Category Archives: Italy

Decembrists as European Celebrities

From The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tsars, by Daniel Beer (Knopf, 2017), Kindle Loc. 1667-1683:

Nicholas and his ministers had sought, if not the physical, then the political annihilation of the Decembrists as representatives of constitutional reform within the Russian elite. But in these terms they failed, for the story of the Decembrists’ exile to Siberia is the story of a victory snatched from defeat. Lionized by their supporters, their moral authority only grew over the course of Nicholas I’s reign and would inspire a subsequent generation of radicals after his death. In exile in London, Herzen became the leading draughtsman of the inspiring legend of the Decembrists and their wives. His journal, The Polar Star, took its name from an almanac published by the executed Decembrist poet Ryleyev, and boasted a masthead adorned with the faces of the five hanged ringleaders of the rebellion. Herzen established himself as the most influential radical intellectual of the first half of the nineteenth century and was one of the leading architects of the Russian revolutionary movement in the 1860s and 1870s. The tale he crafted of the revolutionary martyrs of 1825 went on to inspire a later generation of the autocracy’s enemies.

The Decembrists’ uprising and their exile also resonated far beyond Russia itself. In the Italian peninsula, Giuseppe Mazzini and his republican movement, Young Italy, saluted the memory of the men “who gave their lives for the liberation of the Slavic peoples, thus becoming citizens and brothers of all who struggle for the cause of Justice and Truth on earth.” The Decembrists had also blazed a trail for Polish patriots. By the end of the 1820s, republicanism in Poland, buoyed by developments elsewhere in Europe, was very much in the ascendancy. Polish rebels would look to the Decembrists’ attempt to restore “ancient Russian freedom” as a source of inspiration. The next armed challenge to Nicholas I would come not in the streets of the imperial capital, but on the westernmost periphery of his empire, in Warsaw. Siberia would beckon for the Polish rebels as it had for the Decembrists.

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Evaluating Romania’s Antonescu

From In Europe’s Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond, by Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2016), pp. 139-141:

Who was Antonescu, really?

A French assessment of him in 1922, when Antonescu was forty and a military attaché to Paris, stated: “A well-tried intelligence, brutal, duplicitous, very vain, a ferocious will to succeed … an extreme xenophobia, [these are] the striking characteristics of this strange figure.” To read Deletant, Hitchins, and others, we can say that Antonescu was a realist, militarist, nationalist, and authoritarian, who had no use for parliamentary democracy. But neither was he strictly fascist: he purged the fascists from his regime early on and had a disdain for pageants and parades. He believed in order, but not as a prerequisite to freedom, only as an end in itself. His support for Hitler was heavily determined by the calamitous international situation he inherited from Carol II and Romania’s tragic position on the map between Nazi and Stalinist empires. Antonescu made the cold calculation that an alliance with Germany was simply the best option for regaining territories that Romania had lost to the Soviet Union. As Antonescu reportedly told journalists a few days after Pearl Harbor: “I am an ally of the Reich against Russia; I am neutral between Great Britain and Germany; and I am for the Americans against the Japanese. But at the same time, Antonescu could also say that “Europe has to be liberated once and for all from the domination of Free-Masons and Jews.”

If not a proponent of the Final Solution itself, Antonescu was among the twentieth century’s great ethnic cleansers. He spoke about the need to “purify” and “homogenize” the Romanian population, and rid it of “Yids,” “Slavs,” and “Roma.” (Antonescu’s deportation of the Roma people to Transdniestria—where some 20,000 died of disease, starvation, and cold—was not a result of German pressure, but something he had initiated on his own.) One of Antonescu’s ministers stated that the circumstances of German military successes provided Romania with a unique opportunity for a “complete ethnic unshackling.” Antonescu himself saw the Jews as a “disease” and as “parasites,” in Deletant’s language, “to be cleansed from the body of Romania.” The deportation of Jews from quasi-historical Romanian lands of Bukovina and Bessarabia to Transdniestria, a region where Romania had few historical claims, should be seen in this light.

