Your RDA of Irony

Cinco de Mayo

May 5, 1862:  The French Army Has a Faux Pas

Imagine that you have been mugged 47 times but once managed to fight off an attacker.  Wouldn’t you have a holiday to commemorate your token triumph?  Perhaps you wouldn’t but Mexico does.  On this day in 1862, a threadbare, outnumbered Mexican force thwarted a French attack on the town of Puebla. 

But what were the French doing there in the first place?  Napoleon III–unlike Hamlet–admired his uncle and tried to be a world conqueror, too.  Mexico had defaulted on its international debts, and  France decided to collect the entire country.  America’s Monroe Doctrine would have opposed France’s invasion, but we were somewhat preoccupied with the Civil War.  Besides, Napoleon III could tell that the South was going to win; so why worry about the former United States. 

Of course, the battle of Puebla was an embarrassment to the French but hardly a decisive defeat.  The rebuffed invaders  simply awaited reinforcements; the next battle of Puebla would be a French victory.  So was the battle of Mexico City.  With much of the country under their control, in 1864 the French established a puppet government with the affable and very gullible Austrian Archduke Maximilian as the “Emperor of Mexico”. 

Mexican patriots, rallying around President Benito Juarez, remained defiant if not particularly intimidating.  But in 1865, the American government was prepared to offer Juarez more than sympathy:  General Grant and an army of 50,000 were ready to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.  And suddenly the French decided to leave.  Unfortunately, the Emperor Maximilian did not.  He was certain that the Mexican people would like him once they got to know him.  He might have been right; but that evidently wasn’t the case with his firing squad. 

(The humiliated French would attempt to take out their frustration on the Prussians.  Any idea how well that worked out?  I wonder if Juarez sent Bismarck a complimentary sombrero.)

So today Mexico celebrates doing to the French what it wished it had done to us.  

  1. TonyHuf says:

    Never mind, it inspired a wonderful painting by Manet. There’s a a very interesting story about it, Keynes, Vanessa Bell et al here….


    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Tony, That was interesting. Thank you. By no coincidence, I had already posted the Manet painting on Facebook. Being a fatuous American, I am more likely to mention the wonderfully corny Warner Bros.–all star–melodrama “Juarez.” Bette Davis as Carlotta, Claude Rains as Louis Napoleon–central casting never had a better day! (All right, John Garfield as Porferio Diaz–not so plausible.)

      • TonyHuf says:

        With that cast it can only be wonderful. Less of your fatuous, please: visiting your art galleries last year, I noticed that you Americans had been very quick off the mark to buy the impressionists in bulk and probably didn’t have to resort to low tricks to get them at discount either.

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