Watch On The Rhine
- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Jan 1945, p. 230-242
- D'Harcourt, M. Emmanuel, Speaker
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- Contributing to the maintenance after this war of the team spirit which Field Marshal Montgomery has defined as a condition of victory. Philosophy of the German Menace. The German people in General de Gaulle's words. The consequences for France in terms of money and people, from the Bismark invasion of 1870-1871, the William the Second invasion in 1914, and the current occupation from 1940. The psychological effect on the people of France and on the other peoples that are immediately vulnerable to the German menace. No more risks to be taken. An examination of how the watch on the Rhine was considered between the two wars and, in the light of experience, a recollection of some of the illusions that were common then as regard the German menace. Watch on the Rhine, 1918-1940. Marshal Foch's belief that there would be no security for France and no lasting peace, so long as the Germans had Belgium, Luxemburg and Paris within their grasp, and that the German frontier should be set on the Rhine. Why the military frontier of the Rhine was refused by the Allies. Some quotes from the time from President Wilson and the press. France's failure to convince her allies of the reality of the German menace. The building of the Maginot Line, and compulsory military service for one to two years for France's male youth. The French campaign in 1940. Watch on the Rhine in the Future. The liberation of France. The issue of the possibility of a German menace in the future. The desire to see that Germany loses for good the permanent elements of her explosive dynamism. The essence of the question put by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bidault. Why France has signed a treaty with the Soviet Union, and intends to do so with Great Britain, the United States, and other countries that are threatened as France is. The danger of not being closely united. The international machinery proposed by the Dumbarton Oaks Charter. What is proposed to do with Germany and the form that the Watch on the Rhine should take in the future. No mood of revenge. Depriving Germany once and for all of the territories which have served her to this day at the same time as an arsenal and as a springboard for aggression on the West, that is, the Rhineland including the Rheno-Westphalian basin.
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- 18 Jan 1945
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WATCH ON THE RHINE
AN ADDRESS BY
M. EMMANUEL D'HARCOURT SECRETARY OF THE FRENCH EMBASSY
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, January 25, 1945
MR. CONQUERGOOD: For the past two meetings, the guest speakers of The Empire Club have dealt with purely Empire topics. For the next couple of weeks, we are to hear of the progress and present problems of some of our valiant Allies.
Today, we have as our guest speaker, Mr. Emmanuel d'Harcourt, who will present to us something of the situation that confronts those who are facing the task of reorganizing France.
We recall the sense of loss that swept over us when France first fell in 1940. We recall the stirring challenge of General de Gaulle in 1940 when he escaped to London and stated that "France had lost a battle, but France had not lost the war."
Members of this Club have heard through Madame Tabouis and Mr. Ernest Schmitz, who have addressed us, of the persistent and effective efforts of the resistance movement. Mr. d'Harcourt is the first guest speaker to represent his country on this platform since D-Day. Mr. d'Harcourt is qualified by his own personal achievements to bring us an important message. He is still a young man, graduate of the School of Political Science of Paris; graduate in Law, University of Paris. At the outbreak of war, he was attache of Embassy at the French Legation in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. As a reserve officer, he served in a tank regiment and took part in the campaigns of Belgium and Flanders in May 1940. He was wounded and was evacuated to England from Dunkirk on the first of June, 1940.
When he was released from hospital, he joined the Free French Forces. From December, 1940, to August, 1943, he worked at the French Commissariat for Foreign Affairs in London. In August, 1943, he was posted to the Secretariat of the French Committee of National Liberation in Algiers. He arrived at Ottawa from Algiers at the beginning of July last to take up the functions of Second Secretary at the French Embassy. .
He is a member of the Order of Liberation, Chevalier in the Legion of Honour, Croix de Guerre, twice mentioned in dispatches.
I have the honour to present Mr. Emmanuel d'Harcourt, who will now address us on "Watch on the Rhine."
M. EMMANUEL d'HARCOURT: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: I am very grateful for the kind remarks which have just been made about my Country and myself, and
I deeply appreciate the great privilege of addressing The Empire Club.
Everyone makes up his mind according to his own experiences. As a consequence of experience, there are certain things which a people cannot forget. Such, for the French, is the necessity of a watch on the Rhine.
