It is a country of few towns, of many small villages, farm and manor houses. The buildings cluster in the hollows or about the crossroads, and sometimes they escaped the storm because the shells exchanged from hill to hill went quite over their roofs; again, as was the case with Huiron just outside Vitry or with Maurupt near by, they could not escape because they were perched on hills, and they were almost completely razed by the fierce fire that raked them for days. Sometimes they escaped shell and machine gun to be burned to the ground vengefully with incendiary bombs, as at Sermaize-les-Bains, where of nine hundred buildings less than forty were left standing after the Germans retreated. These instances are the saddest of all because so wanton! There was scarcely a single collection of houses in that fifty miles which I traversed which did not bear its ugly scar of fire and shell, scarcely a farmhouse that was not crumbled or peppered with machine-gun bullets. Miles of desolation may be seen in a couple of hours' drive around Vitry-le-Francois,—Favresse, Blesmes, Ecrinnes, Thieblemont, Maurupt, Vauclerc,—with acre upon acre of ruined buildings, a chimney standing here and there, heaps of twisted iron that once were farm machines, withered trees—and graves, everywhere soldiers' graves.
The churches suffered most, probably because they were used for temporary defense. At Huiron the upper half of the thirteenth-century Gothic church had been shaved off—in the ten-foot deep mass of debris lay the richly carved capitals of the massive pillars. At Ecrinnes near by the apse of the exquisite little church had been blown off, leaving the front and spire intact. At Maurupt the whole edifice, which commanded the rolling countryside for miles, was riddled from end to end. Again, I would enter an apparently sound building to find a pile of rubbish in the nave, a gaping hole in the roof. And the same thing was true about Bar-le-Duc to the east and Meaux to the west. It is safe to say that in a fifty-mile wide stretch from Nancy to the English Channel not one village in ten has escaped the scourge.
* * * * *
I speak of the churches because of their irreplaceable beauty, the human tenderness of their relation with the earth. But even more poignant, perhaps, were the wrecks of little country homes—the stacks of ruined farm machinery, the gutted barns, the burned houses. In many cases not a habitable building was left after the cyclone passed. In one hamlet of thirty houses near Esternay I remember, all but seven had been devastated—by incendiary fire. Indeed, it was clearly distinguishable—the "legitimate" wrack of war, from the deliberate spite of incendiarism. Maurupt was the one case, Sermaize-les-Bains (where there was no fighting) the other. If it had been simple war, shell and machine gun, probably fifty per cent or more of the devastation would have been saved. But the German makes war against an entire country, inanimate as well as animate.
The inhabitants of these ruins had come back in many instances—where else had they to go? Swept up before the blast of the cyclone, they had fled south over the fields and hard white roads, then crept back a few days after the cyclone had passed to find their homes pillaged, burned, their villages blackened scars on the earth. But they stayed there! The English Society of Friends has given some money with which to put up wooden huts, on which old men and Belgian refugees were working when I passed that way. There is a French charity that tries to outfit these new homes in the devastated districts, one of the numberless efforts of the French to put their national house in order. But for all that charity can do, the lot of these villagers is a bitter one: their strong men have gone to the front; old men, women, and children are left to scratch the fields, and exist miserably in the cellars, underneath bits of corrugated iron roof, in tiny wooden huts. But they have planted their potatoes, in the ruins in some cases, and have taken up sturdily the struggle of existence in the wreck of their old homes. The children play among the crumbling walls, the women go barefoot to the public well for water. The fields have been sown and harvested somehow. Until the Germans can kill off the French peasant women, they can never hope to conquer France.
Compared with the burning of homes, the razing of villages, mere pilfering and looting seem commonplace, unreprehensible crimes. Yet the loss of property by plain theft is no inconsiderable item in that bill which France expects to present some day. The old chateaux that were fouled and gutted by the invader, the trainloads of plunder that went back to German cities, the emptied cellars and ransacked houses have fed the fire of disgust and loathing which the French feel for their foe. Yet they should not begrudge the invader the extraordinary quantity of good wine which he consumed on his raid, because the victory of the Marne was doubtless won in part by the aid of the champagne bottle!
* * * * *
When I passed through the Marne valley the fields were being harvested for the first time since those fatal days in September. Among the harvesters were a number of middle-aged men with the soldiers' kepi, who had been given leave to make the crop, which was unusually abundant. The fields of old Champagne, watered with the best blood of France, had yielded their richest returns. Outside the charred and crumbled ruins of the villages one might have forgotten the fact of war were it not for the graves. Here and there the corner of some wood where a battery had been placed was mowed as if cut by a giant reaper. The tall poplars along the roadsides had been ripped and torn as by a violent storm. Some hillsides were scarred with ripples from burrowing shells, and hastily made trenches had not yet been ploughed completely under. But over the undulating golden fields it would be difficult to trace the course of the tempest were it not for the crosses above the graves, thousands upon thousands of them,—singly, in clumps, in long lines where the dead bodies had been brought out of the copses and buried side by side in trenches, or where at a crossroads a little cemetery had been made to receive the dead of the vicinity.
Often as you crawled along in a train you could follow the battle by the bare spots left in the fields around the graves. They will never be ploughed under and sown, not even the graves of Germans, not in the richest land. Generally they were carefully fenced off, almost always with a simple cross on the point of which hung the soldier's kepi whenever it was found with the body. It is remarkable, considering the scarcity of hands, the desolation of the country, the difficulty of existence, what tender care has been given these graves of the unknown dead. Many of them were decorated with fresh flowers or those metal wreaths that the Europeans use, and where a company lay together a little monument had been erected with a simple inscription. It would seem that these Champenoise peasants still retain some of that pagan reverence for the dead which their Latin ancestors had cultivated, mingled with passionate love for those who gave themselves in defense of la patrie.
So for years to come the beautiful fields of France will be strewn with these little spots of sanctuary where Frenchmen died fighting the invader. The fields are already green again: Nature is doing her best to remove the scars of battle from this land where so often in the past ages she has been called upon to heal the wounds inflicted by men. Nature will have completed her task long before the ruined villages can be restored, long, long before the scars in men's hearts made by this ruthless invasion can be healed. Another generation, that of the little children playing in the ruins of their fathers' homes, must grow up with hate in their hearts and die before the wounds can be forgotten.
* * * * *
The Germans were shelling Rheims the day I was there. From the little Mountain of Rheims, five miles away on the Epernay road, I could see the gray and black clouds from bursting shells rise in the mist around the massive cathedral. An observation balloon was floating calmly over the hill beyond, directing the fire on the desolated city. It was necessary to wait outside the town until a lull came in the bombardment, and when our motor at last entered, it was like speeding through a city of the dead, with crushed walls, weed-grown streets, and empty silence everywhere save for the low whine of the big shells. With the five or six hundred large shells hurled into Rheims that one day, the Germans killed three civilians, wounded eighteen more, and knocked over some hollow houses already gutted in previous bombardments. They did not damage the cathedral that day, though several explosions occurred within a few feet of the building.
There were no soldiers, no artillery in Rheims—there have not been any for many months. Of its one hundred and thirty thousand people, only twenty thousand were left hiding in cellars, skulking along the walls, clinging to their homes in the immense desolation of the city with that tenacity which is peculiarly French. In the afternoon when the fire ceased the boys were playing in the streets and women sat in front of their cellar homes sewing. They have adapted themselves to sudden death. They move about from hole to hole in the wilderness of shattered buildings. For the city had been gutted by the acre: street after street was nothing but an empty shell of walls that crumpled up from time to time and tottered over. Within lay an indescribable mass of household articles, merchandise, all that once had been homes and stores and factories. Around the cathedral there was a peculiar silence, for this quarter of the city which received most of the shells is absolutely deserted. The grass grew high between the stones in the pavement all about. The sun was throwing golden cross-lights over the battered walls as I came into the deserted square and stood beside the little figure of Jeanne d'Arc before the great portal. As seen from afar, now in the full nearer view, the amazing thing was the majesty of the windowless, roofless, defaced cathedral. Acres of other buildings have crumbled utterly, but not even the German guns have succeeded in smashing the dignity out of this ancient altar of French royalty. It still stands firm and mighty, dominating its ruined city, as if too old, too deeply rooted in the soil of France to be crushed by her enemies. After a year of bombardment it still raised its mutilated face in dumb protest above the crumbling dwellings of its people, whom it could no longer protect from the barbarian.
