Paris - Anonymity And Indemnity
( Originally Published 1915 )
"August sixteenth. WONDERFUL, almost unbelievable it is,this newly announced policy of anonymity in our military operations. I never thought that I would live to see a day like this. I can hardly yet believe it possible, although I want to. oh, I want to, so much !"
The Jesuit Father's face interpreted the desire, the longing in his words. A more attractive man with nobler soul God never made. Drawn to him of course I am ! Everybody whose path he crosses is drawn to him. I can see that the Greek Student, who is sitting with us in the garden under the fig tree outside my studio door, is under the spell of the Jesuit Father, as am I on those red letter days when he comes to see me. The Melachrino cigarette that I have given to the Greek Student, and that he is smoking indifferently, is not the treat it would be under ordinary circumstances. For the Greek Stu-dent is thinking of the Jesuit Father rather than of his cigarette.
I have met them everywhere, the Jesuit Fathers, in America, in Europe, in Asia, and in Africa. I have seen them in the drawing-room and in the desert, in plenty and in want, in splendor and in squalor, in security and in danger, and I have always found them the same, men of God, gentlemen and scholars, in the widest and deepest connotation of these terms. And when I say that this particular Jesuit father stands out from among others of his order, do you wonder that I find it a rare privilege to sit with him under the fig tree, and that the Greek Student is looking at the Father rather than at his cigarette'?
"You see," continued the Jesuit Father, "it has always been the misfortune of our national life, that we have been influenced and led by personalities rather than by principles. our politics are that way. Practically everything that finds expression in association with our life is that way. History has certainly shown us in our wars that way. It has always been a question with us of who the leaders were. Principles have been glorified by those who championed them, instead of glorifying their champions. Perhaps it is the inevitable revolt from the sinking of self in our family relations that has caused us to become extremely individualistic outside of the family circle.
"So, when I read that it is the intention of the Government and General Staff, with the cooperation of the newspapers, to make this a war of anonymity in regard to persons as well as to places, I, like every other Frenchman, exclaim, Tiens! pourvu que fa arrive!'
"of course, I cannot help thinking of the disaster in 1870 which a policy of anonymity at that time would have retrieved, if not prevented. May it now succeed, imposed upon us as an imperative measure of national safety. Then let us hope that we shall no longer have political parties in France named after certain leaders, and that we shall be able, when we judge a policy, to be influenced by the principles embodied in the policy rather than by the personality of the one who advocates it!"
The war has been on two weeks now, and we suppose that battles have been fought. In fact, the communiqués tell us that battles have been fought. But they do not say just where; the names of the commanding officers are not mentioned; nor do we know what troops took part in these battles. The place is generally "X." The Commanding-General is "X." The army corps is "X." If a certain regiment has distinguished itself, it is the "X" regiment of the "X" division : and the officer, whose conspicuous bravery in leading a forlorn hope turned the tide of the day, is Colonel "X."
There is something grim in this policy of anonymity. But it is glorious that battles are not being fought to bring prestige to a general. In this war the commanding general and common soldier are on the same footing. They are fighting for France, and the glory is for France alone.
The Greek Student, who comes from the land whose past has influenced France, and whose present is influenced by France, to the extent that the political life of both nations exhibits those glaring weaknesses revealed by Hellenic writers through centuries from Homer to Aristophanes, spoke up in loud praise of anonymity as the absolutely necessary measure in a modem war. His opinion is worth listening to. For he has been through two wars on the staff of Crown Prince (later King) Constantine. He acted as interpreter for the Greek army in the surrender of Janina, and later was one of the first of the "liberating" army to set foot in Kavala, when the Bulgarians fled.
We may be able to argue that the policy of anonymity would have been impossible in the days of Napoleon or of Garibaldi, for it is indisputable that these two names and those of their lieutenants had more to do with victory than either the cause, impersonally considered, for which they were fighting, or the strategy that was employed. But what would have been inadvisable then imposes itself now. our newspapers, our postal service, our trains, our automobiles, and, above all, our telegraphy, both wireless and otherwise, make spying a tremendous factor in the conduct of a campaign. And, with our enormous centers of population, such as Paris, how is it possible to avoid the immediate communication of every bit of information about movements of troops to the enemy'?
