Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/379

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IMPRESSIONS OF MILITARY LIFE IN FRANCE

So my general impression is that the army has on the whole no uplifting influence whatever; and without being so black as it was sometimes painted, it has a lowering effect on all except the very lowest. I must, however, mention a few hopeful signs of transformation, which seem to point to a compromise between the army and modern democracy.

The first is the absolute equalization of the term of service. Before 1905 the wealthy classes had either escaped service altogether (paying a substitute, or buying themselves off directly) or served one year in special corps while the rest served five or three. They consistently opposed the general adoption of the one-year term of service, which they themselves enjoyed. Now, it will be easier to further reduce the term of service, first to one year, then to six months. With such reduction the dangers of military life decrease (less idleness, more interest), while its good features (as a school of citizenship and physical culture) are retained.

2. For the last ten years an immense effort has been made for transforming the army into a great educational agency. Le Temps, always opposed to any form of progress, recently published a skit in which civil professors in the army (professors of civics, hygiene, geography, rural economy, "prévoyance," etc.) complained that drills, marches and manœuvres were interfering with their teaching. Nay, pacifist lectures were at one time regularly given in French barracks (under General André). Of course it would be more sensible to spend the money directly on education. But the gradual "humanization" of the army is an excellent thing.

3. At the time of the postal strikes, of the railroad strikes, of the Seine flood, the army was called upon to fulfil various duties, and did it admirably. There is a great danger in turning the army into a universal strike-breaking corps, or a body of "compulsory scabs." On the other hand, this industrial use of the army points to a mighty transformation; the war forces could become, as TV. James intimated, reserve forces of peace, for great public works, sudden emergencies, national disasters. (Herein again the wit of journalists found a free field; it was announced that nursery-maids had formed a union (syndicat) and struck for shorter hours. The Nth regiment of engineers was detailed to take their places, to the great delight of cooks.)

We must look forward to a gradual transformation, for militarism will not be rooted out in one day. Costly as it is, the nations grow rich in spite of the burden. There is no doubt but France is amassing wealth at a rapid rate, and fast becoming the banker of the world, while Germany's progress is stupendous. France's toll on the foreigner (investments abroad, and expenses of tourists) alone more than pays for the interest of the debt, and the cost of the military establishment. Conservative papers, like Le Figaro and Le Temps sound notes of warn-