- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Feb 1918, p. 112-122
- Baldensperger, Capt. Fernan, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- Comparing the early days of the war to the current situation. Knowing what we are about, and that we must carry it to the end. The years prior to the war. Signs of war as early as 1907. The symptoms of German preparedness half veiled from our eyes. One of the most curious prophecies about the coming war. The speaker's personal experiences in the war. Watching the enemy by patrols, by reconnaissance, by observatories, and by airplanes reconnoitering; tapping the German telephones; prisoners, deserters, etc. The speaker's impression, not strategical, but moral and psychological, that we are entirely wrong when we think of Junkerism and Kaiserism as something distinct from Germanism, and how that is so. Seeing the enemy in the trenches. The German attitude that they are the superior race. The German characteristic of submission to authority, with anecdotal illustration. Our aims now more and more well defined between the democratic countries of the west. The United States and Great Britain together.
- Date of Original
- 15 Feb 1918
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
- Empire Club of CanadaEmail
Agency street/mail address
Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street West, Floor H
Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3
- Full Text
- WATCHING THE ENEMY
AN ADDRESS BY CAPT. FERNAN BALDENSPERGER
Before the Empire, Club of Canada, Toronto,
Februarv 15, 1918
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN, We know now what the war is about, and how strong we are; we know about the strength of the enemy, too; we know, also on whose side America is. In comparison with the early days of the war-days of doubt as to Britain's attitude, and the stand to be taken by the United States, the present days must be days of comfort and confidence. At the beginning of our struggle people might say, "What is the use of .going against such a strong enemy as Germany?" But now we know what we are about, and we must carry it to the end.
Of course there is always a little handicap in speaking a language which is not one's own, and I can illustrate this fact by a little anecdote told by a writer who lived in one of those French villages that are now occupied by the enemy. His father and the cure of the village always arranged every year for a cask of wine, which was divided between them. One year, when the father asked the cure about the wine, the cure told him it had come, but the cask leaked very mightily and half of the wine was spoiled. The father said that was very sad. The cure replied, "Yes, and it is the sadder that it is your half !" So, in addressing an audience in a language which is not mine, I feel as if my part was leaking, but I know if I were using my own language it might be yours!
Captain Baldensperger was an officer in the French Army and in coming to the Empire Club was most highly recommended by the French National Committee in the United States.
Watching the enemy has been my lot to a certain extent, and not only in this war, for I was born in a French town just about 12 kilometres from the German border, and I remember about the war of 1870; and when we tried to make the promenade to the Vosges mountains, very often we met the German gendarmes, or the German customs officer-who is very much like a gendarme, or a German officer-who is very much like a gendarme, or a German tourist-who is very much like a German gendarme, too. My young brothers and I were in very early days under the impression that something metallic and concentrated was really the only way for Germany to be. To what extent that meant a menace to France was, of course, a matter for the future. I went to Germany as a student to see from a short distance that monstrous unit, and in the south of Germany, in Heidelberg, of course the signs were not so menacing. The peasants were very kind, the bourgeois very indifferent, -people who did not play any part in politics; and when France was mentioned they said, "Well, of course that other war was made by Prussia; we drew no benefit out of it; the taxes are higher than before the war of 1870, and if it were a matter only concerning us we should be delighted to give Alsace-Lorraine back to France-but not the five milliards-and of course everybody would be satisfied and then peace would prevail."
But since 1907 or so we were decidedly under the impression that war was coming, but how near was another question. Our French ambassador in Berlin, who wrote such distinct S.O.S. appeals to his government in 1913 and 1914, told me that he was rather looking forward to war in 1915, and even the German war-tax would be entirely levied on Germany's people because a certain programme of heavy guns would be supplied in 1915. Of course the murder of the Archduke made the German directors see with more eagerness the possibility of making a defensive war, or a war which looked defensive to part of their populations. I have an impression that since 1907 the moral unity was complete in an aggressive sense; that formerly some of the German states might have deferred the offensive policy of the Prussian government, but that since 1907 certainly there would be no opposition-no class opposition and no political opposition.
