Perhaps no old man is so young as Marshal Ferdinand Foch. At 75, and after shouldering burdens at least as great as those which have fallen upon any other mortal, he remains unscathed of soul, brisk in thought and manner. Americans remember him as the Generalissimo who drove through their cities, after the War, clad in a handsome blue uniform and with a slow, understanding smile. Frenchmen know him as the still active President of the Inter-Allied Military Commission to enforce the Treaty of Versailles. Of an evening he is to be found with a pipe and a friend at his snug little house, 138 Rue de Grenelle, Paris.
There a newsgatherer sat last week as the Marshal reminisced of the days when his title was Generalissimo of the Allied Forces. Puffing slowly at his meerschaum he said: "You know, I never commanded in the way people imagine. What I did was to bring those about me to accept my opinions, which is quite a different thing. . . . To command is nothing. . . . What is necessary always is to get a good understanding with those with whom one has to deal, to understand them and get them to understand you. That is the whole secret, not only of successful command but of living."
By way of concrete illustration Marshal Foch recalled his conference with General Pershing and General Haig on the eve of the final Allied Grand Offensive (1918). General Pershing said that his men were insufficiently trained and tried. "How can I throw them into a big offensive?" Sir Douglas (now Earl) Haig insisted that his army was "shot to pieces," asked, "How can we advance?"
Commenting, last week, Marshal Foch continued: "I could have given a formal order [to Generals Pershing and Haig] but that is not how I worked. People obey badly when they obey against their will. I always preferred the role of counselor to that of chief. I preferred to convince everyone that my plan was possible, realizable and to give everyone a desire to carry it through.
"To Haig I gave the whole French Army for him to command, thus flattering and stimulating him. I flattered Pershing, too. by telling him how his young American army was full of vigor and force and panting to cover itself with glory. To the Belgians I promised English and French troops under the command of King Albert.
"In that way I finally won everyone over through his pride or by logic or by persuasion or by simply putting him face to face with responsibilities. In the end they all came right with me and, as you know, everything worked out enormously better than if I had simply imposed my authority."
Though Ferdinand Foch was all but unknown in the U. S. prior to the World War, he enlisted as a private in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, and later, after attending the War College, became a professor there (1894) renowned for the soundness of his matter and the brilliant originality of his presentation. He developed a veritable "school" of French officers who gave unusual attention to that evanescent factor which was to prove so vital when the War came: morale.
"Victory equals Will," wrote General Foch at that time. "Victory goes always to those who deserve it by the greater force of will. . . . A battle won is a battle in which one will not acknowledge oneself beaten."