Statesmen of the War in Retrospect
WE DO NOT KNOW WHETHER HISTORY WILL RANK LORD Oxford as a great statesman, but it will rank him certainly as a great character. Mr. Asquith united in himself some of the finest masculine qualities, and all that was lacking to him for political greatness was---defects.
To understand Mr. Asquith, it is necessary to remember that he was English. He was not only English by birth, race and education; he was in every sense of the term a typical Englishman. He was, to begin with, English in his physique and appearance. Princess Bibesco---not his daughter, but the cousin of his son-in-law---in an admirable article which she wrote about him at the time of his death told how a painter of her acquaintance, meeting her in Mr. Asquith's company, alluded to him afterwards as that "magnificent old pink and white Englishman." "Everything about him," Princess Bibesco proceeded to say, "substance, form, tone, tastes, ancestry, came from England." He was an English "thoroughbred." She liked to think of him, she declared, alternately wearing the crown of the Saxon Kings or the sober headgear of Cromwell's Ironsides.
Morally, too, Mr. Asquith was a true-born Englishman. Everything about him was racy of the English soil---his abilities, his loyalty, his sensibility, his reserve, his silence, his distinction, and certain of his faults, in particular that slowness of conception and decision with which he was so often reproached.
But there are several kinds of Englishmen. Lord Oxford was an Englishman of the cultivated type. There are extraordinary intellectual resources in this English race which is credited with being devoted to sports and beefsteaks. Few of the races of the world can boast of a culture so ancient, so refined, and so deep. And if the sporting Englishmen are in the majority, when one does meet an educated Englishman one usually marvels at his knowledge.
It was remarked of Mr. Asquith: "He knows how to read." That is high praise for a man, but in his case it was inadequate. For reading was his chief passion down to the last days of his life. Once every year he re-read the works of Dickens and those of Sir Walter Scott. The Greek tragedians, the Latin poets, the philosophers of antiquity, were familiar to him. When he wanted to condemn the Kaiser, it was a line from Horace that came naturally to his lips: Delirante reges, plectuntur Achivi. . . .
Colonel House, speaking of Lord Balfour, declared: "I should be disposed to place him intellectually on the same level as our President and Mr. Asquith---that is to say, at the summit."
No classical culture was foreign to Mr. Asquith. He traveled widely and he remembered everything. He knew the history of the Italian republics of the Middle Ages as well as that of antiquity and of his own country. And he possessed the kind of mind that is produced only by deep culture and an old tradition. Many illustrations are given of this. After the close of the War and his great electoral defeat, Mr. Asquith went to Spain to find a diversion for his thoughts. He was received there by the King. It was a dark hour for monarchies, and Alfonso XIII confided to the English ex-Premier something of his apprehensions: "Thirty-five Kings have been dethroned," he said. "Who will be the thirty-sixth?"
Mr. Asquith replied with feeling: "Sire, do not think of that!"
The title of Earl of Oxford by which Mr. Asquith was to become known after he was raised to the peerage was singularly appropriate, for he had passed at Oxford the best years of his life---one might almost say he had spent his entire life there. A brilliant scholar of Balliol, it was there he achieved his first successes as an orator no less than as a student. In the course of time he made himself a home by the side of the Thames, quite near Oxford, to which while in office he resorted almost always for the week-end. In their turn, his sons went to the University and they also shone there. He had seen his own portrait placed among those of the "fellows" who have done honor to Balliol, and his son's name at the head of those Balliol men who have died for their country.
It is recorded that Mr. Lloyd George, on visiting Oxford, exclaimed: "I am glad I did not come here before for I should never have been able to tear myself away."
He was right. You cannot tear yourself away from the atmosphere of Oxford, once it has taken hold of you. Lord Oxford has given us evidence of that.
The reason, no doubt, is that at Oxford you take lessons not in matters of intelligence merely but also in character. You do not leave it a scholar merely but also a gentleman. And this is not just a social distinction; it is above all a moral idea.
This eminent man, upon whom, in society, all eyes were fixed, was by nature shy and reserved. He had a horror of putting himself forward, and public honors made him blush. This orator, one of the greatest of his country and of his time, whose elevation of thought and perfection of diction subjugated the fellow-members of the House of Commons, was taciturn in private life. He allowed his wife to do the talking. A woman of rich and combative personality, she enjoyed publicity. As for him, he listened, rarely joining in the conversation. Finally, this leader of men, who in the vicissitudes of a very long career must have come to be familiar with all the brutalities of political conflict, was a man of sensitive disposition whose eyes filled with tears when he was moved.
Mr. Asquith was a believer. Often of a Sunday afternoon he would leave his house, escaping from his friends, and go to the village church to read the Bible to the few parishioners present. His faith was without ostentation but it impregnated his whole life and his political creed, and in this also he was a true son of the British nation.
The distinctive mark of the true gentleman is a moral quality, the finest quality of all, loyalty. In this respect, Mr. Asquith, throughout his whole life and in his whole character, was a true gentleman. Probably it was this that prevented him from being a great statesman and above all a man of war, for politics necessarily involve intrigues and forms of cleverness which were repugnant to his nature. As for war, that also calls for a certain cynicism. One form of loyalty is frankness. Lord Oxford was often accused, in his attitude towards both his friends and his foes, of being brusque and even a bit rough-spoken. This is a characteristic one would not look for in a man who was in no way domineering. But he would have considered it incompatible with loyalty not to say with complete frankness what he thought.
This profound sense of loyalty which he carried in his heart cast a shadow over the closing years of his life. The way in which Mr. Lloyd George behaved in regard to him caused him more grief than anger. For this man, who owed almost everything to him, became in his own Cabinet, in conjunction with his political enemies, an element of disturbance and of intrigue and finally of dissolution. What Mr. Asquith was never able to forgive in Mr. Lloyd George was not his action in overthrowing him, for he did not care for power: it was his betrayal of confidence.
Speaking of one of Lord Oxford's last public speeches, the Observer said: "His judgments are as straight as a Roman road."
It was his judgment, many decades earlier, that had won him the tribute from one of his Oxford masters: "Asquith is all directness."
Therein lay the great force of his eloquence it so made itself felt. And Mr. Asquith had so often had occasion to note the effect produced by these qualities in the course of his career that in order to influence public opinion he had no belief in anything but candid explanations of his policy. That was the form of his Liberalism.
Mr. Asquith was a Liberal of the great English tradition. He had made his début in politics by a passionate and triumphant defense of the Irish leader, Parnell, and he had begun his ministerial career with advanced---almost radical---social ideas. But he was too profoundly English to remain for long an extremist of any kind. The Boer War showed him the road to conversion and thenceforward his Liberalism was absolutely according to tradition.
The difference between the Whigs and the Tories has been thus explained. The Tories govern the British people through an oligarchy; the Whigs also govern through an oligarchy but as far as possible with the people's consent. Mr. Asquith favored the method which consisted in asking the opinion of the people, while showing them the path of truth. But this definition becomes less and less exact; Mr. Asquith was, in truth, one of the last authentic representatives of the Liberal oligarchy.
Mr. Asquith had been Prime Minister for more than five years when the European crisis came about in the spring of 1914. He enjoyed great authority not only with his party and the country but also with the King, whose principal collaborator he had been ever since his accession and who regarded him as his political mentor. Mr. Asquith, therefore, combined all the subjective conditions requisite to carry the people with him, should he think it necessary.