Not that the Germans have spared the cathedral in their senseless bombardment of Rheims! From that first day, when their own wounded lay within its walls and were carried out of the burning building by the French, until the morning I was there, when a shell tore at the ground beneath the buttresses hitherto untouched, the Germans seem to have taken a special malignant delight in shelling the cathedral. They have already damaged it beyond the possibility of complete repair, even should their hearts at this late day be miraculously touched by shame for what they have done and their guns should cease from further desecration. The glorious glass has already been broken into a million fragments; many of the finely executed mouldings and figures—irreplaceable specimens of a forgotten art—have been crushed; great wall spaces pounded and marred. It is as if a huge, fat German hand had ground itself across a delicately moulded face, smearing and smudging with vindictive energy its glorious beauty. Rheims Cathedral must bear these brutal German scars forever, even should the vandal hand be stayed now. It can never again be what it was—the full, marvelous flowering of Gothic art, precious heritage from dim centuries long past. Like a woman at the full flower of her life who has been raped and defiled, all the perfection of her ripened being defaced in a moment of lust, she will live on afterward with a certain grandeur of horror in her eyes, of tragic dignity that can never utterly be erased from her outraged person....
A French officer, speculating on the German intentions with that admirably dispassionate intelligence with which the French consider these brutal manifestations of the German mind, remarked, "At present they seem engaged in ringing the cathedral with their fire, as if to see how close they can come without hitting the building itself, but of course from that distance they must sometimes miss." One theory why the enemy pursues this unmilitary monument with such peculiarly relentless ferocity is that they enjoy the outcry which their vandalism creates. Moreover, it is a way of boasting to the world that they have not yet been expelled from their positions behind Rheims, are not being driven back. If any special explanation were needed, I should find it rather in the fact that Rheims is peculiarly associated with French history,—minster of her kings,—and its destruction would be especially bruising to French pride. William the Second probably swells with magnitude at the thought of destroying with his big guns this sanctuary of French kings. Some of the graven kings still cling to their niches in the lofty facade. Two have been taken to the ground for safety and look out with horror in their blind eyes at the ruin all about them. The little figure of Jeanne d'Arc, rescuer of a French king, still stands untouched before the great portal, astride her prancing horse, bravely waving her bronze flag. Around her were heaped garlands of fresh flowers, touching evidence that the city of Rheims still holds stout souls with faith in the ultimate salvation of their great church, who lay their tribute at the feet of the virgin warrior. Once she protected their ancestors from a less barbarous enemy.
What use to enumerate the wounds and outrages in minute detail? For by to-day more of this unique beauty has gone to that everlasting grave from which no German skill can resurrect it.... Within, the cathedral has been less spoiled, but is even sadder. One walked over the stone pavement crunching fragments of the purple glass that had fallen from the gorgeous windows, now sightless. Once at this hour it was all aglow with color, radiating a mysterious splendor into the vaults of transept and nave. A shell had blasted its way into one corner, another had rent the roof vaulting near the crossing of transept and nave. The columns and arches were blackened by the smoke of that fire which caught in the straw on which the German wounded lay. There was something peculiarly forlorn, ghostly within the dim ruins of what was once so great, and I was glad to escape to the old hospital in the close, now turned into a hospital for the cathedral itself. Here on benches and in piles about the floor of the low-vaulted room had been gathered those fragments of statue and moulding that a pious search could rescue from the debris around the cathedral. In this room, while the German guns were still raining shells upon Rheims, an old man in workman's apron was already moulding casts of the faces and lines of the shattered stones so that in some happier day an effort to reproduce them might be made. I saw between his trembling old fingers the fine features of a stone angel which he was covering with clay. I know of nothing more beautifully eloquent of the French spirit than this labor of preservation. Within range of shell fire this old man was calmly working to save what he might of the beauty that had been so prodigally murdered. If spiritual laws are still operative in this mad world of ours, the Latin must endure and conquer because of his unshakable faith....
At the hill on the Epernay road I looked back for a last view of the cathedral. The evening mist was already creeping over its scarred walls. With the two towers lifting the great portal to the sky, it dominated the valley, the ruined city at its feet, a monument of men's aspirations raising its head high into the sky in spite of the unseen missiles that even then were beginning once more their attack. I would that these words might go to swell that cry which has gone up from all civilized peoples at the sacrilege to Rheims! Even now something of its majesty and its glory might be saved if the German guns were silenced—if within the German nation there were left any respect for the ancient decencies and traditions of man. But I know too well with what contempt the Germans view such pleas for beauty, for old memories and loves. They are but "sentimental weakness," in the words of the "War Book," along with respect for defenseless women and children. The people who gloried in the sinking of the Lusitania will hardly be moved to refrain from the destruction of a cathedral. Rheims—unless saved by a miracle—is doomed. And it is because neither beauty nor humanity, neither ancient tradition nor common pity can touch the modern German, that this war must be fought to a real finish. There is not room in this world for the German ideal and the Latin ideal: one must die.
* * * * *
The tragedy of Rheims has been repeated again and again—at Soissons, at Arras, at Ypres, in every town and village throughout that blackened band of invaded France from the Vosges to the sea. Also the tragedy of exiled and imprisoned country folk, of ruined farms and houses, of mere destruction.
The wounds of France are so many, the outward physical bleeding of the land is so vast, that volumes have been written already as the record. Very little can be said or written about another wound,—the lives of those in the invaded provinces behind the German lines,—for almost nothing is known as to what has happened there, what is going on now. A word now and then comes from that dead, no man's land; a rare fugitive escapes from the conqueror's hand. The military rule forbids any correspondence through neutrals, as is permitted prisoners of war, to those held "behind the lines." The inhabitants are kept as prisoners. Worse, they have been used at certain places along the front as bucklers against the fire of their countrymen—in a quarry near Soissons, at Saint-Mihiel. It is known that heavy imposts are laid upon them, as at Lille, and that the invader is exploiting this richest part of France's industrial territory. This last wound is, perhaps, the most serious of all for France, in this modern, machine war. Latterly rumor has it that the treatment of the inhabitants imprisoned behind the German lines has become less rigorous, because, as a French general explained,—"They hope to make peace with us—quelle sale race!"
These wounds are still bleeding. They cannot be ignored. They, as well as the death, suffering, and agony of the long trench combat, make the faces of the French tense, silent. "To think that they are still here after a whole year since this happened!" a young Frenchman exclaimed in bitterness of soul as we looked out over the thickly scattered graves in the fields around Bercy. To him it was as if a crazed and drunken marauder had taken possession of his house, burned a part of it, and still caroused in another wing. The unforgettable, unforgivable wounds of France!
The French, so clear-seeing, so reasonable even about their own tragedies, are bitter to the soul when they think of the brutality done to their "douce France." To the French, quite as much as to the Bryanited American, war is a senseless, inhuman thing; but it becomes direfully necessary when the home has been burned and laid waste. The Gallic spirit cannot understand that spirit of malevolent destruction which vengefully wreaks its spite against defenseless and inanimate works of age to be reverenced, of art to be loved. There are certain scrupulosities of soul in the Latin that divide him from his enemy, more effectually than a thousand years of life and an entire world of space.
The barbarian, as the Greeks used the word, was not necessarily a person or a people without civilization. Indeed, certain ancient peoples known as barbarians had a high degree of luxury, civilization. The Persians under the barbarian Xerxes were probably quite the equals in the mechanics of civilization of the Greeks, and the Egyptians could lay claim to a large amount of what even the Greeks considered culture. The barbarian was a person or a nation without a spiritual sense in his values. The barbarian was often strong, able, intelligent, "organized" as we say, but he was incapable of self-government: the barbarian nations were ruled despotically. Their position in the world depended upon the force and the ability of the particular despot who got control of their destinies. The barbarian peoples were often crude in what is called fine art. They neither believed in nor practiced those amenities of daily life which express themselves superficially in manners, more deeply in sensitive inhibitions, nor those amenities of the soul which are known as honor, justice, mercy. The barbarian despised as soft and degenerate such persons as permitted themselves to be trammeled in their conduct by non-utilitarian considerations. In his primitive state the barbarian's instinct was to destroy what he could not understand; as he became more sophisticated, his instinct was to imitate what he could not create.
What, above all, the barbarian cannot appreciate is the suave mean of life, the ideal of individual human excellence, of a tempered social control, the liberty of the individual within the fewest possible restrictions to work out his own scheme of existence, his own civilization. For the barbarian mind recognizes only two sorts of beings—the master and the slave. One is a tyrant and the other is a docile imitation of manhood. The barbarian never totally dies from the world. In every race, in every nation, in every community fine examples of the barbarian instinct, the barbarian philosophy of existence can be found. I have known personally a great many barbarians,—American life is full of them,—and my knowledge of them, of their strengths and their limitations, has given me my understanding of the modern German as manifested in this world war.