I know that to others who have had different experiences, this necessity has not always appeared, and does not even yet appear, as obvious as it is to my fellow countrymen. I know too that touching on a matter which means life or death to us, I may very understandably be accused of bias.
Taking into consideration, then, the mental reservations you are bound to make. I shall do my best to deal with my subject dispassionately, and with due reserve and carefulness. My sole purpose is to contribute even in a very insignificant way to the maintenance after this war of the team spirit which Field Marshal Montgomery has defined as a condition of victory. My country has suffered grievously from the dropping in 1919 of this team spirit because of differences in experiences. It is, we all know, as much a condition, of lasting peace as of victory.
Philosophy of the German Menace
"A great people, but one which perpetually tends towards war, because it never ceases to dream of domination; capable, in order to crush other peoples, of put ing forth extraordinary efforts and of enduring extreme sacrifices, always ready to cheer and to follow, even into crime, those who promise it conquest." Such, in General de Gaulle's words, is the German people.
As far as France is concerned, this has meant, in the realm of hard facts, three invasions in a lifetime: Firstly, in 1870-71, there was the Bismark version of German invasion, with the siege of Paris and enemy occupation for two years. This occupation only came to an end in 1873, after payment of a war tribute which, in the currency of the time, amounted to a considerable sum. When one recalls, how the Germans, after 1918, managed to dodge the problem of preparations, there is a certain irony in the fact that. in 1873, France cleared the penalty imposed on her by Germany ahead of schedule. This invasion had cost the loss of 150,000 killed and the tearing out from the heart of the French nation of one million and a half citizens, the unhappy residents of the annexed Alsace and Lorraine.
Secondly, in 1914, there was the William the Second version of German invasion, with the occupation for four years of ten departments, or provinces, among the richest and most industrialized in France, out of a total of 93. Eight million acres of arable land were rendered useless for cultivation. At the rate of 600,000 acres a year, the greater part of these were lowly rehabilitated over a period of ten years, but there still remains an important area which it will never be possible to reclaim; 620 towns and villages were destroyed, and 1,300,000 soldiers were killed, for metropolitan France only.
Thirdly, in 1940, came the Nazi version of German invasion, with the Germans controlling the whole country, either directly or,--what was no better--indirectly, for four years. Contrary to what is sometimes stated, the destruction in this war has already surpassed that of the last. Up to October 1944, 300,000 had been killed on the battlefield or by firing-squads. Seventy-five years have passed since the Bismark invasion. During eleven years of those seventy-five, the Germans have been on French soil, and that is not counting their occupation for forty-eight more years of the two provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.
These facts, I fear, may sound rather monotonous, but they mean a very great deal. They have had a psychological effect on the people of France and on the other peoples that are immediately vulnerable to the German menace. These psychological consequences must, I think, be carefully taken into account, for they explain the difference in outlook towards Germany which often exists between Germany's neighbour nations and those farther removed.
After the First World War, France was obsessed by the danger of a new invasion. but her principal allies did not share her apprehension. With Germany apparently powerless, they simply did not believe in the possibility of a further aggression on her part. Among the other European countries, however, intense awareness of the German threat conditioned their whole political life from 1919 on. Today, there is something final in the outlook of the French people, and I believe. of the other countries Germany has invaded. No more risks can be run. If the risk were run again, I think there would then be the danger of losing France and the rest of Europe not only strategically, as happened in 1940, but spiritually. Need I suggest that this is not merely European squabbling, cats fighting for their lives? What is at stake is the final suppression of a known threat to the peace and security of the whole world.
To throw light on this, one should, I think, study how the watch on the Rhine was, considered between the two wars and, in the light of experience, recall some of the illusions that were common then as regards the German menace.
Watch on the Rhine, 1918-1940
The French leaders, Clemenceau and Foch, knew that their country had been bled white, while Germany had not even had war on her soil. They were very sensible of the fact that a vanquished Germany was getting out of the war with the bulk of her resources intact and that, with her old constitutional differences gone, she formed a block of 60 millions more compact than it had ever been before; while France, with her 40 millions, was victorious but devastated. They could not forget that it had needed the united efforts of the whole world to defeat Germany and they wanted to see that this great disproportion of power should not have fatal effects a few years later.
