Clara E. (Clara Elizabeth) Laughlin.

Foch the man online

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a commander knows about human nature and
its spiritual depressions and exaltations, the
better able he is to change his plans as new
conditions arise.

German power in war, Foch taught his stu-
dents, lies in the great masses of their effective
troops and their perfect organization for mov-
ing men and supplies. German weakness is in


the absolute autocracy of great headquarters,
building its plans as an architect builds a house
and unable to modify them if something hap-
pens to make a change necesary.

This he deduced from his study of their
methods in previous wars, especially in that
of 1870.

And with this in mind he labored so that
when Germany made her next assault upon
France, France might be equipped with hun-
dreds of officers cognizant of Germany's weak-
ness and prepared to turn it to her defeat.


"TT was not," Napoleon wrote, "the Roman
I legions which conquered Gaul, but
Caesar. It was not the Carthaginian
soldiers who made Rome tremble, but Hanni-
bal. It was not the Macedonian phalanx
which penetrated India, but Alexander. It
was not the French army which reached the
Weser and the Inn, but Turenne. It was not
the Prussian soldiers who defended their
country for seven years against the three most
formidable powers in Europe; it was Fred-
erick the Great."

And already it has been suggested that his-
torians will write of this war : "It was not the
allied armies, struggling hopelessly for four
years, that finally drove the Germans across
the Rhine, but Ferdinand Foch."

But I am sure that Foch would not wish



this said of him in the same sense that Napo-
leon said it of earlier generals.

For Foch has a greater vision of generalship
than was possible to any commander of long

His strategy is based upon a close study of
theirs; for he says that though the forms of
making war evolve, the directing principles do
not change, and there is need for every officer
to make analyses of Xenophon and Caesar and
Hannibal as close as those he makes of Fred-
erick and Napoleon.

But his conception of military leadership is
permeated with the ideals of democracy and
justice for which he fights.

One of his great lectures to student-officers
was that in which he made them realize what,
besides the rout of the Prussians, happened at
Valmy in September, 1792.

On his big military map of that region
(it is in the obliterated St. Mihiel salient)
Foch would show his students how the Prus-
sians, Hessians and some Austrian troops,
under the Duke of Brunswick, crossed the
French frontier on August 19 and came swag-


gering toward Paris, braggartly announcing
their intentions of ''celebrating" in Paris in

Brunswick and his fellow generals were to
banquet with the King of Prussia at the Tuile-
ries. And the soldiers were bent upon the
cafes of the Palais Royal.

Foch showed his classes how Dumouriez,
who had been training his raw troops of dis-
organized France at Valenciennes, dashed
with them into the Argonne to intercept
Brunswick ; how this and that happened which
I will not repeat here because it is merely tech-
nical ; and then how the soldiers of the republic,
rallied by the cry, ''The country is in dan-
ger," and thrilled by "The Marseillaise"
(written only five months before, but already
it had changed the beat of nearly every heart
in France), made such a stand that it not only
halted Prussia and her allies, but so com-
pletely broke their conquering spirit that with-
out firing another shot they took themselves
off beyond the Rhine.

"We," Foch used to tell his students, "are
the successors of the revolution and the em-


pire, the inheritors of the art, new-born upon
the field of Valmy to astonish the old Europe,
to surprise in particular the Duke of Bruns-
wick, the pupil of Frederick the Great, and to
tear from Goethe, before the immensity of a
fresh horizon, this profound cry: 1 tell you,
from this place and this day comes a new era
in the history of the world !' "

It is that new era which Foch typifies — that
new era which his adversaries, deaf to Goethe's
cry and blind to Goethe's vision, have not yet

It was "the old Europe" against which Fock
fought — the old Europe which learned nothing
at Valmy and has learned nothing since; the
old Europe that fought as Frederick the Great
fought and that had not yet seen the dawn of
that new day which our nation and the French
nation greeted with glad hails much more than
a century ago.

In 1792 Prussia measured her military skill
and her masses of trained men against
France's disorganization — and overlooked
'The Marseillaise."

