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IN the last few years the traditional feelings of the United States about France have changed in a very striking manner. On the American side it may be said with some reason that the French people have similarly modified their customary attitude toward the American republic; there recently have even been noisy demonstrations of ill-will.
But anyone acquainted with the facts must recognize that there does not exist in France any deep-seated antipathy or hostility. It is impossible to find a responsible French politician who doesn't deplore the estrangement, who doesn't feel that, in the interest of his country, a stop must be put to the process as soon as possible. I will go further and say that, regarding the American and the British branches of the Anglo-Saxon world, most French ministers -- and M. Poincaré not last of them -- would regard coöperation with the former as easier than coöperation with the latter. Let me say in all frankness that in my judgment this is a mistaken idea, because British civilization and interests naturally lie nearer to us than do those of the United States. But the fact I have spoken of makes it clear that, taken as a whole, France does not turn her back on the new world. Obviously, the same thing cannot be said of America. While making due allowance for the irritation that the debts controversy may have generated in the United States, we are deeply concerned and taken aback by the opinions expressed from time to time by the highest in the land on the subject of our national affairs. We fear lest we may have lost the ability of making ourselves understood on the other side of the Atlantic. Let us try to investigate the causes of this moral separation. Then we shall attempt to define what France means in the political world of today, especially what we should like her to mean to America.
The original cause of the moral separation is not much in doubt. For the first time in history, the American masses have been brought into direct contact with the French masses. It happened during the war. Two very different worlds were thrown together. Internationalism, considered apart from text-books and general socialistic theories, conceived as a disposition of people born in various countries to mix together without hurting each other, is mainly an appurtenance of the wealthy classes. Riches equalize the modes of life. Well-to-do individuals live in approximately the same way everywhere, at any rate in the orbit of western civilization. They can interchange the food they eat and the ways they live without being subjected to any serious shock. In the lower strata of the population things are different. The food and still more the house of a French peasant would be repugnant to an American laborer, and, conversely, the diet of the American wouldn't in the least appeal to the French peasant.
For over a century America had consistently been described to the average Frenchman as a sort of Elysian Fields, and I suppose that an analogous idea of France gradually grew up in the mind of the average American. Can we wonder that the clash was really tremendous and that the legend met shipwreck upon the rocks of experience? There is no narrower practical nationalism than that of the man who toils with his hands, deeply rooted as he is in the ancestral soil. Hence many absurd tales which were propagated in America to a wonderful extent. I shall merely allude to what is currently said about the French Government having exacted a "rent" for the trenches held by the American troops on the French battlefields. An ambassador told me that he was surprised to discover that the American statesman who of all American statesmen ought to have known better, actually believed that tale to be correct.
Such is a first explanation. Further account must be taken of the fact that when the armistice and the peace negotiations came, France had to resist the European conceptions of Mr. Wilson, and that she did it in a very peculiar and (to my mind) very dangerous way. Her spokesmen never dared declare to the then President of the United States that they did not think his ideas of a European federation of states, to be achieved on the American model by means of a universal League, were really practical politics. When, on a certain day of October, 1918, Mr. Wilson approached M. Jusserand (having perused M. Jusserand's telegram I can vouch for the authenticity of the incident) with the queer idea that the territories about to be wrung from Turkey had better be placed under the guardianship of certain South American states, since otherwise these states in the ordinary course of things would have little opportunity of an international training, no word was uttered on our behalf to warn the President that, after all, he was not free to give rein to all his fancies. Mr. Wilson was flattered and pampered at every turn, and even daring old M. Clemenceau, after some initial outbursts, was prevailed upon to hold his tongue in careful check. It is an important point that a good many mental reservations were to be found among the most competent leaders of French diplomacy -- not the old ambassadors, like Paul Cambon, or Barrére, who clearly realized the danger -- but among the adepts of the so-called new school, who said: "Let us freely concede to them all the formulas they may want. The carrying out of these formulas will in the end vindicate our own conceptions."
The result of such strategy was -- unavoidably -- to lay the French nation open to accusations of underhand dealing, insincerity and treachery. I do not defend the method that was followed. But perhaps I may emphasize that, indefensible as the method is, it does bear witness to the overwhelming inclination, apparent in all our political circles of the period, not to attempt anything that might be resented by America. Shyness very often breeds what seems to be mere dissimulation.
In order to illustrate the tendencies of the French ministers of 1918 it may be useful to mention that in the month of September they turned a deaf ear to a British suggestion for the adoption of a joint Franco-British policy in all the forthcoming armistice and peace negotiations, coupled with a proposal that financial resources and raw material be pooled for the reconstruction of the devastated areas. Mr. Paul Cambon, French Ambassador in London, pressed his government to forward a favorable answer. But he was told that, even at that price, the Paris cabinet was not ready to give up their aspirations for a closer intimacy with America. It can almost be said that on that day the Entente Cordiale was doomed for the sake of Franco-American relations.
