France Is Not Bled White
By Stephanie Lauzanne
[Current Opinion, June 1918]
Editor of the Paris Matin and Member of the French War Mission to the United States.
At this hour in which every minute is critical it is stimulating to hear from a member of the French War Mission that France is in many ways stronger to-day than during the first year, of the war. M. Lausanne drives home this fact with compelling force in the following article written especially for CURRENT OPINION. It is based on figures and documents furnished by the French Government and they will be incorporated in his forthcoming book, "Fighting France".
Listen to the man in the street when he speaks—that man in the street who reflects public opinion whether it is just or unjust, genuine or sophisticated. Listen to him when he speaks and you will hear him say: "Yes, we know. France has a well-tempered spirit. But the blood is gone out of her body. France would like to fight on, to fight to the bitter end, but, France is suffering. France is worn out. France is bled white."
France is suffering, that is true. In the cataclysm that she did not wish for, that she did not start, that she did not prepare, she has lost more than a million men. And what men they were! The École Normale, which is the preparatory, school, for the French university has lost seventy per cent, of its pupils. That means that three-quarters of the thinkers, the literary men, the scientists, the philosophers, the professors of France of to-morrow, have been wiped out. They were the flower of her youth, the élite of her intelligence. Add to that seven departments, roughly 20,000 square kilometers in area, which have been invaded, devastated, ruined and pillaged. In these seven departments all the machinery, all the raw materials, all the merchandize, all the furniture even to the doorknobs and the boards in the floors, have been taken away. These departments were among the richest and most prosperous of those on which France most prided herself industrially.
Add to that the cultivation that has been destroyed, the soil that has been made untillable, the trees that have, been cut down, the roads that have been torn up and the bridges that have been demolished. Add all the misery, all the mourning, all the sickness: a million wounded and injured men who have been lost as living forces by a nation which did not have too many inhabitants. Add the hundred thousand prisoners Germany sends back to us who have been made tuberculous, paralytics, nervous wrecks or lunatics, because they have been physically maltreated. Yes, France is suffering…. But, it is not true that she is worn out. It is not true that she is bled, white. The horrible hope Germany had formed of emptying France of her strength, of leaving her fighting for breath, and conquered, beaten to the earth for centuries to come, has not been realized. France always stands upright, her arm is still strong, her muscles vigorous; and her blood rich. To destroy the lie that France is bled white, we must let figures, facts, statistics and definite proofs speak. The public shall judge for itself.
A nation that is worn out and bled white has no army to defend itself. France not only still has an army, but she has an army that is numerically and materially stronger than it was at the war's beginning. In 1914, at the Marne, France had an army of 1,500,000 men; to-day, after four year's of war, France has on her battlefront, in the war zone, an army of 2,750,000 men. But the value of fighting men to-day lies not only in the artillery they have to support them behind the lines. It lies in the shells the artillery is able to fire, in all that material that makes up the sinews of war of the present day. Here we find the most extraordinary and marvelous effort that history records. France, invaded, occupied, weakened; France that had no munitions industry prior to 1914, or a small munitions industry at best, that France has built up a war industry that is doubtless the best in the world, which is equal to the German war industry and on which the Allies can draw in the common cause. Consider these figures, given out by M. Andre Tardieu, High Commissioner of the French Republic at Washington, in a letter to the Hon. Newton D. Baker, Secretary of War:
"In the matter of heavy artillery, in August, 1914, we had only 300 guns distributed among the various regiments. In June, 1917, we had 6,000 heavy guns, all of them modern. During our spring offensive in 1917, we had roughly one heavy gun for every twenty-six meters of front. If we had brought together all our heavy artillery and all our trench artillery, we would have had one gun for every eight meters in the battle sector. In August, 1914, we were making 12,000 shells for the .75's per day, now we are making 250,000 shells for the .75's and 100,000 shells for the heavy guns per day."
This incomparable war industry has permitted us not only to fight, to defend ourselves and to attack the enemy, but also to supply our friends, our allies, with the munitions necessary to fight. Up to January, 1918, these are the amounts of munitions France was able to hand over to the nations fighting at her side in Europe: 1,350,000 rifles, 800,000,000 cartridges, 16,000,000 automatic rifles, 10,000 mitrailleuses, 2,500 heavy guns, 4,750 airplanes. And to France has come the honor of making the light artillery for the American Army, amounting to several hundred guns per month. A nation that is worn out and bled white has an empty treasury and is no longer able to obtain taxes from its ruined citizens. Let us consider what France has done in a financial way in this war:
From the 1st of August, 1914, to the 1st of January, 1918, the French Parliament voted war credits amounting to twenty billions of dollars. Of this enormous amount only two billions have been borrowed from outside sources; all the remainder has been subscribed or paid for by taxation or by loans in France herself. More than a billion dollars has been loaned to her allies by France. In 1917 France had the heaviest budget in all her history. The single item of taxes was raised to six billion francs ($1,200,000,000) and these taxes were paid to the penny, altho ten million Frenchmen were mobilized in the Army, in the factories and on the farms, or were untaxable in the occupied regions. In 1915, 1916, and 1917 France raised three great national loans. That of 1915 amounted to exactly 13,307,811,579 francs, 40 centimes, of which 6,017 millions of francs were paid in cash or bonds. That of October, 1916, amounted in round numbers to ten billions, of which more than five billions were paid in hard cash or bonds. That of December, 1917, amounted to 10,629,000,000, of which 5,254 millions of francs were paid in cash or bonds. Thus, in spite of the war, her invaded territories and her mobilized citizens, France has in three years raised three national loans of almost seventeen billions in hard cash. That is three times the amount of the war indemnity she paid Prussia in 1871.
