TOPICS OF THE DAY
THE TERMS OF TRUCE.
THE Germans have shown themselves hard masters, and, like most hard masters, very near-sighted statesmen. They have acted like the First Napoleon,—with the ex- cuse of retributive motives, it is true, and hardly on such flimsy pleas as Napoleon,—but still after the same fashion, and they call that taking security against French aggression. We call it taking security for French aggression. They have made it impossible for a true French statesman, for a wise French statesman, to aim at a permanently pacific policy. They have made it a duty for France to arm herself for the rescue of her border pro- vinces, just as Louis Napoleon's success would have made it a duty for Germany to arm herself for the rescue of the Rhine provinces. The more sagacious French statesmen will try to curb French eagerness for the moment when they may reclaim their, lost brethren and lost fortresses ; they will plead, and plead truly, that a long-continued policy of self-restraint can alone prepare France for a .renewed conflict with her tremendous foe ; but no French statesman worthy of the name can now make it his end and aim to try and obliterate the memory of this terrible war, and induce his people to look forward to an enduring peace. That would have been possible, had Germany been content with a moderate money indemnity and dismantled fortresses, or even with the cession of such portions of territory (if any) as Germany might find willing to vote for annexation. A great French statesman might then have said, 'As to the money, we shall make it again by peace, but we shall only lose more by war ; as to the fortresses, we do not want them during peace, and if war is forced upon us we may conquer our right to rebuild them ; it is not worth while to make war solely for the sake of recovering our former advantages in war ; and as to the annexation of the ceded districts, if the people prefer Germany to France, they are no border strength to France.' But no great statesman can be found to say, The people of Alsace and Metz and Thionville groan under the yoke of the foreigner, but it is not for you to think of helping them. Metz in German hands is so terrible a threat to our capital that we can hardly venture to have a policy of our own in Europe ; but it is not for you to think of removing it. Reduce your army ; prepare to live peaceably, or with only defensive preparations at most ; banish from your minds the recollection of the fellow-countrymen you have handed over to a foreign yoke ; ignore dictation if you can ; submit to it if you must ; but think no more of retrieving the past.' That is simply impos- sible language for French statesmen to adopt. They must say,— it is their duty to say,—'France must be strong ; France must restrain herself in order to be strong, but at strength she must from this day forth aim steadily. Through self-denial and self-sacrifice, and the willing bearing of heavy burdens, France must regain, and more than regain, the strength she has lost.' And everybody will know that this means,—France must prepare, through years, through decades, if it must be, for a new struggle. France must take upon herself the mission of reversing a great wrong, and at the same time setting herself free from a galling chain. The German • statesmen have deliberately forced this policy on France. They have done for France what the First Napoleon did for Prussia,—made patriotism, and a policy of strong military organization, synonymous terms. They have put an aim before her. They have wrenched from her a prize which every feeling, both of generosity and self-respect, compels France to strive at least to recover. The Germans themselves would be the first to think ill of France if she did not gird herself up for this struggle. They would say,—" see how tamely she takes the wresting from her of her truest citizens, was it right, that they should belong to such as she is ?" Thus, a peace is to be signed which makes renewed preparation for war a French duty. All the world, Germany included, really recognizes this. All will say that it is a question of time, that though France will be fatally blind and vain if she imagines herself strong enough too soon, she will be fatally false and mean if she does not enter at once on the weary task of training for a new struggle. It may, of course, turn out that that training may be fruitless. It may be that the very pressure under which a loose-knit people (such as the German people was during the first decade of this century) was welded together into a new and stronger cohesion, will crush the already close and perhaps too brittle texture of French society. But
on this, of course, the Germans cannot and do not count. If they wished to crush France (which they disavow, no doubt sincerely), they should exact far more. If they hoped to resume good terms with her, they should exact far less. The natural, effect of what they have done is to enlist every good and every evil, and indeed every human passion, of the French nature on the side of a renewal of the struggle as soon as it can be renewed with a fair prospect of success.