I always imagined that the lack of candor exhibited by those who spoke or acted on behalf of France in 1918-19 had something to do with the reversal of sentiment perceptible among many Americans in the question of national responsibilities for the origin of the World War -- a reversal of sentiment which baffles us on this side more than can be conveyed in mere words. Here again we have to pay the penalty for having failed, under the stress of popular emotions, to state the problem in its correct terms when the peace negotiations were in progress. Having to explain how the cataclysm came about, we perhaps too freely indulged in what I should call "anthropomorphism" -- the denunciation of the individuals whose actions had led to the war. Of course it cannot be seriously challenged by anyone with a fair knowledge of the diplomatic history of pre-war days that Kaiser Wilhelm and his confidential advisers, and the Vienna clique around Count Berchtold as well as Berchtold himself, decisively influenced the course of events in July, 1914. But the inconvenience of that sort of historical demonstration is that the deeds of the guilty persons are so inextricably intermingled with those of their opponents that they, the guilty, can always make an impression on the mind of the uninitiated (and very few people indeed can be expected to sift and digest the mass of documents now available) through arguing retrospectively that, if only the other party had acted otherwise in such or such circumstances, they would not have taken such or such steps with which they are charged. Thus the clear line of demarcation which ought in all fairness to be maintained between ordinary errors and actual crimes is gradually deleted; a doubt creeps in. The real line of approach for those who wish to expose Germany's responsibility lies elsewhere than in these minute dissections of diplomatic developments, notwithstanding their intrinsic value.
The true cause of the war ought to be detected in the German organism which, according to the famous saying of Treitschke, always acted in Central and Eastern Europe as an organism of colonization. The war issued from the contradiction between the colonizing aptitude of the German people, as exemplified by Austro-Hungarian policy since 1867 -- the year of the advent of German-Magyar dualism -- and the national aspirations of a medley of Slav races who, though still amorphous, were not any longer to be compared, as in the Middle Ages and through the greater part of the modern era, to passive clay in the hands of the potter. Viewed from this angle, the problem is not so much to lay blame or inflict punishment on exalted individuals or on a military caste, as to make sure that the colonizing ambitions of Germany will not be resumed in the years to come. By such a method of approach short shrift is given to cheap sentimentality and the use of equivocal moral pretenses, which are bound to cause an anti-climax and, in fact, caused it in America; and at the same time the way is cleared for the more positive, realistic and sensible policy that is likelier to carry conviction.
Such are some of our failings in so far as they are seen to affect our relations with America. But to cry about the milk that was spilt the other day does not serve any useful purpose. The task that henceforward devolves upon us is to make intelligible to the outside world our position in Europe, to show the part we French must necessarily play there, and to prove the general concordance of our national cause with wide human interests -- the corollary being that our failure would be the failure of something bigger than France.
The principal aims we must have in view are the consolidation of the little national states that were created or enlarged at the end of the war when the Hapsburg Monarchy fell to pieces, and the active preservation of Russian independence, this latter implying the resumption of our former friendship with that unhappy country directly it again raises its head above the waterline. In other words, while making every effort to live peacefully with our German neighbors and to settle all our differences with them, we must strive for the evolution of a European continent where the designs and achievements of Pan-Germanism will find no place. That expression, "Pan-Germanism," is not often heard nowadays. As a matter of fact, even in pre-war days practical politicians like Viscount Grey affected to ignore it as well as the force it represented. The word is to be met with seldom, if at all, in the book published last year by the ex-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to vindicate his conduct of British foreign policy. And still, today as yesterday, it indicates the weakest spot in the structure of our western civilization.
By the term Pan-Germanism I do not wish to describe the metaphysical racial doctrines of German superiority expounded by Paul de Lagarde, Houston Chamberlain, and the rest. I simply want to indicate the striving of the Berlin Government for domination over the belt of Central and Eastern Europe where German minorities are scattered among Slav masses whose national characteristics have missed for centuries, and perhaps still miss today, the support and protection of an efficient state organization.
In these loosely-knit communities Germany can come forward with the claim that they need her assistance and leadership to achieve economic and material prosperity in the shortest time possible. She is in a position to play that part all the more easily in that the German-speaking minorities are already preponderant in trade and industry wherever they dwell and that the natural inclination of socialist forces towards the formation of large economic units works more or less consciously to the same effect. The book on the "New Marxism," published in 1916 by Dr. Renner, the first Chancellor of the Austrian Republic, throws a vivid light on that tendency. It cannot be denied that, even excluding the assumption that some day Germany may resort to a military campaign, her possession of such a tremendous economic weapon makes the survival of the national states set on their legs by the 1919 treaties -- Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, etc. -- a very doubtful proposition. They can only withstand the test of events by the active exertion of the western Powers and, above all, of France. There is certainly a contradiction between the Europe of 1919, constituted on a full national basis, and the way in which economic power is distributed between her component parts. France is fated to look for a solution of that contradiction.
