I DOUBT if there is in the whole world, at the present moment, a man so universally known, and at the same time so unknown, as General Joffre. Everybody repeats his name and yet almost everybody wonders what he is personally; and things have reached the stage when one imagines that everybody else knows what one is ignorant of, and feels almost ashamed to ask questions.
In his own country General Joffre is little more than a name, or at best a mysterious force, the elusiveness of which has long baffled curiosity. The papers, it is true, publish articles about him, but they are everlasting, wearisome variations on what are supposed to be the great characteristics of the general, namely: temporization and taciturnity. Since M. Georges Clemenceau compared him, months ago, to Fabius Cunctator, people have repeated the same things ad nauseam, without adding one detail to the description of his so-called temporizing inclination, and, above all, without asking themselves whether there are proofs that he is naturally so like the Cunctator of Roman history.
The career of General Joffre was one which could not but pass unperceived by most of his countrymen. In times of peace the soldier who is usually spoken of as socially brilliant is nearly always obscure. Many a really distinguished French general who was a young lieutenant in 1870 got pensioned off years before the present war, without ever becoming known outside the narrowest circle. The only exceptions have been colonial soldiers, men like Duchesne, Galliéni, Marchand, and d’Amade, in whom the national taste for daring and for military intelligence found a satisfaction the higher because it was rare. Now Joffre was indeed a colonial soldier, but, apart from one expedition, he was employed overseas in his capacity as an engineer; and no Frenchman since the days of Vauban has reached celebrity by raising fortifications, which even to the average officer are either perplexing or a matter of course. In the last ten years, after he had been promoted to the higher grades, and especially in the past three years, after he had become Generalissimo, his name naturally grew more familiar; but it was still known mostly to technicians. Not one Frenchman in a thousand could repeat the succession of the supreme chiefs of the army in the past fifteen years. In times of peace the Generalissimo is hardly ever before the public notice, and his work is of an even more recondite nature than that of the engineer. General Brugère, General Hagron, General de Lacroix, General Trémeau have passed in and out of office without ever finding their way from the Annuaire de l’Armée into the popular almanacs.
So, had it not been for the coincidence that I shall point out between the appointment of Joffre and the warlike wave created by the Agadir incident, had it not been above all for the exciting debates on the Three-Year-Service Law and for the great reforms bearing the name of M. Millerand, Joffre, in spite of the extraordinary esteem in which he was held by experts, would have remained little more than a name, or at best a huge slow-moving figure occasionally seen at reviews.
Living thus outside the broad currents of public curiosity until the war began, and since then having raised an impassable barricade between himself and inquisitiveness, it is not surprising that Joffre should be as unknown to the interviewer as if he were a phantom, and that the psychological analysis of his character published by the newspapers should be of the flimsiest.
Yet with the exercise of some sympathetic curiosity, it is not impossible to gather from people who have enjoyed his intimacy, enough human information to understand of what flesh this bulky hero is made. I shall here attempt, not only to describe the historic rôle played by Joffre in the conduct of the war and to analyze his generalship, but also to point out the more conspicuous traits of his character.
Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre 1 was born at Rivesaltes on January 12,1852. Rivesaltes is a small town near Perpignan, in the department of PyrénéesOrientales, the most southern department of France, formed at the time of the great Revolution from the province of Roussillon. The present writer once made a prolonged stay in that part of the country. He has preserved ever since imperishable recollections of the charm of its Pyrenean scenery, everywhere austere, yet elegant whereever it is not sublime; and he remembers the singular dignity of the inhabitants. They speak a Catalan dialect, and are in fact the near relatives of the Aragonese population on the other side of the Pyrenees; but their characteristics are after all those to be found in all the mountainous regions of southern France. They are intelligent; they would appear remarkably shrewd and practical if their nonchalance did not often interfere with matter-of-fact decisiveness; they can be wonderfully self-possessed in spite of their hot blood; and their courtesy delights the stranger who approaches them with proper deference.
