AN UNOFFICIAL FRENCHMAN'S VIEW OF THE EUROPEAN SITUATION
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR FERNAND BALDENSPERGER
Thursday, January 9th, 1936
MR. BRACE: In February, 1918, just about the time that President Wilson was telling us that this was the war that was going to end all wars, the guest at this Club was Captain Baldensperger, an office in the French Army. His visit again, this year, is merely an interlude in the life of a great internationally known scholar. He has spent all his years in the field of scholarship and is known in every civilized country. It was he who put the study of Comparative Literature on a secure basis and he remains, I understand, the leading scholar in that field. He has published almost innumerable pamphlets and books on that subject and organized and was Editor-in-Chief of the "Review of Comparative Literature." Until recent months he was Professor of Comparative Literature in the University of Paris. Since October last he occupies
a similar Chair in Harvard University. For many years he has had the advantage of knowing intimately many of the public men of France, including the present President of the Republic, Premier Laval and many former Premiers.
Unlike the last occasion he does not come to us in an official capacity and therefore probably will be able to speak his own mind more than was the case when he was wearing the French uniform. Today he is going to address us on the subject, "An Unofficial Frenchman's View of The European Situation."
PROFESSOR FERNAND BALDENSPERGER: Mr. President, Monsieur Rochereau, Dr. Cody, Gentlemen: I am grateful for the introduction given me, pointing out that as a
French officer I was here seventeen years ago. I wonder whether any of you remember as I do the horizon blue uniform of those days and recall the fact that at the same time the Italian Military Attache at Washington had been a guest of the Club as well and had insisted in his speech here on something he was not at all willing to say to President Wilson in Washington, namely that Italy wanted to push her borders to Fiume, which was supposed, according to President Wilson's view, to be a city under mandate, internationalized and not belonging either to Italy or to Jugoslavia.
This is a point I remember because it shows that, even in those days, there were differences which a League of Nations was not able to arbitrate.
I have known quite a number of people prominent in politics from Monsieur Lebrun, President of the Republic, who was a young engineer at Nancy at the time that I had my own training, down to the smaller fry of politics, but embracing, also, people like Herriot, a former school-mate of mine whose coming to Toronto brought him to places of interest, I trust, and Daladier, who was once a student of mine.
So if you think of the personal experiences likely to be involved, Comparative Literature is not necessarily the stale study you might imagine it to be. It is as living as anything can be because its real interest is to discover to what extent different countries have different mentalities and different points of view, and have succeeded in the present as well as in the past in borrowing from or lending to each other.
I might mention that I have spent considerable time in England, in Germany, in Italy, in Brazil. I have been in Belgium, in Poland, in Scandinavia. I have spent several years in the United States. My last visit was to Finland, the only country, by the way, which is paying its debt to the United States, and it is the poorest of all countries. To begin with they have hardly any resources but wood and stone. How can you live on wood and stone? By making paper plates, pulp, cellulose, and selling them. I was present when they laid the first stone of their new University after having completed new Parliament buildings. Right beside them is the immense Soviet Empire, yet they seemed not to be afraid at all. They faced the question of revenues about twenty years ago. Wages were very uneven in their country. On one side of them the Russian was working for nothing. The Finnish worker was willing to accept a very small wage. Now Finland is a well-balanced country in every respect and, as I said, is paying her debt to the United States, to the United States with her three billion debt.
These by-ways through which I have gassed have, of course, given me certain ideas which may be correct or not but they have been given me by the spectacle of events, and a man now dead, Georges Clemenceau, may in his retired life have helped me to see more clearly the issues of the past and the present. I think there is nothing so great as a man who has been a powerful political figure and, having absolutely retired, does not read a newspaper. Clemenceau used to say, "I have made newspapers. I know how they are made. There are two kinds of news. There is news so important that everybody knows it, and there is news so unimportant that everybody has to forget it. So I 'do not read newspapers at all."
Well, Clemenceau's doctrine was one that is very pleasant to recall in the present circumstances. It was that France and England are animated fundamentally by the some ideas - Order and Liberty and Order with Liberty ideas which I think make the wealth of civilization. He dreaded lest England and France be separated by transitory issues or by interests and ideas which seem divergent, but he maintained that those divergencies must not make Englishmen and Frenchmen forget that theirs is a common cause. Thirty-five years ago he was afraid that Protestant England might not understand Catholic France in the question of the separation of Church and State in France.
