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.

Quotes[edit]

A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he’s not a man of action.
  • The enemy is at the gates of the city. The day is perhaps not far off when our breasts will be the last defence for our country. We are the children of the Revolution. Let us take inspiration from our fathers of 1792, and, like them, we will conquer.
    • Poster (23 September 1870) during the Franco-Prussian War, quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 38
  • Bismarck is a dangerous enemy, but even more dangerous perhaps as a friend: he showed us Tunis, placing us in conflict with England, and is now negotiating with us over the Congo.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (27 November 1884), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 90
  • Whether we like it or not, whether it pleases us or shocks us, the French Revolution is a bloc ... a bloc from which nothing can be separated, because historical truth does not permit it. ... the Revolution is not finished, it is still continuing, we are actors in it, the same men are still in conflict with the same enemies. The struggle will go on, until the final day of victory, and until that day we will not allow you to throw mud at the Revolution.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (29 January 1891), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 119
  • 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
  • No, my friend, Germany will not declare war on us [at this moment]. But in my opinion the European situation is such that a great armed conflict is inevitable at some time which I cannot foresee, and our duty is to prepare for the worst.
    • Letter to Georg Brandes (9 January 1906), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), pp. 220-221
  • I think war is inevitable. We must do nothing to provoke it, but we must be ready for it; helped by Russia and England, doubtless by Spain also and perhaps by Italy as well, we may be able to win. In any case it will be a life and death affair: if we are beaten we will be crushed.
    • Letter to Georges Louis (28 July 1908), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 221
  • 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.
  • The difficulty between us and Germany is this: that Germany believes that the logic of her victory means domination, while we do not believe that the logic of our defeat is serfdom [vassalité].
    • Speech to the Senate (10 February 1912), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 220

Prime Minister[edit]

