- Allied Nations
- The United States
- White Europeans
- Jews and Anti-Semitism
People from France’s colonies and those with different coloured skins were not the only ones viewed in racial terms. Both popular and scientific discourse ascribed national characteristics to white and European peoples on a racial basis. The French argued that the outrages committed by the Germans were the result of a cruelty and a warlike fanaticism inherent in their racial make-up, while vacillations in Russian policy were understood as the manifestations of Russian’s Slavic nature. Thus in his book about the English, John Charpentier argued that what distinguished them from the Germans was the Celtic influence on the Teutonic race: “l’Anglais est le produit d’une grette saxonne, entrée sur le tronc celte motile” Laird Boswell has argued that in both popular and scientific discourse, Alsace-Lorraine was described as having formed the borderline between the Celts and Germanic peoples. The racial differences between Alsatians and Germans were widely commented upon. The war, and France’s historical conflict with Germany was often portrayed as a racial struggle, such as when the Lyon branch of the Ligue populaire des pères et mères de familles nombreuses argued in its periodical that victory, however crushing, could not kill the “German hydra”, only the repopulation of France could effectively combat “the accursed German race.”
The Germans were the nationality who received the most scrutiny during the war in the French press and in popular imagery and they were almost universally condemned en masse in racial terms. An article in L’Ouest-Éclair offers a good illustration of this, when it argued that “[la] race allemande s’acharne sur les hôpitaux, par le canon et par avion.” This is significant partly for the implication that the atrocious act of attacking hospitals is acceptable to the German race. More important is the assumption that the German race can be seen as a monolithic bloc, with responsibility for the outrage shared by every member of that race, not simply the military that ordered and carried out the attacks. This assumption reappeared consistently throughout the war. Writing under the name ADV, a journalist for the Petit Marseillais summed up the general argument made in that paper, that the Germans had the rulers they deserved.
S’il est vrai que les peuples n’ont que les gouvernments qu’ils méritent, le peuple allemand a parfaitement les chefs qui lui conviennent, et ceux-ci sont imprégnés aujourd’hui jusque dans leur moelle de ce militarisme prussien qu’il eut écraser à tout prix. […] Tous, aujourd’hui, on à un même degré […] le mépris et la jalousie du Français, la haine de l’Anglais, dont ils envient la rang dans le monde et l’inquiétude que leur cause le voisinage du colosse russe, toujours prêt à refréner leurs excès.
The article went on to suggest that the German army was the “synthèse de l’orgueil, de la fourberie, de la bestialité germaniques”.
The other nations that participated in the war may not have received the invective that the French directed against the Germans, but they were similarly assessed in racial terms. Whether these nations allied with the French, opposed them or stayed neutral clearly influenced whether their positive or negative racial characteristics were stressed; but in each case, analyses of their actions were based on received ideas from before the war. As with colonial workers and soldiers, so the wartime actions of white foreigners were understood within a framework of traditional thinking. However, there was no equivalent to the broad similarities that characterised French views over non-European peoples, of their inferiority, their irrationality, their potential for violence and their unsophistication. While discussions over individual non-white peoples could be considered as part of a larger discourse on non-whites more generally, there was no such universalising concepts for white foreigners. Furthermore, when discussing white peoples, there was a much greater role allotted to how historical, social and cultural factors could have affected the character of the people, in addition to their racial make-up. Given sufficient time it was possible for different white races to integrate as a nation, though this might take many years; L’Ouest-Éclair compared building a nation to building a medieval cathedral in terms of the time it took. By contrast, a comparable integration of non-white peoples into a white society was seen as unrealistic.
One example of how national characteristics could be seen as dependent on historic factors as well as race was the United States, where the recent and extensive intermingling of nations and ethnicities complicated the picture. As was discussed in the last chapter, French observers tended to be suspicious of the feasibility of a nation successfully assimilating such a mix of races, each with their own innate characteristics. Various traits consistently applied to Americans included energy, idealism, industriousness and flair for business, but as these qualities arose from the national culture of the United States they could also be seen as co-existing with attributes based upon ethnicity. Thus, German-Americans received praise, in certain contexts, for having thrown off their warlike, Teutonic history and embraced the virtues of the United States. At other times, they could be regarded with suspicion as forever imbued with immutable racial characteristics. Again, the adaptability of French discourse helped them to maintain traditional judgements throughout the war. Significantly however, while the various white races of the United States were seen as being capable of having a shared national identity, non-white Americans were usually seen as separate from this shared nature.
John Horne and Alan Kramer argue that, from 1870 onwards, French intellectuals had viewed Germany in a dualistic manner. The positive aspects of Germany varied according to political perspective, but this was consistently balanced with the negative aspect of the militarist expansionism associated with Prussia. For Horne and Kramer these theories allowed an easy explanation of Germany’s actions in 1914, as a “triumph of the negative over the positive Germany.” This dualism was expressed occasionally during the war itself. Gabriel Seailles wrote in the Dépêche that “the defeat of the Hohenzollerns will be the victory of the old Germany, the liberal Germany of Goethe, of Schiller, of Kant, of Humboldt, who they have vanquished and enslaved.” However, this was a rare expression of positive German potential, during the war at least. L. Faber in the Petit Marseillais also made a division between some of the great figures of Germany’s past and its miserable present, but there was no sense of a noble Germany struggling under Hohenzollern tyranny.
Si Gœthe était de ce monde, il vous vomirait. D’autres vous ont vomis qui vous donnent de votre kulture un incommensurable orgueil. Votre illustre Wieland a dit que c’était un malheur d’être né Allemand. Et n’oubliez pas la parole écrite de Schopenhauer: “En prévision de ma mort, je confesse que je méprise la nation allemande à cause de sa bêtise infinie et que je rougis de lui appartenir.”
More common were accusations that the Germans were an uncivilized race, doomed to be barbaric and savage. Not even those who had been subject to a civilizing French influence were salvageable. These ideas had a long history. A columnist in La Petite Gironde, on the subject of Germans naturalised as French, could quote Victor Hugo approvingly “Ce sont des immigrés indésirables qui ne pourront jamais dépouiller leur origine. C’est l’espion d’hier, d’aujourd’hui, de demain, de toujours.” Gustave Téry published a book containing a plethora of articles from 1908-1914 declaiming the presence of foreigners, particularly Germans in France and their malign influence. He had written 6 years before the war
Regardez ici, regardez là: de quelque côté que vous tourniez les yeux, vous apercevrez des Allemands installés chez nous, qui nous exploitent ou nous espionnent, et, sournoisement ou cyniquement, préparent la conquête de notre pays qu’ils prétendent achever demain par les armes.
The need for eternal vigilance against the German menace was down to their innate character. The Moniteur du Puy-de-Dôme took a similar line, arguing that no amount of naturalisation could alter a German’s essential nature. Paul Gaultier’s book on the German mentality sought to explain why the French must not be fooled again as to the true nature of Germans, whatever veneer of civilisation they might display.
Sur la foi de Mme de Staël, de Taine et de Renan, nous avons longtemps pris les Allemands pour des êtres placides, doux et honnêtes, sentimentaux et rêveurs. La guerre de 1870 avait à peine effleuré nos illusions. Nous tenions, en tout cas, ce peuple pour civilisé. Il était arrivé à un haut degré de science, de littérature, d’industrie, d’agriculture, de commerce. Il a eu de grands hommes, il en a encore dans toutes les branches de l’activité humaine. […] Eh bien! les premiers actes de ses armées en débouchant sur la terre étrangère furent des actes d’horreur, des crimes sans nom et, ce qui dépasse tout, des crimes systématiques, des crimes commandés. Des crimes enseignés.
Just as de Morgan had cautioned against being taken in by the superficial trappings of civilisation in the Ottoman Empire, Gaultier’s argument suggests that the French should not be fooled by the achievements of German civilisation.
For Dr. Bérillon, who wrote a book just after the war on the inherent and unchanging nature of the races of the world, these outrages were inevitable as the “noble préoccupation d’épargner et de protéger les gens désarmés,” was a Latin characteristic, utterly alien to the German mentality. Gaultier took a slightly different line, arguing that although there was always the potential for barbarism within Germany, it did not always rise to the surface, and had only recently reappeared.
L’Allemand d’autrefois, je veux dire celui du XVIIIe siècle et de la première moitié du XIXe- n’était pas moins honnêtes et loyal. La simplicité de ses mœurs, que Mme de Staël se plaisait à célébrer, était, avec la modération de ses désirs, la garantie de sa probité, de sa franchise, de sa patience, toutes qualités qui le firent longtemps rechercher comme le modèle des employés.
Mais ceci, hélas! est de l’histoire ancienne. Bien avant la guerre, poésie et conscience avaient à peu près disparus de la Nouvelle Allemagne, […] Pressés de jouir et, pour louer, de gagner de l’argent, ils ont abandonné la vie tranquille pour la fièvre des affaires et, avec elle, les vertus un peu vieillottes sus lesquelles la barbarie ancestrale des Germains demeurait endormies.
For Gaultier then it was the modernisation of Germany that, paradoxically, had aroused the ancestral barbarism of Germany. Gaultier specifically criticises the “fièvre des affaires”, an attack characteristic of both Catholic and left wing censure of Germany.
In his history of the war, Victor Giraud similarly criticised German economic modernisation in an attack that neatly combined Germany’s scientific advances and its moral decline in a deeply conservative argument. For him, science had transformed the material conditions of life that had remained largely unchanged from prehistoric times to the nineteenth century. Yet morality had not changed with it, indeed if anything it had slightly regressed. Hence, there was a rupture in the equilibrium of humanity.
Si cette rupture s’accentuait encore, l’humanité, enlisée dans les soi-disant progrès matériels, finirait par oublier qu’elle a une âme, et, sous prétexte d’industrialisme et d’impérialisme, les peuples retournement infailliblement à la barbarie primitive, barbarie d’autant plus barbare qu’elle est plus savante, d’autant plus meurtrière qu’elle est plus raffinée.
Germany, naturally, was the obvious example of this.
Ivre de science positive, de machinisme et de puissance matérielle, l’Allemagne, pervertie par la Prusse, a voulu soumettre l’univers à son joug de fer; elle a dépouillé tout scruple, abdiqué toute préoccupation d’ordre moral, méconnu tout droit; pour satisfaire ses instincts de proie, elle s’est ruée tout entière au pillage, elle a versé des flots de sang, elle s’est retrouvé l’héritière des anciens Barbares, adorateurs des vieux dieux païens; elle s’est déchristianisée, elle s’est déshumanisée: cela volontairement, et d’un common accord.
This Catholic critique of Germany for having lost its soul in pursuit of material gains is one that was not shared across the French political spectrum. For secular conservatives in France, while they might deplore many things about their powerful neighbour to the east, they admired the way that its economy ran. The forgemaster and advocate of industrial modernisation Camille Cavallier argued that
En Allemagne, où le travail est honoré, où l’argent est apprécié ouvertement, sans fausse honte, où la natalité est infiniment plus grande qu’en France, l’Industrie et le Commerce trouvent facilement les sujets dont ils ont besoin.
In a report made to the Lyon Chamber of Commerce in February 1916, the Vice-President, Morel, noted that they were aware of the foresight of the Germans, their methodicalness, their ruthlessness at business and, he had to admit, their more intense working practices. Also in 1916, the Chamber of Commerce in Clermont-Ferrand noted that the Germans had understood, much better than the French had, the commercial potential of the thermal industry, and that the industry was well managed and well regulated. France Libre argued that before the war, France hadn’t been able to compete with the industrial development of Germany and that in the Sarre after the armistice the productivity of workers had immediately tripled, due to better methods of working. One thing that distinguishes the French condemnation of the German “barbarians” from their views of non-white “savages” is that the latter were never put forward as possessing customs or practices that the French could learn from.
Despite this, the French did do their best to explain away the technical and technological advancement of the Germans. Instead of having real ability for abstract and original thought, the attribute that set the truly advanced peoples apart, they were just expert at imitation and of exploiting their intellectual resources to the full. According to La Dépêche “Les ressources du génie français sont incontestablement supérieures à celles du génie allemand. Par malheur, les ressources du génie français ne sont pas aussi méthodiquement exploitées que celles du génie allemand.” Another of its writers, Dr Toulouse, made the same point two years later, as did the Petit Marseillais. The Ouest-Éclair characterised the German attempts to replicate the tank as indicative of a “[r]ace d’imitateurs, sot bétail”.