* * * * *
Real truth often underlies popular nomenclature. It is neither accident nor a desire to abuse that has given the German the name of barbarian in the Latin nations. Just as the Latin peoples are the inheritors of Greek ideals, so the German peoples seem to be the active modern protagonists of all that the Greeks meant by their term "barbarian." The French before the war regarded the Germans as not wholly well-bred persons, lacking in some of those niceties of feeling and conduct which seemed to them important—"parvenus" as a French officer characterized his feeling about the race, and added the descriptive adjective "sale"—dirty. Since the war there has been ground into the French the more awful inhumanities of which these parvenus are capable. Therefore, when they think of the German, there comes instinctively to their lips the ancient term of complete distinction,—les barbares,—by which is meant a person and a nation who are not governed by ideals of taste, honor, humanity, what to the non-barbarian are summed up in the one word "decency." The adjective that the officer used—"sale"—does not imply necessarily literal physical dirt, but a moral callousness and unrefinement of soul which in the spiritual realm corresponds with the term "dirty" in the physical. He sees the soul of the German as a dirty soul, unclean, unsqueamish. And this conception of the enemy has given to the French soldier something of that crusader spirit which has sustained him through his terrible conflict. As M. Emile Hovelaque has expressed it,—"France is fighting the battle of humanity, of the world, of America, of every nation, man, and child who are resolved to live their own life in their own way, under the dictates of their conscience, within the limits of the laws they have accepted." The battle of the world to push back once more the pest of barbarism! It is that which has roused French chivalry, French heroism, not merely the love of the patrie. Indeed, for the higher spirits the patrie is closely identified with the non-barbaric ideals of humanity.
* * * * *
The whole conscious world has had the manifestations of the new barbarism before its eyes for an entire year and more. It has recoiled in disgust from the invasion of Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania, the shooting of Edith Cavell, from the wanton destruction of monuments. All these barbarities are indisputable facts, which may be explained and extenuated, but cannot be denied. There is another class of barbarities,—the so-called "atrocities,"—which are more easily denied, but which most people who have taken the trouble to examine the charges know to be equally true. The record of these multiplied atrocities is so enormous and so well authenticated that it would seem to me useless to add any words to the theme were it not for an amazing attitude of indifference to the subject on the part of many Americans. "We don't want to hear any more atrocity stories," they say. "Perhaps the atrocities have been exaggerated, probably there's truth on both sides. Anyway, war is brutal as every one knows." Some newspapers will not publish the atrocity charges, whether because of our popular prejudice against anything "unpleasant" unless freshly sensational or because of more sinister reasons, the reader may judge.
This attitude is both evasive and cowardly. It is essential to understand the atrocity for a proper realization of the war and of the German menace. It is false to say that all war is barbarous, and that in every war similar atrocities have occurred. As Mr. Hilaire Belloc has well said,—"Men have often talked during this war ... as though the crime accompanying Prussian activities in the field were normal to warfare.... It is of the very first importance to appreciate the truth that Prussia in this campaign has postulated in one point after another new doctrines which repudiate everything her neighbors have held sacred from the time when a common Christianity first began to influence the states of Europe. The violation of the Belgian territory is on a par with the murder of civilians in cold blood, and after admission of their innocence, with the massacre of priests and the sinking without warning of unarmed ships with their passengers and crews. To regard these things as something normal to warfare in the past is as monstrous an historical error as it would be to regard the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution as normal to civil disputes within the states."
It is the business of every person who is concerned about anything more than his own selfish fate to examine into the atrocity charges and to convince himself, not only of the truth, but of the more serious implications in their premeditated and persistent character. The record has been well made, fortunately, often in judicial form. It is already voluminous and being added to constantly. Best of all the evidence, perhaps, are the German diaries of soldiers and officers, extracts of which have been edited by Professor Bedier, of the College de France, with facsimile photographs of the texts. Next I should place in evidence the so-called German "War Book" ("Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege"), where under the convenient title of "Indispensable Severities" may be found the text for many of the worst atrocities committed in Belgium and France.
If the atrocity charge against the Germans is false or exaggerated, it is surely time to know it, but no mere denial or general argument can be accepted in rebuttal. The world must convince itself of the truth. The German crimes have been too many and too public, too well authenticated by witnesses to be disproved by mere denial. The best public opinion of the world has condemned military Germany as a barbarous outlaw. The crimes committed with the connivance of the supreme military authorities, authorized by their instructions to their officers, have fouled the name German for eternity: it will be coupled with Vandal, Tartar, Barbarian.
* * * * *
I believe the atrocity charges to be substantially true in a vast majority of cases. Moreover, I do not believe that half the truth of them has been told or ever will be. My reasons for this belief in the atrocity charge are the following: First, undisputed crimes, such as the Lusitania and Cavell cases. A government that would sanction these murders would sanction all other atrocities. Second, the witness of persons in whose credibility I have confidence, such as French officers and civilians, nurses and doctors, whose occupations have thrown first-hand evidence in their way, who have personal knowledge of specific outrages. Third, from what I myself gathered while I was in France from the lips of abused persons. Although I did not look for atrocities, I could not avoid getting reports from such people as I met in the devastated territory of the Marne, weighing their stories, and estimating the validity of them.
I believe in the truthfulness of that abbe of Esternay, who was one of the unfortunates that the Germans used as a screen before the operations of a body of troops. I believe in the truthfulness of the keen old peasant woman at Chatillon, whose home had been riddled by German bullets and who had been fired at when she took refuge in the cellar of her house, and of many others with whom I talked of their experiences during the early days of September, 1914. Unfortunately, there was no photographer at work those days along the Marne valley, though no doubt the German denying office would instantly impugn the evidence of a photograph of the act. Each one of us, however, has his own inner instinctive tests of truth to which he puts the credibility of a story, and I believe the abbe, the old woman, and many others who suffered abominably at the hands of German soldiers.
One fact only too evident to anybody who has followed in German footsteps through the valley of the Marne is the part that mere drunkenness had in this affair. The flower of the German army was incredibly drunken throughout the advance into France. Pillage, rape, incendiarism followed inevitably. They are common crimes to be expected where an exhausted soldiery is inflamed with drink. But the cowardly slaughter of non-combatants, the wanton destruction of monuments, the brutal tyrannies toward conquered peoples—these are the blacker crimes against the German name.
* * * * *
Self-control is not a Teutonic ideal. Of all the psychological surprises that the war has revealed, the exhibition of the German temperament has not been one of the least. Not its frank philosophic materialism, which any one who had followed the drift of German thought and literature might have expected, but its extraordinary lack of self-control. English and Americans are taught that an individual who cannot master his own temper is unfit to master others. Yet here is a people pretending to world rule whose tempers individually are so little under control that they explode in senseless passion on the least provocation. The German nation froths with hate first against the English because they were neither as cowardly nor selfish as had been expected, then against the Italians because they would not listen to Prince von Buelow's song, latterly against Americans because the United States dared to question the divine right of Germany to do with neutrals what she pleased. Judging from the German press and from the Germans whom I have met, the German nation is living in a ferment of rage, all the more extraordinary as the fighting seems to have gone their way thus far. What would happen to this uncontrolled people should the war take an unfavorable turn and not supply them with daily victories? Self-control is not included in that famous German discipline. Uncontrolled tempers, drink, the ordinary fund of brutality in the pit of human beings with the extraordinary conditions of war will explain much of all this barbarism—but not all.
The supreme evidence of German atrocities is to be found in the infamous "Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege," a singular revelation of national character in which the German general staff has summed up for young officers the principles that should govern the conduct of invading armies. One finds here,—"By steeping himself in military history an officer will be able to guard himself against excessive humanitarian notions; it will teach him that certain severities are indispensable to war, nay, more, that the only true humanity very often lies in a ruthless application of them." This convenient generalization covers the multitude of Belgian crimes. This interesting manual of conduct for officers further warns against "sentimentalism and flabby emotion," such as are embodied in the Hague Conventions, and after stating the generally accepted rule or custom of warfare warns that exceptions are always permissible where the officer deems exceptional severities are "indispensable." After perusing the "Kriegsbrauch im Landkriege," need one seek more evidence of German atrocities from the levying of confiscatory fines upon conquered peoples to the use of noncombatants as human screens in military operations? The germ of the barbarous system is there contained in its entirety.
* * * * *
But the implication of all this is much deeper than might appear on the surface. Such a theory of warfare as is set forth in the "War Book," as has been exemplified throughout the war, having its climax to date in the murder of Edith Cavell, is not the result of uncontrolled passions wrought to ferocity. It is deliberate, preconceived, defended,—an article of faith intimately bound up with the German ideal of the state. There is the danger. That the precept of the higher military authorities is accepted by the general public may be seen in the following passage from the Hamburg "Fremdenblatt"—or is it but a press note inserted by the high commandment? "Toxic gases are simply a new instrument of warfare; they are condemned because they are not universally adopted.... In warfare humanity does not exist and cannot exist. All the lucubrations of the Hague Conferences on this subject are childish babbling. New technical knowledge gives new arms to those who are not fools and know how to use them.... Knowledge creates power, power creates law, law creates humanity. All these are changing ideas and Germans are not disposed to discuss them during the war."