The objective conditions were less favorable. England, under the Asquith government, had traversed a period of ardent political conflicts. After Mr. Lloyd George's contentious fiscal measures in 1909 had come the question of the House of Lords, awaking strong passions, then the question of Ireland. The country was on the eve of giving home rule to Ireland, and no one knew whether it would not be necessary to employ force against those most loyal of British subjects, the Orangemen of Ulster. The shadow of civil war was outlined upon the horizon and it was under these conditions that the government had to make decisions of the greatest importance.
Mr. Asquith recognized to the full the political and moral necessity for Great Britain of not abandoning France, should France be involved in a war. From the first he was, in the inner circle of the Cabinet, among those who wished to give assurances to France. In view of the engagements already entered into, his loyalty could not have allowed him to be otherwise. But he committed the same fault as his foreign minister. He overestimated, on the one hand, the diplomatic means at his disposal, on the other, the force of pacifist opinion.
To some one who asked him whether he had foreseen the War, Mr. Asquith replied at a later date: "Yes and no." That is the reply which all the statesmen of Europe ought in honesty to have made. For they all saw, from a combination of many signs, that the war was coming, while no one in his heart of hearts believed that it would really come.
That is why the English statesmen prolonged, hoping against hope, their attempts at mediation, thus perhaps aggravating the crisis by not bringing Germany's responsibilities home to her.
Another phrase of Mr. Asquith's throws light upon his attitude at this juncture. A diplomat had asked him if he did not think that by intervening earlier England would have prevented the War. Asquith replied simply by citing the words of Mirabeau: "Without the consent of public opinion not even the greatest talent could triumph over circumstances." A weighty question and a weighty reply. The man on whom at such an hour had rested such a responsibility, the man, who, doing violence to his past record, to all his personal feelings, had launched his country in the greatest war in history, the man who had seen die as the result of his decision millions of young men, among them his own eldest son, the hope of his race, the son of his heart and brain, was constrained, being loyal and a Christian, to ask himself often: "Have I done right?"
His own conscience could comfort him, for he had obeyed it. But the question whether he had acted for the best, given all the circumstances, is a different one, and this question may be asked.
Mr. Asquith, as we have said, was a Liberal in temperament. It was not his way to impose his authority; he sought always to convince. Confronted by opposition on the part of members of his Cabinet he tried to secure unanimity by means of persuasion. This took time and he did not even succeed, for three of his colleagues left him.
As for public opinion, we shall never know whether it would have agreed to war sooner. Mr. Asquith did not believe it would, and he did not reckon that he could dispense with it. Opinions may differ on this point. But he alone had the responsibility and we can understand that he may well have feared to throw into so terrible a war a people whom he did not see in agreement with him.
Once war was declared, Mr. Asquith had the great merit of emphasizing its moral and almost mystic character. He did so with all the authority which came from his earlier hesitation. In November, 1914, long before any of the other Allied statesmen, Mr. Asquith took the lead in defining the war aims, from England's standpoint, in the terms which were to acquire so historic a significance: "England," he declared, "would not again sheathe her sword, which she had not drawn lightly, until Belgium should have had restored to her what she had sacrificed---and more; until France had been safeguarded, in sufficient measure, against all menace of aggression; until the rights of the small nations should have been placed upon an unshakeable foundation; and until the military domination of Prussia should have been destroyed completely and forever."
All Mr. Asquith's speeches of this period were penetrated by the same idealism, and it is declared that President Wilson knew them by heart and that he was largely inspired by them in the wording of his own messages.
Idealism, in a time of war, is an act; it was idealism in the long run that won victory. But idealism has to rest upon adequate material means. "Barbed wire," as a general has remarked, "is not influenced by moral ascendency."
Did Mr. Asquith give his country, and quickly enough, the material means which it needed to win victory for the right? That is the question which will be asked by history.
Princess Bibesco, his generous and clear-sighted biographer, has given this answer to it:---"Towards the end of the year, 1916, everything was going as badly as possible for the Allies; this was inevitable, as it was not to be expected that the innocent would be as well armed as the guilty, for time was needed for the Right to become Might, and as he was accused by the Press and the position of taking the war too patiently---he who knew that no British Prime Minister could take it otherwise---he fell from power. . . ."
There is truth in this defense, but the absolute truth is somewhat other than that, perhaps. Mr. Asquith assuredly did for the War all he could. But he had to contend against his own temperament, and in this he was not always successful. A Liberal, he believed that the country could be governed in times of war as in times of peace. He was repelled by the idea of conscription, which is so contrary to British traditions. He was repelled by many other measures of public safety for which there were no precedent in the past of the Whig Party.
It was above all in his relations with his ministers that Mr. Asquith showed himself too much of a Liberal. He was himself War Minister in August, 1914. He called in Lord Kitchener at once and placed him at the head of military operations. Perhaps in his own mind he thought that this would suffice. He hated to impose his will on his colleagues. Moreover, he had no expert knowledge in these matters, and he knew it; therefore, he allowed his ministers and his generals a free hand. Now there were differences of opinion among these people, and the various departments, instead of working together, often came to loggerheads. Lord Kitchener quarreled with Mr. Lloyd George; Mr. Winston Churchill took measures on his own initiative; the English generals did not hit it off with the French. And the Premier had not the dictatorial temperament which would have been needed to get them all into agreement or to impose the ideas of some of them upon the others.
Finally he was worn out. The death of his eldest son, in the Dardanelles, under conditions of superhuman heroism, had been a very painful blow for him. The burden of power in these circumstances was too much for him. His intellectual energy was affected and he often postponed decisions which were urgent. His will power was there still, but its action was delayed.
The effects of this tendency to apathy have assuredly been exaggerated. If Mr. Lloyd George was able later to intensify Great Britain's war effort, this was thanks in great degree to the munitions which had been ordered and the measures which had been set on foot by the Asquith ministry. At bottom, Asquith was the victim less of his faults and of the intrigues of his colleagues than of the accuracy of his own forecasts. He had envisaged a war of long duration. Lord Kitchener had said "three years." Seeing the hostilities prolonged, the impatient peoples blamed those who had warned them from the start and whom they suspected of unconsciously prolonging the war to prove that they were right.
This does not excuse either the venomous attacks of which the Liberal premier was made the object or the criticisms passed on him by his Conservative colleagues, who plotted to put Mr. Lloyd George in his place. But it must be admitted that at the close of 1916 Mr. Asquith's departure had become a national necessity. Public opinion demanded it. It was at this moment that, despite the censorship, a newspaper was able to print this headline: "Alisquith in Blunderland". The maintenance of Mr. Asquith in power would at this juncture have given the impression to the British people and to the Allies that England was not disposed to pursue the War with all her strength and that she did not believe in victory.
The last years of Mr. Asquith were darkened by these memories. Philosopher though he was, he could never forgive Mr. Lloyd George completely. What he blamed him for was not so much the betrayal of himself as the splitting up of the Liberal Party, and the irremediable damage to its future.
Mr. Asquith regarded himself as a trustee. He had received the Liberal Party, rich in a glorious tradition, from the hands of Gladstone, Lord Rosebery and Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman. His duty was to transmit the inheritance intact to his successors. Through the fault of Mr. Lloyd George, he was unable to do so, and he never found consolation over this.
The political fates were all against Mr. Asquith in his old age. Defeated in 1919 in the constituency which he had always represented in the House of Commons, he was defeated again, three years later, in that in which he had found refuge. But his personal lot would have been bearable if he had not seen his party decimated and forced to abandon power, first to the Labor Party, then to the Conservatives. All the attempts at reconciliation with Mr. Lloyd George had only transient effects because confidence was lacking on the one side and submission on the other.
