Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jean De Bloch Museum of Peace and War at Lucerne

De Bloch Museum of Peace and War at Lucerne
Jean De Bloch being dead yet speaketh to the world, and will continue to speak through the Museum of War and Peace which he has created on the shores of the Lake of Lucerne, and which was opened on Saturday, June 7, by M. Passy in the presence of an as­sembly of the friends of peace of all nations. The distinguished founder, whose marble bust, surrounded with laurels, stands in the great hall of the museum, was represented by his son, M. Henri de Bloch, his widow, Madame de Bloch, and her two daughters, the Countess Koscielska, whose husband is a conspicuous figure among the Polish members of the Prussian Herrenhaus; and her widowed sister, Madame Holynska. One of their guests made the remark, that the late benefactor had after his death added to the bene­fits he had conferred upon the world by making the members of his brilliant and accomplished family better known to the leaders of Western thought and progress. To this may be added the further observation that he has still further increased the debt which we owe him by remind­ing us of the continued and indestructible exist­ence of the Poles among the family of nations.

A Russian chronicler once bitterly complained that for centuries Russia was hidden from the eyes of mankind behind the two menacing spec­ters, the Pole and the Tartar, which enveloped her on the West and on the East. The same remark, with variations, may be made about Poland to-day. The nation which formerly ob­scured Russia from the sight of the West has, for more than a hundred years, disappeared between Russia and Prussia. The busy nations on the seaboard had almost forgotten the existence of their Polish sister. Since the days when “Free­dom shrieked when Kosciusko fell" few Polish names have imprinted themselves upon the Western mind. But the Poles, although over­looked, persisted in existing, in cherishing their faith, in pursuing their national culture. Cut off by their partition from the possibility of exer­cising any influence as a political state, they threw themselves into other pursuits. They made their *provinces the most prosperous region in Russia. They throve so much in Posen that the Kaiser and his Chancellor have emitted cries of alarm, the one over the fecundity of the Polish "rab­bits," while the other proclaims that "Polish arrogance is resolved to encroach upon Germanism." In Austria they have shown their capac­ity to govern the semi-autonomous province of Galicia. But the dim myriads of peasants and artisans, of merchants and manufacturers, might have existed for generations without making any impress upon the imagination of the world if no man had arisen capable of shivering the gloom with the lightning of his genius.

Monsieur Jean De Bloch
Such a man Poland at last produced in Jean de Bloch. At a time when another Polish genius, Sienkiewicz, was emulating Sir Walter Scott in reviving the almost-forgotten romance of his country's past, Jean de Bloch arose to compel the recognition by the world of the great and luminous idea by which he was able to cast gleam of hope and inspiration upon the somewhat somber horizon of the future. Sienkiewicz repro­duced the past, but Jean de Bloch incarnated the present, and foresaw the future. In him the world saw Poland once more a living, healthy, thinking, inspiring force in the circle of the nations.

Jean de Bloch was a seer, a seeing man in the midst of the blind. He saw that we had passed through a period in which, almost unconsciously, such a revolution had been affected in the meth­ods of warfare as to render war on a large scale practically impossible. He saw the truth, and proclaimed it abroad in the hearing of the world. At first his message fell upon deaf ears. His zeal was redoubled by the indifference of the un­seeing multitude. He wrote, he spoke, he spared neither time nor expense in order to drive con­viction into the minds of his contemporaries. At last he found a hearing. Some dim perception of his great discovery dawned upon at least one master of many legions. Then came The Hague Conference, and M. de Bloch found in that in­ternational parliament an admirable field for the preaching of his message. After the Conference came the war, which went so far to verify all M. de Bloch's contentions that it was no paradox to say that Mr. Chamberlain's name may live in history solely because he was the author of a war which verified the hypotheses of M. de Bloch.

To embody in a great museum a permanent, visible, and tangible object-lesson, M. de Bloch set on foot during the late war the foundation of a great Museum of War and Peace, which would embody and illustrate the truth which he sought to teach. Unfortunately, death smote him be­fore he was permitted to see the fruit of his labor. His place was taken by his son, who completed the work which his father had begun. Hence it was possible for M. Passy, on June 7, to open the picturesque building which has been reared on the shore of the Lake of the Four Cantons to provide house-room and exhibition space for the contents of M. de Bloch's museum.

