Why The World Went To War
( Originally Published 1918 )
WHILE it is true that the war was conceived in Berlin, it is none the less true that it was born in the Balkans. It is necessary in order that we may view with correct perspective the background of the World War, that we gain some notion of the Balkan States and the complications entering into their relations. These countries have been the adopted children of the great European powers during generations of rulers. Russia assumed guardianship of the nations having a preponderance of Slavic blood; Roumania with its Latin consanguinities was close to France and Italy; Bulgaria, Greece, and Balkan Turkey were debatable regions wherein the diplomats of the rival nations secured temporary victories by devious methods.
The Balkans have fierce hatreds and have been the site of sudden historic wars. At the time of the declaration of the World War, the Balkan nations were living under the provisions of the Treaty of Bucharest, dated Au-gust 10, 1913. Greece, Roumania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro were signers, and Turkey acquiesced in its provisions.
The assassination at Sarajevo had sent a convulsive shudder throughout the Balkans. The reason lay in the century-old antagonism between the Slav and the Teuton. Serbia, Montenegro and Russia had never forgiven Austria for seizing Bosnia and Herzegovina and making these Slavic people subjects of the Austrian crown. Bulgaria, Roumania and Turkey remained cold at the news of the assassination. German diplomacy was in the ascendant at these courts and the prospect of war with Germany as their great ally presented no terrors for them. The sympathies of the people of Greece were with Serbia, but the Grecian Court, because the Queen of Greece was the only sister of the German Kaiser, was whole heartedly with Austria. Perhaps at the first the Roumanians were most nearly neutral. They believed strongly that each of the small nations of the Balkan region as well as all of the small nations that had been absorbed but had not been digested by Austria, should cut itself from the leading strings held by the large European powers. There was a distinct undercurrent for a federation resembling that of the United States of America between these peoples. This was expressed most clearly by M. Jonesco, leader of the Liberal party of Roumania and generally recognized as the ablest statesman of middle Europe. He declared:
"I always believed, and still believe, that the Balkan States cannot secure their future otherwise than by a close understanding among themselves, whether this understanding shall or shall not take the form of a federation. No one of the Balkan States is strong enough to resist the pressure from one or another of the European powers.
"For this reason I am deeply grieved to see in the Balkan coalition of 1912 Roumania not invited. If Roumania had taken part in the first one, we should not have had the second. I did all that was in my power and succeeded in preventing the war between Roumania and the Balkan League in the winter of 1912-13.
"I risked my popularity, and I do not feel sorry for it. I employed all my efforts to pre-vent the second Balkan war, which, as is well known, was profitable to us. I repeatedly told the Bulgarians that they ought not to enter it because in that case we would enter it too. But I was not successful in my efforts.
"During the second Balkan war I did all in my power to end it as quickly as possible. At the conference at Bucharest I made efforts, as Mr. Pashich and Mr. Venizélos know very well, to secure for beaten "Bulgaria the best terms. My object was to obtain a new coalition of all the Balkan States, including Roumania. Had I succeeded in this the situation would be much better. No reasonable man will deny that the Balkan States are neutralizing each other at the present time, which in itself makes the whole situation all the more miserable.
"In October, 1918, when I succeeded in facilitating the conclusion of peace between Greece and Turkey, I was pursuing the same object of the Balkan coalition. On my return from Athens I endeavored, though without success, to put the Greco-Turkish relations on a basis of friendship, being convinced that the well-understood interest of both countries` lies not only in friendly relations, but even in an alliance between them.
"The dissensions that exist between the Balkan States can be settled in a friendly way without war. The best moment for this would be after the general war, when the map of Europe will be remade. The Balkan country which would start war against another Balkan country would commit, not only a crime against her own future, but an act of folly as well.
"The destiny and future of the Balkan States, and of all the small European peoples as well, will not be regulated by fratricidal wars, but, with this great European struggle, the real object of which is to settle the question whether Europe -shall enter an era of justice, and therefore happiness for the small peoples, or whether we will face a period of oppression more or less gilt-edged. And as I always believed that wisdom and truth will triumph in the end, I want to believe, too, that, in spite of the pessimistic news reaching me from the different sides of the Balkan countries, there will be no war among them in order to justify those who do not believe in the vitality of the small peoples."
