Steadfast France: Raymond Poincaré

  1. Steadfast France

Our conversation opened with this remark:

“We should be happy if your Excellency would expound France’s contribution to history during the decade of the Great War.”

Poincaré had been smiling as he welcomed us in the kindliest manner to his beautiful office int he Quai d’Orsay, and spoke rapidly of his appreciation of the interest of The Daily News in France and in the cause of international education. On hearing the words coupling the name of his country with the Great War the old statesman ceased smiling and his short, square face took on that look of mental concentration and moral pertinacity which is his characteristic expression while he is dealing with great matters.

“It is a large and fascinating subject,” he said. “And it is a profoundly affecting subject—the subject of what the France of the Great War did, what she bore, what she gave up, what she suffered, in order that she might live and continue her immemorial role of exponent and champion of free civilization. Why did France fight? How did she fight? What did she fight for? What has the war cost her in life—souls born and unborn—in wounds, in disease, in wealth, in material disrepair? I will answer.”

Poincaré was speaking calmly and fluently in his vivid, polished French.

“It is history we are to consider. And history is a sacred thing, for history is truth. We cannot be too careful to establish the truth about the Great War. If we failed to do this humanity could not draw the proper lessons from the past decade of destruction, bloodshed, and immeasurable agony and grief. In certain high intellectual quarters there is a specious, involved, casuistic effort to obscure the truth concerning the Great War and thus to distort and violate history. Let us, once for all, sweep away these gathering mists that veil and deform the historical landscape of the decade.

The Fight for the World’s Liberties.

“Why did France fight? Let us start there. Civilization to France is not merely material progress; in a deeper sense and in a higher degree it is moral progress. Sovereignty in international affairs of the principles of liberty and justice, the right of every people to live concordantly with its own genius, the freedom of every people to work out its own ideals—these are dearer to France than is any nameable material thing. One nation—the Germany of the Hohenzollerns—stood forth in arms against this conception. Its divinity was force, its ambition conquest, its aim to efface the nationalistic liberties and individualities of the world. France fought that divinity, that ambition, and that aim.

“I am not speaking in the spirit of passion; I am speaking in the spirit of science; I am speaking in the spirit of history. And I am speaking with a full sense of the responsibility of any one of reputation who presumes to turn educator to the world. It has been said, and it is said, that France is militaristic. Deeply pacific, she has been called warlike. After the mutilation of 1870 she was accused of dreaming of military vengeance. Yet of all this there is not an iota of evidence. After 1870, despite our wounds and wrongs, we adopted Gambetta’s saying that even great evils may be righted by legal means.

The Fall of a Heavy Hand.

“Did our forbearance, despite the nobility of our cause, protect us from provocations? What is the record? Every three years after 1905 a heavy hand fell upon the diplomatic table of Europe. Each time, combining dignity with prudence, France averted war. But she did not stay that heavy hand. Only the dullest ears could be insensible of the distant rumble of artillery. Finally in 1914 came the ultimatum to Serbia, known and approved by the Berlin Government. Instantly the Entente strove for conciliation. Germany was adamant. France was commanded to be neutral. To insure this neutrality Germany’s troops must occupy Toul and Verdun.

“Awed by the magnitude of the impending catastrophe, France’s military leaders—her military leaders, mind you, these men who might have been supposed to embody the quintessence of her militaristic aspirations, if she had such aspirations—these leaders sprang into the struggle for peace. They called back our advanced troops. They cried out: ‘There must be no slightest appearance of provocation. There must be no outpost incidents. We must give physical and indubitable evidence of our desire for peace.’ This evidence cost us dearly. We gave up, on this side of the Franco-German frontier, a belt of territory ten kilometers wide, and many a French boy died to take that territory back.

What France Gave Up for Peace.

“Please remember,” suddenly interjected the speaker, “I am not pleading for France now. I am pleading for history. I have told you why France fought. Now, how did France fight? As there were two mentalities in conflict, as regards civilization—the Hohenzollern mentality and the mentality of democracy—so there were two antagonistic views respecting methods of warfare. ‘Short and atrocious war’ was the German slogan—not a long war humanely waged. To the spirit of France this seemed a barbarous sophism.

