Grandeur and Misery of Victory
THE MAN of the MONTH
[Harcourt, Brace, $5.00]
THE ‘Tiger’ is dead at last, and in dying gave a roar that the whole world shall hear, for a spear had been thrust through his heart. Jealousy between civil and military authority in war is no new manifestation of human nature, but during the war Clemenceau had stood firmly behind Foch, in spite of much provocation to do otherwise. He had made him a Marshal of France, and when in his memoirs the great soldier, who was not a great gentleman, made a vicious attack on the former premier, he stirred the already dying statesman to angry self-defense. ‘You challenge me. Here I am,’ writes Clemenceau. For ten years he had remained silent under many other attacks, but he could do so no longer, and in spite of years and infirmity he never launched a more vigorous offensive in his long career of fighting than in this volume penned with dying fingers. The Tiger did not come by his nickname without cause, and Foch had stirred his anger to the very depths. Foch also is dead, happily for him, for his reputation has been sorely mangled by the claws and teeth of the Tiger.
A mere war of words between a chief of state and chief of an army over matters now fast fading into the emotional nullity of history might hold little interest for any but a specialist, but Clemenceau’s book is far more than a mere self-justifying pamphlet. In the beginning he announces that, although called upon to reply to certain specific points, he has tried to do so ‘without losing sight of the broad considerations that are essentially imposed in such a subject,’ and, again toward the end, he notes that ‘’t is not Foch’s gossip that haunts me, but the future of France.’ It is this scope of the reply, and its style, which will give it that world audience denied to a mere controversial document. In its wit, its irony, its broad philosophy, and its sharply etched portraits of individuals, it is the Tiger at his best.
The twenty-four chapters fall readily into three main sections. The first deals for the most part with Foch during the war, the second with the drafting of the Peace Treaty, and the last with the ‘mutilations’ of that Treaty leading to ‘the Retrograde Peace’ during the past ten years.
In the first part we discover a very different Foch from the legendary hero. He blunders badly in the affair of the Chemin des Dames. There is a dangerous crisis of insubordination against the civil government. On occasion his statements are such as to call for Roosevelt’s ‘short and ugly word.’ and the letter from King Albert practically accusing him of it is given in full. To Americans the most interesting part, of this section is that which deals with the unified command, for in the controversy over that the vexed question of Pershing bears a prominent part. On the one hand, Clemenceau accuses Foch of largely destroying the value of the unified command by his fear of commanding, and, on the other, accuses Pershing of sacrificing enormous man power in his allies by his stubborn insistence on doing nothing until he had accumulated a complete American army which he could command himself. The fact is that the story of incompetence in high quarters of our own yet remains to be written, and no one as yet has shown any inclination for that unpleasing but eventually necessary task. Clemenceau’s strictures are footnotes for that unwritten work.
The Peace Conference assembles: Wilson with ‘a smile like a benevolent wolf.’ Lloyd George, ‘fresh and pink,’ Arthur Balfour, ‘the most courteous of adamantine men,’ Colonel House, ‘a super-civilized person escaped from the wilds of Texas,’ Hoover, ‘conspicuous for the stiffness, of a man whose nerves are at the end of their tether,’ Wellington Koo, ‘like a young Chinese cat,’ ‘the ineffable group of malcontents — Robert Lansing, Keynes, etc.’ House and Bliss come in for high praise, as do several others, but the tortuous proceedings of the Conference are traced with a biting realism. In a brief and untechnical review it is obviously impossible to discuss disputed points, but this account by one of the ’big four’ themselves cannot be overrated for its importance. The keynote of the treaty for which Clemenceau claims he was working was ‘ the liberation of the peoples,’ whereas Foch and Poincare were working for the occupation of territory by force against, the will of its inhabitants.
In the third section the author traces the breakdown of the Treaty — ‘the Retrograde Peace.’ He tries to show, on the one hand, how the claims of France by one means and another, including the Dawes Plan, the Treaty of Locarno, the Hague Conference, have been disallowed or whittled down, whereas on the other he complains with great bitterness of the insistent demands of America for the payment of its claims in full, while all the time Germany is building up its new war machine behind the scenes. He points out how America lost only about a hundred thousand men against the several millions dead in France; how the war brought colossal prosperity to our country and ruin to his; and then how we made our separate peace, gaining all the benefits of our allies’ sacrifices and declining to assume any postwar responsibilities while presenting our bills for payment.
If the tone of the book is at times bitter, praise as well as blame is distributed with an even hand, even to Foch, the unexpected enemy whose attack called it into being. Apart from the brilliant qualities of his mind and style, the joy of Clemenceau was that he was a clearsighted realist who was never deceived by high-sounding phrases or befogged by sentiment. He saw human nature and human history in a clear white light, and reported what he saw as fearlessly as he fought for what he felt was the good of the land which was his one passion. He can point out to his own countrymen the folly of living in the memory of Austerlitz and Jena and forgetting that the real end of the Napoleonic episode was Waterloo, In this age of sentimental slush, when so-called statesmen pander to the mob as shamelessly as movie kings, it is well to read a man who would pander to nothing. A nation is not an abstraction. It Can never rise above the character of its people, and we may ponder for ourselves the final words of this most courageous and least sentimental statesman of our day: ‘France will be what the men of France deserve.'
JAMES TRUSLOW ADAMS