The political career of Mr. Asquith ended on the day when he agreed to make what Princess Bibesco calls his "fall upstairs." He entered the House of Lords, as we have seen, as Earl of Oxford. But in spite of this new dignity, it is the name of Asquith which he caused to be inscribed in history, as that of the man who did not hesitate in 1914 to put all the forces of the British Empire at the service of Belgium violated and of Justice outraged.
M. ARISTIDE BRIAND BELIES HIS REPUTATION. HE IS SAID to be lazy, ignorant, variable, sceptical. His enemies reproach him with it, certain of his friends glory in it. He himself seems sometimes to take a delight in conforming to this portrait. "You forget," he will say, when people try to hurry him, "that I am an indolent man."
And yet he is not.
Lazy! A man who has risen from the most modest social circumstances, first to the school of law, then to the fame of a great pleader, and finally to the greatest career that any statesman of our time could aspire to. Lazy! A man who has been fifteen times a minister and eight times President of the Council, and who has always proved not only adequate to his task but in a fair way to tower above it. Lazy! Who would believe it?
The truth is very different. We live in an age of paper. Our civilization rests on the written document, our statesmen spend their days in reading reports and dictating memoranda. A book counts as the height of achievement. M. Poincaré is a worker because he spends hours writing at his desk. M. Briand is lazy because, with his hands in his pockets and a cigarette in his mouth, he takes life for his study, observing and listening.
M. Briand is an oral worker. He does not read the reports that are sent to him. He sends for the writers to explain them to him. After a few minutes' conversation he has learned more than is in the report.
M. Briand has the true orator's temperament. Speech is life to him. He has a horror of the written word: in his opinion the letter kills. M. Briand was once a journalist and whatever he may say of it at press banquets his memories of that time are not pleasant. His daily article was for him, who in another sphere improvizes so brilliantly, a real burden, almost a torture.
He has not written a single book. We do not believe that even his speeches have been collected and published. They would not lend themselves to publication. M. Poincaré writes his speeches and learns them by heart. The orator's art in that case is only one facet of the writer's talent. There is nothing like that about M. Briand. His speech is always impromptu: typed and re-read the form of it might easily appear faulty.
What is eloquence! A contact between a man and a crowd. A speech prepared in the quiet of the study, written and conned over, is not a speech. Eloquence is improvization, it is the soul of the hearers reflected in the words of the orator.
It may be remembered at Geneva it always will be what an admirable speech M. Briand made in reply to Herr Stresemann on the day when Germany was admitted to the League of Nations. On the previous day it was learned that Herr Stresemann, himself a powerful impromptu speaker, would read his speech in view of the great importance of the occasion. M. Briand's colleagues urged him to do the same. He hesitated for a moment, then suddenly he spoke, "No, certainly not. When two great peoples come together again a man must give himself."
And verily, on the following day, M. Briand gave himself. That day he showed all the warmth of his heart, all the generosity of his nature.
Many people believe that he speaks extempore to avoid the trouble of preparing his speeches. Not at all. M. Briand prepares his speeches carefully and in two different ways.
First of all he studies the milieu, establishes contact with it, tries to get to the heart of it. M. Briand entered the French Chamber in 1902 at the age of forty, preceded by a great reputation for oratory won in socialist conferences and in the Assize Courts. The members awaited his first speech eagerly. They had to wait for it three years! M. Briand required all that time to absorb the complex ever-changing milieu of French parliamentary life. Three years of strolling about the lobbies, of inconsequent talk, of idle dreaming; three years apparently wasted. But after that time he made his maiden speech without a false note; it was a triumph. Six months later he was a minister.
When he came to Geneva for the first time as the French delegate to the Assembly, the process was repeated but in the reverse way. He began too soon; he had not had time to give sufficient study to a milieu so new to him, at once diplomatic and parliamentary, where the only eloquence that carries any weight is sober, almost academic. It was Mr. Balfour who reached perfection in that milieu. At first M. Briand was a disappointment. He himself acknowledged it. He did not immediately speak again, but he did not give up hope. He studied his milieu and when he had occasion to speak again at the Assembly or in the Council he was magnificent.
When you see M. Briand with his cigarette in his mouth, strolling along the lobbies of the Assembly, giving here a word, there a smile and a handshake, you can be sure that he will speak the following day from the rostrum.
M. Briand has another method of preparation. He practises his periods on a limited audience. He tries them over in a circle of friends. Often when you hear him you find in his speech whole sentences from the conversation you had with him the day before. M. Briand's private conversations are like rough sketches of the great pictures which he perfects in public.
One day during the War I was lunching along with M. Briand at the house of his friend M. Joseph Reinach. There were about twenty people there. M. Briand was seated opposite the master of the house. For about a quarter of an hour we all chatted desultorily to one another. Then gradually above the hubbub arose one voice, deep, warm, musical, flexible. Soon it dominated the rest and we heard no other; we all fell silent. M. Briand, who had just left the government, was telling the story of his last ministry. It was world history in its most tragic phase expounded by the actor most directly concerned in it. We all hung on his words. The following day M. Briand made that speech again in the Chamber.
Nevertheless it happens sometimes that M. Briand really does improvize and it is then that his style can be best comprehended. One day at Geneva he was invited to a Press luncheon. Different speakers were down to speak, but his fellow guests wanted to hear him. A cheer arose and he had to submit. He began with a few light pleasantries; you felt that he had nothing to say, that he was casting about in his mind for his next word. That lasted for a few minutes. Then, suddenly, a chance image opened up a great vista before him. His voice became deeper, more vibrant, and he rose to one of his greatest speeches---this time really impromptu.
The quality which M. Briand possesses above all others---and it is a truly statesmanlike quality---is a keen sense of the distinction between what is essential and what is secondary. Our politics are cumbered with worn-out passions, mean little cares and anxieties, obsolete problems, out-of-date prejudices and overrated difficulties. It is to such things, of first importance to the average man, that M. Briand applies the full force of his indolence. He is convinced that to gain time it is often necessary to waste it, that things must be left to evolve naturally. Hence his reputation for laziness. But no one has ever known him to neglect a really vital matter.
It is the same with his ignorance as with his idleness. M. Briand is ignorant of what is written, he knows everything that comes by hearing. Granted he is not a scholar in the usual meaning of the word. As regards general education his knowledge comes from the lycée, the university, and life. He has read little but he has heard much, and remembered nearly all of it. When he has to explain some difficult question in a speech, he sends for a competent man to explain the problem to him. He picks up things very easily, masters the most difficult subjects almost in fun, and then presents them as simply as possible. He faces technical questions by putting himself in the place of the audience be is to address.
M. Briand is not an ignoramus, he is an artist. His art is politics and the handling of men, and he is master of it. Above all, along with his almost intuitive quickness of understanding, he has a genius for synthesis. When M. Briand is having an intricate problem explained to him with too much confusing detail it is he who is able very soon to explain it lucidly.
You should see him on committees or at the Council of the League. He gazes up into the air, dozes, draws things on his paper. He never listens. His eternal cigarette is staining his finger tips already yellow from many others. Nothing seems to interest him. Then all at once when the discussion has been talked out into irrevocable confusion, M. Briand rises to speak, sums up what has been said, points out the contradictions, stresses the relevant facts, throws the light of his reason on it, and finds the solution.
