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.
  • 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

  • Mistakes have been made; do not thin 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

  • 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

Grandeur and Misery of Victory (1930)

Georges Clemenceau, Grandeur and Misery of Victory (London: Harrap, 1930).
  • I belonged to the generation that saw the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, and never could I be consoled for that loss. And I here recall, with pardonable pride, that in 1908 I stood up against Germany in the Casablanca crisis, and that the Government of William II, after demanding apologies from us, was forced by my calm resistance to be satisfied with mere arbitration, as in any other dispute.
    • p. 14
  • For the catastrophe of 1914 the Germans are responsible. Only a professional liar would deny this.
    • p. 98
  • [W]hen at Versailles Brockdorff-Rantzau addressed me in the language of the bearer of a challenge, I was forced to realize that the German revolution was mere window-dressing, and that, with the aggressor of 1914 not a whit cured of his insane folly, we should continue without respite to be subjected, in a new setting, to the same attack from the same enemy.
    • p. 99
  • What after all is this war, prepared, undertaken, and waged by the German people, who flung aside every scruple of conscience to let it loose, hoping for a peace of enslavement under the yoke of a militarism destructive of all human dignity? It is simply the continuance, the recrudescence, of those never-ending acts of violence by which the first savage tribes carried out their depredations with all the resources of barbarism. The means improve with the ages. The ends remain the same.
    • p. 100
  • Germany...was unfortunate enough to allow herself (in spite of her skill at dissimulation) to be betrayed into an excess of candour by her characteristic tendency to go to extremes. Deutschland über alles. Germany above everything! That, and nothing less, is what she asks, and when once her demand is satisfied she will let you enjoy a peace under the yoke. Not only does she make no secret of her aim, but the intolerable arrogance of the German aristocracy, the servile good nature of the intellectual and the scholar, the gross vanity of the most competent leaders in industry, and the widespread influence of a violent popular poetry conspire to shatter throughout the world all the time-honoured traditions of individual, as well as international, dignity.
    • p. 101
  • Peace or war, we are in the midst of a relentless struggle for power. Woe to the weak! Turn your back on the purveyors of soothing syrup!
    • pp. 102–103
  • The quantum of a hypothetical German civilization would not take us very far, because she is to-day still too close to barbarism.
    • p. 108
  • To ensure the execution of the Treaty [of Versailles] all we lacked later on was a statesman of some strength of purpose.
    • p. 112
  • They talk of effecting a reconciliation between us and Germany: nothing would give me greater pleasure. But the German nation is unscrupulous, and the French like nothing so much as to forget. If one goes forward at every moment, while the other gives himself up to the enervating delights of going back, no two people will ever meet full face. As I have said, I was concerned with other things than the troopers’ tales of a victorious soldier dissatisfied with the share of victory assigned to him. As much as, and more than any other I should desire, if it were possible, never in any shape or guise to fall back into the bloody adventures of military conquests that are still a temptation haunting the feverish imaginations of the German peoples.
    • p. 136
  • [T]he keynote of the Treaty of Versailles is the liberation of the peoples, the independence of nationalities, whereas the keynote of the policy of Marshal Foch and M. Poincaré was the occupation of a territory by force of arms against the will of its inhabitants.
    • p. 146
  • Fate has decided. The Conference has spoken. It has been obeyed. Why could it not have kept a strong hand over the execution of the Treaty? But I will not anticipate. Overflowing with German braggadocio, von Brockdorff-Rantzau later on told us that we hated Germany, because we had dared to defend ourselves against her aggression, but our European countries, and those organized on European lines, need only go back to their familiar slipshod management of everyday life for the vanquished foe to dare to rear his head arrogantly as if he were the victor, to look in the face the crimes he had acknowledged, and to venture, owing to the general discouragement, to demand a reckoning from those who had put an end to his wrongdoing.
    • p. 147
  • What will remain of the greatest effort of the human civilizations for an enlargement of universal civilization I shall not attempt to foresee, after ten years of talk in which victors and vanquished have gone on the same tack to shatter, one by one, every guarantee of success.
    • p. 153
  • Anyone who retains as much education as the average boy can pick up in a continuation elementary school can understand that General Foch's chief preoccupations were not concerned with the generalizations of universal justice embodied in war or peace. Had he opened the annals of our past at whatsoever page he might choose, he would have found that our life throughout history, bandied about between battles and truces in the unending oscillation of all things, is at any moment but preparing for or stabilizing a new transient form of society for the momentary advantage of the strongest.
