Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/377

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IMPRESSIONS OF MILITARY LIFE IN FRANCE

commissioned officers, so strict about trifles, sympathized with the drunkards and shielded them, and the penalties were so severe that the officers themselves often preferred to close their eyes. The old ideal of the eighteenth century soldier, "le vin, l'amour et le tabac," remains unchanged to this day. Home-sickness, chiefly among peasants, the squalor and monotony of barrack life among clerks and even students, often lead to a sort of dull despair, which seeks relief in drink (sometimes in suicide, too—there are occasional epidemics). On the evening of July 14 there were hardly half a dozen men sober in the whole company of a hundred.

The officers had no moralizing influence. The superior officers were seldom seen and greatly feared. The subalterns (captains and lieutenants) belonged to three groups: (1) A few clever, ambitious young men. These, all too rare anyway, scorned the routine of barrack life. They spent little time with the men; they studied, or managed to be sent abroad or in the colonies on a mission, or served at headquarters and on the general staff. (2) A large group of young men of means and leisure, not a few belonging to the old nobility. They serve because it is a family tradition, because a man must do something, because of the social prestige of the uniform—not seldom with a view to the larger price which officers command in the matrimonial market in the form of a dowry. They are, on the whole, amiable, inefficient and totally without prestige with their men. The old military caste, still the backbone of the German army, is merely an uninteresting survival in France. Distrusted by the government on account of their royalist opinions, without hope or desire of reaching the highest positions, they give a contagious example of indifference and idleness. (3) Men risen from the ranks—efficient drill-masters as a rule; not seldom kind with their men in a rough way; but often coarse, uncultured, intellectually paralyzed by twenty years of garrison life. The pay is small, the standard of living set by the officers of the second group is high; plebeian or free-thinking intruders are mercilessly snubbed. Silent or open rivalry of aristocrats and commoners, of school-trained and unschooled officers; a general spirit of uneasiness, listlessness and ennui; the most blindly patriotic men not in sympathy with modern France; with all these causes of division, officers as a body can have no real influence on their troops.

As for the non-commissioned officers, I think that Lucien Descaves's sordid and disgusting book, "Sous-Offs," does not slander them. The pay is exceedingly small (from twelve to thirty cents a day), the prospects of promotion not very bright, the work not attractive to a normal, self-respecting man. Only actual failures, or men who shrink from responsibilities in civil life, will take up military service (in subordinate ranks) as a profession. Working men despise them exactly as they despise flunkeys—and they have all the vices of flunkeys—laziness, arrogance and