Paul-Louis Hervier’s pen portraits of prominent Germans took a similar line. He argued of Admiral von Tirpitz that he had an extraordinary capacity for organisation and imitation, but had nothing innovative to offer. “Il n’a rien créé de nouveau, il a servilement copié la marine anglaise. Alfred von Tirpitz est donc pirate deux fois.” Likewise, the prosperity of Krupp had supposedly been achieved by copying foreign inventions. According to Giraud, the Kaiser had an intelligence “vive et rapide, mais superficielle et peu originale,” while German generals lacked military genius, but were totally in command of the science of modern warfare. Even in the months before the war, Hugues le Roux dismissed the intellectual development of the Germans.
les Allemands fondent plus que tout autre peuple dans le creuset où les races se mêlent […] Ce que les Allemands ne peuvent changer du jour au lendemain, c’est leur substance même, leur peasanteur physique et intellectuelle, leur lenteur de conception.
Le Roux did add: “Nous connaissons leur qualités, qui sont hautes,” but only as a precursor to listing all the ways in which they were inferior to other nations.
If the French were not united in their condemnation of German business, they were much more unanimous in decrying the role of Prussia in Germany’s descent into the moral abyss. Giraud mentions the influence of Prussia directly in his anti-modernist diatribe quoted earlier, while by arguing that Germany lost its way after the mid-Nineteenth Century, Gaultier is also siting that decline at a time when Prussian influence became dominant. Gaultier also made this argument explicitly.
La Prusse a, d’après moi, non seulement ‘prussifié’ l’Allemagne conformément à un dessin préconçu, mais aussi à la manière d’un ferment qui transforme un milieu approprié. Elle l’a ‘prussifié’ en faisant ressurgir, volontairement mais aussi par exemple, par les promesses échangées et par une étonnante prospérité matérielle, l’ancien barbare teuton qui dormait, sous le couvert de la civilisation, au cœur de l’Allemand moderne.
It was not just money and Prussia that had corrupted Germany. Their sexual morality was also considered suspect.
The French had associated homosexuality with the Germans for years as well as the appearance, in 1896, of a book that was entitled Les Invertis (le vice allemand), and the Eulenburg trials of 1907 helped encourage this belief. Once the war began, books such as Les Invertis were used to popularise the idea of sexual perversity amongst Germans. Gaultier described one of the ways in which German decadence was occurring as “à côté de la prostitution avouée, faut-il citer le prostitution clandestine et la prostitution contre nature, qui fait de tels ravages outre-Rhin”. Modernisation had also ensured that normal gender relations were disturbed in other ways: “le Hausfrau se mourait, tuée par le féminisme et quelques autres nouveautés. Les femmes, s’ennuyant de rester à la maison, trouvaient tout naturel de passer le soirée dans les endroits publics.” Gaultier linked deviant German sexual practices with their wartime conduct by noting “l’indéniable penchant au sadisme qui est l’un des traits dominants du vice allemand.” In General Puypéroux’s account of his regiment during the war, he described how the Germans were forced to retreat after the battle of the Marne, leaving behind huge quantities of obscene photographs. Similar material was found with their prisoners. “Eh! disent nos braves gens, c’est cela la fameuse “kultur”! C’est cela l’Allemagne chaste, pudibonde, la nation élue de Dieu!!” Here Puypéroux’s indignation seems to be as much about the pretensions of the Germans to being a standard bearer for humanity as their immorality.
There were also attempts to demonise Germans not just as barbaric humans, but also as literally monstrous, with an appearance and characteristics that were abnormal. They tended to be portrayed either as decadent Prussian officers or obese and grotesque Bavarian peasants. In both instances, an element of racial degeneration appears to underpin the picture.
Their assumed rank odour and prodigious appetites were the subject of a scientific study by Dr. Bérillon during the war and his argument was summed up by Paul Ginisty in the Petit Marseillais.
L’abjecte goinfrerie, l’odeur fétide des Allemands, leur goût déterminé pour l’ordure sont tellement caractéristiques que les hommes de science ont étudié ce plaisir trouvé dans l’ignoble comme un phénomène.
In his post-war book, Bérillon maintained a similar line, talking of “de bromidrose fétide de la race allemande, l’odeur nauséabonde sui-generis qui s’impose si péniblement à l’olfaction quand on se trouve en contact avec des Allemands.” Norton Cru noted that an unpleasant smell amongst the Germans was “d’un phénomène mentionnée par presque tous les écrivains du front et attribué par quelques-uns, les fanatiques, à la nature bestiale de l’Allemand.” Cru himself favoured the explanation offered in the journal of Abbé Bessières, which he described as the only scientific attempt to explain the phenomenon. “Une insupportable odeur de suint, de suif, me saisit à la gorge, l’odeur caractéristique du blessé allemand, due à l’imperméabilité des habits, qui ne permet pas l’évaporation de la sueur.”
It must be questioned whether the virulence of anti-German rhetoric espoused in the home front was shared by the troops. Jewish brancardier André Kahn’s war journal displayed very different attitudes towards Germans in the abstract compared to those he encountered personally. In captivity on the 27th of August, 1914 he said
A frôler chaque jour des Allemands, je commence à ouvrir les yeux et à comprendre qu’ils sont des hommes tout comme nous. […] La première question est: ‘Vous avez marié? Vous avez des enfants?’ et leur conclusion unanime: ‘la guerre est un fléau! Vite la paix.’ Sages paroles!
However, once he got back on the front line the hostility returned and on the 10th of September he lambasted:
Ces cochons d’Allemands ont profité des quelques heures de répit que nous leur accordions pour enterrer les morts pour bombarder une ville libre! Les salauds! Ils méritent qu’on les extermine jusqu’au dernier.
A month later on October 16th he was similarly critical of despicable behaviour from the Germans: “Ces cochons ont, dans bien des endroits, fait leur besoins sur le visage et sur la poitrine des morts français. Quels sauvages!” Yet his hostility seemed to be attenuated when he encountered a German prisoner in January 1915 who “reste convaincu que l’Allemagne et la France arriveront à s’entendre et, peut-être un jour, à s’allier. Il nous fait beacoup d’honneur.” Only two days later though, he was again bemoaning that: “Oh! La sauvage obstination des Boches à anéantir les innocents!” Ultimately however, Kahn shared the view of the German prisoner, that Germany and France were not doomed to eternal enmity and believed that the war would result in the fall of the Hohenzollerns and a pacific republican Germany.
Kahn’s lack of hostility towards German prisoners was not unique. Kamara, a volunteer from Guinea, noted with surprise and indignation that the French would “chat and joke and play with their enemies” after capturing them. Raymond Franco’s war journal made several references to “ces maudits Boches” but otherwise displayed little vitriol towards the enemy. There may even have been those who retained positive views of Germany similar to those expressed in 1921 by Marshal Lyautey in conversation with the ambassador, Fernet.
Je regrette de ne pas porter l’uniforme allemand. C’est aujourd’hui le seul peuple qui ait le sens de l’avenir, le goût de l’ordre, le consentement à la hierarchie, le sens monarchique, l’instinct de conservation. C’est sans doute un grand mal que nous avons gagné la guerre. Les Anglais sont des salauds, les Italiens des cuistres. Nous n’avions qu’une chance de nous entendre, de faire un bloc européen contre les infiltrations judéo-bolcheviques, c’était l’Allemagne. Je ne dis pas ça à tout le monde, je regrette de ne pas être un maréchal allemand.
In fact, outward manifestations of extreme anti-Germanism were more common at the rear than at the front. During mobilisation violence was directed against Germans and Austrian inhabitants of France and shops owned or believed to be owned by people from those countries. One German caught up in it claimed “Les Français étaient comme fous; ils considéraient tout Allemand comme un espion.”
The foreigners who would have been expected to be the most loathed were the German prisoners of war, who were employed at the rear. There is little doubt that these men were not well regarded. However, by contrast to the mixed response to the possible usage of foreign labour from other countries, they were the objects of incessant demand. In general, the first preoccupation of almost everyone concerned with the workforce was the possibility of utilising underemployed soldiers, or those on leave. If this proved impossible, then prisoners of war were considered to be the next best option, sometimes simply because they were a convenient source of labour. A report by the departmental sub-committee for economic action in the Haute-Vienne commented that prisoners were “très utilement” employed in the department. A member of the commission, Viardot, commented that prisoners were required in the Port de l’Aurence factory as the work required very robust workers and all capable French had been mobilised.
The major reason for preferring to employ Germans rather than any other alternative appears to be that the discipline that employers were able to enforce over the prisoners of war. Describing the situation in Anjou, the comte d’Andigné explained that German prisoners were acceptable as they were kept under surveillance “tandis que les agriculteurs tunisiens devraient être surveillés par nos fermiers qui s’en défient un peu.” In 1917, an industrialist in Lyon told Swiss authorities that he didn’t want to see mutual repatriation of prisoners of war, because he employed 200 German prisoners and those who would replace them, whether Annamites or repatriated Frenchmen, were less “aptes au travail.” A report by the executive delegation of the port commission claimed that the officers in charge of disembarkation believed that German workers were better:
Avec les allemands, travail égal sans qu’il soit rapide, aucune perte de temps dans la relève des équipes de cale (qui se relèvent toutes les 2 heures); aucune querelle. Avec les dockers, travail inégal, le plus souvent lent, arrêts causés par les querelles fréquentes surtout l’après-midi, impossible d’obtenir qu’une équipe de cale ne quitte son travail qu’après la descente de l’équipe de relève.
The Ministry of Agriculture wrote to the port authorities at Bordeaux suggesting that the contingent of German prisoners employed on the docks could be exchanged with Senegalese workers, because the agricultural productivity of prisoners of war was excellent. Those in charge at Bordeaux rejected the idea as “l’expérience de la main d’œuvre exotique pour nos propres opérations (chinois et africains) et pour celles des bases américaines (nègres) montre sans contest que sa valeur est loin d’atteindre même celle des P.G.”1
The popularity of prisoners of war as workers was such that there was great competetion to acquire their services. The Comité Consultatif d’action économique for the Rennes region in January 1916 saw the employment of prisoners of war as essential for forestry work, and complained vehemently at not being granted any extra German labour. In the committee for the Nantes region, a M. de Guebriant claimed that the Midi was getting more than their fair share of prisoners and that they should be redistributed towards the Finistère and the Vendée.
There were some cases where hostility towards Germans hindered the usage of prisoners. The Deux-Sevres committee of economic action recommended utilising German prisoners, despite some misgivings.
Certes la répugnance que nous éprouvons à employer ces prisonniers ennemis, à les recevoir chez nous, à les asseoir à notre table, est bien naturelle et respectable. Il se peut que ce soit le meurtrier du père ou du fils regretté qu’on reçoive ainsi. Mais nous sommes en guerre, et c’est encore faire la guerre d’employer nos ennemis à réparer les maux qu’ils causent.
In the Indre-et-Loire a committee reported that it had been difficult to utilise German prisoners because of the “hostilité des cultivatrices”. However, this hostility diminished when it was seen how useful they could be. In both these instances the reluctance to utilise Germans is based upon their status as enemies, rather than due to doubts over their utility.
Dockers in Le Havre did complain that they had been made unemployed by excessive use of prisoners of war. Their complaints were dismissed in the authorities’ report on the issue, which argued that the number of unemployed was very small, and that as the port was constantly short of workers they had to be considered as voluntarily unemployed. Instead, there were a huge number of demands for more German captives to be allocated.
There was even the odd example of international working class fraternisation. On the subject of German prisoners working in French mines, a miner called Lebrun claimed “Nos patrons sont plus Boche que les Boches. Et puis les Boches sont des ouvriers comme nous et nos patrons pourraient bien voir un jour Boches et Français se dresser contre eux et remonter au jour en chantant ensemble l’internationale”. There are few recorded examples of this though.
The employment of prisoners didn’t imply positive feelings towards the prisoners, when they were unemployed the Courrier du Centre reported that public opinion couldn’t understand why German prisoners grew fat in laziness while French prisoners were forced to work. Their utilisation was very much an expedient born out of necessity and the willingness to use German labour did not continue after the war. When the newly created Weimar Republic offered the use of German workers to help rebuild the war torn areas in the North East of France, the French government turned them down. Chanvin, the national secretary of the builders’ federation, summed up their objections:
Les camarades allemands ne comprennent-ils donc pas qu’il est impossible pour le moment, en raison des ressentiments manifestés par la population dés départements qui ont été martyrisés par la guerre, de faire travailler des ouvriers allemands et français les uns à côté des autres?