In 19 14 she weighed her might against what


she knew of the might of France — and omitted
to weigh certain spiritual differences which she
could not comprehend, but which she felt at
the first battle of the Marne, has been feeling
ever since, and before which she had to retire,
beaten but still blind.

In 19 18 she estimated the probable force of
those "raw recruits" whom we were sending
overseas — and laughed. She based her calcu-
lations on our lack of military tradition, our
hastily trained officers, our "soft," ease-loving
men uneducated in those ideals of blood and
iron wherein she has reared her youth always.
She overlooked that spiritual force which the
"new era" develops and which made our men
so responsive to the command of Foch at
Chateau Thierry and later.

"The immensity of a fresh horizon" where-
on Goethe saw the new era dawning, is still
veiled from the vision of his countrymen. But
across its roseate reaches unending columns of
marching men passed, under the leadership of
Ferdinand Foch, to liberate the captives the
blind brute has made and to strike down the
strongholds of "old Europe" forever.


For nearly six years Foch taught such prin-
ciples as these and others which I shall recall
in connection with great events which they
made possible later on.

Then came the anti-clerical wave in French
politics, and on its crest a new commandant
to the School of War — a man elevated by the
anti-clericals and eager to keep his elevation
by pleasing those who put him there.

Foch adheres devoutly to the religious prac-
tices in which he was reared, and one of his
brothers belongs to the Jesuit order.

These conditions made his continuance at
the school under its new head impossible.
Whether he resigned because he realized this,
or was superseded, I do not know. But he
left his post and went as lieutenant colonel to
the Twenty-ninth artillery, at Laon.

He was there two years and undoubtedly
made a thorough study of the country round
Laon — which was for more than four years
to be the key to the German tenure in that part
of France.

Ferdinand Foch, with his brilliant knowl-


edge and high ideals of soldiering, was now
past fifty and not yet a colonel.

Strong though his spirit was, sustained by
faith in God and rewarded by those "secret
satisfactions'' which come to the man who loves
his work and is conscious of having given it
his best, he must have had hours, days, when
he drank deep of the cup of bitterness. There
are, though, bitters that shrivel and bitters that
tone and invigorate. Or perhaps they are the
same and the difference is in us.

At any rate, Foch was not poisoned at the
cup of disappointment.

And when the armies under his command
encircled the great rock whereon Laon is
perched high above the surrounding plains I
hope Foch was with them — in memory of the
days when he was "dumped" there, so to
speak, far away from his sphere of influence
at the School of War.

In 1903 he was made colonel and sent to the
Thirty-fifth artillery at Vannes, in Brittany.

Only two years later he was called to
Orleans as chief of staff of the Fifth army


On June 20, 1907, he was made brigadier
general and passed to the general staff of the
French army at Paris.

Soon afterwards, Georges Clemenceau be-
came Minister of War, and was seeking a new
head for the School of War.

Everyone whose advice he sought said, un-
hesitatingly : Foch.

So the redoubtable old radical and anti-
clerical summoned General Foch and said:

"I offer you the command of the School of

"I thank you,'* Foch replied, "but you are
doubtless unaware that one of my brothers is
a Jesuit."

"I know it very well," was Clemenceau's
answer. "But you make good ofificers, and that
is the only thing which counts."

Thus was foreshadowed, in these two great
men, that spirit of "all for France" which,
under the civil leadership of one and the mili-
tary leadership of the other, was to save the
country and the world.

The interrupted courses of Foch were re-


sumed, and his influence extended throughout
the whole school.

After four years came "the white plume'* of
general of a division and Foch, at 60, took
command of the Thirteenth division at Chau-
mont, just above the source of the Marne.

On December 17, 19 12, he was placed at
the head of the Eighth army corps, at Bourges.