And yet it cannot be forgotten that Antonescu kept, by some statistical reckoning, the largest number of Jews away from the Final Solution in Axis-dominated Europe. He did so in large measure because of “opportunism” and extreme nervousness as to his own fate, as the Soviets and Western Allies began to tighten the noose on Hitler’s war machine. The end to deportation and mass murder in Transdniestria and the decision not to send Romanian Jews from inside the country to death camps in Poland were all actions taken after the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad, when Antonescu began to realize that Hitler might not, after all, win the war. Radu Ioanid might refer to this as “opportunistic mercy.” Antonescu was more of a realist than a fanatical fascist, and so he was always sensitive to shifting geopolitical winds. There was also Antonescu’s own proud and autocratic character. The idea of the Führer ordering him from abroad to give up his Jews did not sit well with him. As someone in direct contact with Antonescu at the time observed, the Marshal “did not like receiving orders; he liked giving them.” There was also pressure brought to bear upon Antonescu from Romanian intellectuals, from the queen mother, Helen, and from the National Peasant Party leader Iuliu Maniu to save Romanian Jewry. Again, this all must be seen in the context of Soviet and American victories on the battlefront.

Antonescu was toppled in a palace coup on August 23, 1944, just as the Red Army was already marching triumphantly into Romania. He was tried by pro-Soviet Romanian authorities, duly convicted, and executed in 1946 by a firing squad at Jilava Prison near Bucharest. Antonescu was a mass murderer without strictly being a fascist. The fact that he kept an astonishingly larger number of Jews from death cannot erase the fact that he killed an astonishing number—in indescribable suffering. There is no moral ambiguity in that.

Georgetown University professor Charles King, an expert in these matters, remarked that the best thing which can be said about Antonescu is that he was a conservative anti-Semite, not a millenarian one like Adolf Eichmann or Alfred Rosenberg.

Upon Antonescu’s removal from power, the Romanians switched sides in the war. For the remainder of the war Romania contributed more troops—538,000— to the Allied cause than any other country except for the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States. Romanian casualties against the Nazis in 1944–45 were some twenty-five times greater than those of Italy, another country that fought first for the Axis and then against it. Of course, Romania’s change of heart was a consequence of its need to regain all of Transylvania from Nazi-occupied Hungary. Self-interest dominates foreign policy thinking most of the time in most places. Yet rarely has national self-interest been applied so nakedly as by Romanian regimes during World War II, descending as it did to the level of sheer opportunism. It also bears repeating that the shamelessness of Romania evinced during the war was, in turn, partly a function of its impossible geographical position, especially after Munich, when Chamberlain abandoned Central Europe to Germany.

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Hapsburg–Romanian Act of Union, 1701

From A Concise History of Romania (Cambridge Concise Histories), by Keith Hitchins (Cambridge, 2014), Kindle Loc. 1037-1075:

Circumstances created an unlikely community of interests between the Habsburgs and the leading element of Romanian society – the upper clergy. In search of allies for their campaign to overturn the dominance of the three nations the Habsburgs looked to the Romanians, who could hardly be defenders of a political and social order that disdained them as outsiders. They recognized the inconvenience of the Romanians’ Orthodoxy, but they had at hand a stratagem that had proved effective among the Ruthenians in the seventeenth century – the Church Union with Rome based on the principles enunciated at the synod of Ferrara-Florence in 1439, which had temporarily ended the schism between the Byzantine and Western churches. The Church Union with the Romanians would serve perfectly the purposes of the Habsburgs, who were intent on using the Roman Catholic Church as one of the instruments for holding together the empire’s diverse territories. Thus, under the supervision of the Roman Catholic Primate of Hungary, Cardinal Leopold Kollonich, negotiations with the Romanian Orthodox bishop and his archpriests, which were conducted by the Jesuits, who returned to Transylvania with Habsburg armies, resulted in the Act of Union of 1701. Under its terms the Orthodox clergy and faithful acknowledged the Pope of Rome as the visible head of the Christian Church and accepted the use of unleavened bread in the Communion, the existence of Purgatory, and the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son. But all other matters, including canon law, ritual, and practices such as a married parish clergy, remained untouched. In return the Romanian clergy were to enjoy the same rights and privileges as the members of the three nations among whom they lived. In this way the Habsburgs gained the good will of an influential elite, who could, if they chose, foster imperial aims among the large rural population. In time, so the Habsburgs and Kollonich reasoned, the Romanian clergy would come to see the Church Union as a step toward conversion to Roman Catholicism. The now Greek Catholic, or Uniate, clergy acquired, or at least were promised, social and political benefits befitting their station. The Court of Vienna chose to believe that the actions of the clergy also signified the acceptance of the Union by the mass of Romanian peasants, and thus it regarded the Orthodox Church as having ceased to exist.