On occasions, it proved useful to laud certain people of German extraction, which may have led to some nuancing of a universally negative view. For instance, it was noted in an article on French successes in Morocco that the German legionnaires had not deserted despite the promptings of the German army, implying that even Germans could be tamed by French leadership. Americans of German origin, while usually considered suspect, were also sometimes described as being right thinking.
Les Américains d’origine allemande, arborent ces maximes ‘Nés en Allemagne, mais faits en Amérique, nous ne connaissons qu’une patrie, la patrie américaine. Nous voulons terminer ce que nos ancêtres commencèrent en 1848: nous souhaitons la victoire des Alliés avec la libération Allemande. […]
Les Américains d’origine allemande donnèrent ainsi à l’ennemi qui osa les revendiquer comme siens, un écrasant démenti.
Ferri-Pisani commented that German-Americans were prominent amongst workers making arms for sale to the allies, resistant to propaganda suggesting they down tools. It was also reported that German-Americans in the US army had unleashed a torrent of abuse at some German prisoners. One of the insults used focused on their “participation à côté des Prussiens au combat qui se livre contre toutes les peuples honnêtes du monde”.2
The rhetorical device of separating the Prussians, who were beyond redemption, and other parts of Germany which were not necessarily as intrinsically barbarous, was used by Pierre Mille to justify a rejection of American offers to mediate between the warring powers, on the grounds that the Allies sought the elimination of Prussian hegemony in Germany and this couldn’t be achieved by mediation. Gabriel Séailles made a similar argument against a negotiated peace in 1918 saying that such a peace would be a victory for Prussian militarism, proving her invincible force. It would be enough to “strangle in the German people all spirit of revolt, to justify their pride and their confidence in their masters.” The historical consistency of this idea can be illustrated by the argument of Brossolette in his history of the war: “La Prusse […] n’était pas un peuple, mais une armée. Ses hobereaux, derniers débris de la féodalité européenne, sont des officiers nés. Son roi était avant tout un chef de guerre. […] Elle a, depuis 1870 surtout, façonné l’Allemagne à son image”. Here Brossolette was echoing Mirabeau who had argued “La Prusse, ce n’est pas un peuple qui a une armée; c’est une armée qui a un peuple.” The continuing popularity of Mirabeau’s view is also illustrated by the same quote being used by the Petit Marseillais in January 1914, before the outbreak of hostilities. A postcard from 1917 also quoted Mirabeau along similar lines: “La Guerre est l’industrie nationale de la Prusse”.
The theory of a malign Prussian influence became more common after the war, with the occupation of the Rhineland. Edouard Clunet, musing on marriages between French soldiers and German women in the occupied Rhineland argued that “En ce moment, la Rhénanie est l’objet des prévenances françaises; elle ne les dédaigne pas. Cette province qui n’a été prussienne que par accident, est demeurée fortement imprégnée de culture celtique. Sa conquête, non par le force, mais par le sourire, n’est pas irréalisable.” Barrès and others also argued for the separation of the Rhineland from the rest of Germany due to the population’s Celtic origin, Catholic faith and Latin culture. Gabriel Hanotaux argued on 11 November, 1918 that “The populations west of the Rhine, more Celtic than Germanic, must be freed from Prussian tyranny.” Plenty of others disagreed though and this subtle distinction was not much used in wartime, with the Petit Marseillais dismissing the idea that France might regain the left bank of the Rhine. “Nous ne chercherons pas à les annexer de nouveau. Que ferions-nous de populations gangrenées par un siècle de kultur moderne?”
Although the Prussians were consistently more demonised than the average German, it was more common to argue, like Gaultier, that the rest of Germany had been willingly led by Prussia.
Que ce vertige d’orgueil et de rapacité qui emporte l’Allemagne et donne à la guerre qu’elle nous fait son particulier cachet d’horreur et de férocité soit dû à l’influence de la Prusse, la chose est indéniable. Il ne faudrait pas, néanmoins, s’imaginer que la réunion des États allemands au royaume de Prusse fasses simplement figure de mariage force. Il y eut, ce me semble, quelque inclination dans leur cas.
Other writers went further, arguing that it was false to suggest that any Germanic people could have positive characteristics. Dominque Durandy wrote how Bavaria had attracted much admiration in France in peacetime, whilst the French were repelled by the Prussian provinces “de crainte de heurter trop de moustaches hérissées”. The bonhomie of the Bavarians, their sunny outlook on life, their affable manner and their great capacity for gastronomic consumption were all praised by those returning to France. However, the war had shown this picture of the “bons” Bavarois to be false. “Nous le voyons, maintenant, en pleine lumière. Ils sont Allemands jusqu’au bout des ongles, ces engloutisseurs de bière ces idolatres de Parsifal.” Nonetheless the possible separation of German and Prussian mentalities was available as a tool when required, affirming again the flexibility of assumed nationalistic characteristics in French racial rhetoric.
While almost all commentators were agreed that the German people were currently entirely reduced to a state of barbaric savagery and loathing of the French, there was some debate as to whether this was the eternal condition of Germany, or whether it was the malign influence of the Prussians, the Hohenzollerns or Pangermanism. For conservatives like Giraud there was a simple answer
Et nous disons bien: l’Allemagne; nous ne disons pas: l’Empereur allemand, ni même le parti pangermanistes. […] L’Allemagne pensante, l’Allemagne laborieuse, l’Allemagne religieuse, aussi bien que l’Allemagne industrielle, commerciale, politique, financière ou militaire, […] toute l’Allemagne, en un mot a voulu la guerre. […] Cette unanimité de la volonté allemande s’explique à son tour par des raisons ethniques et historiques.
The Hohenzollern dynasty had shown throughout history that they were unscrupulous and warlike, with the single aim of increasing the standing of their house. However, Giraud didn’t believe that they could have created the monstrous dream of world domination except in a people “dans lequel l’infatuation du succès, l’orgueil endémique, le brutalité innée, la soif des jouissances matérielles ont aboli tout esprit de finesse, et surtout, tout sentiment d’humanité et toute préoccupation morale.” Octave Aubert made a similar argument in L’Ouest-Éclair. It was not sufficient simply to change the leadership in Germany. “Au demeurant, il ne peut dépendre au souverain de changer l’âme de son peuple; c’est lui qui s’adapte à la mentalité de ceux qu’il guide.” He went on to argue that “tous les Allemands voulaient la grande guerre de liquidation, tous nous jalousaient, tous nous détestaient […] Les assassins n’ont pas obéi seulement à des ordres, mais à leur instinct, à leur haine, à leur férocité.”
Pangermanism was also regularly singled out for blame. Octave Uzanne argued that the Germans were under the spell of Pangermanism, which had been growing in influence since the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, he did not neglect to mention they were descendants of the “Cimbres” and the Teutons. The other historical inheritance the Germans were held to be subject to was the Huns. “Que les Allemands aient une mentalité de barbares et que leur kultur ressemble à celle des Huns, que le Kaiser rappelle Attila, nul ne le conteste plus depuis longtemps.” For Gaultier, pangermanism was a religion, which explained the “incendies d’églises, des bombardements de cathédrales, des assassinates d’ecclésiastiques et des tortures infligées à des prêtres, des viols de religieuses et des sacrilèges de toutes catégories” committed by the Germans during the war. The activities of the troops of the Habsburg empire were usually ignored in the French press, but when they were alleged to have committed atrocities, then they too could be put under the banner of “Barbarie Teutonne”.
If the influences of pangermanism, Prussia and the Hohenzollerns had all led to a decline in the moral state of the German population, the general current of opinion towards Germany suggested that they were only the modern manifestation of an eternal desire to vanquish the French. Karl Marx’s internationalism, according to Mauclair’s critique in La Dépêche, was “la prépondérance du travailleur allemand sur tous les autres, une conquête économique parallèle à la conquête militaire.” Marxism was the sociological form of armed pangermanism. “Il a été, dans toute la force du terme, un Allemand, c’est-à-dire un concentrateur d’exécration séculaire contre notre race.” Haraucourt in the same newspaper claimed that even defeat in the war had not extinguished this eternal ambition.
Tout comme au temps de Jules César, la caractéristique de l’âme allemande est double, brutalité et perfidie. Aussi longtemps que l’Allemagne a pu croire au succès, elle fut unanime à vouloir nous anéantir; aujourd’hui, même dans la discorde et malgré la guerre civile, l’Allemagne vaincue reste unanime à vouloir nous rouler.
Both Gaultier and Bérillon made repeated reference to the heinous conduct of the Germanic tribes that had plunged Europe into the dark ages. For them such behaviour was an inescapable part of the German mentality. “Il convient, en effet, de ne pas oublier tout ce que l’antique Teuton, ancêtre de nos modernes ennemis, représente d’orgueil féroces.” Gaultier ultimately concluded “Il (Germany) est barbare et il est, au fond de lui, naturellement cruel.” Moreover
Il n’est pas un seul Allemand qui ne soit convaincu, de nos jours, qu’entre lui et le reste du genre humain existe le même abîme qu’entre le surhomme que Nietzsche appelait de ses vœux et l’homme vulgaire.
An article in the Petit Marseillais quoted Lord Broughton on the cruelty displayed by Blücher’s officers in 1815, as proof that “cruauté, esprit du mal, absence de tout sentiment de générosité sont dans la nature même du Prussien.”
La Dépêche believed that “Dans l’Europe de demain, il restera, planant sur nous, une haine et une menace qui durent depuis la mort de Charlemagne, et qui n’abdiqueront point;” As Emile Bergerat summed it up, “La question boche n’est pas une question sociale, c’est un problème ethnique […] L’Allemand d’hier est celui de demain.”
The idea that the German willingness to war could only be ascribed to an unconscious, innate desire to crush the French on the way to world domination was nearly universal. Brossolette in seeking to explain the German desire for war as an attempt to gain extra land and resources, in order to enrich themselves, was an almost unique attempt to offer a rational explanation. Instead, arguments were made such as the theory of Jacques Rivière and Pierre Mille that “L’Allemand n’a d’abord ni desirs ni rêves, ni amour ni haine, ni plaisir ni dégoût, ni passions d’aucune sorte. Au point de vue de la sensibilité, il est nul.” Furthermore
L’Allemand distingue difficilement entre les catégories du beau et du laid, du bien et du mal, du vrai et de faux. Il sait qu’elles existent, mais il ne les sent pas. Et alors il est porté à ne les connaître que sous la catégorie du ‘possible’. Ce qui est possible est bien, ce qui est impossible est mal.”
When asked to describe the contribution of black troops to France during the First World War, Colonel Edouard Réquin used as an example a cartoon that had appeared in ‘L’Illustration’ representing a Senegalese soldier guarding some German prisoners. The soldier said with a smile to a visitor who approached to see the prisoners: “I suppose you have come to see the savages, is it not so?”3 A variation on this theme was a story in the Petit Marseillais which was entitled “Pioupiou français et Officier allemand”. It told of a small soldier who was guarding some highly ranked German officers. He said to one of them “Tu sais, mon vieux, à Berlin, tu peux faire ce que tu veux; mais, ici, c’est moi le maître, et je te défends de mettre les pieds sur la banquette.” Just as the Germans are diminished by being subject to a small Frenchman, being under the control of nominally inferior races has a similar effect, and this image appeared time and time again.
The idea that the war demonstrated to the French that the heroic soldiers from their African colonies were not savages, at least not compared to the barbaric Germans, is one that was commonly articulated during the war, although it faded with the withdrawal of both colonial and German troops from French soil. Réquin argued that the French had delivered Africans from barbarism and given them civilization and justice; it was their duty in turn to defend that justice and civilization against Prussian barbarism. In La Dépêche, news from Germany was regularly headlined “Au Pays des Barbares”. However, a closer examination of usage of terms like “savages” and “barbarians” shows the different ways in which they were applied to Africans and Germans, and the way that pre-war assumptions were maintained throughout the conflict.
When the Germans were accused of savagery, the French generally were referring to what was perceived to be breaches of the ethics of modern civilisation. Primarily it referred to the rapes and infanticides that were believed to be rife in occupied France, but it also extended to issues like the shelling of churches and cathedrals and the use of poison gas. “Pauvre Nancy! La sauvagerie teutonne s’acharne sur elle…” wrote Kahn. M. Pimpernelle, mayor of the commune of Longueville, lambasted the Germans as “véritables barbares” who had utilised every possible way to destroy the French, not just heavy artillery, incendiary bombs, poison gas and so on but also “ils ajoutaient encore çà et là des procédés sauvages destinés à terroriser ceux que leurs coups ne tuaient pas.”