    • p. 176
  • The idea of force is deeply rooted in man, as in the whole universe. Law is controlled and ordered force.
    • p. 177
  • Bismarck went so far as to boast of a forgery. The Ems telegram was a crime of no less magnitude than the outrage on Belgium. The cynicism of the scrap of paper will be counted against Germany as long as human history lasts. That stain, like Lady Macbeth's, can never be effaced.
    • p. 178, n. 1
  • A peace of justice, a Europe founded upon right, the creator of independent states whose military power is augmented by all the moral energies generated by the necessity for asserting themselves in all spheres of international life—will not this create a body of forces superior to anything that could come from a powerfully organized frontier?
    • pp. 180–181
  • I will tell how the formula for the military consolidation of the victory of the three Allied and Associated nations was accepted on the proposal of England, only to be rejected without explanation by the American Senate, then quietly dropped by England, and left in oblivion by the French Government itself, without a word of protest. Not a word was uttered to recall that we had given our best blood, and that, after seeking for security in a better frontier, we had given up this strategical guarantee in exchange for the promise of Anglo-American military aid, which had been offered us as an exchange, and which was taken from us without compensation. Defeat substituted for victory, that was what we accepted without finding a single word to assert our right to our Continental life by the establishment of guarantees within the new order created by a most costly victory.
    • p. 183
  • Breakers of their sworn faith, the Germans seriously offer us their signature on a “scrap of paper” as a guarantee, with the unalterable intention of later taking up again the work of assimilation by force where they have left off. They destroy towns, ravage the fields, and let loose among men evils by the side of which the most cruel exploits of the greatest devastators grow pale and trivial. We take them by the throat, and they promise to make reparation. But, as they do not make reparation, America, who has made a separate peace after growing incredibly rich through the War, claims for her treasury the contributions earmarked for restoring French soil to a productive state.
    • pp. 184–185
  • Always watching their opportunity to hit back in every sphere, our defeated enemies demand reckonings from their conquerors, who fear nothing so much as not to give them complete satisfaction. I set down this fact in order to clear my own conscience, and especially because it is high time for the French nation to take a firmer grip on itself and to substitute a policy of determination for this confusion born of timidity, through which the threat of a compact mass of barbarism is kept hanging over our heads.
    • p. 185
  • And if our recent victory had merely been one of territorial conquests that were fated to call us out to the battlefield again to meet attempts to take revenge for our revenge, our success of the moment would have been as fruitless as every success before it. What was more to be desired in the interests of Europe striving for civilization was a victor capable of controlling himself so as to replace armed might by right in the fluid equilibrium of a peace capable of enduring.
    • p. 186
  • The real task—and an absolutely new one—was the attempt to make definitely a Europe founded on right. In spite of some people's lack of understanding, to have attempted this will be the glory of the Treaty of Versailles. It is for future Governments to work at this task by some method other than that of eternally giving in. The realization of a Europe founded upon right was the greatest victory of all, the victory that neither Napoleon nor Foch wished to gain, and which required something more than successful strokes of strategy.
    • p. 189
  • As for myself, what more can I say? I am bitterly censured for having refused to give my country a strategic frontier. How can I take seriously those who, both great and small, reproach me with this, since they know that I could not—apart from any question of the rights of peoples—annex the Rhineland without breaking off our alliance, WHICH NO ONE DARED TO SUGGEST TO ME?
    • p. 224
  • The [Anglo-American] Guarantee Pact thus assumed the position of the keystone of European peace, far above all theories. Its rejection, for that very reason, amounted to an indirect invitation for the thwarted aggressor to try again.
    • p. 232
  • And what is this “Germanic civilization,” this monstrous explosion of the will to power, which threatens openly to do away entirely with the diversities established by many evolutions, to set in their place the implacable mastery of a race whose lordly part would be to substitute itself, by force of arms, for all national developments? We need only read Bernhardi's famous pamphlet Unsere Zukunft, in which it is alleged that Germany sums up within herself, as the historian Treitschke asserts, the greatest manifestation of human supremacy, and finds herself condemned, by her very greatness, either to absorb all nations in herself or to return to nothingness.
