Read CHAPTER XXII of A Journey Through France in War Time , free online book, by Joseph G. Butler‚ Jr., on ReadCentral.com.

THE WORK OF RECONSTRUCTION

While no estimate can be made of the cost of rebuilding the towns and cities destroyed in France until after the war is over and it is known what further damage has been done, this matter is already receiving earnest consideration. The French are confident of victory and are satisfied that they will soon be able to rebuild their cities and reorganize their industries. They are a frugal and thrifty people, and usually have more private means than the average American whose manner of living would indicate that he is wealthy. On this account it is my impression that France will recover very rapidly after the war and will soon be as well off in property as before it began.

The chief loss of the French is likely to be their young manhood. Houses can be rebuilt. Factories will spring up over night where there is capital and faith to invest it. Even the fine old cathedrals may be restored or replaced with something that will serve equally well in a practical sense. But the young men the flower of the French nation whose lives have been offered on the altar of national defense these cannot be replaced. Generations must pass before the terrific price of national existence will be fully paid in this direction.

Most Frenchmen feel this way about the situation. From a material standpoint they expect to soon be as well off as ever. They do not seem to mind the loss in wealth destroyed by the great war. But they are bowed down with grief at the thought of the young men who have been slain and the years that will be required to replace them. Although they do not care to discuss this phase of the situation, the French have already begun nobly to meet the problem of the lame, halt and blind who are a part of the legacy of every war and an exceedingly prominent part of that left by this one.

It is surprising to learn that the Belgians, whose little country has been crushed under the heel of the invader so that its government retains only a narrow corner behind the British army, are even more optimistic than the French. They are determined that the Germans must be driven out and are already laying elaborate plans for reconstruction of their farms and villages and cities. Almost before the Commission had reached Paris we were asked by the Belgians to hold a meeting with their chamber of commerce in that city in order to discuss the problems of Belgium’s rehabilitation.

When this meeting did finally take place, on October 16th, we were all impressed with the pathetic earnestness of the Belgians upon this subject. Some of the most prominent citizens of Belgium took part in the discussion. It was easy to see, even from the meagre translations we were able to get on the moment, that the Belgians realize that they have been martyrs and expect the world to render them substantial aid when the time comes to restore their national entity and rebuild their war torn country. In fact I was compelled to admit with reluctance that their enthusiasm was greater than their business acumen, for they seemed to have very little tangible information on which plans could be laid for helping them.

It was explained afterward that these Belgians have no means of securing the information they need, as the Germans have almost absolute possession of their country and are, as might be expected, not furnishing any information as to the amount of destruction, or the quantity of materials which can be used again, or in any other way. It is stated that the Germans have practically looted the whole country, carting off the machinery in most of the factories, and even forcing the Belgians to work on military defenses to be used against them and their allies. Under such conditions it was not to be expected that the Belgian chamber of commerce would be in possession of definite information. The impassioned belief of these gentlemen in the magnanimity and wealth of America was inspiring, and I sincerely hope that when the time comes to reconstruct this stricken land our people will have as large a part as the Belgians expect and one much more generous than they have had in the saving of the Belgians from starvation.

At this meeting I heard many kind things said about the Americans who are working in Belgium and about how much this country has done to save the people there from suffering. Great praise was also given to the English, who have aided most nobly to prevent the absolute destruction of the Belgian nation.