Joffre belonged to a modest family. His father was the secretary of the mairie and spent his days transferring in official French on the municipal records the Catalan statements which tamo’-shantered ratepayers made over his desk. The boy Joseph was exceptionally intelligent, and it was natural that his father — a functionary with the functionary’s knowledge of opportunities — should think of ‘pushing’ him — as the French phrase goes — up to some one of the situations which the visits of the prefect, the judges, the departmental engineer, the departmental architect, or the recruiting officers, made living realities. So Joseph went on from the elementary school at Rivesaltes to the Perpignan College, and afterwards to the Montpellier lycée, and before he was sixteen completed his course both in the classics and in mathematics. This was a remarkable achievement, and the greatest ambitions were permissible to the lad and his friends. He astonished nobody by declaring his intention to read for the Ecole Polytechnique. The Ecole Polytechnique is the most difficult of access of all the great French schools, not only because of the courses — mostly in higher mathematics — in its curriculum, but, above all, because of the competition. Since its foundation in 1803, it has attracted the pick of ambitious young Frenchmen, and year after year eleven or twelve hundred candidates stand for the two hundred and fifty vacancies. The roll of famous men produced by the Ecole Polytechnique can be rivalled only by that of the Ecole Normale Supérieure.
On September 21, 1869, Joseph was admitted to the Ecole Polytechnique. He was only seventeen and a half years old, and stood fourteenth on the list. With him was entered another lad from Rivesaltes, his playmate from infancy, to-day one of his fellow generals, General Roques. This man’s name was long more familiar to the French public than that of Joffre himself, as the latter remained partly unknown for the reasons I stated above, while the former organized the highly popular aeronautical service of the army.
The Ecole Polytechnique is a military college, conducted on military principles, but as a rule the most distinguished of the cadets seldom join the army. It is understood that they provide the mining corps and the Ponts et Chaussées with valuable recruits. Joffre is so absolutely the soldier that it seems improbable that he should have taken advantage of his qualifications for obtaining a highly paid and muchrespected post in some one of the civilian departments. But one momentous circumstance almost compelled him to make his choice a year before the usual time. In July, 1870, the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and in the course of the next month Joffre was appointed sub-lieutenant in the Engineer Corps. He was only eighteen, and as the war was of short duration he does not seem to have seen much active service. It is not impossible that this great soldier will die without having ever been really in action; and this is not the least curious paradox of modern warfare. On both sides, but especially on the German side,—which has had no experience of anything like the Tonquin, Tunis, and Moroccan expeditions, — most of the generals had never heard cannon fired in earnest until last August; and as they are brave enough not to think of exposing themselves to danger merely to show their bravery, many will never know the whiz of the bullet.
After the war, but only in due time, on September 21, 1872, Joffre received his commission as a lieutenant, and from that moment until he was made a brigadier general, — a long and tedious period of almost thirty years, — he rose obscurely and slowly from grade to grade, remaining a captain for thirteen years, mostly spent at Montpellier. He was never once before the eyes of the public. His friends say two apparently contradictory things of him: they say that he always was what one is agreed, in default of a better phrase, to call ambitious; and they also admit that, extraordinary as it may sound nowadays, he has his share of southern indolence, and only began to exert all his activities after 1897, when he was given a regiment. It is not impossible to reconcile two such statements in the case of a French soldier of the second half of the nineteenth century. With the exception of a few critical moments this was preëminently a time of peace, and even a time when public opinion had come to believe in the impossibility of a war. The so-called ambition, then, was only the natural wish of a gifted man to pass from humdrum routine to something like an opportunity to use his initiative; and the apparent indolence was the attitude of an officer superior to his employment and discharging it without any effort.
Yet, we should not forget that even in that stage of his career Joffre had the good luck to be given several important missions on which his civilian friends did not accompany him, and which must have taxed his energy to a degree which outsiders cannot well imagine. As I said above, Joffre belonged to the Engineers. Shortly after the war of 1870, he was employed in the transformation of the outworks of Paris and Pontarlieu. Later he accompanied Admiral Courbet to the Pescadores Islands and organized the defense of Formosa; in Africa, he built the railway from Kayes to the Niger, conducted a column to Timbuctoo after the failure of Colonel Bonnier, and succeeded in reaching and occupying the mysterious city;2 finally, he built the whole of the enormous fortifications of Diego Suarez in the island of Madagascar.
