Francoise de Wendel, head of the Comite des Forges, asked a very pertinent question during a debate in the Chamber of Deputies on 1 February 1919. Why had the Germans not bombed the French coal mines in the Pas de Calais and so destroy the last main source of coal in France? The Pas de Calais lay only 15 kilometers from the front lines and could easily have been blasted from long-range or from Zeppelin bombers; after all they had travelled 120 kilometers to bombard Paris. Wendel claimed that such attacks were far more complex than people imagined.

French journalist Gustave Tery

For Gustave Tery, the socialist journalist, it was a moment of horrific revelation. Wendel had unwittingly opened a can of worms. Tery suddenly realised that if the French had destroyed Briey the Germans would have reciprocated by bombing the Pas de Calais. That neither side did so signified an agreement at a very high level to protect these industrial complexes, so crucial for a long war. Gustave Tery was not the only one stunned by the implication. At that moment he heard a colleague burst out, “By George, they were in cahoots!” He admitted, ‘it made me shiver.’ [1] It should make us all shiver.

Other French newspapers joined in the clamour, demanding explanations, but  Le Matin, a conservative French daily paper, suggested that the decision was a matter of military convention; one simply did not attack such targets. [2] Few were duped by this ludicrous suggestion. There clearly was an agreement between the belligerents which was kept secret, and would have remained so had not the French Deputies stirred public outrage. The basic question was, who was responsible for the undeniable immunity given to coal mines, iron, steel and chemical plants whose destruction could have stopped the war in a matter of weeks?

Deputy Edouard Barthe

Deputy Edouard Barthe stepped forward in the French Assembly on 24 January 1919 and formally and unequivocally stated that either the international armaments industry, or influential and powerful private interests, had ordered the French military high command not to destroy Briey even although it was undeniably being exploited by the enemy. Barthe confirmed that the air force had been ordered to respect the blast furnaces in which the enemy steel was being made, and ‘ that a general who had wished to bombard them was reprimanded.’ [3]

Yet no-one was brought to court. No company director was charged with complicity with the enemy. The abandonment of Briey to the German army was a scandal which was never resolved. The Wendels survived the opprobrium thrown their way by the socialist press. There was no concrete evidence. Nothing could be proved.

In trying to understand the extent of the power and influence asserted by international armaments conglomerates, the evidence from Briey offers an example of the power they exerted to control and extend the war. Politicians were in their pocket. Occasionally, they acted as politicians themselves. Newspapers protected their interests. They included in their ranks bankers and financiers who operated across the boundaries of political nationalism. Top military staff acceded to the demands issued through their appointed agents so that no-one knew precisely who ultimately made the decision or gave the instruction. Not just in France or Germany.  Inside this shadowy world, the British Secret Elite progressed their ambitions. Many benefited personally from the enormous war profits but the ultimate objective remained paramount; the destruction of Germany as an imperial rival. Briey captures one instance of how that was achieved.

The Briey scandal also helps us understand how ‘hidden powers’ operated within one national boundary, in this instance, France. They forbade military strikes against their own industrial interests, and allowed supplies vital to the continuation of war to continue unhindered. The failure of the so-called blockade by the British navy from 1914-16 is yet another example. But this is only one layer in the exercise of control. Armaments were a global business organised on a scale that owed no national allegiance, that benefited from ‘international hermaphroditism’ [4]  and cared not whether they were buying or supplying de Wendels or von Wendels, whether they paid dividends to or shared the profits with Vickers-Armstrongs [Britain], Krupps [Germany], Bethlehem Steel [United States], Schneider-Creusot [France], Skoda [Austria-Hungary] or members of the Comite des Forges. The state of war was a source of profit that accrued to them all, and the longer it lasted, the greater that profit.

war is a racket

As the American Marine Corps General Smedley Butler later wrote in the light of the events he personally experienced;

‘War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes. In the World War a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. They mainly admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other millionaires falsified their tax returns, no one knows.’  [5]

The Allied War Cemetery at Tyne Cot. A small part of the cost of war

21,000 new millionaires or billionaires have to be balanced against an estimate of 8,500,000 military deaths, with civilian casualties and, civil wars and atrocities pushing that figure towards a number between 15-20,000,000 victims. [6]  The true powers behind the conflict were utterly despicable.

And we must remember that this ‘racket’ had an ultimate purpose beyond mere profit. The Secret Elite who had originated in Britain and were in the process of extending their base across the Atlantic, intended that Germany be crushed and the Anglo-Saxon domination of the world securely established. [7] They had no interest in a short war. Crushing Germany and removing the Teutonic threat to their position required a lengthy struggle. They were committed to the long-haul. Briey was simply a small part of the whole endeavour. As we will show in future Blogs, every action they took deliberately prolonged the war by feeding the enemy, providing them with means to continue fighting and rank profiteering.

[1]  Clarence K Streit,  Where Iron Is, There Is The Fatherland, pp.42-3.
[2] Le Matin, 14 February, 1919.
[3]  Streit,  Where Iron Is, There Is The Fatherland, pp.46.
[4]  Congressional Record for March 6 and 12, 1934, Text of the Nye Resolution to Investigate America’s Armament Makers, United States Government Printing Office Washington : 1934; 52620 – 10175. Article from Fortune Magazine, 22 May 1934, A Primer on Europe’s Armament Makers who prolong War and disturb Peace, p.14.
[5] Major General Smedley Darlington Butler, War is a Racket, page 1.
[6] Matthew White, Source List and Detailed Death Tolls for the Primary Megadeaths of the Twentieth Century.
[7] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War pp.11-16.