“Again our scruples of civilization cost us dearly. Just as we had silenced the voice of our rightful claims, just as we had given up our territory the better to prove our love of peace, so we sacrificed our sons to the principles of humanity. We had no recourse to dishonorable ruses. We invented no processes of barbarity. We left to Germany the initiative and the dismal benefit of atrocity. We practiced no deception or bullying to win the sympathy of the neutrals. It was not our agents who made of strikes and assassinations a weapon of propaganda.”

“Your mature judgment is that a German victory would have been a world fatality?” I suggested.

Purposes of Two Nations.

Poincaré looked straight at me.

“What did the intuition of the world say?” he exclaimed. “It said that France was right. It understood that freedom was in peril. Virtually all of non-Germanic humanity appreciated the true position. Belgium was to be annexed. Northern and eastern France and Poland were to be annexed. Austria was to take Serbia. All the Near East was to be subjugated. Dismemberment for the British Empire. Yoking of all nations under an iron hegemony. Expropriation of property-owning classes. German colonies governing everything and everybody. Slow denationalization of the democratic masses by the proscription of their ancient culture. For fifty years the military and industrial oligarchy of Germany had been molding the German people for this gigantic work of violence. Even America was menaced in the gravest way, economically and militarily.”

“And France’s aims?”

“They never have varied. And they always would bear, as they will bear now, the closest scrutiny. We wanted back our two province torn from us in 1870 against the will of the inhabitants. We wanted reparation for the ravages suffered. We wanted guaranties of security. For ourselves these things are absolutely all we wanted and all we ever dreamed of claiming. But for others we wanted some things. For the Italians, Trent and Trieste; for the Poles, Czechs, Roumanians, Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, for the Danes of Schleswig—aye, even for the Germans themselves—we wanted freedom. It can not be said too often or with too much emphasis that France’s all-inclusive purpose, like the all-inclusive purposes of Britain and America, was to prevent freedom from being trampled into the dirt.”

“What was France’s peculiar function in the common effort of the Allies and the Associated Powers?”

France’s Plan in War and Peace.

“Her peculiar function has had two phases. During the actual fighting France was the bastion of the whole defense. Of course, this bastion would have been powerless without its broad and mighty supports. Yet it was the bastion. Upon us fell the heaviest blows. Upon French territory was wrought the unparalleled and indescribable havoc. And France was the cement of the democratic coalition. As other flags gathered about our own, as the coalition grew larger, particular interests began to threaten the prevalence of the general interest. France strove with constancy and with success for the general interest. She did not seek to dominate equals. But she acted as inspirer and counselor, strong in the authority of her own experiences, sufferings and disinterestedness.

“That was one phase of France’s peculiar function in the war. That was France’s function during the military part of the struggle. Her peculiar function since the German army collapsed—as it did collapse and collapse utterly—has been that of defender and champion of the Treaty of Peace. Divergences occurred among the Allies—natural divergences. That quality of universality which is one of the traits of the French mind led France consistently and steadfastly to pursue those solutions best calculated to fortify the future against war.

“We did not always have our way. Our original war aims, adopted with enthusiasm by fraternal America, should have been carried out in the form of a treaty on the day the Kaiser’s legions went to pieces. Nationalistic interests and passions interfered. Peace-making was strangely complicated. Indeed, ever since 1919 the world has been passing through a crisis of particularism. Close co-operation had its violent reaction. Nations, feeling disillusioned, fell back upon themselves. Consequent upon this arose a great danger to the execution of the Treaty.

Why France Entered the Ruhr.

“This danger was a danger for the peace of which the Treaty was and is the corner stone. At last Germany saw developing those fissures for which she so long had worked and prayed. It was a very perilous situation. France threw all her strength into the labor of saving the Treaty, saving the Entente, and keeping the peace. She wore herself out in this effort. Her occupation of the Ruhr was called a special enterprise of domination. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fidelity to decisions taken in common, the necessity of Reparations, Germany’s clear purpose to exploit the differences among the Allies, a determination to spare the world the scandalous spectacle and the moral disaster of fraud triumphant over justice—these, and these only, were the springs of French action in the Ruhr.”

