Marc Blondel’s speech at Gentioux - 11 novembre 2008
popularity : 32%
The war, the Great War, lasted 4 years and required the mobilization of 70 million men in the world, 8 million died and 20 millions were wounded. The war left the worst destruction of buildings, houses and cities, as well as psychological and moral destruction for millions of parents who mourned their lost children, for 640,000 widows who lost their husbands and for 760,000 children who lost their fathers, along with the 740,000 who were maimed.
This led to a long lasting trauma. Some say it was an industrial war but it was just the first occurrence of mass massacres which would be undoubtedly replicated not only in the Second World War but in all modern conflicts.
(..) And yet, voices were heard in the Trade Union movement and among Socialists. On this subject, because of my previous commitment, I would like to quote Leon Jouhaux, then General Secretary of CGT, the French TUC: “War is nothing but an attack against the working class, it is a terrible and bloodthirsty means of diversion from their demands”.
Unfortunately, after the death of Jaures [the leader of the French Socialist Party, assassinated in July, 1914] Jouhaux forgot this position and participated in the Sacred Union.
Jean Jaurès himself and the then Socialist Party, although they held pacifist and internationalist views, asserted patriotism, refused antimilitarism and advocated an “armed nation”.
Pacifists were found in organisations, especially Free Thinkers, who were certainly not unanimous although they shared the same opinion that war was a heresy and would not settle any problem. Moreover, war called for more wars. (..)
Confronted to this barbarity, some were heroes, willingly or unwillingly, but most of the men understood that they were killing men. In so doing, they were destroying themselves.
Therefore, their behaviour changed, the daily contact with the other side led to fraternisations. In spite of hard times, those men respected those who were depicted as their enemies. Sometimes they shared their misfortune.
Confronted to this deeply humane behaviour, the military decided to get rid of the trouble makers. (..)
According to Jean-Yves Le Naour Doctor of History, there were 2, 400 death penalties and 680 soldiers were executed; the others were pardoned by the Chief of Staff or the President of the Republic.
The 680 soldiers who were executed following emergency courts martial were killed by French bullets under different pretexts.
Insulting an officer or falling asleep on sentry duty, hiding instead of going into the attack, beating a retreat without an order, such were the pretexts which justified the death sentences issued by outflanked officers who wished to regain their control over the men.
Besides, they were not alone. 306 soldiers were executed by the British, and more than 700 by the Italian Army.
There were a few dozens in the German Army. (..)
All the historians agree to show the savagery of this conflict.
That is the reason why the French Libre Pensée, in association with ARAC (Republican Veterans), Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (League for Human Rights), Union Pacifiste Mouvement de la paix (French Pacifist Organisations) have repeatedly claimed the judicial pardon of the soldiers executed as an example.
This claim is also the continuation of the various legal actions taken by individual relatives.
Obviously, if he met this demand, the President of the Republic would dispense justice to all those, brothers in arms, who sacrificed their lives.
This demand, which we repeat publicly here at GENTIOUX on the occasion of November 2008, comes with our commitment in favour of peace throughout the world. (..)
The right to say NO, to refuse to obey, the right of disobedience, the duty of disobedience, such is the struggle of Free Thinkers; in the past as well as in the present, from the Somme to Kabul, such is our commitment to the liberty of humankind. It is indefeasible.
Traditionally, demonstrations such as this one take place around 50 pacifist memorials. This year, we voluntarily focused all efforts on GENTIOUX so as to give more visibility to our request 90 years after Armistice Day. It is high time for all the dead of the Great War be readmitted into national memory which they never left actually because of the struggle of our organisations. It is time now to clear their names, completely, publicly, collectively and open-heartedly. (..)