Democracy and Military Service. Jean Jaurès 1907

Chapter III.
A Mutilated and Incomplete Defensive.

IN view of all the talk about the “armed nation” it might be supposed that the eleven “classes” of the Reserves would be mobilized on the outbreak of hostilities and would form part of the great army which would spring to the defence of France. It would, indeed, be a most formidable army of 2,000,000 men, all fully trained and all under the age of 33. But, alas! nothing of the kind is contemplated. Only five of the eleven “classes” of the Reserves are intended to form part of the first line and to act as a means of hurling back the enemy at the first critical onset. Seven classes, the whole of the men between 27 and 34 years of age, are excluded from the Army of the first line, and France will thus be deprived of a million men in the full vigour of life, in her first effort to hurl back the invader by the overwhelming weight of numbers thrown against him at the outset. Indeed, it is suggested that even so the Reserves are too large, a view which can only be due to the influence of old prejudices in favour of the “barracks-army” as being the only one that counts. Strange to say, those who maintain this view tell us that the fate of the war will practically be settled by the first battles. Yet, they are prepared to throw away the immense military resources which the seven last classes of the Reserves represent, apparently because they think these men will already have forgotten what they learnt in their two years’ service in barracks and will have become stiff, “soft” and unfit for service with the first line.

This attitude is only another proof of the folly of keeping men two years in barracks and then letting them ‘go to pieces,’ instead of giving them a much shorter period of recruit training, followed by frequent repetition courses which would keep them ‘fit’ and constantly in touch with active military operations.

There is, of course, another reason for this hesitation in taking advantage of the whole of the youthful man-power of the nation. It is felt that young unmarried men who have no family ties can be more easily led to war, especially if it be a war of aggression or adventure, than the great body of men who have settled down to married life. And that is true enough. The real Nation in Arms is ill adapted to the methods of aggressive and predatory war favoured by the dynasties and oligarchies of the past, and, for such a purpose, it is no doubt a sound plan to utilize the “Active Army,” which is actually in barracks at the outbreak of war and which can easily be inflamed by jingo and chauvinist ideas, counting on the patriotism of the nation, once the war has begun, to rally to the support of the first line with all the solid weight of its millions of responsible citizens.

But these considerations which impel the militarist to exclude the mass of the nation’s manhood, and especially the married men, from the first line of defence, are precisely those which demand that they shall be included in a military system which is really based upon the ideals of a true defensive.

“Assuming that a nation is firmly bent on following a policy of peace and justice, that her only object in view is self-protection, that the government, controlled and inspired by the people, loses no opportunity of proving to its own people and to other nations that its intentions are peaceful and just, why should such a nation and such a government hesitate to call on every man in the country for the common good ?

“Can such a government be blamed if it is obliged to arm all its citizens, even those who have families, whose duty towards their families conflicts with their duty towards the State ? The nation, in defending itself, defends the families, the liberty, the rights, the feelings of all its citizens. They should all obey the summons issued by the nation in the name of justice. In putting themselves. at the disposal of the nation, they do not abandon their homes: they protect them and do them honour. How can they best serve the interests of their children? By giving them the chance of living as free men in a free country? Or by endangering, from a mistaken sense of parental duty, the liberty and existence of the State which are essential to their welfare?

“A government which is genuinely and demonstrably a government of national defence, which can give proof of its reverence for law and justice, is entitled to call on every available man in time of need. The resentment which men feel at being obliged to leave their families will be directed against the aggressor, and will strengthen their solve to defend their country. It will be the duty of the country, defended by all its citizens, to provide for the families of those who fall in its defence. A government which looks forward to putting the entire fighting forces of the country into the field at the outset is necessarily obliged to follow a policy of peace and justice. No government could reasonably hope for the support of the nation, if there were any doubt as to the justice and necessity of the conflict to be undertaken. There can be thing dishonest, nothing obscure or doubtful about the policy of a government which counts on the armed force the entire nation.

“A Nation in Arms is necessarily a nation actuated by justice and uprightness. Governments which shrink from immediate use of all their reserve forces confess by their hesitation, the existence of elements of aggression and injustice in their policy. The rulers of Germany, imbued with military imperialism, are consistent in relying more and more on a barrack-trained, first line army, in refusing to use the reserves, that is to say the armed force of the nation, for the first battles, which will, in their opinion, be decisive.”

The apparent solicitude of French military writers for the interests of the married men is obviously due to this desire to be able to use the first line freely and suddenly, before the nation has had time to weigh the questions at issue between the two countries and make its desire for the maintenance of peace felt.

The fact is, — and Jaurès recurs to this point over and over again — that France is clinging to an illogical system which represents a lopsided compromise between political democracy and social oligarchy, between the traditions of conquest and the ideals of peace. Hence, though she assigns a more important place to the Reserves in her military system than Germany does, yet at the same time she does everything possible to lower the value of the Reserves and to make use of them merely in the last resort as a sort of unpleasant necessity.