“Do you think the political and journalistic critics of French policy reflected popular world opinion?”

The Death Roll of the War.

“I never have thought so. It has been my feeling all along that the peoples of the world were skeptical of the insight or of the good faith of their mentors in this matter. I have been sustained by a consciousness of popular understanding and sympathy. It has seemed to me that humanity appreciated the purity of French motives and even rejoiced in the resolution of France that, if she could avert it, there should not be a peace of injustice and of insecurity.”

“What has the war cost France?”

“Ah,” said the Prime Minister, “that is a terrible story. There is no more terrible story in the history of mankind. Of men of French blood we mobilized 7,935,000. Of natives (colored troops) we mobilized 475,000. Of our own people 1,038,300 were killed and 249,000 were swallowed in mystery; We term them ‘the missing.’ Add the killed and missing natives to the roll of our losses and you have a total of 1,355,000 men, or 16.2 percent of the total effectives mobilized.

“Of the entire French population of Europe 3.29 per cent perished in the war. This percentage exceeds that of any other State of the Entente. Britain’s loss of life was 1.25 per cent of her population. Italy’s 1.24, America’s 0.10. France has 740,000 maimed men to support. Apart from the human aspect of this fact, think of the economic burden! And we not only lost the lives of the born; we lost the lives of the unborn. In 1913 we had more than 600,000 births; in 1916 we had 315,000 and in 1917 343,000. Since 1915 our excess of deaths over births has been 300,000, without taking account of military losses. Counting military losses and birth-rate deficits France’s loss of male population alone during the war was 2,000,000.”

France’s Staggering Losses.

“What of disease?”

“That question cannot be answered with any approach to definiteness. But any one with imagination will realize that the war inflicted upon France a vast mass of disease. Our cases of tuberculosis alone run into the hundreds of thousands. Deaths from this malady average 100,000 a year with 18,000 new cases, mainly among soldiers back from the trenches and among the children of the occupied regions—pitiable little ones left by the occupying forces in a state of complete neglect and famine.”

“And what of material disrepair?”

Enormous Material Losses.

“Modern war is an immense industrial undertaking organized to destroy. Look at its balance-sheet in France. Our national fortune before the war was 300,000,000,000 francs ($60,000,000,000). This fortune, by the capitalized value of pensions and indemnities, by damage to property, by foreign loans, and by the sum of the back rents due for the upkeep of buildings, has been reduced 75,000,000,000 francs, or one-quarter of the entire wealth of the nation.

“Our greatest losses were those in the invaded provinces—for four years the stage of an unexampled tragedy of slaughter and destruction. In those provinces at the outbreak of the war there were 1,190,066 buildings of all categories. Armistice day saw 893,792 of these buildings wrecked and 347,374 utterly destroyed. Vast areas of farmland had been partly or wholly ruined. In an expanse of 8,265,875 acres, nearly half called for much labor to restore it to fertility, and 291,985 acres were so badly damaged that the cost of the labor of restoration would have exceeded the value of the land.

“No one who viewed the devastation will ever get the picture out of mind. It was a scene that all the world should have looked upon and studied in order that all the world might have first-hand knowledge of what modern war is. Half the highways of the ten invaded provinces were in ruins. Just over 60,000 kilometers (37,500 miles) of roads required rebuilding. More than 6,000 bridges and culverts were wiped out. And the railroads! Nearly 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) of track damaged or destroyed, with 481 bridges gone and 517 shelled and shattered!

Details of War’s Havoc.

“Everything suffered accordingly. Waterways fell under the general havoc. More than a thousand kilometers (620 miles) of canals were left as if they never had been. Locks and bridges to the number of 1,212 were demolished. Farm animals by hundreds of thousands were lost—892,388 cattle, 407,888 horses, asses and mules, 58,980 sheep and goats, 24,954 pigs. Industry was battered into the dust. By proved design, and with a science as unerring as it was diabolic, this abominable outrage upon humanity was wrought. To cripple French industry beyond recovery was the German aim.

