Statesmen of the War in Retrospect
DOES THE NAME "PACHITCH" MEAN "SON OF A PASHA"?
The admirers of Nicolas Pachitch will not admit this; according to them, he is descended from an old Serbian family in which there is no trace of Turkish blood. Such an origin, or at least, this surname that was given to one of his ancestors, would however explain Nicolas Pachitch's despotic and imperious nature and the way in which, for twenty years, he ruled his little nation with a rod of iron.
Pachitch, as is frequently the case with statesmen, entered politics through a revolution. When he was a student at the École Polytechnique in Zürich he became friends with the famous Russian anarchist Bakunine, but his manner of thinking was not that of an anarchist. Pachitch was of peasant stock, that is to say, he had an instinctive leaning towards democracy and social conservatism. It was the Swiss institutions that made the deeper impression upon him at a time when his political ideas were forming.
Upon his return to Serbia, at the age of thirty, he found the country under the sway of a corrupt and autocratic regime. King Milan was a tyrant to his subjects and a servant to the Hapsburgs. He was in the pay of Austria against Russia and sacrificed, without regret, his country's independence in order to be able to reign as he pleased.
Pachitch passionately opposed this régime. In the first place he hated the autocrat, for it is always home questions that excite the greatest interest. But he saw that King Milan's power depended entirely upon support from the court in Vienna and he set about finding his weak spot in the sphere of foreign policy. The nation's patriotism was his weapon against a king in foreign pay.
Pachitch felt, with a sure political instinct, that Serbia, poor and defenseless as she was, had much to fear from Austria-Hungary, by whom she was geographically surrounded and who controlled her economically. Austria had only to close her frontiers to Serbian pigs in order to ruin the Serbian peasants; she had only to stop the transit of Serbian goods by means of prohibitive tariffs in order to cut Serbia off from the sea. If Serbia wished to live in freedom she must seek protection outside Austria-Hungary. Where should she find it if not in the great Slavonic power, Russia!
The game of politics is not always played according to rules of logic. Russia, whose mere name, at that time, was almost synonymous with autocracy and imperialism, came, by the force of circumstances, to represent in Serbia the hope of patriots and democrats. In his hatred of autocracy Pachitch appealed to the autocratic Tsar to help him against King Milan.
King Milan stood for a policy of servility with regard to Austria and, at the same time, for a policy of despotism with regard to his subjects. In 1880, Pachitch founded the Serbian Radical Party against him; in 1881, he started a paper, the Samouprava; and in 1883, he resorted to rebellion.
He was defeated and forced to flee, but upon King Milan's abdication in 1889 was able to return. He was elected deputy in Belgrade and quickly became the head of the government, in which capacity he accompanied the new King, Alexander, to St. Petersburg. He returned to the Russian capital during the following year as ambassador. The dealings he had with the Russian political leaders at this time and the friends he made stood him in good stead throughout his entire career and had a far-reaching effect upon European politics.
From the beginning of his reign in 1894, the young King, who was then eighteen years of age, behaved foolishly. He declared himself to be of age, caused his ministers to be arrested, suspended the constitution and recalled his father. Pachitch once more joined the opposition, and in 1899 he was involved in an attack upon King Milan. He was sentenced to death and owed his life to an imperious intervention on the part of Russia, insuring him first freedom and then amnesty.
On the night of June 11th, 1903, King Alexander was secretly assassinated in his palace by some officers who could no longer tolerate his absolutist caprices. Neither Pachitch nor Peter Karageorgevitch was in any way concerned in this plot, but both were to profit by it.
King Peter had passed his years of exile in Geneva; there he had taken a keen interest in public affairs and had learned to appreciate the value of democratic institutions. A wave of nationalist reaction against his predecessor's too pro-Austrian policy had brought him to the throne; there was more than one reason why he should find himself in sympathy with the democratic and pro-Russian Pachitch. From 1904, the latter became the moving spirit in Serbian policy and controlled it, as President of the Council, upon four different occasions. Until the end of his life the King gave his unreserved support to the Radical Party and identified himself with its leaders' policy.
With regard to home affairs, Pachitch instituted a regime of rural democracy, admirably suited to the country's social position, Serbia being a land of small estates. But it was despotic and military in its democracy. It was despotic in accordance with Pachitch's own nature. Controlling the elections, and controlling the King's mind, he systematically kept his opponents out of power and refused, even during the War, to allow them any share of responsibility. He was a partisan in the fullest meaning of the term, and his first care, even in the midst of his country's misfortunes, was to place or save his friends.
Pachitch's régime was also a military regime. This was on account of its origin; the revolution that had placed King Peter on the throne had been a coup d'état, carried out by some officers; the army was the only organized force in the country and Pachitch tended to be influenced by it and to pursue a nationalist policy abroad.
The period of ten years between King Peter's accession and the assassination of Archduke Francis-Ferdinand was marked in Serbia by increasingly strained relations with Austria-Hungary. The idea of relying upon Russia, a far-off and disinterested power, in order to free herself from subjection to Austria-Hungary, both close at hand and threatening, was, as has been observed, perfectly sound from the Serbian national point of view. But there was an element of danger in such a policy since it must of necessity disturb Austria-Hungary.
In the first place it was alarming from a diplomatic and military point of view. Austria met Russia on her northern frontier; if this should also be the case, through Serbia, on her southern frontier, there was the danger that one day she might find herself caught in a vice. Austria's determination to destroy this trap before it could close upon her was perhaps the main cause of the European war.
The government of Austria-Hungary also found Serbia's pro-Russian policy alarming from the point of view of the internal cohesion of the monarchy. Upon seeing Serbia follow an independent policy, the Jugo-Slav nations in the Dual Monarchy began to turn their attention to her. A certain degree of uneasiness was felt in Vienna on account of this sympathy with an enemy of the state, and the Serbian government was held responsible. There was a growing feeling at Vienna that Serbia's ambition was to play the rôle of Piedmont in the Balkans.
Austria-Hungary's displeasure increased in 1912, when Serbia threw herself into the Balkan war without permission from the government in Vienna. The great Serbian victories, first over Turkey, then over Bulgaria, and the immense increase in territory thus gained, aroused enthusiasm among the Jugo-Slav parties in the monarchy and alarm in Vienna. In all probability the decision of the Ballplatz to destroy Serbia dates from this moment.
It would be unjust to assert that the responsibility for the European war lies upon Pachitch and his country. The accusations leveled against them in this connection by Austria-Hungary have never been supported by a shred of evidence. The suggestion that the Serbian government was concerned in the outrage at Serajevo is entirely unfounded.. The extreme moderation of its reply to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum is a matter of common knowledge. Pachitch did all that lay in his power to avoid war; it was forced upon him by Austria's blindness.
However, his people justly regard him as the author of his country's present greatness, for his name must always be remembered in connection with the Balkan alliance of 1912 and the pro-Russian trend of Serbian policy. It was he who, supported by the King and the army, advocated military preparation. It was he again who, in 1914, had the courage to say no to Austria. In all probability, but for his energy, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes would not exist to-day.
History is a strange thing. What numbers of statesmen have failed to achieve their aim, and how many others have achieved aims they did not seek! Pachitch is to be found among the latter, for whereas as a patriot he most ardently desired to create a Great Serbia, it was against his will that he lent his name to the creation of a state that did not represent his ideal---the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
One day, during the exile of the Serbian government and army, the French minister in Athens called upon Peter, the aged King of Serbia, at Chalkis. He found a poor old man, shrunken and shriveled, whose eyes alone were youthful, full of fire and life. He was living on the first floor in a second-rate villa with a marvelous view. When the diplomat entered his presence, the King fell upon his neck, saying, "In you I embrace your generous and wonderful France." Then after a silence, almost in tears, he added, "For Serbia, all is over."
"How can you say that, Sire!" replied the minister. "Serbia is at the beginning, her future lies before her. The number of your subjects is increasing. . . ."
The King sharply interrupted him, his eyes blazing, "No! What are they, those people? They are slaves! The free men, the Serbs are dead!"
Pachitch thought the same. His patriotism was exclusively Serbian. His dream had been to unite all the Serbs in a single nation. He did not wish to unite with the Croats, who were Roman Catholics, with the Slovenes, who spoke a foreign language, he did not wish to unite with people who had not made any sacrifice for the defence of their common country, who had fought against the Serbs, who were not used to independence and to whom liberty was strange.
Nevertheless, he did unite with these people, although against his will. He was forced to do so on account of the terrible reverses of the Serbian army, when what remained of it was obliged to retreat through a country devoid of roads or supplies. This was one of the most difficult retreats in history.
These two great old men, King Peter and Nicolas Pachitch, both undaunted in spirit though one was broken in health, were called upon to suffer greatly at this time. At Corfu, where the Serbian government had taken refuge, in a country that was morally hostile, dissension had broken out among the refugees. A terrible conspiracy had been formed in the army, against the leader of the government and the Crown Prince. It had to be suppressed. It was Pachitch himself who gave the order to execute the ringleader, a very popular colonel. He made an attempt to carry on parliament but was defeated. The opposition held him responsible for all the nation's misfortunes. Being unable to form another government, he had to keep in power without any legal right to do so.
It will easily be understood that in such conditions, dependent upon the powers for the safety of her army, for her supplies, for her finances and for her hopes in the future, the Serbian government could not refuse the proposals put forward by the Allied cabinets. It was then that the Czecho-Slovak Legion was formed in France; after having hesitated for a long time, the Allies had finally decided to break up Austria-Hungary. They intended to use the different nationalities as an explosive to destroy the empire of the Hapsburgs and to overthrow the central empires coalition. Willing or unwilling, Pachitch was obliged to carry out his part in the affair.
This is what made him conclude the Corfu Agreement with the Croat and Slovene emigrants in 1917, take part in the Conference of Oppressed Nationalities in Rome in 1918 and sign the Charter of the Constitution of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, drawn up in Geneva in October, 1918.
But Nicolas Pachitch could not put his heart into the affair. His vocabulary did not contain the word "Jugo-Slav" and the shrewd observer suspected that at the back of his mind lay the idea of turning the new state into a Greater Serbia. It was not a case of a true union of peoples upon the basis of equality, but of certain peoples being freed, almost conquered by certain others.