No one can tell what will be the eventual reaction of America towards a situation which she probably still fails to gauge. Judging from the occasional proclamations of her spokesmen about the absurdity of customs frontiers, about the necessity of applying to the old world the American standard of continental unity, it may be apprehended that the defenders of national freedom in Europe, France in the front rank, will find arraigned against them an impressive volume of transatlantic opinion. The decisive hour will be struck when the question of the Austrian Anschluss takes a tangible form, in a future not very distant.
The American standard cannot possibly, as such, apply to Europe. If the experiment were forced through, there is every likelihood that it would end in confusion and strife. In America, although the experiment can be said to have triumphed only at the cost of a protracted war in the 'sixties, its success of course cannot be questioned. But on the American continent the existence of a very strong state and of a very strong Anglo-Saxon mould preceded the assertion of separatist racial or sectional tendencies. Peoples rather than nations came to fill the meltingpot, and it is not hard to reshape racial elements when they are not yet hardened into the form of a nationality. Europe offers a quite opposite type of political civilization. There, the unifying state -- the Roman Empire -- considered in both its western and eastern divisions, broke down hopelessly in the early middle ages, and the attempts that were made in the course of subsequent centuries for the reërection of a supreme power -- the Holy Roman Empire, the Napoleonic conquest, etc. -- ended in disaster. In short, the national factor took precedence of the imperial idea and, little by little, through many crises, compelled it to recede into the background.
What gives a last chance to the imperial idea is the fact that all the European nations are not equally compact and have unequal forces of resistance. France, England, Spain, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Hungary have crystallized into solid masses that only the most brutal and lasting conquest could seriously alter. But in parts of Central Europe, and still more in Eastern Europe, the national character is as yet more fluid, and it would be possible for Germany to impress her stamp on many lands and peoples. Ages ago, Western Europe was in the same state of indetermination: the Netherlands, Lorraine, Alsace, Burgundy, the Catalan region, for a long time hovered between a variety of fates. As recently as 1830, Belgium, if left to herself and freed from external pressure, might have joined the French nation. It devolves upon the western Powers and upon all peaceably-minded people in Europe to see to it that the eastern and central states are not interfered with by imperial ambitions while they are still in the process of settling down on their permanent national foundations. As far as Jugoslavia is concerned, the evolution is nearly complete. But others still need a quarter century or more of hard, steady work to reach the status of full independence. It is for that reason that the extension of the German Reich to the middle Danubian districts, in a commanding position over most of these composite states which have still to find their balance, would be a signal for the rekindling of the struggle for hegemony.
In America, the unifying power means peace; in Europe, it still means destruction. If ever a federation of Europe takes place, it will be after all the members of the family have reached manhood. Mutatis mutandis, the federal problem in Europe does not greatly differ in some respects from the federal problem in the new world, provided that southern America as well as northern America is brought into the picture.
But in the last analysis will France be willing to assume the burden that is again falling on her shoulders? And will she be able to assume it? Candidly, it is very perplexing to answer that double query. If we except two or three accidental and transient phases, the history of the French in Europe has been marked on the whole by a struggle against all imperialistic attempts. On some occasions the French Government misunderstood the trend of contemporaneous development and, more than once, failed to carry out its traditionally appointed task. I shall only refer to the partition of Poland in 1772 and to the Sadowa campaign of July, 1866. In that last juncture, Napoleon III made up his mind not to interfere with the development of the Bismarckian policy and preferred to wait until directly challenged by the eastern neighbor. He took up that temporizing attitude while still enjoying great prestige and a freedom of action that was limited neither by any parliamentary control nor by the activities of any league of neutrals. Morally and materially, it will be very difficult for the present French Government, constituted as it is today and given the situation that now obtains in Europe, not to repeat somehow the example of the Bonaparte Emperor. Yet the independence of Austria is of the same general European interest as was the independence of Belgium a hundred years ago. For some years independent Belgium was denounced as an artificial creation of European diplomacy, but today nobody would throw doubt on the genuineness of Belgian nationality. Why should not the Belgian precedent be repeated in the case of Austria?
But unless backed up from the outside France cannot be expected to retain all alone an abiding sense of European partnership, still less to act upon it. There will be no lack of advisers to tell her not to look beyond the Rhine just as Spain does not look beyond the Pyrenees, and to let Central and Eastern Europe take care of themselves. But if she listens to such counsellors, will the eventual retribution of Nemesis fall on her alone?