“Who can forget or forgive what was done to our coal mines and our mining population? Every shaft in a large and busy region was put out of service, though this destruction did not spring from the slightest military necessity. All the mines were flooded. Half the mine railways required rebuilding and our people were compelled to reopen 3,072 kilometers (1,900 miles) of galleries. As for factories, 2,000 were looted, 9,332 were damaged and 3,341 were razed to the ground.”

“These are the facts and conditions lying behind the Reparations problem?” I asked.

Restoring Devastated Regions.

“Precisely. We stand arguing in the midst of these ruins. If I talk about them a great deal it is because they mean a great deal. They mean a great deal materially and they mean even more morally. Justice is involved. Ethics is involved. And justice and ethics are vital to civilization. A great wrong has been committed, and no fabric of sophistry, however subtly woven, can cover it up. The Treaty says Germany shall repair these damages. We stand on the Treaty, but we have not waited for Germany to meet her obligations; despite an outlay of 34,167,000,000 francs for pensions and personal indemnities, we have expended 66,584,000,000 for property damages. Add to tehse figures the accumulated interest on the sums thus disbursed and one reaches a grand total of 118,154,000,000 francs that France has paid in Germany’s stead, with a further need of 30,000,000,000 to complete the work of reconstruction.”

“And what has France received from Germany?”

What Germany Has Paid.

“German payments to Dec. 31, 1923, according to the latest figures of the Reparations Commission, represents 8,411,399,000 gold marks ($2,001,912,000), of which only 5,692,246,000 gold marks have been distributed, the rest belonging to undistributed or suspended accounts. Of this total France has received 1,804,192,000 gold marks ($429,397,000), including 143,995,000 gold marks representing the value of the Saar mines. But out of this amount France has repaid certain expenses, such as the Spa coal advances and the costs of occupation, so that the sum available for Reparations at the end of last year did not exceed 189,777,000 gold marks ($45,166,000).

“Germany has presented fantastic figures as to her payments. Her economic ruin, which she did nothing to avoid, she thrusts forward to dissimulate her real wealth. On this point the experts’ conclusions were crushingly against her. Yet some people continue to assert that too heavy a burden has been imposed on her. If Germany’s obligations were diminished she alone of all the belligerent nations would have her debt remitted. France, on the other hand, would be forced to go on carrying the advances made in Germany’s stead to repair the damages and also would be under the necessity of paying her own debts to her Allies. Would this be fair? Would it be tolerable? Would it be in the interest of those things for which the free nations fought?”

“France will honor the inter-Allied debts?”

France’s War Debts To Be Paid.

“Most certainly. France keeps her word. Just now she is bowed low by her unprecedented obligations and by the results of the unfulfilled obligations of Germany. But she will stand erect again. America full understands.”

Poincaré paused for a moment, reflecting. Then he resumed just a little acridly:

“How foolish or wicked are these charges that France is militaristic—wants more war! Some of our critics have seemed to me quite mad. It would be well if they reviewed their utterances carefully and said to themselves in seriousness, ‘After all, are not these the spasms of a fevered sleep?’

“Everyone knows, for example, how pacific in spirit is the United States. France is not a whit less so. Indeed, remembering her agony, she desires peace passionately. Her occupation of the Ruhr is merely a surety—a means for the creditor to recover his due. She never dreamed, and never will dream, of imposing on German populations a change of country. What nation, if not the French, knows the meaning of such an imposition? France has an unrelaxing grasp of those principles which constitute her strength—the principles that have made her equal to the pitiless blows that have been rained upon her.

“Nothing could be closer than the instinctive mutual sympathy between the American people and the French people. In war and in peace they have understood each other. Your economists and financiers understand us. It is a long story—that of the bonds which unite these two nations. Their strength has run confluently on the battle field, and it has run confluently still more recently in economic struggles more insidious but not less vital to the prosperity of this country. Your financiers—not obtuse men, surely—have trusted our policy. Witness their recent fight in defense of the franc.