As a technician who had proved his competence, Marshal Foch deemed that there would be no security for France, that is to say, no lasting peace, so long as the Germans, established in the industrial centres on the left bank of the Rhine, had Belgium, Luxemburg and Paris within their grasp. He considered that the one condition necessary to prevent another German aggression was that the German frontier be set on the Rhine.
It has been erroneously published to the contrary, but Marshal Foch did not ask for the annexation of the Rhineland to France. He did not suggest at all grabbing a slice of German territory in the interests of so-called power politics. He wanted the Rhineland to be occupied indefinitely by French, British and American garrisons. He proposed, not a French solution. but a collective solution, the three principal Allies thus being bound together.
This is what Foch said on January 10, 1919: "The Rhine military frontier. without which the peace aimed at by the coalition cannot be maintained, shall not be a territorial benefit for any nation. It is not a question, in fact, of annexing the left bank of the Rhine, of increasing France or Belgium's territory ... but to hold securely on the Rhine, the common barrier of security necessary to the League of Democratic Nations. It is not a question of confiding to a single power the guarding of this common barrier, but to ensure by the moral and material co-operation of all democratic powers, the defense of their existence and of their future."
The military frontier of the Rhine was refused by the Allies for two reasons which I should like to recall plainly:
The first was that it was considered unwise and wrong for erroneous moral and humanitarian reasons, to weaken Germany to that extent. The second reason was that it was considered unwise to strengthen France too much.
One should, I believe, evoke today some of the ideas which, stemming from generous idealism, were then current concerning the German menace.
This is what President Wilson said on July 14th, 1917: "We are not enemies of the German people and they are not our enemies. They did not originate or desire this hideous war, and we are vaguely conscious that we are fighting their cause."
This is what the London Economist, because of its sense of fair play, wrote on July 5th, 1919: "The German is not naturally warlike, and has now been shown that war does not pay. It is the other States who have yet to learn this lesson, and it is the work of the League of Nations to teach it to them" . . . "It is said that Krupp's establishments have been bought by an American syndicate, and will be turned to the uses of peace."
On October 11th, 1919, the same weekly: "That Germany will recover, we have no doubt; that it is urgently in the interest of Europe that Germany should recover is also beyond doubt. But the road will be long and stony, and even the industrious and soul-chastened Germans will have very sore feet before the end is reached" . . . "We find it in our hearts to wish our late enemies a happy issue out of all their tribulations. Our sympathy has its roots in self-interest. For until Germany recovers, Europe cannot recover. Our people are gradually learning the hardest of lessons--that a rich Germany is much better for us than a poor Germany." Is it necessary to say that we too had our sincere but ill-informed Utopians?
France was then offered a substitute and in exchange for it Clemenceau, against Foch's advice, agreed not to press any further for the Rhine frontier; the substitute was an Anglo-American guarantee of help in the case of a new German aggression.
This guarantee became void because it was not ratified.
The situation was then as follows: having had their land invaded and destroyed, the French renounced what a very great military leader said was a condition of their security, in exchange for a guarantee that came to nothing while their former ally, Russia, like them interested in the evolution of the German threat, was for the time being absent from the international scene.
I think there is no doubt that this episode, which Mr. Churchill has recalled in a speech he made last September, played a determining part in the political history of France between the two wars. It accounts for the desperate struggle which her delegates put up at the League of Nations to ensure, her security and to prevent, in Tardieu's words, written in 1921, "French territory from being overrun in a few days". It accounts, to an important degree, for the nervousness of the French people during that period, for the divisions, the political instability. It accounts for the appearance of a feeling of lassitude, of the futility of the tremendous efforts which had been expended in the first World War, efforts which had cost the lives of 1,300,000 French soldiers, that is to say 80 percent more than any other of the Western Allies. It accounts for the appearance in certain circles of a line of thought which said "We cannot get security from the Allies, why not try and settle the matter with the Germans." You recognize this argument. It contributed to the birth of the Vichy regime.
In 1919, the French leaders saw very clearly what was at stake. They saw how strong Germany had been, left and how weak were the means which France had at her disposal, but they failed to convince their allies of the reality of the German menace.