It is difficult to imagine that a march like that to Timbuctoo could be accomplished by a man who had not in him the indomitable perseverance of which we now see him give the daily proof. As to the fortifying of Diego Suarez, that was an enterprise that entailed considerable responsibility, financial as well as military, and if, as experts say, Joffre produced a masterpiece of engineering, he also showed that he was equal to the accomplishment of a work of exceptional magnitude.
On his return to France, Joffre was appointed to a professorship at the Ecole de Guerre, —the finishing school of breveted officers, — and from that date the attention of his superiors never seemed to leave him. They must have been struck, not only by his mastery of the technicalities of his specialty, but above all by the intellectual power and the invariable self-control which his quiet and direct speech betrays. At any rate, they rapidly promoted him to the higher grades, and never appointed him to any post which would have kept him out of easy reach of Paris. He had been nominated a colonel in 1897; four years later he became brigadier-general in command of the artillery at Vincennes, and in 1905 he received the command of a division. The army corps to which this division belonged has its headquarters at Rouen, but the division is quartered in Paris, and Joffre was appointed at the same time member of the Technical Engineering Commission. In 1909 the command of the Second Army Corps (headquarters at Amiens) was given him, together with the inspectorship of the military schools. A year later he became a member of the Superior War Council, and the last and great phase of his career began. A few years before he had married Madame Lozès.
The Superior War Council is the supreme organ of the military authority in France and the centre of national defense. I shall be obliged presently to enter into further details concerning its constitution and working, but the reader should know at once that it consists of only eleven members, from among whom the army commanders should be chosen in time of war. One of the members acts as vice-president, under the presidency, too often ephemeral, of the Minister of War.
The year after Joffre’s nomination to the Superior Council, the Vice-President, General Trémeau, died. His succession, it had always been understood, was to devolve on General Pau (born in 1848), a remarkable officer who had stayed in the army after losing an arm in 1870, and had made a brilliant career. But when the vice-presidency was offered to him, Pau declined, and said that no man ought to be entrusted with that formidable responsibility while General Joffre was available. So it was, then, that in 1911 Joffre became the head of the French army, under a curious restriction which I shall have to explain. But head of the French army he was all the same, and the rest of this paper will be devoted to an examination of how he acquitted himself, first in the preparation for the present war, and second in the conduct of the war itself.
The work of Joffre during the past three momentous years was partly technical and unknown, but also partly visible, because it found its expression in legislative measures which were the object of debates in the chambers, and were recorded in the parliamentary proceedings. Here Joffre had the good fortune to come across a wonderful collaborator whom I must introduce at some length. This person was none other than M. Millerand, to-day Minister of War, and one of the undoubted mainstays of his country. Of all the republican politicians who made their mark in the last twenty years M. Millerand is by far the most interesting because his line of development has been perfectly straight, and because he has never yet disappointed expectation. He is a lawyer like M. Poincaré, and it is difficult to say which of the two men enjoys the greatest reputation at the law courts; nobody rivals this remarkable pair. M. Millerand passed almost insensibly from the bar into politics, because of one circumstance. During the years 1890-1902, he frequently acted as counsel for individuals or corporations prosecuted for labor offenses, and this naturally caused him to become acquainted, not only with the particular legislation he had to deal with, but with the chief representatives of the labor party. Syndicalism had not made its appearance at that time, and Socialism was the broad expression which was used to cover all labor reforms. It was, then, as a Socialist that M. Millerand was first elected a deputy and asserted himself in the Chamber. He had no rival, for Jaurès had not yet made up his mind to exchange his seat among the moderate Republicans for one on the extreme Left; and when in 1899 the political necessities incident to the Dreyfus case compelled M. WaldeckRousseau to take a Socialist into the cabinet, it was M. Millerand who was made the recipient of the unexpected portfolio.