The Church Union with Rome marked a turning point in the history of the Romanians of Transylvania. It opened to them Western cultural and intellectual influences of the most diverse sorts by providing the new Greek Catholic clergy with unprecedented opportunities for higher education in Roman Catholic lyceums in Transylvania and universities in Rome, Vienna, and Trnava (Nagyszombat). The aim of the Habsburgs and Kollonich was to form a well-educated and devoted Greek Catholic clergy that would be inspired to gain adherents for the Union among the mass of the rural population. But events were to take a different course. In time, rare (for Romanians) educational opportunities and the experience of Central Europe enabled the Greek Catholic clergy to assume political as well as spiritual leadership of the Romanians as they organized the struggle to end discrimination against Romanians and raise themselves to the rank of a fourth nation.

No less important a consequence of the Union was the sense of identity which it fostered and which by mid-century the clerical elite had transformed into a new idea of nation. Inspired by their bishop Ion Inochentie Micu-Klein (bishop, 1729–44), who was conscious of Roman origins and regarded his church as a bridge between East and West, they conceived of nation in ways that differed fundamentally from the privileged communities represented by the three nations. The nation the clergy served was ethnic, and it encompassed all Romanians, even if social distinctions remained strong. They accepted without debate their descent from the Roman conquerors of Dacia and the Latin origins of their language, but they were not modern nationalists, as they did not go so far as to make either history or language, that is, ethnicity, the justification for equality with the three nations. Rather, they still depended on the diplomas of emperors and kings and other authoritative juridical documents for that purpose. Yet, they conceived of the Church Union as significant beyond the bounds of religion. It was for them a return to Rome, to the ethnic origins that ultimately defined them. At the same time, they expressed devotion to their Eastern cultural and religious heritage and were utterly opposed to making their Greek Catholic Church more Latin.

The mass of the peasants reacted to the Church Union very differently from the clerical elite. They resisted it with all their being, an obstinacy that reveals a mental climate in the villages beholden to tradition and a sense of community defined by religion. The Greek Catholic clergy, who were trained to be missionaries of the Union in the countryside, in fact did little. They were deeply aware of how devoted the peasants were to Orthodox rituals and practices, and even though the Union made no changes in either, they were anxious to avoid the upheaval they knew even the mention of Rome and the Pope would cause. The great majority of peasants, therefore, did not know that the clergy had accepted the Union and that they, too, were considered Uniates.

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Crimea: The 19th Century’s ‘Great War’

From The Crimean War: A History, by Orlando Figes (Metropolitan, 2011), Kindle Loc. 47-82:

Two world wars have obscured the huge scale and enormous human cost of the Crimean War. Today it seems to us a relatively minor war …. Even in the countries that took part in it (Russia, Britain, France, Piedmont-Sardinia in Italy and the Ottoman Empire, including those territories that would later make up Romania and Bulgaria) there are not many people today who could say what the Crimean War was all about. But for our ancestors before the First World War the Crimea was the major conflict of the nineteenth century, the most important war of their lifetimes, just as the world wars of the twentieth century are the dominant historical landmarks of our lives. The losses were immense – at least three-quarters of a million soldiers killed in battle or lost through illness and disease, two-thirds of them Russian. The French lost around 100,000 men, the British a small fraction of that number, about 20,000, because they sent far fewer troops (98,000 British soldiers and sailors were involved in the Crimea compared to 310,000 French).

Nobody has counted the civilian casualties: victims of the shelling; people starved to death in besieged towns; populations devastated by disease spread by the armies; entire communities wiped out in the massacres and organized campaigns of ethnic cleansing that accompanied the fighting in the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Crimea. This was the first ‘total war’, a nineteenth-century version of the wars of our own age, involving civilians and humanitarian crises.

It was also the earliest example of a truly modern war – fought with new industrial technologies, modern rifles, steamships and railways, novel forms of logistics and communication like the telegraph, important innovations in military medicine, and war reporters and photographers directly on the scene. Yet at the same time it was the last war to be conducted by the old codes of chivalry, with ‘parliamentaries’ and truces in the fighting to clear the dead and wounded from the killing fields. The early battles in the Crimea, on the River Alma and at Balaklava, where the famous Charge of the Light Brigade took place, were not so very different from the sort of fighting that went on during the Napoleonic Wars. Yet the siege of Sevastopol, the longest and most crucial phase of the Crimean War, was a precursor of the industrialized trench warfare of 1914–18. During the eleven and a half months of the siege, 120 kilometres of trenches were dug by the Russians, the British and the French; 150 million gunshots and 5 million bombs and shells of various calibre were exchanged between the two sides.