The worst element, therefore, in the terms of peace is that they are,—like the terms of alsnost all the First Napoleon's peaces, though less flagrant,—mere terms of submission,—terms of truce,—terms which prohibit any true- French statesman from acquiescing in them as final,—terms which shut the mouth of any impartial neutral in thee intent to condemn France for making the most gigantic. efforts to prepare for their subversion. They are terms which make the deliberate intention to husband every. resource for a new war, not immoral, but inevit-- able. They are terms which impose on France a duty the equivalent of that which would have been imposed upon Germany had the ex-Emperor succeeded in wresting Coblenz, and Mainz, and Landau, and Gemersheim, and the rich Rhine provinces from Germany, in addition to extorting scientifically from the wretched land plunder and tribute' beyond any but Napoleonic precedents. Count Bismarck is so sure France will fight him again, that he presents her spon- taneously with not simply a reason why she should, but why she ought. What he fears she will do against right and' reason, he compels her by every consideration of right and reason to attempt as soon as she may. This is the hardest and worst feature of the truce. Of the severity of the indemnity, which France will hardly recover for a generation, and by which Germany will probably lose as much in freedom as France in wealth, we have spoken elsewhere. This is the second bit- terness. But the physically threatening character of the new arrangements, their tendency to make France feel as Paris feels now that the guns are directed upon it from the forts, is hardly to be exaggerated. With not only the mountain., barrier secure, but Longwy, Thionville, Metz, Phalsburg,, Bitche, Strasburg, Schlettstadt, Neu Breisach, all strong places in the hands of the Germans, and all ready to- pour forth troops on the naked eastern border of France,. —France without a single strong place except Belfort on her new frontier,—without a fortress of any sort nearer that frontier than the second-rate fortresses of Toni and, Verdun, which can hold garrisons, but not armies,—will be solely dependent for resistance on her forces in the field, and. till a very great force indeed is organized will be as much under dread of Germany, as Lombardy, without the alliance of France, would have been under that of Austria while Austria still held the Quadrilateral. Metz alone, which is impregnable as a fortress, and can hold an army of the first magnitude, will menace Northern France almost as formidably as Valerie's now menaces Paris. And an armed nation now numbering_ 40,000,000 souls, and expecting rapid developments, while France is reduced to 36,000,000, and incapable of further development, is to present arms along this bristling frontier at the inhabitants of the land which has just been stripped naked by its legions. Moreover, with the Germans along the line from Longwy to Thionville and Metz, Luxembourg will' be wholly insulated by German influence, and will, no doubt, soon fall into the German grasp. The neutral Powers of Europe have not shown the faintest vestige of the wish or power to say No,' and we all know that to him that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance. Even when Champagne. is evacuated by German troops, it will be about as safe from them as wine from the lips of a man who is withheld from drinking by his own self-restraint, and nothing more. The- Meuse could be crossed, Chalons masked, and Champagne over- run from Metz and the other border fortresses, before a French army could be concentrated for the purpose of resistance.
But then the pacific temper of Germany, the self-restraint of the German people, is enough security for France ? What- could she wish more ? Alas that dream has vanished for those who entertained it, since it was seen how completely German statesmen of the most unscrupulous type can mould German patriotism to their purposes. The Germans have not only permitted, but pressed upon, their rulers all the mon- strous extortions of the German Airny, as legitimate revenge for the still more monstrous extortions of Napoleon sixty years since. Their historical consciousness' is so exacting that they deem it equity to retaliate a French wrong of 20G years since by an equal German wrong now. While Count Bis-.
marck manipulates their newspapers, and plays upon them by his diplomacy as Rommel= and Guildenstern would have played upon Hamlet, the simple Germans are all ready to cry out at a moment's notice that the Fatherland would be endangered by refraining from a policy of conquest. For those who know their weak side their credulous confidence has hardly any bounds. They are as fully persuaded now that it is a policy of superb generosity to take only £200,000,000 and all the requisitions, and Alsace and Metz and Thionville, and give a couple of millions of Frenchmen or so their choice between emigration and expatriation, as they are that the Fatherland is holy. If France refused these terms, they would overrun the South with all the enthusiasm and zeal of a holy crusade The pacific character and self- restraint of Germany as a guarantee, for the rights of her neighbours, means about as much as the honour of France by way of a like guarantee. Either country might be persuaded almost by a child-diplomatist that aggression was due to the very qualities which they regard as guarantees for peace or magnanimity. Europe is too feeble and too faint- hearted to impose any higher law on the passions of nations. But Europe cannot but recognize with alarm that Germany, in taking her debtor by the throat and demanding her debt, and then delivering her to the tormentors till she has paid the uttermost farthing, has ex- tinguished our last hope of seeing a power predominant on the Continent to whose equity and moderation the welfare of the whole family of nations might be entrusted without any fear that it would wrest the highest considerations for the advantage of its own selfish ends. "Vce Vietis 1" is Germany's doctrine, as it was the doctrine of France. " Tice Victoribus I " is likely enough to be the real corollary drawn by the logic of facts from the consequences of this extortionate and tyrannical truce ;—for though it may last years, perhaps even a decade or more, a truce it is, the duration of which can only depend on the exhaustion of the conquered country.