America’s Trust in France.

“Militarism! France dangerous to European freedom, a menace to her great ally, England, pursuing paths leading to another international catastrophe! What are the military facts of the international position? When peace came in 1918 France reduced her period of military service from three years to eighteen months. Barely 225,000 men are included in a mobilization class. Hence the French people now in active service number about 340,000.

“Yet more significant are the army and navy budgets. In most countries military expenses have been increasing. It is the other way about in ‘militaristic’ France. Our military expenses in 1913 were a third of the general budget; today they are a fifth. Army, navy and air force outlays in France last year aggregated 4,595,002,335 paper francs, or, at the rate of fifteen francs to the dollar, which corresponds roughly to the economic parity, $306,300,000. Compare with this America’s expenditure for like purposes of $708,940,554 and Britain’s of $943,000,000. We spend less than half as much as does America and Britain. America and Britain are quite pacific—as, to be sure, they are—while France is planning European hegemony and endangering the peace of the world!

The Testimony of the Budgets.

“France’s aeronautical expenses are particularly modest, if one reflects upon the ever-increasing role of aviation and upon the rapid deterioration of machines. We have 132 air squadrons. To think of these attacking England, to read into the French heart the possibility of such an attack—such an obscuration of French appreciation of world realities, not to consider French sentiment—is to entertain imaginings that transport one into the domain of lunacy. But do not forget Germany. France, certainly, could not forget Germany, however hard she might strive. There are peace-loving Germans. We are grateful for them. We wish to lift no finger to hamper them. But there are war-loving Germans, too, and the security of French national life requires that they be borne in mind.”

“France wants a pacific Germany?”

France’s Attitude Toward Germany.

“What other country so much as France has reason to want a pacific Germany? All civilized peoples want a pacific Germany and need a pacific Germany, but France first among them; for, as I have said, France must be the bastion, if Germany move against democracy. But the world cannot influence Germany toward peace except by finally and everlastingly convincing her that her brutal war of aggression and of tyranny was a stupendous historical blunder and defeat. France stands for driving this lesson home, not only for Germany’s instruction but in order that it may be written large and indelibly upon the permanent tablets of the human record.”

“You accept the experts’ conclusions without reservations?”

“Without reservations. Germany only has to put into effect the program drawn up by the Reparations Commission and we are ready to re-establish the economic unity of the Reich. On this point we are in complete agreement with Ramsay MacDonald and with our Belgian friends. Not at any time in the course of their labors did the experts imply that the re-establishment of economic unity meant renunciation of the military occupation. Said Mr. Young recently: ‘I do not believe the presence of soldiers can have any effect on the German workmen.’ Difficulties between the British Government and ourselves on this subject have disappeared and I must render homage to the great courtesy of Mr. MacDonald during these negotiations.”

“Your relations with Britain are thoroughly friendly?”

Harmony Among the Allies.

“They never have been more so. Our misunderstandings have been stepping-stones to a more thorough accord. That we should continue to march side by side for the good of Europe and of the world is a natural issue of our mutual love of freedom. Both our nations are democratic. Both are liberal. My relations with Mr. MacDonald have been particularly cordial.”

“How do you get on with Sig. Mussolini and the Italy of Fascismo?”

“In perfect harmony. In all the decisive moments of our history the essential liberalism of Italy and the essential liberalism of France have found firm ground of mutual sympathy. Sig. Mussolini’s Government invariably has shown itself in the kindliest conjunction with my own. There is no divergence between us relative to the major problems connected with the settlement and organization of European peace. All suggestions of intrigue, separate action, and cleavage are baseless.”

“What do you think of the action of Noske in Germany and of Mussolini in Italy against bolshevism?”

“It goes without saying, I suppose, that any statesman who suppresses instincts of savagery and destruction is a benefactor of his own and of all nations.”

“What is your attitude to soviet Russia?”

France’s View of Sovietism.