Théodore Botrel’s song En passant par ton Berlin promised that the French would invade Germany as France had been invaded, but that in this case the French would not bombard German churches or slaughter their elderly and their children. The Dépêche described the Germans as “barbares” for attempting to bomb the church of Saint-Apollinaire-Nova in Ravenna. In Puypéroux’s account of the war, the section entitled Les Barbares described the damage done to Reims by the German army. He also attacked the Germans for their use of gas, describing them as a barbarous people, without pity, heart, loyalty or scruples. Even in a book which was devoted to France’s munitions factories, Maxime Vuillaume still managed to rail against “ces laches adversaires, qui ont inventé l’arme odieuse de l’empoisonnement”.
The German invaders were also consistently considered barbaric for the threat they posed to French women and children. The women were threatened by the consistent fears of seduction or rape by soldiers, with the consequent risk of illegitimate German babies but also through the demeaning way in which the invaders treated French women. One of the outrages alleged to have been perpetrated by the Germans was “le cas des femmes et des jeunes filles de la région du Nord soumises à la ‘visite’ médicale ainsi que des prostituées”. Ruth Harris’s study of the debate over what to do with the women who became pregnant as a result of being raped by German soldiers is particularly illustrative of the impact that a discourse that predicated certain characteristics as being inherent in Germanic blood, and the potential corruption of the Celtic-Latin French race by it. For some, the only way to preserve French blood from the degeneration implicit in children growing up in France from German paternity was to abort them, in the words of Le Matin to exterminate “without scruple, the ignoble and criminal chaff which would one day dishonour the pure wheat of our plains on which blows the wind of liberty”. The products of such unions would be “half-monsters” who could pass on the “virus” of their ancestry into French society. The way in which “science” could be used to back up prejudice was demonstrated again by Dr Tissier, who argued that being impregnated by a German wouldn’t just contaminate the baby that resulted, but all future children borne by that woman. Those who argued for the preservation of the babies emphasised the maternal role, which they believed outweighed the genetic deficiencies resulting from German fatherhood. By their nurture and devotion, French mothers could rescue these children and produce future French citizens. Others sought to use these children for retribution. What better revenge to exact upon the cruel barbarians than for the fruit of the outrages to grow up to be a proud citizen of their enemy.
The government solution was to allow the women to come to Paris either to give birth or just afterwards, whereupon the babies would be given a false birth certificate and placed under the care of the state. The women would need a statement from a local magistrate testifying to the otherwise impeachable sexual respectability. As Harris argues, this course reflected a triumph of social norms over racial ones. The removal of the bastard child from the family spared it dishonour and the costs of raising the child and its share of inheritance, while leaving the illegitimate child tainted with its German blood but unreformed by maternal care to contribute to France’s degeneration.
The mutilation of children, to prevent retaliation when they grew older was also argued to be common. This filtered in to a discourse that emphasised the planned, ordered, callousness of outrages; that these were not random acts of brutality but a systematic tactic. A similar, though les grisly theme in this discourse was the repeated reference to the Germans chopping down fruit trees, the implication again being that while most armies may inflict cruelty for short term military gain, the Germans were unique in their systematic ruthlessness. Harris notes that as well as the rapes and mutilations, another common outrage it was alleged was prevalent amongst the Germans was the pillage of rings, particularly wedding rings. Again this symbolised cruelty and depravity of the German soldiers, but additionally it served to damn the complicity of their womenfolk (who were said to be behind the practice), and the damage that materialism had wrought upon German society.
For all this brutality, the idea that the German people needed to be educated up to the French level of civilization, a common theme where the colonies was concerned, was absent. Their barbarism was demonstrated by their use of modern technology in the services of this brutality. Paul Cambon wrote to his brother in February 1918 about the bombing of Paris that to “massacrer des femmes, des enfants, et des habitants paisibles d’une hauteur de 3,000 mètres c’est un progrès dans l’abomination dont seuls des Boches étaient capables.” Similarly, Charles Andler argued
Ce qui fait la scandale du monde, c’est que ce soit un peuple si haut placé dans civilisation, qui ait la responsabilité de la présente guerre, et d’une poursuivie par les methodes d’atrocité scientifique et préméditée que nous y voyons appliquées.
When Paul Gaultier spoke of the German’s “barbarie scientifique”, he saw science purely at the service of barbarism.4 A former colonial soldier, Broussard, writing to a contributor of La Dépêche Coloniale, made the point explicitly when he compared the war with colonial battles.
Cette fois, c’est autre chose. Ce sont bien encore des sauvages que nous avons devant nous, mais des sauvages contre nature: les nègres sur qui j’ai fait le coup de feu autrefois n’étaient que des primitifs, les germains qui nous attaquent maintenant sont des barbares, ce qui est bien différent.
While the description of the Germans as barbarians was usually in reference to some horror they had committed (or were alleged to have committed) during the war, the concept of the Germans as barbarians was one that was easily accessible to the French in 1914, not one that only developed over the course of the war. In the Petit Marseillais L. Faber wrote as early as the 5th of August 1914 of “les barbares allemands” while the next day an article describing German surprise at the strength of French resistance was headlined: “L’Etonnement des Barbares”. Explanation of who the barbarians might be was evidently superfluous. On 8 August, Henri Bergson declared that the war against Germany was the struggle between civilisation against barbarism as “la brutalité et le cynicisme de l’Allemagne, dans son mépris de toute justice et de toute verité, une régression à l’état sauvage.” Ruth Harris has argued that the experience of occupation in 1870-1, particularly in the Eastern Provinces meant that the Germans had “already been portrayed as brigands, looters and rapists even before the conflict of 1914 began.” The continuity in antipathy dating from the Franco-Prussian war is also illustrated by Antoine Court’s analysis of Emile Zola’s writings. In 1872, Zola disparaged a book collecting songs sung by German troops in the Franco-Prussian war as “côté naïf et rude, exquis parfois dans la grossièreté”. Zola’s continued rancour was exhibited twenty years on in La Débacle, and in 1892, Zola responded to a letter written to Le Figaro by a Bavarian criticising the book as “un plaidoyer brutal pour la dangereuse illusion des beautés de la guerre, une hypocrite constation du triomphe des races germaniques sur les races latines”.5 Zola didn’t believe he was alone in his hostility to Germany and, in 1899, pondered on why there hadn’t been war for thirty years between France and Germany, “malgré la haine qui est restée longtemps si vive entre la France et Allemagne”. He concluded this represented a rejection of war itself.
The French belief seemed to be that the Germans, while nominally a civilised European nation, would always be betrayed by a brutal, militaristic streak, a characteristic displayed in the past by the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine. This was not to say that German civilisation was normally equally to that of France. Instead, a distinction was frequently drawn between German “Kultur” which may have approximated civilisation but lacked some of the essential components. Giraud argued that in choosing between France and Germany, Spain had to choose between Germanic “culture” and Latin civilisation. The Petit Marseillais claimed that German atrocities should not be seen as acts of a Franco-German war, but “des faits de guerre ‘kulturo-civilisée’.” Gaultier believed that German civilisation was “toute matérielle”.
When used to describe Germans, the word savage was always entirely pejorative. Used to describe black Africans this was not always the case. Alfred Guignard, a French soldier who served in West Africa described going into battle with black troops: “My strapping lads ran, despite my best efforts, quicker than me, large white grins on their black faces, shouting at the top of their voices war cries that were savage and comic. Oh, that of Sergeant Bilali.” Before the war, General Henri Bonnal spoke enthusiastically of black troops and “their savage impetuosity in attacks with the bayonet.”
When Germans and black Africans interacted, the distinctions were made clearer. In the caricature mentioned in the introduction, where the German prisoner who fears being eaten is reassured by a black soldier, who tells him “Don’t worry. Li savage, but Li does not eat unclean things” the message is obvious, Africans are good hearted but savage, Germans are cultured but barbaric. The French view of their colonial troops was essentially benevolent; they saw the soldiers as good hearted and loyal. Nevertheless, this view was underpinned by a belief that they were still savage, that they still lacked many of the essentials of civilised life. When they were referred to as savage it implied backwardness. When Germans were called savage it implied cruelty and callousness as intrinsic to the German race, but it did not carry the same overtones of backwardness.
One newspaper description of colonial troops illustrates the complexity of these descriptions. “Il les montra farouches défenseurs d’Ypres, d’Arras, de Senlis, de Reims, nos glorieuses cités d’art mutilées par les Allemands, par ces mêmes Allemands qui osent encore les qualifier de sauvages.” The colonial troops are “ferocious”, a word very rarely used to describe French troops, who would more typically be described as heroic. What shows them as above the Germans is that they are defending civilisation as incarnated by the historical cities of France, while the Germans display their barbarism by attacking them. In this context, civilisation is conferred upon the colonial troops not by their actions or their character, but by their cause.
Moreover, this relatively benign assessment of non-white people only applied in cases where the Germans were compared directly to French colonial troops. In other comparisons between Germans and non-Europeans, other races were used primarily as convenient shorthand for illustrating how low the Germans had sunk. For Giraud, “Moralement, elle est descendue au-dessous des peuplades nègres de l’Afrique centrale”. Pierre Mille quoted approvingly the argument by Jacques Rivière that the Germans are not cruel by nature “comme chez les Indiens de l’Amérique du Nord, par exemple, qui sont naturellement cruels.”6 The Dépêche also dismissed German criticism of Britain bringing Japan into the war, for had not Germany allied with “le Turc dégénéré”. So morally bankrupt were the Germans though, that even the degenerate Turks were sometimes shocked. An account told how Germans in Syria had exhumed the bodies of French soldiers buried in a cemetery, and how this had angered even the Turks. In this 1916 painting by François Flemeng of a destroyed church, the presence of black soldiers at the scene can be seen as highlighting the barbarism of the Germans.
Susan Grayzel notes the argument by Jean Finot in favour of the right of French women to have abortions in instances where they had been the victims of rape by German troops. To justify this, Finot described how a European woman had been captured, raped and impregnated by gorillas in Central Africa. Naturally, she had not borne the monstrous child of these animals, and Finot argued that women in Northern France should be no more compelled to bear the children of the bestial Germans. As Grayzel rightly points out, this account not only brings Germans down to the level of animals but implicitly to that of colonial men as well. In the Chronique Medicale in 1915, a physician made the argument explicit, comparing French women raped by Germans with white women and black men in the United States. He added that “any white woman, raped and made pregnant by a Negro, can have herself aborted with impunity.” French women should be granted the same privilege.
In Albert Londres’ war reportage in the Petit Journal in 1917, he expressed his indignation towards German conduct in revealing language. “on perçoit que le plan de l’Allemagne n’était pas seulement de nous battre, qu’il était de nous assujettir. […] Ils traiteraient la France comme la Cameroun.” While it was acceptable for Africans to be colonised, it was an outrage that anyone should seek to attempt it in France. A speaker in a conference about tourism in France also raised the spectre of France being a mere colony of her neighbour when he spoke of German domination of the hotel industry, and said that it was a form of colonisation, and that it was an awful prospect to imagine being colonised by the Boche. Paul Forsans, President of the l’Union des Intérèts Economiques, seemed to see immigrants from other races as little better than the German invaders: “Après avoir libéré notre sol de la souillure teutonne, allons-nous compter surtout sur la main d’œuvre noire ou jaune pour cultiver nos champs?”
The allied soldiers who were fighting with the French, on French soil, naturally received a good press, regularly having their attitude and their actions praised. If they were not believed to be quite as heroic as the French soldiers, they were almost there. However, while the Allied armies were very rarely criticised by French newspapers for any failings, they didn’t receive anything near the adulation accorded to the French troops. This was reflected in a postwar discourse that granted the allied armies only a minor part in the glory of victory. This discourse is exemplified by the speech of M. Pegon, the mayor of Artaix at the inaugaration of its monument to the war dead.
“Les nations alliées, il est vrai, nous ont apporté leur concours” he acknowledged, but it was the French who, in November 1917 “arrêtètent le désastreux recul des armées italiennes et leur permirent de reprendre l’offensive”. It was the French also who, at critical moments, “encadrait les Anglais dans leur attaques et empêchait leur retraite trop facile”. M. Damiron, the treasurer for the monument made a similar point “Les Anglais ont pu fléchir, les Italiens céder à la panique, le Poilu de France n’a jamais reculé.” These comments are also significant as they suggest that by 1922 the contribution of France’s allies was beginning to be seen as roughly equivalent, whereas during the war the British contribution was valued much higher than that of the Italians.