From anonymity, the conversation drifted to indemnity.
The resistance of the Belgians and the prompt entry of the British army into France have made the Parisians so confident of victory that they are already talking about the bear's skin.
The Jesuit Father has seen much of the world, and has the caution of wide experience as well as of white hair. Although he is the embodiment of patriotism and enthusiasm, he has learned to face issues squarely. So he does not say, as do most of us these days, "Wizen we win," but, "If we win." Nor does he consider himself any the less of a patriot because he expresses himself in this way. So his opinion on the question of indemnity means more to me than those I read in the newspapers.
"By every leading of common sense," he declared, "it seems absurd to be talking about the question of indemnity before the war has begun in earnest. I have studied in Germany. I have traveled in Germany, and I know something of German activities in France, as well as in other parts of the world. With God's help, we shall keep the Germans out of our country, or, if we have to suffer another invasion, we shall in the end drive them out. We may be able in time to liberate Belgium, and to expel the Germans from our dear provinces beyond the Vosges. Seeing that we have strong allies, it is not unreasonable to dream of crossing the Rhine.
"So we are not altogether guilty of counting our chickens before they are hatched. If, at the beginning of this gigantic struggle, we speculate upon what we shall receive for the sacrifices we must make and the hardships we must endure in this war that is not of our choosing, is it not natural?"
The Jesuit Father was leaning heavily on the arm of his chair, and his head was bowed until the beard touched his breast. Some great emotion seemed to overpower him for the moment. He could not speak, or did not want to. one hand clutched his knee. The other rested upon his thigh. The Greek student and I waited in silence.
Across the garden wall from the street the cries of half a dozen camelots had risen above the clanking rumble of the double tramway coming up the hill on the Boulevard St. Michel. I slipped out quietly and bought a paper. In Upper Alsace, Thann has been retaken. Two French aviators have flown over Metz, and bombarded the Zeppelin sheds. The great battle in Belgium and Alsace from Basel to Maestricht has begun. Things look promising.
When I had read the communiqué, the Jesuit Father was ready to speak again.
"First of all, we must have back our Lost Provinces, Alsace and Lorraine. That comes before any question of money. During forty-four years we have waited, and over there our compatriots have waited for us. If by the treaty of peace we get a money indemnity, we must remember that there is a limit, just as Thiers said to Bismarck, to what can be extracted from a defeated nation. And there are others besides ourselves to share in the indemnity from Germany. If we get back our five billions, with interest, we shall be lucky. We can hardly hope for more than that, even if Germany is crushed.
"But this would give us back only what we lost in 1870. Can we hope for more for some positive advantage from our victory? Yes, I think we can. France does not need money. We have always had plenty. We have plenty now. What we need is freedom from the horrible nightmare that has been hanging over us since I was a boy. I have lived all my life under the shadow of the menace of another 1870. Do you wonder that Frenchmen feel bitter against Germany? Think of these forty-four years.
Why, it is the whole lifetime of the great majority of Frenchmen living today. our elders went down to the grave under this burden. We have never been free from it. Next to Alsace and Lorraine, it is not indemnity that we look for, but guarantees against a revival of Prussian militarism.
"I feel sure that, if the French armies ever get across the Rhine, it will not be Berlin but Essen that they will have for their goal. We want to destroy from chimney top to cellar foundation every building of the Krupp factories. our greatest joy would be to plow up this cannon producing ground, and sow it with wheat. Would the world dare to call this vandalism or a manifestation of industrial jealousy? The dream of France is to deprive Germany of the possibility of becoming again; at least in the lifetime of the generations who are carrying the burdens of this war, a menace to our national safety."
These are the words of one of the most peaceable and saintly of Frenchmen.
The Greek student said nothing. Nor did I. Hope like this, in the midst of conflict, is too sacred for speculations or for analysis.