France will be really strong and secure when — and not until — she brings her military organization into complete harmony with a democratic and peaceful policy. When the rulers of France adopt the dignified and manly policy of disclaiming, definitely and publicly, all idea of a war of revenge: when they renounce, deliberately, openly, and without any reservation, all idea of following an aggressive policy: when they prove to the world that they are prepared to submit all questions at issue to international arbitration: then they will be able, if danger threatens, to call on all the available forces of the nation for the earliest, as for the later, stages of the campaign.

“France would have more moral possibility than Germany in calling upon her reserves; for (under my hypothesis) France would be clearly suffering from foreign aggression, and Germany would feel the maximum effect of those political and social reasons which make her hesitate to mobilise her reserves for the first battles. Again, strategic possibilities would here be on the side of France against Germany. Not only would France be the defender, but the fighting would be on her territory: and it is easier for a nation to concentrate all its reserves on its soil, always supposing that it has had courage and foresight enough to prepare for this contingency — to choose zones of concentration to which, each in its own time, all its forces can be collected. This strategy is far easier than that which compels an invader to carry all the weight of his own forces, by a single rush, into a foreign land: especially when the nation is distressed by uneasy doubts bred of a cowardly complicity in unjust aggression. If France and Germany stood in these relations to each other, I venture to say that militarist and absolutist Germany would not risk the attack: or, if she did, she would suffer one of those disasters which, when a government is founded upon naked force, are the prelude to a revolution. If France were known to be supported, from the first day of the conflict, by her whole available reserves and by the unity of all hearts, she would be so strong that the boldest enemy would, think twice before attacking her. Therefore, this policy of supreme national defence would soon gain for France not only peace, but the certainty of peace; in other words, the beginning of the clearest and most beneficent revolution which has been accomplished in the world for a long time past. It is in the name of that possible peace, which might be secured by utilizing our full forces of national defence, that we protest against the absurd system which deprives France of so large a part — perhaps even the best part — of her defensive forces. It is our wish to give the country those million soldiers whom our professional patriots and rniltarists would furtively deprive us of, behind our backs. For, under the present state of things, it is strange how little the nation knows about all these problems on which, after all, national life itself depends."[1]

Both the Nation and its military system are suffering from this fact that the country knows so little about its system of defence and is so little interested in it. One of the results of the reforms projected by Jaurès would be that the creation of the Nation in Arms would awaken the public national interest in military matters and create as regards the supreme question of defence, a thinking nation. Jaurès proceeds to protest against the fatal mistake of making the French system a feeble and abortive imitation of the German, and he reminds his countrymen of the deep significance of the marvellous achievements of the German Landwehr (reserve) troops, trained on lines similar to those which he proposes, against Napoleon’s armies in 1812 and 1813. It would be madness for France with a much smaller population and a very low birth-rate to attempt to base her hopes upon a first line army trained in barracks. Moreover, any attack by such an army inspired by the idea of the revanche might well reawaken in Germany that immense strength of the true defensive turning eventually into an irresistible offensive, which produced such prodigious results in 1813.

There is no necessity for France to follow Germany’s example in concentrating her attention on a barrack trained first line army, in hesitating to make the full-possible use of her reserves. Far from doing that, France ought to develop her military organization on the lines of her national characteristics, in harmony with the ideal law of an all-embracing democracy devoted to the cause of peace: she ought to train all her reserves so as to make them into her first line army. It would be fatal to the national genius and to the independence of France if she were — as regards military organization — merely a feeble imitation of Germany: the first essential step towards attaining her national ideals without war is to set her national genius free from the influences of German militarism. A strong democratic militia system: barrack life reduced to a minimum: the whole nation a vast army for the maintenance of national independence and the preservation of peace: in that way and in that way alone France be truly free.

Even those of us who were most convinced that German Socialists would march with the rest — as Bebel himself had frankly warned us — have yet been surprised at the completeness of their surrender. But this need not blind us to the fact that the German example, which superficial writers constantly quote as a normal case of militarism, is really an abnormal case. A succession of startling victories in war, followed by an equally startling development in the arts of peace, have made Germany (in Bebel’s words) “drunk with victory”: the military caste, therefore, rules supreme; democracy has as yet shown little power of resistance. But the general fact remains true, to which even Lord Haldane and an Hamilton appeal, that “the tendency [of Universal Service] is in the direction of the merely defensive”: “ should statesmen endeavour to use such a machine for distant or dynastic purposes they betray an idea, and will ultimately have to pay the penalty.” (Compulsory Service, pp. 41, 49-51). And, no thinking person can doubt that, unless this present war ends in a real German victory, the military caste will have to reckon with a very different democracy in future years. The King of Prussia, in 1793, refused to imitate the compulsory recruiting system which was enabling the French win successive victories over his troops, because it would be “infinitely dangerous” to his throne to arm the whole people. (European Magazine, July, 1793, p.11). We must remember, also, the present war did not find France prepared with the carefully studied defensive organization and defensive strategy for which Jaurès contended; and it may fairly be contended that General Joffre, after his first unsuccessful offensive, has adopted with conspicuous success the very strategy which was preached in season out of season by Jaurès .

1. Jaurès would doubtless have been astounded, as the whole world was, by the docility with which the German democracy has allowed itself to be used for aggressive purposes in this present.