Some areas of concern arose regularly. The British, and particularly the American, soldiers were much better paid than the French, which led to considerable resentment. Not only did the greater wealth of these soldiers create feelings of jealousy, they also pushed up prices in areas where the allied troops were stationed. Perhaps most seriously of all, the French resented it when this wealth was used to impress or seduce local women. These issues were largely kept in check as long as the French believed that their allies were doing their duty at the front, but when this was not believed to be the case, then criticism could be severe.
For those who did not believe in the war, it was easier to reveal prejudice towards the Allied countries. One pacifist pamphlet decried France’s allies thus:
A bas l’Amérique qui veut nous aider parcequ’elle craint des milliards engagés et non par désintéressement comme elle le dit […] A bas l’Angleterre notre ennemie héréditaire qui a voulu et fait la guerre parcequ’elle craignait pour elle même la puissance de l’Allemagne et qu’elle veut être seule à dominer le monde!
The criticisms here of perfidious Albion, determined to manipulate the continental balance of power to preserve her own hegemony and a money oriented United States are ones that had a long history in France. While the vast majority of the populace did support the war, and thus welcomed the support of the Allies, it is likely that many of them retained some of the suspicion towards the allied nations expressed here.
The regard that allied nations were held in was closely linked to the contribution that the nation was believed to be making towards the war. Just as with the colonial soldiers, the French could forgive a great deal if they thought that foreigners were helping them win the war. Craig Gibson mentions one letter picked up by the French censors from September 1918, when the Allied offensive was making real gains, that praised the Australians as good men “even if they plundered my property”. The Italian contribution was never particularly highly regarded, and Italian soldiers were widely referred to as Maquaroons (macaronis). After the Italian army was routed in the battle of Caporetto, the Italians were much disdained for their perceived military incompetence, and compared adversely to more capable allies such as the English: “Tout de même, si les Boches battent les Italiens, depuis Verdun ils ne frottent plus aux Français ni aux Anglais.” Analysing the mood amongst workers in Lyon in 1918, Merrheim claimed that public opinion was a little hostile to Italian workers there “en raison de leur revers”. He asserted that popular belief was that, having failed to fight effectively themselves, Italian soldiers were coming to Lyon to send Frenchmen to the front instead. Merrheim tried to counter this hostility by contending that this real reason for the Italians presence was that they were coming to replace materiel that their army had lost and thus they continued to contribute to France’s cause.
The English were generally well regarded, their troops in particular. For the soldier, Raymond Franco, “Les Anglais sont charmants. A leur égard, nous avons été tout ce qu’il y a de plus aimables, et je suis sûr qu’ils garderont de nous, un très bon souvenir.” Maugars commended the “phlegmatic” English troops.
However, the French had long memories of rivalry with her neighbours from over La Manche from the Hundred Years War to Fashoda and this led to them consistently questioning whether their new found allies were fully committed to the conflict. British resistance to accepting a single Allied command under a French commander was a source of despair, and the belief that the British were willing to fight to the last Frenchman was a popular one, particularly before the introduction of conscription and the resultant increase in size of the British army in France. In March 1916, L’Ouest-Éclair had to defend the English against accusations that they had not provided a fair share of troops. On 20 December 1914, André Kahn even celebrated the German bombing of England because he doubted British commitment.
J’ai entendu raconter par le colonel que les Boches avaient bombardé plusieurs villes anglaises depuis la côte. Bravo! Cela va donner à réfléchir à Messieurs les Alliés. Sans doute mettront-ils plus d’entrain à nous envoyer de renfort et à en finir une bonne fois en jetant en Belgique le million d’hommes qu’ils nous promettent depuis si longtemps et que nous ne voyons jamais venir.
In Giraud’s history of the war, he opined that it was only with conscription in May 1916 that England finally fully entered the war. If hostility towards the actions of the British government and generals usually exempted the soldiers, the reverses suffered by the English near Amiens in the spring of 1918, and the need for the French to rescue them, led to renewed criticism. Interestingly, the Australian, Canadian, and other troops from the British colonies were generally spared this criticism.
While in general the English contribution was considered to outweigh the defects of the English character, it did not eliminate them, as Giraud made explicit. “Ses lenteurs dans la pensée et dans l’action, ses méprises, son individualisme ombrageux et souvent excessif, elle a tout compensé, tout racheté, et au delà, par la loyauté, la générosité, l’énormité et la continuité de son effort.” In general, however, the French and British kept their distance, both physically and emotionally and, as Bell argues, the French and British soldiers rarely talked of the other in diaries, letters and memoirs. When the English nature was examined, their lack of outward emotion was emphasised. John Charpentier argued that what distinguished the English from the French was that “Les Anglais doivent peu à la sensation; nous lui devons presque tout”, while English home life was more formal, more reserved than its French equivalent. This was consistent with a pre-war French idea of Britain based around an image of the undemonstrative, proper English gentleman incarnated in characters like Phileas Fogg.
The British army also featured non-white soldiers from the British empire, these were regarded in a very similar manner as French colonial troops. They were popularly depicted as a terrifying threat to the Germans, for instance a postcard photo of a British Indian with a knife between his teeth was accompanied by the caption: “Les Hindous en France – Soldat et son terrible kukri (couteau de guerre)” One report lamented “this is beyond imagination; the English do not want to give us rooms in our own homes. No one in the area is master in his own home; everyone is more than unhappy. There are Indian troops; we do not feel safe or secure anymore…” There is a notable difference in the nature of the complaint, the English are disliked because they are taking over the area and showing a lack of respect for the French, while the Indians are considered a physical threat – and the writer felt no need to offer any further explanation of that, simply that they were Indians signified a threat.
The real vitriol was reserved for the Russians, after their withdrawal from the war. Early on the Russians were reported to be almost constantly advancing, and in 1916, L’Eclair du Midi described a wildly enthusiastic reception for Russian troops arriving in Marseille.
After the peace of Brest-Litvosk though, this was forgotten. According to the soldier, Jean, “La défection de la Russie produit la haine contre cette puissance.” The soldiers were unanimous: ‘Les Russes sont des cochons’. The most common term to describe the Russian action was lâchage – desertion, while the Russian people themselves were lambasted as “un ramassis d’ignorants et d’alcooliques, ceux qui sont intelligentes sont des fripouilles”. Russia was dismissed by Giraud as immense, ignorant and mystical, with a credulous peasantry. The Ouest-Éclair explained the triumph of the Bolsheviks as a result of “toutes les aberrations d’un mysticisme sans règle et d’une inexpérience politique totale” made by a “peuple d’illettrés, très inférieur, dans l’ensemble, à ce qu’était notre France du Moyen-Age”. According to La Dépêche, the “moujiks” that made up eighty percent of the country were an inert mass “sans idée, sans initiative”. That this was considered an innate Slavic trait was illustrated by the paper’s praise for Boris Savinkoff, a former war minister in the Kerenski government. “Savinkoff n’est pas le Slave indécis, un discoureur abondant et nébuleux, il est un homme d’action d’une intelligence lucide, d’une rare énergie.” The themes of irrationality and inertia that run through these descriptions are very characteristic of the discourse of backwardness used by the French to describe non-European races, and Russia was never seen as having been a full member of European civilisation.
The invective that was aimed at the Russians after they left the war was exacerbated by the fact that they had never been held in particularly high esteem, where the same criticisms of backwardness recurred. J. de Morgan writing in L’Eclair du Midi, argued in May 1917 that they were “des grands enfants, qu’on conduit avec une bonne parole, dévoués, polis, respectueux.” He repeated this in his article of 1st June, 1917, arguing that Russian people were guided by their instinct and that “Le russe est un grand enfant. […] il est parfaitement incapable d’être le maître de lui-même”.
Before the war, the Petit Marseillais noted that Russia had only joined the current of that civilisation in the eighteenth century and was thus still trying to catch up with Western European civilisation. “En ce qui concerne la formation du caractère, l’aptitude à apprendre, à gérer le savoir acquis, la Russie est naturellement en retard sur nous autres, vieux Européens de l’Ouest.” Henri Focillon in 1916 wondered if Russia was still in its “période médiévale” and claimed that it was still uncertain in its utilisation of the administrative and industrial techniques of the West. Focillon went on to compare the “fatalisme animal de l’Orient” with the attitude of the Russians for whom death is “une vérité éternelle qui achève de s’epanouir.”
The alliance may have prompted André Kahn to find previously hidden virtues in Tolstoy: “J’ai terminé les ‘souvenirs’ de Tolstoï. Je ne sais pas si c’est par reconnaissance pour nos alliés, mais Tolstoï que je détestais m’est devenu sympathique”. Nevertheless, he still did not rate the Russians as soldiers; they lacked endurance and courage, and so he was unsurprised at setbacks for the Russian army in February 1915.
[L]es Russes sont des mauvais soldats. Ils ont le nombre, mais le nombre n’est pas suffisant dans la guerre actuelle. Il faut aussi l’endurance et le courage. […] Aux Russes nous ne devrons être reconnaissants que de n’avoir pas été écrasés nous-mêmes dès les premiers jours de guerre. C’est déjà quelque chose mais ce n’est pas tout.
Camille Mauclair noted that “l’opinion soit encline à maudire la Russie” even in September 1917, before the peace treaty. Even when their conduct was praised, it was ascribed to instinctive behaviour rather than conscious choice. Spont contrasted the French attitude to children: mitigated by fear of the financial costs, to that of the Russians, who “envisagent sans effroi les charges qui en résulteront. Ils considèrent les enfants comme la suprême, l’unique récompense en ce monde.”
La Dépêche suggested another problem with the Russian character, that it was prone to insanity. “Le caractère russe se prête à toute sorte d’excès et à des défaillances brusques; la solide armature psychologique des races occidentales lui fait défaut. The Dépêche is explicit here in offering a racial basis to this difference between Russia and the West, not one simply resulting from the late development of civilisation in Russia. Both the literature and history of Russia was said to testify to the propensity to madness and impulsiveness amongst the population while their exoticism was illustrated by the occasional reports of “amazones” serving in the Russian army. The exploits of these women were recounted in a positive fashion, but there was no suggestion that French women should do the same. Marthe Dupuy described the heroism shown by Russian women fighters, arguing: “De tels exemples de courage et de dévouement […] n’en demeurent pas moins des actes dignes d’admiration qu’il serait coupable de taire sous prétexte que ce serait folie de les imiter.” While British and American women were largely expected to show similar traits of behaviour to their French counterparts, the same was not true for Russian women.
Apart from Germany, by far the most important nation in French discourse was the United States. Before it entered the war, reams of newsprint were devoted to analysing what its intentions were. Once it had, American soldiers generated far more interest than any of the other Allied armies.
Generally, the press sought to portray the United States favourably before its entry into the war, not wishing to antagonise it. However frustration at the inability of the Wilson government to see that the only reasonable position for the Americans to take would be to enter the war on France’s side led to increasing criticism. André Suarès writing in L’Opinion in July 1915 argued that “On peut trouver son compte à être neutre: il n’y a pas lieu d’en être fier […] Les neutres sont malades plus qu’ils ne pensent […] Tout ce qui est nation doit être avec la France.” According to Jusserand, the French ambassador in Washington, after February 1915 “la tendance en France au mécontenment et à l’aigruer” against the United States began to manifest itself. Landet, the editor of La Revue hebdomadaire, claimed that his readership was too fixed in their hostility towards the United States for him to be able to print too many favourable articles, despite his personal affection for “la grande république”.
The two primary criticisms levelled by the French against America were that the US was taking the opportunity to enrich themselves while France suffered, and that Wilson’s position of neutrality was too favourable to Germany. The second of these complaints requires little explanation, as the vast majority of the French saw no possible reasonable position of neutrality in the war. The Germans were barbarous aggressors and anyone concerned with justice had no choice but to oppose them. In seeking to mediate as a neutral, Wilson, like Pope Benedict, was guilty of at best falling under the sway of German propaganda and at worst being a supporter of Germany. Responding to reports alleging that Henry James had abandoned his American citizenship, La Revue declared that “il serait en effet étrange que de véritable Américains ne soient pas honteux de la politique de faiblesse de leur gouvernment.” This was characteristic of a discourse, particularly from conservatives, that primarily criticised Wilson personally for American neutrality. Hugues le Roux argued that “Les Américains, qui ont beaucoup d’esprit, – un esprit très pareil au notre, – ont défini leur president en deux lignes. Ils disent ‘M. Wilson n’a pas d’ennemis; mais ses amis ne l’aiment pas beaucoup.’ According to Le Petit Journal, “Il y a en effet une grande différence entre l’attitude officielle du gouvernment de Washington et celle du peuple des Etats-Unis.” The entry to the war of the US saw this stance overturned and Wilson received a very favourable press.