Pachitch was the president of his country's delegation at the Peace Conference. He was not a great diplomat. With his height and flowing white beard, that were so impressive at the great assemblies of Serbian peasants, he was out of his element in the Paris salons. Speaking no other language than his own, he found it difficult to get into touch with the statesmen from other countries, and rather than controlling events was carried along by them.
Circumstances are often stronger than human desires. It was fated that this man, whose instinct was for secret diplomacy and for old-fashioned methods, who brought into international politics his peasant's habits and his Oriental political attitude, should by the force of circumstances play the part of a great man ardently supporting the rights of peoples.
He was doubly fortunate at this moment. In the first place, he had a very able diplomat to help him, Vesnitch, whose wife was American and knew Mrs. Wilson intimately. This fact gave Serbia a direct means of conveying her desires to the President.
But he was still more fortunate in that he found himself in sympathy with the Wilsonian principles. His was not intellectual sympathy, for Pachitch, who always remained an Oriental at heart, certainly had no very clear understanding of the peoples' right of self-determination. But he was in sympathy with Wilson with regard to facts, the President's principles being providentially favorable to Serbian interests.
Serbia alone, of all the Allies, had not signed any secret treaty during the course of the War. She had been too weak, just as the United States had been too strong. She had treated with none, had concluded no private agreement, had negotiated with none and had refused to consider any suggestions made to her. She had no text to quote, indeed texts were quoted against her. By the Treaty of London, Italy was to receive Dalmatia, the population of which was Croat, with the exception of the middle classes in some of the towns; Rumania was to have the Banat, the population of which was Serbian. These were the claims that Pachitch had to oppose.
These treaties had never been officially submitted to Serbia, and in order to reassure her she had always been told that they did not bind her. Serbia was, therefore, in the same position with regard to these treaties as America; it was in order to explain this to President Wilson that Vesnitch specially went to Washington before the Peace Conference. Fortunately, his mission was successful.
President Wilson realized that the Adriatic question would be the touchstone for his principles. He had already given up a great deal; he felt that if he were to yield once more it would be fatal to his authority. He could not recognize the Treaty of London without being obliged to recognize a whole series of other treaties; he could not accept Italy's strategic arguments without endangering peace upon a series of other frontiers.
Fortunately for the Jugo-Slavs the Italians made two serious mistakes at that time. The first was to sink the Viribus Unitis, the best ship in the Austro-Hungarian fleet (it happened to be in Serbia's hands), the day after the Armistice was declared. This was a deliberate act of war among allies. The second was not to know upon what to base their claims of territory and to rely first upon treaties and then upon economic and strategic arguments, so that they could always be refuted upon one question by statements they had made with regard to another.
Moreover, it was not a case of argument. President Wilson had already been convinced, less by the Serbians themselves than by his own experts. Once his mind was made up there was nothing to do but to allow him to act and to wait. The Italians became impatient; the Jugo-Slavs were able to keep calm. Pachitch's great quality throughout his whole life was patience. "His life," writes Alfred Mousset, "is an example of perseverance, the expression of unshaken purpose backed by unfailing health. He suffered reverses, was imprisoned, exiled and sentenced to death, took part in the retreat. through Albania, but never knew one moment's doubt."
The Jugo-Slav delegation was not entirely successful in Paris. It was unable to prevent the annexation by Italy of large areas of Slav territory or to obtain for the population the benefit of a minority régime. It was at least able to prevent Dalmatia from being attached to Italy and to delay the decision concerning the fate of Fiume. Taking the political circumstances into account, it must be admitted that Serbia benefited considerably by President Wilson's protection and by the application of his principles.
Upon his return home, Pachitch set about drawing up the constitution of the new state. This was to be his last great piece of political work; unfortunately, it came too late, at the end of his life. No man of seventy-five can be expected to have much political imagination or to be very adaptable. Pachitch was a Serb; he had been passionately attached to Serbia and had devoted his life to her. He knew what sacrifices his people had made and valued their good qualities; he trusted them implicitly.
He did not appreciate the other Jugo-Slav nations in the same way; he had not the same confidence in them. As a democrat, he looked upon the Austrian Slavs as people who were unaccustomed to independence, who had no experience as members of a state and had no democratic traditions. He could see only one thing, namely, that after having freed these people, Serbia still had to educate them.
But these people considered themselves superior to the Serbs, both on account of their Western culture and the quality of their administration. Under Austrian rule they had been accustomed to despise the Serbs and were not at all ready to be governed by them. One of them said later, having lost all patience in the struggle, "We have exchanged Germany for Turkey."
The natural political form for a state so constituted would have been federalism. Federalism requires two conditions: common patriotism and ethnic differences. These two conditions were to be found in the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes immediately after the War. A far-seeing statesman would have been able to found a united and prosperous state upon such a basis. But Pachitch did not trust the patriotism of the Croats and the Slovenes. He thought that the unity of the country could only be assured by centralization and by concentrating all the power in Belgrade.
This was Pachitch's last mistake. The country that had grown so much larger was no longer his country. He could not realize this. He had never made a mistake in psychology with regard to the Serbs; he knew them and could read their minds. But he did not understand the Croats and allowed their first friendly feelings to degenerate into impatience and anger.
The last years of his life were marked by very violent political storms, but Pachitch no longer realized their full significance. He was still the leader in a country where men of character were rare, in a country for whose welfare he had struggled all through his life, and he lent his name to a policy the true importance of which he failed to understand. When he died on December 10th, 1926, the death of the man who had been everything to the state barely made a ripple upon the surface of the water.
BISMARCK ONCE SAID OF HIS SUCCESSOR, GENERAL VON Caprivi, "He might be worse; wait until there is a bureaucrat at the head of the government, then Prussia's fate will be sealed." This bureaucrat was Von Bethmann-Hollweg.
Bismarck knew what the German constitution was, since he had made it to suit himself. He knew what responsibilities it laid upon the Chancellor and thought that only a man of his own calibre could carry such a burden. He knew from personal experience in 1870, how the civil authorities were hampered by the powerful military traditions of the Hohenzollerns and how he had needed all his strength to oppose those traditions. Moreover, he had no illusions as to William II's desire for personal power, and he foresaw the misfortunes it must bring upon Germany. The bureaucrat he had in mind was the type of man who would not be strong enough to withstand both the Emperor and his generals combined.
Events followed exactly as he had foretold. William II tried to govern alone. In 1908, after the interview by the Daily Telegraph, Prince von Bülow attempted to take the reins of the government into his own hands. William II deeply resented his action and at once began to look for some one to succeed him. His choice fell upon Von Bethmann-Hollweg. In his memoirs, William II explains why he chose Von Bethmann-Hollweg as his Chancellor. In 1877, he was billeted as an officer on Herr von Bethmann, senior, at Hohenfinow: "I felt drawn," he says, "to this intimate friendly circle presided over by worthy Frau von Bethmann, a pleasant and tactful woman of Swiss origin. Both as prince and emperor, I frequently went back to stay at Hohenfinow. I was always received by the young deputy-prefect of the district and so learned to know him and more and more to appreciate his capacity for work, his brains and his character. His qualities remained unchanged throughout the whole of his career."
Von Bethmann-Hollweg remained what he was, a Prussian civil servant, until the end of his days; he rose through various stages of promotion from referendar to assessor, government counsellor, president, chief president, secretary of state, to Chancellor, and he looked at life only through administrative papers. He was elected as deputy to the Reichstag in 1890, but was obliged to resign suddenly, in order to avoid being disqualified. With the exception of the year during which he was a provincial governor, Von Bethmann-Hollweg always lived in the shadow of the imperial palaces at Potsdam and Berlin. If the decision had rested only with William II, he would have been a minister in 1901. An administrator rather than a statesman, deeply attached to the country in which he was born and that he had always governed, Von Bethmann-Hollweg's first care was the good will of his master. The career of a civil servant trains a man to obey rather than to command. This is expressed in his family motto: "Ego et domus mea serviemus domino." He was the typical servant, loyal and short-sighted.
Tired of having too gifted and too brilliant a collaborator, who threatened his own authority, William II appointed Von Bethmann-Hollweg to restore the royal prestige. There was never any misunderstanding upon this point between the Emperor and his Chancellor; the latter fully realized that he had been appointed to obey.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg had too high an idea of his duties to be regarded as a mere figurehead, puppet or buffer. Moreover, William II was not a hard worker and left a good deal to his subordinates. Von Bethmann-Hollweg had been appointed in reaction against the system of Prince von Bülow, whose policy was that the government should obtain the support of the Reichstag. From the beginning, he put himself, both by design and by necessity, above parties, without support from anywhere unless it be from his sovereign. He was the favorite, and all his power depended upon that fact.
As much upon this account as by his natural loyalty, Von Bethmann-Hollweg found himself obliged to take the responsibility for an unstable and capricious policy with which he was often not in sympathy. To quote but a few examples, in such incidents as William II's assertion of his divine right at Konigsberg, his theocratic appeal to the monks of Beuron, his threat at Strasburg against the rights of the Alsatians ("I will smash them to bits," he said), the Chancellor invariably took all the responsibility upon himself.
There was nobility in such unswerving loyalty, but it sometimes led Von Bethmann-Hollweg into awkward contradictions.
I can see him now, in the Reichstag during the discussion of the Franco-German Morocco agreement, his tall thin figure accentuated by a somewhat tight-fitting frock-coat that flapped round his calves, as swaying slightly to and fro, he made a monotonous speech devoid of rhetoric but clear and to the point. A sudden tremor went through the crowded hall. Von Bethmann-Hollweg had turned towards the Right and pointing at the Conservative leader, Von Heydebrandt, he exclaimed: "I dislike people who always carry their swords in their mouths."
This remark caused a sensation. It not only stood out against the dull background of Von Bethmann-Hollweg's speech, but it particularly contrasted with his policy of seeking the support of the Nationalists and the Agrarians.