The name of the Crimean War does not reflect its global scale and huge significance for Europe, Russia and that area of the world – stretching from the Balkans to Jerusalem, from Constantinople to the Caucasus – that came to be defined by the Eastern Question, the great international problem posed by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps it would be better to adopt the Russian name for the Crimean War, the ‘Eastern War’ (Vostochnaia voina), which at least has the merit of connecting it to the Eastern Question, or even the ‘Turco-Russian War’, the name for it in many Turkish sources, which places it in the longer-term historical context of centuries of warfare between the Russians and the Ottomans, although this omits the crucial factor of Western intervention in the war.

The war began in 1853 between Ottoman and Russian forces in the Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia, the territory of today’s Romania, and spread to the Caucasus, where the Turks and the British encouraged and supported the struggle of the Muslim tribes against Russia, and from there to other areas of the Black Sea. By 1854, with the intervention of the British and the French on Turkey’s side and the Austrians threatening to join this anti-Russian alliance, the Tsar withdrew his forces from the principalities, and the fighting shifted to the Crimea. But there were several other theatres of the war in 1854–5: in the Baltic Sea, where the Royal Navy planned to attack St Petersburg, the Russian capital; on the White Sea, where it bombarded the Solovetsky Monastery in July 1854; and even on the Pacific coastline of Siberia.

The global scale of the fighting was matched by the diversity of people it involved.

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1918: Quick Collapse on All Fronts

From Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I, by Nick Lloyd (Basic Books, 2014), Kindle Loc. 4440-4447, 4754-4770:

For so long the various theatres of war in Europe, Italy and the Middle East had seemed frozen and immobile; stalemated and deadlocked. And then in late autumn, with surprising suddenness, the thaw finally set in. By 30 September, Bulgaria had signed an armistice, which opened up the southern flank of the Central Powers. Austro-Hungary was already on the verge of capitulation, and it took only a limited offensive by the Italian Army in the final week of October – the Battle of Vittorio Veneto – to push it over the edge. In the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire was now entering its final death throes. What remained of the Turkish Army in Palestine had been routed at the Battle of Megiddo in late September, and over the following month General Sir Edmund Allenby’s troops pushed north, mercilessly harassing the retreating Turkish columns. Aleppo fell on 26 October and within days an armistice was signed on the island of Mudros – thus bringing the war in the Middle East to a victorious conclusion.

By the first week of November the German Army was in full retreat across the Western Front. From the air ‘we saw all the roads crowded with columns of men marching back,’ wrote one German pilot. Endless lines of weary troops splashed and shuffled their way eastwards, bowed down with their equipment, looking over their shoulders in fear, half expecting to see Allied aircraft or cavalry squadrons ready to scatter them again. It was an awful sight: the faces of young boys overshadowed by the steel helmets that were too big for them, or hobbling along in boots that had been worn away long ago; old veterans who had seen too many battles marching along with glassy eyes and a grim acceptance of death or wounding. It was by now a motley army; the exact opposite of the legions of proud feldgrau that had marched across Europe in the summer of 1914 on their way to enact Count von Schlieffen’s great war plan. The German Army had reached its end; worn down by four years of merciless slaughter and pounded into dust by the brutal Allied artillery bombardments. Some still believed in victory, in some divine intervention – a catastrophic outbreak of flu in Paris or London; a devastating fallout between the English and Americans perhaps – but most realized there was little they could do. How could they defeat the endless power of the Allied guns or their swarms of tanks? How many Americans would they have to kill before they too gave in? And in any case, was it really worth fighting and dying for any more? Did anyone really care whether Alsace-Lorraine was French or German?

Casualties were nothing short of catastrophic. Fritz von Lossberg estimated that by the time the German Army reached the Antwerp–Meuse Line it had lost over 400,000 men and 6,000 guns. Other authorities put it higher, and it is possible that between 18 July and 11 November the Army suffered 420,000 dead and wounded with another 385,000 men being taken prisoner. Such a magnitude of loss was simply unsustainable, and when this was combined with the thousands of casualties from Germany’s spring offensives earlier in the year – perhaps as high as a million – it meant that her army was bleeding to death.