He bequeathed these apprehensions in some sort to the French people many of whom, like Clemenceau, are rather indifferent to the League of Nations. "Yes," said Clemenceau, "I believe in the League but it must have a police force." It has been, as you know, a part of French policy concerning the League that it should have force at its disposal, but the organization of this weapon is a very delicate operation. It is very difficult but, after all, if the League is to be anything but a bureaucracy, or as has been said, "a super-state without a state," it must have recourse to something of the kind.
Co-operation between England and France has been, I am sorry to say, hampered by many difficulties. Do you notice that, when something pleasing to the English occurs in co-operation, they use the term Anglo-French? And when it is unpleasant, they say Franco-British? I refer you to the newspaper files. As long as the Hoare-Laval agreement was supposed to be a favourite with the English people they spoke of it as the Anglo-French agreement. As soon as opinion in England was against it, they spoke of Franco-British affairs. I do not believe, after all, that such methods are to your taste.
We, in France, are a continental people. Therefore we know one side of the question. On the other hand, our population is over fifty percent agricultural. These farmers, or peasants, are very nice peasants, generally speaking. They are very conservative and addicted to a kind of routine which may be a hindrance to a certain kind of progress, but they have made the French nation. They are not greatly impressed by who occurs far from their interests but they are opposed to communism and the holding of property in the Russian style. They know that when a man has tilled his soil he is really entitled to food for his labour. That is ingrained in the French population but at the same time they are opposed to anything like the intervention of too big interests between the community and themselves.
A British diplomat recounts in his Memoirs the story off a conversation held in his house with De Tocqueville, the author of a book called `Democracy in America.' "I wonder," asked one, "what France means in the general trend of history." "Possibly a kind of lighthouse," said another, "not showing the way but pointing out the rifts, the shoals, the difficulties, not very revolutionary nor reactionary . . . too reasonable, and all the rest." "No," said an Italian refugee, "the story of France is a constant fight against the Middle Ages. France is always afraid of something like the excessive interference of the Church in State affairs, the intervention of some powerful interest between the weak or the small citizen: and the State. The French opposed the Seigneurs and remained close friends of the King as long as the Seigneurs were very powerful. When the Crown became too powerful they turned on Royalty itself."
I think there is something fundamental in that statement. It gives you one of the keys to French politics, revealing in Internal affairs the dread of vested interests, which is not exactly the gun-makers, the fear of which is a phobia spreading through democracies, but the idea that manufacturing interests and navigation interests, and iron interests and so on are bound to form a group, with their newspapers and their members of parliament speaking for them. The kind of restlessness shown nowadays by the American Senate has been since the War a steady disquiet in the French mind. The French are not Communists but there are some who would like to have state ownership and state control of many interests now in private hand. Those of us who know what petty officials are in a bureaucracy oppose that trend. We feel that this opposition is, ingrained in the general electoral body of France.
This explains, to a certain extent at least, the French idea that, in an age which has not abolished war, a degree of preparedness is necessary. That is how the war was won and why the League of Nations, in its quality as Super-State, occupied itself with the interests of all nations.
So we have to revert once more to the ability of the League to prevent war and my objection, my chief objection to the different Commissions, which I know partly through their representatives and partly by their activities, my chief objection is that the League is really a bureaucracy and seemingly believes that such are its true functions. Nations were restive and so what was needed was administrative work. If you happen to be in Geneva. and go to the magnificent building now in process of completion you will find that the Archives are already as full of 'documents as, let us say, the Library of Congress at Washington; brimful of documents. They have already thousands and thousands of circulars, recommendations on every conceivable subject, on population, on Labour, on window-blinds and so on. Recommendations, recommendations, recommendations, nothing but recommendations. Here, then, were all the national problems that were left for solution, mistakes were banished, everything was ready for co-operation and collaboration.
But, with the idea of collaboration comes the question of the various countries in the League of Nations and the knotty problem presented by the conflict in Ethiopia. I do not know Mussolini, never met him, never saw him. He is admitted to be a very energetic man arid has great confidence in his advisors. An American lady had in her house in Florence a portrait of the Dictator. I said "How is it possible for you, belonging to an old Puritan family of New England, to have a Dictator's portrait in your drawing-room? "Oh," she replied, "I had something to ask of him. He gave me ten minutes. In eight he had settled it far more efficiently than any captain of industry in America would have done. Then he said, `You have two minutes more. What am I to do with those two minutes?' I said, "Just let me admire you.' To which he replied, `Don't admire me; admire my people who still believe in me. As long as that admiration is behind me I am safe.' And she took out a portrait, he wrote his signature on it and there it is in her drawing-room.