The explanation of the incident was to be found in the New Palace where Von Bethmann-Hollweg had dined. The day before, the Conservative leader had made a fiercely nationalist speech in the Reichstag. The Crown Prince had purposely left his quarters and had ostentatiously applauded him, tapping his white gloves on the red velvet edge of the royal box. William II cared little for his son and much disliked Heydebrandt, who was known as "the uncrowned king"; he was enraged at the incident. It was he, who, while smoking after dinner, had used the expression: "carry their swords in their mouths" that Von Bethmann-Hollweg had repeated in the Reichstag in order to flatter his sovereign at the risk of compromising his parliamentary position.
I remember another sitting, this time in the pale green hall in the Prussian Diet. The Socialist leader, Herr Scheidemann, his bald head shining in the light from the window, had just said, in one of those flights of coldly calculated and previously prepared rhetoric of which he was the master: "It is a tradition among the Hohenzollerns to break one's word." Confusion followed. The deputies on the Right leapt to their feet, shouting and gesticulating, while Von Bethmann-Hollweg, white with rage, towered above them all.
The Chancellor was not the man to subdue a troublesome majority. He had neither the necessary faults nor strength. He could be eloquent, he expressed himself clearly, and what he said was sound, but he lacked warmth and brilliance. He taught his audiences and sometimes was able to convince them, but he never carried them away. He was never in touch with them, he had no magnetism or vivacity, he was impersonal and reserved and, although his logic was excellent, he had no influence on assemblies. He was shy and appeared proud; he looked uninteresting. With his taste for philosophy and his scholarly mind he was ill-equipped for the work of a leader and man of action. His career is marked by indecision and contradictions.
This is why he continually allowed difficulties to increase because he did not foresee them in time and why he was finally overwhelmed by pan-Germanism, the existence of which he had always denied.
The war found him, as always, a prey to external and conflicting forces. He controlled nothing and submitted to everything. The history of this period could be written without mentioning the name of the Chancellor of the German empire. The generals, the admirals, Tirpitz, the military cabinet, the ambassadors, Tschirschky and Pourtalés were all eager for war. Lichnowsky was against it. The Emperor became excited and sent telegrams. And what of Von Bethmann-Hollweg? Did he even know of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia? He said not. Was he informed of the telegrams sent to William II by the Tsar? Some are missing in the diplomatic records. When the Lokal Anzeiger prematurely announced general mobilization, did Von Bethmann-Hollweg know that the decision had actually been taken, the night before, and cancelled? He formally denied it. The whole world thought that this government was a model of organization, that the machine ran without a hitch---and the head was absent!
The fact is that from this moment the real power lay in the hands of the military authorities, and in the army Bethmann had only to obey.
I remember perfectly the opening of the Reichstag, in 1912, in the White Hall of the Royal Palace. There was nothing military in the ceremony; however, and this is sufficient to show the character of a régime, the, Chancellor of the empire was in uniform. Von Bethmann held the rank of major. The Emperor hastily promoted him to that of general so that he might hold his own, but senior generals took precedence before him. I still see in my mind's eye, the symbolic picture of the highest civil servant in Germany standing to attention!
This scene suffices to explain what took place at the beginning and during the course of the War.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg, who was in possession of all the diplomatic documents, could not believe the story that Germany was attacked. He knew that this was not the case. The military authorities, however, were convinced that Russia and France were preparing war for 1916 or 1917. At this date the Russo-German commercial treaty was to expire and the great Russian railway programme was to be completed. M. Poincaré was reputed to have said: "I shall have my war in 1916!"
It was on such flimsy evidence that the German military authorities had decided that they must take the initiative and declare war before their enemies were ready. The task of explaining this to the German people they generously left to Von Bethmann-Hollweg.
The Chancellor could not state publicly that this was a preventive war. Bismarck had formerly said, "A preventive war would be a crime." This remark was in all the papers and in every one's mind. How could he tell the people that it was precisely such a war that they were invited to undertake! Von Bethmann-Hollweg dared not tell them. He preferred to say that Germany was attacked. From that moment he forsook the truth and was lost.
If one tells the truth one must tell the whole truth; if one lies one must lie thoroughly. Von Bethmann was incapable of either. Among all the official falsehoods he was obliged to tell it is the two occasions upon which he told the truth that will blacken his name in history.
He had tried to oppose the violation of Belgian neutrality. The military authorities did not allow him to speak. When a country goes to war it must win; nothing else counts. What business was it of his with his fears and scruples? England? She will not budge.
Von Bethmann went to the Reichstag. And after announcing that the German troops were at that moment crossing the Belgian frontier, he added with sudden sincerity, "When the war is over Germany will make amends for the wrong she is doing to Belgium." It is this admission that the majority of the German people have not forgiven him and will never forgive him.
He then retired to his room, where a few hours later he received the Ambassador of Great Britain, who had come to bring him England's declaration of war.
Confusion reigned in the Wilhelmstrasse during the last days of July, 1914. Every one was disclaiming responsibility. Officials who were normally most friendly seemed to have lost their reason; one of the most courteous attacked me as the correspondent of a French paper, declaring: "It is all your fault!"
It is easy, when one has lived through tense moments, to imagine the celebrated scene that took place in the Chancellor's room on August 4th, 1914. Sir Edward Goschen found Von Bethmann-Hollweg in a state of agitation and excitement quite unlike his usual demeanor. Upon seeing him, the German Chancellor, with a break in his voice, exclaimed, "You won't do that . . . for a scrap of paper!" This phrase will be a blot upon his name for all time and the world will always see in it the unvarnished admission of an appalling state of mind.
The fundamental cause of the war of 1914 was the gulf that had slowly opened between the moral evolution of the German people and that of the western countries. In France and England pacifist propaganda had penetrated deeply among the masses and war was to them a horrible crime. Germany however was still in the state of mind of 1814 or 1870. War had saved the country and its unity. Germany feared war, she did not hate it; it did not appall her.
This is the state of mind expressed by Von Bethmann-Hollweg when he referred to international treaties as "scraps of paper." In his eyes there could be nothing more important than the welfare of the state. He was a century behind the moral evolution of humanity.
From this moment onwards Von Bethmann-Hollweg's life became a calvary. Those who came into contact with him during the War met a stooping, gray-haired, broken man: a "knight of the rueful countenance." He seemed to have a load upon his conscience. He was caught in the machinery he had set going. He saw all the political mistakes made by the military authorities and was powerless to prevent them.
The most serious mistake was to declare unrestricted submarine warfare. Von Bethmann-Hollweg saw clearly that it would result in bringing America into the War. For two years, 1915 and 1916, he was able to use his influence with the Emperor to prevent him from supporting this policy. Von Tirpitz, who hated him, the admirals, Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorf, in common with all the German Nationalists, looked upon him at that time as one who opposed victory, almost as a traitor.
At the beginning of 1917, he was forced to give way to the Emperor's military advisers and the Reichstag. But in his opinion, if the submarine campaign was to be effective, it had to be short and should quickly bring about a negotiated peace. Upon these grounds he tried, in agreement with the Reichstag, to obtain peace in July, 1917.
He made use of the two great international forces, Socialism and Catholicism. The Stockholm conference failed. Then the leader of the Catholic party, Erzberger, went to Munich, where he saw the Nuncio, and to Vienna, where he was received by the Emperor. The result was the peace resolution voted by the Reichstag.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg once more came into conflict with the Supreme Command of the army, and this time his resignation was demanded. The Crown Prince left his army and established himself in Berlin, at whose request none knew. He then summoned Hindenburg and Ludendorf, who began to negotiate and govern over the Chancellor's head. Authority went to pieces, the Emperor was entirely eclipsed, and Von Bethmann-Hollweg ceased to exist. Some one asked to whom he should apply in a certain matter. "Apply to whom you choose," was the reply. "We have no government."
It was rumored for five days among circles on the Right that the Emperor would abdicate in favor of his son. In order to retain a shadow of authority William II decided to sacrifice his most faithful adviser, that is to say, in effect, to commit suicide.
The German military authorities needed a scapegoat. They wanted some one upon whom to cast their overwhelming responsibilities. They found such a man in Von Bethmann-Hollweg, the man who had declared to the world that the violation of Belgian neutrality was a crime, who had opposed the submarine campaign, who had promised the German people universal suffrage and whose pacifism and "defeatism" stood in the way of victory.
Von Bethmann-Hollweg resigned from his office without one word of thanks either from his sovereign for whom he had sacrificed everything, or from his people. And history will lay upon him the burden of his own mistakes and of the mistakes of others.
NOT ENOUGH IS KNOWN ABOUT THE CAREER OF COUNT TISZA, for it teaches some moral and political lessons of moment. One lesson is that you may have a great and admirable personality and yet be a bad statesman: you need more than a pure conscience to govern a country. Another is that you may carry the sentiment of duty to the point of heroism and yet bring down upon your race an infinity of ills. A third is that the instinctive convictions of Tisza's compatriots as to his responsibility for the War had more of essential truth in them than those historic documents which prove that the War came against his will.
Count Tisza belonged to a landowning family of Magyar source and Calvinistic conviction. This origin explains his character.
Hungary has been ruled from the first by a very restricted oligarchy, and is still. When one ministry resigns, they ask in Budapest: "Which Count will take office?" Tisza's title was of recent date. His father had refused it when it was offered by Francis-Joseph, and he himself inherited it from an uncle in 1897. But his family was of very ancient lineage; it had had great military traditions and in the course of time had amassed considerable wealth. It used to be said of all the Tiszas---and this was particularly true of the last of them---that they had three ruling passions: horses, politics and the Bible!
Count Tisza was a feudal aristocrat in every sense of the term. He was a man of his own caste and placed confidence always in his peers. He had no love either for Count Czernin or for Count Karolyi, but to win Tisza's trust it sufficed that one or the other pledged his word. He ruled his own home and his tenantry in patriarchal fashion. He was fond of the people but never understood their actual needs; in a more democratic state, there would certainly have been no possibility of a public career for him. Even at the height of his power he was unpopular.
