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- A Short History of the Great War - 60/63 -


and the principles of peace. Finally, Japan had a special grievance in the reluctance of the United States to accept the maxim of racial equality and a special interest in the acquisition of Chinese territory; and prejudice against her racial claim prejudiced the Aliies' defence of Chinese territorial integrity.

These were some of the fundamental difficulties of the Conference which could only be settled in part by self-restraint and compromise. Much had to be left over to the patient labours of the future League of Nations in an atmosphere less charged than the Conference with the passion of war; and it gradually became evident that, instead of the League of Nations depending upon the excellence of the peace it was to guarantee, the permanence of the peace would depend upon the capacity of the League of Nations to remedy its imperfections. The League emerged as the cardinal factor in the situation which was to make the vital difference between the work of the Conference of 1919 and that of the Congresses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Reflection tended, moreover, to mitigate some of the objections to the Covenant, though various of its details were modified in response to criticism. Public opinion in the United States rallied to the argument that America would be stultifying herself if, after entering the war to win it and make the world safe for democracy, she refused to participate in the only means of making the peace tolerable and permanent; and it was recognized that the Monroe Doctrine was not so much being superseded as expanded from America to cover all the world. British reliance on sea-power was likewise somewhat impressed by the determination of the United States, if the League of Nations failed, to build a navy at least equal to our own, and by the recognition of the fact that the maintenance of even a two-Power standard would consequently involve us in a race for naval armaments more severe than that before the war and pregnant with an even greater disaster to the cause of civilization. French opinion, too, was gradually modified by the realization that Great Britain and the United States could not be expected to sanction a militarist settlement resembling in its spirit and its motives the German terms of 1871, or to guarantee a peace of which their people disapproved; and a halting trust in a League of Nations was fortified by a more specific guarantee of protection by Great Britain and the United States against an unprovoked attack by Germany. Italy, the youngest of the Great Powers among the Allies, the least mature in its political wisdom, and the most subject before the war to the influence of German realpolitik, carried her obstruction to the point of temporarily leaving the Conference in April; but her delegates returned on finding that the rest of the Allies were prepared to make peace without her participation.

Apart from these conflicts of point of view, the Conference had infinite trouble to deal with territories which had been conquered and peoples which had been liberated from autocratic yokes. The problem of races and lands in Africa and in the former Turkish Empire which were admittedly unfit for self-government had been simplified by the happy thought of the mandatory system which again depended for its efficacy upon the idea of a League of Nations. It had long been the claim of the British Empire, that so far as it was an empire and not a league of free States, it was a power held in trust and wielded not for the benefit of the Government, but of the governed. It was now proposed to formulate and expand this idea by treating these conquered lands not as the freeholds of the conqueror, but as lands to be held of the League of Nations by a mandate, for the execution of which the mandatory would be responsible to the common judgment of the nations. There was some objection to the proposal on the ground of national pride and resentment at the idea of being held responsible; but a juster appreciation led to the reflections that irresponsibility was a Prussian ideal of government, that a better cause for national pride arose from the general confidence in a nation's integrity implied in the conferment of the mandate, and that only those whose deeds were evil need fear the intrusion of international light upon their methods of administration. To be able to do what one liked with one's own was a baser ambition than to satisfy the conscience of mankind that one was making the best use of the talents with which one had been entrusted; and the general approbation with which the idea of mandates was received testified better than other proceedings in the Conference to the growth of a sense of common responsibility for the welfare of mankind. In this way the administration of German colonies in Africa was to be entrusted to Great Britain, France, and the Union of South Africa; Pacific Islands to Japan, Australia, and New Zealand; Mesopotamia and Palestine to Great Britain, Syria to France, and parts of Asia Minor to Italy and Greece.

More difficult was the self- or other determination of those parts of Europe which had escaped the iron hand of the three great Empires of Germany, Austria, and Russia. Alsace-Lorraine would revert by common consent to France, which was also given the Saar district for a term of years, not as a conquest but as a means of recovering the vast stores of coal and iron of which the Germans had robbed the French during their occupation. Belgium claimed a small strip on her frontier inhabited mainly by Belgian people; the self-determination which Bismarck had promised the Danes in Schleswig in 1864 was at last accorded them; and Heligoland was dismantled. The principal difficulties lay on Germany's eastern frontier, where the racial mixture between Germans and Poles was complicated by Poland's claim to a port and access to the sea, and by the fact that the cession of Dantzig and the Vistula to Poland would sever Germany from East Prussia, which was German in population and had been under German rule since 1524. Dantzig had been part of the Polish kingdom down to the first partition of 1772, but like other towns in Poland it had for centuries been inhabited and municipally governed mainly by Germans and Jews. For Poland was a kingdom which prolonged feudal conditions into the eighteenth century; it was a nation of serfs and landlords, and its commerce and industry, and therefore its towns, had been left for German and Jewish immigrants to develop. The corridor to the sea with most of Posen was eventually given to Poland, while parts of East Prussia and Upper Silesia were subjected to plebiscites which promised a similar result; but, like other territorial arrangements in central and eastern Europe, it was a settlement which could never prove satisfactory until racial antagonisms were modified by good government, and it became possible for different nationalities to live together in a State in Europe with as little sense of injustice and exploitation as immigrants in the United States of America.

