Georges Clemenceau

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War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.

Georges Benjamin Clemenceau (28 September 184124 November 1929) was a French statesman who led the nation in the First World War. A leader of the Radical Party, he played a central role in politics during the Third Republic. Clemenceau served as the Prime Minister of France from 1906 to 1909, and again from 1917 to 1920. He was one of the principal architects of the Treaty of Versailles at the France Peace Conference of 1919.


A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he’s not a man of action.
  • It was I who gave the title "J'accuse" to Zola's letter.
    • Letter (19 June 1902), in which he claims to have chosen the headline title for Émile Zola's famous open letter on the Dreyfus affair, as quoted in Clemenceau (1974) by D. R. Watson, and Brewer's Famous Quotations : 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them (2006) by Nigel Rees
  • In the distance huge trees were still blazing, around us was a waste of ashes and of half-consumed boughs, and the falling rain seemed only to quicken the dying conflagration. In some of the great green boles were fearful gaping wounds through which the sap was oozing, while some tall trees still stretched to heaven their triumphant crown of foliage above a trunk all charred that would never sprout again. The Brazilians contemplate spectacles such as this with a wholly indifferent eye, and, indeed, even with satisfaction, for they see in the ruin only a promise of future harvests. To me the scene possessed only the horror of a slaughter-house.
  • Politique intérieure, je fais la guerre; politique extérieure, je fais la guerre. Je fais toujours la guerre.
    • My home policy: I wage war. My foreign policy: I wage war. All the time I wage war.
    • "Discours de Guerre" [Speech on War] Chambre des Députés, Assemblée Nationale, Paris (8 March 1918)
War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.
  • War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.
    • Statement to Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference (12 January 1919), as quoted in The Macmillan Dictionary of Political Quotations (1993) by Lewis D. Eigen and Jonathan Paul Siegel, p. 689
  • His poor marksmanship must be taken into account. We have just won the most terrible war in history, yet here is a Frenchman who misses his target 6 out of 7 times at point-blank range. Of course, this fellow must be punished for the careless use of a dangerous weapon and for poor marksmanship. I suggest that he be locked up for eight years, with intensive training in a shooting gallery.
    • Arguing against seeking the death penalty for the anarchist who had attempted to assassinate him on 19 February 1919, shooting at him seven times and hitting him only once in the chest, as quoted in A Time for Angels : The Tragicomic History of the League of Nations (1975) by Elmer Bendine, p. 106
  • There are only two perfectly useless things in this world. One is an appendix and the other is Poincaré.
    • Referring to his rival Raymond Poincaré, as quoted in Paris 1919 : Six Months That Changed the World (2003) by Margaret MacMillan, p. 33
  • Il est plus facile de faire la guerre que la paix.
    • It is easier to make war than make peace.
    • "Discours de Paix" [Speech on Peace] Verdun (20 July 1919)
  • I have come to the conclusion that force is right. Why is this chicken here? (pointing to his plate). Because it was not strong enough to resist those who wanted to kill it. And a very good thing too!
    • Frances Stevenson's diary entry (12 December 1919), A. J. P. Taylor (ed.), Lloyd George: A Diary (London: Hutchinson, 1971), p. 192.
  • Oh, to be seventy again!
    • Exclamation to a friend on his 80th birthday (1921) as an attractive young woman passed them while walking down the Champs-Élysées, as quoted in Ego 3 (1938) by James Agate. Similar remarks have also been attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. ie: "Oh, to be eighty again."
  • La guerre! C’est une chose trop grave pour la confier à des militaires.
    • War is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.
    • Variant translation: War is too important a matter to be left to the military.
      • As quoted in Soixante Anneés d'Histoire Française (1932) by Georges Suarez
    • War is too serious a matter to leave to soldiers.
      • As quoted in Clemenceau and the Third Republic (1946) by John Hampden Jackson, p. 228; this has also become commonly paraphrased as: War is too important to be left to the generals.
All that I know I learned after I was thirty.
  • My son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.
    • On being told his son had joined the Communist Party, as quoted in Try and Stop Me (1944) by Bennet Cerf
    • A statement similar in theme has also been attributed to Clemenceau:
      • A young man who isn't a socialist hasn't got a heart; an old man who is a socialist hasn't got a head.
        • As quoted in "Nice Guys Finish Seventh" : False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (1992) by Ralph Keyes.
      • W. Gurney Benham in A Book of Quotations (1948) cites a statement by François Guizot as the earliest known expression of this general idea, stating that Clemenceau merely adapted the saying substituting socialiste for republicain:
N'être pas républicain à vingt ans est preuve d'un manque de cœur ; l'être après trente ans est preuve d'un manque de tête.
Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.
Variations on this general idea have also been attributed or misattributed to many others, most commonly Winston Churchill, who is not known to have actually made any similar statement.
  • America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.
    • Attributed to Clemenceau by Hans Bendix, in "Merry Christmas, America!" The Saturday Review of Literature (1 December 1945), p. 9; this appears to be the earliest reference to such a remark as one by Clemenceau, though earlier, in Frank Lloyd Wright : An Autobiography (1943) there is mention that "A witty Frenchman has said of us: 'The United States of America is the only nation to plunge from barbarism to degeneracy with no culture in between.'" Similar remarks are sometimes attributed without a source to Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.
    • Variants:
    • America is the only nation in history which miraculously has gone directly from barbarism to decadence without the usual interval of civilization.
    • America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between.
Mr. Wilson bores me with his Fourteen Points; why, God Almighty has only Ten!
  • The Germans may take Paris, but that will not prevent me from going on with the war. We will fight on the Loire, we will fight on the Garronne, we will fight even in the Pyrenees. And if at last we are driven off the Pyrenees, we will continue the war at sea.
    • As quoted in Clemenceau and the Third Republic (1946) by John Hampden Jackson.
  • Mr. Wilson bores me with his Fourteen Points; why, God Almighty has only Ten!
    • As quoted in The Hero in America: A Chronicle of Hero-worship (1941) by Dixon Wecter, p. 402
    • Variant: Fourteen? The good Lord had only ten.
      • As quoted in Clemenceau and the Third Republic (1946) by John Hampden Jackson
      • Original French, as quoted in The End of an Age, and Other Essays (1948) by William Ralph Inge, p. 139: Quatorze? Le bon Dieu n'a que dix.
  • All that I know I learned after I was thirty.
    • As quoted in And Madly Teach : A Layman Looks at Public School Education (1949) by Mortimer Brewster Smith, p. 27
  • Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.
    • As quoted in The Unlawful Concert : An Account of the Presidio Mutiny Case (1970) by Fred Gardner.
    • Unsourced French: Il suffit d'ajouter "militaire" à un mot pour lui faire perdre sa signification. Ainsi la justice militaire n'est pas la justice, la musique militaire n'est pas la musique.
      • It suffices to add "military" to a word for it to lose its meaning. Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.
  • Americans have no capacity for abstract thought, and make bad coffee.
    • As quoted in The Europeans (1984) by Luigi Barzini, p. 225
  • There is no passion like that of a functionary for his function.
    • As quoted in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Quotations (1998) by Connie Robertson, p. 86