M. Millerand is a man who must throughout his whole life have strained after truth and justice. His appearance is more powerful than graceful; in speech, he is strong, lucid, direct, intent on accuracy, and regardless of elegance. All his printed utterances produce the same impression. If he had lived in the times when the language, instead of being universally shipshod, was undefiled and terse, M. Millerand would have had something Demosthenic in his speeches; to-day his style seems rough and unkempt, but its indifference to minor graces is power in itself Nobody can call M. Millerand persuasive, but, on the other hand, nobody will deny that he is wonderfully convincing.
Before his tenure of office, M. Millerand had been looked upon as a man whose business was to achieve things and produce results; but these results were those which his party, not his country at large, welcomed and applauded. The moment he became initiated in the difficulties and responsibilities of government he seemed to be another man. From a partisan he turned into a patriot; he began to judge everything from the patriotic standpoint. No trace of the politician’s vulgarity has been visible in him since those days. He gave a striking proof of his preference for national interests as contrasted with the mere interests of a party at the time of the military scandals in 1904. The reader may remember that the secretary of the Masonic headquarters 3 on rue Cadet delivered to a well-known deputy in the opposition, M. Guyot de Villeneuve, documents proving that the lodges favored, and had actually organized, a vast system of espionage resulting in the denunciation and eventually the cold-shouldering of officers — no matter how unimpeachable professionally — who were suspected of unfriendliness to the governing party or publicly acted as professed Catholics. When these facts were exposed in the Chamber, M. Millerand, though a Free Mason himself, resolutely seceded from his brethren, branded their action as a régime abject, and got excommunicated by his lodge in return.
Had he not made his mark so brilliantly before this incident it is probable that his career would have been rendered difficult for him; but it was too late, and every time the Republic felt in need of really strong men, M. Millerand was one of those men. His method as Minister of Labor in 1908 was conspicuous for its novelty: it was nothing else than a resolute application of the principles of common sense! He merely discarded political interference, had issues expounded and solutions propounded to him by professional people, — in the present instance, Syndicalists, — and resolutely abided by what seemed to him immediately possible reforms. The results he obtained surprised everybody.
This was the man, then, who, in January, 1912, was appointed Minister of War, a few months after General Joffre had been promoted to the Vice-Presidency of the Superior Council.
The situation of France at that date was insecure. The Agadir affair had left no sensible person in doubt that Germany was trying to pick a quarrel, and the army was yet badly in need of reforms which MM. Berteaux and Messimy had not been strong enough to put through. It will always remain to the credit of M. Poincaré — then Prime Minister, and according to the arrangement of the French constitution, much more influential than he became after his election to the presidency — that he brought together two such men as General Joffre and M. Millerand.
The new Minister of War immediately went to work in his usual manner. ‘I know only one method,’ he wrote in Les Lectures pour Tous some time after leaving office. ‘The Minister of War has the responsible chiefs at his elbow; let him take their advice; any other procedure will be found to be perilous.’ What he recommended in these terms M. Millerand had done himself without losing one minute, as will appear from a cursory glance at the record of his ministry. It is clear that his first contact with the ‘responsible chiefs,’ Joffre and his collaborators, — above all, Pau and de Castelnau, — had left a deep impression upon him. When this matter-of-fact handler of questions, this keen-sighted reader of men, spoke of the leaders of the army, his tone invariably assumed, even in the Chamber, something like a religious respect, with an undercurrent of affectionate comradeship. Evidently M. Millerand had been struck with the intelligence and the high moral value of those soldiers whom he had too often, since the Dreyfus affair, heard represented as obtuse technicians or narrow-minded partisans. There was the same expression in a speech delivered at the manœuvres of 1912 before the Grand Duke Nicholas, now Russian Generalissimo, and General Wilson of the United States Army. The minister said little: he barely referred to ‘the judgment, the tact, and the self-possession of General Joffre’; but it was with a manner which betrayed a consciousness of the inadequacy of these words and gave them an impressive freshness.
