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Saturday, August 18, 2018

Georges Clemenceau: One Aim: Victory

“The Tiger," as Georges Clemenceau [1841-1929] was known, was made Pre­mier of France when the fortunes of the World War were going against the republic. His will and energy helped to turn the tide against the Germans. This militant speech was delivered by Clemenceau in the Chamber of Deputies on June 4, 1918, in reply to opposition socialists.

When I accepted the premiership offered to me by the President of the Republic I could not ignore the fact that we were at the most critical period of the war. I remember that I told you we should pass together through difficult and exacting times; I remember I spoke of “cruel hours.” No one protested when I announced that they would come. They are coming and the only question is whether we can stand them. [Applause and interruptions.]

When Russia’s desertion occurred, when men who believed that it was only necessary to will a democratic peace to obtain it from William II, had given up their country, unwittingly I prefer to think, to the army of the invader, what one of you here could believe that the million German soldiers who were thus liberated would not be turned against us? This and more is what happened. For four years our forces have been wearing themselves out. Our front was guarded by a line of soldiers which was becoming thinner and thinner, with our allies who had themselves suffered enormous losses. And at that moment you saw arrive against you a fresh mass of German divisions in good condition when you were far from your best strength.

Is there any one of you who did not realize that under the shock of this enormous mass our lines had to give way at some points? Certainly not, for in all the conversations which I had with members of this assembly, the question asked me was, how much we had to give way.

The recoil was very serious for the English army, which had suffered

formidable losses. It was grave and dangerous for the French army. I said dangerous, serious, but nothing more, and there is nothing in that to shake the confidence we should hdve in our soldiers. [Applause and interruptions.]

Our men are engaged in the battle, a terrible one. They fought one against five without sleep for three and four days together. [Applause and interruptions.] These soldiers, these great soldiers, have good and great leaders: worthy of them in every way. [Applause and interruptions.] I have seen these leaders at work and some of them against whom I will not deny that I was prejudiced, struck me with admiration. [Applause.]

Is that saying that there are nowhere mistakes? I cannot maintain that. I know it too well; my duty is to discover these mistakes and correct them. In this I am supported by two great soldiers,—General Foch and General Petain. [Applause.] General Foch enjoys the confidence of our allies to such a degree that yesterday at the conference of Versailles they wished to have their unanimous confidence in him expressed in the communiqué given to the press. [Applause and interruptions.]

These men are at this moment fighting in the hardest battle of the war, fighting it with a heroism which I can find no phrase worthy to express. [Applause.] And it is we who for a mistake made in such and such a place, or which may not even have been made, demand explanations, on the field of battle of a man worn with fatigue. It is of this man that we demand to know whether on such and such a day he did such and such a thing! Drive me from this place if that is what you ask, for I will not do it. [Applause.]

I came here with the desire to find simple, brief and measured words to express the sentiment of the French people at the front and at the rear, to show the world a state of mind which cannot be analyzed, but which at this moment is the admiration of all civilized people. [Applause.]

I accuse no one. I am the leader of these men and it is my duty to punish them if I consider it of general benefit to do so; but it is also my greater duty to protect them if they have been unjustly attacked. [Applause.] The army is better than we could ever have expected and when I say “the army” I mean men of all ranks who are under fire. That is one of the elements of our confidence, the main element. Although faith in a cause is an admirable thing, it will not bring victory; men must die for their faith to assure victory and our men are dying. We have an army made up of our children and our brothers—what can we say against it? Their leaders too have come from among us; they too are our brothers, they too are good soldiers. They come back covered with wounds when they are not left on the field of battle. What can you say against them? [Applause.] We have yielded ground, much more ground than either you or I should have wished. There are men without number who have paid for this with their blood, without reproach. I know of the deeds of a group of lost men, Bretons, surrounded in a wood all night. The next day, still resisting, they sent a carrier pigeon to their corps to say “We are here. We have promised not to yield. We shall fight to the end. If you can come to find us, come; we can hold out half a day longer.” [Applause.]

Those men make and safeguard the country of which you are so proud. They die for the greatest and most noble ideal—to continue a history which shall be the foremost among all the histories of civilized peoples.

Our own duty is very simple, very tame. We run no danger. We are at our posts, you here, I with my cabinet—posts which are not dangerous as are those of the soldiers, but which are nevertheless where the capital interests of the country are decided.

As long as you remain calm, confident in yourself, determined to hold out to the end of this hard struggle, victory is yours. It is yours because our enemies, who are not as intelligent as they are said to be, have only one method—to throw their whole force into the venture and risk every­thing. They tried it at Verdun and on the Yser, at Dunkirk and at Calais. They were checked—by whom? First by the English and then by the French. After that they appeared in Champagne; they advanced. Do you think it possible to make a war in which you never have to retreat? There is only one thing that matters, the victorious issue, the final success. Our men can only give their lives; but you through patience, firmness and determination can give them what they deserve—victory. [Applause.]

You have before you a government, which, as it told you at the very beginning, never conceived of the possibility of negotiating without vic­tory. [Applause.] You know what you are doing. You can keep us in power or send us away; but as long as you keep us, whatever may happen, you can be sure that the country will be defended to the death and that no force will be spared to obtain success. [Applause.] We will never consent to anything but peace with victory. That is the watchword of our government. [Applause and interruptions.]

The Germans are once more staking all. The “coup” which they are attempting is to terrorize you, to frighten you so that you will abandon the struggle. [Applause.] One must be ignorant of German tactics to doubt this. Why did they suddenly throw all their forces on the Yser? It was to gain Calais, to separate us from England and force us to surrender. For what was the dreadful march on Paris? To take Paris and through terror force us to surrender. Why are they beginning again to-day? To secure this effect of terror which they have never yet achieved.

The decision is in your hands for the simple reason that it is not a matter of mere reasoning but a question of action. The Americans are coming. The forces of the English and the French, as well as of our enemies, are worn out; but we have allies who are coming as a decisive factor. I have said from the beginning that American cooperation would decide the issue of the war. The point is this: events in Russia have allowed a million of the enemy’s men to appear on the Franco-British front. We have allies, whom we did not have in 1870, when we yielded because we were alone. We have allies, who represent the foremost nations of the world, who have pledged themselves to continue the war to the end, to the success which we hold in our grasp, which we are on the point of achieving if we have the necessary tenacity. [Applause.]

I declare, and it must be my last word, that victory depends upon us. The civil forces must rise to the height of their duty; it is not necessary to make this demand of the soldiers. Send me away if I have been an unworthy servant; drive me out, condemn me, but at least take the trouble to formulate criticisms. As for me, I assert that the French people have in all ways done their full duty. Those who have fallen have not fallen in vain, for they have made French history great. It remains for the living to complete the magnificent work of the dead. [Applause.]

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