An Indian on the warpath scalps, burns, tortures, and we say it is the Indian nature to do these things. So-called civilized white men have gone on the loose in and out of war and have done many shameful deeds: we blush for them and draw the veil. But what never before has been accomplished is to have barbarism deliberately inculcated as part of the policy of warfare by a so-called civilized state; also warfare considered to be the flower of statecraft. Clausewitz lays down the principle that war is the legitimate carrying-out of state policy; the state relies upon war to execute its designs. The German military authorities announce and print for the use of their officers that in war deviation from any recognized principle of conduct is permitted under the excuse of "indispensable severity"—for the sake of terrorizing hostile peoples—and humanitarianism is condemned as "sentimentalism and flabby emotion."
There we have the gist of the whole affair—what makes the Frenchman instinctively consider the German to be a barbarian, what makes modern Germany the menace of the entire world. It is not its militaristic ideals, its mechanical civilization, not even its brutality and vulgarity, not even the ferocity of its warfare: it is the methodical application of this underlying principle of conduct which has been inculcated into the people so that they rejoice at the sinking of the Lusitania, which has been employed in this war systematically from the first day. This is the barbarian essence of the German character.
It is not the raping of women, not the staff officers' drunken orgies in chateaux, not the looting and burning of houses, not the stupid treatment of Belgians and French "hostages," etc. All these are distressing but not necessarily characteristic. It is the principle of the legitimacy of evil provided only that evil works to the advantage of the German state. That is the vicious term in the German syllogism. The state can do no wrong: therefore the individual acting for the state can do no wrong. The one supreme end sanctioned by divine authority is the endurance and the magnification of the German state. Whatever a German may do or cause to be done with this holy end in view is not merely just and reasonable, but necessary and praiseworthy. Hence there follows, naturally, the vile system of German espionage, of propaganda in neutral countries, the indiscriminate use of the submarine weapon, terrorization, military murders of civilians, and all the rest of the long count against Germany. Assume the vital major premise and the rest follows inevitably, provided her citizens are both docile and have a natural fund of brutality.
* * * * *
"In warfare humanity does not exist and cannot exist. All the lucubrations of the Hague Conferences on this subject are childish babbling.... Knowledge creates power, power creates law, law creates humanity. All these are changing ideas."
The world has known the barbarian always; we are all acquainted with him from personal experience. But the world has never before known a reasoned, intellectual barbarism, a barbarian that has elevated into a philosophy of human life with the sanctions of religion his instincts and impulses. And that is the menace of the German, not his force nor his brutality, but the risk that he can successfully impose upon the world such an atrocious creed, intimidating into imitation those cowardly souls whom he does not care to conquer. If Germany were to win this war, it would not be her bumptious aggression that the world ought to fear so much as the enormous impulse it would give to her detestable creed, to the principle of evil in the world. The danger for us Americans is greater than for others, not because of exposed coasts and an unprepared army, but because we are already tainted with the same raw materialism of belief. Too many individuals in America would find a sympathetic echo in their own hearts to the German creed of collective selfishness and barbarism.
* * * * *
One heard in Paris surprisingly little about German atrocities, less than in Boston and New York, much less than in London. Not that the French do not believe them: they know the bitter truth about German inhumanity as none others. With that admirable stoicism and lucid conservation of moral force displayed by the French from the beginning, they do not waste their strength in denunciation: they have accepted it as one of the terrible aspects of the evil they are fighting. They probably understand the German character as now wholly revealed better than the rest of the world and are not so much surprised by its manifestations. They have examined the German, and have fortified themselves against his cruel power.
But they cannot forget these incredible outrages. There are too many fresh examples—too many robbed and maltreated refugees, too many fatherless and motherless children, still coming to Paris by the trainload, whom they must provide for, too many relatives and friends who have been abused and murdered or whose property has been looted by German soldiers and officers. Also there are too many Frenchmen who have seen the horrors with their own eyes, too many doctors and stretcher-bearers shot down by those they were trying to aid, too many hospitals bombarded, too many wounded prisoners killed. The German atrocity is documented in France over and over, within the knowledge of millions. It will prove to be Germany's great stumbling-block after the war, when she looks about a shocked world for peoples to trade with.
* * * * *
In the dining-room of the military club at Commercy, where a corps of the French army now has its headquarters, there is a wall painting of the last century representing the heroic deeds of Jeanne d'Arc. "That," said General C., pointing to the little figure on horseback, "is French! And the French have fought this war chivalrously—not against monuments, against women and children and old people, but as soldiers against soldiers!"
The Latin is sometimes cruel—he has within him the capacity for cruelty—and the history of Latin peoples is stained here and there with ferocity. But the Latin has never organized cruelty methodically, has never elevated terrorization into a principle of warfare, a weapon of statecraft. For one thing he is too intelligent: he knows that cruelty begets reprisals, that brutality breeds hate. After Alsace the German should have known too much to try the same method in harsher forms upon Belgium and invaded France. But the barbarian learns no spiritual lessons. Persian atrocity, Saracen atrocity, Indian atrocity, Spanish atrocity—they have all failed. An enduring triumph was never won on that principle of "indispensable severity."
It is barbarism as well as the barbarian which France is fighting, and the French know it, are profoundly conscious of it, from the cool, dispassionate philosopher, like Bergson or Boutroux or Hovelaque, to the girl conductor on the tram, the dirty poilu in the trench. For more than a generation the French world has suffered from the fear of this new barbarian, and the time has come again, as it has come so many times before in history, for the momentous decision with the barbarian. Again as before it must come on the fields of France where the ancient curse of barbarism has been met and destroyed.
The German Lesson
The barbarian must be met on his own ground of force and efficiency,—"an eye for an eye," not with arguments or apologies, not even with numbers or wealth. The vital question for us all to-day is not how unprepared the Allies were for the onslaught of barbarism, but how far they have overcome their handicap, how thoroughly they have learned the barbarian's lesson. The varying degrees in which the different allied nations have grasped the meaning of the lesson and applied it tell us not merely their chance of survival, but also the probable outcome of the world decision. What that lesson is which Germany is teaching the world by blood and iron is a byword on men's tongues to-day: the value of it is another question.
* * * * *
Long before the war, Germany had published far and wide her scorn of her enemies. The Russians were an undisciplined barbarian horde; the English, stupid idlers who spent on their sport the energy that the industrious German devoted to preparing himself for world rule. As for the French, they were an amiable and amusing people, but degenerate—fickle, feeble, rotten with disease. Germany's hate was reserved for the English, her most ignoble slurs for the French. Needless to say, Germany has not found any one of her many enemies as wholly despicable as she had imagined them to be. Her miscalculations were greatest with France. That the French people are smaller in stature than the German, that they eat less and breed less, that by temperament they are cheerful and gay and witty convinced the dull German mind that the race had become degenerate and trivial,—negligible. This habit of contemptuously attributing to other peoples vileness and degeneracy because their social ideals differ from her own is part of that lack of imagination which is the Teuton's undoing.
The courage, endurance, and high spirit displayed by the French have compelled German admiration. The French have become the most tolerable of all her enemies, and it is an open secret that for many months Germany has desired to win France away from her allies by an honorable, even advantageous peace. Meantime French prisoners are favored in the German prison camps, being accorded a treatment altogether more humane than that given the English prisoners or the Russians. But France has replied to the dishonorable advances no more than to the calumnies. One of the astonishing revelations of national psychology unfolded in the war has been the taciturnity of the French, their silent tenacity. For nearly two generations the nation has lived in expectation of an ultimate struggle for existence with the barbarian: now that it has come with more than the feared ferocity the French have no time or energy to waste in comment. They must expel the barbarian from their home and put a limit "for an hundred years" to the menace of his barbarism.
That is in part why the clear-headed Latin has learned the German lesson faster than his allies.
* * * * *
What everybody knows by this time, and in America is repeating with sickening fluency, is that Germany is "efficient," not only militarily efficient, but socially and economically efficient—which these days amounts to the same thing. Germany is "organized" both for peace and war more efficiently than any other nation in the world. The two terms that this war has driven into all men's consciousness are "efficiency" and "organization." We in America, prone to admire the sheen of tin, have bowed down in greater admiration than any other people to German "efficiency." For efficiency values in the operations of life are just the ones we are most capable of appreciating, although our government and general social organization remain as lamentably inefficient as, say, the English. But being a business people we are fitted to admire business qualities above all others. The German army, the German state are magnificently run businesses! To some of us, however, the term "efficiency" has become nauseating because it has been associated with so much else that we loathe from the bottom of our souls. If we cannot have an "efficient" civilization without paying the price for it that Germany has paid,—the price of humanity, of beauty, the price of her soul,—let us return to the primitive inefficiency of a Sicilian village!
