Ten Billion Letters
- Your Death Would Be Mine: Paul and Marie Pireaud in the Great War by Martha Hanna
Harvard, 341 pp, £17.95, November 2006, ISBN 0 674 02318 8
In August 1914, France mobilised jubilantly. ‘La Patrie’ was in danger and men and women of all classes and stations rallied to its defence. Florid voices on the clerical, aristocratic, conservative right defined patriotism grandly, as a mystical religion rooted in the land. Others, more worldly but no less exalted, were clear that patriotism was a hard-won secular tradition under constant threat from socialism, collectivism, anarchism, internationalism, individualism and now, most urgently, from the latest migration of Teutonic barbarism. When war broke out, President Poincaré’s call for an end to internal division and ideological strife was universally accepted. Politicians, intellectuals, civil and religious leaders sank their differences and rose as one to declare that serving France was an obligation, a duty, a privilege.
Vol. 29 No. 14 · 19 July 2007
I was surprised by David Coward’s assertion that ‘President Poincaré’s call for an end to internal division and ideological strife was universally accepted’ at the outbreak of the First World War (LRB, 21 June). The call for a union sacrée was rejected actively by a few and passively by many more, right from the start. The primary schoolteachers’ journal, L’Ecole émancipée, managed two anti-war issues before being banned. Romain Rolland issued his famous anti-war call, ‘Au-dessus de la mêlée’, in an essay banned in France (and Germany) and condemned in the press as anti-patriotic. In November the Fédération des Métaux adopted an internationalist position and this was followed by the syndicalist Pierre Monatte’s very public resignation from the confederal committee of the Confédération Générale du Travail. In January L’Union des métaux’s front page declared: ‘This war is not our war.’
The driving force of this opposition was the group around Monatte that had been producing La Vie ouvrière, which included syndicalists, left socialists and pacifists as well as émigré Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. This group became the main pole of attraction for the many intellectuals who came to realise that they had been duped into supporting a war that was not patriotic or democratic, or a ‘war to end all war’, but another imperialist conflict.
University College London