“France has no understanding of and no sympathy with the notion of national isolation. We desire to be on friendly and fruitful terms with all nations. But there must be a common recognition of the principles of law among peoples in trustful and profitable intercourse. French people invested heavily in Russia to develop her economic capital, her industries, her railroads, lands and mines. Russian acknowledgment of these debts is indispensable to French confidence in Russia. Moreover, Russia, as the price of our confidence, must indemnify our nationals whom she has dispossessed. After all, civilized practices are necessary to civilized relations. My policy toward the soviets has remained in agreement with that of the United States. Bolshevism presents a difficult problem to occidental mentality. We cannot estimate the movement yet. We do know it is double-faced; Janus bifrons. Bolshevists are at once international revolutionaries and ardent nationalists bent on the work of Ivan the Great and Ivan the Terrible. Let them not bemuse themselves with the thought that occidental humanity is any more ready to lie down under a bolshevist than under a Prussian steam roller.”

“Was France ever alarmed by the threat of a bolshevist Germany?”

“Not in the least. That possibility frequently was lifted up to terrify us. It did not work. We had seen worse things. Even if Germany had become bolshevist France would have remained solid, calm, and free. We are immune against the bolshevist bacillus.”

“What is your view of the proper policy to be followed with reference to the colored peoples?”

Policy Toward Colored Peoples.

“I think it should be an idealistic and liberal policy. In the French mind, touching this question, are ideas similar to those which inspired the memorable amendments to the American Constitution. France makes no distinction among men on the basis of religion, race, or color. Our colonies are models of good understanding between the natives and the administrators. Wherever we plant our flag we work for a wider civilization. That our efforts are appreciated was proved by our soldiers out of the heart of Africa and of Asia—men who came to blend their heroism and their blood with the heroism and the blood of the troops of twenty white nations. It has been alleged by our enemies that we sent black soldiers to occupy the factories of the Ruhr. Pure propagandist fiction. Under my ministry not a colored man crossed the Rhine.”

“Do you feel the French character is well understood outside France?”

France’s Devotion to Work.

“Not everywhere. Quite generally we are considered a frivolous people. Really we are a people profoundly penetrated with the seriousness of life, but we clothe our gravity in light-hearted appearances. We have a certain pride in this. Do you conjecture our people had any thought of or desire for idleness after the war because huge reparations were due us from one of the wealthiest countries in the world—a country far wealthier than France, not only in waterways, coal fields, lignite, potash, metallurgical riches, but in agriculture as well?

“Not for a moment did France contemplate capitalizing her role as victim. She turned grimly from war to work. And she has been working steadily ever since she laid down the impedimenta of the battle field. Her economic situation, solidly based on a well-balanced industry and agriculture, is one of the healthiest on the globe. Our exports are growing and our Colonial Empire holds out the certainty of the raw materials and markets essential for our future.”

“Your political institutions are stable?”

“They are stable because they correspond to our needs. At no time since 1789 have we been attached more devotedly to the ideal of democracy. France’s experienced and high-minded elite are leading our masses toward an ever-expanding realization of this ideal.”

“You favor a leadership of the elite?”

Notable Aids to Progress.

“They are the leaven. They represent spirituality, intellect, culture—very precious things. It is not enough for a people to have farms, mines, railways, machines, money. They must have wisdom. They must have sympathy. Without these inestimable intellectual and spiritual qualities international harmony and world peace never can be obtained. Machinery never will pacify humanity; only acute minds, determined wills, and enlightened souls can do this.”

“Then you are for the classics as instrumentalities of civilization?”

“Yes. They are its solidest prop. Antiquity has bequeathed to us ideas of law and right which are the ultimate foundation of the modern ideal. Until a people shall have assimilated the gist of ancient culture it cannot, in my view, call itself truly civilized. France has studied and debated the great pedagogical question diligently. We have our strict classicists and our advocates of more room for science and modern languages. But neither school denies immense value to the legacy of ideas, sentiments and artistic forms coming down to us from Greece and Rome.”

Poincaré rejects the view that the modern world is degenerating.

France Remains Steadfast.

