Clemenceau calls France to arms (1914)


Following the German invasion of Belgium and France, the French leader Georges Clemenceau issued the following call to arms in August 1914:


Wilhelm II has willed it. The cannon must speak. The German Ambassador has decided to depart, tired of waiting in Paris for acts of violence which do not occur. Do you know the official reasons for his departure? It is that a French aviator is alleged to have thrown bombs on Nuremberg. In courteous language Monsieur Viviani replied that this was an untruth, although it was only too true that a German troop had come into our territory and killed a French soldier; and the Ambassador, finding nothing to say, slipped away only to return a few minutes later to repair a slight omission. He had forgotten to deliver to the Minister a declaration of war. One cannot think of everything at once…

England, be it said to her honour, did not hesitate. Germany has had many friends, even in important places in the British Government, and she has not recoiled before any method of impressing public opinion in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the statesmen of England, and the English people themselves, have too clear a vision of their own interests, coinciding at every point with those of European civilization, for them to entertain the thought of taking miserable refuge in a waiting policy. This whole nation is composed of men who possess peculiarly that superior quality of knowing their own wills and of acting when once they have spoken. They do not give themselves up to enthusiasms, as sometime happens to us, but they advance carefully step by step and they are easier to kill than to drive back. Moreover it was impossible for them to do, in so little time, more than they have done in the time since all dissimulation disappeared from Germany’s intentions.

With a prudence for which no one can reproach them they painfully exhausted the last chances of peace, without ever letting themselves be entrapped by the fallacious proposals of the German Ambassador. They carefully guarded their liberty of action in case of developments of which no one can calculate the consequences. But Germany has not left them the chance to preserve this liberty long, and they have quickly shown that their decision, once it was necessary, would not be delayed…

Against what is this revolt of all, this rebellion of human conscience, this insurrection of ideas? Against a Teutonism [German mindset] delirious in megalomania, ambitious to realize what Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon could not accomplish: to impose upon a world that desires to be free from the supremacy of steel. It is not a thing for our age; men have too much suffered from it. The modern idea is the right of all, and victory for us could not mean oppression, even for those who fought against us, since Germany has valiantly conquered, like so many other states, her rightful place in the world, and since, if we are fighting the arrogance of tyranny, it is not in order to embrace it in our turn.

And now to arms, all of us! I have seen weeping among those who cannot go first. Everyone’s turn will come. There will not be a child of our land who will not have a part in the enormous struggle. To die is nothing. We must win. And for that we need all men’s power. The weakest will have his share of glory. There come times, in the live of peoples, when there passes over them a tempest of heroic action.

Georges Clemenceau
August 5th, 1914