Germany under a highly autocratic system of government has created a social machine of unexampled and formidable efficiency. The German realized before his rivals that war had become, like all other human activities, a matter of business on a huge scale. And he had prepared not merely the special instruments of war, but also the tributary business on this scale of modern magnitude: he had converted his state into a powerful war machine. All this which is now commonplace has become more glaringly evident to us onlookers because of the lamentable failure of England and Russia especially to meet the requirements of the new business. So incapable do they seem of learning the German lesson that to some Americans the cause of the Allies is doomed already to disaster. Certainly the English and the Russians have justified many of those bitter German taunts.
It has not been so with France. The French also were caught unprepared—to their honor—like their allies. Can a real democracy ever be prepared for war? France, suffering grievously from the first blow dealt by the enemy, looked destruction in the face before the stand at the Marne. The famous victory of the Marne, I believe, is still unknown in Germany—I have been so informed by an American who spent last winter in Germany. The battle of the Marne may not rank in history as quite the greatest battle in the history of the world. The French may exaggerate its importance as a military event. The English have certainly exaggerated the part played by their little expeditionary force of less than a hundred thousand in "saving France." That is for others to dispute. But it was without any question a great moral victory for the French of the utmost tonic value to the nation. It saved France from despair, possibly from the annihilation that follows despair. And ever since the Marne victory, French confidence and elan have been rapidly growing. During that bloody September week they realized that the barbarian was not invincible, the machine was not so perfect but that human will and human courage could resist it. Moreover, the machine lacked that quality of spirit which the French felt in themselves. As the months have dragged around an entire year and more in the trenches, almost contempt has grown in the mind of the French soldier for the formidable German machine. Strong as it is, it yet lacks something—that something of human spirit without which permanent victories cannot be achieved. Its strength can be imitated. The spirit cannot be "organized."
French confidence is more than an official phrase, a mere bluff!
* * * * *
But—and just here lies the profound significance of it all—the French realized at once that in order to conquer the German machine they must create an equally efficient and powerful machine, which with that plus of human spirit and the inspiration of their cause would carry them over into victory. So while the English were berating the barbarian for his atrocious misconduct, advertising "business as usual," and filching what German trade they could, bungling at this and that, until they have become a spectacle to themselves, the French nation concentrated all its energies upon preparing an organization fit to meet the German organization. While General Joffre held the Germans behind the four hundred miles of trenches, France made itself over into a society organized for war—the new business kind of war which is waged in factory and railway terminal, not by gallant charges. "Organiser" has become in the Frenchman's vocabulary the next most popular word to "patrie." One implies, these days, the other.
It is said that when Germany invaded France, the French had not a ton of their chief high explosive on hand. Some of its ingredients they had been getting from Germany! France lost her coal and iron mines and her largest factories the first weeks of the war and has not regained them. Yet early in last April, according to the official announcement, France was turning out six times as much ammunition as was deemed, before the war, the maximum requirement, and would shortly turn out ten times as much, which has ere this probably been greatly exceeded. Meanwhile, by April the artillery had been increased sevenfold. In attaining these results, France has accomplished a greater marvel relatively speaking than the most boasted German efficiency. She has had to get her coal from England, her ores from Spain, her machines for making guns and shells from us. She has had to improvise shell factories and gun plants from automobile factories, electric plants, railway repair shops—from anything and everything. I visited a small tile factory that was being utilized to make hand grenades. Innumerable small shops in Paris are engaged in munition work. The amount of ammunition bought in America by France has been grossly exaggerated by the German press. Latterly, France has employed American engineers to build large munition plants in France that will become the property of the Government.
Throughout the spring the Paris newspapers appeared every morning with large headlines: "More guns! More ammunition!!" And they got them, made them. The headlines are no longer needed, for the superiority in shell and guns rests with the French, not with the Germans, on the western front.
* * * * *
France, industrially crippled, has accomplished this marvel in one short year. The country has become one vast workshop for war. The Latin genius for organization on the small scale has met the German genius for organization on the large scale. The industrial transformation has been facilitated by the system of conscription over which the English have wrangled so long and so futilely to the mystery of their keener-witted allies. To the Frenchman conscription means merely the most effective method of applying patriotism, of cooeperation for the common cause. France has mobilized not only her men, but her women and children, it might be said, so thoroughly have the civilian elements worked into the shops and other non-military labor. To sort out their labor and put it where it was most effective, to substitute women workers for men wherever possible, were the first steps in the huge work of social reorganization. There were no labor troubles to contend with, thanks to the conscription system and to the awakened patriotism of every element in society. France looked on aghast when her necessary supplies of coal were threatened by the strike of Welsh miners, averted only by the personal pleadings of a popular minister! To the Latin, more disciplined and more alive to the real dangers of the situation than the Anglo-Saxon, the English attitude was simply incomprehensible. Also France has not had her efficiency so seriously threatened by the liquor problem as has England: the military authorities have taken stern measures against this danger and have carried them out firmly. So far as the army itself is concerned, the drink evil does not exist.
The manufacture of ammunition and cannon is but one element in the new warfare. France has had to feed, clothe, and maintain her armies under the same handicap, to meet all the unexpected requirements in material of the trench war. The French have rediscovered the hand grenade and developed it into the characteristic weapon of the war, have unearthed all their old mortars from the arsenals and adapted them to the trench, and created the best aerial service of all the combatants. Incidentally they have effectually protected Paris from air raids since the first months of the war by their careful aerial patrol. All this is aside from the task of putting the nation socially and economically on the war basis—in providing for the wounded, the dependent women and children, and also for a perpetual stream of refugees from Belgium and the invaded provinces, a burden that Germany has not yet had to carry.
Not all this huge work of reorganization could be done immediately with equal success. The sanitary service suffered grievously, especially at the beginning,—needed all the help that generous outsiders could give,—still needs it. The percentage of death among the wounded is too high, of those returned to the army too low. There have been wastes in other directions due to haste, inexperience, political interference, but nothing like the wastes that England has suffered from the same causes, infinitely less than we should suffer judging from the ineptitudes we displayed in our little Spanish War.
Probably France is not as well organized to-day for the war business as is Germany. Very possibly she never will be, which is not to the discredit of her people. The nation has had to do in one short year, grievously handicapped at the start, what Germany has done at her leisure during forty years. Moreover, the Latin temperament is intolerant of the mechanical, the routine, which is the glory of the German. Although the French have realized with marvelous quickness the necessity of war organization and have adapted themselves to it,—have learned the German lesson,—they are spiritually above making it the supreme ideal of national effort. Without argument they have accepted the conditions imposed upon them, but they do not regard the modern war business as the flower of human civilization.
* * * * *
Mere preparation, no matter how scientific and thorough, is by no means the whole of the German lesson. The first months of the war we heard too much about German preparedness, too little about German character. By this time the world is realizing that military preparation is but one manifestation of that German character, and the real danger is German character itself. According to reports in her own newspapers Germany found herself running short of war materials after the first weeks of this extraordinarily prodigal war, which exceeded even her prudent calculations. But Germany had the habit of preparation and the social machinery ready to enlarge her war product. Without advertising her situation to the world, she provided for the new requirements so abundantly that she has not yet betrayed any deficiency in material. And while she was sweeping victoriously across northern France toward Paris, with the belief that the city must fall before her big guns, nevertheless her engineers took pains to prepare the Aisne line of defense, which saved her armies from disaster and enabled them to keep their tenacious grip on Belgium and northern France. This is the real strength of Germany, the real import of the bitter lesson she is teaching the world—the habit of preparation, discipline, organization, thrift. On the specifically military side the French seem to have learned this lesson well. They have fortified the ground between the present front and Paris with line after line of defensive works. The fields are gray with barbed wire. A few miles outside of the suburbs of Paris may be seen as complete a system of trenches as on the front, and the kepi of the territorial digging a trench is a familiar sight almost anywhere in eastern France. It is inconceivable that any "drive" on the western front could be successful. The confidence of the French rests in part on these precautions.
Whether the French can apply the inner meaning of the German lesson, can incorporate it into their characters and transmit it to their children, is a larger question for us as well as for them, for the whole world. But their success in applying it in this war is all the more noteworthy in contrast with the failure of their two great allies, who were not invaded, not handicapped at the start, as was France. The failure of Great Britain and of Russia to master the lesson is so obvious, so lamentable, that it needs no emphasis here. France, with the brunt of invasion only a few miles from the gates of Paris, her factories and mines lost, has provided herself very largely, has supplied Serbia with ammunition, Italy with artillery, Russia, England, and Italy with aeroplanes. For many months the thirty miles of the western front held by the English was defended with the assistance of French artillery.
