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- Fighting France - 19/19 -


them for centuries the great creative force of civilization. Every French soldier knows why he is fighting, and why, at this moment, physical courage is the first quality demanded of him; every Frenchwoman knows why war is being waged, and why her moral courage is needed to supplement the soldier's contempt of death.

The women of France are supplying this moral courage in act as well as in word. Frenchwomen, as a rule, are perhaps less instinctively "courageous," in the elementary sense, than their Anglo-Saxon sisters. They are afraid of more things, and are less ashamed of showing their fear. The French mother coddles her children, the boys as well as the girls: when they tumble and bark their knees they are expected to cry, and not taught to control themselves as English and American children are. I have seen big French boys bawling over a cut or a bruise that an Anglo-Saxon girl of the same age would have felt compelled to bear without a tear. Frenchwomen are timid for themselves as well as for their children. They are afraid of the unexpected, the unknown, the experimental. It is not part of the Frenchwoman's training to pretend to have physical courage. She has not the advantage of our discipline in the hypocrisies of "good form" when she is called on to be brave, she must draw her courage from her brains. She must first be convinced of the necessity of heroism; after that she is fit to go bridle to bridle with Jeanne d'Arc.

The same display of reasoned courage is visible in the hasty adaptation of the Frenchwoman to all kinds of uncongenial jobs. Almost every kind of service she has been called to render since the war began has been fundamentally uncongenial. A French doctor once remarked to me that Frenchwomen never make really good sick-nurses except when they are nursing their own people. They are too personal, too emotional, and too much interested in more interesting things, to take to the fussy details of good nursing, except when it can help some one they care for. Even then, as a rule, they are not systematic or tidy; but they make up for these deficiencies by inexhaustible willingness and sympathy. And it has been easy for them to become good war-nurses, because every Frenchwoman who nurses a French soldier feels that she is caring for her kin. The French war-nurse sometimes mislays an instrument or forgets to sterilize a dressing; but she almost always finds the consoling word to say and the right tone to take with her wounded soldiers. That profound solidarity which is one of the results of conscription flowers, in war-time, in an exquisite and impartial devotion.

This, then, is what "France is like." The whole civilian part of the nation seems merged in one symbolic figure, carrying help and hope to the fighters or passionately bent above the wounded. The devotion, the self-denial, seem instinctive; but they are really based on a reasoned knowledge of the situation and on an unflinching estimate of values. All France knows today that real "life" consists in the things that make it worth living, and that these things, for France, depend on the free expression of her national genius. If France perishes as an intellectual light and as a moral force every Frenchman perishes with her; and the only death that Frenchmen fear is not death in the trenches but death by the extinction of their national ideal. It is against this death that the whole nation is fighting; and it is the reasoned recognition of their peril which, at this moment, is making the most intelligent people in the world the most sublime.

THE END


Fighting France - 19/19

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