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Thursday, August 16, 2018

René Viviani: The Spirit Of France

One of the most stirring speeches of the First World War was the address of René Viviani [1863-1925], Premier of France, before the Chamber of Deputies on December 22, 1914. It follows.

This communication is not the customary declaration in which a Govern­ment, presenting itself to Parliament for the first time, defines its policy. For the moment there is but one policy—a relentless fight until Europe attains definite liberation guaranteed by a completely victorious peace. That was the cry uttered by all when, in the sitting of August 4, a sacred union arose, as the President of the Republic has so well said, which will throughout history remain an honor to the country. It is the cry which all Frenchmen repeat after having put an end to the disagreements which have so often embittered our hearts and which a blind enemy took for irremediable division. It is the cry that rises from the glorious trenches into which France has thrown all her youth, all her manhood.

Before this unexpected uprising of national feeling, Germany has been troubled in the intoxication of her dream of victory. On the first day of the conflict she denied right, appealed to force, flouted history, and in order to violate the neutrality of Belgium and to invade France, invoked the law of self-interest alone. Since then her Government, learning that it had to reckon with the opinion of the world, has recently attempted to put her conduct in a better light by trying to throw the responsibility for the war upon the Allies. But through all the gross falsehoods, which fail to

deceive even the most credulous, the truth has become apparent. All the documents published by the nations interested and the remarkable speech made the other day at Rome by one of the most illustrious representatives of the noble Italian nation, demonstrate that for a long time our enemy has intended a coup de force. If it were necessary, a single one of these documents would suffice to enlighten the world. When, at the suggestion of the English Government, all the nations concerned were asked to sus­pend their military preparations and enter into negotiations in London, France and Russia on July 31, 1914, adhered to this proposal. Peace would have been saved even at this last moment, if Germany had conformed to this proposal. But Germany precipitated matters. She declared war on Russia on August 1 and made an appeal to arms inevitable. And if Ger­many, by her diplomacy, killed the germ of peace, it is because for more than forty years she had untiringly pursued her aim, which was to crush France in order to achieve the enslavement of the world.

Since, in spite of their attachment to peace, France and her Allies have been obliged to endure war, they will wage it to the end. Faithful to the signature which she set to the treaty of September 4 last, in which she engaged her honor—that is to say, her life—France, in accord with her Allies, will not lay down her arms until she has avenged outraged right, regained forever the provinces torn from her by force, restored to heroic Belgium the fullness of her material prosperity and her political inde­pendence, and broken Prussian militarism, so that on the basis of justice she may rebuild a regenerated Europe.

This plan of war and this plan of peace are not inspired by any presump­tuous hope. We have the certainty of success. We owe this certainty to the whole army, to the navy which, in conjunction with the English Navy, gives us the mastery of the sea, to the troops which have repulsed in Mo­rocco attacks that will not be repeated. We owe it to the soldiers who are defending our flag in those distant colonies of France, who, on the first day that war broke out, turned with patriotic affection towards the mother country; we owe it to our army, whose heroism in numerous combats has been guided by their incomparable chiefs, from the victory on the Marne to the victory in Flanders; we owe it to the nation, which has equaled that heroism with union in silence and quiet trust in critical hours.

Thus we have shown to the world that an organized democracy can serve by its vigorous action the ideal of liberty and equality which con­stitutes its greatness. Thus we have shown to the world, to use the words of our Commander-in-Chief, who is both a great soldier and a noble citi­zen—that “the Republic may well be proud of the army that she has pre­pared.” And thus this impious war has brought out all the virtues ot our race, both those with which we were credited, of initiative, élan, bravery and fearlessness, and those which we were not supposed to possess —endurance, patience, and stoicism. Let us do honor to all these heroes. Glory to those who have fallen before the victory, and to those also who through it will avenge them to-morrow. A nation which can arouse such enthusiasm can never perish.

Everything serves to demonstrate the vitality of France, the security of her credit, the confidence which she inspires in all, despite the war which is shaking and impoverishing the world. The state of her finances is such that she can continue the war until the day when the necessary reparation has been obtained.

We should honor also those innocent civilian victims who hitherto had been safe from the ravages of war, and whom the enemy, in the effort to terrify the nation which remains and will continue immovable, has cap­tured or massacred. The Government hereby takes a solemn engagement, which it has already partly discharged, in asking you to open a credit of three hundred million francs ($60,000,000). France will rebuild the ruins, anticipating the indemnities that we shall exact and the help of a contri­bution which the entire nation will pay, proud to fulfill its duty of national solidarity, in the hour of distress for a portion of its sons.

Gentlemen, the day of final victory has not yet come. Till that day our task will be a severe one, and it may be long drawn out. Let us stiffen our will and courage. Destined to uphold the heaviest burden of glory that a people can carry this country is prepared for every sacrifice.

Our Allies know it. Those nations who have no immediate interest in the fight know it too, and it is in vain that an unbridled campaign of false news has attempted to rouse in them the sympathy which has been won by us. If Germany, at the beginning of the war, made pretense to doubt it, she doubts no longer. Let her recognize once more that on this day the French Parliament, after more than four months of battle, has renewed before the world the spectacle that it gave on the day on which our nation took up the challenge.

In order to conquer, heroism on the frontier does not suffice. There must be union within. Let us continue to preserve this sacred union intact from every attempt made upon it. To-day, as it was yesterday, and as it will be to-morrow, let us have only one cry—Victory; only one vision before our eyes—“La Patrie”; only one ideal—Right. It is for Right that we are striving, for which Belgium has poured out her blood, for which unshak­able England, faithful Russia, intrepid Serbia, and the gallant Japanese Navy are still striving.

If this is the most gigantic war that history has ever known, it is not be­cause nations are in arms to conquer new lands, to obtain material advan­tage or political and economic rights; it is because they are fighting to settle the fate of the world. Nothing more grand has ever appeared before the eyes of men. Against barbarism and despotism, against a system of provocation and methodical menace which Germany called peace, against the system of murder and universal pillage which Germany calls war, against the insolent military caste which has unchained this scourge, France, the liberator and avenger, with her Allies, has raised herself at one bound. The stakes are more than our own lives. Let us continue, then, to work with a single mind, and to-morrow, in the peace of victory, when politics have been freed from the restraints which we have voluntarily placed upon them, we shall recall with pride these tragic days, for they will have made us more valiant and better.

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