If the most solemn warnings were uttered by the French leaders at the peace table, I think there is no doubt that the same 'firmness and clear-sightedness was not shown by their successors. May it be recalled, though, that there were not many countries that sent, as France did, all their male youth to compulsory military service for a minimum period of one to two years, or which spent a heavy percentage of their income in building a line of defence, the Maginot Line, that was to take the place, as best it could, of the Rhine military frontier; while that same country was constantly under the fire of bitter criticism for her alleged militaristic ambitions.
It can be said that these efforts did not avail very much, as was shown in 1940 but, to my mind, that was primarily because the die had been cast in 1919.
Individual testimonials have, of course, small significance and should be acknowledged with care, but I cannot help saying, with regard to the French campaign in 1940, that I had the privilege of serving at that time with a Cavalry armoured regiment, and I must confess I have since read with some astonishment, to say the least, the literature which has flourished on that campaign.
I am thinking particularly of the accounts of roads filled with panic-stricken civilians, of soldiers fighting with their bare fists, and of the hopeless military disorganization as the armies reeled under the shock of modern mechanical warfare.
This is one part of the picture, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that it is only one part. The regiment to which I belonged happened to be equipped with brand new first-class tanks. The men of this regiment saw the heels of the German soldiers fleeing before equipment which was as good as their own and manned with the greatest determination, Certainly, we would have needed a great many more of these units and this material, than we had, to check the German onslaught. Still, what was left of them on the 5th of June, 1940, while the Germans had occupied the Channel ports of Dunkirk, Calais, Boulogne, constituted on the left of the German armies a threat sufficient to compel them to turn south and settle, what Hitler may have thought would be for good, the fate of the French Army. The size of these battles, which is generally not realized. because of the very doubtful books to which I alluded, can best be judged by the fact that during the six weeks of the French campaign, 135,000 soldiers were killed. They took the brunt of the German onslaught on the West and they delayed, at a vital moment, the outbreak of the Battle of Britain.
Watch on the Rhine in the Future
Thanks to the tremendous exertions of her Allies, to which she has contributed to the best of her ability. France is now almost completely free again. Her liberation has miraculously been accomplished in three months after the most brilliant feat of arms and in conditions of speed that surpassed the most optimistic hopes.
With due consideration of the fact that Germany is not yet vanquished and that she may put up a long and hard fight, I come to the question: "Watch on the Rhine in the future."
Some people are saying: "Nothing will be left of Germany after this war and they question the possibility of a German menace in the future."
I am making no attempt to prophesy. My point is only this: we are not willing this time to run any risk. We cannot count any more on problematic controls. on a highly doubtful change of the German soul; we wish to see that Germany loses for good the permanent elements of her explosive dynamism.
I suggest that, relatively, the proportion of forcesor rather the disproportion of forces-between Germany and her neighbours may not be greatly different from what it was before the war. Indeed it may be still more in the favour of Germany. In 1919, the proportion of the German population to the French population was 60 million Germans to 40 million French.
Nobody knows what the German losses are now. It remains that the food and health conditions in Germany during the past f our years are not to be compared with those existing in the occupied countries. The Germans have lived and fattened on the spoils of these countries. Up to the present, the war has been fought virtually, as it was 25 years ago, on non-German territory and as Germany is being bombed, so have up to the present the Allied countries.
Besides, if Germany goes on fighting to the last ditch and so, f or the first time, suffers heavy losses in her substance when she goes down, she may draw down with her important elements of her neighbours' strength in that, as Mr. Churchill said on December 15th, there are 10 to 12 million foreigners, prisoners or deportees in Germany. These people who are the core of her neighbours' manhood are suffering in their health much more than the Germans. and they are suffering and they will suffer in their flesh from the fighting and the bombing not much less than the German population. Finally, there is no likelihood that the bulk of her industrial potential--it is coal and iron--will be affected in a lasting way by military operations.
