Anatole France and Michel Corday: Threat of annihilation in gigantic Armageddon
From an article submitted to La République
Translated by J. Lewis May
Michel Corday has written a book which has deeply moved me and brought me great enlightenment. Until I read it, I had not properly understood the causes of the war which burst upon us in 1914. This book has revealed them to me. It has taught me the part played by metallurgical and financial interests throughout the world in the preparation and prolongation of that tremendous upheaval which the capitalists looked upon as a stroke of business, and a very profitable one into the bargain.
The book which has come to me as such a revelation consists of two volumes. The first appeared last year as Les Hauts Fourneaux [The Blast Furnaces], and was widely read. The second, La Houille Rouge [Red Coal], which has just been published, was all but smothered at birth. The leading journals hardly mentioned it. They did not want people to know about it, and they were right. If the truth is suffered to leak out, how is public opinion to be manipulated?
La Houille Rouge shows us how the war profiteers basely endeavored to prolong the conflict by filling the masses with the insane hope of crushing Germany out of existence. And so, with a great deal of wire-pulling and with the enthusiastic approval of the mob, they succeeded in bringing to nought every successive chance of conciliation that occasion seemed to offer.
“Ah, no! There must be no peace yet! Why not? Why, doubtless because the warmongers are not, as yet, in a position to possess themselves of all the spoils – mines, railways, oil-fields, customs, territories, indemnities – which they had looked forward to sharing out among themselves.”
There are fifty such pages in La Houille Rouge, and it were well if they were inscribed on the walls of every Town Hall throughout the length and breadth of France.
Yes, this book of Michel Corday’s has taught me, now that it is too late, the horrible, the frightful truth. Not that, even while the war was in progress, I was not occasionally visited by suspicions that we were being deceived. I went as far as to write, at the beginning of hostilities, an article on the necessity for a prompt and humane peace. It was a passage that did me honour, and because of it, respectable citizens poured out the vials of their wrath upon me in every public print. But I had not sufficient courage, or sufficient knowledge of what was going on, to continue proclaiming the truth. I even allowed myself to deliver little orations to the soldiers, living or dead, upon which I look back as the worst action I have wrought in my life.
To-day, the Brotherhood of Man is farther off than it was when the Emperor Augustus solemnly dedicated, in Rome, an altar to Peace. War, which has been the incessant scourge of Europe from the Barbarian invasions down to the present day, War, which was virtually the sole occupation of our kings and nobles, has taken on a fresh vigour since the Revolution which transformed the structure of our society.
Under the old régime, War was exclusively the occupation of the great ones of the land. Under the new régime, it has become the occupation of the nation as a whole. It drew fresh sustenance from the increased number of the combatants engaged in it, from the greater bitterness of the hatreds that inspired it, and above all, from the multiplicity of interests it was expected to satisfy. War is increasing in importance every day. It was once merely a means by which princes strove to settle disputes about territory; now it is a means by which manufacturers seek to add to their wealth. Everywhere it is the same. Countries, where the monarchical form of government still survives, such as Germany, for example, raised armies which were at once as numerous and as popular as the armies of democratic France. What was once the pastime of princes, has become a passion with the common people. Europe is threatened with annihilation in the gigantic Armageddon for which the nations are making ready. For it needs the heedlessness and the ignorance of the nations and their leaders not to recognize the menace that hangs over Europe.