At all events, one thing that this ignoramus does know is the human heart. His eloquence and his political success are due to his fine psychological sense. It has often been said that crowds are like women, mobile and variable. M. Briand said it himself one memorable day.
It was in 1910. He had just delivered the speech that determined his career. Up till then he had been socialist, even revolutionary; now he had just come from breaking the railway strike. He had cut himself adrift from his old friends and henceforward was to figure as the protector of the social order. In the chamber he was hotly challenged by the Socialists. "To defend law and order," he maintained, "I would go outside the law if necessary." It was a paraphrase of a saying of Napoleon III---a somewhat dangerous association to the French mind. His friends were anxious, but all he said to them as he came out was, "I felt the Chamber wanted to be kissed on the neck."
Only a man of great charm could carry that off. M. Briand can. One day I was saying that I was to lunch with him the next day when some one asked, "How many marchionesses will be there?" As a matter of fact there were three. Women adore M. Briand---and he makes no effort to attract them. In contrast to M. Poincaré, who is typically middle class, M. Briand might be said to be of the people. He still is. His way of life is simple,. he adores nature, he is completely happy spending his vacation on his little property at Cocherel, with his peasants, his trees and his fish. For his ruling passion is angling. If one of his lady admirers were to come on him unawares she would be distinctly surprised at the costume in which she would find her hero.
It takes understanding to see what is to be seen; it takes intuition to see what is hidden; it takes imagination to see what is yet to come. M. Briand possesses all three qualities in the highest degree. Some one has said, "To govern is to foresee." M. Briand governs.
Sometimes his imagination runs away with him, hence comes his reputation for taking liberties with the truth. On that day when he had so brilliantly expounded the history of his government to his fellow guests some one said after he had gone, "Briand forgets that we happen to know some history." But are we to dismiss as a liar the poet, the orator, the artist who puts things as they might be, not as they are in fact? At any rate, one thing that no one denies is that M. Briand believes what he says. If he lies it is because he deceives himself.
Further, M. Briand is blamed not so much for his falsehoods as for his changeableness. There is some justification for this. He has changed a good deal during his life. He has changed as often as circumstances, if not oftener.
M. Briand began in politics as a revolutionary Socialist. He made a name for himself by preaching a general strike in the face of the more moderate heads of his party. Then he went over to the Moderates, defending his comrade Millerand, then a Minister, against the extremists. Then be became a minister himself with a very definite program, the separation of Church and State, which was really the policy of the radical party.
Then he mounted one more rung of the ladder and became President of the Council. In this capacity he broke the railway strike by mobilizing the railway men, and so did the opposite of what he had preached in his youth. Finally, strong in the credit that this decisive action had given him with the middle classes, he went all through the country preaching conciliation. That word signified both the end of his anti-clericalism and his rupture with the radical party, whose policy he himself had previously pursued.
M. Briand's enemies have made out from these changes that he is untrustworthy, an opportunist, and a sceptic. But the opposite inference may also be drawn, it gives proof of his statesmanlike qualities and the essential unity of his career.
M. Briand rose gradually to an ever greater conception of his duty as a statesman. Although he came from the most active radical opposition he felt the need of a positive policy. He saw that this policy could be founded neither on popular disorder (the railway strike) nor on spiritual strife (anticlericalism). Finally, the idea of a national unity, which he tried to bring about during the War and sought to extend to all Europe after it, was the guiding thread through all his changes.
M. Briand is indeed an opportunist, if by that we mean that he takes circumstances into account and adapts himself to them. One day, speaking of M. Painlevé, who is well known as a great mathematician, he gave this admirable definition: "There are in the world mathematicians and politicians. The mathematician draws a line and follows it, even if it goes through a house. The politician sees the house and walks round it." Another time he said, "When the pot boils, you must either sit on it or take off the lid." M. Briand all his life has walked round houses and taken off lids.
Does that justify us in calling him a sceptic? If M. Briand is a sceptic, he is one of a peculiar kind, for two or three times in his existence he has sacrificed his political career for his ideals. Once before the War, when, after being returned on an anti-clerical majority he promulgated the idea of conciliation and offended his supporters; a second time, during the War, over the Salonika expedition; a third time, after the War, on the subject of the Franco-German reconciliation.
M. Briand was in power from the middle of 1915 to the end of 1916. In 1915 the Germans were everywhere victorious and everywhere had the initiative; at the beginning of 1916 they were attacking Verdun; at the end of the year from the gates of Paris they withdrew forty kilometers to one of the fairest regions of France, which they had cultivated and sown. They were preparing other withdrawals and were making their offer of peace.
M. Clémenceau said later: "I am making war," that is to say, "I have no time for anything else." M. Briand belonged to a different school. "When you are making a war you must be busy in every other sphere." It was he who began propaganda at the front and in Germany. In 1916 more than forty riots were provoked by Allied agents in German towns. It was he who organized the Inter-Allied committees in London, which helped so greatly in revictualing Europe. It was he who laid the foundations for unity of command by the coöperation of the general staff during 1916 and before the offensive of 1917.
But M. Briand's great conception to which he dedicated all his powers was the Salonika expedition. During Viviani's ministry M. Briand had suggested reëstablishing communication with Russia through the Balkans. The defection of Bulgaria hindered the realization of this project. When M. Briand came into power he took the matter in hand. It is all the more credit to him that he had to force his idea on the whole world; nobody would hear of it at first. The French General Staff thought that the Salonika expedition was eccentric and wasteful. They maintained that the decisive action would take place in France; each man taken from the western front was a man lost. At each demand for reinforcements General Joffre groaned "as if his ribs were being torn out." The English wanted to attack the Turks from the Suez Canal and refused to divide their troops. The Italians and the Russians were opposed to it for dynastic reasons, namely, to humor the King of Greece, to whom Lord Kitchener had made certain promises. Finally, all the Allies were hostile to General Sarrail, who had been sent there because he was not persona grata in France. On the other hand, Sarrail, who was a politician, had many friends in the parliamentary committees, and it was felt that Briand never defended him strongly enough.
In spite of all these difficulties M. Briand did not give up his idea. He attended all the Inter-Allied councils, some of which were very stormy. Then the day came when it seemed as if he were to reap the fruit of his efforts. Rumania's entry into the War was his achievement and the whole world did him honor for it.
But alas, we know that the results of the Rumanian intervention were not what has been expected. The Russians did not come to the help of Rumania. The Italians and even the French were not in a position to undertake the necessary offensives to relieve them. The fault lay with the general staff, which had given false promises to M. Briand. But the moral responsibility rested on the President of the Council and he resigned too soon.
A fortnight later the first Austrian peace proposals arrived in Paris. If they had come into the hands of M. Briand for whom they were intended, millions of lives might have been saved. M. Briand never doubted that there would be a final victory. As early as 1916 he said to his colleagues, "Germany is crushed; there is no longer any loyalty to the monarchy; it will fall to pieces some day." But he was alarmed at the heedless expenditure of his country's resources, which he knew were limited. The Russian Revolution made a profound impression on him. He was inclined to accept the overtures which Austria and Germany seemed desirous of making. "The soldier strikes the blows," he said. "The politician at his back seeks to turn them to account: the two functions are indispensable." In order to save countless lives he was ready to risk his popularity, go to Switzerland and confer with M. de Laucken and the German Chancellor. The government forbade it. The War was fought to a finish and it ended by a decisive victory on the very Salonika front which he had brought into being.