The Slav one expected to fail in getting his German lesson, for obvious reasons, especially because of his reactionary and corrupt bureaucracy. But not the Anglo-Saxon! As a clever French staff officer remarked,—"The two disappointments of the war have been the Zeppelins and the English." Without making a post mortem on the English case, the Latin superiority is a phenomenon worth pondering. For the Anglo-Saxon, cousin to the Teuton, would supposably be the better fitted to receive the German lesson of organization and discipline. But that ideal of individual liberty, which England surely did not inherit from her Germanic ancestors, seems to have degenerated into a license that threatens her very existence as a great state. The English still talk of "muddling through somehow"! If the end of autocracy is barbarism, the end of liberty is anarchy.
The Latin has kept the mean between the two extremes. The French, having fought more desperately in their great revolution for individual freedom than any other people, seem able to recognize its necessary limits and to subordinate the individual at necessity to the salvation of the nation. In the Latin blood, however modified, there remains always the tradition of the greatest empire the world has known, which for centuries withstood the assaults of ancient barbarism. The wonderful resistance and adaptability of the French to-day is of more than sentimental importance to mankind. All the world, including their foes, pay homage to the gallantry and greatness of the French spirit in their dire struggle, but what has not been sufficiently recognized is the significance to the future of the recovery by the Latin peoples of the leadership of civilization. We Americans who have both traditions in our blood, with many modifications, are as much concerned in this world decision as the combatants themselves.
So much has become involved in the titanic struggle, so many subordinate issues have risen to cloud the one cardinal spiritual issue at stake, that we are likely to forget it or deny that there is any. Is the world to be barbarized again or not?
* * * * *
This reiterated use of the term "barbarism" is not merely rhetorical nor cheap invective. It is exact. One of the Olympian jests of this world tragedy has been the passionate verbal battles over the claims of respective "Kulturs" to the favor of survival. Why deny that the barbarian can have a very superior form of "Kultur" and yet remain a barbarian in soul? These pages on the German lesson are a tribute to Germany's special contribution to the world. Social and industrial organization, systematic instead of loose ways of doing things, prudence, thrift, obedience and subordination of the individual to the state, discipline—in a word, an efficient society. It is a great lesson! No one to-day can belittle its meaning. Possibly the remote, hidden reason for all this seemingly useless bloody sacrifice in our prosperous modern world is to teach the primary principles of the lesson. God knows that we all need it—we in America most after the Russian, and next to us the English. If the world can learn the lesson which Germany is pounding in with ruin, slaughter, and misery,—can discipline itself without becoming Teutonized,—the sacrifice is not too great. If the non-Germanic peoples cannot learn the lesson sufficiently well, then the Teuton must rule the world with "his old German God." His boasted superiority will become fact, destiny.
That is the momentous decision which is being wrought out these days in Europe with blood and tears—the relative importance to mankind of discipline and liberty. The ideal is to have both, as much of one as is consistent with the other. In this country and in England may be seen the evil of an individualism run into license—the waste, the folly of it. And in Germany may be seen the monstrous result of an idolatrous devotion to the other ideal—the man-made machine without a soul. Between the two lies the fairest road into the future, and that road, with an unerring instinct, the Latin follows.
* * * * *
The German lesson is not the whole truth: it is the poorer half of the truth. An undisciplined world is more in God's image than a world from which beauty, humanity, and chivalry have been exterminated. But discipline is the primal condition of survival. Between these two poles, between its body and its soul, mankind must struggle as it has always struggled from the beginning of time....
When I looked on the sensitive, suffering faces of Frenchwomen in their mourning, the wistful eyes of crippled youths, the limp forms of wounded men, the tense, bent figures of dirty poilus in their muddy trenches, I knew that through their souls and bodies was passing the full agony of this struggle.
The Faith of the French
I do not mean religious faith, although that too has been evoked, reaffirmed by the trials and griefs of the war, but I mean faith in themselves, in their cause, in life. The unshakable faith of the French is the one most exhilarating, abiding impression that the visitor takes from France these days. It is so universal, so pervasive, so contagious that he too becomes irresistibly convinced, no matter how dark the present may be, how many victories German arms may win, that the ultimate triumph of the cause is merely deferred.
There has never been the slightest panic in France, not during the mobilization when white-faced men and women realized that the dreaded hour had struck, not even in those days of suspense when the public began to realize that the first reports of French victories in Alsace were deceptive and that the enemy was almost at the gates of Paris. A million or so people left the city with the Government in order to escape the expected siege, but there was no panic, not even among the wretched creatures driven from their homes in the provinces before the blast of the German cyclone.
Ever since the battle of the Marne the tide of confidence has been steadily rising, in spite of the tedious disappointments of trench warfare, the small gains of ground, the steady toll of lives, in spite of reverses in Galicia and Poland and the mistakes in the Dardanelles, in spite of English sluggishness and Russian weakness. Each reverse has been courageously accepted, analyzed, and found not decisive, merely temporary. Victory must come to the ones who can endure to the end, and the French know now that they can endure. "We can do it all alone, if we have to!" Again, "The Germans know that they are beaten already: they know it in Berlin as well as we do." This confidence is based on realities—first on the success with which France has learned the German lesson and completely reorganized her life for the business of war. "We were not ready last August—but we are now." Her machine is growing stronger in spite of the daily waste of life, while the German machine is weakening steadily.
* * * * *
The farther one gets into the military zone, the more fervent and evident is this confidence, until on the front it is an irresistible conviction that inspires men and officers alike. Even a novice like myself began to understand why the army is sure of ultimate victory, and the longer one stays at the front the more this faith of the French seems justified. In the first place, they have so well got that German lesson! The supply of shell and gun is so abundant, also of fresh troops in reserve thanks to "Papa" Joffre's frugality with human lives; the first, second, third lines—on ad infinitum to Paris—are so carefully fortified, so alertly held against any "drive"! And the troops are so fit! They have made themselves at home in their new camping life behind the lines of dugouts and caves; they have become gnomes, woodsmen, cavemen, taking on the earth colors of the primitive world to which they have been forced to return in order to free the soil of their country. Then one sees the steady creeping forward of the front itself, not much as it looks on a small-scale map, but as the officers point out the blasted woods, or the brow of a hill over which the trenches have been slowly pushed metre by metre throughout the interminable weeks of constant struggle, one sees that gradually the French have got the upper hand, the commanding positions in long stretches of the trench wall. They are on the hills, their artillery commands the level fields before them. It is like the struggle between two titanic wrestlers who have swayed back and forth over the same ground so long that the spectator can see no advance for either. But one wrestler knows that the inches gained from his adversary count, that the body in his grasp is growing weaker, that the collapse will come soon—with a rush. He cannot tell fully why he feels this superiority, but he knows that his adversary is weakening.
Perhaps a colonel on the front will tell you with elation,—"We know that the Boches across the way are discouraged, because our prisoners say so,—we take prisoners more easily than we did,—and they are all mixed up in their formations. We know that they have to drive their men to the job, that the lines about here are stripped as bare as they dare keep them. There used to be a lot of reserve troops behind their lines, but our aviators say there aren't any in X——any more! And they aren't as free with their obus as they used to be, and they are 'old nightingales,' not first quality." Perhaps the staff officers will smile, knowing that the enemy is massing his forces elsewhere on the long front, but this trick of rapid change is becoming harder to perform, and more exhausting. At any rate, the plain poilus in the front trenches are instinctively sure: "We'll have 'em now soon!" They have watched that grim gray wall opposite so long that, like animals, they can feel what is going on there on the other side.
* * * * *
At staff headquarters in a more contained, reserved way there is the same air of vital confidence. "Have you seen the new pump?" the general asked me. "We are pumping good water all over this sector into the front trenches, too.... Oh, we are bien installe! ... It may be another year, two, perhaps more, but the end is certain. There is one man in the trenches, another just behind in reserve, still another resting somewhere in the woods for his week off, and more, all the men we want back in the depots!" And he turns the talk to the good health of his men, their fine spirit. For one of the human, lovable qualities of the officers whom I met is that they prefer to talk about the comfort, the morale, the esprit, of their men to discussing "operations."
Just here I see where the French have risen above the machine idea of the German lesson. There is a something plus, over and above "preparation," "organization," "efficiency," which the Latin has and on which his confidence in ultimate victory largely rests. That is his belief in the individual, his reliance on the strength of the individual's spirit. To the French officer this seems the all-important factor in the army: military force depends ultimately upon the esprit of the individual which creates the morale of the whole. Of course, the army must be equipped in the modern way and fought in the modern way with all the resources of science, with aeroplanes, bombs, motor transport, and heavy artillery. But without the full devotion of the individual, without the cooeperation of his esprit, the army would be a dead machine, especially in this nerve-rending endurance contest of the trenches. Here is the Latin idea, which is absolutely opposed to the German machine theory of war.