Clemenceau, The Events of His Life (1930)[edit]

Clemenceau, The Events of His Life as Told by Himself to His Former Secretary, Jean Martet (1930) as translated by Milton Waldman
  • A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he’s not a man of action. It is as if a tennis player before returning a ball stopped to think about his views of the physical and mental advantages of tennis. You must act as you breathe.
    • Conversation with Jean Martet (18 December 1927), Ch. 11, p. 167.
  • When a man asks himself what is meant by action he proves that he isn't a man of action. Action is a lack of balance. In order to act you must be somewhat insane. A reasonably sensible man is satisfied with thinking.
    • Conversation with Jean Martet (1 January 1928), Ch. 12
  • A man's life is interesting primarily when he has failed — I well know. For it's a sign that he tried to surpass himself.
    • Conversation with Jean Martet (1 June 1928), Ch. 30


  • Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.

Quotes about Clemenceau[edit]

  • He had one illusion — France; and one disillusion — mankind, including Frenchmen.
  • Now, of all worlds, the world of politics might seem the least amenable to rationalist treatment - politics, always so deeply veined with both the traditional, the circumstantial and the transitory. And, indeed, some convinced Rationalists have admitted defeat here: Clemenceau, intellectually a child of the modem Rationalist tradition (in his treatment of morals and religion, for example), was anything but a Rationalist in politics. But not all have admitted defeat. If we except religion, the greatest apparent victories of Rationalism have been in politics: it is not to be expected that whoever is prepared to carry his rationalism into the conduct of life will hesitate to carry it into the conduct of public affairs.
    But what is important to observe in such a man (for it is characteristic) is not the decisions and actions he is inspired to make, but the source of his inspiration, his idea (and with him it will be a deliberate and conscious idea) of political activity. He believes, of course, in the open mind, the mind free from prejudice and its relic, habit. He believes that the unhindered human 'reason' (if only it can be brought to bear) is an infallible guide in political activity. Further, he believes in argument as the technique and operation of 'reason'; the truth of an opinion and the 'rational' ground (not the use) of an institution is all that matters to him. Consequently, much of his political activity consists in bringing the social, political, legal and institutional inheritance of his society before the tribunal of his intellect; and the rest is rational administration, 'reason' exercising an uncontrolled jurisdiction over the circumstances of the case. To the Rationalist, nothing is of value merely because it exists (and certainly not because it has existed for many generations), familiarity has no worth, and nothing is to be left standing for want of scrutiny. And his disposition makes both destruction and creation easier for him to understand and engage in, than acceptance or reform. To patch up, to repair (that is, to do anything which requires a patient knowledge of the material), he regards as waste of time; and he always prefers the invention of a new device to making use of a current and well-tried expedient. He does not recognize change unless it is a self-consciously induced change, and consequently he falls easily into the error of identifying the customary and the traditional with the changeless. This is aptly illustrated by the rationalist attitude towards a tradition of ideas. There is, of course, no question either of retaining or improving such a tradition, for both these involve an attitude of submission. It must be destroyed. And to fill its place the Rationalist puts something of his own making - an ideology, the formalized abridgment of the supposed substratum of rational truth contained in the tradition.
    • Michael Oakeshott, "Rationalism in Politics" (1947), published in Rationalism in Politics and other essays (1962)

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