Twelve Great Readings from RALPH
For the last twenty years,
we offered regular monthly readings at RALPH:
something rare, strange or beautiful that we have found,
passages that come from a book
we've reviewed in the same issue.
Many of these readings stay with us ---
and with our readers (judging by
the list of top hits each month).
Here are a dozen or so of the ones
most beloved of readers and editors alike.

How to Analyze Slops
That first year of the Garbage Project was one of discoveries large and small. That garbage itself was an unknown world --- everything learned about it was new --- and thus held the fascination that a trip up the Congo in the nineteenth century would have.

One of the first discoveries was simply that a substance to which the term "slops" was applied congregates at the bottom of every paper or plastic bag into which garbage is dropped. Slops (Garbage Project code number 069) comprise a stew of such things as coffee grounds, fruit parts, rotten vegetable bits, cigarette butts, grit of unknown origin, and the sort of gooey canned mush epitomized by Chef Boyardee ravioli; somehow, in the course of every garbage bag's journey from kitchen to truck, all of these substances find one another and intimately coalesce.

The Project eventually undertook a detailed investigation of the tiny individual constituents of slops, which, based on refuse pickups from sixty-nine households in seven census tracts, were found to consist primarily of bakery products and cereal (28 percent); fresh vegetable matter (24 percent); high-protein vegetables (12 percent); meat, poultry, and seafood parts (8 percent); fruit waste (8 percent); cheese and other milk products (6 percent); and fats and oils (5 percent). Most slops originate in the form of plate scrapings; the reputation of vegetables as prime candidates to become leftovers appears to be well deserved.

Another phenomenon that quickly became clear was the capacity of garbage to surprise. This was vividly brought home to researchers as a result of the discovery, by an anthropology student named Diane Tucker, of a diamond ring amid a mass of potato peels. (The ring, a relatively inexpensive one, could not be returned, because of Garbage Project procedures to ensure that the identity of the households from which garbage for study is obtained remains unknown; it was accidentally thrown away along with other prospective exhibits for a Garbage Project museum, all of which had been stored in a special dumpster.)

Most of the surprises, however, have not been so immediately obvious. They have not, in other words, tended to be the garbage equivalent of finding the Mask of Agamemnon or the cave paintings at Lascaux. Rather, they have emerged through the careful recording of each and every artifact found in each and every load of garbage, and the statistical evaluation of the results.

A good example that comes from the Garbage Project's first two seasons, involves red meat. The counterintuitive nature of the findings are typical of what garbology frequently turns up. During the spring of 1973 there had been a widely publicized beef shortage in the United States. From March through September a good selection of beef in supermarkets was hard to find, and the meat was very expensive. The Garbage Project, which from the beginning has been very interested in food waste, decided to look into discard patterns of red meat to see if people's behavior changed appreciably between times of shortage and (afterwards) times of plenty.

As it happens, meat is an ideal subject for investigation, because supermarket meat-counter packages are labeled with the type of cut, the weight, the price, and the date of packaging (which is usually on or very near the date of sale); it is thus possible to compare the amount of wasted meat thrown away in garbage with the amount of meat that was originally bought.

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Merton died in circumstances
that many still see as mysterious.
John Howard Griffin, journalist and author of
the award-winning
Black Like Me
and Merton's close friend and designated official biographer,
described the circumstances.
When he got to Bangkok, he gave his talk on the morning of the 10th, the anniversary of his entry into the monastery.

And he was very tired, the heat was oppressive and he hadn't had a nap the day before so since he was going to have to answer the questions in the evening, he went to his cabin and took a shower and he was never a very practical man about things, he put on a pair of either shorts or short pajamas, and barefoot and still damp, walked across the terrazzo floor and they had these very tall fans, and he reached for the fan to turn it on to the palette where he was going to take his nap on the floor.

It was DC current and it went into him and he was staying in a cabin with three other people, but it wasn't until about an hour later that they went, and the door was locked from the inside, it was a double kind of door, and there was a little curtain in the upper part and they saw him lying on the floor on his back with this big fan crosswise across his body. The blades had stopped rotating but the current was still alive and it was still burning. He was very deeply burnt, in that angle across the body.

There was a Benedictine nun superior from Korea at that meeting who was, before she became religious, was an Austrian physician and a specialist in internal medicine, and a very, very fine one. The word spread immediately, something happened in my research, and she came immediately, thinking that she might be of some help. He was already dead, but she gave him an immediate examination, and she determined that he died from the effects of electric shock.

