: Winning A Cause World War Stories
On slight pretext, Germany in 1864 and in 1866 had made wars against
Denmark and Austria that might easily have been avoided.
France took notice of the warlike ambitions of her neighbor and began
to prepare for the war that she knew would soon come between her and
Germany. The French emperor probably also desired this war, but the
French people did not and France was not ready for it.
ussian chancellor, Bismarck, was a man of iron and blood, for
only by these two forces did he believe the Germans could advance.
In 1870, the Spanish Liberals expelled Queen Isabella II and offered
the crown of Spain to a Hohenzollern prince. The offer was declined,
but after Bismarck saw to what its acceptance might lead, he succeeded
in having it renewed. Then the Emperor Napoleon informed King William
that he would regard its acceptance as a sufficient ground for war
against Germany. The Hohenzollern prince, however, rejected the offer
and the matter might have ended here, had not Napoleon directed the
French ambassador to secure from King William a promise never to permit
a Hohenzollern prince to accept the Spanish crown.
King William who was at Ems refused to do this and declined to give the
French ambassador another interview as he was leaving Ems that night.
He telegraphed an account of the affair to Bismarck who realized that
here was his chance to bring on the war he desired. He changed the
wording of King William's telegram in such a way that when it was given
out the next day, it gave the impression to Germans that their king had
been insulted by the French ambassador and to Frenchmen that their
ambassador had been insulted by the king of Prussia.
There is little doubt, writes a German historian, that, had this
telegram been worded differently, the Franco-German struggle might have
French pride would not now allow France to withdraw her request, and
the war that Bismarck desired became certain--a war caused by a scrap
of paper on which were written German lies signed by German leaders.
After reading this story of the falsity of the greatest of all Prussian
statesmen, Bismarck, it does not seem strange that another scrap of
paper on which the Prussian government had written lies brought England
into the World War and assured the defeat of Germany.
Poorly prepared, France could not stand long against the Prussian war
machine. After a sharp conflict lasting about six months, the French
National Assembly at Bordeaux was forced to ratify the unfair treaty
which required her to pay a great indemnity in money and to give up the
coveted provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, with the exception of
Belfort. The beautiful country which had been the home of Jeanne
d'Arc, the sacred heroine of France, was to be given over to rough and
haughty bands of soldiers such as she had given her life to expel from
her beloved France. But France had to choose between losing a small
portion of the country, or meeting with complete destruction in war
against greatly superior forces who had already destroyed the French
[Illustration: Jeanne d'Arc, rising in her stirrups, holds on high her
sword, as if to consecrate it for a war of Right. This inspiring
statue, located near Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive, New York City,
overlooks the Hudson, where it bade Godspeed to all the American
soldiers and sailors going overseas to deliver France from the Hun.]
One morning in that fateful year of 1871, a notice was posted in the
towns and villages of Alsace and Lorraine telling the people that the
next day these provinces would pass from French into German hands. In
anticipation of this, petitions from these provinces had continually
been sent both to France and Germany declaring deep loyalty only to
France. For the last forty-eight years these glowing words have been
France cannot consent to it. Europe cannot sanction it. We call upon
the Governments and Nations of the whole World to witness in advance
that we hold null and void all acts and treaties . . . which so consent
to the abandoning to the foreigner all or any part of our Provinces of
Alsace and Lorraine.
And their plea, drawn up and signed by the fifteen representatives to
the Reichstag, is still kept at Metz. Some one has well said that it
is one of the scraps of paper against which the strength of the
German Empire has been broken.
The Germans after hearing innumerable petitions became exasperated.
They imprisoned many of the inhabitants, censored the press, and
established such a strict system of passports that a veritable Chinese
wall was raised around the annexed country.
And more than this, although the Germans may not always have realized
that they were doing so, they humiliated the people by degrading things
looked upon by them as holy. For instance, the Kaiser had a statue of
himself, upturned moustache and all, placed upon the cathedral of Metz.