The conference at Rome, April 10, 1918, to settle outstanding questions between the Italians and the Slays of the Adriatic, drew attention to those Slavonic peoples in Europe who were under non-Slavonic rule. At the beginning of the war there were three great Slavonic groups in Europe: First, the Russians with the Little Russians, speaking languages not more different than the dialect of Yorkshire is from the dialect of Devonshire; second, a central group, including the Poles, the Czechs or Bohemians, the Moravians, and Slovaks, this group thus being separated under the four crowns of Russia, Germany, Austria and Hungary; the third, the southern group, included the Sclavonians, the Croatians, the Dalmatians, Bosnians, Herzegovinians, the Slays, generally called Slovenes, in the western part of Austria, down to Goritzia, and also the two independent kingdoms of Montenegro and Serbia.
Like the central group, this southern group of Slays was divided under four crowns, Hungary, Austria, Montenegro, and Serbia; but, in spite of the fact that half belong to the West-ern and half to the Eastern Church, they are all essentially the same people, though with considerable infusion of non-Slavonic blood, there being a good deal of Turkish blood in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The languages, however, are practically identical, formed largely of pure Slavonic materials, and, curiously, much more closely connected with the eastern Slav group—Russia and Little Russia —than with the central group, Polish and Bohemian. A Russian of Moscow will find it much easier to understand a Slovene from Goritzia than a Pole from Warsaw. The Ruthenians, in southern Galicia and Bukowina, are identical in race and speech with the Little' Russians of Ukrainia.
Of the central group, the Poles have generally inclined to Austria, which has always sup-ported the Polish landlords of Galicia against the Ruthenian peasantry; while the Czechs have been not so much anti-Austrian as anti-German. Indeed, the Hapsburg rulers have again and again played these Slays off against their German subjects. It was the Southern Slav question as affecting Serbia and Austria, that gave the pretext for the present war. The central Slav question affecting the destiny of the Poles—was a bone of contention between Austria and Germany. It is the custom to call the Southern Slays "Jugoslays" from the Slav word Yugo, "south," but as this is a concession to German transliteration many prefer to write the word "Yugoslav," which represents its pronunciation. The South Slav question was created by the incursions of three Asiatic peoples—Huns, Magyars, Turks—who broke up the originally continuous Slav territory that ran from the White Sea to the confines of Greece and the Adriatic.
This was the complex of nationalities, the ferment of races existing in 1914. Out of the hatrcds engendered by the domination over the liberty-loving Slavic peoples by an arrogant Teutonic minority grew the assassinations at Sarajevo. These crimes were the expression of hatred not for the heir apparent of Austria but for the Hapsburgs and their Germanic associates.
By a twist of the wheel of fate, the same Slavic peoples whose determination to rid themselves of the Teutonic yoke, started the war, also bore rather more than their share in the swift-moving events that decided and closed the war.
Russia, the dying giant among the great nations, championed the Slavic peoples at the beginning of the war. It entered the conflict in aid of little Serbia, but at the end Russia bowed to Germany in the infamous peace treaty at Brest-Litovsk. Thereafter during the last months of the war Russia was virtually an ally of its ancient enemy, Turkey, the "Sick Man of Europe," and the central German empires. With these allies the Bolshevik government of Russia attempted to head off the Czecho-Slovak regiments that had been captured by Russia during its drive into Austria and had been imprisoned in Siberia. After the peace consummated at Brest-Litovsk, these regiments determined to fight on the side of the Allies and endeavored to make their way to the western front.
No war problems were more difficult than those of the Czecho-Slovaks. Few have been handled so masterfully. Surrounded by powerful enemies which for centuries have been bent on destroying every trace of Slavic culture, they had learned how to defend them-selves against every trick or scheme of the brutal Germans.