Count Tisza's personality was not fascinating or endearing, but it was strong and dominating. Even the most important men felt small in his presence. Behind the thick glasses which he had worn ever since an operation for cataract, his blue eyes seemed to pierce like steel. Frederic Naumann, who was one of the best known politicians in Germany towards the end of last century, stuttered and stammered the first time he was presented to Tisza, and he was trembling like a leaf after the interview was over. "Since Bismarck," one of Tisza's biographers has remarked, "nobody has made so strong a personal impression upon people."
The comparison comes naturally, for Tisza always had an unbounded admiration for Bismarck. Unless I am mistaken, the only book he wrote in the whole course of his career was the one entitled "From Sadowa to Sedan," and it was devoted to a glorification of Bismarck. One cannot say whether he consciously took the great Chancellor for his model and political inspiration, but it is certain that many episodes in his life could not be properly understood if one were unaware of his feelings in regard to Bismarck and to Prussia.
And yet, for all his German sympathies, Tisza, we must not forget, was a Magyar; he belonged to one of the most powerful races of Europe. The Hungarians like to say of themselves that they are a "Race of Rulers." There is no good cause for boasting in that, because it is the source of all their woes, but it is true. And when we see a Magyar who is at the same time a feudal noble, we may be sure that we have before us a fine specimen of the ruler type.
Now, this particular feudal Magyar was a Protestant. He belonged to that section of the Magyar race which had remained the most undiluted and which by tradition was the most uncompromising in its nationalism. The Catholics have sometimes come to terms with the Court of Vienna and thus experienced the infiltration of western blood into their veins. The Protestants, never; they would have preferred to ally themselves with the Grand Turk!
The Calvinistic element in Tisza is to be found in his principles, his sense of duty and his absolute loyalty---the quality which Francis-Joseph most appreciated in his servants and which attached him to Tisza more than to any other Hungarian statesman.
On several occasions Count Tisza displayed his lack of political vision, psychological insight, understanding of men. But no one ever questioned his upright character; his life, like his death, set a fine example. His opponents sometimes called him derisively "the Man of the Bible." Could higher praise have been accorded him?
Hard with himself, Tisza was equally hard with others. Once certain members of his party had complained that he was neglecting them. He made this profound answer: "What would become of me if I had to be amiable even to my friend?" But this stiffness of his was not from hardness of heart. His sense of duty was not without a tender side to it. While he was ill once during the War, he ceased entirely to give attention to affairs of state---except for one single matter: he made his secretary come to his bedroom every day with the applications from war widows which needed signature by the head of the government. One morning a great personage called to see him on a matter of importance. He was given this astonishing reply: "His Excellency cannot come at once as he is busy massaging his valet!"
When one has come to realize these outstanding features of the man---the Magyar, the Calvinist, the aristocrat---one is able to see how Tisza's political career outlined itself clearly and logically, without hesitation or inconsistency.
His father had been President of the Council in Hungary for fifteen consecutive years, from 1875 to 1890. This greatly facilitated his own political début and he was elected deputy in 1886 at the age of twenty-five. At first he was regarded merely as the inheritor of the name. But his father had once remarked: "You will soon see for yourselves, my son is a very different man from me." And this was the truth. For the father had been, above all, an opportunist and a sceptic, and the son was a rod of iron.
He did not, however, abandon his father's policy of loyalty to the Austrian throne and close relations with Austria. On the contrary, he pursued it with much more thoroughness and force of character. And (what was surprising and destined to have a tragic aspect to it), he did so in the full conviction that his efforts were in vain.
In his view the Dual Monarchy was necessary to Hungary as the only means of ensuring her independence and integrity. Tisza cherished no illusions regarding the sentiments of the other races of Hungary towards the Magyar domination. Therefore he saw in the King the only link which could hold together these mutually hostile peoples. On the other hand, Hungary was necessary to the monarchy, of which it was the healthiest and strongest element. Tisza had no understanding or admiration for anything but force; force was with him a dogma. Hungary needed the monarchy, and the monarchy needed Hungary, if both were to be strong. Within the monarchy, it was necessary that Hungary should dominate because she alone was strong. In other words, it was essential not to touch what Tisza regarded as the very basis of the state: the army.
Tisza saw the World War coming sooner than any other European statesman. He saw it too soon, at a moment when his foresight had in it less of vision than of imagination. "For twelve years past," he wrote in 1889, "we have been more or less threatened by a European war. This war will be no child's play; it is possible that it will decide whether the Hungarian nation shall live or die." That was the reason why he always resisted anything that could weaken or jeopardize the army.
In this fashion it came about that the ardent Magyar patriot seemed at certain moments almost a traitor in the eyes of his countrymen. While the whole Hungarian people insisted that Magyar should be the language of the army, he alone accepted the view of the King that there should be but one army language---that the army must not be divided in two. At a time when the army was unpopular in Hungary, because it was thought of as the King's army, as a means of Germanization and an asset of Austrian imperialism, he alone was in favor of its being developed and increased. In the eyes of the people, his own people whom he loved and whose welfare he had at heart in his own way, he appeared as homo regius, the king's man. He would not hear of universal suffrage, for the people in his view were not sufficiently educated. The Nationalists, the party of Kossuth, demanded universal suffrage so that they might be able to impose the will of the people upon the King. Tisza, on the contrary, championed the Crown unceasingly, unshakingly. During a great part of his political career, this great patriot, this statesman whose memory is now venerated, could scarcely issue forth from his house without encountering threats and jeers.
The tragic element in his attitude was that he had no real belief in it himself: "Throughout twenty bitter years," he once wrote, "I have been tortured by the thought that this monarchy was destined to ruin and, with it, the Hungarian nation!" What is one to say about a man who combined in himself heroism enough and blindness enough to pursue throughout twenty years a policy based upon a supposition which he believed false and which throughout all this time was preparing the way for a war which he ought to have known must be a catastrophe?
Force may perhaps be justified in the case of the strong. The monarchy was not strong. Tisza knew that his efforts to strengthen the army had failed; he knew that a state to which the people is not attached is weak. Yet he did not cease to act as if this state and this army were capable of defying the centuries and of moving mountains.
To Tisza's upright and thoroughgoing character mere opportunist moves were repugnant. A poor psychologist, he did not understand men or how to use them. Not being naturally eloquent, and impressing others only by reason of the infectious force of his convictions and sincerity, he disdained parliamentary tactics, for which he had no talent and which would have been a concession to democracy. Throughout his whole career he always made frontal attacks upon all his difficulties.
Against his people, to whom he was bound by every fibre in his soul, Tisza carried on a continual warfare of coups d'état. In 1904, in order to overcome obstruction in Parliament, he had a new regulation carried en bloc by the vote of a majority devoted to him. The only effect of this was to unite all the parties of the opposition into a bloc which won a crushing victory over him in the election of 1905.
After this set-back, Tisza disappeared from the political scene for several years. Like Cincinnatus, he devoted himself to agriculture. But in 1912 he became President of the Chamber. Now came another coup d'état! In order to overcome the resistance of the Opposition he called in the police and had the Chamber cleared. A deputy then proceeded to fire at him three times with a revolver. There were several persons wounded, but Tisza was untouched: "Gentlemen," he said, "the sitting will continue."
He had put himself in the wrong, legally and politically. Legally he had violated the constitution; politically he had once more provoked his opponents and rendered all coöperation between the Hungarian parties impossible in the future. This mistake was to bear ill fruit during the War. Hungary through Tisza's action was one of the few belligerent countries in which it was impossible to bring about a truce between parties and to create a united national government.
On June 7th, 1913, Count Tisza regained power. This man whose figure dominated modern Hungary was only twice at the head of the government and only for brief periods on each occasion---on the first only for some months, on the second for three years---but the importance of events cannot be gauged by their duration. Tisza was Prime Minister of Hungary when the Archduke Francis-Ferdinand was assassinated on June 28th, 1914.
Tisza saw at once that war might ensue and he immediately expressed this view to the King. In the council held by the King on July 5th, 1914, at which the final decisions were taken, he alone, in opposition to all the other members present, set his face against war.
We must try to understand his motives. Tisza, we know, had seen the war coming. He had regarded it as inevitable. Perhaps, as a Christian, he was against it, but he did not, imagine he could prevent it. He was in the same state of mind as his colleagues. They all believed the war to be inevitable and they wished to choose the right moment for it. It was precisely as to the rightness of the moment that Tisza disagreed with them.
It was said that Tisza's only objection was in respect to the date. The Hungarian people, he is supposed to have argued, cannot enter into the war until the crops have been cut and harvested. This statement of his position is not altogether accurate. He did, indeed, make the remark attributed to him and it was duly noted. It was this remark, even more than President Poincaré's visit to Petrograd, that had the effect of postponing for some days or some weeks the beginning of the dreadful butchery.
But even when he had carried this point, Count Tisza was not won over. When a state is waging a defensive war, it should choose both its moment and its pretext. The pretext in this case seemed to Tisza badly chosen; the proof of the Serbian government's complicity in the Serajevo murder was not sufficiently established. From a military standpoint, Austria-Hungary was not ready; its army was mediocre, inadequately equipped, badly organized. Diplomatically, the preparations had been no better---they could count on neither Italy nor Rumania. Finally, this war would be purposeless.
What was it intended to do about Serbia? Geographically, that country could only be united with Hungary.
The Hungarians had no wish for it. They had their hands full enough with their Croats.
Events were to show how completely Count Tisza was right. But he was not listened to. Count Berchtold took it on himself to refute his diplomatic objections, Marshal Conrad dealt with his military objections, and the Joint Minister of Finance, M. Bilinski, backed them up. The Emperor gave his signature.
History has its paradoxes. Count Berchtold was a man of sceptical temperament, alert and wary. Tisza was of the authoritative type, lacking in political wisdom, a devotee of force. Yet it was he who sought to prevent the war, and he who was right, not the warlike diplomat!
It was at this juncture that Tisza's moral greatness showed itself. Never during his lifetime did it become known that he was against the War. On the way back from Vienna to Budapest, after that fateful conference, he was cheered by the peasants in a village. He exclaimed to his secretary: "If only they knew how little I deserve their cheers!"