It is unfortunate that M. Briand was not present at the drawing up of the Treaty of Versailles. It was a great pity, for he would have been the very man for such a situation. His versatility, his imagination, his moderation and his charm would have made compromise possible on many points. He would have found a congenial companion in Mr. Lloyd George, for their temperaments would have brought them together.
M. Briand found himself called upon to assist in working out this peace which he had neither made nor approved. He tried to apply it in a different spirit from that in which it was conceived. Once victory was achieved M. Briand did not lose his head. He saw clearly that if his country was victorious she was also exhausted. Bolshevism caused him anxiety. Moral warfare with Germany could not be allowed to continue indefinitely after peace had been declared, and a solution had to be found for the difficulties which the peace had created and left unsolved. He saw above all that the most favorable moment for the resumption of relations with Germany was when France was in all the glory of her victory and Germany in the shame of her downfall.
It has often been said that M. Briand does not understand economics. Doubtless that is true. But when all the French economists deluded themselves into believing that Germany could pay the reparations, he was the only man to see that the sums demanded from her were "atmospheric"---the word is his. He saw that conflicts between nations cannot be settled on a strictly legal basis like a suit between private individuals. As early as 1921 he was striving to find an amicable solution to the problem of reparations and an arrangement with Germany.
Such an idea was not popular, but this so-called sceptic held on to what he believed to be the truth. It was that conviction which led once more to his defeat.
M. Poincaré replaced him and occupied the Ruhr. Such an experiment had to be made; any policy of reconciliation between France and Germany would have been doomed to all kinds of checks and vicissitudes if the way had not been cleared beforehand. Two years were to be lost before anything was gained. The mirage of the policy of force had to be dissolved. M. Briand himself said later in his inimitable ironic way: "The French people had been persuaded that somewhere there existed a golden fleece, and a Jason ready to go and find it. He went, and when he came back our peasants, who like things visible and tangible, asked to see the golden fleece. Then they realized that it was nothing but an old sheepskin."
Thus M. Poincaré paved the way for M. Briand: he created the conditions which permitted Locarno to succeed. But it was M. Briand who alone could bring the idea to fruition. I can see him still on the evening of the signing of the Treaty of Locarno, a prematurely bent man, standing on the boat that was taking us on an excursion. Behind him Lake Maggiore lay bathed in rosy light. M. Briand seemed to be supremely happy. He had just completed the greatest achievement of his life, the achievement with which his name will be linked for ever. No one would have dreamed of calling him a sceptic then.
Then came Thoiry and the tête-à-tête lunch with Herr Stresemann within sight of the majestic outline of Mont Blanc. There is a widespread impression that nothing resulted from that conversation, but it is not so. The arrangements which the two statesmen discussed there will come into being some day. But it will take time, the nations will have to be won over, and the United States led to certain sacrifices. M. Briand is ill and may never reap the fruit of what he has sown but he will have been the good laborer for the harvest.
Mention must be made here of the gratitude which Europe owes to these three men: M. Briand, Sir Austen Chamberlain and Herr Stresemann. Their common friendship has been a leading factor in international politics during the last few years. When one or other of them speaks of his colleagues the word "confidence" recurs again and again in the conversation. When M. Briand is speaking Sir Austen sits rapt in admiration. Thus they are all willing to help each other to sweep away the difficulties from their path and to minimize the effect of certain inevitable "incidents."
No one can measure the conflict, the confusion, the shocks, the crises from which the friendship of these men has saved Europe. But the effects of it can be seen; Germany is readmitted into the harmony of nations, the League of Nations is strengthened, peace is assured and prosperity increases.
That is why in spite of his detractors M. Briand will not live in history as a sceptic. He may be a sceptic in little things but he has proved on more than one occasion that in vital matters he has faith. His lasting achievement was wrought by faith. He is one of the few statesmen who have fully understood the age we live in.
It has been said of M. Briand that, like Mazarin, he possessed the greatest quality of a statesman, luck. M. Briand is a lucky man, fortune smiles on him, difficulties melt away in his hands. But does not his luck come particularly from his talents? And are not his talents the three great qualities of his race: good sense, balance and moderation?
IT IS NOT PRIMARILY AS A BENEFACTOR THAT WE IN EUROPE think of Mr. Hoover; it is as a man of business.
This descendant of a French colonist---his name is a corruption of the French Hubert---this son of a blacksmith in Iowa had already had a remarkable career when he arrived for the first time in London. At twenty-three he had been in charge of a mining enterprise in Western Australia; from there he had gone to China, where he took an active part in the defense of Tien-Tsin during the Boxer War and where, when the war was over, he salvaged a mining business which had gone to pieces. This exploit brought him before the notice of, the company concerned in the business and they got him to return to London in 1902. This was his first contact with Europe.
From that moment on his activities were turned in another direction. Until this point he had been chiefly an engineer; henceforth he was to be chiefly and almost exclusively a business man, and to specialize in the reconstruction of companies in difficulties---thus foreshadowing his activities in the Great War, when it was possible to dub him "a specialist in catastrophes." In this way, in less than ten years, he reorganized and controlled in succession the mines of the Whitaker Wright group, the great copper and iron mines of the Urals, the lead mines of Burma, and the zinc and lead mines of New South Wales. When the War broke out, he occupied, as either managing director, chairman of directors, or manager, important functions in businesses which in the aggregate employed more than one hundred and twenty-five thousand workers.
A career of this kind may not seem anything out of the way to Americans. No doubt among their prominent business men one might find a great number with analogous records. But in Europe, where promotion goes by seniority, so rapid a progress, activities so diverse, so sudden an acquisition of great wealth, have on one a stupefying effect. Mr. Hoover's career down to the War was pursued almost entirely outside his own country, but only American conceptions and the possibilities they open to men of mark, made it practicable. Down to the opening of the War one sees no trace of idealism in this career. It is the career of a financier who conducts businesses and "makes good" in them. But this does not mean that the man is lacking in ideals. Mr. Hoover was very soon to prove this by placing his genius as an organizer at the service of the community.
In this new phase of his life, which lasted from 1914 to 1921, Mr. Hoover did not advertise his idealism and his sensibility any more than he had done in the previous phase. He acted simply as a business man, placing all the resources of his talent at the disposal of the aims he set himself. It was the aims that were disinterested and beneficent. Mr. Hoover's philanthropy has always had an unconscious air about it. Therein has lain its worth. Mr. Hoover has taken an interest in his task by reason of its difficulty and irrespective of its aims. He has staked his pride upon bringing things to success, not merely because the aims were generous but also because the task was hard.
It was the force of circumstances, it was almost a mere chance, that involved Mr. Hoover at the beginning of August, 1914, in the work to which he was to devote seven years of his life and which was to win him world-wide celebrity.
The War having broken out unexpectedly in the very middle of summer, a great number of Americans who were visiting Europe found themselves suddenly poor, it being impossible for them to cash their cheques at any bank. With their pockets full of cheques, they were penniless. It was necessary to come to their help, to rescue them and repatriate them. A committee was formed of which Mr. Hoover, a conspicuous member of the American community, was elected chairman. This committee came to the help of nearly twenty-five thousand Americans.
Meanwhile, a tragedy without precedent was being enacted in Belgium. The German invasion had brought the whole economic and social life of the country to a standstill, interrupted the harvest, interfered with the transport service, caused a general stoppage of industry accompanied by dreadful need. By the terms of the Hague Convention, it was the duty of the Germans to feed the population of the occupied territories. But they had many other things to preoccupy them and perhaps they were not troubling their minds about this. Winter approached, the need of the Belgians was increasing, and disquietude was being felt as to what would become of the poor of the country when the cold should set in.
