THE PHANTOM OF
"I quite admit that the French cannot see beyond their noses; but after all they are their noses: and, my word, what they do see, they see damned clearly." HAROLD NICOLSON, May 1, 1919.
SCRATCH THE surface of any problem at the Conference, a
recent critic has written, and you get French security. The
League, German colonies, the Saar, the Rhineland, Poland,
Upper Silesia, reparation, and other questions were all tied in
with security, and with one another.
The British were not especially concerned about security. Their principal worry, the German naval arm, had been neatly amputated, and it would take many years to grow another.
But with the French it was different. They were an exhausted nation of 40,000,000, with a declining birth rate, wedged against a neighbor of 60,000,000, with a prolific birth rate and a warlike tradition. And that neighbor did not take kindly to defeat.
France, quite understandably, was suffering from national shell-shock. The mark of the German beast was on her northern departments; upon every empty chair in a widowed or orphaned cottage. After a war which had seared both her soil and her soul, and which had turned on a hair, France was now on top, and she was determined to stay there. Men still living, including Clemenceau, had seen the hated invader twice pour over the French frontier. "My house was in the hands of the Germans in 1814, again in 1870, and again in 1914," sadly remarked Abbé Dimnet. "I pray God that He will make it impossible that it shall ever be in their hands again."