I remember going to a club in Berlin in 1907 on my way to Russia. They were drinking beer; that is not the onlv difference from yourselves. They were called a Liberal Club, but there was nothing like Liberal in it. The subject of the conference to which I was listening was Germany in 1812, and a gentleman seated in front of me said, "Oh, Frenchman, while in 1812 France was at the climax in Napoleon's times, now it is Germany." I replied, "Yes, so it is in history; it comes and goes." He said, "Why, now it is over; it is for Germany." I said, "You will not say so. Of course now you have attained a certain degree of efficiency and state power, which is, of course, distinctive power in the world, you have a world-policy, and so on; but this very fact will bring new enemies against you, and your time will pass as Napoleon's time has passed." He said, "No, when a people love God and one another they are sure to fix the destinies, to make the destinies sure for ever." I said, "And you belong to a Liberal Club? What would you say, then, if you belonged to that celebrated Junker party?" And he replied, "I would say the same thing, only in other words."
By-and-bye the signs were more and more distinct. My father-in-law, who is a banker in Paris, happened to know the director of the Deutsche Bank who is supposed to be the personal adviser in financial matters of the Kaiser. This German gentleman happened to be in Paris one Sunday afternoon, and did not know what to do on the following day, so my father-in-law invited him to the family luncheon. My three brothers-in-law were present; one is now a prisoner in Germany, and one has been killed as an aviator. The German banker looled at the three fine boys on one side of the table, and then made a profound sigh and said, "Isn't it sad to think that these three boys will face on the field of battle my son and my nephews?" My father-in-law said, "But what are you saying?" He replied, "Oh, well, it would be better not to say anything, I know." Of course the rest of the luncheon was not very good; and we students were of the impression that those words in 1908 or 1909 escaped from the man who was really the adviser of the Bagdad policy of the Kaiser.
Well, the signs pointing in that direction were as numerous as the stars in the sky; but of course the stars in the sky are very often veiled, and you must be really a good astronomer to recognize them and to know their position. In the same way the symptoms of German preparedness were half veiled from our eyes. One of the most curious prophecies about the coming war was made to me by a very simple man, a courier who was in the habit of bringing all sorts of goods with his four horses from one point in France to another point in Germany, and so on, in places where railways have been left rather scarce for strategic purposes. This man once said to me, "I have been rolling with my car in this part of the country for years, and my father and grandfather did the same, and we go as well at night as in daytime. There are some signs in German territory by which you may know that they are planning something. They are cutting woods in some places because they know that an observatory battery may be planted there in some part of the mountains near to the French territory. They are building huts or they are building roads-work which is done partly at night-time and partly in daytime, and in remote corners that no informer may really get into; and' by my very vocation, by my very troubles, I am of the impression that the Germans are planning on a bigger scale what they had planned and done just before 1870." Well, those signs are so numerous that it is not worth while mentioning them.
In 1912, being, on a mission to China and Japan, I happened to take the same train on the Transiberian Railway as that on which Prince Henry of Prussia and his suite were going to the funeral of the deceased Mikado. It seems that the court of Prussia had not been willing to have a special train, as the British and French representatives had, so the Prince and his suite had one car for themselves, and also one-half of the dining car. Through the eight days of our traveling together we found the Prince a gentleman, but his suite were not so. There were the two captains of those cruisers that were sunk in the Falkland Islands, the Schneidhorst and Neisnau, and they and two other gentlemen were all the time studying maps of Siberia and of Russia, and wondering why Russia was there, and not themselves; why Japan had an outlet to the seas; why Germany had not such and such a place-plotting and planning all the time. If I said that Prince Henry seems to be a gentleman, that is because I had rather special and queer opportunity to meet him more closely. We had a railway accident in the middle of Siberia. They took about a day to mend the track The first two who happened to be on the site of the accident were Prince Henry and myself, and nothing brings people together so closely as an accident suffered in common. Of course up to that moment we were ignoring each other, or in the narrow corridors of the cars trying not to touch each other; but when two or three rails had been unscrewed and carried away Prince Henry and I exchanged views about the situation in rather a friendly way. I won't say that he discovered secrets to my littleness, but he was really something like a gentleman-and I suppose that is why he has been so little heard of in this war. He was supposed to be an Admiral of the highest fleet, and the low fleet has superceded him as soon as possible. Those men were really plotting all the time, and thinking of what they were to have that they had not; they were concerned with everything that did not belong to them; they took the most interest in foreign property. Their property interested them to a certain degree; they said that Tsien-Tau was a sort of propaganda colony for China, to bring before the eyes of the Easterners a good sample of German efficiency, but they had really very little concern with their colony there, and they were all the time thinking of the colonies to be, or possibly of the colonies or places where those hateful British were represented, and where they had no right to go.
