OPPOSITION IN WARTIME
Although Clemenceau stands in history as the leader of his country in the First World War he was only in office from 16 November 1917, for its last twelve months. For more than three years his contribution to the war effort was as an unflagging critic of a succession of cabinets, most of them headed by prime ministers he cordially despised — Viviani, Briand, Ribot, Painlevé. After the first German thrust was halted at the Marne in September 1914, the two armies settled down to face each other in their trenches across the plains of northern France. Strategy was reduced to the hopeless quest of a decisive breakthrough; endless slaughter for no commensurate strategic gains came to be dignified with the title of a war of attrition.
Hopes that the Russian front might provide a decision were vain. The Allies' attempts to use the mobility conferred by their command of the sea led to nothing but failure at the Dardanelles and at Salonika. Debate raged at the time, and has continued since, as to whether these defeats were inevitable, or whether they resulted from the fact that the military command, obsessed by the western front, refused to divert sufficient resources to make success possible. Even the bribing of Italy to join the Allies, at the cost of promises resulting in endless difficulties at the peace settlement, turned out to be almost as much a liability as an asset. Germany and Austria were able, for four years, to hold off their ring of enemies, maintaining a stalemate on the western front, grinding down Russia so that she collapsed in revolution in February I9I7, and winning decisive victories over Italy and in the Balkans.
Clemenceau agreed with the military leaders on the all-importance