--- Transcript of an interview
with John Russell on the CBC, 1980.

Any Boys Want Flogging?
Old-Fashioned Discipline in the Schools
The door opened quietly and closed. A quick whisper ran through the class: the prefect of studies. There was an instant of dead silence and then the loud crack of a pandybat on the last desk. Stephen's heart leapt up in fear.

— Any boys want flogging here. Father Arnall? cried the prefect of studies. Any lazy idle loafers that want flogging in this class?

He came to the middle of the class and saw Fleming on his knees.

— Hoho! he cried. Who is this boy? Why is he on his knees? What is your name, boy?

Fleming, sir.

Hoho, Fleming! An idler of course. I can see it in your eye. Why is he on his knees. Father Arnall?

— He wrote a bad Latin theme. Father Arnall said, and he missed all the questions in grammar.

— Of course he did! cried the prefect of studies. Of course he did! A born idler! I can see it in the corner of his eye.

He banged his pandybat down on the desk and cried:

— Up, Fleming! Up, my boy! Fleming stood up slowly.

— Hold out! cried the prefect of studies. Fleming held out his hand. The pandybat came down on it with a loud smacking sound: one, two, three, four, five, six.

— Other hand!

The pandybat came down again in six loud quick smacks.

— Kneel down! cried the prefect of studies.

Fleming knelt down squeezing his hands under his armpits, his face contorted with pain, but Stephen knew how hard his hands were because Fleming was always rubbing rosin into them. But perhaps he was in great pain for the noise of the pandies was terrible. Stephen's heart was beating and fluttering.

— At your work, all of you! shouted the prefect of studies. We want no lazy idle loafers here, lazy idle little schemers. At your work, I tell you. Father Dolan will be in to see you every day. Father Dolan will be in tomorrow.

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The Lamed-Vovnik
Rivers of blood have flowed, columns of smoke have obscured the sky, but surviving all these dooms, the tradition has remained inviolate down to our own time. According to it, the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, the Lamed-Vov, indistinguishable from simple mortals; often they are unaware of their station. But if just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn, and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Vov are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, pour all our griefs.

Thousands of popular stories take note of them. Their presence is attested to everywhere. A very old text of the Haggadah tells us that the most pitiable are the Lamed-Vov who remain unknown to themselves. For those the spectacle of the world is an unspeakable hell.

In the seventh century, Andalusian Jews venerated a rock shaped like a teardrop, which they believed to be the soul, petrified by suffering, of an 'unknown' Lamed-Vovnik. Other Lamed-Vov, like Hecuba shrieking at the death of her sons, are said to have been transformed into dogs.

When an unknown Just rises to Heaven, a Hasidic story goes, he is so frozen that God must warm him for a thousand years between His fingers before his soul can open itself to Paradise. And it is known that some remain forever inconsolable at human woe, so that God Himself cannot warm them. So from time to time the Creator, blessed be His Name, sets forward the clock of the Last Judgment by one minute.

--- From The Last of the Just
Andre Schwarz-Bart

Couples Therapy
For the Disabled
Ralph and I went to a couples therapist. She asked Ralph to apologize to me.

"What for?" I asked.

"For having a bicycle accident and changing your life forever," she explained.

Before Ralph could answer, I said, "Look, it was an accident. Ralph doesn't need to apologize to me. Accidents happen."

I turned to Ralph. "Ralph, you don't need to apologize to me. It wasn't your fault."

Ralph looked at me with his once-bright blue eyes, now cloudy from drugs. His salt-and-pepper hair needed to be cut and styled. His beard was overgrown and wild. The plaid cap he once wore so jauntily upon his head sagged sadly. "Suzy," he whispered, his voice hoarse. "I will if it's important to you."

"Don't bother, Ralph," I answered firmly. "It's not necessary."

