Alexandra Gutierrez- France as Text 2019

Alex is wrapping up her time at Florida International University as a member of the Honors College. By the end of the summer semester, she will have earned her Bachelors Degree in Communication Arts. But before graduating, she is joining Professor Bailly on a study abroad experience throughout France.

Photo by Jessica Horsham (CC 4.0)
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

PARIS AS TEXT

15 years of Catholic School, 21 Years of Reflection by Alexandra Gutierrez of FIU in Paris, France on 7/5/19

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

Before I left to the airport for this study abroad trip, my abuela, who is the most religious person I know, lit a Jesus candle, blessed me with Holy water, and prayed over me for a safe journey. I’ve never put much thought into these extreme measures she goes through to ensure my safety since it’s something she’s been doing my entire life. But these past few months I’ve really questioned my faith and what I believe to be true.

And then I found myself outside Notre Dame on a cold July morning listening to the lecture about the 800 year old cathedral. “If you think you’re Catholic, you aren’t a real catholic according to the standards set forth hundreds of years ago”, Bailly states as I fix the cross around my neck. The wind is knocked out of me. My entire foundation is built up around this idea. Fifteen years of my life spent in Catholic school, participating in campus ministry retreats, and attending weekly mass. My life revolved around this religion. But it’s true, I’m not a real catholic.

Over the years, I’ve begun to pick and choose what I want to follow. I don’t believe in shunning members of the LGBT community or stripping them from their rights. I believe in women having an equal right to pursuing dreams and succeeding. And yet, I support my friends who belong to these groups, champion for equality, and continue to wear the “Our Father” prayer around my neck. To some, I may not necessarily be considered a religious person, but I am a faithful one.

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

Walking through the streets of Paris, the most secular industrialized country, I searched for any answers or signs of faith. Then we entered Sainte Chapelle and the hairs on my arms stood up. Yes, it’s beautiful from first glance with the high-vaulted ceilings, decorative altar where the Crown of Thrones once stood, and of course the incredibly intricate and stunning stained glass artwork (despite King Louis IX’s appearance in the biblical timeline). It made my heart grow thinking that something so beautiful can be created as a reflection of God’s love. But the more you dive into what makes up the church, you find yourself surrounded by an unquenchable thirst for power and greed beyond compare. Churches across Paris such as Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, Eglise Saint-Severin and even the churches of the world put forth a sense of community, faith, and hope. When in reality, the entire foundation is tainted with centuries of lies, war, and corruption. Despite this, I continue to hold onto my hold onto my faith. But the moment I become ignorant or unaware of the church’s problems, I add to these issues. Being blind to the flawed foundation will make me a part of the problem.

All in all, the thought-provoking statement made me interested in becoming aware of these flaws and understanding that it does not make me a bad Catholic if I continue to practice my faith. I do still consider myself Catholic, as does my eighty-three year old abuela (which is especially important).

VERSAILLES AS TEXT

What if? by Alexandra Gutierrez of FIU in Versailles on 7/7/19

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

What if Versailles was never built? What if, in an alternate universe, King Louis XIV remained in Paris and never converted the hunting lodge into the greatest palace on earth? And how would the timeline between the 17th and 18th century differ?

As we walked through decorated corridors and elaborate rooms, this thought continued to bounce around. Trillions of dollars were spent to expand the distant lodge and make it what is today, all while the rest of 17th century France was out of resources, adequate amenities, and proper care. Was the exorbitant palace more important than the people, who eventually died of sickness and starvation? To Louis XIV, the answer was clear as day. But if he would have not been as determined and passionate for Versailles, many of the major events of the 17th and 18th century that shaped France as a nation would not have taken place. For starters, the French Revolution would not have been sparked by the huge investment that took to construct Versailles.The monarchy may have stayed standing for a longer period and not have been executed as they were. In an alternate timeline, the revolution might have happened later in history. Without the French Revolution throughout the 18th century, the march of over 6,000 women to Versailles, the Reign of Terror, and the attempt to completely destroy the Royal lineage would have been an distant thought.

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)
Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

This alternate universe would be nowhere near as socially advanced as France or the world is today. Because of the French Revolution and King Louis XIV’s dream of a palace, I, as a woman, can vote, get an education, and speak my thoughts due to the advancement of human rights.