Well, the signs were nearing more and more, and I must say it was with a sigh of relief that we knew, in the end of July, 1914, that this time at least it was for good, because every year we had another sort of accident--Agadir, or Algeciras, or something in relation to our foreign regions, and we were sure that if Germany were left to choose the hour it might be possible that England and France might have different interests, or Russia and England, and so on. So it was with a sense of relief that at the end of July, 1914, we went to the place assigned us in the mobilization.
I have been in the war since the beginning. After two months of 'warfare in the open, which of course was more romantic in its way than the trench warfare, our lines were more and more fixed, and I spent eighteen months in the region now held by American troops. Of course I am very much interested in the communique published by Gen. Pershing, because I had to be informed specially of Germany's moves in that region. We had to hold a rather broad line of 16 kilometres with troops which from time to time had to send reinforcements to the north, one of our best units was sent to LaBassee, and so on; so we had to know very distinctly what the Germans were about on the other side. That is why watching the enemy has been quite specially my lot, especially as I was intelligence officer of the staff.
We watch the enemy by patrols, by reconnaissance, by observatories, and by airplanes reconnoitering, and we had even a way of tapping the German telephones, and we had prisoners, deserters, and so on.
My impression-not strategical, but moral and psychological-is that we are entirely wrong when we think of Junkerism and Kaiserism as something distinct from Germanism. It is quite possible that the Kaiser and his surroundings have a more definite view of their possible attainments in the world, but this very aggressive materialism is rooted in the German nation. If the people at large do not oppose it, it is because in each German prisoner you will find, as I found in each of the 1,200 1 was quite intimately in connection with, or met after action-the German is impressed with the idea that he belongs to a superior race; that his nation is the nation elect, in the same way as the Hebrews were when they were facing the Amalekites or Philistines.
If railway accidents bring men close together, I must say that the conquest of a trench brings you very close to the psychology of your opponents; sincerity is perhaps the greatest at that very moment; you see a man as if it were through X rays; here you have the real man. Those men are thoroughly convinced that science and history and religion have proved that really the race now dwelling in the Central Empires, but chiefly in Germany, is to lead the world. And this idea, which was already prominent when the war broke out, has been impressed on the German mind more and more since. Of course they took their military victories as another sign of the same truth. Then Germany had agents of propaganda inside as well as outside. Bolos may be shot in France, but they are promoted to highness in Germany; and they have their Bolos in the ranks of the German professors, German priests, German school-teachers, and so on. German people believe more firmly at the present hour than they did four years ago that they are the superior race which is really to lead the world to better destinies. A very amusing example of this trait was given me by a poor peasant German soldier who was in a village before being sent to headquarters. He was in the same place as four Russian prisoners who had escaped from the German lines, and who were of course enjoying a good time before returning to the Russian forces in France. One day this German prisoner complained to me that when he went to wash in the morning the gendarme had his eyes on him, and when he would go along the street for his dinner the gendarme on the horse would go along with him, while the four Russians would go along with the horseman and drink wine. I explained to him that Russia and France were allies, and that when Russians come they are welcomed as comrades in arms. He said, "Yes, but Germany has much more kultur than Russia"-his idea being that in spite of war conditions, alliances, treaties, if one German prisoner is watched by one gendarme, one Russian prisoner should we watched by two hundred gendarmes, because the Russian is an incendiary, a barbarian, etc. The idea was engrafted into the German, that all sorts of vices and crimes were imputable to the Russians, while Germans were a noble and efficient people.
Another psychological feature which is entirely ingrained in the German is, of course, his submission to authority. He always riots where they go and cry for bread, and suddenly we think possibly that means revolution in Germany. But no, it means only a strike, a bread riot, and nothing else. Even Scheideman, the Socialist deputy, was arrested a fortnight ago for half an hour by a policeman. He said, "But I am a deputy." The German policeman said, "Yes, you are a deputy, but it is not as deputy that I arrest you, it is for taking part in a manifestation." Well, those rioters will be crying for bread before the bakeries, and afterwards going to the ballot they will be very submissive Germans and nothing else. We had a very striking example of this in the second winter of the war. A deserter came to our lines at seven in the morning, taking advantage of the mist. He was sent at once to headquarters with the mounted gendarme, who had at the same time to bring to the rear a French peasant who insisted on staying in his house when the military authority required the village to be evacuated. Can the street, with free hands, were the German deserter and the French peasant marching along, and behind them the mounted gendarme. Now, you may be a good gendarme but a bad horseman, and that was the case with this one, for his horse turned around, and at that very moment the French peasant, seeing a bush in the neighbourhood, tried to escape and hide himself; and who was it that took him by the fist and maintained him in the road in submission? It was the German prisoner, who a quarter of an hour ago was stealing the German lines, and who was now ready to lend a helping hand to the French police authorities! That is how they feel about authority. They have been born kneeling on their knees, and so they are. A revolution may happen, but after they are defeated, not before. Don't believe that they will assemble and suddenly say, "That drive on the western front is useless; some of our friends will be killed, with no advantage but for the people in office, so let us take reasonable peace." Nothing of that kind at all. Afterwards, possibly, yes; if a good number of them have joined the great majority, yes, but not before. No; in those riots they cry because the mighty stomach makes itself heard; but they have complained very seldom of the lack of co-ordination between those sporadic movements. There is no mental unity between them connecting all those activities.