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The Dark Diceman
and he you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this now were getting at it you seem to regard it merely as an experience that will whiten your hair overnight so to speak without altering your appearance at all you wont do it under these conditions it will be a gamble and the strange thing is that man who is conceived by accident and whose every breath is a fresh cast with dice already loaded against him will not face that final main which he knows before hand he has assuredly to face without essaying expedients ranging all the way from violence to petty chicanery that would not deceive a child until someday in very disgust he risks everything on a single blind turn of a card no man ever does that under the first fury of despair or remorse or bereavement he does it only when he has realized that even the despair or remorse or bereavement is not particularly important to the dark diceman

and i temporary

and he it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled without warning to be replaced by whatever issue the gods happen to be floating at the time no you will not do that until you come to believe that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps

and i i will never do that nobody knows what i know

and he i think youd better go on up to cambridge right away you might go up into maine for a month you can afford it if you are careful it might be a good thing watching pennies has healed more scars than jesus

and i suppose i realize what you believe i will realize up there next week or next month

and he then you will remember that for you to go to harvard has been your mothers dream since you were born and no compson has ever disappointed a lady

and I temporary it will be better for me for all of us

and he every man is the arbiter of his own virtues but let no man prescribe for another mans wellbeing

and i temporary

and he was the saddest word of all there is nothing else in the world its not despair until time its not even time until it was

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Cancer (And Art)
f we accept the definition of a neurotic as a person who can never live in the present and always seeks refuge either in the future or in the past, then I fulfilled all the requirements by the time I was a university student. On the one hand, I still saw myself as a "little boy" who had fallen behind and was still not capable of doing anything. On the other hand, I kept hoping constantly that at some far and indeterminate point in the future I would find the fulfillment I could not find in the present. I kept telling myself that I just couldn't get in the swing of things here in Zurich, where it rained all the time, but that I would really start living on my summer vacation in Spain, where the sun always shines. I was constantly in the company of women at the university, but I imagined that on the same legendary and nebulous vacation in Spain I would surely meet my ideal woman. I was incapable of seeing that circumstances were not responsible for my failure but that I was the failure myself.

I was psychically ill and didn't want to accept that fact. My way out was to find prototypes of myself in the world around me. If I could establish myself as some kind of typical case, I thought, then I could feel sure that I was like other people and therefore normal. This line of thought was erroneous, of course, because the typical can be far from normal. There are typical symptoms of a disease, for example. The fact that all the patients in a TB sanatorium are suffering from the same disease does not mean that they are in a state of normal health. But I still kept a lookout for cases that resembled mine and could provide me with an excuse. I found such cases in literature. Books offered me figure upon figure I could identify with. What happened to a literary figure (and what very likely happened to the author and creator of this figure) could just as easily happen to me, and I took it as a rule and a norm.

Of all the literary figures I knew who had desired a woman but had not had her, who had wanted to live in the thick of life but had languished instead on its fringes, the figure of Tonio Kröger had always preoccupied me the most. Indeed, I could even say that the hero of this melancholy novella by Thomas Mann had been my constant companion from my Gymnasium years on. Tonio Kröger, too, found no proper place in life and was always depressed. He, too, cultivated the "higher things" and therefore had to do without "the joy of the commonplace." Tonio Kröger was an artist, and as such it was his job to describe life, not to experience it. As an artist, he could survey the whole of life. If he had been caught up in the midst of it like a normal person, he would have lost that overview and, with it, the ability to describe.

So far, so good. But there were all sorts of things about Tonio Kröger's life that disturbed me from very early on. On the one hand, Tonio Kröger had to be different from ordinary people because that was his calling. But on the other hand, he couldn't be like ordinary people if he tried, and that's just what was wrong with him. We could say, of course, that it was only natural for him to withdraw from the company of ordinary people because he was an artist. But then we cannot dismiss the suspicion that he was fundamentally incapable of behaving like other people and that art was about the only option he had. He became an artist nolens volens because he wasn't good for anything else. On the one hand, Herr Mann has his Tonio say that his isolation from ordinary people was indeed painful for him but that he had to put up with it, like it or not, as a condition of being born for higher things. On the other hand, I was always convinced that Tonio Kröger was nothing but an artist and that his artist's existence was not a blessing but rather a curse that he had to learn to live with. The primary thing in his life was his inability to be like other people; his artist's career was a secondary factor, proceeding logically from that inability as a by-product of it.

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DADA knows everything. DADA spits everything out.

BUT . . . . . . . . .

      about Italy
      about accordions
      about women's pants
      about the fatherland
      about sardines
      about Fiume
      about Art (you exaggerate my friend)
      about gentleness
      about D'Annunzio
      what a horror
      about heroism
      about mustaches
      about lewdness
      about sleeping with Verlaine
      about the ideal (it's nice)
      about Massachusetts
      about the past
      about odors
      about salads
      about genius, about genius, about genius
      about the eight-hour day
      about the Parma violets

        NEVER        NEVER       NEVER

       DADA doesn't speak. DADA has no fixed idea. DADA doesn't catch flies.