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Philippine Basques and World War II

From Basques in the Philippines, by Marciano R. de Borja (U. Nevada Press, 2012), pp. 109-111:

On March 31, 1937, Franco launched the military offensive against Bizkaia. The air force—whose core group was composed of German and Italian pilots—pounded the cities of Eibar, Durango, Gernika, Zornotza, Mungia, and Bilbao, causing hundreds of deaths. As depicted in the famous painting of Pablo Picasso, Gernika was razed. In fact, the town had no military installations and was not sheltering combatants. It became a prime target because it was the place where the fueros of the Basques were traditionally renewed by the Spanish monarchs. It was therefore a symbol of Basque autonomy. The destruction of Gernika was meant to crush the Basque spirit of resistance. The Basque residents in the Philippines were divided. Those from Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa loathed Franco, while those from Navarre backed him. In fact, Navarre was the first province in Spain to throw its support to Franco and supplied troops to the nationalist cause. One of Franco’s able military commanders, General Emilio Mola, was Navarrese.

When the Spanish civil war broke out in 1936, Basque exiles like Saturnina de Uriarte and Estanislao Garovilla settled in Cebu and established the most important fish-canning factory in the country, the Cebu Fishing Corporation. Uriarte was pre­viously a partner in Garovilla Hermanos y Compañia, a canning factory in Bermeo (Bizkaia). Basque philanthropists such as Marino de Gamboa and Manuel María de Ynchausti, and companies, like Aldecoa-Erquiaga and Company, extended assistance to Basque refugees.

Although the Basques in the Philippines were concerned about the Spanish civil war, they were more preoccupied with the imminent war in the Pacific. Japan had invaded China in 1939 [sic!; actually many times in many places, but full-scale warfare commenced in 1937—J.], and its relations with the United States had become antagonistic and bellicose. The Philippine Commonwealth government under President Manuel L. Quezon hired General Douglas MacArthur, the newly retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, as field marshal to prepare the Philippine defense in the event of war.

On December 8, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and destroyed by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Days after, Manila was declared an open city to spare it from destruction. The American air force bases in Clark (Pampanga) and Iba (Zambales) in central Luzon were destroyed. The Japanese forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942, without a fight. The combined American and Filipino forces defended Bataan in a last-ditch effort to halt the Japanese advances. On April 9, Bataan fell, and Japan became the new colonial master of the Philippines. But the resistance movement continued.

During the war, Spaniards, including the Basques, were viewed with suspicion and hostility by many Filipinos. Some Spaniards collaborated outright with the Japanese and openly rejoiced over the initial defeat of the Americans, believing naively that the Japanese would return the Philippines to Spain. All the castilas (Spaniards), therefore, became the target of resentment and were vilified as the “Fifth Column,” a derogatory term meaning opportunists, potential traitors, and outright collaborationists. In fact, assets of Basque families and companies, such as Aboitiz, Ayala, Elizalde, were frozen by the Philippine Commonwealth government, although they supported the American military. For instance, the vessels of La Naviera, a shipping firm partly owned by the Aboitiz and Company, were put at the disposition of the American forces. Aboitiz and Company was singled out because it had had a Japanese director on its board and exported large quantities of copra to Japan in the 1930s, obviously used to fuel Japan’s war machine.

The hatred against the Spaniards was further exacerbated by the fact that General Francisco Franco, the caudillo (supreme ruler) of Spain, sent a congratulatory message to the Japanese command immediately after the fall of Corregidor and Bataan. Spain was one of the eleven nations aligned with the Axis powers that recognized the puppet government established by the Japanese military forces in the Philippines.

Most Basques were fiercely opposed to the Japanese occupation. Many Basque families, like the Elizaldes, the Luzurriagas, and the Legarretas, contributed indirectly and directly to the Philippine guerrilla movement. Others, like the Uriartes, the Bilbaos, and the Elordis, joined the resistance movement in Negros and the Visayas region.