He wore a Biblical cowl and was pointing impressively to a parchment
scroll. He was supposed to represent the prophet Daniel. This statue
was found headless in December, 1918.
Despite the petitions, for all those years the policy of the government
never varied. The chancellor, Bismarck, replied every time that
Alsace-Lorraine was not annexed for the sake of the people. They could
move to some section still under French control. The provinces were
taken from France only to further the interest of the German Empire.
If this were a permanent peace, he said, we would not have done it.
So long as France possesses Strassburg and Metz her strategical
position is stronger offensively than ours is defensively. There was
going to be another war and Germany needed these provinces for military
But the German government did realize more and more how bitterly
opposed to the annexation were these unfortunate people, and decided to
crush out everything French in Alsace-Lorraine. The people were
forbidden to write or speak the French language; even the signboards at
the street crossings were changed to German. How the children spent
the last day that French could be taught in the schools is told by a
little Alsatian boy.
That morning I was very late for school, and was terribly afraid of
being scolded, for M. Hamel, the schoolmaster, had said he intended to
examine us on the participles, and I knew not a word about them. The
thought came into my head that I would skip the class altogether, and
so off I went across the fields.
The weather was so hot and clear!
One could hear the blackbirds whistling on the edge of the wood; in
Ripperts' meadow, behind the sawyard, the Prussian soldiers were
drilling. All this attracted me much more than the rules about
participles; but I had the strength to resist and so I turned and ran
quickly back towards the school.
In passing before the town hall, I saw that a number of people were
stopping before the little grating where notices are posted up. For
two years past it was there we learned all the bad news, the battles
lost, and the orders of the commandant; so I thought to myself without
stopping: What can it be now? Then, as I was running across the
square, the blacksmith, Wachter, who was there with his apprentice,
just going to read the notice, cried out to me:--
Don't be in such a hurry, little fellow, you will be quite early
enough for your school.
I thought he was making fun of me, and I was quite out of breath when I
entered M. Hamel's little courtyard.
Generally, at the beginning of the class, there was a great uproar
which one could hear in the street; desks opened and shut, lessons
studied aloud all together, with hands over ears to learn better, and
the big ruler of the master tapping on the table: More silence there.
I had counted on all this commotion to gain my desk unobserved; but
precisely that day all was quiet as a Sunday morning. Through the open
window I could see my schoolmates already in their places, and M.
Hamel, who was walking up and down with the terrible ruler under his
arm. I had to open the door and enter in the midst of this complete
silence. You can fancy how red I turned and how frightened I was.
But no, M. Hamel looked at me without any anger, and said very gently:--
Take your place quickly, my little Franz, we were just going to begin
I climbed up on the bench and sat down at once at my desk.
Only then, a little recovered from my fright, I noticed that our master
had on his new green overcoat, his fine plaited frill, and the
embroidered black skull-cap which he put on for the inspection days or
the prize distributions. Besides, all the class wore a curious solemn
look. But what surprised me most of all was to see at the end of the
room, on the seats which were usually empty, a number of the village
elders seated and silent like the rest of us; old Hansor with his
cocked hat, the former mayor, the old postman, and a lot of other
people. Everybody looked melancholy; and Hansor had brought an old
spelling book, ragged at the edges, which he held wide open on his
knees, with his big spectacles laid across the pages.
While I was wondering over all this, M. Hamel had placed himself in his
chair, and with the same grave, soft voice in which he had spoken to
me, he addressed us:--
My children, it is the last time that I shall hold class for you. The
order is come from Berlin that only German is to be taught in the
schools of Alsace and Lorraine from now on. The new master arrives
tomorrow. Today is your last lesson in French. I ask you to be very
These words quite upset me. Ah, the wretches! this then was what they
had posted up at the town hall.
My last lesson in French!
And I who hardly knew how to write. I should never learn then! I must
stop where I was! How I longed now for the wasted time, for the
classes when I played truant to go birds'-nesting, or to slide on the
Saar! The books which I was used to find so wearisome, so heavy to
carry--my grammar, my history--now seemed to me old friends whom I was
very sorry to part with. The same with M. Hamel. The idea that he was
going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget the
punishment and the raps with the ruler.