Nobody else knew the truth. He assumed complete responsibility for the terrible decision. For years he lived alone with his secret and never made a sign to exculpate himself. When things began to go from bad to worse, he felt that his unpopularity was increasing. He had but to utter a single word and he would have been the most popular man in the monarchy and in the whole world: he would have emerged as the only statesman in the central empires who had opposed the war. Imagine the moral standing he would have had today! This word remained unsaid. He trod his calvary serenely ---and once again for a cause which he deemed lost.
Tisza's last official act was to place the royal crown upon the head of King Charles IV---the Hungarian title of the Emperor Charles I. This supreme honor contributed to his fall. In court circles, it was a matter for complaint against him that he, a Protestant, should have insisted on taking part in a ceremony which was of a Catholic and liturgical nature. Tisza, moreover, did not get on with the young sovereign, whom he dominated physically and who in the Prime Minister's presence must always have felt as though he were a small boy. King Charles wished to grant universal suffrage to the peoples of his monarchy, knowing that in this way he would be giving freedom to the national minorities. Count Tisza, always unshakeable in his convictions and obstinate in his errors, refused. He opposed also the Polish policy of the Emperor, who wished to get an archduke on the throne of Poland and to give him Galicia. Tisza felt that if a new Piedmont were thus created all the Slav provinces of the monarchy would go that way one after another. He no longer had enough assurance in the solidity of the state to believe in the possibility of such perilous experiments. He preferred to resign and left for the front as a Colonel of Hussars. It was there he spent the last years of his life.
Even those with whom he was not in agreement regretted him, for he represented in Hungary a force on which one could lean. His relations with Czernin were sometimes difficult. Tisza, although he foresaw the débâcle, did not see it come. He was against the peace offers because in his philosophy it was only the strong who counted---and to be strong one must not seem to be weak. But when you did win him over to an idea, he was like a rock, while his successors were irresolute puppets upon whom the Emperor could never rely.
Tisza did not return from the front until the eve of the defeat. The empire was breaking up in every direction. Charles hurriedly appealed to him and sent him to Serajevo to calm down the leaders of the people there in revolt. This mission turned out ill. For the Bosnian leaders having already spoken to him in terms which did not please him he treated them in a lofty manner, adopting a severe, authoritative tone, as though he still occupied the position he had held of old.
And yet he knew that he occupied it no longer. On his return to Budapest, he undertook one more painful duty---his last. It was he who announced to the Chamber the news of the defeat: "We have lost the War!" He thus continued to give the impression that it was his own war, that he had willed it, and that he was le grand vaincu. He offered himself up as a holocaust to the rage of the people.
His days were now numbered and he knew it. Insurrection murmured in the streets and demanded his life. Tisza never left his house; he made no change in his habits. He merely burned some documents ---those which proved that he had not willed the War, those which would have exculpated him. To some one who wanted to know why he did so, he replied: "You never know what may happen. I don't want my papers to be used by people to bring charges against my former colleagues when I am gone."
One day, the 31st of October, 1918, some armed soldiers forced their way into his house. They found him standing in his salon and without a word they killed him with a volley of shots. Tisza was the first victim of the Hungarian revolution, and the most illustrious; alas, he was not the only one.
Count Tisza was innocent of what he was charged with; he had not willed the War. But the War came about inevitably as the result of the political system which he represented and which he unfalteringly applied in the full measure of his strength. There was no stronger partisan than he of the Austro-German alliance; no one desired more strongly than he the domination of the Magyars over the other nationalities. He was the opponent of federalism and of universal suffrage, of all the ideas of Francis-Ferdinand, of everything that represented any possibility of solving pacifically the internal difficulties of the monarchy. He was the irreconcilable adversary of the Croats and he helped to deepen the ditch which separated Austria from Serbia. He was the instigator of the policy of economic oppression which the Dual Monarchy pursued against Serbia, and which ended by driving that country to despair. In a word, he made war enter into all his political calculations and rendered it necessary.
In executing him, popular justice was guided by wrong information but by a sure instinct.
THE GREAT GOOD FORTUNE OF M. RAYMOND POINCARÉ HAS been to seem in the eyes of his compatriots on three or four historic occasions the man essential to the welfare of their country. This was the case in 1912 and in 1919, then in 1922, then again in 1926. Rare good luck! M. Poincaré owes it to the fact that, thanks to certain of his abilities and to some of his defects, he has been the most representative man of his time and of his race.
M. Poincaré was born at Bar le Duc, in 1860, of a bourgeois family. None of these details can be overlooked if we would understand his character: the Lorraine birthplace; the year, 1860; the bourgeois origin.
Raymond Poincaré was ten years old when the Franco-Prussian war broke out. He saw the enemy occupy his native land. He saw Lorraine torn in twain, the German frontier brought quite close; the sound of the passionate protestations of an entire people rang in his ears. These were impressions never to be effaced. The Lorrainers are not better Frenchmen than the Frenchmen of other provinces, but they saw invasion and annexation from nearer at hand. They only just missed being victims---like their brothers of Metz and their neighbors of Strasburg. This memory throughout their lives evokes in them the same emotion, the same anger, the same dread.
M. Poincaré's grievances against the Germans are the same as those of other Frenchmen, but to the end of his days, as M. Briand has expressed it, they will be "filtrés par un esprit lorrain."
This generation of 1870 has played a special rôle in the history of modern France. It grew up under the shadows of misfortune. Young people are always disposed to scorn what was done before their time. But when the deeds of their elders have spelt defeat and the dismemberment of their country, their contempt knows no bounds. France showed her greatness at that hour by never losing heart. She did not let pessimism bow down her head. She did not lose faith in her destiny. She did not seek solace in oblivion. All her thoughts, all her energies, were directed to the work of restoration.
The young men who assumed the duties of citizens in the early Eighties had been taught to cherish a sentimental and idealized conception of the republic. The republic stood out before their eyes just as before the eyes of their fathers living under the empire. But they saw the reins of government in the hands of men grown old. "What was" did not accord with their notion of "What should be." After Boulanger's pseudo-heroic adventures, with their blend of the romantic and the ridiculous, came the explosion of the financial scandal of Panama, in which almost the entire officialdom of the Republic was involved---including even the President himself.
It was at this juncture that Raymond Poincaré and the men of his generation entered upon their political life, adopting a program of moral cleansing, recovery and revival. They were not long in making their mark. Elected a deputy at the age of twenty-seven, he himself was three times a minister before he reached his thirty-fifth year.
"Etre ministre," his mother once said to him, "ce n'est pas un métier pour un jeune homme!" (To be a minister is not a profession for a young man.) But this particular young man was to show that, while he was quite equal to other métiers, that of being a minister was quite sufficient for him.
M. Poincaré's family belonged to the grande bourgeoisie. His mother was the grand-daughter of Jean Landry Gillon, who was nine times deputy for the Meuse under the monarchy of July. His father, Antoine Poincaré, was inspector of bridges and roadways, his uncle professor of medicine at Nancy. His brother has come to be a highly placed official in the University of France; a first cousin of his is one of the most illustrious mathematicians of our time; a cousin by marriage is a famous philosopher.
It may be seen, therefore, that M. Poincaré comes of a stock of great intellectual culture. But there is more to be said than this. He comes of a stock more representative than any other of modern France. It was the bourgeoisie that directed the French Revolution. The Revolution, in return, created the millions of peasant-proprietors and rentiers, as we call them, now to be found in France. It was the bourgeoisie that brought about the revolution of 1830 and that dominated the monarchy of July. It brought about also the revolution of 1870 and created a republic in its own image. It has governed France for more than a century.
The bourgeoisie in France has its essential basis in landed property and in the state funds---that is to say, if we go deep enough into the matter, in savings. Other countries are dependent upon production and commerce and on the rapid circulation of wealth. With France it is quite different. The bourgeois class is dependent upon wealth long since acquired and it becomes richer only through economy. Therefore it is in its interest to an exceptional degree that the state should be prudently administered, that the budget should be balanced, the rentes kept safe, the government kept above reproach. It is this spirit of order and economy that M. Poincaré has brought to the conduct of public affairs. And that is why, in 1926, when he said to the country: "To save the franc, we must economize," he was understood by all the bourgeois of France.
The intellectual origins of the bourgeoisie go back to the eighteenth century, to Voltaire. The bourgeoisie gathered strength in the course of its struggle against the monarchy and against the church, and although both the monarchy and the church have ceased to be formidable, it still preserves the spirit of hostility against the forces of reaction. A Raymond Poincaré in this respect has not moved away from his stock. He is by temperament anti-clerical. If he has sometimes had the support of the Parties of the Right, on the strength of his national policy, this was contrary to his own liking; and in 1924 this support cost him power, so profound is the instinctive prejudice of the French bourgeoisie against the Church. M. Poincaré was enabled then to note that his success came entirely from his fidelity to the stock to which he belonged and whose feelings he stood for.
It is from the bourgeoisie that M. Poincaré derives the fundamental traits of his character: love of work and clarity of mind.
M. Poincaré is a great worker. He is at his desk from early morning to late at night. He reads all the documents submitted to him, annotates them, drafts the replies. His assistants prepare his work for him, but he does the work himself. He insists on going into everything. An opponent of his exclaimed once while M. Poincaré was at the Élysée: "Mon Dieu! Quand donc aurons-nous un président paresseux." (For Heaven's sake let us have a lazy President.)
His range of knowledge is prodigious. Throughout the affair of the Ruhr, he had all the reports from all the French Consuls in Germany laid before him. He wished to be au courant with everything that was said about him, with all the criticisms called forth by his policy. And this mass of reports had not a little to do with the aggravation of his mistrustful attitude towards Germany.
There are no details too minute to escape M. Poincaré's attention. It is with pleasure that I record some illustrations of this which seem to me altogether to his credit.
While the War was on, in 1916, I had written from Paris, where I was staying, to my newspaper (as to the discretion of which I felt at ease in my mind) a letter in which I had recorded certain criticisms called forth by the military operations. This letter was read by the censorship and, without my being informed of the matter, was made the subject of discussion by the Council of Ministers. The Minister of the Interior, M. Malvy, showed much feeling over it. The President of the Republic, M. Poincaré, on the contrary, expounded with much perspicacity and good nature the character of my articles, which apparently he made a habit of reading, and it was he, by his authoritative intervention, who protected me---unknown personally to him, as I was at the time---from the troubles which this incident might have caused me.