    • p. 255
  • From the German point of view the monstrous problem thus set must inevitably be solved by the apotheosis of the German peoples. In the meantime, far from ‘German culture’ seeming disposed to reform itself, we hear it proclaiming louder than ever a universal right to supreme domination, which confers on it the right of life and death over the nations, to be asserted and enforced by all possible means. Ought we not all to feel menaced in our very vitals by this mad doctrine of universal Germanic supremacy over England, France, America, and every other country?
    • pp. 255–256
  • Can we then be excused for not accepting, without other guarantees than “faith sworn and forsworn,” these relations of good neighbourhood with the nation that proclaims itself the masterpiece of humanity? For has anyone in any authority ever tried to deny or tone down these bold and cynical words? Ask the mobs, whose first cry on every occasion is “Deutschland über Alles”. This is what our public men rely upon in recommending to us a peace of trust with a Germany animated by the sentiments her spokesmen have just disclosed.
    • p. 263
  • Über Alles—there we have Germany, who professes to improve mankind by her ‘Kultur’ of iniquity; Russia writhes in the throes of internal decomposition, and Austria, who once fought to be free of the German monster, would to-day like to resume the old Bismarckian chain. The danger lies in the crowds who offer themselves for servitude in order that they may be permitted, in their turn, to tyrannize over the conquered nations. In this respect Germany's watchword is only the puerile hallucination of a return to primitive dominations, and allows no one to feign a misapprehension over which neither the aggressor nor the victim could be deceived. We have only to submit to the implacable law of the strongest, and join the ranks of the conquered territories, to enjoy the servitude with which our masters are only too ready to favour us. To be victims or tyrants, that is the only thing left to us.
    • pp. 270–271
  • It took defeat to bring Germany to words of quasi-peace, soon belied by a renewal of implacable activity. It is the same policy of cunning and pretence that she used, with so much success, against Napoleon. Without troubling overmuch to make any secret of it, the vanquished are devoting their best efforts to concentrating and ordering their energies, whereas the victors, divided, are drowning themselves in a deluge of verbose invocations to a metaphysics of peace, adapted to all kinds of immediate self-interest. Who then can shut his eyes to the impending menace of a return to the policy of domination by arms, the revenge for the Treaty of Versailles by a stiffening of the will-power on the part of the beaten aggressor?
    • pp. 275–276
  • Above all, do not be so ingenuous as to believe that you will disarm, by methods of persuasion, the Powers who see you strengthening against every eventuality your means of defence, which might turn into means of aggression.
    • p. 284
  • Who need wonder in these circumstances that the Germans tried, without loss of time, to evade the most important of their obligations? The history of the last ten years is a series of surrenders on the part of the Allies, of successes for Germany.
    • p. 286
  • Now that one of its principal clauses had lapsed along with the Guarantee Pact, what was to happen to the Treaty as a whole, so closely correlated in all its parts? The country that had made the greatest sacrifices for the least return found herself, without even the ghost of an explanation, grievously wronged by the withdrawal of the clause that had been our military guarantee of security. Could we let this pass without protest, when it was a matter of life and death for France? ... The Treaty had fallen to the ground, since its mainstay, which had been provided by America in conjunction with England, had been taken away. We had given up the Rhineland because an offer had been made us to replace the German sentry on the Rhine by an English and an American soldier, side by side with the French soldier.
    • p. 300
  • The Locarno pacts offer only the insubstantial semblance of a guarantee; they are an illusion calculated to mislead easily satisfied consciences and to lull more vigilant minds to sleep. In their inadequacy lies their danger. The spirit of Locarno itself is positively injurious to the interests of our country.
    • p. 312
  • Unquestionably and naturally, in Germany, as everywhere else, the workmen, peasants, and lower middle class are true pacifists, and view the possibilities of new butcheries with horror. But, on the other hand, we must remember that all the sons of the governing classes, all the young men who attend the high schools, the colleges, and universities of Germany, find there Nationalist or Populist professors who continually din into their ears the Deutschland über Alles. In this lies the great danger to peace, a danger of which the genuine pacifists are well aware. Later on, in a few years, it will be these same young men who will direct the destinies of Germany. Are we not justified in fearing that the mass of the German people, workmen, peasants, lower middle class, faithful to the impulses of its gregarious nature, might allow itself, as in 1914, to be rushed into the whirl of a “fresh and frolicsome war”?
