G. Moch March 1900
Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. IV No. 3 March, 1900, pp.84-85;
Translated: by Jacques Bonhomme;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
I must warn the public against a mistake which is made by some people who denounce vigorously the present military system; I mean those journalists who are in favour of the system of one year’s service.
They agree with me that a citizen army is the best, but they think that the difficulties in obtaining it are too great, and they are strongly in favour of a system in which everyone should do one year’s service.
But the citizen army is not a permanent army; it is an intermittent army and the essential idea is that whenever it is called together it is really mobilised on a war footing.
Now, under our system there are really about 570,000 men under arms. Of this about 110,000 are permanent (including officers, non-commissioned officers, gendarmes, & c.), and there are 460,000 men. Those who only serve the time prescribed by law are, so to speak, the muscles of the permanent army, and the others represent the skeleton and the nervous system.
Now, every year there are on an average 240,000 recruits. If these men only serve for one year there would only be 350,000 men instead of 570,000, and there would be a deficit of 220,000 men.
Therefore, there would not be a permanent army, for we cannot call a permanent army one in which a company of infantry would only be up to half its normal strength, and in which the skeleton units would be replaced by phantom units.
On the other hand, when these one-year soldiers were discharged they would be replaced by untrained recruits. How then would the permanent staff be kept up? People will say that recruits could be called up in two batches, one series being called up every six months, so that there would always be serving under the colours one class having more than six months’ service, and one having served less than six months.
This hardly seems possible in practice. It would throw a great deal of extra work on the instructors, whose numbers would have to be increased, thus making the expenses more costly. It would also increase the cost of all manoeuvres.
Therefore, this system would really meet with much opposition. It would destroy a permanent army, with no compensating advantages, and would endanger the national defence.
In keeping men with the colours for a year public money would be wasted, instead of carefully preparing for war, as in Switzerland. And then it would be impossible to effect a mobilisation, as under a citizen army.
But then, it is said, if this army was not satisfactory we should have to recruit a professional army as well. Now this, for one thing, would be very expensive, for a professional soldier costs more than an ordinary soldier, and we should want 220,000 of them. This scheme, even if this difficulty were surmounted, is also objectionable, as it means a mercenary army. Now, all reactionaries have always favoured this system, as it would be much easier to get an army of that sort to do their bidding. If ever there were such an army Déroulède would find it easy to get them to follow him to the Elysée unless some other Pretender had got there before him.
To sum up, the system of one year’s service would either destroy the permanent army without the advantage of a citizen army which would preserve our independence, or it would lead to the formation of a professional army, which would greatly favour a coup d’etat. I think if Republicans will consider this dilemma they will see that this so-called reform would be a very dangerous one.
Since the middle of the century clear-sighted and able men have denounced the misdeeds of European militarism. But, though they have spoken clearly and shown the stupidity of war and of that armed peace which can only lead to war or to ruin, yet they have always failed on account of the opposition of certain privileged classes which are interested in the maintenance of the present system, to the prejudices of a small number of jingoes, and especially owing to the ignorance of the bulk of the population.
The great majority of the people is pacific unless they are excited by those who should enlighten them. German Michael, English John Bull, and French Jacques Bonhomme do not wish to gather laurels which, after all, are not for him; he wishes to work in his garden, and to feed his wife and children. But each one does not know the other and do not see that their needs are the same; they have been carefully brought up to hate their “wicked neighbours” and to fear the ogre. And that is why the people, fearing the aggression with which they are threatened, are led like sheep to the slaughter.
The generous men who have fought against militarism have not taken this into consideration. They have simply spoken against standing armies and have not realised that the masses, having been taught these were an indispensable barrier, would not follow them; they have unwittingly played the game of the reactionaries who lay claim shamelessly to a monopoly of patriotism and wish to make use of the faculty of conservatism which is innate in man. And thus they have not succeeded.
It is no use talking about a citizen army if we do not make quite clear what we mean by the term. We must show the people what we mean to do, and that is to transform a standing army into a much less costly army which would only ask a citizen to sacrifice a few weeks’ labour, and which would be certainly far more efficient for defence than an existing army. If this was clearly put before the nation it would be much better, and other neighbouring nations would be likely to imitate us.
Now, this is not a theory or a dream; all that we have to do is to reorganise our army on the Swiss plan. I do not claim to have a perfect plan, but I do say that I have been the first to call attention to this army and to enunciate sound principles. As to the details, they need discussion, and I hope that they will be discussed. All that I ask is that the question be not shelved.
If we adopt the Swiss plan we should be invulnerable on our own territory. We should be able to save a great deal of money. We could reduce our debt and undertake many valuable public works, & c.
We should liberate 460,000 every year from barracks, and increase in that way the wealth of France. By so doing men would be able to get married earlier and would be preserved from the evils of barrack life.
France would deserve the admiration and the gratitude of humanity by undertaking the greatest reform which the world has yet seen; she would acquire an imperishable glory, she would become the liberator of nations, the moral director of the civilised world.
(translated by Jacques Bonhomme).