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Media Bullshit in World War I, 1914

From Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War, by Max Hastings (Knopf, 2013), Kindle Loc. 8795-8835:

Those who suppose the modern media uniquely prone to hyperbole, fantasy and deceit should consider the madness of rumour and invention that overtook the world’s press in 1914. The Daily Mail published a detailed account of an entirely fictional naval victory. ‘If damaging rumours start,’ wrote Dr Eugen Lampe in Ljubljana early in September 1914, ‘they spread at immense speed. If two people meet on the street, they ask each other: Any news? Nobody knows anything. But there are people who always choose to believe and broadcast the worst. For a week, the atmosphere has been extremely tense. Families, whose husbands and sons are in the army, mourn, pray and tremble. They fight to get at newspapers. Then they whisper: there are none of our casualties on the list of wounded. They do not want to tell us! There are so many that they cannot record all of them!’

Few of the journalists called upon to write about the war had any knowledge of military matters, and their ignorance showed. The introduction of trench warfare was at first greeted in the French press as a cowardly innovation by the Germans, who were mocked as ‘moles’. Many papers talked up the enemy’s weakness, flagging morale and food shortages. Austrian cities were said to be pleading with the Italians to save them from looming famine, while Germany was allegedly struggling in vain to recruit Italians to replace mobilised factory workers. Late in September The Times produced a wildly exaggerated calculation, based on the casualty lists, showing that the BEF had lost 40 per cent of its officers in a month of fighting. Ludwig Wittgenstein, aboard a Vistula picket boat, wrote on 25 October: ‘Yesterday evening a silly report came that Paris had fallen. At first I was delighted, until I realised the story could not be true. These fantasy reports are always a bad sign. If there was genuine good news, such nonsenses would not be necessary.’ Five days later, he eagerly scanned a German newspaper, and feared the worst after recognising the vacuity of its content: ‘No good news – which means the same as bad news!’

Meanwhile in France, on 19 August l’Eclaireur of Nice announced a fictitious clash between the Royal Navy and the High Seas Fleet in the North Sea, in which the British had allegedly lost sixteen dreadnoughts including Iron Duke, Lion and Superb. French newspapers were especially enthusiastic about publishing reports concerning the German Crown Prince, an army commander in the field. On 5 August he was the victim of an assassination attempt in Berlin; on the 15th seriously wounded on the French front and removed to hospital; on the 24th subject to another assassination attempt; on 4 September he committed suicide, though he was resurrected on 18 October to be wounded again; on the 20th his wife was watching over his death bed; but on 3 November he was certified insane. None of these stories contained the smallest element of truth.

L’Action française informed the public that the Maggi dairies and Kub shop chains were in reality intelligence centres manned by Prussian officers who had become naturalised Frenchmen in anticipation of war; radio transmitters were concealed in every dairy, and Maggi milk was infused with poison. These reports caused mobs to storm the premises of these perfectly innocent, though foreign-owned, businesses. Among the most preposterous myths to be widely broadcast was that of ‘turpinite’, a new super-explosive supposedly invented by the chemist Eugène Turpin, which would effortlessly extinguish German troops in their trenches. The French satirical magazine Le Canard enchaîné was founded at around this time, as a reaction to the deceits perpetrated in the traditional press.

Some of the shortcomings of newspapers were no fault of their own, but instead the consequence of governments’ refusal to provide facts or allow correspondents to visit the front. In Britain Col. Repington complained that censorship was being abused ‘as a cloak to cover all political, naval and military mistakes’. It was undoubtedly true that the system was exploited to sustain public morale much more than to conceal operational secrets from the enemy. In France, after the Marne the General Staff began to provide a thin dripfeed of information to the press, but the damage was already done: a credibility gap had opened which was never entirely closed. French journalists – and, before long, their readers – became chronically sceptical about all official pronouncements.

French soldiers in the field referred contemptuously to the ‘bourrage de crâne’, literally ‘skull-stuffing’, but properly ‘bullshit’, which made up the content of the newspapers that reached them. Maurice Barrès of l’Echo de Paris became notorious for his enthusiasm for the war, which prompted the impassioned pacifist Romain Rolland to dub him ‘the nightingale of carnage’. Poilus, rejecting the conventional press, turned instead to trench newspapers which soldiers wrote and copied for each other, or to Swiss titles when obtainable. Philosopher Alain Emile-Auguste Chartier, now a soldier, wrote on 25 November: ‘The Journal de Genève is eagerly seized upon here and officers make cuttings from it; the military reports are admirable and everyone agrees that our papers seem ridiculous by comparison.’

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