The New York Times Magazine, November 29, 1942 page 7
Detail from "La Marseillaise," by Rude, on the Arc de Triomphe"Men of France, lot us be reconciled in order to serve!"
A famous French aviator and author voices an appeal for a reunion of hearts and a return to the new battlefront in North Africa.
The following article is, in effect, a letter
addressed: "To Frenchmen Everywhere."
The writer is both aviator and author. He
is known to Americans through his books,
"Wind, Sand and Stars," "Night Flight"
and "Flight to Arras."
By Antoine de Saint-Exupery
FIRST of all, France! The German night has swallowed up the country. For a time we were still able to know a little about those we love; we could still send them words of affection, even if we could not share the wretched bread on their tables. From afar we could catch their breathing.
All that is over now. France is nothing but a silence; she is lost somewhere in the night with all lights out, like a ship. Her mind and spirit have been absorbed into her physical being. We shall not know even the names of the hostages who tomorrow will die before the German rifles.
It is always in the cellars under a tyranny that new truths are born. Let us not play the part of braggarts. There are 40,000,000 people over there in France who must endure their slavery. We shall not be carrying any fire of the spirit to those who are already nourishing the flame with their life's blood like the wax of a candle. They will deal with French problems better than we can; they have all the right to deal with them. Our talk about sociology, politics and art will carry no weight with them. They will not read our books, they will not listen to our speeches. Perhaps our ideas may make them sick.
Let us be infinitely modest. Our political discussions are the discussions of ghosts; ambitions among us are comic. We do not represent France; all we can do is to serve her. And whatever we do, we shall have no just claim for recognition. For there is no common measure between freedom to fight and bearing the crushing weight of the darkness. There is no common measure between the métier of the soldier and the métier of the hostage. The people over there in France are the only true saints. Even if we have the honor of taking part in the battle, we shall still be in their debt. There, in the first place, is the fundamental truth.
Men of France, let us be reconciled in order to serve!
Were our quarrels worth the hate we wasted on them? Who can ever maintain that he alone is absolutely right? Man's field of vision is minute; language is an imperfect instrument; the problems of life burst all the formulas.
All of us hate the idea of collaboration. Some of us accused France of real collaboration while others saw only a ruse. Let us think of Vichy as a trustee in bankruptcy, negotiating with a greedy conqueror for delivery to France of a little grease for railroad cars. (France can no longer get gasoline, or even horses, to bring food to her towns.) The officers of the Armistice Commission will one day tell us about this persistent and atrocious German blackmail. A quarter-turn of the key delivery of any less grease than required and a hundred thousand more French children would die in the next six months.
When a single hostage is shot, his sacrifice shines forth. His death is the cement that binds French unity. But when the Germans, by merely holding up an agreement on grease for cars, kill a hundred thousand hostages of 5 years, where is the compensation for this slow, silent hemorrhage? What is the acceptable fixed price for dead children? What would have been the tolerable limit of Vichy's concession in its attempt to save them? Who can say?
You are aware that French denunciation of the armistice terms would have been equivalent to a return to a state of war. It would have justified the conqueror's seizure of all adult males as military prisoners. This blackmail lay heavily over France. The threat was plainly set forth. German blackmail is no jest. The rot of German prison camps yields only corpses. My country was thus threatened, purely and simply, with utter extermination, under legal and administrative pretense, of 6,000,000 men. France was armed only with sticks to resist this slave hunt. Who is in a position to say for certain what should have been her resistance?
Frenchmen, if we could reduce our differences of opinion (Continued on Page 35) to their true proportions, that would be enough to make peace among us. We have never been divided except on the question as to the weight to be attributed to the Nazi blackmail. On the one hand, some said, 'If the Germans are determined to wipe out the people of France, they will wipe them out, whatever the French do. This blackmail ought to be despised. Nothing should make Vichy take such and such a decision or give this or that promise.'
On the other hand, other people thought: 'It is not merely a case of blackmail but of blackmail unique for cruelty in the history of the world. Let France, refusing all capital concessions, employ every sort of ruse to delay the menace from day to day. The tone of the official utterances shows that when a Ulysses or Talleyrand is disarmed, there remain to him only words with which to deceive the enemy.'