The German staff has done marvels with its machine. It hurls armies over the map of Europe of initiative and devotion in the common soldier, who in the Latin conception of the word remains a human being with a soul. An officer remarked to me, "We cannot have our men come from the trenches glum and downcast—a Frenchman must laugh and joke or something is wrong with him. So we started these vaudevilles behind the lines, and sports." Instead of more drill they give their men "shows," so that they may laugh and forget the horrors of the trench. Good psychology!
* * * * *
The civilian shines through every French soldier—the civilian who is a human being like you or me, with the same human needs. The officers chat and joke familiarly with their men. Comradeship is substituted for tyranny. France, one comprehends, is a real democracy, and still takes the ideal of equality seriously. When I asked an officer at Rheims why he had not had a day's leave in ten months while English officers went home on leave, he said, with a shrug,—"France is a republic: our men must get their leaves first."
The machine system gives startling results—in a short campaign. But when it comes to an endurance contest, to the long, long strains of trench warfare, something other than drill and organization is necessary, something that will rouse the human being to the last atom of effort that he has in him. When men must stand up to their waists in icy water, live in the inferno of constant bombardment, not for hours and days, but for weeks and months, something other than discipline is needed to keep them sufficiently alive to be of use. Doctors tell how willingly, unquestioningly, the wounded go back to the hell they have escaped,—not once, but twice, three times. To evoke the capacity for heroism in the individual soldier has been the triumph of the Latin system.
The faith of the French rests justly on their heroic resolution, their ability to endure as individuals, more than on the lesson learned of preparation and organization.
* * * * *
Faith is a belief in the evidence of things unseen. French faith is of many kinds, not purely material, not military. They believe so profoundly in the perfect justice and high importance of their cause that it would seem as if they counted upon the cause alone to win the victory. No nation, they say, ever spent itself in a better cause. Victims of an unprovoked attack, unprepared, which is the best evidence of peaceable will, witnesses of the outrage of a neighbor people, bleeding from the wounds of their own country,—what better cause for war could men have? And the Latin intelligence of the French enables them from the humblest to the highest to perceive the universality of the principles for which they are called upon to die. It is no selfish, not even a merely national, cause—it is the cause of nothing less than humanity in which they fight.
The philosopher Bergson expressed this sublime confidence in the cause thus (I give the substance of his words from memory): "Not all wars can be avoided—perhaps nine out of ten can. But this one, no! For it is a war of principles. It will be a long war because the enemy is strong and we were unprepared. But we can wait the end confident in the result. The Germans have created a false belief, a wrong idea, and have carried that idea into action with extraordinary thoroughness. But the belief rests upon error. When the day comes that they meet reverses, when their idol of force no longer works miracles for them, then they will collapse, from within. There will be a general breakdown of personality from realizing the falsity of their idea. There lies our victory."
The philosopher's belief is based on the faith that the principles of justice, of law, of humanity are stronger, more enduring than any organization of force no matter how efficient, for this is a moral world. And the individual or nation who relies upon might to enforce wrong must in the end, perceiving the irrationality of his world, collapse. The grinding of the mill may be heart-breakingly slow, but the grist is as sure as life itself.
Similarly, the statesman Hanotaux has expressed "The Moral Victory": "It is the noblest, the highest of causes which has been submitted to the arbitrament of arms. Its grandeur justifies the terrible extent of the drama and the immense sacrifices it imposes. The material results of victory will be immense, the moral results will be even greater.... Moral forces are superior to physical forces, and in spite of all they will have the last word.... Our youth has gone to the front in the serene conviction that it was fighting not only for the patrie, but for humanity, that this war was a sort of crusade, that they could claim place beside St. Louis and Jeanne d'Arc."
It is that heroic consciousness of a righteous martyrdom that I read on the faces of the black-robed women in the street, too proud for tears; in the silent figures on the hospital beds, suffering without protest an agony too deep for words. And when I encountered a file of soldiers in the muddy trenches, flattening themselves out against the earth walls to let me pass, carrying pails of soup to the comrades up front, or sitting motionless beside their burrows along the trench wall, their hands clasping their rifles,—dirty, grimed, and bearded,—I saw the same thing in their tired eyes, their drawn faces. Mute martyrs in the cause of humanity, in my cause, they were giving their lives for others, for me, not merely that the German might be driven from France, but that justice and honor and peace between men might prevail in the world!
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Because the French people are inspired with the grandeur and the moral significance of their cause, they cannot understand a certain cynical attitude of mind, well illustrated by a former Senator of the United States, who has been high in the councils of the defunct Progressive Party. After spending ten days in Paris last spring, he remarked at a luncheon given him by some distinguished Frenchmen,—"Don't tell me about the justice of your cause or about the atrocities. I am not interested in that. What I want to know is, who is going to win!" Who is going to win! There spoke the barbarian mind. The barbarian mind cannot comprehend that the winning itself in a world cause is inextricably involved in the justice and worth of the cause.
For the same reason the French people have been puzzled by the sort of neutrality preached and practiced at Washington since the outbreak of the war. It is plain enough that neither France nor England desires to have the United States go to war with Germany. We can help them better as a huge supply house than as an ally, much as that might offend our vanity. The French appreciate also our President's desire to keep his country at peace. They are a peace-loving people and know the frightful costs of war. But they cannot understand a neutrality that avoids committing itself upon a moral issue such as was presented to the world in Belgium, in the sinking of the Lusitania. And in spite of the strict censorship, which for obvious reasons has muzzled the French press in its comment upon our diplomacy with Germany, occasionally flashes of a biting scorn of the Wilson neutrality have appeared in print, as the following from Hanotaux: "We should be wanting truly in frankness toward our great sister republic if we left her in the belief that this series of documents, of a tone particularly friendly and affectionate, addressed to the German Government after such acts as theirs, had not occasioned in France a certain surprise.... Up to this time the Allies, who have not, God be praised, compromised or even menaced the life of any neutral, of any American, have not received the twentieth part of these friendly terms that the German Government has brought forth by its implacable acts.... What the world awaits from President Wilson is not merely a note, it is a verdict. What do neutral peoples, what does the American Government, what does President Wilson think of the German doctrine,—'Necessity knows no law—the end justifies the means'?... Every Government that acts or speaks at the present hour decides the nature of the real peace, whether it will be an affirmation of those eternal principles that are alone capable of directing humanity toward its sacred end."
To our eternal shame as a nation our Government has evaded, up to this hour, pronouncing the expected verdict, has preferred to quibble and define, in its vain attempt to hold the barbarian to a "strict accountability"—whatever that may mean. France does not want our army or our navy, not even our money and our factories, except on business terms, but she has looked in vain for our affirmation as a nation of our belief in her great cause, which should be our own cause—the cause of all free peoples.
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What a timid and verbal interpretation of neutrality has prevented our Government from affirming, the American people, let us be thankful, have done generously, abundantly. They have pronounced a not uncertain verdict, and they have followed this moral verdict with countless acts of sympathy. The cause of France, the faith of the French, have roused the chivalry of the best Americans. Our youths are fighting in the trenches, our doctors and nurses are giving their services, our money is helping to stanch the wounds of France. As a people we too have affirmed our faith in the cause and are doing generously, spontaneously, as is our wont, what we can to win that cause for the world. The splendid hospital of the American Ambulance at Neuilly, equipped and operated on the generous American scale, is the real monument to the beliefs, the hopes, the faith of the American people.
In that modification of the Anglo-Saxon tradition which America is fast evolving, there is a subtle sympathy and likeness with the Latin, which this crisis has brought into evidence. We are less English than French in spirit, in our ideal of culture, of life.
The New France
"This is a return for a new departure!" the Italian poet cried to his people at Quarto when they were still hesitating between the paths of a prudent neutrality and intervention in the world decision. Probably in the poet's thought there was more of concrete ambition for "national aspirations" than of spiritual rebirth. But for the French nation it is the spiritual rebirth alone that has any meaning. No material enlargement of France has ever been seriously contemplated. The acquisition of Alsace can hardly be termed conquest, and whatever hopes of indemnity or other material advantages the French may have permitted themselves to dream of must fade as the financial burden of all Europe mounts ever higher. Even the recovery of Alsace, according to those best able to judge,—in spite of German assertions,—would never have roused France to an aggressive war. Conquest, material growth, is not an active principle in the French character. How often I have heard this thought on French lips,—"We want to be let alone, to be free to live our lives as we think best, to develop our own institutions,—that is what we are fighting for!" For forty years the nation has lived under the fear of invasion, a black cloud always more or less threatening on the frontier, and when the day of mobilization came every Frenchman knew instinctively what it meant—the long-expected fight for national existence. And the hope that sustains the people in their blackest moments is the hope of ending the thing forever. "Our children and our children's children will not have to endure what we suffer. It will be a better world because of our sacrifice."
