DECEMBER 13, 1948
EN ROUTE TO NEW YORK, Sunday—The day has come to leave and I have been trying to add up my final impressions of France.
The French people are badly off. If you walk around on a Sunday or watch them going down into the Metro you very quickly realize that most of the people you see look tired and listless. This undoubtedly comes from lack of energy-giving foods, with little sugar or chocolate or butter available. There is no milk for older people. They do have a milk ration for babies and children and that is one reason, I think, why the youngsters look fairly well. But the older people uniformly look badly.
The French have done their best to receive their guests with warmth and with their customary hospitality. When we have gone to their apartments they tried to warm them up for us and to give us all kinds of food in the lavish ways of days gone by. Only now and then by a casual sentence do you realize what they have gone through. One woman said to me as we waited for the absurd little elevator that graces the stairwells in all large French apartment houses, "It is wonderful to have the lift running again. All these flights of stairs when you carried home your potatoes and vegetables from market—that was really hard. The sacks of potatoes are heavy." Electricity is still rationed and often cut off for hours.
France is not moribund. It is just very tired and it cannot revive until the physical body has been somewhat built up. One must eat. Particularly the French people must eat, because to them it is also a necessary ritual. No businessman or woman here dashes hastily into a corner drug store and gets a sandwich and a cup of coffee for lunch. That would be a sacrilege. The French go home and sit down with their families to a complete meal. They may lose a couple of hours away from business by doing it, but they are no worse off than other business people because everyone does the same thing.
France, too, was conquered. One woman, speaking of what she had been through, said she had seen the French army routed, with officers picking up their wives and children and fleeing through Paris to any place where they might find temporary safety. She said rather sadly, "It takes a long time to restore the soul of a conquered country. You are free, but you know that you have been beaten. You cringe because you have known the conqueror's touch."
Like most other Americans, I have gratitude toward France because she was the first to help us in our own revolution. Another thing that has meant more to more Americans than most of us know came to us from France—the Statue of Liberty, symbolizing the hope for a new and better life to thousands upon thousands of people who have come into the United States. These are the people who helped to make the United States and I doubt whether any of them will ever forget the first glimpse of that statue in the harbor.
There have been many other ties throughout our history. Scientific achievements in France have run parallel to our own. There are great similarities in the thinking of our peoples. To most Americans, too, France and its countryside, as well as its beautiful capital, have acquired many memories, largely because it is on her soil that our men had to fight the last two wars. As General Pershing said at Lafayette's tomb, "We returned in force the visit which he paid to us when our young country needed support and France's recognition in money and men."
On the lighter side, I take home a picture of many men and women bicycling about in crowded traffic. Very small cars are also peculiar to this part of the world. One almost feels one could carry them if it came to fording a stream that was too deep to drive through. They are really wonderful for street traffic and one never has the problems here of being held up by traffic jams the way you are in New York City.
The men and women of France are a gallant people. You feel it in connection with their struggle to keep up such things as their societies for French-American friendship, their theatre, their opera and ballet. The shortage of paper has greatly curtailed publications of all kinds, and more paper-covered books are issued than has ever been the case at home.
In spite of that, interest in art and literature is still kept alive, and for that reason I go home with the deep conviction that, as France's physical needs are met, the menace of Communism will grow less and the intellectual and spiritual forces which have always had such a great influence on the world will return to their place of leadership and we will again have "La Belle France." Meantime, all of us who love France and her people are glad to have spent this session of the General Assembly in France and as we leave we say "Vive la France!"