    • p. 327
  • In truth, the bulk of the German nation, the Reich Government (so well personified in the circumstances by the late Herr Stresemann) is not at all eager to begin a new struggle with France. It is perfectly well aware—and the perpetual mutilations of the Treaty of Versailles have shown that it is right—that with patience, a great deal of boldness, and some cleverness, it will easily manage to obtain, from the weak and irresponsible Governments that have been succeeding one another in France since 1920, the almost complete annulment of the Treaty. During this time—that is to say, while Germany is preparing, that is, arming—what is the French Army doing? It is quite simple: it is disarming.
    • p. 328
  • The great mistake made by the Governments that have succeeded one another in France since 1920 is to have dandled our people from concession to concession without making them understand, first of all, that a nation with a past like ours could not accept peace at any price—that is to say, at the cost of compromising their honour; secondly, that with neighbours like the Germans this peace could only be ensured by making the necessary sacrifices. Those means are the same since the world began and can be summed up in the words, Be strong. Germany remains faithful to this truth. Perhaps Germany does want peace, but this kind of peace will wipe out the last traces of her defeat. That is why she is preparing. The following figures are more eloquent than any possible dissertation. In 1928 France spent six milliards of francs on her military forces: Germany spent eight. Germany goes on arming: France goes on disarming. For what results?
    • p. 333
  • My education was built up upon ruthlessly hard-and-fast ideas crowned by a patriotism that nothing could shake. In the insurrection of Vendée, allied with the foreigner against Revolutionary France, the two qualities of patriot and republican were so merged in one another that the Chouans called us patauds, an insult that my forbears were proud of. The fatherland was, and could only be, everybody's home, where energies were developed in common. To renounce one's country had neither sense nor meaning. You might as well have expected the child to want to leave the shelter of its mother's wing. The home, the country, this was no theory; it was a natural phenomenon that had been realized from the very earliest ages of mankind. Animals had a temporary home in their lairs, man a permanent one in his country.
    • p. 341
  • Is it not fairly clear that the very idea of a fatherland, which is still so potent among us, has lost some of its native strength in the hearts of those who have deliberately allowed themselves to be despoiled of that French pride so essential if the fatherland is to live and not die?
    • p. 345
  • I ask myself whether there is to be found a single Frenchman who could admit that we should refrain from exacting from the Germans their obligations, the burden of which is about to be transferred to a victor ruined by the systematic plunderings of the conquered invader. When I ask for an explanation I am generally met with a shrug of the shoulders, accusations against the Press, Parliament, the politicians, and an assurance that after a few more concessions every one will be satisfied. As a result of which we give way to-day, after having given way yesterday, to the demands of Germany, who is only awaiting the additional last concessions to render an account that will never be the final one until we are completely despoiled.
    • p. 356
  • It is Germany, guilty of the greatest crime in the history of Europe, a crime premeditated, prepared, and carried out in broad daylight, who presents herself vanquished at the tribunal of Europe and the civilized world, no longer to give an account but to demand one. A lie sets her free. A lie puts us in the dock. And our policy of incoherency run wild is about to lay itself open to processes of dismemberment that will reduce the Treaty of Versailles to a state of nullity. Every day will see Germany requesting, demanding, to have her burdens lightened in order to heap them on France, already drained to the last drop of her blood, and every day something of the burden of defeat will be transferred from Germany's shoulders to what still exists of France by the good graces of the Treaty's executors.
    • pp. 357–358
  • What are we doing, then, if not proceeding, article by article, to restore Germany's power, which, by a truly miraculous exercise of will, after its complete collapse during the War, is about to be built up again in the retrograde peace, which is surrendering, stage by stage, everything that human justice had gained by our victory? After the restoration of Germany's moral prestige by a lie we have the upsetting of the financial reparations by the progressive series of mutilations of the Treaty down to the payment of the so-called debts to America!
    • p. 360
  • I scan the horizon in vain for any sign of a recovery. Day by day the position grows more serious through our inertia, while the designs of German violence shrink from no ways or means or instrument.
    • p. 363
  • If Germany, still obsessed by her traditional militarism, persists in her Deutschland über Alles, well—let the die be cast. We shall take up the atrocious War again at the point where we left it off. We must have the courage to prepare for it, instead of frittering away our strength in lies that no one believes, from conference to conference.
