Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bastille Day: Heritage or Hate?

On July 14, 1789 the Bastille - symbol of absolute monarchical power in France - was stormed and the French Revolution officially began. And (drumroll, please) the tricolor cockade was born!

Many good things came from the storming of the Bastille. World politics altered dramatically as France went from an absolute monarchy to a (mostly) constitutional republic. Clothing fashions were simplified as the sharp divisions between classes were eroded in the revolution. Philosophies about freedom, government and the rights of mankind were overhauled across the globe.

In fact, the French Revolution's influence was so great that it even reverberated in the cockades that are worn to this day around the world.

But bad things happened during the French Revolution too. Should we even remember this holiday? Should we be ashamed of the past? And (most important to me!) should we wear cockades to celebrate the day?

Cockades Were Divisive 
Cockades were often worn during great debates or hostilities in history. For instance, American colonists wore black eagle cockades as a symbol of their struggle for independence from Great Britain. Pro-Unionists and Pro-Secessionists both wore cockades during the War Between the States. Suffragettes wore cockades during the fight for women's voting rights. Both men and women wore Temperance cockades during the battle for Prohibition.

And of course, French Revolutionaries wore tricolor cockades in their conflict against the French Royalists (who wore white cockades).

Strife and Division! Why Remember It? 
So why remember these times of strife? The answer: Great struggles in history provide us with examples of great heroes - and great villains. Not only can we learn from both, we often find they are ordinary people just like us.

A simple farmer donning a cockade and going to war for his country may seem like a small character in the vast field of time. His action may have put not only his life but also his livelihood and his home on the line. We might look at him and wonder if it was truly worth it for him to take up "cause and cockade." But these thousands of "small" examples of courage add up to movements that changed the entire course of human events.

People who took donned a cockade in the past often risked losing everything - but the stakes would literally change history.

Why We Need to Remember 
Are there causes to take up today? Are there battles that need to be fought and issues that need to be debated? Of course there are! People aren't perfect and there are always ways that society could be improved.

Therefore, we need heroes today as much as we did in the past. We need people today who will have the courage of their ancestors - who will take the risk of standing for a cause (and putting on a cockade if need be!). And we need, more than ever, the encouragement and example of the heroes of the past.

Great atrocities were committed on both sides during the French Revolution. No one debates that. On the royalist side, the Bastille was a fortress used by the king to arbitrarily and without trial hold political prisoners. On the revolutionary side, many people were pointlessly and brutally executed.

But when the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille, a symbol of the king's absolute despotic power, the entire foundation of monarchical despotism began to crumble.


Lessons for Today
Remembering history does not mean we glorify wrong-doing. Neither does remembering history mean that we deify those who did right. They were fallible men and women, just like us.

Remembering history means that we learn from mistakes and successes alike to be better men and women today. Slogans like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" (the French Revolution) or "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" (the American Revolution) are merely fine-sounding words... until someone has the courage to put on a cockade and step out to make it happen.

Though not everything that occurred on Bastille Day was admirable, the end result brought an explosion of the principles of freedom around the world. That's worth remembering - and that's worth celebrating!

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