The Czecho-Slovak plan in Russia was of great value to the Allies all over the world, and was put at their service by Professor Thomas G. Masaryk.' He went to Russia when every-thing was adrift and got hold of Bohemian prisoners here and there and organized them into a compact little army of 50,000 to 60,000 men. Equipped and fed, he moved them to whatever point had most power to thoroughly disrupt the German plans. They did much to check the German army for months. They resolutely refused to take any part in Russian political affairs, and when it seemed no longer possible to work effectively in Russia, this remarkable little band started on a journey all round the world to get to the western front. They loyally gave up most of their arms under agreement with Levine and Trotzky that they might peacefully proceed out of Russia via Vladivostok.
While they were carrying out their part of the agreement, and well on the way, they were surprised by telegrams from Lenine and Trotzky to the Soviets in Siberia ordering them to take away their arms and intern them.
The story of what occurred then was told by two American engineers, Emerson and Hawkins, who, on the way to Ambassador Francis, and not being able to reach Bologda, joined a band of four or five thousand. The engineers were with them three months, while they were making it safe along the lines of the railroad for the rest of the Czecho-Slovaks to get out, and incidentally for Siberians to resume peaceful occupations. They were also supported by old railway organizations which had stuck bravely to them without wages and which every little while were "shot up" by the Bolsheviki.
Distress in Russia would have been much more intense had it not been for the loyalty of the railway men in sticking to their tasks. Some American engineers at Irkutsk, on a peaceful journey, out of Russia, on descending from the cars were met with a demand to surrender, and shots from machine guns. Some, fortunately, had kept hand grenades, and with these and a few rifles went straight at the ma-chine guns. Although outnumbered, the attackers took the guns and soon afterward took the town. The Czecho-Slovaks, in the beginining almost unarmed, went against great odds and won for themselves the right to be considered a nation.
Seeing the treachery of Lenine and Trotzky, they went back toward the west and made things secure for their men left behind. They took town after town with the arms they first took away from the Bolsheviki and Germans; but in every town they immediately set up a government, with all the elements of normal life. They established police and sanitary systems, opened hospitals, and had roads repaired, leaving a handful of mcn in the midst of enemies to carry on the plans of their leaders. American engineers speaking of the cleanliness of the Czecho-Slovak army, said that they lived like Spartans.
The whole story is a remarkable evidence of the struggle of these little people for self-government.
The emergence of the Czecho-Slovak nation has been one of the most remarkable and note-worthy features of the war. Out of the con-fusion of the situation, with the possibility of the resurrection of oppressed peoples, some-thing of the dignity of old Bohemia was comprehended, and it was recognized that the Czechs were to be rescued from Austria and the Slovaks from Hungary, and united in one country with entire independence. This was undoubtedly due, in large measure, to the activities of Professor Masaryk, the president of the National Executive Council of the Czecho-Slovaks. His four-year exile in the United States had the establishment of the new nation as its fruit.
Professor Masaryk called attention to the fact that there is a peculiar discrepancy between the number of states in Europe and the number of nationalities—twenty-seven states to seventy nationalities. He explained, also, that almost all the states are mixed, from the point of nationality. From the west of Europe to the east, this is found to be true, and the farther east one goes the more mixed do the states become. Austria is the most mixed of all the states. There is no Austrian language, but there are nine languages, and six smaller nations or remnants of nations. In all of Germany there are eight nationalities besides the Germans, who have been independent, and who have their own literature. Turkey is an anomaly, a combination of various nations over-thrown and kept down.
Since the eighteenth century there has been a continuing strong movement from each nation to have its own state. Because of the mixed peoples, there is much confusion. There are Roumanians in Austria, but there is a kingdom of Roumania. There are Southern Slays, but there are also Serbia and Montenegro. It is natural that the Southern Slays should want to be united as one state. So it is with Italy.
There was no justice in Poland being separated in three parts to serve the dynasties of Prussia, Russia and Austria. The Czecho-Slovaks of Austria and Hungary claimed a union. The national union consists in an endeavor to make the suppressed nations free, to unite them in their own states, and to read-just the states that exist; to force Austria and Prussia to give up the states that should be free.
In the future, said Doctor Masaryk, there are to be sharp ethnological boundaries. The Czecho-Slovaks will guarantee the minorities absolute equality, but they will keep the German part of their country, because there are many Bohemians in it, and they do not trust the Germans.