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Mosquitoes, Malaria, and the Panama Canal
It was by considering the mosquitoes as predators more deadly than the most savage beasts of the jungle that Dr. Gorgas intended to solve the problem. Only by understanding the exact nature of the particular mosquitoes in question --- their reproductive processes, feeding habits, flight range, and so forth --- could he hope to destroy them.

Until the Cuban war comparatively little had been known about mosqultoes. It was not until 1895, for example, that a full account was published of even the common North American variety. The general impression was that all mosquitoes were more or less alike. At the time Reed and his co-workers identified Stegomyia fasciata as the yellow fever mosquito, no studies had ever been made of the insect's natural life history. So this too had been part of Gorgas' task at Havana and consequently he and his associates had discovered astonishing peculiarities that were of enormous value.

Seen under the microscope, Stegomyia is a creature of striking beauty. Its general color is dark gray, but the thorax is marked with a silvery-white lyre-shaped pattern; the abdomen is banded with silvery-white stripes and the six-jointed legs are striped alternately with black and pure white. Among mosquitoes Stegomyia is the height of elegance.

Stegomyia is also, like the rat, a creature of human society. It survives by maintaining a close proximity to human beings. As among all mosquitoes it is only the female that bites --- that is, only the female feeds on blood, while the male gets by on other liquids such as fruit juices and is quite harmless. For the female, blood is essential to mature her eggs. Though the female Stegomyia can feed on any warm-blooded animal, her decided preference is for human blood, and thus the whole life cycle of the insect must be maintained in close association with human society.

While all mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, the yellow-fever mosquito is extremely particular about where the water is located and its condition. The female Stegomyia will deposit her eggs only in or near a building occupied by human beings and only in water held in some sort of artificial container such as an earthenware jar or a rain barrel. In addition, it is essential that the water be clean.

With such information available, all acquired during the work at Havana, the problem of destroying the yellow-fever carrier became infinitely more manageable.

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Carl Friedrich Gauss
Meets Immanuel Kant
When he reached Königsberg Gauss was almost out of his mind with exhaustion, back pain, and boredom. He had no money for an inn, so he went straight to the university and got directions from a stupid-looking porter. Like everyone here, the man spoke a peculiar dialect, the streets looked foreign, the shops had signs that were incomprehensible, and the food in the taverns didn't smell like food. He had never been so far from home.

At last he found the address. He knocked; after a long wait a dust-enshrouded old man opened the door and, before Gauss could introduce himself, said the most gracious gentleman was not receiving visitors.

Gauss tried to explain who he was and where he'd come from.

The most gracious gentleman, the servant repeated, was not receiving. He himself had been working here longer than anyone would believe possible and he had never disobeyed an order.

Gauss pulled out letters of recommendation from Zimmerman, Kastner, Lichtenberg, and Pfaff. He insisted, said Gauss again. He could well imagine that there were a lot of visitors and that self-protection was necessary. But, and he must say this unequivocally, he was not just some nobody.

The servant had a think. His lips moved silently, and he didn't seem to know what to do next. Well, he murmured eventually, went inside, and left the door open.

Gauss followed him hesitantly down a short, dark hallway into a little room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the half-light before he saw an ill-fitting window, a table, an armchair, and in it a motionless little dwarf wrapped in blankets: puffy lips, protruding forehead, thin, sharp nose. The eyes were half-open but didn't look at him. The air was so thick that it was almost impossible to breathe. Hoarsely he enquired if this might be the professor.

Who else, said the servant.

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Mencken on Education
That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and make them fit to discharge the duties citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be from the truth.

The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.

If any contrary theory is cherished among us it is simply because public schools are still new in America, and so their true character and purpose are but little understood. The notion that they were invented by American patriotism and ingenuity, and go back, in fact, to the first days of the New England Puritans --- this notion is, of course, only hollow nonsense.

The early Puritan schools were not public schools at all, in modern sense; they were what we now church schools; their aim was to save young from theological heresy --- the exact aim of the Catholic parochial schools and the Jewish Cheder schools today. The public schools, which originated in Prussia during the Eighteenth Century and did not reach the United States, save sporadically, until the middle of the century following --- even in Masachusctts there was no Board of Education until 1837 ---, have the quite different aim of putting down political and economic heresy.

