a complete victory in the third, taking bites out of the domains of the Counts of Burgundy, England's allies in the war. Ultimately, England ended up losing their territories on the continent, which were gobbled up by France.
  • In the 17th and 18th century, Louis XIV led many successful military campaigns in Europe. Despite victory, however, Louis' campaigns did not appreciably increase French power (which may not be saying much, as France was the most powerful state in Europe long before and after Louis) and were extremely expensive, forcing the French government into debt, beginning the falling of the fiscal dominoes that would eventually result in France's bankruptcy and the French Revolution.
  • Charlemagne and Napoleon Bonaparte (who was ethnically Italian, but born after the French took over) also led many French victories and conquered almost all of Europe. The achievements of both nevertheless came to naught. In Charlemagne's case, his heirs split his empire into three (much weaker) kingdoms, while Napoleon's reign ended with the France's complete defeat, restoration of the Bourbon dynasty, and the end of the Revolution.
  • During the First World War, the French kicked enormous amounts of ass, especially considering their best industrial land was overrun in the first weeks, bearing the brunt of Allied casualties in the Western Front and claiming the majority of Allied victories in the West. In the Second World War, the French Resistance had much tactical significance, in that the Allies coordinated their actions with those of the invasion force, giving some pretty spectacular results. However, their overall impact on the course of the second war has often been overstated.
  • The Free French Forces led by General De Gaulle kicked some ass during World War II alongside the Allies. They said This is BIR HAKEIM! to Rommel, covering the British retreat in the process.
  • Finally, the French have a reputation for revolutions. From the Jacquerie during the Middle Ages, over to the French Revolution, the Communards and Mai 1968. When it comes to senselessly slaughtering people, the French did their fair share by sending thousands to the guillotine.
  • As for unambiguous French defeats, the two most serious are certainly the Seven Years War (1756-1763), in which they lost all of their New World domains (some of which Napoleon later recovered and sold to the United States), and the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), during which Emperor Napoleon III was captured in battle. The Prussians then forced the French to cede Alsace-Lorraine, pay a five billion franc indemnity, and allow the coronation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor at Versailles, Louis XIV's palace.
  • The current French political system is called the Fifth Republic. In fact during the same time the United States and United Kingdom have kept more or less the same political system, France has gone through five republics, three kingdoms and two empires. This is due in no small part to the French tendency to change management style after an unsuccessful war. Losing or even not exactly losing a series of wars led to the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy in the The French Revolution. Poor results in the French revolutionary wars led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. His defeat at Waterloo led to the Bourbon restoration. France then went through a sort-of-absolute-monarchy, replaced by a sort-of-constitutional-monarchy (the July monarchy), another republic when they got tired of that and then elected a nephew of Napoleon president and then emperor. When Napoleon III lost the Franco-Prussian War France got to republic number three. After being overrun by Germans twice that got replaced by republic number four. After a series of frustrating colonial wars, Charles De Gaulle instituted the Fifth Republic which as of 2014 has stuck. Lampshaded in the Larry Bond techno thriller Cauldron where they end up with the Sixth Republic after losing yet another war.
  • The one thing that needs to be taken account is the advantage of geography. England is separated from Continental Europe by water and the last person to conquer England, a Norman by the name of William the Conqueror (who is technically French), did so nearly 1,000 years ago. For most of modern English history, England did not have to live in constant fear of being overrun on all sides like Continental nations with their interconnected land borders. The main target for English invasion is from the Channel and Dover, whereas France, being Hexagonal in shape, constantly fears Everything Trying to Kill You thanks to its thin land and water borders. Spain on its South with the mountain pass of Pyrenees being a single buffer, in the North it has England across the narrow channel with Germany, Netherlands, Italy on its sides and the Mediterranean coast that leaves it open from invasion from Africa, Italy and other regions there. As such it has greater vulnerability than both the United States and England. No nation can do anything about its geographical advantages or lack thereof and based on what France has, its achievements are pretty good.

In a nutshell, the French are neither as incompetent as they are sometimes portrayed, nor as capable as they might have been.