Anatole France and Michel Corday: The press fans the flames of war’s blast furnace
From a letter to L’Humanité in 1922
Translated by J. Lewis May
I hope you will call the attention of your readers to Michel Corday’s new book, Les Hauts Fourneaux. They ought to know of it.
It contains ideas about the origins and the conduct of the war that you will appreciate, even now, are too little known in France. In particular we shall see that the World War was essentially the work of the capitalists. We shall see that it was the great manufacturers of the various European countries who, first of all, willed the war, then made it inevitable, and, finally, prevented it from coming to an end. They made it their trump card; they put all their money on it, reaped immense profits, and prosecuted it with such ardour that they brought ruin on Europe, on themselves, and put the whole world out of joint.
Hear what Corday has to say on the subject; for it is a subject on which he concentrates all the force of his convictions, all the resources of his talent.
“Those men,” he says, “are like their own blast furnaces, like those feudal towers which stand up face to face along the frontiers, things whose insatiable maws must unceasingly be filled, day and night, with ore and fuel, so that a constant stream of molten metal may pour from beneath them. With unappeasable voracity they cry aloud for fuel, yet more fuel, and demand that all the riches of the soil, all the fruits of labour, ay, and men too, men in herds, in armies, should be flung pell-mell into the gaping furnace, so that the smelted ore may accumulate in ever-growing masses at their feet. Yes, such is their emblem, the device by which we may know them. They it is, who are real blast furnaces.”
And so those who died in the war knew not why they died. It is the same in all wars. But not to the same degree. The men who fell at Jemmapes  were not deceived as to the cause for which they gave their lives. This time the ignorance of the victims is tragic. They think that they are dying for their country: in reality, they are dying for the manufacturers.
These, our present-day masters, possess the three things necessary for great modern enterprises: factories, banks and newspapers. Michel Corday shows us how they employed these three mighty engines. And in particular he explains a phenomenon which had caused us great surprise, not so much from its nature as from its excessive intensity, an intensity unparalleled in history; I mean how it was the hatred of a nation, whole nation, spread abroad throughout France with unprecedented violence, a violence far transcending the hatred engendered in this same country by the wars of the Revolution and the Empire. I am not speaking of the wars of olden days. They bred no hatred in the hearts of the French people. But with us, this time, it was a hatred that did not die away with the coming of peace; a hatred that made us forget our own interests and lose all sense of reality, without our even feeling the passion which possessed us, save perhaps now and again to find it not violent enough.
Michel Corday shows us quite clearly that this hatred was worked up by the newspapers, the same newspapers which, at this very hour, are guilty of fostering a state of mind which is luring, not only France, but the whole of Europe, to irremediable disaster. “The spirit of vengeance and hatred,” says Michel Corday, “is kept alive by the Press, whose uncompromising dogmatism will brook no questionings, no lukewarmness. Those who do not agree with it are branded as cowards or criminals.”