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Rick Steves Doesn’t Know Much About Bastille Day or the French Revolution

Travel guru Rick Steves had some thoughts on the terrorism that has once again hit France. The sentiment was in the right place, but the history was way off base. There’s a short video of Steves’ comments that is summarized by Tim Gilman on Facebook:

“Terrorism hit France again — this time on Bastille Day. That’s the day the French celebrate one of the most consequential events in the history of Western civilization: the French Revolution. In 1789, France was on the front line of bringing our world basic values we often take for granted today: blessings like liberty, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. It paid dearly, and we all benefited. Today, France (still a champion of these Western values) is on the front line of terrorism, and they are, again, paying dearly. Here are a few thoughts I had from a mountaintop in France.”

Actually, the French Revolution had nothing to do with liberty, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. It was a bloody mess that had the opposite effect.

Steves and Gilman are not the only ones who don’t know much about Bastille Day and the French Revolution. When the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo was hit by terrorists in January of 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “No country knows better than France that freedom has a price because France gave birth to democracy itself. France sparked so many revolutions of the human spirit [and] that is what the extremists fear the most.”

Contrary to John Kerry’s misreading of history, the French Revolution is nothing to celebrate. It should be condemned with the strongest possible language. The storming of the Bastille was a catalyst for what became known as the Reign of Terror. “French society underwent an epic transformation as feudal, aristocratic and religious privileges evaporated under a sustained assault from left-wing political groups and the masses on the streets.” How bad was it?

“Internally, popular sentiments radicalized the Revolution significantly, culminating in the rise of Maximilien Robespierre and the Jacobins and virtual dictatorship by the Committee of Public Safety during the Reign of Terror from 1793 until 1794 during which between 16,000 and 40,000 people were killed.”

Did you get that? Between 16,000 and 40,000 French citizens were killed for a better France. Consider the following:

“Ordered by the king [Louis XVI] to surrender, more than 600 Swiss guards were savagely murdered. The mobs ripped them to shreds and mutilated their corpses. ‘Women, lost to all sense of shame,’ said one surviving witness, ‘were committing the most indecent mutilations on the dead bodies from which they tore pieces of flesh and carried them off in triumph.’ Children played kickball with the guards’ heads. Every living thing in the Tuileries [royal palace in Paris] was butchered or thrown from the windows by the hooligans. Women were raped before being hacked to death.

“The Jacobin club . . . demanded that the piles of rotting, defiled corpses surrounding the Tuileries be left to putrefy in the street for days afterward as a warning to the people of the power of the extreme left.

“This bestial attack, it was later decreed, would be celebrated every year as ‘the festival of the unity and indivisibility of the republic.’ It would be as if families across America delighted in the annual TV special ‘A Manson Family Christmas.’”1

As revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat declared, “Let the blood of the traitors flow! That is the only way to save the country.”

There have been three Paris Islamic terrorist attacks since January 2015. If I had been leading these Islamic terrorist attacks, I would have surrendered, demanded a trial, and used the French Revolution as my defense.

I would argue that Bastille Day is a national holiday that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for a just cause. It is often compared to America’s War for Independence. It was nothing like it.

“[T]he first such modern genocide in the West took place in France, beginning in 1793. It was undertaken by modern, progressive apostles of Enlightenment and aimed at pious peasants in the Vendée region of France. By its end up to 300,000 civilians had been killed by the armies of the Republic.

“This story is little discussed in France. Indeed, a devout historian who teaches at a French university once told me [author of this article John Zimirak], ‘We are not to mention the Vendée. Anyone who brings up what was done there has no prospect of an academic career. So we keep silent.’” (Source)

Festivities and official ceremonies are held all over France. It is also celebrated in Belgium, Hungary, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and in more than 50 cities across the United States.

I would bring in Rick Steves and John Kerry as witnesses for the defense.

If the French celebrate beheadings and other such atrocities, then why would it be wrong for Islamic terrorists to follow their example to get what they want? John Kerry described it as democracy in action. Bloody revolutions must be a good thing if they are celebrated with such fervor and delight.

The murdering mobs that attacked the nearly empty Bastille (at the time of the siege there were only seven non-political prisoners confined there) believed their actions were for a better France, similar to what today’s political revolutionaries and Islamic terrorists have in mind. Given the celebration of Bastille Day and what followed, how is what the French revolutionaries did any different from what the Islamic revolutionaries are doing?


  1. Ann Coulter, Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2011), 107. 

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Gary DeMar

Gary DeMar was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and Reformed Theological Seminary (1979). He has served as researcher and writer at the Christian Worldview ministry American Vision since 1980 and President since 1984. Today he serves as Senior Fellow at American Vision where he lectures, researches, and writes on various worldview issues. Gary is the author of 30 books on a variety of topics – from "America’s Christian History" and "God and Government" to "Thinking Straight in a Crooked World" to "Last Days Madness." Gary has been interviewed by Time magazine, CNN, MSNBC, FOX, the BBC, and Sean Hannity. He has done numerous radio and television interviews, including the “Bible Answer Man,” hosted by Hank Hanegraaff and “Today’s Issues” with Tim Wildmon and Marvin Sanders. Newspaper interviews with Gary have appeared in the Washington Times, Toledo (Ohio) Blade, the Sacramento Bee, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Marietta Daily Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, The Orlando Sentinel, and the Chicago Tribune.

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