Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/378

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servility. They are undoubtedly inferior to the average foreman or head clerk. In the army authority is much more absolute, obedience more strictly enforced than in civil life. An act of disobedience, "talking back," means not "the sack," but imprisonment, the court martial, the disciplinary companies of Africa or even death. Yet in civil life authority generally implies some degree of real superiority; in the army it is often vested in men flagrantly inferior to the average. Hence a spirit of sullen opposition among the soldiers. The only enduring bitterness which my passage in the army left me was due to the pettiness and tyranny of these underlings. Yet I found among them one unusually able and well-meaning young man, a sergeant-major who died three years later as a lieutenant.

The most demoralizing features in French military life are due to an incontestable progress in the French mind—its gradual loss of faith and interest in military glory. Henceforth the army is considered as useless, dangerous, a burden without a compensation. Authors of school books may be censured for daring to print such opinions, but the great majority of the French hold them in their hearts. Nay, there is a prevailing suspicion among workingmen that the military establishment is kept up for the sole benefit of the capitalists, and the reckless use of troops in case of labor conflicts gives color to the contention. In missions, explorations, aviation, rescue work and on colonial battlefields, the French have shown the same enthusiastic spirit as of yore. But dreary barrack life, without a clear purpose, without an ideal, is more than they can bear. Hence, a universal spirit of indifference and laziness; the main point is to reach the end of the year without trouble, and with the least possible effort (vulgo "tirer au flanc"). Those who succeed in shirking duty are admired and envied as "debrouillards." A disease or an accident, if not too painful, is considered as a stroke of luck; it gives a soldier a few days of far-niente. The military doctors have to exercise the closest scrutiny on malingerers and shammers. To waste time and to escape punishment are the only ideals. There is no incentive to good work. In this respect military life is vastly inferior to industrial life. Men who serve only two years do not aspire to promotion; by working hard for fifteen months, they could barely manage to become sergeants for the remaining four or five. They can't be turned out for inefficient work. I believe the barracks were the school in which the French working-men, naturally industrious and conscientious, learned the terrible habit of "Sabotage." No legitimate superiority is recognized in any way. Education, refinement, cleanliness—verbal, physical and moral—are causes of suspicion. Brute strength, profanity, capacity for strong drink, are titles to respect. Many a workman's son, trained in technical schools, aspiring to better manners and a higher ideal than those of his first associates, is during his stay in the army dragged down back to his old level.