France without Versailles would not be a dominating and progressive country in the 21st century. Louis XIV was dedicated to its expansion, whether or not that meant that his people were dying. This outlook allowed for a palace of this stature to come into being and put an entire country on the map for centuries to come. Versailles showed the world that France was not only wealthy, but was a powerful and dominating state. If the idea of constructing a striking and influential palace would have never crossed the King’s mind, France would have remained behind and would not have grown culturally, socially, or politically.

To think, a hall of mirrors that takes breaths away, vast gardens that seem infinite, and extravagant ceiling pieces that feel so real have all molded an entire country over centuries and will continue to do so. With the thousands of shoulders I bumped into today, I’m confident Versailles will never stop impacting the state of France nor the world.

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC 4.0)

Lyon as Text

Paris’ Traboule by Alexandra Gutierrez of FIU in Lyon, France on 7/10/19

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

When I picture the streets of Paris and its people, I find myself walking onto a movie set surrounded by never-ending sunsets, dreamy background music, and magical days. All of what makes it the most visited city in the world.

Instead, I was hit in the face with chaos and turmoil. A constant rush, being pulled in different directions. All of what makes up any metropolitan city.

Sure, Paris is magical, but it’s pockets of magic you’ll find. Scattered around the city like whispered conversations behind closed spaces, or in this case, traboules.

A traboule hides courtyards and gardens from the outside. They are intimate and unique. They bring people home and allow for an escape

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

2 hours south, you’ll find Paris’ very own traboule. Although third most populated city in France, it’s a gem between rivers.

The city of Lyon is bursting at the seams with vivid architecture, treasured experiences, and a history so powerful, it hits emotions deep enough to leave a mark.

Each building is colored with the shades of a sunset, which express the beauty and age of the glowing city. Cobblestone roads form twisted paths that lead to a church, so gracefully positioned, protecting her city at the very top. All of what makes up the beauty of Lyon.

Individuals seated near and far from us, holding stories that impact generations. Lyon is home to a community bound together by its past. A past so crucial, it must never be forgotten. Stories and experiences that must live on forever. All of what makes up the history of Lyon.

Photo by Alexandra Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Like Claude Blonch, who at the age of 15 was catapulted into the horror that was the Holocaust. And at 91 years old continues to tell his story for all who listen.

Like Laurent’s mother, Denise Vernay, who played a major role in the French Resistance. A female, Jewish resistance fighter who was determined to put an end to the ongoing nightmare or die trying.

Their stories, much like others, is an important message to the future, not just in this city but throughout the world. Lyon, with its buildings made from the gold mountains, winding rivers, and significant history make it that much more magical. All of what makes Lyon Paris’ traboule.

Izieu as Text

To Izieu by Alexandra Gutierrez of FIU in Maison D’Izieu on 7/12/19

Sami, Hans, Nina, Max-Marcel, Jean-Paul, Esther, Elie, Jacob, Jacques, Richard, Jean-Claude, Barouk-Raoul, Majer, Albert, Lucienne, Egon, Maurice, Liliane, Henri-Chaïm, Joseph, Mina, Claudine, George, Arnold, Isidore, Renate, Liane, Max, Claude, Fritz, Alice-Jacqueline, Paula, Marcel, Theodor, Gilles, Martha, Senta, Sigmund, Sarah, Max, Herman, Charles, Otto, Emile, Lucie, Mina, Sarah, Eva, Moïse, Miron

I cannot fathom what you went through on April 6, 1944. The amount of fear and terror that went through your mind. When just a few days before you were running around the lawns, picking flowers, and getting raspberries on your knees. You were splashing each other by the water, making water bubbles with your mouth. Picking out costumes for the upcoming play and rehearsing lines outside. Your hands were busy coloring in backdrops, deciding what crayon to choose next. Yellow or blue for the pirates coat? You were learning how to read and write, learning math and history. And on the days you yearned for the loving embrace of your mother and father, you wrote to them. You wrote about what you were learning, what you were doing. You didn’t want them to worry, but you missed them more than anything in the world, with every fiber of your being.

