Extracts from the Speech of Premier Briand in the French Chamber of Deputies, December 13, 1916

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WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Extracts from the Speech of Premier Briand in the French Chamber of Deputies, December 13, 1916

Extracts from the Speech of Premier Briand in the French Chamberof Deputies, December 13, 19161


     It is after proclaiming her victory on every front that Germany,
feeling that she can not win, throws out to us certain phrases about
which I can not refrain from making a few remarks.
     You have read the speech of Mr. von Bethmann-Hollweg, the Chan-
cellor of the German Empire. On this speech, of which I have not
yet received the official text, I can not express myself officially. These
so-called proposals have not yet been presented to any of the Govern-
ments, and it is rather doubtful whether, under existing conditions,
those who have been asked to act as intermediaries will accept so deli-
cate a task, which may disturb many a conscience.
     On this as on all matters I cannot express an official opinion until
we and our Allies have thoroughly considered and discussed the ques-
tion, and reached a full and complete agreement. But I have the
right, indeed the duty, to warn you against this possible poisoning of
our country.
     When I see Germany arming herself to the teeth, mobilizing her
entire civil population at the risk of destroying her commerce and her in-
dustries, of breaking up her homes of which she is so proud ; when I
see the fires of all her factories burning red in the manufacture of war
material ; when I see her, in contravention of the law of nations, con-
scripting men in their own countries and forcing them to work for
her, if I did not warn my country, I should be culpable indeed!
Observe, gentlemen, that what they are sending us from over there
is an invitation to discuss peace. It is extended to us under conditions
that are well known to you: Belgium invaded, Serbia invaded, Rou-
mania invaded, ten of our Departments invaded ! This invitation is
in vague and obscure terms, in high-sounding words to mislead the
minds, to stir the conscience, and to trouble the hearts of peoples who
mourn for their countless dead. Gentlemen, this is a crucial moment.
I discern in these declarations the same cry of conscience, ever striving
to deceive neutrals and perhaps also to blind the eyes of those among
the German people whose vision is still unimpaired. "It was not we,"
say these declarations, "who let loose this horrible war."
     There is one cry constantly on German lips : "We were attacked;
we are defending ourselves ; we are the victims !" To this cry I make
answer for the hundredth time : "No ; you are the aggressors; no mat-
ter what you may say, the facts are there to prove it. The blood is on
your heads, not on ours."
     Furthermore, the circumstances in which these proposals are made
are such that I have the right to denounce them as a crafty move, a
clumsy snare. When, after reading words like the following, "We
wish to give to our peoples every liberty they need, every opportunity
to live and to prosper that they may desire," I note in the same docu-
ment that what our enemies so generously offer to other nations is a
sort of charitable promise not to crush them, not to annihilate them,
I exclaim: "Is that what they dare to offer, after the Marne, after
the Yser, after Verdun, to France who stands before them glorious
in her strength?"
     We must think over a document like that ; we must consider what it
represents at the moment it is thrown at the world and what its aim is.
The things I am telling you are merely my personal impressions. I
would not be talking thus, were it not my duty to put my country on
her guard against what might bring about her demoralization. It is
not that I doubt her clear-sightedness or her perspicacity. I am
quite sure that she will not allow herself to be duped. But, never-
theless, even before the proposals are officially laid before us, I have
the right to say to you that they are merely a ruse, an attempt to
weaken the bonds of our alliance, to trouble the conscience and to
undermine the courage of our people.
     Therefore, gentlemen, with apologies for having spoken at such
length—but you will not reproach me for having taken up this question
—I conclude with the statement that the French Republic will do no
less now than did the Convention, under similar circumstances, at an
earlier period of our history.

1France: Journal Offciel du 14 decembre 1916, Chambre—Seance du 13 decembre, p. 3638.