I like France, and I like the French. Never had a problem with them! So, I want to wish my readers, who are mostly in the United States, a “Happy Bastille Day!” I should tell you, though, the French never call it “Bastille Day,” or if they do they don’t admit it. It is “National Day” or “The 14th of July.” The date does commemorate the 1789 storming of an obsolete and barely utilized arsenal and prison in central Paris, the “Bastille.” A righteously angry but very unruly mob rushed the old fortification in a quest for weapons, of which there were few. The whole thing might have ended unceremoniously, but hotheads beheaded the commander of the fortress with a pocket knife. I probably wouldn’t call it “Bastille Day” either, but one thing led to another and out of a huge and lengthy cock-up modern France emerged.
As per the current A&J strip appearing today, what does “Cinco de Mayo” have to do with “Bastille Day?” Not much, except they’re both little-understood foreign holidays here in the states. That is not to say they don’t have common elements. I have long been fascinated by the history of “Cinco de Mayo.” It is not a mayor holiday in Mexico, and it is not “Mexican Independence Day.” That would be September 16. “Cinco de Mayo” commemorates a Mexican victory over an invading French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
“The French Army?” you ask. Yes, skipping a lot of messy French history between the storming of the Bastille and the Battle of Puebla, Emperor Napoleon III, nephew of the real deal, was on the throne in 1862. He didn’t much like the United States. In fact, France had loaned money to Mexico to fight the Mexican-American War in the 1840s. Fifteen years later, Mexico had fallen a bit behind in its payments. The United States, my readers might recall, was involved in its own little imbroglio we call “The Civil War.” Nappy saw a chance to have a little fun. He foreclosed on Mexico. He sent an invading French army to take Mexico City and anything else not nailed down, and enticed an under-employed and trepidatious Austrian prince, Maximilian, to be Emperor of Mexico.
To make a long story short, the well-trained and well-equipped French army kicked a lot of Mexican booty and was making progress toward the capital city, until… the Battle of Puebla. The smaller Mexican army unexpectedly whipped the French! Huzzah! The result? Well, it slowed the French down, but they ultimately reached Mexico City and took over the country. However, it just didn’t seem like fun anymore, and the French eventually abandoned Mexico, and Maximilian, who was executed. So, that’s why “Cinco de Mayo” isn’t big in France. However, the World Cup is!!! It’s going to be a blow out of a Bastille Day in Paris this year!