In the British revolution in the middle of the 17th and in the French revolutions at the end of the 18th century, along with the man-power and energies of the dissatisfied multitudes there was an idea-the religious idea in the British companions of Cromwell, and the legal idea in the minds of the French; Lafayette and Mirabeau had at the same time a mind and a voice. The Germans may have the voice of the empty belly, but not the voice necessary for inaugurating a new state of real political affairs. That is the reason for these distinctions between the German people at large, which may be composed, certainly, of some honest peasants, and more active workmen, and kind housewives, and so on. But really the system is a fanatical system of people wanting the domination of the world; there is not a single doubt about it.
If you took by airplane a man who was in Germany and put him on trial he would certainly answer you, "We are willing and ready, and deserve our victories, and the end is now to come, and certainly it will mean increasing wages for workmen, so I don't see why we should oppose these materialistic tendencies. If we occupy Poland and Courland and Lithuania certainly new bridges will be built by the ironmasters, and that means for workmen greater opportunities," and so on. So they endorse and encourage that unfair policy of might which alone creates right, and so on. That is why I feel that now our aims are more and more well defined between the democratic countries of the west.
Of course when Russia collapsed, there was a good deal of distrust in France, especially among the French middleclass people, who felt so keenly that they had gone into the war out of respect for a pledge. It was the Russian alliance which brought France into the War. When the German amabassador asked our Premier what France was to do he said, "There is no doubt about it, France is bound by her treaties, and the respect of treaties is quite natural." Now, the very cause of France's entry into the war having disappeared, the French middle classes said, "This is really not fair; we have supported the Russian people so frankly, so entirely, not only with strategic and military help, but munition workers and engineers have been sent to Russia, and now suddenly the Russian Bolsheviki say their people disavow all former pledges." But that is not the way we feel as to the life of a nation; we feel that all the members of that community are not to be displaced by the revolution; that the Bolsheviki are Russian as well as the Grand Duke was; nations are not composed of sawdust. We do not feel that way in France; we feel as closely connected with former generations as can be. So the distrust was real last year, but as you know it was balanced intensely by the entry into the War of the United States, and perhaps not so much by the confidence in the military power of the United States, which was not developed, but which is to develop, there is no doubt. We were under the impression that more time was necessary to give the United States the possibility of really creating and making their strength known. But the moral side of it was at once clear to the French mind.
Just after America declared war I went with the American Mission to some places in Brittany to see how some organizations had been made in France, and the Mayor of a little town asked me to translate when, at the reception, he raised his glass and said, "I raise my glass to the United States, to that noble nation who, at last, saw the necessity of taking their side." Of course I omitted two words in that translation. But the ordinary way in which those people took the political news was pathetic, specially in Brittany, where they have suffered such heavy losses along the Yser canal, where the Blue jackets have done so wonderfully, and where the helpful hand of Canada has been so nicely and so beautifully felt by our men. In Brittany they said, "Oh, America now on our side? That shows how good our cause is; that shows that really there is no doubt about the fairness of our cause." They took it that way. They said the largest of all the republics being on the side of England and France, now there is no doubt. Of course Russia and Japan might have been suspected of different tendencies, but now having England and the United States together, that is evidence; and you know how delighted the Frenchman is when the evidence is before his eyes. Well, I think there is other evidence before mine, and that is your sympathy, and the complete knowledge that now between the three great powers who have red, white and blue in their flags the alliance is for ever, and nothing can divide us, because it is not only a material issue but the very mortal reason of our existence which is now in such a close connection that no division is possible.
Because of this evidence, which has been brought before my eyes many times already since I came to America, and which I see again in this kind reception, I thank you.