SOME one has said that every man loves two nations—his own and France. My own love for France was deepened last year when, by invitation of the Young Men’s Christian Association, I was privileged to visit France and Italy and England. Coming into the French republic, I saw as I had never seen before the reason for the name that attaches to it in our common thinking— Beautiful France; and I came to recognize that there must be given to it another name in this day, and in the days to come—Sad France, for one sees constantly the evidences of sorrow, and is impressed that as France has been the center of the world’s passion, it is now the center of the world’s sacrifice.
Shortly after the coming into France a little group of us had the privilege of visiting Italy. Going over the eastern frontier from Turin to Milan and Venice, to Udine, and from Udine, which was the headquarters of the general second-in-command in the Italian army, we went out to the firing line over roads some of which modern Italy has inherited from ancient Rome, and some of which are monuments of the skill of modern Italy in road construction. We passed through the valleys, over the hills, and up the mountains and down by the sea, and looked not only on the army in preparation for battle but also on actual warfare.
From a little town, Monsalcone, on the Adriatic, we were able to look across the waters of that sea and into the city of Trieste, near enough to see its houses and the landmarks near to the city. We were near enough to hear the orders given through the telephone to the Italian gunners, indicating that the fire at that particular moment was to be four degrees to the left of a point at which we were looking on the hill, the range being 6,700 feet. Between us and the objective toward which the Italian guns were directing their fire it was very easy to discern the front line trenches of Austria and Italy, and see the barbed wire entanglements that marked the line of separation. We saw the artillery duel as it took place that day, felt the tremor of the earth as it shook beneath the fire of the Italian guns, and saw the flash of the Austrian guns as they were turned to fire our way.
From the cemetery of Sabotino we looked down on the movement of the Italian infantry, and saw the troops as they moved along the road in full view of where we were. They rested for a while in the protection of the rocks, and then when the Austrian fire was lessened a bit, they turned the corner of the road and ran up and took their places in the front line trenches. And we saw what every patriotic American would have been extremely glad to see —some of the Austrian prisoners as they ran down the mountainside. The old proverb reads, "The wicked flee when no man pursueth," but it could be modernized by adding, "And they make better time if some one is after them." In this instance those who were running down the mountainside seemed to be laboring under the impression that someone was after them, and they were making very excellent time in their departure from that particular vicinity.
It was tremendously interesting to follow in the line of the Italians and see the great captive balloons as they were held in place in order that the observers might look beyond their own battle line into the region of the enemy. It was exceedingly thrilling to see the artillery duel and notice the character of the different shells as they were indicated and differentiated by the smoke ascending from them. And it was a great privilege to come in contact with the representatives, chiefly of the army, some who had been dwellers here in America and who had gone back to register their devotion to the cause of liberty as it was represented in the attitude of Italy. I stood beside the Duke of Aosta and watched the artillery duel as it was in progress over the Hermada, one of the ranges that seemed to us at the moment to be the last line of defense. Here it was that we heard that the king of Italy was in the trenches with his men and we came from Italy with the feeling that here was a nation of which the Entente Allies might well be proud.
Italy manifests a fine spirit of unity. There is exemplified in its army among its officers and men that spirit of comradeship that ought certainly to exist in every army, and there was a calm and steadfast manner of performing the tasks that each was set to accomplish that was most inspiring in every way. This was true not only of the generals in command, and of the junior officers of the army, but it was true also of the men we saw wherever they were—in lonely places, in little groups, or feeling the inspiration of the comradeship of large companies.
The Italian reverse which came a little later is not at all difficult to explain, and I think is not in any sense to be attributed to any weakening of the spirit of Italy. Many causes doubtless conspired to bring about the retreat which, according to some of those that have commented upon it, seemed almost a rout. And it is not at all difficult to understand how it would be so. But Italy has gathered courage and has regained the spirit of persistent endeavor, and, strengthened by the men of France and Great Britain and America along that very peculiar battle line, one of the most difficult battle lines, I suppose, that any nation has ever undertaken to hold in the presence of a great enemy, is at present giving a very fine account of herself. I am saying this word concerning Italy because in the beginning of the conflict the decision of Italy to maintain neutrality rather than ally herself with Germany and Austria in the prosecution of the war meant very much to the side with which we are now identified. If Italy had done as Germany expected her to in the beginning, it would have released from that Austrian front all the Teutonic forces that are required to guard it; it would have held on the French front those of France whose presence was sorely needed in the army of the Entente Allies, and at the same time it would have given to the Teutonic lines the strength of that Italian army. And when you remember that at this present time there are four millions of Italians in the army, you can recognize the significance of such a fact, and with the release of the Austrians, and the admission of the Italians and the necessity of the French to guard their frontier, one might well be troubled to think of what could have happened in the beginning of the war.
We came back into France and visited many of the cities of that beautiful country; cities beside the sea; cities to which men of America are coming these days; cities where the naval forces of America at that time were having their rendezvous. We visited too the cities that were remote from the sea and remote from the firing line. In France one sees that the French nation is really putting into this conflict the full measure of its strength, not only the strength of manhood but the strength of womanhood.