He has changed the Parliamentary system of his country, he has reclaimed hundreds of thousands of acres of unused land, he has built cities and disciplined the people, who now remain in the Peninsula instead of going to South America or North America to be milkmen; or ditch-diggers for others. By and by he complained that more room was needed and that gave the key to his enterprise.
Here is an anecdote which Clemenceau did not put into his Memoirs. But he told me the story long before there was any sign of danger. At a meeting of the Big Three, not the Big Four because President Wilson was not there, there were present Orlando for Italy, Clemenceau for France, and two Englishmen, Lloyd George and Balfour. Orlando, addressing Clemenceau said, "After all, Mr. Clemenceau, we Italians have been faithful allies. Our preparedness was not what it should have been and the relations between officers and men were not as effective as possible. We had to have the help of England and France in our difficulties, but we made good on the Piave and other places. Now, you know that an outlet is needed for our population, why not give us Jibuti?" I was in Jibuti for two days. Its railway is said to be the most expensive in the world but Jibuti is not a very enjoyable place with its negroes and its warriors. Clemenceau's reply was, "Yes, but France has a colony in China and needs a cooling station on the way there. So if England will give us a cooling station, I wouldn't mention Aden, but one of less importance, we could give you Jibuti, Mr. Orlando." Thereupon one of the English delegates said, "Why not, if that will bring our difficulties to an end?" Whereupon the other English delegate, plunging his hand into the luxuriant hair of his colleague, retorted, "You forget there are two hundred thousand tons of Welsh coal in Singapore. How can you talk of giving it up to France?" So, Clemenceau turned to Orlando: "You see! Nothing doing." And nothing was 'done.
Now, Italy has a good memory. And Italy knows what history is. It knows that history is partly unsuccessful enterprise, and certainly in the bitter letter which called for the re-organization of the Italian army, there was certainly the memory of their defeat at Adowa and, at the same time, the idea that they had been frustrated after the War. When the attack on Abyssinia was organized there was another issue, too, in Mussolini's mind which is not very well known in America, nor in Europe either for that matter. That was that a stand must be made in East Africa against the Japanese, who have a very strong foothold in Ethiopia. All the flowing white robes in which you see Ethiopian gentlemen walking about are made in Japan, and there is a continually expanding colony of Japanese on the slopes of Ethiopia. Mussolini's son-in-law was Consul General in Shanghai for eight years and Mussolini is well versed in world politics. But this is a side issue he doesn't care to talk about. He has said, too, that it was the role of Rome in the past to make a stand and it is also her role in the present, for England can not make it with India on her hands, nor France with Indo-China, nor Holland with the Dutch Indies.
All this does not prevent the whole enterprise being a startling breach of agreements among the nations. But why did the League of Nations not take the slightest interest in what Mussolini said in order to arrange things before the outbreak of hostilities? It is about a year now since the first workmen were sent to Ethiopia or Somaliland. Nobody cared. Nobody cared, and when France denounced German armaments they said in Geneva, "Let us wait and see." If the League is to be better than a wait-and-see organization, they ought to have a diplomacy of their own. The League ought to have had before last November something like a real force to watch and to know and to make definite answers to definite questions.
I think when I addressed the Club in 1918, it was on French opinion about a League of Nations, and on the ideas of Henry the Fourth and Queen Elizabeth concerning a Franco-British or an Anglo-French alliance, and I told you also of the work of the Abbe de SaintPierre who planned universal peace for 1912. He wrote in 1712, saying that in 1912 something ought to be tried to work out even something better than a counterpart of the fallacy that alliances generally led to war. It was a very fine idea shared by many French diplomatists of the time.