And on August 23, 191 3, he took command
of the Twentieth corps at Nancy,



SO much has been said about France's
unreadiness for the war that it is easy
for those who do not know what the
real situation was to suppose that the French
were something akin to fools. For twenty
centuries the Germans had been swarming
over the Rhine in preying, ravaging hordes,
and France had been beating them back to save
her national life. That they would swarm
again, more insolent and more rapacious than
ever after their triumph of 1870, was not to
be doubted. Everyone in France who had the
slightest knowledge of the spirit that has ani-
mated the Hohenzollern empire knew its envy
of France, its cupidity of France's wealth, its
hatred of France's attractions for all the
world. Everyone who came in contact
with the Germans felt the bullet-headed bel-


ligerence of their attitude which they were
never at any pains to conceal.

The military men of France knew that Ger-
many had for years been preparing for aggres-
sion on a large scale. They knew that she
would strike when she felt that she was
readiest and her opponents of the Triple En-
tente were least ready.

The state of mind of the civilians — busy,
prosperous, peace-loving, concerned with con-
versational warfare about a multitude of petty
internal affairs — is difficult to describe. But I
think it may not be impertinent to say of it
that it was something like the state of mind
of a congregation, well fed, comfortable, con-
scious of many pleasant virtues and few cor-
roding sins, before whom a preacher holds up
the last judgment. None of them hopes to
escape it, none of them can tell at what mo-
ment he may be called to his account, none of
them would wish to go in just his present state,
and yet none of them does anything when he
leaves church to put himself more definitely in
readiness for that great decision which is to
determine where he shall spend eternity.


In 191 1 it seemed for a brief while that
the irruption from the east was at hand. But
Germany did not feel quite ready; she
"dickered"; and things went on seemingly as

France seemed to forget. But she was not
so completely abandoned to hopefulness as
was England — England, who turned her deaf-
est ear to Lord Roberts' impassioned pleas for

France has an institution called the Superior
War Council. It is the supreme organ of mili-
tary authority and the center of national de-
fense; it consists of eleven members sup-
posed to be the ablest commanding generals
in the nation. The president of this council
is the Minister of War; the vice president
is known as the generalissimo of the French

In 1 910 General Joseph Joffre became a
member of the Superior War Council, and in
191 1 he became generalissimo.

It was because the Council felt the immi-
nence of war with Germany that General Pau
— ^to whom the vice presidency should have


gone by right of his priority and also of his
eminent fitness — patriotically waived the honor,
because in two years he would be sixty-five
and would have to retire; he felt that the
defense of the country needed a younger man
who could remain more years in service. So
Joffre was chosen and almost immediately he
began to justify the choice.

Joffre and his associates of the council not
only foresaw the war, but they quite clearly
previsioned its extent and something of its
character. In 19 12 Joffre declared "the fight-
ing front will extend from four hundred to
five hundred miles." He talked little, but he
worked prodigiously ; and always his insistence
was : 'We must be prepared !"

*With whole nations," he said, "engaged in
a mortal combat, disaster is certain for those
who in time of peace failed to prepare for
war." And "To be ready means, to-day, to
have mustered in advance all the resources of
the country, all the intelligence of its citizens,
all their moral energy, for the purpose of at-
taining this one aim — victory. Getting ready
is a duty that devolves not only upon the army,


but upon all public officials, upon all organiza-
tions, upon all societies, upon all families, upon
all citizens,"

This complete readiness was beyond his
power to effect. But in his province — the
army — ^he achieved marvels that were almost

It was France's good fortune (and that of
her allies) that in all he undertook for the
purification and strengthening of the army
Joffre had, from January, 19 12, the complete
co-operation of the Minister of War, M. Mil-
lerand. Together, these two men, brilliantly
supported by some of Joffre's colleagues in the
Superior Council — notably Pau and Castelnau
— achieved results that have been pronounced
"unparalleled in the history of the Third Re-
public." They freed the army from the worst
effects of political influence, made it once more
a popular institution, and organized it into an
effectiveness which needs, now, no comment.

When Foch was put in command of the
Twentieth army corps at Nancy it was in the
expectation that Nancy would sustain the first
shock of the German invasion when it came.


The opinion prevailed that Nancy could not be
held. Whether Joffre was of this opinion or
not, I do not know. If he was, he probably
felt that Foch would give it up only after
harder fighting than any other general. But
Foch believed that Nancy could be defended,
and so did his immediate superior, the gallant
General Castelnau, in command of the Second
Army of Lorraine.