It would take too long to recapitulate, even in the briefest way, what Joffre and Millerand did during the one year of the latter’s tenure of office. A volume entitled Pour la Défense Nationale, in which M. Millerand’s speeches and circulars were collected, gives an idea of what the conjunction of two lucid intellects, assisted by will-power worthy of the name, can do in spite of the dallyings of an assembly like the French Chamber. By the end of 1912, the army, which had been left humiliated, depressed, and too often divided by the long tail of the Dreyfusist tornado, had been restored to an unprecedented popularity; politics had been banished from it by the repeal of an odious measure which since 1905 had empowered the prefects to give their opinion twice a year on the officers, and consequently on their promotion; several material reforms had been carried out; above all, there had been effected a reorganization of the supreme command. Obviously Joffre regarded this change as of paramount importance, for it was to it that he first drew M. Millerand’s attention. This transformation put an end to a dangerous quality in the command, under which politics, as usual, was lurking. The Vice-President of the Superior Council of War was, it is true, by right, the Generalissimo in case of war; but beside him there was a head of the General Staff, whose business it was to remain by the Minister of War, and to assist the latter in the nomination of the personnel. This meant that in case of war a civilian minister might force men of his own choosing on the Generalissimo. M. Millerand took office on January 14, 1912; by January 20 the duties of the head of the General Staff had been made over to the Vice-President of the Superior Council. In concrete terms this meant that in case of war Joffre would have undisputed freedom, not only as to the plan which the armies should endeavor to realize, but also as to the choice of the men who were to help in this realization. The bane of our democracy, namely, divided and elusive responsibility, had been removed from the organization in which it appeared most dangerous. Nobody thought for one moment of putting this down to personal ambition on the part of Joffre. On the contrary, even the most jealous radicals felt that here was a victory of pure patriotism and common good sense over an absurd prejudice.
Everybody knew that what M. Millerand was executing with incomparable intelligence and energy was the outcome of conceptions long cherished and probably many times despaired of by the Vice-President of the Superior Council and his colleagues. These conceptions were intelligible enough and even obvious enough. But it was not so with the mysterious work carried on in the Superior Council of War itself. We heard officers constantly repeating that if war was inevitable, they would wish it to come while Joffre was at the head of the army and assisted by Pau and de Castelnau. But why this opinion should be so universal was not clear, and the attitude of many people was one of hopefulness checked by an everlasting note of interrogation.
To-day we understand better what we had so long to take for granted. The technical business of Joffre was to prepare, not one plan, but a variety of plans answering to all possible hypotheses connected with German aggression; it was also to test in every possible manner every detail of the mobilization plan devised by General Pau and General de Castelnau. Joffre did all this in the scientific spirit of which the German staff under Moltke and Von Roon gave the first great example in 1870, but which can be not only imitated but even improved upon by intelligent and properly trained specialists. It was partly the facility with which the Generalissimo handled the enormous mass of details connected with the mobilization, the armament, and the rapid transportation of two million men, which excited the admiration of experts. After the manæuvres of 1913 — the last rehearsal before the drama of 1914 — General Maitrot, a well-known critic never inclined to flattery, published his remarks on the operation. He found fault with practically everything, and his book would have been depressing if it had not left the impression that the chief cause of the shortcomings he pointed out was the artificiality of manæuvres and the unreality of decisions given by umpires and not imposed by facts. But General Maitrot’s judgment on Joffre, who was responsible for the instructions given to the generals of both parties, was striking in its brevity. ‘The direction,’ he wrote, ‘defies criticism; the lucidity, simplicity, and completeness of its instructions are perfection.’
However, this technical superiority was only one element in the greatness of Joffre. It was fortunately associated with a moral power without which mere generalship is little and in fact hardly ever exists. When Lord Kitchener, a man who does not deal in superlatives, said in Parliament that Joffre is not only a great general but a great man, he simply recognized this rare association of two orders of superiority in the same person. M. Briand had the same impression as early as 1911, when General Trémeau died and Joffre was suggested as his successor. ‘This is our man,’ he said to M. Poincaré after their first meeting. M. Briand is no strategist; he only felt the personal power of the future general-in-chief.