You go through the little towns or the larger towns, and you do not see any men of military age, except the men that are wearing the uniform, and many of the towns seem to be almost entirely forsaken, even of women. In the factories of France to-day the women are doing the work that a while ago the men were doing, and the women are in the munitions plants accomplishing the task that before this present war no one thought of accomplishing except by the help of man. And you are to remember also that in all the vocations of life, in all the activities of business, wherever it has been possible to substitute womanhood for manhood, that substitution has taken place.
I would pay my tribute to the Red Cross at this moment, the Red Cross which has put the protection of its love over the forsaken children of France; and not only has sought to minister to the children where the parents are still living, but where the parents are drawn from the fireside in order that they may strengthen this movement of civilization against militaristic autocracy. The Red Cross is making a very direct contribution to the activity and strength of the army at the front in its particular way; for as the Red Cross has taken care of the children and has guarded the interests of the home, womanhood has been released, and womanhood’s release has in turn released manhood for the front line of battle.
And as you go through the cities and country of France to-day you do not look at the things that you used to think of chief importance. You are not so careful to think of the dust of dead kings as you are to think of the power of living kings. You are not so interested in the habitations of royalty long ago as you are in the homes of the common people of to-morrow and your interest is constantly centered in that military force of France whose power must in so large a degree determine what the habitation of the common man to-morrow shall really be.
We went out from the city of Paris, a little group of us, visiting the huts of the Young Men’s Christian Association—on that visit chiefly the huts that were in the service of the French army.
It was a most interesting visitation that we had going out toward the battle line, coming to where we could hear the thunder of the guns occasionally, and then as we advanced and came nearer to the line where we could hear the constant thunder of the guns, and could see the evidences of the bombs that had been released from the aeroplanes— those great holes in the earth, thirty-five feet wide and perhaps ten or twelve feet in depth. In some of the little towns through which we passed the people were still living, but most of the houses had been shattered and schools had been closed and churches and schools that had not been shattered were used for the shelter of the wounded rather than for offices either of education or religion. I remember one of those little towns with its shattered walls and the poppies still growing on the top. It seemed a sort of prophecy of what I hoped would come to pass when from these broken and shattered walls, and all broken walls, the flowers of peace would again be blooming in loveliness.
On the French front, just as on the Italian front, you could watch the movement of the hostile aeroplanes. In one of these little towns we were ordered back to find shelter in the hut of the Young Men’s Christian Association because of the movement of the German aeroplanes, and then we looked out from the sheltered place and saw the bursting of shells as the aeroplane was attacked, and while we did not see any of the shells actually strike we did see that the hostile plane was compelled to turn back to its own lines.
It was Sunday evening, in a little French town that was occupied chiefly by American engineers who were there to take over the management of one of the railroads running near to the front. Dinner consisted of left-over portions of what in military parlance was denominated as "chow." "Chow," I think, as well as I am enabled to interpret that military term, is a substitute for food, or words to that effect; and after we had partaken of the hospitality of our soldier friends, we went to service. This service was held in a tent on the hillside. Just out beyond this tent was a little cemetery, and down at the foot of the slight declivity was a long line of hospitals, and out of these hospitals they were bearing the bodies of those who had given themselves in sacrifice for freedom. They were bearing them to the little cemetery further along the hillside. As we went into the tent it was lighted by a single candle. Looking out under the sides of the tent, we saw the horizon illuminated by shell fire, and we heard the continuous thunder of war all during the service. All visitors that night spoke, I believe, and I was the last to speak, and after I had been speaking a moment or two the solitary candle which had been burning was extinguished, because a German aeroplane was passing over at that particular moment. You may always reckon that the German hand that holds the bomb is ready to let it drop at the first object that really comes in sight.
After the services were over that night, we went in and took our place with the officers, or with the men, as circumstances determined. It was not the season of the year when you are accustomed to have the cold nights. However, after I had put on all the garments that I usually wear in the day, and added all the garments I usually wear at night, and all the blankets I had brought with me, and all the blankets that the officers were willing to intrust me with, I lay down to rest, and the problem that I tried to solve but did not succeed in solving was this—How to get both sides of me warm at the same time.
The next day we went to the city of Verdun, and passed through its streets, and saw its broken walls and desolated houses, and saw the city where there was no longer a single inhabitant above the surface, though there were many inhabitants beneath the surface. I cannot tell you all we saw there that hour. There was no shelling of the city during the particular time we were there, though the shells were falling there every day, just as we had seen them fall in Italy and elsewhere near the battle front of France.
Verdun is a word that is bound to linger in the memory of humanity as long as humanity has praise for courage. You will remember the great day when the Teutonic forces sought to find passage to Paris, prophesying that they would take dinner in Paris on the morrow, and the day after they would take dinner in London, and the day after, I suppose, would take dinner in the city of Washington. You will recall that when they came to face that battle line at Verdun there was a simple word uttered by the great commander of the French. Once spoken it ran along the line of men on guard and became immortal. "They shall not pass." That simple word from the lips of the leader became a thunderous prophecy as it was carried from man to man, until all the mighty hosts marshaled upon that frontier of civilization cried out: "They shall not pass! They shall not pass!" Under the inspiration of that great purpose men were wounded and seemed not to know it, men fell and in the delirium of fever were still crying out, "They shall not pass." And men died that day and were still moaning with their last breath, "They shall not pass." And you and I might well thank God that that great word rang out over all that city, and echoed about the hills that silently witnessed that display of more than human courage, for the men who guarded France that day guarded also America and humanity.