And then the trucks came and you were taken away. You were sent to Izieu to be protected, but instead were stripped from the place that kept you safe. You were stripped of your childhood and your innocence. You were considered resistance fighters when in actuality you were too young to comprehend the meaning of those two words. Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, is responsible for the tears you shed, the fear you felt. There was absolutely no point in your arrest nor was there a reason for your death. 

The light that radiates from you will never burn out, for it is our responsibility to hold your story close. Your story of courage, strength, and resilience. I’ve seen the photos, drawings, and the letters. And I want you to know that I see you and I hear you. And I know that it is within my power to share your story and never let it become someone else’s reality.

I send you all my love.

10000000000000000000000 hugs and kisses

Natalie Mateo- France as Text 2019

Photo taken by Jessica Horsham

Natalie Mateo is a senior at Florida International University majoring in History and minoring in Political Science. She hopes that the history of France’s social, legal, and humanitarian movements, as well as the life experiences obtained in completing a study abroad program, will aid in her goal of attending law school and attaining her Juris Doctorate degree.

Below are her reflections throughout the France 2019 program.

Paris as Text

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Fearless by Natalie Mateo of FIU in Paris, France on July 2nd, 2019

Since the first notions of Paris, its people have been fearless in the face of danger and despair. From 300 BC with the Parisii, a Gaelic tribe that inhabited the area who fought fearlessly against Roman invasion around 50 BC, to the citizens who laid down their lives in the pursuit of liberté, fraternité, and égalité during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Paris has seen enough bloodshed, riots, and revolutions to instill in its people a sense of pride and zest for life that I have already come to fall in love with in my first week calling Paris my home. As such, I must be like the Parisians and push on even when fear has made my blood run cold.

My first try at this, aside from traveling abroad for a month, was conquering my own battle and climbing to the top of Le Tour Eiffel. As someone who has dealt with a fear of heights for most of my life, thinking about making the climb up was unimaginable to me as I sat in my Miami bubble a month ago. But, once I set my eyes on the colossus, with my heart pounding and my knees trembling, a voice in my head simply said “up.” So up I went. Every step and staircase made me shudder and as doubt began to whisper in my ear, I continued on, repeating “up.” While this is no storming of the Bastille or march on Versailles, it certainly gave me a huge rush once I came back to the ground knowing I had slayed my Goliath.

Versailles as Text

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Heaven Born of Hell by Natalie Mateo of FIU at Versailles on July 7th, 2019

On the outskirts of Paris, a paradise lays in wait. The hunting lodge of Louis XIII that was turned into the French cultural birthplace founded by Louis XIV. Its golden gates appear from the brush before welcoming visitors to view its grandeur and opulence. Every corner shows the sun king himself looking down upon his subjects as they walk through this fantasy with eyes wide open and mouths agape. The gardens are full of Greek gods and goddesses around every corner taking in every bit of sunlight bestowed onto them. The fountains tell stories of power and punishment to both amaze and frighten visitors of Louis XIV’s wondrous nature.  Operatic choirs fill the air with harmonious melodies that make you feel like you are floating through Versailles. But how could heaven on earth come to be?

Louis XIV’s ambitions of a beautiful yet powerful palace marked his reign and has left a strong stamp on history. In creating Versailles, Louis XIV thought of every detail of the palace to make it the strongest and most political portraiture of himself. From depictions of the royal family as Greek gods and goddesses to fountains depicting the downfall of his enemies disguised as mythology, every inch of Versailles is drenched in Louis XIV’s power. But all this power came with a human cost. The construction of Versailles severely drained the royal purse and its maintenance consumed roughly 20% of France’s tax revenue. The people of France were starving, and many believe that it was Louis XIV’s love for the flashy that set the French Revolution in motion. But, despite these casualties, Versailles still stands and is visited by roughly 5 million people a year who experience Louis XIV’s aspirations for France with awe and wonder. As difficult as it is to say,  the benefit of Versailles creation has far outweighed its cost.