“‘Decadence’ has been pronounced,” said he. “Too often, no doubt, the minds and souls of the people are ill fed by artists, writers, and the moving picture industry. But no particular technical process is to be blamed. As Æsop remarked long ago, the tongue can be the worst or the best thing, according to the use made of it. Similarly, motion pictures and other modes of expression are good or bad. I can conceive of no moral peril sufficiently seductive and potent to make much headway against the prodigious vitality of the French people. The French family is of a quality and strength fit to resist anything. Its religious sentiments are deep, its hold upon traditions firm, its love of truth passionate, its joy in splendid ideals unexcelled. It is this character which translated itself into France’s early and late contributions to history.”

Poincaré had been seated at his desk. He rose.

“My answer to your first question I will put in a nutshell,” said he, as he held my hand. “In the dark decade just past France has given up her sons. She has given up her wealth. She has suffered. She has held fast and is today holding fast—all for the rights of man. Against this great fact casuistry will writhe and twist in vain.”

Mr. Mowrer and I had been conducted to the door of the Prime Minister’s room by an ordinary hall porter. Poincaré was alone and opened the door with his own hand. He was dressed in a somewhat worn lounge suit and looked a very simple, if very able, man—a personification of democratic statesmanship. Our whole conversation had taken place without the slightest interruption—no coming or going of secretaries, no ringing of telephone bells, no sounds from the outer world.

As we were leaving, walking slowly from the Prime Minister’s desk to the door, where the great Frenchman shook hands with us two or three times, I asked him about the League of Nations.

Faith in the League of Nations.

“It has my heartfelt allegiance,” said he. “It already has aided powerfully in the task of European pacification and reconstruction, notably in Silesia, Austria and Hungary. It is dealing intelligently and zealously with the problem of reduced armaments. It is laboring for international justice, for national security, for political and social equilibrium, for peace—every one of them of great price in the estimation of France. In the work of the League increased precision will come with increased practice. We all are going to school in the complex, almost baffling, business of giving rhythm to the complicated movements of humanity. There is no school of international education comparable with that of the League of Nations. We have excellent plans; all we need besides—and this is a vital need—is a real desire for understanding. It always has been my belief, and I hold this opinion more strongly than ever today, that European reconstruction, with its beneficent reaction upon every civilized people, and the peace of the world never could be founded more solidly than upon the friendly co-operation of France, Great Britain, and the United States. In other words, as I stood for the unity of the democracies in the war, so I stand for it now.”

Mr. Mowrer and I stepped out into the sunlight of the Quai d’Orsay feeling we had been honored with the confidence of a very great man—perhaps, all things considered, the greatest statesman of the greatest decade in the history of mankind.

Poincaré the Statesman

By Paul Scott Mowrer

Why, the reader may ask, has The Daily News chosen Raymond Poincaré to speak for France, just at a time when, in consequence of the recent elections, a change of government is taking place in this most powerful of continental European countries?

For three reasons. First, at the moment when Edward Price Bell asked for and was accorded what is perhaps the most important interview M. Poincaré in a long life of statesmanship has ever given, M. Poincaré was still the Prime Minister of France and had held that high office consecutively for two and a half momentous years.

Second, there is at present no other statesman in France who has anything like the same prestige or who can speak with anything like the same authority, particularly in reference to foreign affairs. The victory of the Left was not a victory over Poincaré. It was chiefly the result of electoral tactics, and in so far as it involved doctrines it was a revolt of the electors against increased taxes, not against the so-called Poincaré foreign policies. Indeed, so great is the prestige which M. Poincaré enjoys throughout France, precisely as a result of his able conduct of foreign policy, that during the election campaign the leaders of the Left scarcely dared to attack him, but saved their political venom to be vented rather against the President of the Republic, Alexandre Millerand.

