Great Speeches of the War/Briand


[Speech of the Minister of Justice to the Members of the French Senate, December 22, 1914.]

Gentlemen:—The communication I have to make to you is not the usual speech by which a newly-formed Government outlines its policy. There is—at this moment—but one policy: war, pitiless war, until Europe is free, and its freedom secured by a victorious peace. [Cheers.] That is the cry that burst from all hearts when on August 4 there sprang up, as was so well expressed by the President of the Republic, "a sacred union of all parties which in the pages of history will redound to the honour of our country." That is the cry that all Frenchmen repeat, after having brushed aside the dissensions which have often made us very furious with each other, and which a blinded enemy mistook for irretrievable divisions. It is the cry which rises from the glorious trenches into which France has flung all her youth and all her strength. This overwhelming torrent of national loyalty has somewhat troubled Germany's dream of victory. At the outset of the conflict, she ignored justice, she appealed to might, she scorned treaties, and in order to violate the neutrality of Belgium and to invade France, she simply invoked the law of self-interest. Later on her Government realized that it must reckon with the world's opinion, and it has recently attempted to set itself right by casting on the Allies the responsibility of the war. But in spite of all the ponderous falsehoods which deceive no one, truth has prevailed. [Hear, hear, prolonged cheering.]

All the documents published by the nations concerned, and as recently as yesterday at Rome the inspiring speech of one of the most illustrious sons of noble Italy, witness to the long-agreed-upon determination of our enemies to bring about a state of war. If needs be, one of these documents alone would suffice to enlighten the world: when on July 31, 1914, at the suggestion of the English Government all the nations concerned were entreated to suspend military preparations and to arrange a conference in London. France and Russia agreed, and peace would have been secured, even at that eleventh hour, if Germany had followed their example. But Germany hurried on the crisis, on August 1 declared war on Russia, and thereupon the call to arms was inevitable. And if Germany, diplomatically, shattered peace, it is because for more than forty years she relentlessly pursued the same object—which was the crushing of France and the subduing of the whole world. [Loud cheers.] As a consequence, France and her Allies have been obliged to go to war, and this war they will wage to the bitter end. [Prolonged cheers.]

Loyal to the signature she affixed to the treaty of September 4 last, and by which she pledged her honour, that is to say, her life, France in agreement with her Allies will not cease fighting until outraged justice is avenged, until the provinces torn from her are re-united for ever to France—[loud cheers]—until industrial life in its fullness and political independence are restored to heroic Belgium—[loud and prolonged cheers]—and until Prussian militarism is crushed. [Renewed cheers.] This scheme of war and project of peace are not inspired, gentlemen, by presumptuous hopes. We feel sure of success! [Loud cheers.] We derive this certainty from the whole of our army, from our navy, which allied to the English Navy gives us full control of the seas, from our troops who have fought so bravely in Morocco, from our soldiers who in foreign parts defend our flag in French colonies—that from the very first day of the war turned with such tender affection to the Mother Country. [Hear, hear.] We derive this certainty also from the heroism of our Army, guided by incomparable leaders in the victory of the Marne, in the victory in Flanders, and in many combats—and we are encouraged by our nation that side by side with this heroism has shown the sublime qualities of unity, silence, and calmness in most critical moments. Thus we have been able to prove to the world that an organized democracy can strike a vigorous blow on behalf of its ideals of liberty and equality—[loud cheers]—and in the words of the Commander-in-Chief, who is a great soldier and a great citizen—[renewed cheers]—"the Republic has cause to be proud of the Army she has prepared." [Loud and renewed cheers.] Thus we have displayed in this wicked war all the virtues of our race—those that were conceded to us: Initiative, buoyancy, temerity, bravery—and those that were denied to us: Endurance, patience, stoicism. Gentlemen, let us salute all our heroes! Honour to those who have fallen into the grave before victory was won, and honour to those who will avenge them in the near future! A nation that gives birth to such enthusiasm is imperishable. [Hear, hear.] Sheltered by this heroism, the nation has lived, worked, accepted all the consequences of war, and the peace of the community has never been disturbed.