Izieu as Text

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Never Again by Natalie Mateo of FIU at Maison d’Izieu on July 12, 2019

The Maison d’Izieu was intended to be a safe place. A place where Jewish families could send their children to survive the war. A place where Jewish families sent their children to survive antisemitism. Within these walls stayed roughly 60 children at its peak and had cared for over 100 by the time Klaus Barbie arrived on April 6, 1944. Sabine and Miron Zatlin, the couple who opened and operated the home, had done everything they could to give these children protection and foster a childhood during one of the darkest times in history. This all ended when Klaus Barbie gave the order to have all the children, aged between 5 and 17 years old, and their caretakers arrested and deported to concentration camps, leaving one sole survivor.

It is with great tragedies like this that the world seems to say, “never forget.” Plaques commemorating victims and those lost lined with the words “never forget.” But these words seem like an empty promise to me whenever I watch the news.

Never forget the Holocaust and yet there are concentration camps in China persecuting Muslims.

Never forget the poisonous nationalist governments that arose before WWII and yet there is an increase in nationalism worldwide.

Never forget the families torn apart by Hitler’s orders and yet there are families being separated at the U.S. border.

Never forget the children of Izieu and yet after a week of news coverage people have already forgotten the names and faces of children that have died under ICE custody:

Carlos Gregorio Hernandez, 16

Juan de Leon Gutierrez, 16

Felipe Alonzo- Gomez, 8

Jakelin Caal, 7

And more whose names have not been released but their ages range from 2 years old to 17 years old.

Rather than solemnly swearing to “never forget” actions must be taken to ensure these events remain in our history books with the words “never again.”

Lyon as Text

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Is this what France has become? By Natalie Mateo of FIU at Montluc Prison on July 10th, 2019

Is this what France has become?

A place where people cower in fear

A place where Jews get arrested and sent away never to be heard from again

People who haven’t even laid eyes on the Torah in their lifetimes but had a great great grandfather who was a rabbi snatched up in the middle of the night

A place where families are torn apart

A place where children are resistance fighters

A place where mothers and their children and held in cells

What have we become?

The Vichy government handed us over to the Germans as if we didn’t come from revolutionaries who killed a king

What they have taken for granted is the resilience and power of their people

The Resistance prints messages and papers several feet under ground

The Resistance sings La Marseilles in the streets

The Resistance graffities Vive La France on the side of buildings

The Resistance is hiding Jewish families in their farm houses

The Resistance is sending love letters to their spouses before laying down their lives for France

The Resistance is Jean Moulin, our unifier who slit his throat to protect the Senegalese soldiers in the French Army

The Vichy government may have forgotten what France is, but its people have not

Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité

These are principles tattooed onto the hearts of every Frenchman

These principles are what keep us going

These principles will guide us through this never-ending nightmare

These principles are what makes dying for France worth it

“The General” by Elaine Morales

De Gaulle (1890-1970) was in every sense a contradictory character — Jean Lacouture, an earlier biographer, called his colossal personality “a battlefield” — with tensions between “restraint and hubris, reason and sentiment, classicism and romanticism, calculation and provocation”. He was “a soldier who spent most of his career fighting the army; a conservative who often talked like a revolutionary”. And Gaullism “succeeded in becoming the synthesis of French political traditions reconciling the left to the state and the right to the nation, the left to authority and the right to democracy”. He was able to achieve this unifying transcendence because of the “legitimacy” — his favourite word — he had acquired during the Second World War as leader of the French government in exile.

Lewis Jones (2018)
Charles De Gaulle during World War II

Early Years

Charles Andre Joseph Marie de Gaulle was born on November 22, 1890 in the region of Lille in the Nord Department. His family, specially his uncle and his grandfather inspired him to learn about history and inserted him into the lecture word. He learned compositions and was passionate about poetry. At the age of fifteen, he anticipated the future when wrote an essay with the title “General de Gaulle”, in which he imagined he was the leader of the French army on its victory over Germany in 1930.  Years later, he joined the French army placing his father and his own intellectual interests about history and his country. During his first years of serving the army, he demonstrated strong abilities besides his physical qualities (height: 6’5”), and five years later he was promoted to sergeant. During his studies at the academy he started being an average student, and then he increased his skills, intelligence, knowledge, and personality being on the top of his class. The time of being proved arrived to his live when the World War I stayed. 