Madame De Bloch
The interior of the museum is in a state which is at once very finished and very unfinished. The building, being a temporary one, to be recon­structed in six years, is a series of vast sheds, some divided into compartments, each of which is devoted to a different country or a different age. The floors are not yet paved, and nothing in the way of permanent decoration has been at­tempted. On the other hand, the collection of exhibits, and that is the chief thing, is very complete, very interesting, and very varied. In the large entrance hall the first thing that strikes the eye is a bust of the late M. de Bloch, sur­rounded with palms and flowers, and looking out upon the vast collection of arms which he had collected from all parts of the world. The room, indeed, contains specimens of every weapon em­ployed by man since he first took to slaying his brother with flint arrow-heads. There are two very remarkable-looking hooped brass cannon, cast in the fifteenth century, a bristling little forest of Swiss pikes with which the herdsmen and burghers of Switzerland destroyed the chivalry of Austria, suits of armor from the Middle Ages, rockets used in 1870, Maxim guns of the latest type, targets showing the effect of bullets and shells fired at various ranges, every­thing, indeed, directly or indirectly connected with armaments new and old is to be found here. This is the mechanical side of war. The pictorial side is even better shown in the gallery of dio­ramas, the entrance of which is behind M. de Bloch's bust. The tableaux here are about eight in number; and they are admirably painted by scenic artists of repute, the foregrounds being, skillfully built up of real objects. Here the tactical methods of the wars of the past and present are contrasted, the difference in formation being clearly shown. The Swiss defending their mountain passes, the Russians attacking Plevna in the snow, the British methods of attack in South Africa, are all admirably put together, and the tableau of a battlefield by night is worthy of Verestchagin.

But these two rooms take up only a small portion of the museum. The mechanism, science, art, and statistics of war are shown in equal de­tail in a number of other rooms and galleries. The collection of models of battlefields is very large, and very scientifically arranged. Several compartments of the room in which these are contained are devoted to tactics and strategy, and the visitor can examine the methods of Alexander and Cesar within a few paces of dia­grams and models showing the methods em­ployed in South Africa. In another room may be read on the walls the text of important inter­national treaties, a useful and instructive lesson of the futility of the policy of “Never again” in the days gone by. Running out of this room, and ending on the other side of the entrance hall, is a long gallery divided into compartments. In one may be seen depicted pictorially and by means of models ''Fortress Warfare in Ancient and Modern Times; "in the next is a collection of human and animal relics of the battlefields, in the shape of skulls and skeletons. To show the various types of injuries to the bone inflicted by bullets at different ranges is the chief object of this collection; a horse's skeleton bears testimony to the extreme difference in the character of wounds which results from a change of range. There is a section devoted to naval warfare, with pictures of ancient and modern ships, the strength of navies of different powers, and the naval budgets of Europe and America being shown by means of diagrams.  Finally, there is a good-sized auditorium, where it is proposed to give lectures with the cinematograph on all subjects- of inter­est to those engaged in the study of the problems of modern war. A library of war and peace will also be established.

Henri De Bloch and his sister, Madame Holynska
But this does not exhaust the interest of the museum. The grounds at the back and sides of the building are devoted to displaying some of the mechanism of war on a full scale. There are sections of trenches of various types, open, cov­ered in, and protected from assault by those ter­rible wire networks which the late M. de Bloch loved to insist upon as one of the strongest weapons of modern defense. And, finally, there are short sections of various types of military bridging material.

Altogether the museum is very complete and very interesting. It is not too technical to puzzle the casual visitor, while it is scientific enough to satisfy the serious military student. Controver­sial matters are kept in the background, facts, as the late M. de Bloch used to insist, being the best of arguments. The best evidence of the com­bined popular and scientific character of the mu­seum is that, while it was founded by the energy and initiative of a civilian, its board of manage­ment contains several military names of distinc­tion. The union of two, too often inimical, classes in the cause of peace is a good omen for the future of the museum, and certainly nothing has been left undone to make the whole institution as at­tractive as it is instructive.

Originally published in the American Review of Reviews in August of 1902.

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