In the foremost ranks of the personages who became absorbed in this problem was the United States Minister at Brussels, Mr. Brand Whitlock, who, impelled by benevolent feelings, had remained in the Belgian capital, expressly in order to come to the assistance of the inhabitants, and who acquitted himself of this task throughout nearly three years with admirable devotion, authority and tact. It was at the United States Legation that a meeting took place on October 16th, 1914, of Belgian, German and neutral notabilities, who decided on the one hand to appeal to America for financial help and on the other to ask the British government's permission to import cereals. Two Belgians of mark, M. Francqui and Baron Lambert, went to London for this purpose, furnished with letters of recommendation from Mr. Brand Whitlock. But when these gentlemen arrived in England they found that the work for which they came had already been taken in hand.
They had been preceded by another American, Mr. Millard Shaler, who before the War had been living in Brussels.
From the very beginning of the occupation he had taken the initiative, with his friend Mr. Heinemann, in negotiations with the Germans; he had gone to The Hague to buy previsions but had not succeeded in getting them into Belgium. He had subsequently gone on to London on the same mission and he had discovered there that the provisioning of a country in time of war was a matter beyond the powers of individuals of good will. He had spoken about these things with Mr. Hoover, whom he knew personally, and with the United States Ambassador at London, Mr. Page. Mr. Hoover, whose work in Europe had seemed to be at an end, was on the point of returning to the United States. This was the decisive moment in his life. The legend--often more instructive than mere history---thus describes the scene: (1)
"The conversation which began between the two men (Mr. Page and Mr. Hoover) ended in the room of Sir Edward Grey. It was there that came into shape the idea of feeding an entire people throughout the lapse of an indefinite period. The British Admiralty raised objections. Would not provisions stocked in Belgium be utilized by the German army! 'No,' replied Mr. Page and Mr. Hoover, 'because our government will guarantee their destination.' 'But who will undertake the control of such an enterprise?' Mr. Page went on to remark. Then, suddenly, turning towards his compatriot, he added: 'It will be you!' Hoover made no reply. He said neither yes nor no. He looked at his watch and left the room, returning presently to continue the discussion: 'It just crossed my mind,' he explained, 'that the New York Stock Exchange will be closed in an hour's time. I made haste, therefore, to buy some millions of bushels of corn for the Belgians by cablegram.' "
Some days later Mr. Hoover cabled to Mr. Brand Whitlock that he had organized the Committee and that he would at once put in hand the necessary mechanism for the purchase and despatch of provisions.
When M. Francqui, who had known Mr. Hoover in China, returned to Brussels, he described him to Mr. Whitlock. He drew a bold impressionistic picture of him, full of infectious admiration. He ended with a sweeping gesture of his hand under his own chin: "A man with a jaw, you know!" Mr. Brand Whitlock himself was soon to see Mr. Hoover. He gives a vivid picture of the man in his book: the slim figure, the small hands and feet; the youthful clean-shaven face, not suggestive of a man of business---a sensitive face, marked by the look of fatigue which comes from overtaxing one's nervous force; and with dark eyes beneath the wide white brow, over which the black hair fell almost in disorder: a face that would have suggested rather an idealist, were it not for one predominant feature which told unmistakably of the man of will---the strong and massive jaw which caught one's attention immediately and which recalled M. Francqui's graphic gesture!
The work which Mr. Hoover now entered upon with a light heart soon assumed formidable proportions. Mr. Brand Whitlock reminds us of its scope. It was a matter of finding ten million dollars a month; of buying provisions in the most distant markets of the world---in the Argentine, in Canada, in the United States; of finding means of transport upon dangerous seas; of distributing these provisions among seven millions of men in a country in which the mechanism of life had broken down, in which the ordinary means of communication no longer existed: and all this had to be achieved in the midst of armies engaged in war! In times of peace, as Mr. Whitlock remarks, the task of creating such an organization would have been difficult enough. In the chaos produced by the War, in an atmosphere charged with suspicions, jealousies, hatreds, envies, all the passions let loose upon the world, it seemed almost impossible.
Mr. Hoover triumphed over all the difficulties. Far from allowing himself to be stopped in his work, he never ceased to extend it. To Belgium, with its seven million inhabitants, he added Northern France and Luxembourg. He himself has given an impressive résumé of the outcome of his efforts. The work had organized, he says, a perfect machine for distributing the provisions with equality, so that the poor, maintained in a normal condition physically, were able to offer a moral resistance to the enemy; it had furnished a rallying point for the local authorities; its delegates, in their capacity as eye-witnesses, had put a bridle upon the German officials and had prevented many a brutality.
Admittedly, this enormous work was not the work of Mr. Hoover alone. "The Committee for Relief in Belgium" counted no fewer than one hundred and fifty members in Belgium itself, one hundred in London, Rotterdam and New York, while there were five thousand local committees in America and elsewhere for the collection of funds. But Mr. Hoover was the life and soul of the whole work and it is thanks to his personal qualities that it was able to triumph over its obstacles.
There is a saying: to govern is to foresee. Mr. Hoover had a foreseeing mind. On the day when the first of his collaborators arrived in Brussels, some one asked him: "How long will the war last?"
"Mr. Hoover," came the reply, with a certain hesitation in the tones in which it was delivered, "Mr. Hoover is making his arrangements on the basis of three years."
Three years! That was Kitchener's estimate, too.
Mr. Hoover possessed also the talent, so rare among men of the highest order, of knowing how to find and recruit his helpers. To begin with, he placed his hand on forty young Americans at Oxford-Rhodes scholars; then he looked for the right people to manage his different services; and Mr. Brand Whitlock, who saw them close at hand, is never tired of praising the quality of his choice.
In this work Mr. Hoover exerted the great faculty which has made him an organizer of the highest order: a practical mind. Idealism and sensibility are, assuredly, not lacking in him. He has given numerous proofs of that. On the day when for the first time he inspected the distribution of soup in Brussels, his eyes were filled with tears and he had to turn aside to wipe them away. When he talked of the sufferings of the Belgians or of the inhabitants of northern France, it was always with profound sympathy and genuine understanding. Sunk in an armchair---so Mr. Brand Whitlock describes him---he would talk of their woes in his deep compassionate voice. But his mind would soon turn to practical means.
His great strength lay in knowing how far he could go in his demands and how far in his resistance. When the Germans wanted to subject his delegates in Belgium to a humiliating control, "he gave them a prompt and resolute 'No'; rather than consent, he preferred to see the work ended." The Germans did not insist! Mr. Hoover had divined what others were presently to learn: "the only tone which they understood was that which they themselves employed."
On another occasion, the Germans having again threatened to restrict the privileges of the American agents, Mr. Hoover sent an open cablegram ordering them to stop work and close their accounts. The Germans did not want to see the work stopped and to be obliged themselves---they who were short of everything---to feed ten million Belgians and Frenchmen of the occupied territories; so they gave in. Which moved M. Francqui to make the remark: "Hoover is the best diplomat of us all!" And yet Hoover was then in America three thousand miles away (at a time when communications were slow and difficult), out of touch with the situation and with no clue to the essential element---the atmosphere of the moment.
The strength of Mr. Hoover and of his colleagues just then lay in their disinterestedness. America was giving ten million dollars a month without any apparent motive except generosity. That is what the Germans found it most difficult to understand. They were unceasingly on the lookout for arrière-pensées, for hidden motives. They were continually asking: "What do you Americans get out of all this! Where is your profit?"