It was in honor of this last class that he had put on his Sunday
clothes, and now I understood why the elders of the village had come
and seated themselves in the schoolroom. That meant that they were
grieved not to have come oftener to the school. It was a sort of way
of thanking our master for his forty years of good service, and of
showing their respect for their country that was being taken from them.
I had come as far as this in my reflections when I heard my name
called. It was my turn to recite. What would I not have given to have
been able to say right through that famous rule of the participles,
quite loud and very clear, without a stumble; but I bungled at the
first word, and stopped short, balancing myself on my bench, with
bursting heart, not daring to raise my head. I heard M. Hamel speak to
I shall not scold thee, my little Franz, thou must be punished enough
without that. See how it is. Every day one says, 'Bah! There is time
enough. I shall learn tomorrow.' And then see what happens. Ah! that
has been the great mistake of our Alsace, always to defer its lesson
until tomorrow. Now those folk have a right to say to us, 'What! you
pretend to be French and you cannot even speak or write your language!'
In all that, my poor Franz, it is not only thou that art guilty. We
must all bear our full share in the blame. Your parents have not cared
enough to have you taught. They liked better to send you to work on
the land or at the factory to gain a few more pence. And I too, have I
nothing to reproach myself with? Have I not often made you water my
garden instead of learning your lessons? And when I wanted to fish for
trout, did I ever hesitate to dismiss you?
Then from one thing to another M. Hamel began to talk to us about the
French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the
world, the clearest, the most forceful; that we must guard it among us
and never forget it, because when a people falls into slavery, as long
as it holds firmly to its own tongue, it holds the key of its prison.
Then he took a grammar and gave us our lesson. I was astonished to
find how well I understood. All he said seemed to me so easy, so easy.
I think, too, that I never listened so hard, and that he had never
taken such pains to explain. One would have said that before going
away the poor man wished to give us all his knowledge, to ram it all
into our heads at one blow.
That lesson finished, we passed to writing. For that day M. Hamel had
prepared for us some quite fresh copies, on which was written in
beautiful round hand: France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked
like little banners floating round the class room on the rail of our
desks. To see how hard every one tried! And what a silence there was!
One could hear nothing but the scraping of the pens on the paper. Once
some cock-chafers flew in; but nobody took any heed, not even the
little ones, who worked away at their pothooks with such enthusiasm and
conscientiousness as if feeling there was something French about them.
On the roof of the school the pigeons cooed softly, and I thought to
myself, hearing them:--
Are they to be forced to sing in German too?
From time to time, when I raised my eyes from the page, I saw M. Hamel
motionless in his chair, looking fixedly at everything round him, as if
he would like to carry away in his eyes all his little schoolhouse.
Think of it! For forty years he had been in the same place, in his
court outside or with his class before him. Only the benches and the
desks had grown polished by the constant rubbing; the walnut trees in
the courtyard had grown up, and the honeysuckle, which he had planted
himself, now garlanded the windows up to the roof. What a heart-break
it must be for this poor man to leave all these things, and to hear his
sister coming and going in the room above, packing up their boxes, for
they were to go the next day--to leave the country forever.
All the same, what courage he had to carry out the class to the end!
After the writing we had our history lesson; then the little ones sang
all together their Ba, Be, Bi, Bo, Bu. There at the end of the room,
old Hansor put on his spectacles, and holding his spelling-book with
both hands, he spelt the letters with them. One could see that he too
did his best; his voice trembled with emotion, and it was so funny to
hear him that we all wanted to laugh and cry at once. Ah! I shall
always remember that class.
Suddenly the clock of the church rang for noon, then for the Angelus.
At the same moment, the trumpets of the Prussians returning from drill
pealed out under our windows. M. Hamel rose from his chair, turning
very pale. Never had he looked to me so tall.
My friends, he said, my friends, I--I-- But something choked him.
He could not finish the sentence.
Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and pressing
with all his might, he wrote as large as he could:--