But this is not really the essence of the question. The point is, as it was put by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr, Bidault, that "A people like the German people, which draws from success reasons to go on with War, a people which draws from defeat reasons to start war again, threatens us; this people, which carries the germ of, invasion and has a sort of ghastly vocation of violence, this people which always resumes the road to conquest without ever being discouraged by any set-back; this people, our neighbour, which was not satisfied by 1815, which was not halted by Sedan, which was not overcome by 1918, this people, which began again after Brunswick, which began again after Blucher, which began again after Moltke, which began again after William the Second, we are resolved not to let it begin again after Hitler."
This is why we have signed a treaty with another country which is as directly threatened as we are: the Soviet Union. This is why we intend to conclude other agreements with Great Britain, with the United States and with the other countries that are threatened as we are.
In the course of the dangers in which Europe because of Germany, has been living, in the past three or four generations, terrible experiences have taught France and Russia the price of not being closely united.
In 1870, France was alone and she succumbed. In 1875, Russian and British diplomatic pressure prevented another aggression. In 1914, the Russian offensive in Prussia was a decisive element of the victory on the Marne. Then the war of attrition on both the Western (Franco-British) front and the Eastern (Russian) front enabled Foch to lead the Allied armies to victory. While Germany had succeeded in 1917 in imposing Draconian conditions on Russia, the victorious conclusion, thanks to the American intervention, of the second battle of France compelled Germany to abandon her spoils.
Between the two wars, the policy of suspicion and hesitation between Paris and Moscow, and their disunion at the decisive moment, was at the source of the German political and military operations that preluded the invasion of France, followed one year later by the invasion of Russia. Then the Russian efforts in inflicting an irreparable wound on the German war machine was an essential condition of the liberation of the French metropolitan territory.
The argument is sometimes upheld that such a treaty and others of its kind will be detrimental to the functioning of the international machinery proposed by Dumbarton Oaks.
It should be pointed out that in the preamble of this treaty, the signatories express their decision "to collaborate with a view to creating an international system of security" and their conviction "of meeting, through the conclusion of an alliance of France and the U.S.S.R., the feelings as well as the interests of the two nations, the demands of war as well as the requirements of peace and of economic reconstruction in full conformity with the aims adopted by the United Nations."
Rather than fearing the consequences on Dumbarton Oaks of this kind of pact, I suggest that one consider it in its true light, that is to say, as an added guarantee that Germany will not attempt conquest another time.
If World War No. II has happened, is it not because of lack of organization among the countries threatened, which enabled Germany to isolate them and beat them separately one after the other?
The consequences of such a treaty will be, to my mind, to facilitate rather than to impede the functioning of the Dumbarton Oaks Charter. Such agreements may act, I think, as strong threads, which, woven together, will strengthen and reinforce the whole fabric of international security.
This considered, what then do we propose to do with Germany and what form should the Watch on the Rhine take in the future?
The French people, I think, do not approach this matter in a mood of revenge. That stage is passed. They are more interested in the long view of the problem where cold reason takes precedence on feeling. Bismark said "Indignation is not a political state of mind."
The former clandestine paper Combat, now one of the main Parisian journals writes
"In dealing with a people who have let their leaders damage and degrade their souls, it is still necessary to remember that elements of soul may remain. During the occupation, therefore, we must try to revive, in the German people, thoughts and habits which can be in the interests of Europe as a whole. Crime should not be met with a fond smile or with a lazy belief that a terrible problem does not exist; it should be met with justice, honest dealing, and a determination for reform."
Mr. Bidault tentatively expressed, on his return from Moscow, the views of the French Government on that matter. "As far as we are concerned," he said, "we have clearly and firmly indicated that we mean to deprive Germany once and for all of the territories, which have served her, to this day at the same time as an arsenal and as a springboard for aggression on the West, that is to say, essentially, the Rhineland including the Rheno-Westphalian basin.
What will be the status of the regions thus withdrawn from the control of the Reich? We have not settled that at Moscow. Indeed, we are not alone in our interest in this question; we must settle it with all our allies, taking into account our own necessities. As regards Germany, I shall add this: we do not intend to pursue towards our enemy a policy of vengeance which would not be in keeping with our tradition.
In 1914, there was the miracle of the Marne. In 1940, there was the miracle of Britain. Shall we let arise the need for another miracle? I don't think the world can afford it. Let us therefore watch carefully on the Rhine, the German frontier of the United Nations.