One day, Mr. Hoover, angered by this constantly recurring inquiry, looked the high official who had asked it straight in the face, his eyes blazing, and replied: "As it is impossible for you Germans to understand that one may do a thing from humanitarian motives and quite unselfishly, I shall not try to explain it."
The Belgians are deeply conscious of how much Hoover did for them. Immediately after the War, the Brussels municipality prepared a ceremony in his honor to express their gratitude to him. The school children, "who owed him their lives," were to file past him and Mayor Max had prepared a speech in which he said: "America has saved Belgium twice. For the American armies would only have freed a vast cemetery if they had not been preceded by the magnificent piece of work with which Mr. Hoover's name will always be associated."
Unfortunately, Hoover was prevented from coming by pressing duties elsewhere and the ceremony did not take place.
This work into which he had put all his heart and in which he had employed all his talents had drawn upon Mr. Hoover the gaze not only of Europe but also of his own country. Thus, when America entered into the War, President Wilson, who had a liking for "experts," intimated to Mr. Hoover that he wanted to make him Food Controller of the United States.
The task in question was gigantic and unattractive. The United States, which produces in superabundance, is not accustomed to practice economy. It had become necessary to teach economy to this American people, to induce them to practice self-restraint, and that, not in a purely national interest, not for a purpose perceptible and immediate, but in the interest of foreign and distant nations, in the interest of that entity---mythical entity for many Americans---Europe. Mr. Hoover now employed new qualities, notably a capacity for propaganda and for advertisement, which he exercized for the good of the world, and for which the European nations should be profoundly grateful to him. For it was in a great measure thanks to him that they were able to get through the terrible crises of submarine warfare.
Switzerland, in particular, owes him a great debt of gratitude, for it was thanks to Hoover that she was then able to obtain food supplies under relatively satisfactory conditions. I remember, when I was in America with some colleagues from the Swiss press, a lunch given in our honor at which the food controller presided. Hoover is a silent man and we did not hear his voice very often during the meal. But afterwards he made a speech in the President's name and his own, on the philanthropic work carried out by Switzerland at that time and on the American government's wish to assist the Swiss people to the utmost of their ability. His speech gave evidence of a deep appreciation, of a knowledge of the facts and of experience in European affairs.
We must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. Mr. Hoover was powerfully assisted then in the provisioning of Europe by the Inter-Allied organizations of London, which foreshadowed as it were the actual League of Nations. But these organizations, which were charged with the transportation and distribution of raw materials and provisions, would have had nothing to transport and distribute if Mr. Hoover at the source had not succeeded in intensifying production and in restricting the consumption of his own people.
"It is not Mr. Lloyd George," some one said just then in London, "who has won the War. It is Sir Arthur Salter." (2)
May it not be said with greater truth that it was Mr. Hoover?
When the War was concluded, Mr. Hoover entered upon a new phase. He had at first been called upon to feed Belgium and northern France, then the Allies and the neutrals. Now he was asked to feed the whole of Europe. The day the Germans appealed to President Wilson for an armistice, Hoover embarked from New York for Europe. The report was current that he was going to "feed the Germans." He denied vehemently this interpretation of his journey, for the questions which were about to be considered were of a general character. It was to be foreseen that at the moment when the frontiers were to be reopened, after four years of blockades and privations, profound disturbances must occur in the revictualing of the world. It was necessary to insure for the enemy countries the provisions which they needed; but it was necessary above all to protect the Allied and neutral countries against any improper competition. It was with this duty that Mr. Hoover was now charged; and in fulfilling successfully this new mission he rendered Europe a service which it would be difficult to exaggerate.
At this grave hour, a trifle might have sufficed to send certain countries over to Bolshevism. Mr. Hoover perceived this at once. He understood that if this rôle was not to show sentimentality towards the vanquished, elementary prudence demanded that he should save the victors from the contagion of revolution. For that, the surest means was to prevent famine in Germany and Austria. Mr. Hoover has often denied that he took any kind of anti-Bolshevik action---and it is true that his solicitude extended even to the Russians. But it is none the less true that, in provisioning the defeated countries, Mr. Hoover contributed powerfully towards the checking of the Bolshevist movements in Germany, Austria and Hungary. By feeding Europe he saved it from revolution.
It is said that Hoover has unpleasant memories of his work in Europe and that he bears a grudge against the old world for all the misery he found there. Europe, at any rate, has a pleasant memory of the man who helped her to remedy that misery.
On returning to his own country in 1920, Mr. Hoover became quite soon Secretary of Commerce. That is not a post which offers to a man of silent temperament and with a dislike of personal advertisement many chances of covering himself with glory. However, there are men who always are bigger than their posts. Mr. Hoover found in this new position means of applying to the administration of his own country the experiences which he had amassed during the War.
His intimate knowledge of world economy served him in his contest with the British rubber monopoly; habits of rapid improvization enabled him to go effectually to the aid of the Mississippi sufferers. But it is above all the measures taken during the War to promote production in the United States and to prevent waste that have led Mr. Hoover to understand the importance for industry of as rational and economic a production as possible. That is perhaps, the greatest benefit that America has reaped from the War.
The work accomplished by Mr. Hoover in Europe has not merely served his fame. It has not merely opened to him a statesman's career. It has above all qualified him to be useful to his country.
THE NAME OF GUSTAVE ADOR CALLS TO MIND A TOWN RATHER than a man.
The destiny of Geneva is unusual and arresting. There are few cities that so clearly suggest the idea of a divine mission, for during the last three hundred years the part Geneva has played in the affairs of the world has been consistently more important than Geneva itself.
Geneva was a small place when John Calvin happened to visit it in the course of a journey, at the end of August, 1536. Although he was then only twenty-seven years of age, he was already famous for his writings, and the Genevese reformer Farel begged him to settle there and preach. This event alone was sufficient to transform the little town of merchants into one of those cities that have had the greatest influence upon the development of the human mind.
From that moment, Geneva not only became the center of the reform of the French language but also the headquarters of the entire Calvinistic reform movement, coming into touch with France, Italy, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Hungary, Scotland, and later with the United States. For centuries this town was a sort of Christian Mecca towards which the eyes of the world were turned. It welcomed students of all nationalities and, in the midst of religious persecutions, offered shelter to countless unhappy exiles. When, after crossing the mountains surrounding Geneva, they caught a sudden glimpse of the cathedral towers outlined against the sky, many would burst into tears of joy and relief.
Centuries passed; the religious wars died down. Geneva became a little town again. Once more, at the will of fate or providence, it produced a man of genius, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the apostle of democracy and of equality among men. No one had so great an influence upon the eighteenth century; he was a spiritual father of the American War of Independence and of the French Revolution.
In 1798 Geneva was annexed by France; her freedom regained in 1814, she gave herself to Switzerland. Her world importance seemed to end with her independence. Suddenly, in 1864, Geneva rose again by her own efforts to the level of world importance when Henry Dunant founded the International Red Cross.
Henry Dunant had been present at the battle of Solferino; he had witnessed the sufferings of the wounded and seen the lack of medical aid. Any other man would have gone home and have forgotten his emotion, no ordinary person would ever have thought of getting into touch with the governments of the world, any other than he would have been appalled by so superhuman a task. Not so Henry Dunant. Urged by the practical idealism that is the characteristic trait of the Swiss, accustomed as a Genevese to look upon the world as his playground and, as a republican, to regard kings as his equals, he did not shrink from his duty. He approached every king and every state, and this man, unaided and at that time unknown, succeeded by his own efforts in bringing about the Geneva Convention for the care of wounded soldiers, the most generous international act of the whole nineteenth century, which may be regarded as the corner stone of what was one day to be the League of Nations.