As some offset to these losses of alien subjects, Germany hoped for an increase of population by the accession of German Austria (including the Tyrol) and the German fringes of Bohemia. The mountain ranges which ringed in Bohemia to the east, north, and west had, however, always been her boundaries, and were too natural a frontier to be surrendered by the new State of Czecho-Slovakia, the future independence of which had been recognized in 1918 as a testimony to the services rendered to the Entente by the Czecho-Slovak troops in Siberia and Russia; while conflicting views in German Austria, combined with the reluctance of France to see Germany aggrandized, postponed this reunion of German-speaking peoples, and left German Austria the weakest of the central European States into which the Hapsburg Empire dissolved. Hungary became entirely independent, but was shorn of her Rumanian, Serb, and Croat appanages. Rumanian troops held Transylvania, most of the Bukovina, and a slice of Hungary. Croatia and Carniola, like Bosnia, Herzegovina, and the previously independent Montenegro had already combined with Serbia to form a great Jugo-Slav kingdom stretching from north of Laibach to the south of Monastir, and from the Adriatic to the Danube. The Trentino, Trieste, and Pola had been occupied by Italy, but the future of Dalmatia, Fiume, and the islands in the Adriatic was the greatest bone of contention at the Conference, and their disposal was almost indefinitely postponed.

The gravest of all the problems which confronted the victorious Powers arose in connexion with their former ally, Russia, whose condition presented almost as many obstacles to peace as it had done to the successful prosecution of war. There was, however, one countervailing advantage of incalculable value. Had the imperialist Tsardom emerged triumphant from the struggle, the reactionary forces at the Conference would have been enormously strengthened; little would probably have been heard of the independence of Poland; Constantinople would have fallen into Russian hands; the Balkans and Asia Minor would have become, in fact if not in name, Russian protectorates; and there would have been found little scope for self-determination along the shores of the Baltic or in Eastern Europe. The great war of liberation would probably have resulted merely in the substitution of Russia for Germany as a greater menace to the independence of little nations and to the peace of the world. Nevertheless, the problems imposed upon the Conference by warring factions in Russia proper, by discordant races emancipated from Russian domination and pursuing their own conflicting ambitions, and by the folly of the Allies themselves in ignoring the principle impressed upon them since 1917, that it was legitimate to assist Russians against the Germans but not against one another, were harassing enough. The half-hearted, disingenuous, and misguided military efforts made by the Allies in Russia introduced alien irritants into the domestic situation and prolonged that painful process of internal evolution which could alone produce a satisfactory solution in a stable Russian government. If the responsible Allied statesmen had studied the history of previous attempts to impose particular governments on independent peoples by the force of arms, they would have been even more reluctant to attempt a repetition of the experiment in Russia. As it was, their efforts were hampered by their own subjects and Allies. The United States stood aloof; French soldiers and sailors refused to fight against Bolsheviks at Odessa; Italy did nothing; and the burden of an unwise policy was left to Great Britain, where not even the systematic manipulation of news from Russia in the interests of intervention could induce public opinion to condone more than perfunctory help to the cause of restoration.

The fairest guise this policy could assume was defence of the principle of self-determination, and the assumption was maintained that the Russian people were opposed to the Soviet government. There would have been better ground for assisting Finns, Letts, Esthonians, and Ukrainians against Bolshevik imperialism; but it was to Koltchak, Denikin, and their north Russian friends, rather than to the little peoples that help was sent, and a powerful motive in the discrimination was the pledge of the Russian conservatives to resume responsibility for Russia's debts to her Allies, particularly France, which the Bolsheviks had repudiated. Whatever success might attend this policy would not be due to its wisdom, and events were to show that the British Government misjudged the Russian situation in 1919 as much as European monarchies did that of the French Republic in 1793. The crimes and follies committed by the Soviet and the Jacobin governments were equally repulsive, but they did not make foreign intervention in either case a sound or successful policy; and the Allies would have been wiser to confine their military action to the defence of the nascent States which had asserted their independence of Russia and claimed the right of self-determination. The clearest case was that of Finland, which had always since its acquisition by Russia in the eighteenth century protested against its loss of independence. In Esthonia and Latvia, which had passed under the Russian yoke during the same period, the native movement was complicated by the class ambitions of the German barons; and there was a confused triangular struggle between German, Russian, and native influences, in which the interests and the principles of the Conference obviously lay on the side of the native party. The situation was more obscure in Lithuania. It had been bound by a personal union of its sovereign with Poland since 1370 and by a legislative union since 1569. There had been no conquest on either side any more than there had been in the personal and legislative unions of England and Scotland in 1603 and 1707; and


A Short History of the Great War - 60/63

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