It was at a much later date and only by chance that I heard about this. I at once asked for an interview with him so that I might express my gratitude. The President's chamber at the Élysée is at the end of a long series of rooms in which the offices of the military staff and the civilian secretaries are located. On entering each of these elaborately gilded rooms, the attendant who ushers in the visitor proclaims his name out loud.
In his chamber M. Poincaré awaited me standing up in front of his desk. I recall vividly the impression made on me by his reception, at once cordial and matter-of-fact, his trenchant voice, his precise language. But what I remember best of all was the surprise and slight disquietude aroused in me by the extent of his information. He discoursed to me on the state of the public mind in France and quoted some observations of mine on the subject which he had read: "Your impressions of the state of the public mind in France," he said, "are not very favorable. I quite understand that. The circles in which you mix are the least satisfactory in the country--- namely the intellectuals, who hold forth not on their own feelings but on the feelings of others: 'Provided the people hold on!' they exclaim. For 'the people' no such doubt exists. These intellectuals live in coteries---they represent the newspaper world, the clubs, the two houses of Parliament---the sets they belong to are the most nervous groups in France."
Since then, I have seen M. Poincaré on several occasions. I have always been struck by the extent of his knowledge, the clearness of his views, and the intuitive understanding he has shown of his countrymen.
It has often been said that M. Poincaré lacks charm. This is true in a sense. There is no warmth in him. His voice is precise and a trifle sharp. Beneath the vaults of the Sainte-Chapelle, where I once heard him, his voice seemed almost to crack against the stained windows. But M. Poincaré makes up for his lack of charm by the spirit of loyalty and genuineness which characterizes him.
M. Poincaré's mind is, so to speak, essentially scriptural. He loves the written word. This is observable even in his elocution, for he writes out his speeches and delivers them by heart, with the help of a marvelous memory. He seldom excites his audience by his eloquence. His strength as a speaker lies in the effects of his impeccable logic. The French mind, trained as it is by a drastic philosophical discipline, excels in the analysis of a situation and in expressing it synthetically. This is the great faculty of a political advocate and it is this faculty which M. Poincaré has brought to perfection in politics.
M. Poincaré has the qualities of an advocate and some of the defects. "He pleads a case admirably," M. Briand has said of him, "but he does not know how to deliver a verdict." The passage from analysis to deduction, from theory to action is difficult. It is a mistake to think him strong-willed. On several occasions in his life his energy and determination have failed him. He did not know when to finish with his adventure of the Ruhr and he hesitated long regarding the stabilization of the franc.
His conception of law is rigid. It was M. Briand again who said of him, at the time of Ruhr occupation: "M. Poincaré does not embody Law and Justice. He embodies the School of Law and the Courts of Justice."
Others may be philosophers; he is, first and foremost, a man of law. He sees the world through legal spectacles; he has a horror of vague promises, loosely worded documents; he wants a guarantee in every case. In a dispute, he sees only what is his due.
His whole policy gives evidence of this.
M. Poincaré's career had undergone a long eclipse. Little by little, however, the former minister came back to the minds of his fellow-citizens, he reconquered their belief in him, and soon he came to appear to them once more the Indispensable Man. When did this happen? When Germany, trying to burke her old engagements, put in a claim for compensations in Africa in return for a neutrality in Morocco to which she had already committed herself. This was something which Poincaré, the jurist, would not tolerate. An act is an act, an engagement is an engagement. He came into power with a one-item program---to say no to Germany, if need be!
From that moment onward European politics were to take a new course. The French people, who had been burdened by the sense of their weakness, began to breathe afresh and to hope. They instituted their three years military service in reply to the new military laws of Germany and felt thrilled by their own audacity. Russia, who had been doubtful regarding the efficacy of her alliance with a somewhat decadent democracy, regained courage also. And England, alarmed by the German menace, rejoiced to find a supporter.
It has often been asserted, and even in France, that M. Poincaré was responsible for the War. This is untrue if it be meant that he wanted war or that he did not do all he could to prevent it. But it is perhaps true if one enquires into the subtle inter-relationship of events.
On coming to power in 1912, M. Poincaré, far from wanting war, had but one idea: to prevent it. But he was convinced that Germany was resolved to wage it. In order to prevent it one last hope remained: to show Germany that she would be stood up to. "France," he therefore declared, "is not afraid of war!"
This bold language, of a kind to which the statesmen of the third Republic had allowed Europe to grow unaccustomed, enchanted the French Nationalists. Without wishing it, M. Poincaré became, in the eyes of the world, their man, if not their tool. It was they who in 1913 brought about his election as President of the Republic. And inevitably the Germans saw in his election a menace, almost a provocation.
The true cause of the War was that every one believed it to be inevitable; the election of M. Poincaré to the Presidency of the Republic was not unconnected with this belief. The Germans imagined themselves to be encircled. They took up arms to break the circle. The French thought they were threatened; they took up arms to nullify the threat. And thus, bit by bit, we came to the threshold of the War through the most tragic of mutual misunderstandings.
In July, 1914, M. Poincaré paid his visit to St. Petersburg. He has been blamed for this journey and for everything he said in the course of it. But what was it exactly that he said? He repeated merely in every possible tone of voice what he had always said: "France is not afraid of war." To the Tsar, to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, to the Serbian Minister, he repeated: "France will be faithful to her alliances." That seemed to him only natural. An alliance is a contract. How could one fail to honor it? But he did not realize that certain words, uttered at certain hours, acquire a special weight. He did not imagine that the trenchant nature of his utterances on board the Russian imperial yacht could draw from the lips of two Grand Duchesses the wistful reflection: "That's how an autocrat ought to talk!"
The War approached. M. Poincaré returned to Paris. He met with a tremendous reception. At that moment he incarnated France in the eyes of his countrymen. "Never have I witnessed a sight so moving," he himself wrote afterwards. "Never have I found it so difficult to remain unmoved. The grandeur, the simplicity, the enthusiasm, the solemnity---all helped to make of this welcome something unlooked for, unimaginable, and of infinite beauty."
Alas, this apotheosis was to be without a morrow. This man upon whose shoulders were to rest the responsibilities of the War, and who at that moment seemed the incarnation of France, was to become conscious of the isolation all around him throughout the five sad years that followed.
The President had no function to perform beyond going from time to time to the front or to the munition factories, and holding reviews of troops or distributing decorations. On these occasions he showed himself lacking in cordiality and address. In his own words, he forced himself to "remain unmoved." When standing beside the bedside of the poilus, he did not know how to express himself. His heart was too full for speech. And his costume---his cap and gaiters, which made him look like some wealthy family's chauffeur---aroused the derision of crowds endowed with a quick eye for absurdities.
The most serious reproach against him was that he withdrew to Bordeaux when the Germans were advancing. Nothing could be more unjust. The President did not wish to go. It was the military authorities who forced him to do so, in order that the head of the government might not fall into the hands of the Germans should they win the Battle of the Marne. The move to Bordeaux was a perfectly natural move and reflected in no way on M. Poincaré's courage. But the populace did not understand it---they got it into their heads that the President had fled before the enemy and for a long time they looked askance at him on this ground.
The Presidency of the French Republic, which calls above all for qualities of parade and pomp, did not offer adequate scope to the active mind of M. Poincaré. A man for whom idleness is a burden, he found he had almost nothing to do. His compatriots were dying before his eyes and he could not help. His ministers did not consult him much, least of all M. Clémenceau, who had no love for him. On one occasion, when M. Clémenceau remarked at a meeting of the Council of Ministers: "I have spent four days in solitude," M. Poincaré replied with a tone of bitterness in his voice: "My room was not so far away."
We must not, however, underestimate the influence that M. Poincaré was able to exert on the conduct of the War. He studied the state papers, he kept himself in touch with public matters, and intervened frequently at meetings of the Council of Ministers and of the War Cabinet. His intervention was sometimes decisive, but it became less efficacious after Clémenceau. became Premier and especially during the Peace Conference. What little one knows of his interventions throws much light on his character. France had been drawn into the War by force of circumstances without having been able to insist on any promises from her allies. M. Poincaré, who believed only in the written word, was disquieted to note that no ally had committed itself to any promise that Alsace-Lorraine should be returned to France. It was he who inspired all the steps taken by French diplomacy to secure engagements to this effect, especially the letter addressed by M. Aristide Briand to the British government on the Allies' War Aims in January, 1917.
In the same way, during the Peace Conference, M. Poincaré insisted that the amount to be paid by the Germans should be definitely fixed and it was in agreement with him that Marshal Foch stipulated for territorial guarantees on the left bank of the Rhine. He brought into the settlement of these international questions the mind of a lawyer entrusted with the execution of a contested will.
This explains the seemingly contradictory attitude which the President adopted later towards the Treaty of Versailles. He never concealed his disapproval of this Treaty. Nevertheless, in his policy towards Germany, M. Poincaré has taken his stand upon the Treaty as upon the Bible and has never allowed one iota of it to be touched. Even when it had been violated already in all its articles, he would not consent to the slightest revision of it. The fact is he considered the Treaty inadequate; it represented in his eyes the minimum of what France ought to have obtained and he would not allow Germany to use this minimum as a starting-point for concessions.
M. Poincaré's term as President ended in 1920. The French Parliament recorded formally that he had "bien mérité de la patrie." But this official approbation did not satisfy him. The President did not forget certain criticisms that had been passed upon him. He has devoted all his energies ever since to refuting them.
M. Poincaré---and this is yet another of the bourgeois traits in him---is very sensitive to hostile criticism. He has never forgiven those who at an earlier period criticized his marriage. Without knowledge of this, it would be difficult to understand certain incidents in the political life of France ---certain enmities, certain quarrels, certain hatreds which are not explicable by any difference of views or ideas.
