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Why did France and Germany have historic rivalry?

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May 03, 2009 8:51PM

French-German relations have been time and again tested throughout history. Ever since the 18th century, the two states have had a mutual distrust, constantly fearing an attack from one another. In the Napoleonic Wars, France (the continental European superpower at the time) invaded Prussia (what was then Germany), occupying the area and eventually continuing on to Russia. Although le bleu were stopped by a bitter Russian winter, pushed out of Russia, and eventually out of Prussia, a deep-seated distrust developed between the French and the German states. Later that century, in 1870, the cunning Prussian prime minister Bismarck engineered a unification of the German states by goading France into a declaration of war. Shocking the world, the advanced Prussians smashed the cocky French in the Franco-Prussian War. Reluctantly, France ceded the famous Alsace-Lorraine territory to Prussia. Immediatley after the war, however, the French pledged themselves to getting back their lost territory. They developed Plan XVII, a scheme to take back Alsace-Lorraine from the hated Germans if war should ever break out. In 1882, Germany formed an alliance with Austria-Hungary. France, feeling understandly threatened from the two emerging powers to their east, formed an alliance with Russia in early 1900. These two opposing alliances, along with the desire to create an empire and rising nationalism, led to an incredibly intriguing and costly arms race in Europe. Hundreds of battleships were built; armies were in the millions. Even Great Britain was brought out of its splendid isolationism (Britain had 49 battleships to Germany's 29 at the end of the race). The kindling was there--France wanted to exact revenge and get Alsace Lorraine back while Germany wanted an empire--it just needed a spark. After World War I, in which the French fought gallantly and proudly (for all you French military haters) Germany ceded Alsace-Lorraine back to France in the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty was incredibly harsh on the Germans, another factor which caused the Germans to despise their western neighbor. However, despite the French victory in the Great War, Le Bleu remained wary and suspicious of a German attempt to regain the territory. The memory of France's horrific losses in WWI were still fresh in French minds, and they remained acutely aware of the fact that their population was smaller than the Germans, and thus every man lost was far more costly. This caused France to build the Maginot Line, which heightened the rivalry and distrust between the two collosi.