Their purpose, in brief, is to make docile and patriotic citizens, to pile up majorities, and to make John Doe and Richard Doe as nearly alike, in their everyday reactions and ways of thinking, as possible. How they succeeded in Prussia is well known to every student of the war papers of George Creel, Woodrow Wilson, Newell Dwight Hillis, Owen Wister and other such eminent experts.

How they are succeeding in the United States is archly revealed by the current bulls of the American Legion, the National Security League, the Rotary Club, Kiwanis, the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, and the Ku Klux Klan. These great organizations are all made up of their graduates, as are, in fact, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the United States Senate.

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Slavery and the Welfare State
American welfare state histories have not included slavery, and from the perspective of white America, this makes sense. But from the perspective of most African Americans, until its abolition, slavery defied their encounters with state power, fundamentally affecting their ability to secure food, shelter, health care, and work for themselves and their families. The denial of the right to work must surely be seen as just as important a state activity as programs (like child care, disability insurance, occupational health and safety laws, job training programs, or tax subsidies) that enable or encourage it. This is the first argument in favor of treating slavery as a WFS [welfare state] institution. What other government-sponsored program so affected the well-being of so many Americans?

I am not the first to suggest that there is a relationship between involuntary servitude and the welfare state. It was slavery, claimed one of its fiercest proponents, George Fitzhugh, that obviated the need for any more pernicious (in his view) program of public welfare. Slavery was welfare program enough, he asserted, and it worked so well for "Negroes" that it could and should solve the subsistence problems of poor whites as well. Fitzhugh went so far as to argue:

    Our Southern slavery has become a benign and protective institution, and our negroes are confessedly better off than any free laboring population in the world.

In this view, slavery was a benevolent and efficient program of public relief, one which merely required work in exchange for aid. That's a criterion that antiwelfare advocates continue to argue should govern assistance, it is worth noting. There is a consistency here, for American WFS programs have always, to varying degrees, concerned themselves with labor market effects. Social Security provided cash to retirees, of course, but in doing so encouraged older, presumably less productive workers to leave the labor market, making room for younger, more productive (and perhaps more compliant) ones. Regulations that forbade the presence of males in the homes of female AFDC recipients functioned, at least in part, to ensure that poor men did not have access to welfare benefits, and were therefore forced to turn to the low-wage labor market.

It should be uncontroversial to assert that the Southern systems of state-sponsored indentured servitude had material effects on those subject to its rule. More controversially, we might further observe that some slaves fared better than some poor whites struggling to survive outside the system: they ate more calories, worked fewer hours, and had better, newer clothes than did their poor white brethren. This is not to suggest that there might be a positive side to slavery. As Harriet Jacobs, a slave who eventually escaped, said:

    I would ten thousand times rather that my children should be the half-starved paupers of Ireland than to be the most pampered among the slaves of America.

Amartya Sen more recently put it this way:

    Even though African American slaves in the pre-Civil War South may have had pecuniary incomes as large as (or even larger) than those of wage laborers elsewhere and may even have lived longer than the urban workers in the North, there was still a fundamental deprivation in the fact of slavery itself (no matter what incomes or utilities it might or might not have generated). The loss of freedom in the absence of employment choice and in the tyrannical form of work can itself be a major deprivation.
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Memory as Miracle
This is Ruth talking about her mother who, one day, left her and her sister Lucille on their grandmother's porch, then went and drove herself and her car into the depths of Lake Fingerbone.

It seemed to me that in all this there was the hush and solemnity of incipient transfiguration. Perhaps memory is the seat not only of prophecy but of miracle as well. For it seems to me that we were recalled again and again to a sense of her calm. It seems that her quiet startled us, though she was always quiet. I remember her standing with her arms folded, pushing at the dust with the toe of her pump while she waited for us to finish our sundaes. We sat at a hot green metal table, weather-dulled and sticky, and loud black flies with rainbows in their wings fed at the pools of drying ice cream and then scrubbed their maws meticulously with their forelegs, like house cats. She was so tall and quiet in her silvery gray dress, never looking 'toward us, and we were sweaty and sticky and cloyed and tired of each other. I remember her, grave with the peace of the destined, the summoned, and she seems almost an apparition.