World War I

After two months he rejoined the army as commander of the 7thCompanyand two months later he was assigned regimental adjutant. He performed a good job on his position, earning the Croix de Guerreand ascending to Captain. Once again, he received a bullet on his left hand and was out of battle during four months. Once his abilities led him coming back, he rejoined the forces, leading the 10thcompany again. For last time, he received bayonet wound on the left thigh after being stunned by a shell. He survived the effect of this incidents and the consequences of poison gas, but was captured by the Germans. 

During the first days of the war he was wounded while performed as platoon commander in the Battle of Dinant.He received a bullet on his knee and was hospitalized enough time to criticize the methods of the French Militia. There were three aspect that De Gaulle found erroneous about the military tactics: the over-rapid offensive, the inadequacy of French generals, and the slowness of English troops. 

PRISON

De Gaulle spent almost three years on prison under the German regimen. He got depressed because he was absent on the War. This situation was for him a fatality. His passion for the battle were so strong than got him frustrated about being incarcerated. He never complained about the food, the situation, the lonely, the exile; his only concern was not being part of the French army.  He used this time to read, to learn German, to discuss with other prisoners about military strategies and possibilities of victory. He also wrote his first book “ Discorde chez l’ennemi” which was published on 1924 and explained the division and issues within the German troops. When the war was terminating, he was liberated, and came back to his father’s home with his three brothers who survived the war. 

Preparation

Charles went to Poland to as staff of the French Military Mission to Polandand earn the decoration of Virturi Militari. Once back in France he studied at the Ecole de Guerreduring two years, in which his grades were good, but never excellent. His professor Moyrand referred to him as an intelligent man, with unique attitudes as leader and as soldier, and as extremely arrogant with excessive amount of self-confidence.  One year later after finishing his studies, Charles published an essay on tactics depending of the circumstances, which constituted for many a response to his professor Moyrand. The same decade, he published other articles and lectures such as “Historical Role of French Fortresses”, “Leadership in Wartime”, and “Prestige”, ending on the formation of his book The Edge of the Sword. He came back to Ecole de Guerre as a commandant, but this time with the position of commander as he had sworn years earlier. Gaulle continued writing, even proposing his tactics to the senator, arguing for his concepts and ideas and earning prestige amount the militaries. 

Tanks and rapid maneuvers rather than trench warfare. 

On his book published on 1934, named Toward a Professional Army, he explained his position against the old trench warfare and the benefits of the use of tanks and rapid maneuvers. He believed so much on himself and was strong about his ideals, he defended his war strategies and his book was a success. Gaulle sold more than 700 copies on France and the thousands of copies on Germany (good numbers for that time and topic). After his book, he earned more respect and prestige across the country, and his tactics were criticized in France and followed in Germany. He was a well-known figure when he published his new book France and her Armyin 1938. 

Word War II

During War II he was the command of the 4thArmoured Division, he wrote books, criticized strategies and was in front of tanks battles. During the German invasion, he was directing the attack at Montcornet and was defeated several times by the enemies.  He rejected order of withdrawal and advance into the field, enjoying one of the few victories of French.  During this period, he was so secure about his tactics, rejecting superiors advises and confronting the Germans face to face. Then, he was given a mission to go to London, many of his collagenous had rejected and he accepted. On his biography he specified the depression and frustration he felt forming part of this mission. This meant his recognition of the government and a decided break from the French Army. During this time, he had several ideological problems with Churchill, demanding the rights of the French Committee (Jones, 2018).

Churchill and De Gaulle (1944)

Free French

He was recognized as the leader of the Free French and confronted as usually problems with his superiors. Gaulle’ wife and daughter had to move constantly while in London, and they were living separated for the general. He was a public figure and counted with admires in France, while the Vichy sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment and the court martial in absentia condemned him to death. After agreements and conversations, he formed the Free French National Council and then the Free French Air Force which cost him almost being killed in a plane sabotage on April 21st, 1943. To the other hand, president Roosevelt refused to accept him and even when their relationships started to improve, De Gaulle was not a trusted person to the American government. He stayed with his ideals and was clear on every meeting, he asked for being recognized as a leader figure of Free French. On June 14 of 1944 Charles went back to France in the wake of invading army. France welcomed him as deserved, and he headed the first allied troops to enter the capital: “Leclerc’s Free French second armored division. Sometime later, he was also the head of the provisional French government. In the elections of 1945, he failed to win enough votes and retired from the public life (Rudolph, 2016). The major cataclysm of France has passes, but Charles De Gaulle was not satisfied with the results, writing the following phrase:

It is not tolerable, it is not possible, that from so much sacrifice and ruin, so much heroism, a greater and better humanity shall not emerge.”

