‘The radical party long believed in the absence of external threats’

Three days before this article was published, Charles Humbert, vice-president of the armed forces committee revealed how ill-prepared France was for war. – Lara Marlowe

 Kaiser Wilhelm II, army chief of staff Helmuth Von Moltke, and Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. An article in “Le Figaro” in the run-up to the first World War highlighted Germany’s advantage over France in military resources and expenditure. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Kaiser Wilhelm II, army chief of staff Helmuth Von Moltke, and Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz. An article in “Le Figaro” in the run-up to the first World War highlighted Germany’s advantage over France in military resources and expenditure. Photograph: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

Three days before this article was published, Charles Humbert, the vice president of the armed forces committee, shocked deputies and senators when he revealed how ill-prepared France was for war.

— Lara Marlowe

THE INADEQUACY OF OUR ARMAMENTS

Ministers of war have not always had the courage to defend proposals by their underlings, and reduced the credits they asked for. Parliament then made more amputations, so that for the period of 1901-1913, the credits granted did not surpass 799 million francs; 343 million less than what was requested by the armed services. [Minister of war Adolphe] Messimy recognised this before the Senate when he declared that “Many times, the war administration asked for credits... and the credits have always been reduced.”

This is because the radical party, which has held power since ... 1902, long believed or pretended to believe in the absence of external threats. To please the socialists and gain their votes, they constantly neglected military questions...

The alert that followed the [March 1905] visit of the German kaiser to Tangiers and the [\1906] conference at Algeciras [on the crisis between France and Germany] stimulated the government slightly, and a certain effort was made. But almost immediately, public powers fell back into apathy... and the rapporteur of the war budget boasted of having reduced military expenditure by millions, in the hope of “reassuring the popular masses who expressed their legitimate will more energetically than ever to see social reforms achieved” ...

If one considers total defence expenditure by the two countries since 1870, one notes that in 1895 they were even, at 14 billion francs on both sides. From 1895 until 1912, our overall expenditure was 11.418 billion. Our neighbour’s reached 16.875 billion, surpassing our own by nearly 5.5 billion!

These figures have been taken from official documents... So if our parliamentarians felt “infinitely painful stupefaction” on hearing Mr Humbert’s revelations, it is because they do follow questions of national defence...

Since 1870, we have had 44 ministers of war, including 14 in the last 14 years... Every change of portfolio brought total upheaval to projects under way...

In Germany, alas, it is completely different. There, the minister of war deals only with administration. It is the general chief of staff who, under orders from the kaiser, deals with all questions of organisation, armament and training. Since 1859, this post has had only four occupants: Marshal von Moltke until 1889; Generals von Waldersee and von Schliefen until 1901; General von Moltke, nephew of the marshal, until today.

Contrary to what happens in our country, [German] military expenditure is not submitted annually to parliament. The war budget is set over a long period, five years minimum, which makes it possible to plan a whole set of reforms and carry them through to fruition.

One may say that our neighbours treat their military affairs with a continuity of vision that is almost totally lacking [in France]\. In these conditions, even if we were equal in expenditure, we would not obtain the same results they do.

Le Figaro

July 18th, 1914