“It is time to rehabilitate the ‘shot for example’ of the First World War”


VSertain wounds of the 1914-1918 war, more than a century later, are still gaping. Thus of ” shot for example », these soldiers who, in particular, were sometimes drawn by lot in their company for « the example », or who could not hear the order given, or could not execute it.

For many, they are still confused with those who were considered traitors, deserters, who mutilated themselves to stop fighting and thus tried to “to flee their responsibilities or this imperious duty to hold positions”, as indicated by the indictments before the court martial. They were then shot, for example, by their own comrades on the orders of the general staff.

Many were “ordinary” soldiers, embroiled in a conflict which, for some, could go beyond them, who went to their limits, often traumatized by the violence of the fighting, the “marmitage” [bombardement]gases, and grenades, in those muddy trenches and trenches so well depicted in many well-known letters or books.

Beyond the differences in situations between these men, they suffered a denial of justice: often incriminating interrogations, almost systematic absence of defense by a professional lawyer, absence of mitigating circumstances, right of appeal, right, real, ask for mercy.

A relentless procedure

They were unable to defend themselves against an implacable procedure, a remnant, at least at the start of the conflict, of that of the Napoleonic armies, and played out in advance. Some spoke out against this injustice, during and after the war, trying to restore their honor to their comrades. This was the case for the shots of Suddenly (Marl).

Read also: 14-18: the emergence of another memory

The National Assembly itself, as early as 1916, sought to prevent “the crimes of the councils of war” by restoring the rights of defence. Unanimously after the war, it voted several laws allowing the rehabilitation of several hundred of these men whose families, children had known the reproach and the averted glances, sometimes the insults and violence of their neighbors, their comrades of class. Then it was the absence of inscription, at the beginning of the 1920s, of the name on the war memorial.

Despite the rehabilitations of the post-war period, the work of historians made it possible to retain 639 soldiers who could not have their trial revised for lack of witnesses or new legal elements. What unites these men, beyond death, is that they were all victims.

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