Third, unless I am mistaken, Raymond Poincaré is one of the few very great statesmen now alive. A well-known English publicist, Sisley Huddleston, has called him, without exaggeration, “the man who has more greatly influenced the course of events in Europe since the war than any other continental statesman.” The case may perhaps be put in this way: Three men in turn have dominated world affairs since the war. First, there was the great, misguided and misunderstood figure of Wilson, which blazed gloriously for a few brief months out of the aftermath of battle, then suffered rapid and complete—if not final—eclipse. Next came David Lloyd George to the front of the international stage. His magnetism, his vivid oratory, his astonishing diplomatic gyrations, held everyone fascinated in 1920 and 1921. Then Lloyd George, too, following the failure of the Genoa Conference, faded out of the picture. The third period, that from January, 1922, to the present, has belonged to Raymond Poincaré, and of the three he alone seems likely to have the aims which he set for himself and for his country stamped by history with the sweet and—in politics—rare words, enduring success.

Poincaré’s Broad Influence.

Raymond Poincaré was born in 1860 at Bar-le-Duc, in Lorraine, and the defeat of his country by Prussia in the war of 1870 made a deep impression on his young mind. His father was a civil engineer. Raymond was educated in Bar-le-Duc and Paris. He was tempted to become a journalist and writer, but finally chose the law, in which profession his success was as immediate as it has since been constant. His legal career and his political career have been conducted side by side.

Long Active in Politics.

At the age of 29 he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and for years he specialized in public finance and budgetary questions. At 33 he was chairman of the budget committee. In the same year he was made Minister of Education in the Charles Depuy Cabinet and he has never since been absent long from the councils of the French Republic. He became Premier in the international crisis of 1911 and was elected President of the Republic in 1913. His eminent services in this office during the World War and the Peace Conference need not be recalled here.

In 1920, at the end of his term as President, he re-entered the more active political struggle as Senator and devoted himself to educating French opinion in the all-engrossing questions of foreign policy, as he saw them. It was because of his incessantly published and spoken views upon this subject that he succeeded Aristide Briand as Premier in January, 1922.

Physically M. Poincaré is small and squarely built and has a square, firm face, a somewhat scraggly gray beard and a broad, intellectual forehead. His demeanor is quiet, courteous, even punctilious. He speaks readily and his thought, when he speaks, is clearness itself, but his voice is flat and monotonous. He is indeed the very antithesis of the conception of a Frenchman which has been popularized outside of France, always calm, always cool and collected, rarely if ever gesticulatory.

Has Rare Personal Distinction.

Of personal magnetism he has none. His power resides rather in his capacity for work, which is prodigious; in his memory, which is rare; in his intelligence, which is superior, and in his firmness of will, coupled—the conjunction is unusual—with a nice sense of realities. Furthermore, he is highly cultivated, shunning social entertainment, loathing everything smacking of demagogy. Doubtless he would be considered by some American political leaders a hopeless highbrow, but in France that has not yet become an obstacle to political advancement.

The two principal acts of the Poincaré Administration were the occupation of the Ruhr and the summoning of the committees of experts whose report, accepted by all the Governments concerned, will speedily lead, everyone now hopes, to a genuine settlement of the Reparations question. These two acts are inseparably joined. It was only France’s victory in “the battle of the Ruhr” which made possible the successful conclusion of the work of the experts. On this point both the American experts, Gen. Dawes and Owen D. Young, are fully agreed. In other words, when firmness was required Poincaré was unflinchingly firm; when a time came for moderation and conciliation it was he who devised the means by which terms of settlement generally acceptable might be drawn up. To have accomplished either of these would have been notable; to have accomplished both is the work of no ordinary statesman.

Poincaré’s Outstanding Acts.

I know that by his opponents in both internal and external politics, as well as by many otherwise disinterested persons who have not had the opportunity to know him and to see his work at first hand, or who are accustomed to judge hastily from first appearances, an opinion anything but complimentary is entertained of Raymond Poincaré. Yet is it conceivable that there can really be peace in the world without order, without justice, without equity, without respect for the sanctity of contracts? I doubt it. And because of this I think that Raymond Poincaré has been pre-eminently the servant of peace. He took the reins of power when France, chagrined and bewildered by the multifarious onslaughts of her determined opponents, was weakening. In his own vigorous words, he has spared the world the humiliating appearance of fraud triumphant over justice. For this reason, if for no other, I think he deserves well of all true lovers of peace.

  1. Steadfast France