The Spirit Of France

IT was in the summer of 1914 while the doctor and I were motoring through the Cathedral cities of England that our fancy took flight and projected a journey around the world. These plans, like many others, were soon to be knocked into a cocked hat; for, before we had left England, the war clouds had gathered and this old world was doomed to the most hellish and destructive war these lands had ever known.

One could have hardly experienced these tense days of August, 1914, in England without also sensing a responsibility, a call to the colors of civilization, a stirring of his Nordic blood to en-ist his efforts and his life, if need be, to carry on the heritage that had been left him by his forebears; perhaps at a much earlier period in England and later by sires that had helped to establish and carry on a more independent and free institution in the Western Hemisphere. And so the next five years see us following in the path of duty and service to our flag and country, but the job once done, our minds again pursue more pleasant channels; we long for scenes in far-away lands of the world, scenes other than nations grappling at one another’s throats. So the journey around the world becomes a fact instead of a fancy; but, unfortunately, not for the twain of us, for unforeseen circumstances prevented the doctor going, and not until December, 1923, did the plans of 1914 materialize.

We sailed from New York on the very same steamer—the Aquitania—which carried us to England in 1914. Betterments in conditions at Paris were again noted. The signs are hopeful. Improvements in conditions and production in the Ruhr were perceptible. Since the recent signing of the agreement between the French authorities and the mine-owners and operators, the output has increased until it is now 25 to 60% of the normal output. Once the Germans realize that they actually lost the war and make an honest effort to meet and discharge their ob-Iigations arising therefrom, the earlier may a more nearly normal economic situation be realized. The real basic trouble is, that the Germans who, as a people, are quite universally honest, thrifty and well intending, are unfortunate in their leaders. Any unhappiness or suffering which they at present are compelled to endure, is due to causes engendered within Germany. Their present depreciated, yes worthless, currency has been largely brought about by deliberate, dishonest financing on the part of individuals and institutions within the Fatherland. A return to sound finances would soon relieve the situation. Germany should be honestly endeavoring to work out her own salvation instead of constantly crying: “Impossible to pay” and meanwhile making no effort. When Germany once believes that the Allies are as united in peace as they were in war and intend making her pay to the extent of her ability (which means that just such drastic force as France employed in the Ruhr is necessary) then she may be expected to face the situation squarely and not before. It is to be hoped that the present Reparations Commission recently appointed by the Allies, including representatives from our own country, may find a solution of the difficult problem, for only by Germany returning to a sound financial basis and paying her debts, can she resume a position of honor among the Nations. Not until that has been done can a healthy, economic condition exist in Europe.

France is coming back. She has rehabilitated large productive agricultural areas that were devastated, and is restoring her wrecked industries and rebuilding her ruined villages. The patriot-ism, industry and thrift of her people must be admired by all, even by those who do not agree with her political policies. The Spirit of France which one here sees so often represented in sculpture and paintings, is what carries her people over the rough places of her national existence. A painting that exemplifies this spirit as it existed in the last war, is graphically portrayed in a picture recently hung in the chapel adjoining or a part of the Sorbonne.

Again it is this same Spirit of France I predict, that will compel France to reimburse her war debts. Even though the Germans are using every possible means to escape payment of the reparation; even though Russia to whom France loaned her gold at the beginning of the war, has repudiated her debts, France, which for centuries has been grounded in the lessons of honor and sacrifice, will not evade or fail to reimburse her creditors. France I am sure recognizes her debt of gratitude to Great Britain. We must remember, however, that in the Great War, England was also protecting her very frontiers and later participated in the reparation and spoils allotted at Versailles. The United States entered the war for reasons quite apart from those that actuated France, Belgium, England, Russia and Italy. It was to save the civilization of Europe; to save liberty as interpreted in America; to help crush the imperialistic autocracy of Potsdam which we believed the Germans were attempting to inflict upon the world. It was such reasons that prompted the United States entering into the struggle. War concluded, we went home asking no settlement of our bill of expense, either in cash or colonies. The job was done, we desired to return to our normal pursuits of life.

The manful manner in which Great Britain, though staggering under taxation, early arranged for the discharge of her obligations, has prompted the respect and homage of the world. That is just how we would want America to do. And the Spirit of France sees this also, regardless of the spoutings by radical members of their House of Deputies. We have the like in our own Congress; men who, as the doctor might say, have a diarrhoea of words but a constipation of any ideas.

I believe that the United States should demand the refunding of France’s debt of nearly three billion dollars to America, and on interest terms identical with those concluded with Great Britain.

Consideration might wisely be given to the fact that it has required vast sums of France’s wealth for reconstruction of the devastated area (and this job is not yet completed) and also to the necessity of France re-establishing her financial situation. For these reasons, in my opinion, America can, as a generous creditor, afford to be lenient and waive interest charges for the first five or possibly seven years. There is still another reason and likewise an excellent precedent. I am informed through a statement made by General Jaufflieb, Senator tor the Bas-Rhin Department, that “The accord signed at Versailles on July 16th, 178e, between Franklin and Vergennes, remitted until the signing of the Peace Treaty, the payment of the interest for the 18,000,000 livres which France had lent to the United States. This measure on the part of Louis XVI was applied for a period of five or six years.” The figures today are much larger than those of 1782, but I doubt if they, in reality, represent a greater relative obligation. It should never appear in the history or records of the United States that she ever forgot a friend. The entire situation is tersely summed up by a Frenchman thus : “Supported by American strength, we won the war; sustained by American confidence, we shall win the peace.”

