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long and careful preparation, while it permits us
and our Allies, the English, to provide the men and
supplies which we lacked at the start. Prussia is
under no illusion about this ; the German newspapers
prove it. I was at dinner a few days ago under
General X's tent with several officers of the general
staff. When the General spoke of the time that was
still needed for France to win a complete victory,
there was a scene of intense emotion, and all those
fine soldiers cried in spontaneous patriotism, "Yes,
yes, we will conquer or die !"

On July 18, 1915, an officer of reserves writes:

You ask me what the opinions are in this region
on the subject of the winter campaign. I think I
can tell you. When the winter campaign was men-
tioned men shrugged their shoulders at first.

After reflecting on all the pending questions people
here have gradually come to the conclusion that a
winter campaign is necessary (1) to allow Russia to
regain her lost ground, (2) to allow the Allies to
secure a decided advantage over the Bodies in the

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WAR LETTERS FROM FRANCE

supply of munitions, and (3) to allow the Allies to
make the blockade more stringent against Germany.
People have come to this position not with
joy but with firm deliberation. We realize that
we are where we are in this war because we were
too little prepared. The Germans foresee every-
thing, even the impossible. Let us learn to be as
prudent as they, but with the ingenuity of the
Frenchman. Then our victory is certain. And if it
turns out that the winter campaign is not needed,
there will be no reproach upon us for having pre-
pared for it.

At the beginning of July a Frenchwoman wrote:

We are having fine summer weather. The country
is beautiful, but how sad ! No youth, no songs in the
fields, no joyous laughter; we shall never laugh again
in France, I fear. How can we? The younger gen-
eration will forget these days perhaps, but ours will
carry to the grave the burden of this bloody drama.

Even after the temporary retreat of the Russians,
French energy did not flag. Nobody was under
an illusion as to the length of the war, but the morale
continued unimpaired. The officers and soldiers at
the front are allowed from time to time to return to
the rear, and their presence always dispels gloom and
melancholy, leaving only hope in the heart. One of
the civilians thus cheered by their presence writes on
July 19, 1915:

100



THE FUTURE

Warsaw is captured. They will turn back on us.
But let us have confidence. Our soldiers are won-
derful, so full of hope and courage. Still, when one
sees them, one knows what they have endured. They
all have a tragic look, but they are filled with energy
and zeal, even though they are under no illusion as
to the possible duration of the war.



"A little child shall lead them." One of the chil-
dren of France wrote near the beginning of the war
these lines of prophetic confidence:

We shall come out victorious and France, that most
beautiful nation, will resume its peaceful, pros-
perous life. War will yield finally to peace and men
will live happily forever.

Pierre.



V
LAST LETTER



LAST LETTER

To the Editor op the French newspaper Le
Matin op September 8, 1915:

THREE weeks ago I arrived in your country
which I had left on the fifth of September,
1914. At that moment I was carrying away with
me the great spectacle of your mobilization. This
solemn and magnificent rising of the manhood of a
whole people had left in my mind the image of a
quasi-religious spectacle in its splendid solemnity.
During the mobilization I had many talks with the
soldiers and from these conversations I had derived
a great deal of hope and comfort. Ever since I
left you, I have thought so often of these brave
people, who without noise or boast but in silent dig-
nity went forth to a war of national defense and of
justice, that I was most anxious to see them again
and at the same time to revisit the several hundred
Alsatian and Belgian refugee children that some of
my compatriots and I had been able to gather

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WAR LETTERS FROM FRANCE

together at the beginning of the war, and who with
many others since collected are to-day scattered
about in colonies throughout the various depart-
ments of France.

Thanks to the courtesy of Mr. Delcasse, I was
allowed the rare privilege of traversing the roads
through the army zone between Paris and Nancy,
and went up to the first lines. What I saw gave me
an impression as strong and as favorable as that
of the mobilization. All these men who went away
with such calm and resolution remained in the same
state of mind, with perfect confidence in the final
victory of France and of their chiefs. Everywhere
I saw signs of the old gaiete frangaise. Nowhere
did I hear the slightest murmur of complaint
Everyone was doing his duty. The war might well
be very long and very painful, but the result was
sure. Already they had acquired the moral supe-
riority, and if ever the enemy came out of his
trenches his defeat was certain.

I saw villages in Lorraine utterly ruined and
destroyed by the Germans. I well remember one
day spent at Gerbeviller. The women and the old
men told me: "We have returned. It was indeed
necessary to replant the fields and to take up life
again," and in this village, completely burned, where
I learned that more than one hundred civilians were
shot, everybody was smilingly at work. The fields

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LAST LETTER

had been tilled as perfectly as usual and the crops
were beautiful. Scattered about here and there,
throughout the fields, were little red patches of
flowers, surmounted by a white cross, under which
the defenders of Lorraine slept. One who has not
seen it cannot understand how a visitor is moved
by the spectacle of this strength of soul.

But what is most painful for us Americans in all
this is the proof that this war was a war of sys-
tematic destruction, a war, as my friend Mr. Emile
Boutroux said to me in its beginning, conducted
with scientific barbarism. It is not merely that
drunken soldiers pillaged the villages. Here and
there a house remains standing, evidently spared
because it had borne a certain mark. The rest
were systematically burned. Everything was done
with discipline and order.

We are, at home in the United States, somewhat
in the same state of mind that France was before
the war, believing in humanity, in justice, in pity,
and we have to see the traces of this methodically
calculated carnage and destruction — we have to see
this country so systematically devastated, as the Ger-
mans of Caesar's time could not have devastated it,
to believe in the reality of the things which we read
in our newspapers. We are apt to think that there
must be a large part of exaggeration in all this and
that Prussian militarism should not be judged by a

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WAR LETTERS FROM FRANCE

few isolated atrocities. Now I know the truth and
will not hesitate to repeat it again and again.

One man who had witnessed the assassination of
the hostages of Gerbeviller, another who had seen
the murder of the Mayor of Senlis, told me of these
things in accents of simplicity and sincerity that
bore out the official reports. They told me of the
cynical propositions, the brutal jests with which
the German soldiers carried on their enterprise of
devastation and murder and there was in their re-
citals so much simplicity, loyalty and candor that
little doubt could remain in one's mind.

When in the face of such an enemy, unchained,
after a year of war, one returns to find France
serene and without anxiety about the ultimate result
one understands that if man is stronger than nature
by his intelligence, he is stronger than injustice
by his morality.

All these things seen at close range convince us
Americans that France can never be vanquished;
that she retains the same greatness of soul that has
persisted through the centuries since the barbarian
invasions ; that stronger to-day than she has ever
been, she will, after the war, be more respected and
more admired than she was during her greatest
centuries of glory.

Frederic R. Coudert.
(1)





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Online LibraryAlbert Geouffre de LapradelleWar letters from France → online text (page 6 of 6)