    • p. 364
  • When I am told that a policy of concessions, more or less happily graduated, is going to regain for us the goodwill of our former enemies I can only be glad to hear it, for I desire nothing so much as a state of stable equilibrium in Europe. But I must be able to perceive some sign of a favourable response to the goodwill that I am asked to manifest. Judge then of my surprise when I discover that Germany goes on arming and France disarming. The position is that the most scientific preparations for war are being carried out on the other side of the frontier. With us frontiers lie open, armaments are insufficient, effectives are well below the numbers recognized as necessary, while on the other side a feverish life of reconstruction is developing and reorganizing, by the adaptation of fresh material, every department of their war equipment as well as their means of transport.
    • pp. 366–367
  • Germany is arming and France disarming”: that is the decisive feature of this moment of history when the two states of mind confront one another in such stark brutality that I defy any sane man to cast doubt on the evidence. Our people have come to this, that they seem to like enduring provocations. The history of the plebiscite violently rejecting the financial measures accepted by us in order to help Germany to discharge what may remain of her financial obligations seems a sufficient indication of the most furious hostility. Thus we see, in the relentless light of the facts, the German, in fighting mood and trim, and the heedless Frenchman, both applauding the orators who proclaim the violations of the Peace Treaty.
    • p. 367
  • To-day Germany is once more trying to construct, by methods of peace, a Germanic Empire that she failed to bring into being by means of war. That she could never do without eventualities that may change the destinies of a France exposed to every hostile enterprise. What will become of us in this welter of countries the development of whose strength in the future no man can foresee? There are nations that are beginning. There are nations that are coming to an end. Our consciousness of our own acts entails the fixing of responsibilities. France will be what the men of France deserve.
    • p. 379

Clemenceau, The Events of His Life (1930)

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

  • Almost every day of my life in Paris I saw Clemenceau’s statue in the Champs-Elysées. I paid little attention to it. But this evening, as I stood close to that of Foch, it haunted my vision, the dauntless fighter, standing upright on the stone base, his scarf flying in the wind, his features harsh and tragic. I imagined him, too merciless to himself to shed tears over the destruction of his victory, condemning the pygmies of 1940, with all the contempt of which he was so richly capable, to be tormented by the Furies in spirit and soul and even more in their blood.
    He had foreseen the coming of these wretches. At the close of his astonishing life the man who waged war, and who in waging it, won it, found pleasure in giving a last lesson to his only love, France: from his rock in the Vendée looking out over his ocean, he wrote a life of Demosthenes, to which he added this comment: "Demosthenes would have saved his country, if it had consented to be saved."
    He predicted that our country having been saved by him would be lost. He wished that another such as he might rise in his turn to lead and save her.
    • Élie Bois, Truth on the Tragedy of France (1941), pp. 415-416
  • Before he was thirty he was the witness of the complete defeat and invasion of his country brought about by the infamy and ineptitude of the Imperial Government. These experiences governed his whole career. The object for which he lived was the restoration of his country and the reversal of the wrongs she had suffered. Patriotism became to him a passion. It took the place of religion and provided that idealism without which great characters cannot live. And so for more than forty years he strove by voice and pen to fortify his country for a renewal of the struggle with Germany, to cleanse it of corruption, to give it greater strength and a higher courage. Perhaps his outlook was too material. Perhaps he cared too much for his country's glory and too little for her real happiness. But it is not for us, with our sheltered history, to judge him.
    • Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, BBC radio broadcast upon Clemenceau's death (1929), quoted in Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, All the Way (1949), pp. 152-153
  • He almost ceased to believe in human virtue. That was the foundation of his attitude to such things as the League of Nations. They seemed to him too good to be true; what Napoleon called ideology. Often when I visited him he has begun the conversation by saying: "I like the League of Nations," and then, with an ironic challenge: "but I don't believe in it." But that did not prevent him from being very kind to me personally. He was called fierce and pitiless and he may have been so. When I saw him he was courtesy and consideration personified. He never made phrases. He said what he wanted to say in the plainest and most pointed language he could command—and sometimes it was very plain and pointed. He never talked for the sake of talking—only because he had got something to say. His oratory was not emotional. It was destructive, especially of falsity and pretence. His critical power was great. He used it to destroy mercilessly whatever he despised and he despised a good many things and people... What he saw, he saw clearly, without ambiguity or self-delusion.
    • Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, BBC radio broadcast upon Clemenceau's death (1929), quoted in Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, All the Way (1949), pp. 153-154
  • I saw him last at the end of May of 1929. He had aged a good deal but his mind was as clear as ever. He spoke sadly and with disillusionment. He professed that he no longer much cared to live, though he was very glad to have been alive. He spoke with uneasiness of the general situation in the world and especially in France. He seemed to think there was a decay of authority and—though he did not use the word—of ideals. He said: "The truth is that I am in one respect a very unfortunate man. I have seen my wishes fulfilled. I believed very much in democracy and representative Government and now that I see it in operation I am a little disappointed." One other striking phrase he employed. He said: "I have come to think that it is more difficult to make Peace than to make War—and requires more patience!"
    • Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, BBC radio broadcast upon Clemenceau's death (1929), quoted in Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, All the Way (1949), p. 154
  • He was not a popular man. He had made too many enemies and his tongue was too sharp. But his fellow-countrymen deeply respected and admired him... For France owed much to Clemenceau. His love for her was the ruling principle of his life. To her he sacrificed ease and friendship and perhaps even happiness. He hated those whom he regarded as her enemies, whether at home or abroad, and he was merciless to them—a Tiger indeed. He grieved with her in defeat, he sought to discipline her in peace, he strengthened her in war and he led her to Victory.
    • Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, BBC radio broadcast upon Clemenceau's death (1929), quoted in Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, All the Way (1949), pp. 154-155
  • 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.
  • France had been bled white by the war. The generation that had dreamed since 1870 of a war of revenge had triumphed, but at a deadly cost in national life-strength. It was a haggard France that greeted the dawn of victory. Deep fear of Germany pervaded the French nation on the morrow of their dazzling success. It was this fear that had prompted Marshal Foch to demand the Rhine frontier for the safety of France against her far larger neighbour. But the British and American statesmen held that the absorption of German-populated districts in French territory was contrary to the Fourteen Points and to the principles of nationalism and self-determination upon which the Peace Treaty was to be based. They therefore withstood Foch and France. They gained Clemenceau by promising: first, a joint Anglo-American guarantee for the defence of France; secondly, a demilitarised zone; and thirdly, the total, lasting disarmament of Germany. Clemenceau accepted this in spite of Foch’s protests and his own instincts. The Treaty of Guarantee was signed accordingly by Wilson and Lloyd George and Clemenceau. The United States Senate refused to ratify the treaty. They repudiated President Wilson’s signature. And we, who had deferred so much to his opinions and wishes in all this business of peacemaking, were told without much ceremony that we ought to be better informed about the American Constitution.
  • In the fear, anger, and disarray of the French people the rugged, dominating figure of Clemenceau, with his world-famed authority, and his special British and American contacts, was incontinently discarded. "Ingratitude towards their great men," writes Plutarch, "is the mark of strong peoples." It was imprudent of France to indulge this trait when she was so grievously weakened. There was little compensating strength to be found in the revival of the group intrigues and ceaseless changes of Governments and Ministers which were the characteristic of the Third Republic, however profitable they were to those engaged in them.
  • He had one illusion — France; and one disillusion — mankind, including Frenchmen.
  • He was...much the most arresting and powerful personality in the arena of French politics during the Third Republic... Clemenceau was a master of words. No orator of his day had a more perfect command and choice of word and phrase. But he was pre-eminently a man of action... That he should have succeeded as War Minister is not a matter of surprise. He possessed restless energy, indomitable courage and a gift of infecting others with his own combativeness and confidence... A combination of energy, courage and common sense was needed at that hour, and he possessed these three attributes in an exceptional degree... Clemenceau was the greatest French statesman—if not the greatest Frenchman—of his day. He was in every fibre of his being a Frenchman. He had no real interest in humanity as a whole. His sole concern was for France. As long as France was humbled he cared not what other people were exalted. As long as France was victorious he did not worry in the least about the tribulations of any other country. To him France was all in all.
  • His hatred of Germany had a concentrated ferocity which I had never seen before... I remember driving with him back to Paris...after he had handed...the German delegates the draft of the Peace Treaty. As we passed the ruins of the palace of St. Cloud, which had been burned by the Germans in 1871, he told me how he remembered seeing the blaze... That event seemed to have burned itself into his memory ... There is only one incident of 1871 of which he spoke to me with emotion, and that was of the poignant scene in the French Assembly when Jules Favre came straight from an interview with Bismarck to report to the deputies the nature of the terms demanded, and the ruthlessness with which the triumphant Chancellor had treated the supplication of the French delegates for some amelioration in the demands. Tears came into M. Clemenceau's eyes—for the first and only time in my intercourse with him—as he described how "the old man" (Favre), in attempting to describe the harshness of the conqueror, broke down in the tribune and wept. I then understood something of M. Clemenceau's hatred of the Germans. They had not only invaded France, defeated her armies, occupied her capital, humbled her pride, but in the hour of victory had treated her with an insolence which for fifty years had rankled in the heart of this fierce old patriot. When I met him at Carlsbad the sore was still stinging him into anger.