In the same way, M. Poincaré has never forgotten the accusation of having provoked the War. He has devoted four large volumes to refuting the little book of a young man who had repeated this accusation. "The memory of the responsibilities which he assumed," writes this young man, M. Fabre-Luce, "has created in Poincaré a sort of obsession. He tries to provide retrospectively the best possible excuse for an imprudent policy by representing Germany as a nation of prey; as she has committed so many crimes, we must now chastize her. . . ." But the attacks for which he has been the target in the German press have helped in no small degree to confirm him in his feelings.
This uncompromising attitude, based upon the Treaty and the memories of the past, brought M. Poincaré to power in 1922.
Of all the sections of the Treaty that which concerned reparations was the worst formulated. Badly informed regarding the economic situation in Germany, the peace negotiators thought her less exhausted than she was. They overestimated the period of industrial prosperity which Europe would be traversing after a war of four years; they did not foresee what would happen---the financial crisis. Finally they did not realize the technical impossibility of the transference from one country to another sums of money of the magnitude specified in the Treaty. Only the Americans saw things clearly, and they were not listened to.
M. Poincaré is a jurist and not an economist. These difficulties, these impossibilities, escaped him. He learned later the importance of the question of transference---when the question arose of paying France's debts to America. But at that time he did not trouble himself over the matter. He had in his hands a contract; he knew of nothing but this contract. If Germany did not pay, it was because she was unwilling to pay. If the mark was falling, this was because the Germans so willed it. It was necessary to make Germany pay and to send in the bailiffs.
M. Poincaré, who is a bourgeois, knows the French bourgeois. He knows how their minds work, for his own mind works in the same way. The "bailiffs" idea was a huge success. The whole of France was persuaded that if Germany did not pay, Germany was to blame. And when M. Briand endeavored at Cannes, at the beginning of 1922, to bring about a rapprochement with Germany and to settle the reparations question in a friendly way, he was swept away by a great wave of feeling which carried his antagonist M. Poincaré into power.
M. Poincaré did as he said he would do. He sent his bailiffs into Germany; the Ruhr was occupied. But the result was not what he expected. France continued to go unpaid; the mark dropped more and more; terrible feelings of bitterness grew up in the hearts of men and France found herself completely isolated in Europe.
The great mistake of M. Poincaré's policy at that moment was that it was not adapted to post-war needs. "Do you really believe," he once asked M. Briand, "that the French people can take any interest in the League of Nations?"
"The President of 1914," writes M. Fabre-Luce, "petrified, as Nietzsche would say, at the declarations of war, has retained all his old qualities. . . . But these gifts, which served him well in the days of secret diplomacy, did not suffice to solve the complex problems of the post-war period. In this new era, during which political ideas escaped out of the chancelleries and entered into open discussion in the market places and sought to move and to convince, a jurist counted for less. We see better now that mere intelligence is not always enough, if it be separated from the sources whence it takes its life: sympathy, tolerance, faith in the future of mankind. . . ."
We do not know if M. Poincaré has ever understood his mistake. Sunday after Sunday for two whole years, struggling against an invisible force the force of reason, he has gone about in the provinces explaining the felony of Germany and the right behavior of France. Every Sunday he set himself to revive the memory of the dead, rekindling the embers of hatred, reviving the war spirit. At last the French began to tire of this monotonous speechifying and of being universally held responsible for the ruin of Europe. In 1924, M. Poincaré was overthrown. Once more, his role seemed at an end. In France a politician is never finished with until he is dead. Two years had not passed before M. Poincaré reappeared as the savior of the country.
It often happens that the men who fail in their home policy succeed in their foreign policy and vice versa. After 1924, France contributed powerfully towards the bringing about of peace in Europe, but at home she saw classes divided, confidence shaken, the franc in danger. This nation of rentiers felt the breath of failure passing over her. She turned at once for the third time to M. Poincaré as the only man able to save her, the only man who really understood her needs.
M. Poincaré has said of himself that he has accomplished no miracle. That is true, but he has succeeded in being a good domestic economist in reuniting the country, in stabilizing the franc, in restoring confidence to an entire people. All the French bourgeois qualities of order and economy have reappeared in him. This has been the secret of his success and of his popularity.
After 1924, M. Poincaré would have left to history only the memory of his mistake and of his failure: the War and the Ruhr. Providence has been kind to him by allowing him to show his full powers and to leave behind him the renown of the man who saved his country from ruin and Europe perhaps from revolution.
His new rise to power gave M. Poincaré the opportunity to prove, in spite of his well-known stubbornness, that he was able to adapt himself to new circumstances. Up to this time, his foreign policy had been marked by a serious weakness. He had considered each question by itself without reckoning its international reverberations.
Of late he has learned, under the softening influence of M. Briand, that some victories cost more dearly than compromise, and that sometimes it is to the best interest of a nation to sacrifice its immediate advantage. It is thus that we see a Poincaré inclined towards an understanding with Germany and sincerely upholding by his authority, which is great, the policy of international good will of his Minister of Foreign Affairs.
It is by this trait that one may distinguish the great statesman: that after having long produced a division of minds, peace at last settles round them. M. Poincaré has been the incarnation of his race; he has always wished to be a link between all his countrymen. The national union, the cult of justice, have been the aim and source of all his actions. But it is only of late that he has been allowed to see a France united at last in respecting his name.
IN ANY OTHER COUNTRY EDWARD GREY WOULD NEVER HAVE been a minister. To the outward observer there was nothing to suggest such a career for him; his one great passion, an absorbing love of nature, trees, animals and fishing, led him away from politics. Edward Grey was of a gentle and kindly disposition and a born country-man. He had been brought up in the country and "could not breathe in the town"; his only literary achievement is a book on fly-fishing. He admits, in his memoirs, that politics and public affairs never interested him; he was thrown into them by chance and always regarded his public life in the light of dull and disagreeable duties. He was not an orator and was always somewhat nervous when speaking in public. Just as the diary of Louis XVI records the word "Nothing" on days when there was no hunting, Edward Grey's diary refers only to week-ends. To him the events of the week were merely an accompaniment to the song of the birds in the beeches.
He was twenty-two years old, as he says of himself, when first, and in quite a modest way, he developed a taste for general ideas. At twenty-three he was a member of the House of Commons and a minister at thirty. What is the explanation of so strange a fate? It is that Edward Grey belonged to a dynasty. His grandfather had fought with Lord Melbourne, Russell and Palmerston in their political battles; his name was connected with the electoral bill of 1832. This was sufficient reason why, in a district where all the gentry were Tory, the young lord of Fallodon should be chosen by the Liberals; for the English like to follow their aristocracy.
The same reasons for which the Berwick-on-Tweed electors had sent Edward Grey to represent them in the House of Commons, caused Lord Rosebery to make him his parliamentary under-Secretary of State when he became Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1892. Grey was entirely unprepared for the profession that lay before him and was forced to learn it from the beginning and not without considerable effort. But he was one of those persons whose innate loyalty and lack of personal ideas form the ideal qualities for an assistant.
He must certainly have made a good impression at the Foreign Office since in 1905, when the Liberals returned to power, this time for a considerable period, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman made Edward Grey a Secretary of State and intrusted him with the foreign policy of the greatest empire in the world. A crushing burden for such weak shoulders.
One of Lord Grey's most marked characteristics was his modesty, but his comments upon his own weaknesses must not be taken too literally. According to him, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's choice was entirely unfounded and Grey's own success in carrying out his high functions inexplicable. Nevertheless, it must be admitted, his writings do not give the impression of a quick, creative or original mind.
An Englishman related how one of his ancestors had been beheaded for plotting against the king: "Since then," he added, "my family has always been Whig." Lord Grey was always surprised that ideas, plans, projects and combinations should be attributed to him. He lived for one day at a time, following only the dictates of his own conscience; he sought for the best solution of every problem as each fresh set of circumstances arose. He played the game of politics as amateurs play chess; and since he was well endowed with the two fundamental qualities of the English people, common sense and a feeling for tradition, and since, at the Foreign Office, he was surrounded by the most capable advisers, he almost invariably acted for the best.
Among the Latin and Slav races there are nations that are collectively mediocre while producing outstanding individuals; among the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon races, on the contrary, the people in the mass frequently surpass their individual leaders. Great Britain is one of history's most extraordinary productions and her statesmen, in many cases, seem out of proportion to the great issues in which they are elements. Lord Grey is a striking example of such a statesman.
Pictet de Rochemont, the minister plenipotentiary of the Republic of Geneva at the Vienna Congress, once wrote that Lord Castlereagh annoyed him: "One needs to be very powerful if one is so stupid." It would be unjust to apply this remark literally to Sir Edward Grey, but it may truly be said that any deficiencies among Great Britain's public men are covered to a large extent by her greatness. He who speaks in the name of the British Empire need not himself be a great man, he must only be honorable and know how to carry out orders. It must be acknowledged in his favor that Edward Grey performed this duty perfectly.
England produces many types of statesmen. The demagogue, such as Lloyd George, is comparatively rare; the scholarly type, such as Asquith and Balfour, occurs more frequently; the most usual of all is the country gentleman, to which class Lord Grey belongs.
A country gentleman from the north of England cannot be expected to know geography and continental history. Countless anecdotes, more or less authentic, are told of Sir Edward Grey, as of the majority of his predecessors. At the time of the Agadir crisis, there was a conference of, British ministers and generals; one of the latter, when it was pointed out that the Germans might be tempted to go through Belgium or Holland, mentioned the Rhine. Sir Edward Grey interrupted him, saying, "But the Rhine is a German river." Asquith, the scholar of the Cabinet, had to explain. "Quite so, Sir Edward," he said, "the Rhine lives in Germany, but it is born in Switzerland and dies in Holland." Upon another occasion, Sir Edward Grey called an expert on Persian affairs into consultation. After an hour of somewhat confused conversation, the latter realized that the minister was confusing the Persian Gulf with the Red Sea. When some one who knew him intimately was asked if this could be true, the reply was, "Sir Edward's enemies may say all they like about his ignorance; only his friends know how deep it really is."