Charles De Gaulle. 

The President of the Fifth Republic

The official felt that France did not need him, or at least that his ideals were so pure for a country still on recovery. He wrote his book Memories of the War. When the Fourth Republic stayed, he planted his disposal for the country. Algeria returned the power to him after winning the war, and he was assigned as president of the Fifth Republic. Instead of following Argelia’s interests, the president stayed by the France’s benefits, creating discomfort and resulting in the white revolution in Algiers. He suffered attempts against his life at this time.

His labor most important during this period were:

  • Trying to convert France in an atomic power rose
  • Healing the relationships with German
  • Making the first attempts of inserting Britain to the European community
  • Tour for 10 Latin American countries.

On the elections, he was reelected on the second ballot for seven years. Between his achievements during this period are:

  • Tour of 6000 miles around the Soviet Union. 
  • He signed the declaration for the closeness between Eastern and Western Europe. 
  • Called to EEUU to withdraw from Vietnam during a speech on Cambodia. 
  • For his peaceful position he made of Paris a neutral point for meetings between EEUU and Vietnam. 
  • He launched the first nuclear powered submarine in 1967.
  • One of the most controversial elements during these years was his visit on 1967 to Canada, where he used the slogan “Vive le Quebec libre” encouraging the French-Canadian separatism. 
  • He continued with his foreign policy by visiting the Soviet Union, Poland and Romania in order to increase their relationship. 

“The cemeteries are full of indispensable men.”

Charles De Gaulle


Rival French Leaders shaking hands only for the show

De Gaulle government was categorized as a “dictatorship”, and years later he admitted on his letters to his son that for ten years he was really a monarch (Jones, 2018). Young students started to fight for their rights and the necessity of taking part on the decisions of the country. This point in the French history is considered the major crisis of Gaulle. He left the country without notification and returned when military security was assured. He stayed with his arrogance and self-confidence, and at this time this characteristic is shown on the phrase he uses to refers to the revolutionary students: “When a child gets angry and oversteps the mark, the best way of calming him is to give him a smack.” (Jones, 2018). He negotiated with the students and workers, but a little later he dissolved the parliament. He won one more time the elections but was unpopular and considered too old for the government. He resigned the presidency on April 28thof 1969. He published his book The Renewal, the first of three book Memoirs of Hope, this was considered the fastest seller in France. When he was almost 80 years old, he died suddenly at his home with the company of his wife on November 9thof 1970.  France and the whole world felt his death. 

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”

Charles De Gaulle

Equality in Death: The Life of Joseph-Ignace Guillotine


CC 4.0 by unknown, Musee Carnavalet

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was born on March 28, 1738 in Saintes, located in southern France– he was an aries. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin always excelled within his studies in Reims, France; he was interested in the arts and for a brief period of time, he became literature professor at the University of Bordeaux. Despite his success, Guillotin left for Paris and soon became an established physician, one of the best in the city. He was instrumental in the beginnings of the French Revolution as a chosen representative in the Estates General. One of the more outspoken members, Guillotin advocated for an equal representation of all of the classes and more non-nobility citizens in the Estates General, one of its undeniable flaws. He even supported women’s rights to be represented amongst the Estates General, something very uncommon during this time. Dr. Guillotin was a very outspoken and intelligent man. In a culture where almost everything is predetermined based on your social status and there is not much freedom to use other skills in a professional field, a literature major and professor moved forward towards an intricate field: medicine. Even in today’s “progressive” society, this is not common in France nor is it often even imagined by those lucky enough to continue their education, yet Dr. Guillotin accomplished this feat and much more. Not only did he then become an established doctor, but he also never gave up his literature background; by using his foundations as a scholar and writer, he became an active politician fighting for human rights- something that once was the core value of the Revolution, but became twisted along the way.