For nearly a year following upon his ap-
pointment to Nancy, Foch labored mightily to
strengthen Nancy against the attack which was
impending. He seems never to have doubted
that Germany would make her first aggression
there, only seventeen miles from her own bor-
der, and with Metz and Strassburg to back the
invading army.

But that there were other opinions, even at
Nancy, I happen to know. For, one day while
the war was still new, I chanced in rooting
in an old bookstall in Paris, to find a book
which was written by an officer of the Twen-
tieth Corps, in 191 1.*

* The reason I cannot give his name, nor quote directly
from his book, is that a fellow traveler borrowed the book
from me and I have never seen it since.


The officer was, if I mistake not, of the
artillery, and he wrote this "forecast" to enter-
tain the members of his mess or battery.

He predicted with amazing accuracy the suc-
cessive events which happened nearly three
years later, only he "guessed" the order for
mobilization in France to fall on August 14,
instead of August i ; and all his subsequent
dates were just about two weeks later than the
actualities. But he "foresaw" the invasion of
Belgium, the resistance at Liege and Namur,
the fall of Brussels, the invasion of France by
her northeastern portals. Almost — at the time
I read this book — it might have served as his-
tory instead of prophecy. I would that I had
it now ! But I clearly remember that it located
the final battle of the war in Westphalia, de-
scribing the location exactly. And that it said
the Emperor would perish in that downfall of
his empire. And it cited two prophecies cur-
rent in Germany — the long-standing one to the
effect that Germany's greatest disaster would
come to her under an Emperor with a withered
arm, and one made in Strassburg in 1870, de-


daring that the new empire would dissolve
under its third Emperor.

The book was published in January, 19 12, if
I remember rightly, and was almost immedi-
ately translated into German. And I was told
that one hundred thousand copies were
sold in Germany in a very short time, and it
was made the subject of editorials in nearly
every prominent German paper.

Probably Foch read it. He may even have
discussed it with the author. But he held to
the belief that when the attack came it would
come through Nancy.

He was not, however, expecting it when it



IN the first days of July, 19 14, divisional
maneuvers were held as usual in Lor-
raine. Castelnau and Foch reviewed the
troops, known throughout the army as ''the
division of iron"

A young captain, recently assigned from the
School of War to a regiment of Hussars form-
ing part of the Twentieth army corps, wrote
to his parents on July 5 an account of the
maneuvers in which he had just taken part. He
said that ''the presence of these two eminent
men gave a great interest" to the events he
described. And the impression made upon him
by Foch is so remarkable that his letter is likely
to become one of the small classics of the war
— endlessly reproduced whenever the story of
Foch is told.



''General Foch," he reminds his parents, "is
a former commander of the School of War,
where he played, on account of his great fit-
ness, a very remarkable role.

"He is a man still young [he was almost
63!], slender and supple, and rather frail; his
powerful head seems like a flower too heavy
for a stem too slight.

"What first strikes one about him is his
clear gaze, penetrating, intellectual, but above
all and in spite of his tremendous energy,
luminous. This light in his eyes spiritualizes a
countenance which otherwise would be brutal,
with its big mustache bristling above a very
prominent, dominant jaw.

"When he speaks, pointing lessons from the
maneuver, he becomes animated to the extent
of impassionedness, but never expressing him-
self otherwise than with simplicity and purity.

"His speech is sober, direct ; he affirms prin-
ciples, condemns faults, appeals to our ener-
gies in a brief but comprehensive style.

"He is a priest, who judges, condemns, and
instructs in the name of the faith which illu-
mines him and to which he has consecrated


all the powers of his mind and his heart.
General Foch is a prophet whom his God trans-

The young officer who wrote thus to his
parents was Captain Andre Dubarle; and he
later laid down his life for his country on the
field of honor commanded by General Foch.

The letter seems to me as treasurable for
what it conveys to us of the sort of young man
Foch found among his officers and soldiers
(there were many such!) as for what it tells
us of the impression Foch created even in those
days before men's souls were set on fire with
fervor for France.