The conquest that France will achieve is the conquest of herself, and the fruits of that she has already attained in a marvelous measure. The reality of a new France is felt to-day by every Frenchman and is aboundingly obvious to the stranger visiting the country he once knew in her soft hours of peace. To be sure, intelligent French people say to you, when you comment on the fact, "But we were always really like this at bottom, serious and moral and courageous, only you did not see the real France." Pardonable pride! The French themselves did not know it. As so often with individual souls, it took the fierce fire of prolonged trial to evoke the true national character, to bring once more to the surface ancient and forgotten racial virtues, to brighten qualities that had become dim in the petty occupations of prosperity.
After I had been in France a short time, nothing seemed falser to me than the pessimistic assertions of certain German-Americans and faint-hearted other Americans, that whatever the outcome of the world war France was "done for," "exhausted," "ruined," must sink to the level of a third-rate power, and so forth. Nor can I believe the words of those saddened sympathizers and helpers in the ambulances and hospitals, that "France is proudly bleeding to death." Her wounds have been frightful, and through them is still gushing much of the best blood of the nation. Her bereavement has been enormous, but not irreparable. Once a real peace achieved, the triumph of the cause, and I venture to predict that France will give an astonishing spectacle of rapid recovery, materially and humanly. For the New France is already a fact, not a faith.
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Evidence of this rebirth is naturally difficult to make concrete as with all spiritual quality. It is not merely the solidarity of the nation, the fervent patriotism, the readiness for every sacrifice, which are qualities more or less true of all the warring nations, especially of Germany. It is more than the perpetual Sunday calm along the rue de la Paix, the absence of that parasitic frivolity with which Paris—a small part of Paris—entertained the world. It is not simply that French people have become serious, silent, determined, with set wills to endure and to win—for that moral tenacity may relax after the crisis has passed. It is all these and much more which I shall try to express that has revealed a new France.
To start with some prosaic proofs of the new life, I will take the liquor question, a test of social vitality. It is significant to examine how the different belligerent nations have treated this problem, which becomes acute whenever it is necessary to call upon all national reserves in a crisis. Turkey, Italy, and Germany apparently have no liquor problem; at least the war has not called attention to it. Russia, whose peasantry was notoriously cursed with drunkenness, eradicated the evil, ostensibly, by one arbitrary ukase, though, if persistent reports from the eastern war region are true, her great reform has not yet reached her officers. England has played feebly with the question from the beginning when the ravages of drink among the working population—what every visitor to England had known—became painfully evident to the Government in its efforts to mobilize war industries and increase production. Various minor restrictions on the liquor traffic have been imposed, but nothing that has reached to the roots of the matter—probably because of the powerful liquor interest in Parliament as much as from the Englishman's fetish of individual liberty. Although the direct handicap of drunken workmen did not affect France as it did England, the French authorities quickly realized the indirect menace of alcoholism and have taken real measures to combat it. Absinthe has been abolished. For the army—and that includes practically all the younger and abler men—the danger has been minimized by the strict enforcement of regulations as to hours and the non-alcoholic nature of drinks permitted, which are posted conspicuously in all cafes and drinking-places and which are carefully observed, as any one who tries to order liquor in company with a man in uniform will quickly find out! I never saw a soldier or an officer in the least degree under the influence of liquor while I was in France, either at the front or outside the military zone, and very few workingmen. Not content with the control of liquor in the army, the French have seriously attacked the whole problem, which in France centers in the right of the fruit-grower to distill brandy,—an ancient custom that in certain provinces has resulted in great abuses. Legislation against the bouilleurs de crue is one inevitable outcome of the awakened sense of social responsibility in France.
Connected with the liquor evil is the birth-rate question, to which since the war the attention of all serious-minded people has been drawn. The French Academy of Sciences has undertaken an elaborate series of investigations into the relations between the birth-rate and the consumption of alcohol, which would seem to show that there is cause and effect between the excessive use of alcohol and a declining birth-rate. This will undoubtedly tend to create a popular sentiment favorable to restrictive liquor legislation, specifically to abolishing the right to distill spirits. But what is of more real significance is the changing sentiment among the French in favor of larger families. Due, no doubt, directly to the necessities of a draining war, it is also an expression of those deeper experiences that trial has brought. The French have always prized family life, and French family life is, perhaps, the best type of the social bond that the world knows. Under the stress of widespread bereavement the French are realizing that the base of the family is not love between the sexes, but the existence of children. They want children, not only to take the place of their men sacrificed, but as symbols of that greater love for the race that the war has evoked. Although the crudity of the "war-bride" method of increasing the population is not evident in France, every working-girl wears the medallion of some "hero" on her breast. Girls say frankly that they want children. The Latin will never accept the German principle of indiscriminate breeding. As in every other aspect of life, the Latin emphasizes the individual, the personal; but an awakened patriotism and pride of race, a deepened sense of the real values of life will lead to a greater devotion to the family ideal.
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To shift to the political life of France, the history of the republic has been tempestuous in the past. There has been a succession of coups d'etat, plots, and scandals. One political cause celebre has followed another—the Boulanger, the Dreyfus, and quite lately the Caillaux. The wide publicity which these political scandals have had is due partly to the Latin love of excitement, also to the Latin frankness about washing dirty political linen in public. To the foreigner it has seemed strange that a republic could endure with such abysses of intrigue and personal corruption beneath its political life as have been shown in the Panama and Dreyfus scandals. The Germans probably have been misled by them into considering the French nation wholly despicable and degenerate. But France has not only endured in spite of these rotten spots, but her republicanism has grown stronger. Americans experienced in their own sordid politics should understand how uncharacteristic of the real citizenship of a democracy politicians can be. The real France has never taken with entire seriousness the machinations of "those rats in the Chamber." These "rats" were quite active during the first months of the war. Aside from the incompetence of the first war ministry, which kept the public in ignorance of the danger so completely that the enemy was at Soissons before Paris was aware that the French army was being driven back, and all the blunders of the raid into Alsace, France had its sinister political menace in Joseph Caillaux, who it has been rumored plotted a disgraceful peace with Germany before the battle of the Marne. Caillaux, when his creature, the grafting paymaster-general, was exposed, found it wise to go to South America. An able and on the whole a competent ministry was placed in power.
When Caillaux returned last spring, rumors of legislative unrest and plotting against the Joffre-Millerand control of the army began once more. Outwardly it was an attempt of party leaders in the Chamber to gain greater legislative control of the conduct of the war, ostensibly for the improvement of bureaucratic methods, as in the sanitary service, which was notably deficient. But beneath this agitation were the dangerous forces of political France seeking to oust Joffre, and there lay the menace that a political clique might get control of the army. This agitation, however, did not disturb the public. As one Frenchman put it, "If those rats get too active, Gallieni will take them out and shoot them. France is behind the army, and the people will not tolerate legislative interference with it." The political unrest has at last resulted in a new and larger cabinet, admittedly the most representative body that France could have. The danger of political interference has passed without resort to summary methods. It is a triumph of democracy. France will fight the war to an end under constitutional government, a much more difficult task than Germany's. Obviously, as may be seen in England, parliamentary government is a great hindrance to a nation in the abnormal state of war. Free societies have this handicap to contend with when they fight an autocratic machine. To maintain her republican government without scandals throughout the war will be a political triumph for France, indicative of the new spirit that has entered into the nation. The seriousness of the present situation has sobered all men and has suppressed the politicians by the mere weight of responsibility. The New France emerging from the trial of war can profit by this experience to purge her political life of the scandalous elements in it.
Italy has closed her Parliament and relapsed temporarily into autocracy. England and France are struggling to maintain popular government as we did through the Civil War.
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Much has been said of the heroic spirit of the French nation under the tragedy of the war. Too much could not be said. The war has evoked patriotism among all the peoples engaged, but with the French there is a peculiar idealistic passion of tenderness for the patrie which impresses every observer who has had the good fortune to see the nation at war. I shall not linger long on these familiar, inspiring aspects of love for country that the war has called forth from all classes. The ideal spirit of French youth has been illustrated in some letters given to the public by the novelist, Henry Bordeaux, called "Two Heroes." They relate the personal experiences of two youths, one twenty, the other twenty-one, whose baptism of fire came in the battle of the Marne. They grew old fast under the ordeal of battle and of responsibility for the lives of their men; their letters home show a loftiness of spirit, a sense of self-forgetfulness, of devotion to the cause, that is sublime, poignant—and typical. In every rank of society the same immense devotion, the same utter renouncement of selfish thought can be felt. A spirit of ideal sacrifice has spread throughout the nation, making France proud, heroic, confident. Such a spirit must be a benediction for generations to come.