Despite his infamous killing machine, the guillotine, Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a capital punishment abolitionist; he was staunchly against any practices revolving around executions. He believed that all of the current killings were unnecessarily cruel and was simply sorted based on your class in society. Whenever people of the lower, working classes were sentenced to death, they would often be: hung, which could take hours if improperly executed, quartered, painfully ripped apart by horses running in different directions, or even sentenced to the breaking wheel, where one’s bones would be broken and then bludgeoned or stoned to death. Wealthier or upper classes, would be privileged with the opportunity to be beheaded, however, this too had many issues. Each family or individual would have to hire their own executioner, with some being swifter and “better” than others. Otherwise, those families on the lower tier of the upper class would often risk hiring executioners who may have dull blades or simply would not complete the job in one swing; nonetheless, it always depended upon how much money you were willing to spend, even on your death bed.

These injustices, along with his personal experience as a doctor, pushed Guillotin to advocate against the death penalty, often writing many pamphlets criticizing against it. However, as time elapsed and the gruesome executions continued to occur, Guillotin realized that he should switch his focus to solving the most immediate concern: the way in which people are being tortured to death. This concern is what led him to propose to the National Assembly a law that would make the guillotine the official instrument of capital punishment, until its abolition in 1981. He oversaw the development of the first prototype and advocated for its use within the Assembly, that led to its successful use. Many critique Dr. Guillotin for the contradictions between his actions and his morals, and label him as a hypocrite for going against one of his fundamental beliefs against capital punishment. However, I fully disagree with these critiques of his character. Rather than being a hypocrite, Dr. Guillotin was an actor of change. The only reason why he chose to oversee the development of this machine was because he recognized that at this specific point in time, despite all of his efforts, he was not going to be able to prevent death nor would he be able to prevent capital punishment. Injustices were still occurring based on social class, people were still being tortured to death so he needed to make a decision, a change. He was an intelligent person and considering the political and societal environment at the time, this was the only solution to prevent unnecessarily cruel deaths.

CC 4.0 by the New Yorker, 2009

After its invention, the guillotine soon became the favorite object of the National Assembly and its successors soon after. During its height in the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre, between 1793-1794, almost 2,600 people had been sentenced to execution. By 1799, it was an upwards count of over 15,000 who had been beheaded. The guillotine did not discriminate between class, as was Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s main purpose, it claimed the lives of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as well as common thieves and those who were “against the state.” Also, during Nazi Germany, Hitler was reported for using the guillotine and killed around 16,500 people by decapitation.

CC by 4.0, Georg Heinrich Sieveking 1793

Despite this widely used machine, Dr. Guillotin did not want to be associated with it nor did he ever wish for his name to be used in connection with the machine because, as previously mentioned, he was a staunch capital punishment abolitionist. Moreover, he only aimed to invent this device to provide equality in death for all French citizens; he did not believe that they should be subjected to cruel and unnecessarily violent deaths. The guillotine was never intended to be such a public nor entertaining event. He wished that it would take place in a private center, however, he was horrified by the increasing fanfare and bloodlust for dire entertainment amongst his fellow citizens. It is easy to see why he and his family petitioned the French government to change the name of the machine; after they were rejected, they decided to change their family name altogether.

CC 4.0 by Gunnar Kaestle

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was an active advocate for human rights in France and was one of the leaders in advocating for structural change. In his Petition of the Citizens Living in Paris, this pamphlet argued for the humane and egalitarian executions as well as an equal representation within the Estates-General for all citizens. Once elected as a representative within the National Assembly, he was able to pass a law that required all sentences of death to be carried out by his machine. During a follow up speech in 1789 defending his machine, he has been quoted as saying, “Now with my machine I take off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it.” Many critics soon shamed his words and ridiculed him and his speech in various periodicals, nonetheless, he stayed dedicated to getting his plan approved and passed into law.