And so the buoyancy of the French people is reflected in their faces seen in the boulevards and the cafés. They are hopeful, but they are not unmindful of past events. They may be guided by a thought similar to one of our own proverbs : “Believe in prayer, but keep your powder dry.”

Other faces also interested me in the cafés besides the Frenchman, whose natural ease in home surroundings—his gestures as well as his physiognomy-plainly stamps him as a native. An Englishman enters—I do not hear him speak, but I know his nationality, it too is plainly indicated by an attitude suggesting—I am here, the man who knows best how to govern others for their own good; show me the best place at your disposal, it is mine by the right of tradition and heritage. An American appears within the portal of the café. I quickly recognize him as my countryman, his manner suggests—the best is none too good for me; I will select it for myself; I can pay; my position in life is as the result of my own accomplishments. Thus the different nationalities pass before us, each with their distinctive characteristics.

A stranger called to see us at our hotel. He was young, had a foreign look and a Russian accent. He told us he was a naturalized American citizen; had lived for many years in Buffalo and but recently had returned to the country of his fathers, that socially volcanic land of the Bolsheviki. His was a sad tale. He had wandered from place to place in Russia seeking his own, but the forces that swept the Czar into Eternity, had also removed all trace of his family. He gave up in despair and had started to return to the land of the free. When he arrived at the Russian-Polish frontier, the Bolsheviki officials robbed him of all his money, some several hundreds of American dollars, stole his extra clothing and seized his pass-port. His railroad ticket to Warsaw and on to Berlin was fortunately saved. He reported his misfortunes to the American Consul at Warsaw, who stated he could do nothing as no diplomatic relations existed between the United States and Russia—one travelled in that disorganized land at his own risk. At Berlin he was furnished transportation by the American Embassy, to Paris, for it was at the latter place that he had registered his passport with the prefect of police upon entering Europe. Ile had been four days in Paris, had established his identity and all that was now needed was some official papers from the French Authorities, which would cost ten dollars, but once secured, he had been promised free transportation by the American Embassy, on a United States Shipping Board liner to New York. Yes, he had called at the American Legion’s headquarters, but not being a veteran they could do nothing for him. He had also made enquiries regarding securing assistance from the Y. M. C. A. but its activities had ceased. In fact he had exhausted every possible avenue of succor and his only relief now lay in getting aid from some generous American. He answered many further questions with assurance and accuracy. Surely it was the duty of an American to help another, even though the one is of foreign birth. After catechizing him for perhaps a half-hour. I said: “Of what you have said I believe not a word, on the other hand I will not say that I disbelieve—you may accompany us to the American Express Co., and there we will ex-plain your plight as stated by you. We shall then engage the services of an employee of that organization to whom will be given the $10.00 with the instructions to accompany you to the Prefect of Police and pay the fee necessary to secure the papers you require.” He accepted the proposal with expressed appreciation. The three of us wended our way to the office of the America Ex-press Co., and the commission was duly arranged. The stranger in distress was to meet an officer of the Express Co. the next morning at eight o’clock at the office of the Prefect of Police, it then being too late in the day to secure the desired papers. Before parting, my final instructions to our agent was, that if the young man was found to be an imposter, he might order his arrest or take such action as he thought best. We handed the chap a few francs to secure food, he having stated he had been without since the day previous. The next morning at ten the officer of the American Express Co. called at our hotel, returned us our money with the information that the clever young imposter had not kept his appointment. Thus passeth the days in Paris.

After four days we journeyed to Trieste. It is a splendid city, distinctly Austrian in appearance, although since the war all the street names have been changed to Italian, as Trieste is no longer an Austrian seaport. The city enjoys an attractive waterfront and across the waters of the Ægean Sea on the shore in the far distance, are seen the Dolomite Mountains, lifting their snow-covered heights into the azure sky of Italy. Speaking only from the standpoint of a casual observation, the people looked contented, well fed and sufficiently clothed; no beggars were seen. I did, however, observe a scene that touched responsive chords. While meandering through the resident district of the city, I was attracted by singing; two splendid male voices accompanied by a guitar. We made our way to the minstrels, surrounded by a group of listeners. On each side of the street were houses six stories in height. In nearly every window appeared faces leaning forward in the open windows, all intently interested in the singing. Small coins were tossed down to the musicians, who were splendid types of Italians—large robust men with really handsome faces, both soldiers in the late war. The one had suffered the loss of his legs. The other, the left arm and the hand of the right. There was a touch of pathos in their robust but mellifluous voices. They had fought for their lives and were now singing for their livelihood in a land that they had battled to save. Such products of the Great War are all too common. Surely the maimed, the dead, the destructiveness of war and the hatred that it breeds, should be evidence sufficient to bring about some inter-national agency, call it what you will, just so long as if affords a tribunal before which may be presented the misunderstandings of nations and an equitable adjustment assured. The perpetrators of the last war lost, but so did all other contending nations. A national spirit only is not sufficient to prompt our motives—a nation also needs the spirit of tolerance and understanding; the spirit of righteousness; in fact the Spirit of the Nazarene. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” asked Cain and throughout the ages some deep instinct has answered: “Yes.”