The first criticism was equally unsurprising as it comfortably fitted into the popular French discourse of the time; that anyone not taking part in the war was profiteering from it. It also chimed in neatly with a theme from before the war, that American businessmen were ruthless in their pursuit of money, the only thing that concerned them. An American correspondent in France wrote that “L’impression va grandissant ici que les Américains considèrent la guerre comme étant purement et simplement une occasion de faire l’argent sans qu’ils aient à tenir le moindre compte des questions de droit et de principe.” L’Ouest-Éclair spoke of the American army arriving in France “Hommes d’affaires, ils traiteront la guerre comme une affaire”, while Ferri-Pisani in his book about the United States described them as a nation of merchants. La Dépêche argued that “Pendant que la vieille Europe s’épuise dans une formidable guerre qui ruine ses ressources et son crédit et qui compromet l’avenir, l’Amérique s’efforce flévreusement de profiter des circonstances favorables qui s’offrent à elle pour conquérir le marché du monde”. Though the United States was undoubtedly a modern power, the Dépêche‘s reference to “old Europe” is a reminder that America was only the inheritor of European civilisation. La Dépêche also noted demands for Paris to have its lights switched back on again to allow rich American tourists to enjoy the city’s attractions and observed ironically that this should clearly take precedence over the security of Parisian citizens.
A survey of a number of Parisians by the New York Times in February 1916 on the subject of French attitudes towards the US got the following response:
3 claimed to be disappointed, having thought the Americans to be a proud people, they now seemed to be “une nation de lâches”
2 wondered if the US was scared of Germany
8 condemned the US for lacking courage
1 estimated that the American failure to respond to the deaths of its citizens in submarine attacks lessened its standing in the world
12 took a broadly anti-American line
19 didn’t comment
4 approved of Wilson’s pacific policy and wisdom in avoiding the war
1 acknowledged the difficult position of the US
3 professed great admiration for the US
5 responded “que tout ce que peut faire l’Amérique pour gêner l’Allemagne les réjouit”.
There were still some positive expressions made towards America, largely based on ideas of American generosity and the historical links and shared ideals of the two nations. La Renaissance politique, littéraire et artistique published several admiring accounts of the US, amongst them Henri Bergson’s view “Ne cherchons pas ailleurs que dans cette communauté d’idéal et d’idéalisme la source de la sympathie profonde qui a toujours uni entre elles la France et l’Amérique.” For Paul Adam, New York was “le seuil de la Terre Libre” while Eugène Delard asked “Ne sommes nous pas fils des mêmes libertés?” In the analysis of Yves Nouailhat, the cultural elite was far more likely to have a positive view of the US at this time than the mass of the population, while Americans themselves preferred to stay in Paris, claiming that anti-American animosity was strongly held in the provinces.
Once America entered the war, the trajectory of public opinion towards the American intervention followed a predictable path. In the newspapers, the arrival of American troops in France was naturally described in hagiographic fashion. However, the expectations that were raised by the United States joining the war were not immediately realised, and dissatisfaction grew. The slow introduction of American troops to the front line led the French infantry to believe that the Americans were taking the safe sections of the front, and leaving the French to fight the bloody battles. Late in 1917, workers in the Loire-Inférieure were asked if they wanted to work in the United States. The police reported that not only was this proposition universally rejected, but it also aroused comments questioning the effectiveness of the American intervention. As late as January 1918, the Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome commented that some people were impatient at how long it was taking for a meaningful contribution from the US to be made, although the newspaper claimed not to share this opinion. The idea that American troops were absent from the front lines inevitably led to speculation as to what else they might be doing, naturally focusing on the potential corruption of French womanhood. “Ils font la guerre à l’arrière avec les gonzesses” wrote one soldier, while another argued “Il faut les éloigner le plus possible de notre intimité: que de désunions vont-ils semer dans les familles, où allons-nous?” We shall return to this issue later.
Even after the United States did arrive in the war, its wealth caused some problems. It was feared that the arrival of American troops in Bordeaux might lead to a rise in prices. By September 1917, a woman called Lili, from Bordeaux, was complaining, “Malgré les prix qui augmentent tous les jours on achète plus que jamais, les magasins sont bondés et les rues fort animées, il est vrai qu’il y a beaucoup d’étrangers, beaucoup d’américains surtout, il me tarde de les voir partir pour le front…” A letter picked up from the censor in January 1919, from a person in Orange, argued that life could not return to normal until the foreigners left, because they bought regardless of the price. A letter from Paris complained of Americans “munis de beacoup d’argent et d’appétits voraces […] il en va de même en province où l’on murmure contre ces envahisseurs qui gaspillent autant qu’ils consomment.” The high cost of life was blamed on the Americans not simply because they had more money, but because they were businessmen by nature. “Ce sont tout simplement des négociants déguisés en soldats, qui tâtent le terrain et posent des jalons pour l’envahissement commercial et industriel de l’après-guerre.” This argument placed the Americans amongst those considered to be profiteering from the war, rather than amongst those who were sacrificing themselves, which was one of the most fundamental divisions in French thought.
However, when the American soldiers did arrive in the trenches in significant numbers they were warmly welcomed. The censors noted that “L’enthousiasme envers les Américains grandit à mesure qu’ils prennent part à l’action commune”and Nicot asserts that, by the advance of 1918, “Les Américains sont en France les plus populaires des soldats alliés, ils sont les grands favoris. On peut estimer qu’il en est parlé dans 30% des lettres au moins.” One soldier compared the Americans favourably to the English: while the Englishman was “une allié; l’Americain c’est un copain.” In general, the American soldiers were found to be more congenial company than the English, and another soldier wrote that “les Américains sont des gens remarquables qui se battent en idéalistes,” unlike the English, “qui se battent en commerçants”. Their generosity was also regularly remarked upon. Le Petit Marseillais produced a supplement, its only one of the war, detailing a conference of mutual admiration convened to commemorate American Independence Day. Crucially, as La Dépêche made clear, the American soldiers arriving in France had immense respect for France and its heroic army. Recognition of France’s glories and her efforts in the war was always welcome, and Hugues le Roux tried to deflect post-war criticism of Americans by arguing that it was appreciation of France that had prompted the United States to enter the war. He argued that while England, Italy and Belgium were forced to join the war, the US chose to do so.
Parce qu’il leur était insupportable de penser qu’un pays comme la France, qui a porté si haut le respect de la dignité humaine, le goût de la fraternité, la passion de la liberté, allait, malgré son héroïsme, être écrasée, s’ils n’accouraient pas à l’aide, sous la botte des soudards du Kaiser.
Supportive commentators regularly focused on arguing that the US intervention was not based on calculation. Henriette Perrin’s book aimed at schoolchildren, Nos Alliés les Américains, emphasised that the American intervention was disinterested, for selfless reasons, while in describing France’s allies, John Charpentier singled out for special mention “la beauté chevaleresque du geste des États-Unis.”
The French were particularly impressed by the physiques of the Americans. Kaspi recounted numerous positive impressions generated by the appearance of American troops as they arrived. “Il y a des types coustauds (…) Ils sont tous jolis”. “Les gaillards ont l’air allants”. “Ils ont l’air très robustes”. The Moniteur du Puy-de-Dome praised the qualities of energy, vigour and improvisation in the Yankee “race”. This impression was so commonly recognised that a medical advert could ask, in confident expectation of a positive response, “N’avez-vous pas été frappé par l’étonnante vigueur et la robuste énergie des Américains.” This was consistent with pre-war attitudes, which, as Alan Pitt has argued, focused heavily on the energy of Americans. For Pitt “the word [énergie] was to dominate French studies of American life.
Nevertheless, there were some elements of condescension towards the new arrivals, in particular their enthusiasm, in which the French noted echoes of their own optimistic bravado of 1914. Eugène Le Breton criticised President Wilson for saying, in his announcement on entering the war, that the United States had no grievance against the German people, merely against their leaders.” He noted that the English, “plus sensibles aux leçons de l’histoire,” had not made the same mistake. When the US was about to enter the war on France’s side, Jean Guiscard in the Lyon Republicain argued that it was motivated not by an understanding of the European situation but by commercial interest and its own idealism.
Les Etats-Unis, nation primesautière qui regarde l’Europe de loin, n’entendent pas grand’chose aux détails des querelles européennes. Ils ne connaissent à fond ni l’histoire, ni la géographie. Mais ils discernent très bien, par contre, l’innovation capitale dont ils ont besoin pour eux-mêmes; ayant horreur de la guerre, à laquelle ils préfèrent des occupations plus morales et plus lucratives, ils veulent que l’immense majorité des Etats qui composent le monde soient des Etats équitablement satisfaits, qui ne posséderont, ni trop peu pour leur appétit, ni trop pour leur forces, et qui, par conséquent, seront à la fois intéressés et aptes à maintenir la paix.
While Guiscard’s description is not a particularly hostile one, it does emphasise the naivity of the young nation, impulsive and ignorant of history and geography with utopian ideals.
The Americans were also not spared the recurrent comparison of foreigners to children, according to one French soldier: “les Américains obéissent à leurs officiers (qui sont très gentils avec eux) comme des enfants, ayant en eux une confiance aveugle.” The theme recurred in Ferri-Pisani’s book. He argued that “Yankee optimism” had no need for reason, but was instinctive “comme tous les gestes d’une race jeune.” Earlier he had argued that as a “[p]euple à peine adolescent, les yankees présentent encore les caractéristiques de l’enfance”. This didn’t undermine their effectiveness as allies though.
Par d’aucuns qui ont regardé cette race yankee sans la voir, j’ai entendu dire: “Ce sont de grands enfants.” Peut-être, mais attendez-les à l’œuvre, quand, menacés dans leur intérêt, blessés dans leur idéal, ils lutteront à nos côtés! Ils seront les grands enfants terribles.
Even an admirer like Aristide Rieffel, arguing why Americans were so much better at getting rich than the French had to add the caveat that they lacked any superior intelligence. “L’Américain s’enrichit parce qu’il a constamment, énergiquement, la volonté d’être heureux, et parce que l’action est pour lui une joie. Il est supérieur au Français, non par intelligence, certes, mais par une plus grande intensité du vouloir vivre.”
This cartoon by the Duthc propagandist Louis Raemakers is interesting, depicting the (elderly, bookish) Woodrow Wilson as a huge cowboy figure who towered over the Kaiser, higlighting the power of both the United States as a nation and the strength and vitality of its soldiers. However, the disbelief that Wilhelm is vocalising suggests at least an implicit criticism of the tardy arrival of the US into the war.
However, the one aspect of behaviour in which mistrust was a constant was sexual behaviour. Huss argues that in popular images of Allied soldiers, while they were often depicted as sympathetic, they also had the potential to corrupt French women. Many postcards later in the war featured “ad nauseam le thème des femmes faciles et vénales” when they encountered American troops. For instance, among the series “Attraction Parisiennes” one postcard featured a woman lifting her skirt to “montre ses bas” in front of four voyeurs from each of the principal allied nations.
Pourcher describes several incidents where the sexual behaviour of the allies caused tension amonst the French population, including one in which violence broke out between French and allied troops over a girl. For Mgr. Baudrillart, rector of the Institut catholique de Paris, the sexual behaviour of Allied troops was a regular concern. He noted in March 1916 “On évacue beaucoup à d’écoles de l’Artois: l’immoralité des Anglais est telle qu’il y a beaucoup à craindre pour les enfants.” In August, he argued that in Amiens promiscuity and prostitution was rife and that “Les Anglais dépassent tout en fait de débauches.” A report by the Nantes Commissaire Centrale (in October 1918) said of American troops “Il n’y a qu’à circuler quelque peu dans les rues de la ville, le soir, ou dans la journée les jours de fête, pour les voir se promener bras dessus bras dessous, non seulement avec des femmes ou des filles majeures, mais encore avec de véritables gamines de 14 à 16 ans.” In a letter written to L’Œuvre in 1919, one Frenchman placed the two notions of Americans as ruthless businessmen and successful womanisers. “Certes, nous avons eu le grand tort d’être à la Marne ou à Verdun durant que les Américains gagnaient les dollars qui leur permettent aujourd’hui de séduire bien des cœurs.”7 The problem of relations between soldiers and French women was considered serious enough that the Americans responsible for the Foyers du Soldat produced a poster, which declared:
Quand tu parles de la femme
Pense à ta mère
À ta soeur, à ta fiancée
et tu ne diras pas de bêtises
Craig Gibson’s study of British troops in North-Eastern France highlights similar complaints. One censor wrote that “Many letters of young women, who are in the English zone write to English soldiers as if they were engaged.” A correspondent decried the authorities for doing nothing to prevent the “debauchery of women with troops from all nationalities”. Both romantic dalliances with the troops and amateur prostitution raised the hackles of local society. This impropriety was attacked by French women not simply as vice on the part of Allied soldiers at the expense of the purity of French womanhood, but also argued that it undermined international female solidarity by angering women in Britain and elsewhere who had lent their men to the defence of France and expected them to return morally and physically pure.
