Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Hollow Years

I've been reading about the 1930s lately. One chapter from The Hollow Years: France in the 1930s struck me as particularly interesting. I wanted to share several quotes which I included below.

Chapter IX - The Nightmare of Fear
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The possibilities of surprise attacks were dire; the only parry against them would be preventative attacks impossible to envisage in a peaceful democracy or else the threat of massive reprisals. The defense debate was slipping into nightmare. ... It was certainly an encouragement for defeatism.
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The Journal of Julien Green, the delicate Franco-American writer, is full of rumors of war for the end of the month, panics, images of catastrophe. "The people I see have fallen prey to panics," he notes in 1932. "This happens three or four times a year." And in 1934: "Life is impregnated with this general fear."
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In 1935 police and civil authorities distribute posters and brochures: "Precautions to be taken against bombs from planes" and "Instructions for protection against air attack." Julien Green's diary records the passage of policemen and their explanations: "(masks, shelters, don't panic, stay calm, everything). I wonder when and how we shall escape from this hideous age."
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In September 1930 the NRF [Nouvelle Reveu francaise] dismissed present peace as "a latent war smouldering beneath the treaties." Two year later, in July 1932, Romain Rolland himself announced that war was coming. Uncontrollable war on the other side of the world confirmed both fear and impotence.
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That summer [1938] Montherlant, half-jokingly, told a young friend: "Don't worry about your future - in another year you'll be killed in the war." The lad replied: "That's what my mother tells me."
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One thing no one bothered to pretend was that force existed to be used. ... The dominant doctrine was the "the power of the defensive constitutes the most important and least questionable lesson of war." Prudence, protection, avoidance of risk: The army would be ready, but to do nothing much.
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Pacifism and antimilitarism went hand in hand.
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The next chapter of The Hollow Years, the final chapter, opens with this quote from the poet and essayist Charles Peguy.
It is bad manners to expect victory when you don't feel like fighting.

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