Before leaving Paris—at the earnest request of the military authorities, who arranged the hour and manner of our departure, and after having organized with the help of the Commander-in-Chief the defences of the capital—the Government had begun to take all measures necessary for the well-being of the nation. It has made use of the right which you had given to Parliament to settle all matters. In this complex and delicate work, part of which will be submitted for your approval, it has, by observing great care, been able to secure the working of the public services, to stir up everywhere collective and individual initiative, to bind together economic relations in view of the fact that certain localities had to be revictualled, to watch over and help the unremitting work of equalizing military burdens. The Government has not of course always been free of mistakes, and it has sometimes profited by the suggestions and criticisms which it has received, as is most proper in a democracy where every citizen, including the humblest, is a fellow-worker in governing the country. [Hear, hear.] The Minister of Finance has published his report of the financial situation. The resources which have accrued from the issue of Treasury bonds and the advances of the Bank of France have enabled us to cope with the expenditure imposed by the war, and we have not been obliged to have recourse to a loan. The Bank of France is able, thanks to its excellent position, to furnish the Treasury with money and to help in the recovery of trade. Everything points to the vitality of France, to the security of her credit, to the confidence that she inspires in spite of a war which shakes and impoverishes the world.

The Bank note which is at a premium everywhere, the daily increase of business in the money market, the raising of the proceeds of indirect taxation—these are proofs of the economic strength of a country that adapts itself with ease to difficulties and confidently asserts that the state of its finances will permit it to continue the war until the day when the necessary compensation will have been obtained. [Hear, hear.]

Gentlemen, it is not sufficient to do honour only to the victims fallen on the field of battle. We must also salute the civil population, innocent victims, who until now have always been protected by the international laws of warfare—[prolonged cheers]—and whom the enemy has captured or massacred in order to terrify a nation that has remained and will remain unshaken. With regard to their dependents, it has been an easy thing for the Government to do its duty—but the country's debt has not been paid. [Hear, hear.] Owing to the invasion, some departments have been occupied and are in ruins. The Government takes in your presence a solemn pledge, and which it has in part already carried out, in asking you for a first vote of credit for 300 millions. France will set up again these departments by means of the indemnity which we will exact—[loud cheers]—and in the meantime, by the help of a contribution which the whole nation will pay—proud, in the hour of distress of a number of her children, to fulfil the duty of national responsibility. [Loud cheers.] Thus rejecting the form of help which savours of charity the State takes to itself the right to make amends to those who have suffered as regards property from acts of war—[renewed cheers]—and it will fulfil its duty to the widest limits that the financial capacity of the country will permit and under conditions that a special act of Parliament will determine in order to avoid any injustice. [Hear, hear.]

Gentlemen, the day of decisive victory has not yet arrived. The task will be hard. It may be long. Let us be courageous. Heirs of the most formidable burden of glory that a people can bear, this country assents in advance to all sacrifices. Our Allies recognize this fact. The neutral nations know it, and it is in vain that an unbridled campaign of false news has tried to obtain from them the sympathy which they feel for us. If Germany pretended to doubt this at first, she doubts no longer. Let her realize once more that the French Parliament after more than four months of warfare revives in the sight of the world the spectacle which it offered when, in the name of the nation, it picked up the challenge. Parliament has full authority to accomplish the work in front of it. The Parliament has been both the expression and guarantee of our liberties for forty-four years—[hear, hear]—it knows that the Government accepts with respect its necessary control, that its confidence is indispensable—[hear, hear]—and that its sovereignty will always be obeyed.

It is this same sovereignty which increases the power of the demonstration of which it has already given an example. In order to conquer, heroism at the frontier is not sufficient, unity at home is required. Let us continue to preserve from every attack this unity. To-day, as it was yesterday, as it will be to-morrow, let there be but one cry: Victory—one object: our country—one ideal: the Right. [Hear, hear.] It is for the Right that we fight, for it Belgium still fights, she who has given for this ideal all the blood of her veins—[all the deputies and senators rise and cheer loudly]—and others who are fighting for the Right are:—Unshaken England, faithful Russia, brave Servia, the bold Japanese Navy, the heroic Montenegrins. If this war be the greatest history has ever known, it is not because countries are fighting to conquer territories, water-ways, to gain increase of commerce, political and economic advantages, it is because they fight to determine the fate of the world. Nothing grander has ever appeared to the eyes of men than to fight against barbarism and despotism, against the system of provocations and threats which Germany called peace, against the system of murder and wholesale pillage which Germany calls war, [Loud cheers.] And it is against the insolent supremacy of a military caste that France and her Allies have flung themselves as emancipators and avengers. That is what is at stake. Let us then continue to be united in heart and soul, and shortly in the peace of victory, our opinions once more free which we have now voluntarily enchained, we shall remember with pride these tragic days, because they will have made us worthier and better men. [Renewed and prolonged cheers.]