What this power consists of can be stated only in general terms. People wrongly speak of Joffre as the great Taciturn. It is true that he cannot speak in public, and prefers silence to the ordeal of attempting what he knows he cannot do well; but all his friends are unanimous in describing him as a sociable, nay, a genial person. The many Parisians who have met him of a summer morning, merrily riding in the Bois with his step-daughters, are sure that this powerful horseman, with an open countenance and the shrewdest eyes to light it up, is no mere coldblooded scientist. In fact, all those who have come in contact with Joffre have felt the presence of a welling source of inner conviction which may not be enthusiasm but which creates it. What is this particular faith the contagion of which nobody can resist? Nothing more than the certainty of victory, but in a degree which nobody else has attained, and with a background of judgment which cannot be mistaken for mere sanguineness. That is the conviction which Joffre communicated, not only to his military collaborators, but also to the five or six cabinets which have succeeded one another since 1911. Even the last two, consisting of Radicals who were opposed to the ThreeYear-Service Law, who leaned to pacifism, and who must have been startled when the written proof was placed before them of the aggressive intentions of Germany,4 were reassured on the eve of the formidable war by something irresistible in the voice of the Generalissimo.
A certain class of journalists will, even now, occasionally harp on Joffre’s anxiety to save his soldiers, and on the fact that he is, or once was, a Free Mason, and will attempt to depict him as a sort of Socialist general. But this is pure imagination. Joffre is a soldier in the old and not in the apologetic acceptation of the term; his professional ambition is entirely patriotic. In this respect there is no difference between him and his bosom friend General de Castelnau: the latter is a devout Catholic, while Joffre is at least indifferent to religion; but both are soldiers to the core.
This attempt at a portrait of Joffre must include an effort to draw psychological conclusions from his conduct during the war, at least so far as the events of the war have revealed it. The Bulletin des Armées has published at least three considerable reports enabling us to proceed rather securely.
On the last day of July, when Germany mobilized her army and all hopes of peace made room for a strange feeling which those who experienced it will never forget, France had on her side four things about which there was little uncertainty. Joffre was a real leader. He had plans for the defense of the country. The French soldier was as full of resources as in the days of Napoleon; and an American general present at the manœuvres of 1913 had said he was the first infantry soldier in the world. Finally, the national spirit was equal to any trial, and the mobilization, coming four days after the scandal of the Caillaux affair, proved it.
But there were also strong points in favor of Germany. Having chosen her time, she must be better prepared, as the rapidity of her invasion proved. Her numerical superiority was even greater than in 1870. Her staff was probably abler than the French staff. Lastly her superiority in heavy or long-range artillery, in the number of machine-guns, and in several important items in commissariat organization, was overwhelming.
France being undoubtedly peaceful in her European attitude, Joffre had been compelled to discard all except defensive plans; and as it was certain that Germany’s concentration would be more rapid than that of her opponent, the line of French defense could not even be near the frontier. It has been stated since the beginning of the war that the concentration had been planned to take place as far from the frontier as Langres to the east and the immediate vicinity of Paris to the north. This meant that Joffre took the invasion of about an eighth part of the French territory as a matter of course; but this also meant facing a possible depression of public opinion at the very outset. It was here that the wonderful self-possession of the Generalissimo appeared. He saw the resistance of the little Belgian army crushed on the Meuse. He saw the German armies flooding the greatest part of Belgium, and in little more than three weeks overflowing the French territory along a line of a hundred miles, at the terrific rate of forty to forty-five kilometers a day. He heard daily reports of the phenomenon which he knew he must fear: the bourgeois classes — never the people, thanks to the splendid courage of the press — gradually began to waver, then to become openly pessimistic; a few of their political representatives began to speak of peace at dishonorable cost. Yet he never betrayed the least emotion. Day after day his brief communiqués recorded the advance of the enemy with as much honesty as if everybody else had been as sure of victory as he was himself. All the time he and his staff bore in their minds the clear design of what was to take place on the banks of the Marne; and finally, after five weeks, he sent to every regiment the announcement long defined in its tenor and wording, ‘stand or die,’ that retreat was at an end, and that the positions on which he intended to break the German advance had been reached. Reverse at that crisis would have been an almost unthinkably cruel trial, but it was victory that came, and a victory thus prepared, expected, and announced had not been recorded in the French annals since Bonaparte, laying his finger on the map, had definitely indicated the battlefield, near the banks of the Po, on which he would beat M. de Mélas.
