A Letter from Paris
[To the Editor of the SPECTATOR.] S1R,— We in France who during a dark decade have looked in vain for some practical expression of the better mind of France in international affairs are permitted to take new hope. In the disarmament proposals of M. Herriot, which however far they fall short of the full needs of the problem, do anyhow recognize the equality of right between Germany
• and the other nations of the world, we find the evidence of a new spirit in the. foreign policy of France.
Perhaps only one who lives in France and who has year by year watched- the development of the nation's thought and attitude can appreciate the full import of the proposals. For there had fallen upon the French nation a kind of fatalistic belief that another war was inevitable. By a slow process of disillusionment the Frenchman had come to believe that the appeasement of Europe was an impossible task. His arguments, so far as they went, had force behind them. " Look," he would say, " at Germany. We have done our best to meet her. We have withdrawn our troops from the Rhine before their time. We have reduced and reduced our reparation rights until we have none left. To what good ? Only to find Germany. asking for more, and the old pan-German party back in power. Soon they will demand the abolition of the Polish corridor, and then the return of Alsace-Lorraine. And then—then we'll fight." This, it may be fairly claimed, was the average Frenchman's mental picture of the European future. Dozens of agencies around him helped to etch it into his -brain. The Nationalist Press told him his _picture was right. Big posters confirmed his mental concept. One saw not long ago on all the hoarding; a huge placard showing an ink-black stream of German soldiers flowing over the north of France. It was the war of revenge—the war inevitable.
Now it was precisely at this dark time that M. Iterriot brought forward his proposals. Some of u,s hardly expected him to survive the sitting of the Chamber at which they were made. That a French Prime Minister should propose equal rights for Germany at such a time seemed an impossible thing. Yet M. Herriot is still in power, and is shortly to support his plan at Geneva. To us the miracle has happened, And to M. Herriot himself must be ascribed the credit for the achievement. His speeches in support of his plan have undoubtedly made a great impression. One of the most impressive things he has said so far as Frenchmen are eon- cerned is found in the following phrase : "Le plus grand danger serail de laisser uric France acute decant uric Allemagne libre." Suppose, he said in effect, we. do not meet the German point of view. Suppose we drift into another war, what are the prospects of France against Germany with her greater population and her heavy industries—what are the chances of France, alone, as she probably would be ? The question was unanswerable. Such a thesis may not smack over much of idealism, but it does indicate a realization of the futility of war, and it does represent a grasp of stark reality from which better thinking may come. Certainly M. Herriot's thinking in its logic is more typically French than the thought on which French policy has been based since 1920. For while one Frenchman will tell you that the only. way to keep the peace of Europe is for France to maintain a big and dominating army, the next Frenchman will say that he expects to be in uniform before five years are out, and sometimes, indeed, both these opinions will be propounded by the same Frenchman. The fallacy is obvious, and Frenchmen, one may believe, are suddenly sick of the fallacy.
But we are by no means out of the wood. The question of course is whether when M. Herriot goes to Geneva to back up • his plan he will be consistently supported by the French Parliament and people. Politics in France take curious and sudden turns, especially when Ministers are attending confer- ences. So far as M. Herriot is concerned there is every reason to believe that he will be supported. His prestige was never greater- than it is to-day. He had a lot to live down. The average Frenchman did not care for the political company he had kept. Did he not hob-nob with Socialists and had he not been leader of the Cartel when the franc crashed in 1926? But M. Herriot since he came into power last May has shown himself at least as good a Frenchman as M. Tardieit or M. Pierre Laval, and the country seems disposed to trust him. Also it was clearly shown at the recent Radical Congress at Toulouse that he has his party solidly behind him and that he speaks as its undisputed leader. Moreover, one gets the impression that he gains some kudos from the fact that he has the ear of Great Britain. He knows how to handle those strange stand-offish Englishmen. Perhaps he cultivates that impression of himself. A revealing picture of him was obtained • at a recent social gathering of British journalists. During the toasts M. Herriot called for " cette chanson ecossaise." It was "Auld Lang Sync " he wanted. And he sang it with the best of them.
There, one may believe, we have a picture of something that lies at the heart of every warm-hearted Frenchman of the type of M. Herriot, and he represents a legion. Differences between the two countries there have been and must, be, but the Frenchman never forgets in his heart a time when France and England gave their best blood for their common cause. and somehow in the nature of things he thinks that it must be France and England who will give Europe peace. France has taken her proposals to Geneva. Great Britain has taken hen. May it not be that with sympathy on both sides Use two plans may be welded into some harmonious plan for the pacification of the world ? France, just setting out in the strength of a new idea, would be deeply, satisfied if it conld be so.—I am, Sir, &c.,
YOUR CORRESPONDENT IN PA B