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Over the Front in an Aeroplane and Scenes Inside t

He will answer with complete unconcern


The

advance! The advance! is in all their minds.

"But when will the advance begin?" you ask a chalk-powdered infantryman sweating in the sun-soaked trenches.

"Ah!" he will answer with complete unconcern. "Not yet, Monsieur. They say next spring or next summer. But then 'On les aura!'" ("We'll get them!")

And that unconcern means far more than appears on the surface. It means that the "poilu" knows he will have another winter in the trenches, with all the terrible discomforts that soldiers dread so much more than they dread danger. He knows it, and is completely reconciled to it.

"That was the one thing we feared"--a French General admitted to me--"the effect on the men's _morale_ of the certainty that they would have another winter in the trenches. But they know it now, and 'ils s'en fichent!'" (to which the nearest American slang equivalent would be "they should worry!")

In the amazing New France (which the French prefer to consider a reincarnated rather than a transformed France) the people are as determined as the army. A short time ago, when the authorities first began to give the soldiers at the front their "permissions" to go home for three days, they did so with considerable apprehension that the home influence on the soldier might be a disheartening one.

But, on the

contrary, the reunion seemed to give mutual encouragement. The soldier braced up the "home folks'" confidence and pride in the army, and the home folks stimulated the soldier's confidence and pride in himself. Thus the experiment has turned out a great success.

The politicians and their fermentations are, in France, the bugbears of the army officers. This feeling of aversion and contempt extends, so far as I could make out, down through the rank and file. They feel that when a nation is at death-grips with its enemy even the most beautiful of democratic theories should be safely locked away with other luxuries; that the politicians should confine their activities to voting the funds necessary for the successful prosecution of the war, and should leave the conduct of the war severely alone.

But in France even those politicians who hanker after a finger in the military pie are unanimous for seeing the war through to a decisive victory. They may play politics about whether the Government should or should not have been removed from Paris to Bordeaux last September; they may squabble over whether General Sarrail is the persecuted military genius of the war or an incompetent officer whose removal from Verdun should never have been sugar-coated by his appointment to Gallipoli; they may intrigue to oust Millerand from the War Ministry and try to get together on Briand for his place; they may stick loyally to Joffre because an old man who is fond of fishing is not likely to become an old man on horseback.

But, whether tirading against the evils of a bureaucracy or perorating against the iniquities of the censorship, you will find the politicians of France, Royalists, Clericals, Conservatives, Radicals and Socialists with all their subtle subdivisions, having proved their patriotism by the greatest sacrifice of which a politician is capable--having for nigh on ten months kept silent!--earnestly and honestly working for their country. They are striving, not for the quick peace of compromise which would relegate the silent, efficient soldiers to their subordinate powers and would restore to themselves all the prestige of full-throated eloquence, but for the deferred and definitive peace of victory, with all the continuance of second-fiddling to which such a postponement subjects them.


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