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Vaincre ou Mourir, which debuted in France last week, depicts an oft-forgotten chapter of French history: the War in the Vendée. The film follows real-life heroes from the Catholic and Royal Army as they fight against the atheistic soldiers of the French Revolution.
The film has sparked outrage from French leftists and media elites for its disparaging portrayal of the murderous anti-Catholic French Republic. Critic Paul Quinio wrote that the film "is one more indication that accredits the existence of a conservative offensive currently in France." Quinio reminded his readers that although they might "rejoice" in the defeat of conservative politicians like Éric Zemmour — who he says "embod[ies] this reactionary counter-revolution" — "this cultural and ideological battle is far from behind us."
Other critics have taken similar stances, decrying the film's pro-Catholic narrative and insisting the genocidal Republican soldiers aren't really the villains.
Vaincre ou Mourir portrays the historically marginalized struggle of French peasants in the coastal Vendée region against the atheistic Republican forces of the French Revolution.
The War in the Vendée began in 1793. The people were already incensed at the execution of King Louis XVI and angered at the new Republic's Civil Constitution of the Clergy, which placed priests and bishops under the authority of the State and forbade allegiance or obedience to the Pope. But a mass conscription order was the final straw. The Vendeans first rebelled against the revolutionaries after their churches were closed and their priests were exiled, imprisoned or killed. In March 1793, rioters organized under the leadership of the Catholic nobility and formed the Catholic and Royal Army.
The film focuses on one of those Catholic leaders, François de Charette. Born a nobleman, Charette fought in the American Revolutionary War while serving in the French Navy. He later fought at the Tuileries Palace, defending King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from the revolutionaries. Upon returning to the Vendée, Charette was asked to lead Catholic militants, and he accepted. He led his troops to several decisive victories and always demanded mercy and Christian charity be shown to prisoners.
After the Republican soldiers butchered a convent full of nuns, priests and refugee peasants, Charette agreed to a treaty with the new Republican government. The government guaranteed freedom of religion, allowing Catholics to continue practicing their faith, and pledged not to conscript peasants for the military. When the Republic broke its terms, harassed Catholics and continued conscripting peasants, Charette took up arms once again. He was wounded and captured in battle, put on trial by the Republic and executed by firing squad in 1796, at the age of 32.
Another one of the Catholic military leaders was Jacques Cathelineau, nicknamed the "saint of Anjou." Unlike Charette, Cathelineau was not a nobleman, nor did he have military experience. But when his faith and his countrymen were threatened, he took up arms and was quickly made the lead general of the Catholic and Royal Army.
Cathelineau led his men to victory after victory, always marching alongside his men instead of directing them from the rear. He was wounded in battle and died in 1793. The diocese of Angers opened the cause for his canonization in the late 1800s, but a chancery fire destroyed most of the documents collected.
Another Vendean Catholic hero was Maurice d'Elbée. Initially a supporter of the French Revolution, d'Elbée became quickly disenchanted with the new republic's hostility towards his beloved Catholic faith.
According to one legend, when men under his command proposed to execute Republican prisoners in a spirit of vengeance, d'Elbée ordered them first to pray the "Our Father." As his men intoned the line "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," d'Elbée interrupted them, roaring, "Do not lie to your God." The prisoners were spared.
D'Elbée was wounded in battle and captured by the Republicans. Unable to stand from his wounds, he was publicly executed while sitting in a chair.
The Vendean Catholics were eventually crushed by the atheistic Republican regime. General Louis Marie Turreau carried out an operation known as the "infernal columns," resulting in the murder of an estimated 50,000 Vendean men, women and children. General François Joseph Westermann reportedly bragged in letters about having "trampled their children beneath our horses' feet" and having "massacred their women, so they will no longer give birth to brigands."
Priests and nuns were massacred, including Bl. Guillaume Repin. One Vendean monk reported that the Republicans crushed women beneath wine presses and mounted children atop bayonets. Historian Reynald Secher argues that the Republic's handling of the War in the Vendée was the first modern genocide; numerous other historians concur.
Today, the perpetrators of this atheistic, anti-Catholic genocide are defended by critics and journalists, revisionist historians and even politicians. Quinio decries Vaincre ou Mourir's depiction of "good royalists against bad Republicans," absolving the Republicans of their countless brutalities and denigrating the merciful, patriotic Catholics.
If France is unwilling to learn from its own history, it will repeat its darkest chapters — and is indeed already doing so. French legislators are lobbying to enumerate abortion (the murder of an unborn child) as a right under the nation's constitution and promoting euthanasia.