On July 14, 1989 the great nation of France celebrated its bicentennial with enormous fanfare. The problem was that most impartial observers couldn't quite figure out exactly what they were celebrating.

The French Revolution started well enough with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 followed by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in August. In 1792 a Republic was formally declared and Louis XVI was guillotined. Okay, so far so good. But shortly afterward things started to go terribly wrong. 1793 saw the rise of Robespierre and the Reign of Terror during which time just about anyone with an opinion that ran contrary to Robespierre's was executed. Some say as many as 40,000 lost their lives. In 1795 Robespierre himself was arrested and executed after which the "Directory" (which was the second consecutive dictatorship after Robespierre's) took control and held power until 1799 when Napoleon (dictatorship #3) declared himself Emperor. After Napoleon was kicked out in 1814 the so-called monarchy was re-established. Then there was the constitutional monarchy, the four years of the Second Republic and then the second Empire under Napolean's nephew which ended in 1870. After that you had the Government of National Defense, the Paris Commune and so forth and so on...

The point is that in the century following the storming of the Bastille "France" was little more than a place where the power hungry toyed with the aspirations of the people that were supposed to have been liberated in 1789. The actual revolution can't really be said to have succeeded until late in the 19th century when France finally became something like a stable democratic nation (though even after that it would hand itself over to yet another dictator - one A. Hitler - with barely a wimper in 1940).

Oddly none of the above mentioned inconvienent truths were talked about much during the bicentennial celebrations. Instead what the world got was a PR job of epic proportions. It was all lots of fun though and made for some great fireworks shows so who's going to complain about a few details? Vive-la-France!

Paris: July 14,1989 - Parisians celebrate the oft-forgotten 19th century Dictatorship of the Coconut Shell.