But if she had simply brought us home again to the high frame apartment building with the scaffolding of stairs, I would not remember her that way. Her eccentricities might have irked and embarrassed us when we grew older. We might have forgotten her birthday, and teased her to buy a car or to change her hair. We would have left her finally. We would have laughed together with bitterness and satisfaction at our strangely solitary childhood, in light of which our failings would seem inevitable, and all our attainments miraculous. Then we would telephone her out of guilt and nostalgia, and laugh bitterly afterward because she asked us nothing, and told us nothing, and fell silent from time to time, and was glad to get off the phone. We would take her to a restaurant and a movie on Thanksgiving and buy her best-sellers for Christmas. We would try to give her outings and make her find some interests, but she would soften and shrink in our hands, and become infirm. She would bear her infirmities with the same taut patience with which she bore our solicitude, and with which she had borne every other aspect of life, and her silence would make us more and more furious. Lucille and I would see each other often, and almost never talk of other things. Nothing would be more familiar to us than her silence, and her sad, abstracted calm. I know how it would have been, because I have observed that, in the way people are strange, they grow stranger. We would have laughed and felt abandoned and aggrieved, never knowing that she had gone all the way to the edge of the lake to rest her head and close her eyes, and had come back again for our sakes. She would have remained untransfigured. We would never have known that her calm was as slight as the skin on water, and that her calm sustained her as a coin can float on still water. We would have known nothing of the nature and reach of her sorrow if she had come back. But she left us and broke the family and the sorrow was released and we saw its wings and saw it fly a thousand ways into the hills, and sometimes I think sorrow is a predatory thing because birds scream at dawn with a marvelous terror, and there is, as I have said before, a deathly bitterness in the smell of ponds and ditches. When we were children and frightened of the dark, my grandmother used to say if we kept our eyes closed we would not see it. That was when I noticed the correspondence between the space within the circle of my skull and the space around me. I saw just the same figure against the lid of my eye or the wall of my room, or in the trees beyond my window. Even the illusion of perimeters fails when families are separated.

--- From Housekeeping
Marilynne Robinson
©2004 Picador

At Versailles
During the Peace Conference, France's allies became exasperated with what they saw as French intransigence, French greed and French vindictiveness. They had not suffered what France had suffered. The war memorials, in every city, town and village, with their lists of names from the First World War, the handful from the Second, tell the story of France's losses. A quarter of French men between eighteen and thirty had died in the war, over 1.3 million altogether out of a prewar population of 40 million. France lost a higher proportion of its population than any other of the belligerents. Twice as many again of its soldiers had been wounded.

In the north, great stretches of land were pitted with shell holes, scarred by deep trenches, marked with row upon row of crosses. Around the fortress of Verdun, site of the worst French battle, not a living thing grew, not a bird sang. The coal mines on which the French economy depended for its power were flooded; the factories they would have supplied had been razed or carted away into Germany. Six thousand square miles of France, which before the war had produced 20 percent of its crops, 40 percent of its iron ore and 65 percent of its steel, were utterly ruined. Perhaps Wilson might have understood Clemenceau's demands better if he had gone early on to see the damage for himself.

At the Peace Conference, Clemenceau was to keep all the important threads in his own hands. The French delegation drew on the best that France had to offer, but it did not meet at all for the first four months of the conference. Clemenceau rarely consulted the Foreign Ministry professionals at the Quai d'Orsay, much to their annoyance. Nor did he pay much attention to the experts from the universities he had asked to draw up reports on France's economic and territorial claims and to sit on the commissions and committees that proliferated over the course of the conference. "No organization of his ideas, no method of work," complained clever old Paul Cambon from London, "the accumulation in himself of all duties and all responsibilities, thus nothing works. And this man of 78 years, sick, for he is a diabetic ... receives fifty people a day and exerts himself with a thousand details which he ought to leave to his ministers. At no moment in the war was I as uneasy as I am for the peace."

Stéphen Pichon, Clemenceau's foreign minister, was an amiable, lazy and indecisive man who received his instructions every morning and would not have dreamed of disobeying. Clemenceau was rather fond of him in an offhand way. "Who is Pichon?" he asked one day. "Your minister of Foreign Affairs," came the reply. "So he is," said the old Tiger, "I had forgotten it." On another occasion, Pichon and a party of experts were waiting patiently in the background for a meeting to start when Clemenceau teased Balfour about the number of advisers he had. When Balfour replied, "They are doing the same thing as the greater number of people with you," Clemenceau, infuriated to be caught out, turned around. "Go away all of you," he told Pichon. "There is no need for any of you!"

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