Gustave Ador was the third president of the International Red Cross Committee, founded by Henry Dunant.
He came of a line of bankers, who knew how to make money in business but never forgot that their ancestors had fought and suffered for their faith and that spiritual riches are above material gain. The sons of bankers in Geneva are to be found all along the line, in the Church as pastors, at the University as professors, and in the State as leaders of men.
Gustave Ador held every public office in his town and in his country that was open to a man of his birth. He rose from rank to rank to the highest positions. His life was singularly happy; it flowed smoothly without encountering any serious difficulties or unsurmountable obstacles, almost without any troubles. But is not every great achievement a combination of talent and luck? Gustave Ador's ability lay in the fact that he was always ready for the good fortune that came his way and always equal to the tasks that were entrusted to him.
When he became president of the International Red Cross Committee in 1910, none could suppose that it would be called upon to fulfill a great destiny. Since it was founded it had had to intervene only in wars restricted to a few states, and there was nothing to foretell what it would be able to undertake in event of a general war.
The three factors necessary to enable the Red Cross to function to its fullest capacity during the War were Gustave Ador's personality, the atmosphere of Geneva, and Swiss neutrality.
Gustave Ador already had a great international reputation in 1914. He did not hesitate, at the beginning of the War, to exceed in the interests of humanity the strict limits of his authority and to go beyond the literal meaning of treaties. He did exactly as Henry Dunant had done. He, an ordinary citizen of a republican country, entered into negotiations with the governments of the world as their equal. He repeatedly denounced the violation of rights, the atrocities committed by the armies and the abuses to which civil populations were subject. He protested against the use of poison gas, the submarine blockade, the bombardment of hospitals, propaganda campaigns and reprisals, etc. He exerted his moral authority to the utmost and it grew as he used it.
But if the Red Cross had been content merely to protest, if its activity had been only negative and unproductive, the world would soon have become tired of it. Far from this, its great achievement was the Prisoners of War Agency, founded on August 27th, 1914, in the midst of universal confusion. Originally the one aim of the Red Cross was to help the wounded. But it soon became evident that in a long war the prisoners might be in still greater need. The Red Cross accordingly organized this agency in Geneva. Of modest beginnings, it grew as the need for it grew, employing as many as twelve hundred voluntary helpers, recruited from all classes of society. An average of thirty thousand letters were received daily, information was sent to countless prisoners' families, nearly two million parcels and eighteen million francs ($3,600,000) in small sums were forwarded to prisoners to enable them to provide themselves with a little comfort.
In order to understand what this work was and to appreciate the moral and material support it gave to thousands of human beings, one must have seen the people from all parts of the world who flocked to Geneva, torn with anxiety, to find out if a son, a fiancé, or a father were still alive and to seek news of him. Once more Geneva became a refuge, the only place in the world where people of certain nationalities could meet without killing each other. The great white flag with the red cross flying over the Prisoners of War Agency became a symbol of peace, and the radiant personality of Gustave Ador its very incarnation.
The Prisoners of War Agency did still more. It used its influence with the governments to obtain better treatment of the prisoners; it sent delegates to the camps of the various nations and pointed out to the various governments where reform was most urgently needed. It brought about the mutual repatriation of medical staff, then of the severely wounded, the sick, and the disabled. It arranged that thousands of sick prisoners should be interned in Switzerland, and supervised the evacuation of the civil population in the north of France and Belgium. After the War it organized the repatriation of all the prisoners.
This résumé can give only a vague idea of the material difficulties encountered and of the high human endeavor demanded by such a work. For years the hopes of thousands of individuals were concentrated upon Geneva, the Agency, and upon Gustave Ador, as representing, in the midst of all the slaughter, the only humane impulse, the only disinterested desire for peace. Such an organization entailed endless journeys, continual negotiations, and much study on the part of the leaders.
Two circumstances were essential to the success of this undertaking: the unanimous coöperation of the Genevese, and Swiss neutrality. The fact that the members of the International Red Cross Committee were exclusively Genevese has sometimes been criticized. This was the secret of its success; if it had been of a truly international character, it would have been during the War the scene of intrigue, competition, and dispute, and would have been unable to impose its moral authority upon the belligerents. It was on account of its recognized impartiality that it was able to exert an even greater influence on the warring nations than the highest moral authority in the world at that time, the Papacy.
But this very political impartiality would have been inconceivable without the permanent neutrality of Switzerland. For the last hundred years the Swiss Confederation has not taken part in any war, has not had any serious dispute with any country, nor desired any increase of territory. Her government has always endeavored, even in times of peace, to avoid favoring one of her neighbors to the detriment of another, and by this policy she has now earned a greater political and moral credit than that of any other country.
When in 1917, in consequence of a mistake on the part of one of her officials. her neutrality was temporarily threatened, it was Gustave Ador to whom the Swiss people appealed to assume power and to restore the glory and the reputation of Swiss neutrality. From having been sheltered by Swiss neutrality the International Red Cross Committee became its guarantor.
Swiss neutrality is not a negative idea. It represents an international undertaking whereby certain great powers have pledged themselves to keep peace. Switzerland declared permanent neutrality not in her own interests but in those of Europe. President Wilson recognized this when he said that the United States has something to learn from every nation but that few can teach them so much as the Swiss.
Neutrality demands loyalty but does not exclude courage. In 1917 the Swiss became impatient of the silence of their government and greatly appreciated certain statements made by Gustave Ador that recalled or were the forerunners of some of the most famous of President Wilson's speeches:
"Every one in Switzerland hopes for peace, but we must agree as to the nature of that peace. . . . In order to protect Europe from as terrible a disaster as that which we have witnessed for the past three years, in order that after this horrible war there may be in the world more true solidarity and a wider understanding of the aspirations of all peoples, we must hope for a peace that shall not be a mere temporary cessation of hostilities but a regenerating and lasting peace. But no peace can be lasting unless it is based upon the eternal principles of justice, of right and of liberty and upon respect for the freely expressed desires of the people. . . . ."
Thus, after having been the embodiment of international philanthropy, then of justice between nations, Gustave Ador found himself, in 1919, the President of Switzerland at the time when the Peace Conference decided to establish the headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva.
There were many reasons for this decision, but two of the most important cannot be overlooked: the confidence felt by all nations in Switzerland's political loyalty, and the great international past of Geneva. Swiss neutrality and the International Red Cross have become the very foundations of the League of Nations. For the Red Cross was the first great work of international coöperation from which all the later international organizations have sprung, and which prepared the moral and legal ground for the foundation of the League of Nations. Swiss neutrality was the first collective attempt to insure permanent peace in one particular part of the world. Traces of these two ideas can be seen very clearly in the League of Nations Covenant. And the man who better than any other represents both these ideas may well be called the forerunner of the League of Nations.
It is an impressive thought that the influence of this man upon the fate of the world, of one who had always remained outside high international politics, who had had neither navies nor armies at his disposal, should by reason of his sheer spiritual power and intuition have been greater than that of the greatest.
1. Echo de Paris, June 19th, 1928.
2. Now Director of the Economic Section of the League of Nations; then one of the officials of the Inter-Allied Shipping Executive.
Table of Contents