Do you believe, Frenchmen, that these diverse opinions as to the rigours of the Nazi blackmail or as to the real intentions of this circumscribed government really ought to make us hate one another still? (When the English and the Russians fight side by side they leave to the future disputes which are grave enough.) Our divergences of opinion do not touch our hatred of the invader, while at the same time we are all indignant, as are all the people of France, at the surrender of the foreign refugees, a violation of the right of asylum.
Well, these quarrels of the past have no longer any point. Vichy is dead. Vichy has carried with it to the grave all its inextricable problems, its contradictory personnel, its sincerity, its ruses, its cowardice and its courage. Let us leave for the time being the rôle of judge to the historians and the courtsmartial after the war. It is more important to serve France in the present than to argue about her history.
The German occupation of all France has settled all our quarrels and brought appeasement to the drama of our consciences. Men of France, are you willing to become reconciled? There is no longer even a shadow of a reason for argument among us. Let us abandon all party spirit. Why should we hate one another? Why should we be jealous of one another? There is no question of positions to be won. There is no question of any race for offices. The only places open are soldiers' places perhaps some quiet beds in some little cemetery in North Africa.
The military law of France binds all men up to forty-eight. From eighteen to forty-eight we ought all of us to be mobilized. There is no question whether we wish to enlist or not. It is demanded of us, in order to turn the balance of war, that we take our places in the scale altogether and quite simply.
Although our old quarrels are now merely quarrels for the historians, there is another danger of disunion among us. Let us have the courage, men of France, to surmount this danger.
Some among us trouble themselves about the name of one leader as against another, of one form of government as against another. They see the phantom of injustice rising on the horizon.
Why do they thus complicate matters? There is no injustice to fear. None of our personal interests is going to suffer in the future. When a mason devotes himself to the building of a cathedral, the cathedral cannot injure the masons. The only rôle expected of us is a war rôle. I myself feel wonderfully safe against any form of injustice. Who could do me an injustice since I have only one idea namely, to rejoin in Tunis my comrades of Group 2-33 with whom I lived through nine months of the campaign and then the brutal German offensive, which took two-thirds of our number, and finally the escape to North Africa on the eve of the armistice? Let us not dispute now about precedence, about honours, about justice, or about priorities. There is nothing of all that offered to us. They are only offering us rifles and there will be plenty of these for everybody.
If I feel so much at peace now it is because again I find in myself no leaning toward the position of a judge. The group of which I become a part is neither a party nor a sect, it is my country. I am not interested in who will command us. The provisional organization of France is an affair of state. Let us leave it to Britain and to the United States to do the best they can. If our ambition is to press the trigger of a machine gun we shall not be worried about decisions that will seem to us secondary. Our real chief is France, now condemned to silence. Let us hate parties, clans, divisions of any kind.
If the only desire we formulate (and we have the right to formulate it, since it unites all of us) is to obey the military leaders rather than the political leaders, it is like the military salute which honours not the soldier who is saluted but the nation which he represents. We know what General de Gaulle and General Giraud think about authority: they serve; they are the first servants. That should be enough for us, since all the quarrels which weakened us yesterday are now resolved or absorbed in the present.
Here, it seems to me, we stand. Our friends in the United States should not get a false picture of France. Some regard Frenchmen as a little like a basket of crabs. This is unjust. Only the controversialists talk. One does not hear those who keep still.
I suggest to all those Frenchmen who have up to this time been silent that they emerge from their silence just once to reassure Cordell Hull as to the true state of our spirit. I suggest that each of these send to him some such telegram as the following:
The State Department will be astonished at the number of Frenchmen who will take their stand for unity. For, despite our reputation, most of us at heart know only love of our civilisation and our country.
Frenchmen, let us become reconciled! When we find ourselves one day together in a bomber, fighting five or six Messerschmitts, the thought of our old fights will make us smile.
During the war, in 1940, when I came back from a mission with my plane shot full of holes, I used to drink an excellent Pernod at the squadron bar. I often won my Pernod throwing dice, sometimes from a Royalist comrade, perhaps from one who was a Socialist, or perhaps from Lieutenant Israël, the bravest of our crew, who was a Jew. And we all clinked glasses in the greatest friendliness.