So my point in those days was that this is not a League of any nations but a League of some nations, and it was, unhappily enough, our fault, Italy's and France's, that Ethiopia was brought into the League. England was not very eager but the League, on the recommendation of France and Italy, admitted that Ethiopia was a nation. But you know it is not a nation according to our understanding of the term, not because of a lack of centralization but because of the general attitude of the people. Men say, "Oh, let them alone. They're a quiet folk." Yes, they are quiet, but they quiet their slaves, too. To speak of Ethiopia as a nation goes against the grain of most French people. The word `nation' is a French word. It was used by the French before any other people and while other peoples were still a combination or mixture of populations. There were covenants between powers and so on, but the French felt the idea of the nation, that is a minimum of covenant relations among those possessing a common past, a common idea, ii possible. That is what we call a nation. To assume that any agglomeration of populations having a sovereign constitutes a nation, is repugnant to many French people.
I remember we sent one of our best ambassadors to the United States, Jules Jusserand, and he told me that after the War about sixty tribes or, may I say, populations presented themselves before the French ambassador in Washington demanding to be admitted to the dignity of nationhood. They actually went to Geneva and, knowing of President Wilson, they went with some confidence, but, first, they went to the French Embassy. How is it to be conceived that we would agree that people who spoke no other language than their own and therefore had no real feeling for the outside world would be admitted as nations? Once the real story of the nations at Geneva is told, some very amusing incidents will be revealed. ,
After all, is it not so easy to be recognized as a nation and Italy does not understand how public opinion in England and elsewhere can resent the revival of Roman Imperial ideas in Italy, and they are furious at the idea that England, so kind to them during the centuries when they were feeble, is embittered against them now that they have secured a strength which is possibly greater in assumption than 'in reality but which, after all, has given proof of its existence !for ten years. They say "It is so nice to travel in Italy now. The trains start on time and arrive on time. They are not afflicted with the difficulties of the Southern Railway in France, where a Councillor went to the jitney driver and said, "My many I am very pleased to see you here. Here is a twenty franc piece for you." And the driver said, "Well, I am sorry, but it is for yesterday's train I am here. It is today's train now!" You must not forget that a start on Fascism was made from a liberal point of view.
These external affairs, curiously enough, have a direct bearing on French internal politics. I should not be surprised to see Mr. Laval's government fall in a fortnight or so, because his majority is very small. If he does, it will be because of his presumed favour for Italian peace or Italian victory; and at the same time owing to attacks by people who wish to devaluate the franc. Who will succeed him, I don't know. It may be Herriot, who precipitated a division against Laval in the last sitting. But I do not suppose that my old friend would accept. He is the man when things are beautiful and easy. After the War he said to Clemenceau, "You made war, I make peace." Where is that peace? Where is the certainty of peace? But his Utopia is always fresh and new, but these are not the times for Utopias. I wonder if Daladier is the man to handle the situation, full of foreign as well as internal difficulties. There would be more muddling, possibly "muddling through,' but certainly muddling.
My hope is that in our time a peaceful issue may be found. Oil sanctions would probably mean war. Then France would be in an awful dilemma. We should not be between two fires but three. For Italy has two frontiers with us, not only in the Alps but in Tunis. England's strengthening of her fortifications in the Mediterranean shows that this eventuality has been considered. At the same time we should have to withdraw part of our garrisons from our eastern and north-eastern frontiers. For years these have been quiet enough, but you know how it is! If people are thinking of opportunities and possibilities, and if they feel prepared, they may try something. The Germans are really technicians. They give great weight to technical arrangements. That is, people in charge of such and such services are asked by the people above if things are ready. And if the answer is 'Yes,' the people above say "Go ahead.' That is what they may do, if France has to withdraw part of her garrison. I do not believe in the immediate danger of war but in eventualities that may precipitate war.
In conclusion I should like to recall an old nursery anecdote which I heard when I was in England for the first time, and which you may know. The mother said,
"Baby, shut that door." "No, mother, I won't shut the door."
"Shut that door, Baby." "No, I won't." "Leave it open then, for I must and will be obeyed." In this way Italy might be given a mandate for the governing and civilizing and modernizing of Ethiapia under the League. With English backing that would be a way to satisfy Italian pride allay French anxieties, and maintain British honour. (Applause.)
MR. BRACE: Professor Baldensperger has carried us over a great deal of territory. He has presented a point of view we seldom would hear from an Anglo-Saxon and the advocates of the League of Nations, I think, in general will say not too much about what has been done by the League in the past but I think we can see the possibility of much being done by the League in the future. On behalf of The Empire Club, I extend to the Professor our very sincere thanks.