  • Mistakes have been made; do not think of them except to rectify them. Alas, there have also been crimes, crimes against France which call for a prompt punishment. We promise you, we promise the country, that justice will be done according to the law. ... Weakness would be complicity. We will avoid weakness, as we will avoid violence. All the guilty before courts-martial. The soldier in the court-room, united with the soldier in battle. No more pacifist campaigns, no more German intrigues. Neither treason, nor semi-treason: the war. Nothing but the war. Our armies will not be caught between fire from two sides. Justice will be done. The country will know that it is defended.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (20 November 1917), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 271
  • [If the Socialists want peace] so do I, but it is not by bleating of peace that we can silence Prussian militarism. A moment ago M. Constant complained of my silence about foreign policy. My foreign policy and my domestic policy are all one. Internal policy, I wage war; foreign policy, I still wage war; I still wage war. Russia betrays us; I continue the war: unfortunate Rumania is forced to capitulate; I continue the war, and I will continue it down to the last quarter of an hour.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (8 March 1918), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 289–290
  • 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.
  • [Clemenceau] said that the Rhine was a natural boundary of Gaul and Germany and that it ought to be made the German boundary now, the territory between the Rhine and the French frontier being made into an Independent State whose neutrality should be guaranteed by the great powers.
    • Quoted in a letter from the British Ambassador Lord Derby to Arthur Balfour (14 December 1918), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 337
  • [France] finds herself at this time in a particularly difficult situation. ... It is the country which is nearest to Germany. America is distant; it has taken her a long time to get here. And during that time we have been put to it, we have suffered...our cities and our towns have been devastated. Everyone says, rightly, that 'it must not happen again'. I think so too. But how? There was an old system, which seems to be condemned today, and to which I do not fear to say that I remain a faithful adherent at this time. ... This system—solid frontiers...and balance of power—today seems to be condemned by certain very high authorities.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (29 December 1918), quoted in George Bernard Noble, Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919 (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 88
  • I should lie if I said that I was at once in agreement with him [President Wilson] on all the points. America is far distant from the frontiers of Germany, as I remarked a little while ago. I have, perhaps, preoccupations which I would not say are foreign to him, but which do not touch him so closely as they touch the man who has seen his country devastated during four years by an enemy who was within several days of Paris.
    • Speech to the Chamber of Deputies (29 December 1918), quoted in George Bernard Noble, Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919 (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 89
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
  • 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.
  • If it is said that the war is won, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that there is a lull in the storm. At the very least, it is necessary to provide for all eventualities. Recent discoveries have enabled us to pierce the enemy's designs to a greater extent than hitherto. They were not merely a dream of military domination on the part of Prussia, but a definite conspiracy expressly aiming at the extermination of France. Industrially France is extremely difficult to reconstruct, whereas Germany has kept her factories intact and ready to start working efficiently forthwith. Indeed, industrially and commercially, as between France and Prussia, the victory is the latter's. ... the war debt of Germany is almost entirely domestic and can easily be repudiated, while that of France must be paid. In the immediate future we shall have to pay regularly abroad immense sums, by way of interest solely, out of our internal resources.
    • Interview with the Associated Press (9 February 1919), quoted in The Times (11 February 1919), p. 10
  • Even as regards the military triumph of France over Germany, there are certain disquieting features in the situation. The Allies have taken over the German Navy and in a great measure disarmed the enemy, but Russia, certainly in a state of chaos, but fruitful all the same, remains and from it the Germans can draw a great deal of support. With the British Army demobilized, the American Army returned home, and France isolated, there might be a danger of Germany's reopening the debate of arms. This might embarrass us but for the very heartening assurances of President Wilson in the Chamber of Deputies. The League of Nations must be profoundly sustained by the conviction of the peoples of France and America and by the determination of the latter to abandon its traditional policy of isolation. France will face all these problems without fear and without reproach. All our plans are based on the splendid foundation laid by President Wilson.
    • Interview with the Associated Press (9 February 1919), quoted in The Times (11 February 1919), p. 10
  • 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
  • After expending the greatest effort, and suffering the greatest sacrifices in blood in all history, we must not compromise the results of our victory...if the League of Nations cannot buttress its orders with military sanctions we must find this sanction elsewhere...I beg you to understand my state of mind, just as I am trying to understand yours. America is far away and protected by the ocean, England could not be reached by Napoleon himself. You are sheltered, both of you; we are not.
    • Speech at the Paris Peace Conference (27 March 1919), quoted in Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 40
  • For you a hundred years is a very long time; for us it does not amount to much. I knew men who had seen Napoleon with their own eyes. We have our conception of history and it cannot be the same as yours.
    • Remarks to Woodrow Wilson (28 March 1919), quoted in Anthony Adamthwaite, Grandeur and Misery: France's Bid for Power in Europe 1914-1940 (London: Arnold, 1995), p. 49
  • In fifteen years I will be dead, but if you do me the honour of visiting my tomb, you will be able to say that the Germans have not fulfilled all the clauses of the treaty, and that we are still on the Rhine.
    • Remarks to Poincaré in Cabinet (25 April 1919), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 352
  • We need a barrier behind which, in the years to come, our people can work in security to rebuild its ruins. That barrier is the Rhine. I must take national feelings into account. That does not mean that I am afraid of losing office. I am quite indifferent on that point. But I will not, by giving up the occupation, do something which will break the willpower of our people.
    • Speech at the Paris Peace Conference (June 1919), quoted in David Robin Watson, Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (London: Eyre Methuen, 1974), p. 352
  • 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 do not know whether war is an interlude in peace, or whether peace is an interlude in war.
    • Speech to the Senate (11 October 1919), quoted in George Bernard Noble, Policies and Opinions at Paris, 1919 (New York: Macmillan, 1935), p. 353
  • 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!
    • Quoted in Frances Stevenson's diary entry (12 December 1919), A. J. P. Taylor (ed.), Lloyd George: A Diary (London: Hutchinson, 1971), p. 192

Post-Prime Ministerial[edit]

  • 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!
  • 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. Thus military justice is not justice; military music is not 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


Misattributed[edit]

  • 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]

  • The truth is that Clemenceau embodied and expressed France. As much as any single human being, miraculously magnified, can ever be a nation, he was France.
  • He had one illusion — France; and one disillusion — mankind, including Frenchmen.

External links[edit]

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