How much energy he had expended over the preparation of this battle appeared later when it was made certain that the resignation of the Minister of War, M. Messimy, the return of M. Millerand to office, and the dismissal of some forty generals had been his work. How he had hung on the hope of victory was confessed clearly, in plain language, by the pathetic passage in his order to the troops, in which he thanked them for satisfying the longing planted in him forty-four years before, in 1870.
The battle of the Marne was known to be a victory on September 13. Since then Joffre has not lost an inch; but he seldom seems to have made much progress. Once more people — though never again giving way to the slightest doubt — have been tempted to call him the Temporizer. Day after day the communiqué has mentioned attacks, sometimes violent attacks, merely stating that these attacks were repulsed, and we have been more than once inclined to say in a rather superior tone that this war is monotonous. It takes the appearance, at long intervals, of the admirable reports in the Bulletin des Armées to make us realize with a blush on our brows that when Joffre speaks in his bald style of violent attacks, this means, as it did during the three weeks of the battle of Ypres, the most furious assaults by masses of troops invariably superior in numbers, and amounting at some critical moments to seven hundred thousand men. Then we understand what lies under the everyday language used at headquarters. Joffre, on the first day of the war, drew between us and his armies a thick veil which keeps curiosity away, but which also keeps heroism and epic grandeur in the dimness of an unperceived background; and this is not the least astonishing trait of this greatest of wars.
While holding the enemy at arm’s length and wearing his force out by daily losses, sometimes enormous, the so-called Temporizer has turned time to good account. The French army now possesses the heavy artillery, the machine-guns, and the commissariat material of which it felt the want so terribly at first; it has become more conscious of its resources; and the leader knows his men better. The confirmation of the military capacity of a man like General Dubail; the passage of a man like General Foch from the command of an army corps, not only to that of an army, but to the position of substitute Generalissimo; the discovery of a man like General de Maud’hui, a plain brigadier, one of six or seven hundred, at the beginning of the war, to-day one of the six army commandants, are worth victories and surely worth a few weeks’ temporizing. But let it be remembered that Joffre never gave any indications of being more than reasonably prudent, and that he appeared in his most natural attitude when he took the offensive at the battle of the Marne.
The conclusion of this estimate of Joffre’s generalship must be that in the conduct of the war, as well as in its preparation, he has given proofs of unparalleled faith in what he regards as the truth; and that his moral energy is on a par with his military ability.
There is another side to Joffre’s influence which would well deserve consideration, but which is of another order: I mean the moral effect of his action on his own country and even on the whole world. Certainly France is happier than she was before the war, notably happier than she was during the oppressive week of the Caillaux case; and she is also more respected. I appeal to the consciousness of all foreigners whose insight enables them to understand the spirit of a nation. What I should like above all to point out is that Joffre, although an exceptional Frenchman, is at the same time eminently French. Judgment and balance, ambition and energy, patience and intelligent perseverance, were certainly not characteristic of the superficial society which casual observers have often mistaken in the past fifty years for the true France; but the many Americans who, as Mr. Brander Matthews bore witness a few months ago, know through the study of the best French literature what French civilization really stands for, will not think Joffre unrepresentative.
- This name, which seems to have puzzled many foreigners, is only the Southern variation of Jauffre, a name derived like Jeoffrin, Jauffret, Jouffroy, etc., from Geoffroy. — THE AUTHOR.↩
- This expedition he narrated in his only published work, La Colonne Joffre (Paris, 1895), a log of Cæsarean brevity. — THE AUTHOR.↩
- One should bear in mind that the French Masonic lodges have very little in common with those of England or America. Their object is political, and the fact that in 1876 they struck every mention of the Grand Architect out of their rituals sufficiently shows their atheistic tendency. — THE AUTHOR.↩
- See Le Livre Jaune: M. Cambon’s despatches of May 6 and Nov. 22, 1913. — THE AUTHOR.↩