On July 1 8 General Foch asked and obtained
a leave of absence for fifteen days, so that he
might join the family group gathered at his
home near Morlaix in Brittany. His two sons-
in-law, Captain Fournier and Captain Becourt,
also obtained leave. The former was attached
to the general army staff at Paris, and was
granted seventeen days. The latter was in
command of a company of the Twenty-sixth
battalion of Foot Chasseurs at Pont-a-Mous-
son. He was given twenty-five days* leave.


The wives and children of both were at Mor-
laix with Madame Foch.

So little expectation of immediate war had
France on July i8 that she granted a fort-
night's absence to the commander of those
troops which were expected to bear the first
shock of German aggression when it came.

But I happen to know of a French family
reunion held at Nancy on July 14 and the days
following, which was incomplete. One of the
women of this family was married to a Ger-
man official at Metz whose job it was to be
caretaker for three thousand locomotives be-
longing to the imperial government and kept
at Metz for "emergencies." On July 12 (as it
afterwards transpired) he was ordered to have
fires lighted and steam got up in those three
thousand engines, and to keep them, night and
day, ready for use at a moment's notice.

Those smoking iron horses in Metz are a
small sample of what was going on all over
Germany while France's frontier-defenders
were being given permission to visit Brittany.

But for that matter German war-prepara-
tions were going on much nearer to Nancy


than in Metz, while Foch was playing with his
grandchildren at Morlaix.

Beginning about July 21 and ending about
the 25th, twelve thousand Germans left Nancy
for "points east," and six thousand others left
the remainder of French Lorraine.

The pretexts they gave were various — ^vaca-
tions, urgent business matters, "cures" at Ger-
man watering places. They all knew, when
they left, that Germany was mobilizing for
attack upon France. They had known it for
some time before they left.

Since the beginning of July they had been
working in Nancy to aid the German attack.
They had visited the principal buildings,
public and private, and especially the highest
ones, with plans for the installation of wire-
less at the modest price of $34. "It is so in-
teresting," they said, "to get the exact time,
every day, from the Eiffel Tower!"

They had also some amazingly inexpensive
contrivances for heating houses, or regulating
the heating already installed, or for home re-
frigeration — things which took them into cel-
lars in Nancy — ^and before they left to join


their regiments they were exceedingly busy
demonstrating those things.

They were all gone when General Foch was
recalled, on July 26.

On July 30 German under-officers crossed
the frontier.

On August 3 Uhlans and infantrymen on
motorcycles were shooting and pillaging on the
French side of the border, although it was not
until 6:45 P.M. that day that Germany de-
clared war on France.

That which France had been unable to sup-
pose even Germany capable ol, happened : The
treaty with Belgium became a scrap of paper
and the main attack upon France was made
by way of the north.

But the expectation that Nancy would be
one of the first objectives of the Hun-rampant
was not without fulfillment. For the hordes
advanced in five armies; and the fifth, the
German left wing under Crown Prince Rup-
precht of Bavaria, was ordered to swarm into
France south of that of the Imperial Crown
Prince, spread itself across country behind the
French armies facing northward, join with

106 FOCH THE ]\L\N

Von Kluck's right wing somewhere west of
Paris, and "bag" the French — armies, capital
and all — **on or about" September i.

It was all perfectly practicable — on paper.
The only difficulty was tliat tliere were so
many tilings tlie Gennan staff had omitted
from its careful calculations — omitted, per-
force, because it had never guessed their exist-
ence. And that spoiled tlieir reckoning.

Foch had, for years, been teaching that fight-
ing demands supreme flexibility, adaptabilit}^
tliat war is full of surprises whicli must be
met as they arise; tliat morale, the spiritual
force of an army, is subject to fluctuations
caused by dozens of conditions which cannot
be foreseen and must be overcome. The
phrase oftenest on his lips was: "What have
we to do here ?" For, as he conceived warfare,
officers and even privates must constantly be
asking themselves that. One plan goes awry.
Very well ! we'll find a better.

But Foch had not trained the German gen-
eral staff. They made war otherwise. And
well he knew it ! Well he knew what happened


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