  • [Woodrow] Wilson then diverged into his usual rhapsody about the superiority of right to might: he referred to those great French idealists—Lafayette and Rochambeau...and he ended an eloquent appeal to Clemenceau by quoting Napoleon's saying on his deathbed that “in the end right always triumphed over might.” Clemenceau ... said: “President Wilson has quoted Napoleon as having said that in the end might was beaten by right. He says that he uttered this sentiment on his deathbed. Had it been true it was rather late for him to have discovered it. But it was not true. President Wilson alluded in glowing language to those idealistic young Frenchmen who helped to liberate America. However exalted the ideals of Lafayette and Rochambeau, they would never have achieved them without force. Force brought the United States into being and force again prevented it from falling to pieces.” The President acknowledged the cogency of the reply.
  • Clemenceau said to me, “I used to be an idealist, but the older I grow the more I am convinced that it is Force that counts.” I replied, “Then you have come to agree with Machiavelli?” But Clemenceau doesn't like having his conclusions sharpened, and he said nothing.
    • John Morley's remarks to John Hartman Morgan (c. December 1919), quoted in J. H. Morgan, John, Viscount Morley: An Appreciation and Some Reminiscences (1924), p. 91
  • Much talk about Clemenceau and Wilson. L[loyd] G[eorge] said, ‘Each lacks and fails to understand the other's best qualities. When Wilson talks idealism, Clemenceau wonders what he means, and, metaphorically speaking, touches his forehead, as much as to say, “A good man, but not quite all there!”’
    • George Riddell's diary (16 March 1919), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908–1923 (1986), p. 269
  • Had a little talk with President Wilson... The President said that he had been reading an account of Clemenceau's philosophy of life, in which he remarked: “Life consists of the play of unrestrained natural forces” – in other words, the evolutionist's view of sociological development. President: If you take that view, I don't see how you can have any hope or incentive to action.
    • George Riddell's diary (13 June 1919), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908–1923 (1986), p. 279
  • Signing of Protocol and procés-verbal ratifying the Treaty [of Versailles]. It was interesting to see old Clemenceau going through the ceremony – the quick way in which he walked round the tables. L[loyd] G[eorge] said that after the signing of Protocol, which took place in a private room, Clemenceau had to shake hands with the German delegate. He said to [L]loyd G[eorge], “I spat on the place in order to commemorate it!”
    • George Riddell's diary (10 January 1920), quoted in J. M. McEwen (ed.), The Riddell Diaries 1908–1923 (1986), pp. 300–301
  • Few men in France had made a more realistic appraisal of their country’s position in the post-war world, or were more anxious to secure its future, than its premier, Georges Clemenceau, known as ‘the Tiger’. The 78-year-old Clemenceau may have seemed a man of the past, and his square-tailed coats, shapeless hats, thick, buckled boots, and suede gloves (worn because of his eczema) accentuated this impression. To Clemenceau, the problem of the peace settlement was the problem of French security: how to protect France against another German aggression, something which all of France believed was possible. In his relentless search for the means to enhance French security, Clemenceau operated on the assumption that neither military defeat nor the fall of the Kaiser would permanently weaken Germany nor curb her continental ambitions. Germany would have to be disarmed, but this would hardly be sufficient for future safety. Even as he savoured the victory that was won at such high cost to France, Clemenceau understood how easily the peace could be lost. Stripped to its essentials, French security required the support of allies and military, territorial, and economic changes that would restrict Germany’s capacity to again invade France. Neither the Rhineland nor Belgium was to become a platform for future German attacks. Clemenceau intended, too, that the peace settlements would provide opportunities to redress the unequal balance of economic strength between the two neighbouring nations that the war had not altered. While Clemenceau did not rule out the future possibility of Franco-German economic co-operation, already canvassed in the summer of 1919, it was only a possibility and had to be on terms that would promote French industrial interests.
    • Zara Steiner. The Lights That Failed : European International History 1919-1933, Oxford University Press, 2007.
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