There were clearly similar fears back in the United States to judge from a note sent by the Union of American Women to l’Association des Femmes de France.
Nous vous envoyons nos maris, nos fils, nos frères pour vous aider dans la lutte contre l’oppresseur. Mais nous vous demandons ce que votre gouvernement et vous-mêmes comptes faire pour les préserver, et nous le renvoyer, après la victoires définitive et complète, propres physiquement et moralement comme ils le sont en nous quittant.
Occasionally there were attempts to put a more positive spin on it. One journalist wrote that for American soldiers in France “Les femmes françaises leur paraissent plus jolies et plus intelligentes que les Américaines. Ils sont émerveillés de voir l’ordre, la propreté, la coquetterie de nos campagnes.” The article continued by asserting the encouraging possibility of American immigration into France, reversing the trend of French emigration towards the Americas. In L’Eclair du Midi, Jules Veran took a similar line, taking pride in the attractiveness of French women to soldiers from English speaking countries. On marriages between English soldiers and French women he argued, “Elle est très heureuse, d’autant plus que le mélange des deux races ne peut donner que de bons résultats: vous verrez que le type franco-anglais sera très bien.” Soon, there would be Franco-American marriages, because “Ce serait bien le diable si les Américains ne se laissant séduire, eux aussi, par nos françaises. Et nous aurons la douleur de voir nos charmantes soeurs […] traverser l’Océan.”
Pierre Mille suggested that the Franco-American relationship had begun as a honeymoon, between mutually admiring democratic peoples. Then the ardour cooled, the Americans were unimpressed by the perceived rapacity of the French merchants, while the French found the Americans a little brash and were shocked by American behaviour towards women. The blame for this could not be laid solely with the Americans, as they had been confused by the differences in morality between the sexually liberated women they had encountered in the big cities, and the conservative morality of the provinces. Mille argued that
Il en existe maintenant, dans nos grandes villes, une classe assez nombreuse, presque spéciale à la France, et pour qui la morale sexuelle a singulièrement évolué. Sans faire grande attention à ce qu’on appelle ‘la vertu’ elles considèrent qu’elles ont le droit du choix, et, quand elles ont choisi, sans s’inquiéter du mariage, elles n’en exigent pas moins une certaine somme d’égards.
The American soldiers being “young, unsophisticated and coarse,” mistook this attitude for prostitution and thus believed all women in France were prostitutes, a misapprehension which caused much conflict when applied in rural areas which remained profoundly imbued with a conservative Catholic morality. Indeed, Mille believed there were no regions in the world where womens’ morals were more serious. It was a shame, Mille considered, that once these hurdles had been overcome and genuine understanding was being achieved, that these “jeunes gens braves et simples” were going back home.
Mille’s colleague on the Dépêche, J. H. Rosny, also drew a distinction between the conduct of the Americans in the big cities and elsewhere, mentioning in an otherwise very generous assessment of the Americans, “Leurs mœurs sont vraisemblablement assez purs; il est difficile d’en juger ici, où ils sont un peu surveillés; […] A Paris, où les Américains sont moins surveillés, on constate qu’ils ne sont pas insensibles aux grâces de nos péripatéticiennes.8
Edmond Haraucourt argued that the war had revised many opinions. “[L]’Amérique, ordinairement considérée comme la patrie du dollar et des hommes pratiques, jetterait son sang et son or avec un désintéressement absolu, pour venir à notre aide, au nom de la justice et du droit?” However, it should be noted that the stereotype of a mercenary country, interested above all in enriching itself, reappeared swiftly in the post-war period. Giraud argued:
Il semble aussi qu’à la belle ferveur d’idéalisme qui avait soulevé tout ce jeune peuple contre l’iniquité germanique, et qui l’avait armé comme pour une croisade, ait succédé une ‘vague de réalisme’ qui pousserait nombre d’Américains à se contenter de la fructueuse ‘chasse aux dollars’.
Giraud was not the only one to display scepticism towards Americans in the immediate aftermath of war. A soldier wrote early in 1919 that “Les Américains commençent à fatiguer la population des régions où ils résident […] On les trouve sans-gêne, prêts à s’installer comme en pays conquis, souvent brutaux et primitifs.” Hugues le Roux, a very pro-American writer who had been in the US for part of the war, wrote an article entitled “Nos Amis les Américains” in March 1919. While he was very positive about the US, he noted some of the criticisms made about the Americans in France.
Vous connaissez le proverbe: ‘Les amis, ils font toujours plaisir, quand ce n’est pas quand ils arrivent, c’est quand ils s’en vont.’ Eh, sans doute, les Américains ont été chez nous les utiles ouvriers de la dernière heure! Mais quoi? Voici la paix. Pourquoi ne se hâtent-ils pas davantage de retraverser l’Océan? Ils ont trop d’argent dans les mains à depenser chez nous, dans un temps où tout manque. C’est, pour une part, leur faute si tout renchérit. Et puis, ils sont trop bruyants. Ils tiennent trop de place, et ils rient dans une langue que l’on ne comprend pas.
Once again, we see the recurrence of pre-war antipathy, in this case to the brashness of Americans, in the immediate aftermath of the war.
The white workers from elsewhere in Europe who appeared in much greater numbers during the war were rarely welcomed. The Bulletin Confidentiel of November 1917 noted that the arrival in Rennes of a thousand Italian soldiers to be employed in the arsenal provoked “grande surprise et vive émotion”. There was little integration between French and non-French workers, and the suspicion that foreign workers were being used to bring wages down or as potential strike breakers remained strong.
Russian workers became much less welcome after 1917 when Russia agreed a separate peace with Germany. At a meeting of the Syndicat de l’Arsenal et de la Cartoucherie in Toulouse, a worker complained that nothing had been done to remove foreign workers, he was particularly upset by the presence of Russian workers. Froment, the secretary of the union, responded that the Russians had been in France before the war, and had at that time been part of the allied nations. They were not responsible for what had happened in Russia, and it was unfair to repatriate them now. Likewise, when Greece seemed to be taking a less favourable stance towards France under the influence of the King, Greek support for their monarch was instantly dismissed by L’Ouest-Éclair as the product of a superstitious nature.
In other cases, the reception of European workers depended on whether they fitted in with the dominant discourse of the war in France, which glorified those who suffered hardship or loss in the struggle for victory, and condemned those who were seen to be profiteering or shirking from the war. Thus, a report on Greek workers in Nantes claimed “The inhabitants of Nantes get on well with the Greeks, provided that they know that they are not Turks, but Christian Greeks persecuted by the Turks.”9 A poster raising money for La Journée Serbe in 1916 depicted a mass of humanity in retreat, homeless families alongside wounded soldiers. This got across a twin message; that the Serb population deserved help for the suffering they had endured as a result of the war, but also the presence of the wounded soldiers indicated the contribution they had made. In 1917, soldiers staying in barracks in Marseilles attacked the Spanish population, which was resented for its neutrality in the war. The magnitude of the French effort could not be disparaged, so some Belgians aroused hostility because they “prétendent que la résistance de leur pays a sauvé la France” In 1917 a speaker to the Lyon Chamber of Commerce, proposing a post-war boycott of German products, declared that customers should also beware German goods disguised as neutral merchandise. Some genuine neutral producers might suffer from this, but the actions of most neutral countries during the war deserved ostracism. According to the soldiers from the Languedoc who Jules Maurin interviewed, the Spanish were seen as exploiting the situation and one soldier believed they were taking the opportunity “pour prendre des exploitations agricoles et des commerces et s’enrichir.” By contrast refugees from northern France and Belgium were well received “puisque la guerre les avait chassés de chez eux.”
How much of the reaction to the new arrivals on French soil was due simply to anti-foreign prejudice, and how much was due to more subtle reasons, can be clarified by an examination of the attitudes to refugees, who were often French. In Brittany, Mougenet argues that refugees, whether French or Belgian, were immediately welcomed, seen as victims of the war, while foreign workers were seen as profiting from it. However, as the numbers of refugees rose, from 2,500 in August 1914 towards 22,000 in September 1918, there are signs of changes in attitude. There were complaints about the fishing practices of the evacuated Belgians’ boats. In the consideration of an application for the allocation by Belgian refugee Georges Rombaux, it was noted that “Il dit qu’il n’acceptera qu’une situation en rapport avec ses capacités intellectuelles et ses titres … Et l’on n’est pas bien sûr qu’il n’ait pas quelques moyens”. With other potentially deserving families having been rejected, “l’acceptance de la demande de M. Rombaux pourrait être considérée comme une prime au chômage volontaire et ferait sûrement des mécontents.”
In Anjou, Jacobzone notes that the relationship between the populace and the refugees was strained, particularly in areas where large numbers were concentrated, and Germain Pouget has described the difficulties between refugees and their hosts in the Cantal. The Prefect of the Saône-et-Loire blamed refugees for disturbing the peace, reporting that “à la suite de l’introduction d’éléments étrangers à la région, de nouvelles tendances se sont manifestées.” The sympathy that refugees gained from having the ill fortune of being driven from their homes soon dissipated if they were felt to be taking advantage of others in their new location. The Committee of Economic Action for the Nantes region argued that residents from the invaded lands “qui ne seront plus sur leur sol, ne se sentiront nullement attirés vers le travail” while in Toulouse, a the committee suggested that refugees in the region whether French, Belgian or other, should be put under an obligation to work. Margueritte Yerta’s novel Les six femmes et l’invasion criticised those who profiteered from the refugees and those who treated them harshly, only to see these criticisms removed by the French censor.10
Miners who had been exiled from the north and relocated to work in the Midi integrated badly with the local workers, missed their homes and worried about their families. It was also claimed that they enjoyed the local wine too much, to such an extent that in June 1915, a report on the employment of refugees in mines claimed that: “Les scènes scandaleuses qui résultent de ces habitudes d’intempérance constituent un exemple déplorable pour la population ouvrière locale” This division is highlighted in a report by the Commissaire Spécial in Chalon-sur-Saone 15 August 1917. There had been disturbances in Montceau-les-Mines that had resulted in one death and several injuries. It had begun when a mining company had given its employees a bonus and there had been some celebrations.
La haine sourde entre mineurs montcelliens et mineurs de Nord n’attendait qu’une occasion pour se manifester ouvertement. […] La conduite tapageuse et l’attitude défiant des ouvriers du Nord provoqua des incidents de cabarets qui dégénèrent en bagarres sur la voie publique dans plusieurs quartiers de la ville.
Vous ne vous imaginez pas à quel point les gens du Nord se sont rendus odieux aux yeux de leurs camarades du bassin de Montceau et de la population montcellienne. Que ce soit au point de vue individuel, ou sur le terrain syndical ou professionnel, l’élément du Nord traite le nôtre par le dédain, par le mépris. Il entend ne pas se plier aux coutumes du pays at imposer les siennes. Le tapage nocturne est de règle en rentrant chez soi. Enfin l’intempérance est à la base de tout.
The tone of the report indicates that the antipathy towards the miners from the north from the local community was shared by the authorities in the region.
Further evidence of the mistrust between the refugees and those responsible for taking them in is highlighted by a cartoon which appeared in the “Journal des réfugiés du Nord” which depicted a southerner saying to a displaced northerner “Maintenant que vous êtes ruinés, nous allons prendre vos industries.” This brought about an injured response by L’Eclair du Midi, which was always quick to respond to perceived slurs from the North. A small advert in the Dépêche sought employment in the same place for a female chef and chambermaid, both refugees. They declared “Préférence personnes du Nord”.
If French refugees created tension as strangers to the area, and as a potential drain on resources, those from outside France’s borders were still more suspect. There was also a consistent tendency for the French to blame foreigners for any problems that arose. Strikes in Paris, 31 May 1917, were ascribed to foreign influence by L’Eclair du Midi, claiming the presence of a large number of Swiss, Greeks, and especially Turks. The paper also applauded Clemenceau for declaring his lack of astonishment at the number of foreigners involved in the strikes. “Nous n’avons pas besoin d’étrangers dans nos murs, à moins que leur présence, dans l’intérêt de la défense nationale, ne soit scrupuleusement justifiée.” According to the under-secretary of state for artillery and munitions, foreigners should be considered to be under suspicion of being German agents, bent on attacking munitions factories. Meanwhile, “louche Espagnols” were suspected of being agents of the enemy. In the Lozère, many mayors refused to try to lodge those who the departmental administration had decided were “les réfugiés non suspects” because their population saw a spy in every foreigner. A report by the Prefect of the Savoie argued that a range of nationalities led to greater disturbances in factories.