CC 4.0 by Welcome Collection

Joseph-Ignace Guillotin struggled with the legality of the death penalty. While morally he knew that he could not stand behind or support capital punishment, within his government, he struggled to defend against it. This same fight is one that is held all over the world in the current international system. As of 2017, there are about 142 countries around the world that have abolished the death penalty and many more that have not used it within the past 10 years or allow the penalty in extraneous circumstances. Nonetheless, in the United States, the death penalty is legal in 30 states, including Florida. As a prospective criminal attorney with hopes of living and working within Florida, this same battle is a reality that I may face. Whether I will be on the prosecution or the defense is still a mystery, however, I will be faced with the same dilemma: how does one justify capital punishment? This is something that I have and will continue to struggle with as I move throughout my law career. Thankfully, in part to Dr. Guillotin, society does not have to face the torturous deaths that were rampant during these times. However, despite the newfound “equality in death,” the death penalty is still an extreme and permanent punishment. Death cases do carry a heavy toll on one’s heart because an actual life is on the line, whether or not you are on opposing sides of the bench, the fate of an entire person’s life rests in your hands. While I am against the death penalty, as I do not feel it is within mankind’s authority to end a person’s life, because the method is egalitarian and not painful, it does make the extreme decision to do so a lighter burden to many. Nevertheless, the law does not entirely reflect nor does it care about “feelings.” It also would be wrong to deny that in extreme cases, the thought of capital punishment would be so heinous; for example, it would seem almost crazy that people would be against Ted Bundy getting the death penalty. But still, should humans be the ones to decide on life and when to end it? This is still something that I struggle with and will continue to do so throughout my entire career. Nonetheless, these discussions should occur within our society and should reflect the beliefs of all of the citizens. Dr. Guillotin’s arguments have helped to propel the fight to abolish capital punishment all over the world.

Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin lived a life dedicated to trying to achieve equal rights for all people, regardless of social or economic class. Though his machine helped to define a Reign of Terror, he did not advocate for any of the senseless killings to occur. As a proponent for equality under the law as well as equal representation, he has helped to shape our society today. Though creating this machine had made it easier to execute people by justifying the lack of pain, he also did create an egalitarian way for all to be executed and put an end to a torturous death that was common to the previous eras. His writings have been used to help abolish capital punishment in France and all over the world, while it has also served to ensure that those states that continue to practice capital punishment do so in a way that does not discriminate against anyone and is as painless as possible. He truly changed the landscape and redefined what it meant to have equality in death.

Madame Guillotine, The Scarlet Pimpernel Broadway Musical

References:

Britannica, T. E. (2017, October 26). Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/guillotine

Death of Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/death-joseph-ignace-guillotin

Death Penalty Facts. (2019, March 22). Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/19/us/death-penalty-fast-facts/index.html

Joseph Ignace Guillotin – Alchetron, the free social encyclopedia. (2018, July 28). Retrieved from https://alchetron.com/Joseph-Ignace-Guillotin#-

Joseph Guillotine – The Doctor of Death | History Channel on Foxtel. (2017, June 09). Retrieved from https://www.historychannel.com.au/articles/joseph-guillotine-the-doctor-of-death/

Russo, N. (2016, March 25). The Death-Penalty Abolitionist Who Invented the Guillotine. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/the-man-behind-the-guillotine-opposed-the-death-penalty/475431/

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2275.html

Team, R. C. (2018, October 14). Death penalty: How many countries still have it? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-45835584

Study Abroad Info Session March 2019

THE WHO WHAT WHEN WHERE WHY HOW
OF FIU HONORS EUROPE STUDY ABROAD
WITH PROFESSOR JOHN WILLIAM BAILLY
March 19, 2019 AT 3:30 PM IN RB 120 – 3 HONORS POINTS

Join Professor Bailly for an introduction to the France, Italy, & Spain study abroad programs of the FIU Honors College. Meet students that have completed the programs and have all your questions answered. Whether you are going to Europe in Summer 2020 or considering 2021 or 2022, this session will be helpful.

Check out #fiuhonorsabroad2018 on Instagram for photos from Espana, France, & Italia

LEARN MORE ABOUT EACH PROGRAM

Espana Study Abroad
France Study Abroad
Italia Study Abroad

 

AUTHOR(S) AND LAST UPDATE
Stephanie Sepúlveda & John William Bailly  18 March 2019
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