In any case this is of little importance. A British Secretary of State has enough people around him to correct his mistakes in geography. The vital thing is that he should have the authority that is based upon loyalty and a sense of the general interests and traditions of the empire. Sir Edward Grey had this authority in a very high degree. He did not know the world, when he went to Paris with King George, he took a childish delight in the uniform of the escort. But he had an intimate knowledge of Fallodon and Northumberland and would never have made the least mistake with regard to the instinctive reactions of his people and his country's needs. When he came into power in 1905, Edward Grey found the policy he was to follow well marked out for him. His predecessor, Lord Lansdowne, had already undermined the pro-German policy of the nineteenth century governments and although Edward Grey denies that he was influenced, consciously or subconsciously, by Edward VII, it would have been difficult for him to have opposed the King's sympathies or to have acted against the obvious interests of his country.
It has always been a tradition with Great Britain to prevent the strongest continental power from aspiring towards naval hegemony. So long as the land and maritime power are divided there is no danger that one country may dominate the world. The. day upon which these two powers were united would be fatal to the freedom of the seas and to the British Empire. From the moment that Germany began to build a powerful fleet Anglo-German competition was, as it were, fated and inevitable. Edward Grey was not responsible for this policy, he was an instrument in carrying it out.
This policy cannot be criticized; no British statesmen could have followed any other. But, in some cases, it might have been applied with more foresight and logic.
While carrying out this new policy, imposed upon him by the force of circumstances, he still clung instinctively to the ideas of his predecessors, of those who had been his masters and guides. He carried out a policy of uniting with France and intervening on the continent with the mentality of those who, in the nineteenth century, had gloried in the splendid isolation of their country. And, what is more serious, he did not see the contradiction between these two attitudes. He was inadaptable in the full meaning of the word.
During the ten years preceding the War, Sir Edward Grey had only one idea, not to bind England, not to restrict her freedom of action and decision in whatever circumstances might arise. If Germany had been wise she would have endeavored to foster and encourage this tendency. Prince Lichnowsky realized this and one day obtained a letter from Sir Edward Grey in which he declared that England was not bound to France. This letter was a palliative, but the German press could have made much of it. Instead of accepting the declaration, the German government proposed, in London, a general engagement of neutrality, that is to say, one of those "commitments" of which Sir Edward Grey would hear nothing.
"I breathed again," said the French Ambassador, Paul Cambon, relating the incident, "when the reply arrived and took the opportunity of exchanging some letters with Edward Grey myself, letters that meant nothing alone but that would enable us, at any time, to start conversation on our common interests."
Sir Edward Grey's great mistake was not to see that the freedom of action he valued so highly, was deceptive, dangerous and, what is more, non-existent. It was deceptive in that a country is not only bound by treaties; it is far more tightly bound by its own interests. It was certain that in event of war between France and Germany, whatever the cause, it would be impossible that England should remain indifferent, and still more impossible that she should side with Germany. The destruction of France and the victory of a Germany bent on being mistress of the seas as well as of the land would have meant a terrible defeat for England, with or without hostilities.
This being so, it would have been wise to have secured this interest by treaties; for in the absence of any engagement there was the risk of feeding the illusion of British neutrality in Germany and of encouraging the German government to take chances.
England was, before the War, in more or less the same position as America is to-day. It is certain that if a country were to declare war, the United States could neither assist nor remain indifferent. By refusing to bind herself in advance, she encourages, without wishing to do so, the aggressive tendencies of certain countries and endangers the peace of the world and her own peace with it.
It was a terrible misfortune for Europe that Sir Edward Grey did not realize this soon enough. However, with regard to certain points, objective necessity was stronger than his desires. He was obliged to authorize staff conversations that, though not the equivalent of an alliance, nevertheless restricted freedom of appreciation in the House of Commons to a certain extent. He was, in particular, forced to agree to give France the guarantee that in case of war the British fleet would protect her seaboard so that she might concentrate her own fleet in the Mediterranean. Such an engagement very obviously implied participation in event of war.
Was Sir Edward Grey aware of this? It is not easy to answer this question. When the world crisis came, he clearly saw that England was in honor bound to help France. On the other hand, he solemnly declared, on August 3rd, 1914, in the House of Commons, that England was under no obligation whatever. He was not the man to play on words, but how, otherwise, is this contradiction to be explained?
Sir Edward Grey plainly saw that it was both England's duty and in her interests to fight with France. But he was held back by the fear of promising France and Russia more than he felt sure he could fulfill. The Cabinet was not in agreement with public opinion; he was afraid that he would not be supported, and he preferred to be overcautious rather than not cautious enough.
One of the Conservative leaders said, at the beginning of the War, "If we had been in office, we would have declared war two days earlier, but we should have had half the country against us." This is what Sir Edward Grey thought. It was not so very certain. There are many people who think if he had engaged the government it would have supported him and once pledged to the War the country would have followed. There might have been some trouble at the beginning but the first defeats would have brought unity.
Sir Edward Grey did not dare to take such terrible responsibility; he lacked courage and foresight. He was the tool of circumstances and missed the only remaining opportunity of stopping Germany and Europe at the edge of the abyss. But no one can say that by acting differently Sir Edward Grey might have prevented the War. It is difficult enough to understand history without trying to re-write it.
However, it is easy to point out two mistakes in British diplomacy at that serious time: the first was to believe that the situation could be handled by diplomacy, the second was to misjudge the relations between Germany and Austria.
During the Balkan war, the ambassadors in London had held a congress, under the presidency of the British Secretary of State, and satisfactory results were obtained by coördinating the action of the great powers. Sir Edward Grey was so proud of this result that he tended later to exaggerate its value. He thought that by this means he could, in no matter what circumstances, save the peace of Europe as he had done before. When he saw in 1914 that a fresh crisis was approaching, his one thought was to repeat what had been so successful the year before. Germany's refusal left him stranded and with no solution to offer. One may say that he gave up his attempts at mediation after the first failure and from that moment Sir Edward Grey resigned himself to watch, in despair, events that he could no longer control.
Sir Edward, who was a true gentleman, regarded the ambassadors of the great powers in London with esteem and even as Personal friends; he wrote himself that he had complete faith in Paul Cambon and that this was mutual. Prince Lichnowsky praises Sir Edward Grey very highly in his memoirs. His mistake was to suppose that this personal regard could have any real effect upon politics. Except in a very few cases ambassadors have little influence upon their governments. Sir Edward Grey had a wrong perspective of the European situation; he saw it through his friendship for the five or six men who represented the world in his eyes, but did not control it. Thus the success of the Ambassadors' Conference in 1913, far from being a blessing to Europe, became a curse.
Sir Edward was also mistaken with regard to the relations between Austria and Germany. From the obvious premise that Germany was stronger than Austria, he falsely deduced that decisions were made in Berlin and not in Vienna. He did not realize that Germany, wedged between France and Russia, could under no circumstances forsake her only ally, and that Austria, in spite of her weakness, could always go ahead and rely upon being supported. This is what happened in 1914. Bismarck's remark that "in every alliance there is a man and a horse" may well be applied to this situation. The horse may be the stronger but the man holds the reins.
Once Belgium was attacked all his scruples vanished. From that moment, Great Britain's moral duty and her interest made war inevitable; she had signed the treaty of 1839 and it was to her interest to prevent the Flanders coast from falling into the hands of a great power. The duty and the honor of explaining to the world, on August 3rd, 1914, why his country had unsheathed the sword fell upon Sir Edward Grey.
On that same evening Great Britain's declaration of war was sent to the German embassy in London. After it had been sent, the Foreign Office was advised that another formula should be employed. A fresh text was drawn up in haste to be delivered by the son of Sir Arthur Nicolson. When he arrived at the Embassy, he was told that Prince Lichnowsky was asleep---asleep at such a time! The young English diplomat could not believe it; he insisted and was finally ushered into the ambassador's presence. The prince was in bed, and the declaration of war lay on a table by the bed. The envelope had not been opened.
Sir Edward Grey, whose faith means much to him, has often asked himself "at about four o'clock in the morning, when vitality is lowest, and the spirit is depressed and a prey to doubt and anxiety" whether he had truly done his duty in these circumstances. Walter Page, the United States Ambassador, said in his letters to President Wilson that he had often seen the British Secretary of State, "worn out by insomnia, sometimes weeping or, on the contrary, fired with indignation, seeming confident and invincible." A man's conscience can reproach him only for what he would have been capable of doing. Sir Edward Grey could not have acted other than he did.
Lord Grey finally found the peace that his spirit needed in the contemplation of nature, that had always been his great passion: ". . . and waking or asleep the war is always present inside one. But the indifference of natural things, the beauty of them unaffected by our troubles, the seasons progressing as they did before the war, give a certain assurance that there are elemental and eternal things which human catastrophes, such as this war, cannot shake."
This conviction enabled him, better than any other statesman in Europe, to understand the message brought to him by Colonel House, from President Wilson, in the summer of 1915. The two men understood and liked each other and this doubtless greatly influenced the course of events. At that moment nothing could be said with regard to the offer of mediation from the United States, and Grey and House discussed the future. It was Grey, it appears, who most insisted upon the necessity for a League of Nations.
This is what he wrote to the Colonel on August 10th, 1915: "My own mind revolves more and more about the point that the refusal of a Conference was the fatal step that decided peace or war last year, and about the moral to be drawn from it, which is that the pearl of great price, if it can be found, would be some League of Nations that could be relied on to insist that disputes between any two nations must be settled by the arbitration, mediation or conference of others. International law has hitherto had no sanction. The lesson of this war is that the powers must bind themselves to give it a sanction. . . ."
Had Colonel House suggested this idea to him, or had he thought of it himself, comparing his experiences of 1913 and 1914? No one knows. But this shows, in any case, that the idea was in the air. Great discoveries are almost always made simultaneously in several parts of the world. The League of Nations had become so necessary that the thought of it had impressed itself upon the minds of all those who were thinking for the future.
Lord Grey left the ministry at the same time as Asquith. He retired to the country among his beech trees, his flowers and his animals. He gave up his power without a shadow of regret and never thought that the world would benefit by his leadership. He thus resembled in his retirement the wise men of Antiquity.
The Agony of Belgium
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