La main d’œuvre de ces usines est composée en majeure partie d’ouvriers du pays et de travailleurs italiens qui ne sont affiliés à aucune organisation, et qui obéiraient difficilement à un mot d’ordre donné.
But in the metal factories of Ugine “Le personnel est beaucoup plus mélangé et hétéroclite; de temps à autre, de petites manifestations se produisent. Most common was the accusation that foreigners were gaining financial benefit by exploiting the French. At a meeting of mutilés and veterans in Marseille, M. Marchetti argued that: “Pendant que nous, combattants français, sous les balles, contenions et finissions par repousser l’envahisseur, d’autres à l’arrière, parmi lesquels beaucoup d’étrangers s’enrichissaient scandaleusement à nos dépens.” When the third arrondissement of Paris saw protests against Russians and Poles it was because of “jeunes Russes et Polonais qui continuent leur commerce réalisant, prétendent leurs concurrents, des bénéfices beaucoup plus élevés qu’avant la guerre”. In L’Eclair du Midi, Jean Legrave commented on the high proportion of nouveaux-riches who were of foreign origin, and who appeared to have profited from the war. That the “race d’origine” of these men was sometimes difficult to ascertain, only seemed to increase his indignation, and he condemned the French reluctance to repatriate foreigners.
The Jewish population in France offers a slightly different situation as they were officially French, but often seen as outside or against the national community. For the Jews, the Union Sacrée offered the chance to prove themselves totally committed to their nation. To some extent they succeeded, Maurice Barrès claimed to be convinced to the loyalty of France’s Jews, and many others must have felt similarly. The post-war growth in Jewish population, from 150,000 in 1919 to 200,000 in 1930, did not result in any visible increase in anti-Semitism. The right-wing leagues tried to attract Jewish support and especially Jewish war veterans. Only Action Française held aloof. By 1931 Gringoire argued “There are no more anti-Dreyfusards … They’re either dead or they’re converted.” During the war, La Petite Gironde made a similar point in an article discussing Drumont and the popularity of his ideas which “apparut excessive dans la principe, sinon dans quelque details.” The war had changed that though, “Juifs, catholiques et libres penseurs versent leur sang pour une seule et même cause avec la même noblesse. Edouard Drumont meurt oublié.”
One of the reasons that anti-Semitic attitudes may have been altered more favourably, is that Jews had traditionally faced a hostile portrait that stressed that their true loyalties were not to France and their patriotism could not be relied upon. Jews fighting and dying in the trenches offered a direct contradiction to this. By contrast, while the willingness of other races to fight on the French side was well regarded, it did not invalidate the negative views that many French had of their essential characteristics. Nevertheless, again we should be wary of assigning too much importance to the effects of the war. As Vicki Caron notes, anti-Semitism had been in decline since 1899 while the anti-Semitic group in parliament was wound up in 1906. Equally, as soon as the political landscape became more troubled, the Jews became a target again. In the 1920s, nationalists sought to blame the “Dreyfusard party,” for being responsible for the carnage of 1914‑1918 by weakening the army and thus national defence. The 1930s saw even more hostility, the depression reawakening all the old complaints against Jewish “profiteers”, then the Jews escaping from Nazi Germany were portrayed as trying to provoke a war. Leon Blum’s accession to power did not help. Indeed if Paula Hyman’s assertion that “The years 1906-1918 can […] be seen as a golden age for French Jewry” is accepted, then the conclusion of the war marked the end of an age of increased acceptance for French Jews. Thus, the war may have hastened the decline of anti-Semitism, and temporarily rendered it dormant as a political issue. But anti-Semitic ideology was too deeply entrenched to be significantly attenuated by the war. Even during the conflict, committed anti-Semites did not see Jews as part of the Union Sacrée, Franconi associated them with shirkers, while another soldier associated Jews with the traitors in the government, claiming that “en réalité nous sommes toujours gouvernés par les Caillaux, Malvy, les Juifs tels que Bolo et une Chambre de vendus comme Turmel, Humbert et bien d’autres.” Tony Tollett wrote a book about the French art market alleging collaboration between Jews and Germans to undermine French culture, drawing on traditional stereotypes of shady Jewish business practises combining with methodical German planning. In 1919, Urbain Gohier’s book la Vielle France denounced Jews as “peuplade de nègres mal blanchis” and argued that anti-Semitism was a reaction of “légitime défense” for the French. Even Barrès praise for Jewish patriotism was conditioned by his assertion that it was intellectual not instinctual, and thus presumably could not always be relied upon. The Univers israélite called for the realization that “the enemies of Judaism are still with us” despite the lessening popularity of Drumont style anti-Semitism.
Equally, the good conduct of French Jews did not improve attitudes towards those from other nations. The conservative L’Eclair du Midi, while generally not prone to anti-Semitism towards French Jews during the war, nonetheless displayed traces of it when dealing with foreign Jews, in particular in Russia. J de Morgan offered a time-honoured view of malign Jewish influence in the corridors of power when he wrote about “tout un peuple, celui des Grands Russiens, qui, obéissant aux suggestions d’une poignée de métèques …” while the newspaper happily latched on to reports in Russian newspapers that Lenin was not a Russian, but a German spy, whose real name was Goldberg. This pattern was mirrored in its more left wing counterpart, La Dépêche, which said of Jews in the Ottoman Empire: “Il y a des belles femmes en Orient mais ce n’est pas chez les juifs quelle sont. A part de rares exceptions elles sont chétives, sèches, petites avec des profils de chèvre.” Sophie Cœuré notes in her study of Franco-Russian relations that police dossiers associated ideas of German influence in France with that of “l’élément russo-juif”. This echoes Lyautey’s aforementioned wish to combat the “infiltrations judéo-bolcheviques”.
La Dépêche also provided a clear example of how anti-Semitic prejudice could be maintained against Jews in France, while apparently excluding French Jews, an exclusion that could always be reversed. The writer, Frelon, discussed the casualties from shells launched at Paris, where apparently the casualties had a disproportionate number of German names. He argued this was because the quarter where the bombs had fallen was home to an exotic population of “israelites d’origine russe, roumaine, galicienne, lesquels, par un phénomène singulier, portent presque tous de noms allemands.” This population had displayed a tendency to shirk military service and was not “en général naturalisée”. Furthermore “[e]lle compte dans son sein des réfugiés de tous genres venus en France pour fuir des persécutions toujours prétendues religieuses bien qu’elles soient souvent simplement judiciaires.” Within this population could be found “la soupçonne de pacifisme, de défaitisme et de pire encore.” He found it amusingly ironic that the Germans had struck amongst these “indésirables”. In this one passage Frelon conflates a variety of negative perceptions of foreigners; that they were bogus refugees, that they had not adopted French customs and that they undermined the war effort; as characteristic behaviour of foreign Jews. In the same newspaper, Emile Bergerat showed that the war had not changed his belief that Jewishness transcended national boundaries. “Citoyens factices ou naturels de la nation où ils vivent, ils doivent s’entre-tuer sous tous les drapeaux. Le pauvre Ashvérus est en outre condamné au fratricide.”
As with other groups then, traditional ideas about Jews were maintained. Their lack of rootedness in one nation and their propensity for underhand dealings in particular received regular public outings, albeit usually in criticism of foreign Jews. This flexibility of discourse allowed anti-Semitic ideas to be maintained even by those who praised the patriotic actions of French Jews, before appearing again, reinvigorated, in the 1930s.
The role of each nation in the war clearly had a vital impact on how the French viewed and portrayed the inhabitants of those nations. Citizens from allied countries were usually praised, those from neutral countries were regarded with suspicion while the populations of France’s enemies were harshly criticised. While the Germans may have been distrusted before the conflict, the vituperation they received during it was clearly qualitatively different. What is crucial, however, is that the judgements made of all the foreigners encountered by the French during the war drew heavily on existing stereotypes. Whether a nation was allied to the French or ranged against them, their populations’ actions were understood within a framework of ideas that had existed for years. Americans were considered idealistic, energetic, friendly, money-oriented and unsophisticated. Russians were backward and credulous peasants. The English were principled, conscientious, fastidious, and aloof. The actions of the inhabitants of these countries were considered to be rooted in these characteristics; praiseworthy actions were explained as a triumph of their positive traits over the negative ones and vice versa.
An example of this is in how the French reacted to military setbacks amongst their allies. When the Italians were forced to retreat, it was usually ascribed to military incompetence or to the suspect temperament of their soldiers. When it was the British who did so, it was more likely to be attributed to a lack of resolve by the British authorities, an unwillingness to fully commit themselves to the war. So for example in the comments quoted earlier from the inauguration of the monument at Artaix, M. Damiron describing Italian setbacks refers to their soldiers panicking, while M. Pegon spoke of the need for the French to bolster the English to prevent them retreating too easily. When the performance of the British troops on the Western Front was seen as being inferior to that of the Russian troops in the east during th Brusilov offensive, one French correspondent commented that it seemed the British wanted to preserve their beautiful army for after the war. By contrast, in late 1917 with the Russians engulfed in revolution and the Italians in disarray after their rout at Caporetto, the British troops were praised for their steadfastness.
The Germans received the most attention in French discourse and a consistent stream of vitriol was levelled at them. Once again though, this criticism followed traditional themes and indeed Germany’s actions were often explicitly described as being in a historical tradition. The French definition of the Germans as inherently militaristic and barbarous also informed their post war actions. A Rhenish police commissioner claimed that (unlike colonial troops) French troops occupying the Rhineland considered the Germans “an inferior people”. Laird Boswell has argued that following the French liberation of Alsace and Lorraine they sought to create not simply a loyal population in the lost provinces, but also one as free from German blood as was possible. Alsatians were classified as being French or not based on their descent rather than simply on residence and ID cards were issued based upon whether an individual had Alsatian parents, German parents, mixed parentage or was of another nationality entirely. Sometimes people appealed against their classification, and race was not the only consideration used in hearing their appeals. Indeed the most common reason for success was if they could prove that they or a close relative had served in the French army or the Foreign Legion, demonstrating again that military service on the French side could compensate for racial inferiority.
The other most noticeable phenomenon about French attitudes towards the German nation is that despite all the abuse heaped on the German “barbarians”, they were still regarded as more advanced and more civilised than non-white “savages”. While the animosity and contempt towards the Germans was real and intense, it was not sufficient to overcome the greater conviction of white men’s superiority over non-whites.
“P.G.” = Prisoners of war. This quotation is also noteworthy because it labels American blacks as exotic, and claims they share the low productivity of exotic workers from China and Africa.
German-Americans continued to be regarded with scepticism though even if it was less than before the US entered the war. For instance, in the 1916 Presidential election, Wilson’s victory over Hughes was argued to be a good thing by the Dépêche because Hughes was alleged to have gained a disproportionately large amount of the German-American vote.
This can be compared to an article by Jacques Pericard, printed in 1919, which claimed consistent hostility between Bavaria and Prussia.
The Illustration image inspired a similar postcard with the subtitle “Ti viens voir sauvages”. Michel, L’Appel à L’Afrique, appendix. The black soldier himself looks smart and amiable with no traces of savagery, the Germans in the background look subdued rather than ferocious. This illustrates the need for flexibility in the discourse on savagery, where the postcard sought both to condemn the Germans as savage, but simultaneously to reassure the public that neither German prisoners nor colonial soldiers represented a threat.
Notice again the emphasis on the racial difference between Germanic and Latin peoples.
Whether the Germans were indeed cruel by their very nature was not universally agreed. Gaultier argued that they were: “Il est barbare et il est, au fond de lui, naturellement cruel.”
This quote also testifies to the perceived susceptibility of women to favour rich men rather than heroic ones.
Note here also that American troops, just like colonial workers earlier, are believed to require surveillance in order to ensure their good behaviour ; rather than being able to exercise self-discipline.
The same applied to colonial soldiers too. Postal censors for the Madagascan contingent noted approvingly that “L’admiration est grande pour la France, et contrairement aux Indochinois, ils reconnaissent la valeur du peuple et de l’armée française.”
The offending passages remained in the English edition.