|IMPRESSIONS OF MILITARY LIFE IN FRANCE|
I SERVED 309 days—we counted them from the very first, and shouted every morning "Encore tànt et la fuite!"—as second-class private in the 129th regiment of the line, stationed at Le Havre. I was paid one cent a day, and in addition was entitled, every ten days, to a packet of tobacco at half its market value. That was in 1903-04, under the old (1889) law. University students, teachers, artists, artisans and craftsmen (ouvriers d'art), ministers and men having a family to support (soutiens de famille) had to serve, nominally one year, practically ten months. The rest—two thirds of the contingent—served three years. Any one mentally or bodily deficient was totally exempted. At present, the universal term of service is two years, without exception. Many of the halt and maimed, formerly totally excused, are employed in office work or in the repair shops, which offer a sorry sight. Candidates for the priesthood were for a while placed in the regular troops. Now they serve in the ambulance corps, as do a few determined Tolstoians who stubbornly refused to touch a weapon.
My impressions of the army were unfavorably colored, for several reasons, and my testimony is open to discount. First of all, I was a widow's only son, and was brought up very strictly by my mother. Then, the Dreyfus case was hardly over at that time (it was before the second "revision," and the final triumph of justice), and for the last four or five years I had been an enthusiastic Dreyfusist and attended numberless antimilitarist meetings. I found myself among workmen from the mills of Elbeuf and Rouen. Normandy is a fine country, and the race that lives there still offers splendid specimens. But it is rapidly being ruined by an evil greater than militarism—alcoholism; alcoholism to a degree which I as a Parisian did not dream of. Children seemed to be brought up on "Calvados" (cider brandy). The result can be imagined.
Finally I was stationed at Le Havre, the second seaport in France. The barracks rose right on the quays, and I could see in all its hideousness the gross immorality which prevails in all shipping centers. On the very first day, our sergeant carefully explained to us when to go to
- This article is an extract from a private letter in answer to a query concerning the military system of France. It is published by permission of Professor Guérard.—David Starr Jordan.