A nation worn out and bled white has no more monetary reserve, no more funds in its treasury, and has been brought into bankruptcy. The Bank of France, which is probably the leading national bank in the world, whose credit has never weakened in the gravest hours of the nation's history, declared on the first of January, 1918, gold in hand of 5,348 millions of francs, an increase of 272 millions over the gold in hand on January 1st, 1917. This is the greatest deposit the bank has ever had. All this came from the national, resources: the weekly payments are still a million and a half francs, which are paid without compulsion and without legal process. The individual deposits in the great credit establishments of France, which on the thirty-first of December, 1914, amounted to only 4,050 millions of francs, amounted to 6,050 millions on the thirty-first of December, 1917. And during the first six weeks of the year 1918, from the first of January to the twentieth of February, the excess of deposits made by the peasants and the working classes in the National Savings Bank was thirty millions of francs, about seven hundred thousand francs having been deposited daily. A nation that is worn out and bled white is incapable of manufacturing and sees its commerce and industry perish. In 1917 the receipts from commerce were thirty-seven per cent, greater than in 1916.
Furthermore, the reconstruction of France has already commenced. Commissions have been appointed. These commissions have proceeded already to the evaluation of the damage done and, without waiting for authorization, the administration has paid advances amounting to a not inconsiderable, figure. Thus a sum totaling more than one hundred and forty millions of francs has been expended for the reconstruction of the liberated regions. Seventeen millions have been expended in dash for repairs; in advances to the farmers for work or supplies, twenty millions; in advances to workmen, a half million; for the circulation of funds to the farmers, merchants and small manufacturers, two millions; under the heading of reconstruction of buildings or the rapid reinstallation of the evacuated population, one-hundred millions.
An "Office National de Reconstruction'' for the villages has been established, and an agricultural'"Office National" de Reconstruction" has been organized; great things have already been realized from private organizations.
This is the account of what one of them, the organization of National Nurseries, sent in one year to the front and into the liberated regions: 6,717,575 cabbage plants, 1,980,000 turnip and rutabaga plants, 41,000 radish plants, 27,200 cauliflowers, 270,250 white beets, 5,340,500 leek plants, 1,360,000 chicory and endive plants, 104,500 celery plants, 105,000 tomato plants, 16,900 tetragon plants, 9,569,450 onion sprouts; total: 26,388,075 plants of various kinds. These plants have been divided up into 2,436 shipments, and they have sufficed to nourish not only the people who have returned to the devastated villages but also the troops at the front. A nation that is worn out and bled white has no colonies, or, if she has, these same colonies are likewise bloodless and worn out. The French colonial empire remains intact while the German colonial empire has disappeared from the face of the earth. A nation that is worn out and bled white has passed the stage where it can come to the aid of others. In her death agony she has no more than her own strength to last her during the last hours. France has been able to come to the aid of the other allies. She has lent them a strong helping hand, she has been able to save them from total extinction. French troops have fought and are still fighting on all the battle-fronts: in Italy, the Balkans, Palestine and Central Africa. It is "almost to France alone and to France especially that the salvage of the remnant of the Serbian Army has been due.
Finally, a nation that is worn out and bled white is unable to oppose the supreme assault of her enemies…. Here the answer is given by the men who are actually struggling before Noyon and before Amiens, on the Avre and on the Lys. Never has the morale of these men been better. Never has their fighting spirit flamed forth more ardent and more pure. And the answer is also given by the women of France. Let me end that long and dry enunciation of figures by reciting two episodes, to show the spirit of these women: Madame de Castelnau, wife of the general who saved Nancy, had, before the war broke out, four sons. Three fell on the battlefield. The fourth is actually still a prisoner in the hands of the Germans. On the lips of their father there is never the slightest word of complaint; on the lips of the mother there are words which the children in the schools will repeat later on. Madame de Castelnau was in a little village when her third son was killed. The curé of the village had the pitiful task of telling the already mourning mother of this new blow that had struck her. The curé found Madame de Castelnau, and, in presence of her great sorrow, he hesitated and was overcome with embarrassment: "Madame," he said, "I come to bring you another blow: But know well that all the mothers of France weep for you.
Madame de Castelnau knew the truth at once. She interrupted the priest, and, looking him straight in the eyes, replied: "Yes, I know what you are going to tell me. God's will be done. But the mothers, of France would be wrong in weeping for me. Let them envy me." Those are the words of a Frenchwoman of noble descent. And on the same high level are the words of an old woman, a humble soul whom the gendarmes found one night crouched on a grave that was still fresh. It was up near Verdun. She told the gendarmes: "I come from La Rochelle. Five of my sons have already fallen in the war. I have come here to see where the sixth is buried—the sixth, my last son. Moved by the tragic grandeur of the sight, the gendarmes rendered her military honors and presented arms. The mother rose and uttered the words her dead and her heart inspired: "Even so, Vive la France!"
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald