Statesmen of the War in Retrospect
THREE MEN MAY BE SAID TO REPRESENT BELGIUM IN THE War: the King, Cardinal Mercier, and the Burgomaster of Brussels. These men personified the three traditional forces of the country: the State, the Church, the City. But the King was at the head of the army in the part of the country which was not occupied by the enemy and he was cut off from communication with his people, and Burgomaster Max was deported into Germany almost at once.
So it was that throughout the greater part of the war Cardinal Mercier stood out alone in the eyes of the Belgians as the incarnation of their country and in the eyes of the rest of the world as the incarnation of indomitable resistance to the foe.
Désiré-Joseph Mercier belonged to one of those families many of which were to be found in the ranks of the Belgian bourgeoisie during the last century and a few of which still exist---large families each of which includes among its members several priests and several nuns. He devoted himself to the Church quite naturally, without effort, not under pressure from a devout home circle, but by the inclination of a mind drawn towards the faith. A good son, a good scholar, a good priest, the Abbé Mercier became, while still a young man, Professor of Philosophy at the Seminary of Malines. He distinguished himself there and when, at the request of Pope Leo XIII, who wished to bring the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas back into esteem, a chair of Thomist instruction was created at the Catholic University of Louvain, Monseigneur Mercier was appointed to it.
This position brought him before the eyes of the public and enabled him to enter into personal relations with the Pope. When the archiepiscopal see of Malines, the most important in Belgium, and one of the most considerable in the world, became vacant, he was called to it. The following year, 1907, he was made a Cardinal.
Monseigneur Mercier found in a nature richly and variously endowed the resources necessary for a task of a kind quite new to him. Until then he had been a thinker and a director of consciences, a philosopher and a professor. He was about to become a man of action and an administrator.
Down to this point, there was, indeed, nothing exceptional in such a career. In our time the higher ranks of the clergy comprise a large number of men of great merit. The Catholic Church knows the priests to whom it confides the supreme posts in its hierarchy; its choice is made from an immense number of individuals and there is no reason for surprise if it discovers those who are best fitted to govern souls. A great bishop, good, pious, active, Cardinal Mercier did not differ in anything from so many other bishops of the Roman hierarchy, equally active, pious and good.
It is the circumstances that create the hero and the saint. How many of those great bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries whom the Church has rightly canonized, men like Augustine, like Athanasius, like Ambrose, would have been merely humble priests in our time! It was the invasion of the barbarians that made of them the protectors of their cities, the refuges of the faithful. Such was the rôle to which Cardinal Mercier rose quite naturally in face of the German invasion of Belgium, and he deserves to take his place in the canons of the Church by the side of his great predecessors.
When the War broke out Cardinal Mercier was at Malines. But it was not long before he was called to Rome, to the Conclave at which Pope Benedict XV was elected. Despite the gravity of the circumstances, he did not hesitate as to his duty. A prince of the Church, it was to the Church he owed his first allegiance. He quitted Belgium the very day the Germans entered Brussels, the 20th of August, 1914.
When he returned to his diocese less than a month later Louvain and its library had been burnt down, the whole country was strewn with ruins, a prey to devastation and death. At first Cardinal Mercier said nothing. He suffered in silence; he made the round of his diocese, he visited the parishes which had suffered most severely, comforting the priests and the faithful. He was merely the shepherd of his flock.
But on returning to that somber bishopric of his at Malines, he reflected that he was also the primate of Belgium, the spiritual guide of a whole race, and the representative of outraged rights. It was then that in prayer and silence he composed that admirable pastoral letter of his of Christmas, 1914, which was to reveal his personality to Belgium and to the world.
"Belgium is bleeding," he wrote. "Her sons are falling by thousands in our forts, on our battlefields, in defense of their rights and of the integrity of their land. . . . Thousands of Belgian soldiers have been deported into the prisons of Germany, hundreds of innocent men have been shot. . . . But God will save Belgium, my brothers, you cannot doubt it. On the day of our final victory, we shall all share the glory!"
After these words of hope and faith, Cardinal Mercier admonished his people to obey the invaders, but he added:
"The power which has invaded our soil is not a legitimate authority. In the intimacy of your own minds, you owe it neither respect nor regard, nor obedience. The sole legitimate power in Belgium is that which appertains to our King, to his government, to the representatives of the nation. That power alone has a right to the affection of our hearts and to our submission-that power alone has authority over us."
These words were absolutely in agreement at once with the teachings of the Church and with international law; there was nothing revolutionary about them, they combined counsels of patience and of obedience with a reminder of principles. There was in them nothing of a nature to disquiet the German authorities. But the invaders' rule over Belgium was of such a kind that the letter had the effect of unheard-of daring in the eyes of Belgians and Germans alike.
For months past the population had not read a newspaper nor heard an outspoken speech. They had been living in an atmosphere of war with the menace of the death-penalty hanging over them for the most innocent acts. The men of the nation, those at least of them who could take up arms or get across the frontiers, were far away in the allied countries, and their families were without news of them. The protestations which, the whole world over, were making themselves heard against the violation of Belgium's neutrality and the atrocities which accompanied it, had not reached Belgium itself. The population of the country were feeling isolated and abandoned.
It was over this moral desert that the Cardinal's words resounded. They had the effect of a liberation. The congregations wept in the churches; people accosted each other in the streets: "Have you read the pastoral letter?" they asked. At last, their country, mute for six months, had found a voice, and it was the voice of justice!
It was precisely this that disturbed the Germans. The Cardinal's letter had been taken by hand through the parishes, in the absence of a postal service, by the seminarists who were going home to their families on Christmas Eve. It was read aloud in its entirety in all the parishes of the diocese, and on the Sunday following in all those of the whole country. At once hundreds of parish priests were arrested. The Governor General sent an officer to the Cardinal to call upon him to withdraw his letter immediately. His Eminence refused and protested against the action of the Germans in prosecuting his priests for a deed of which he alone was the author. The matter rested there. But this incident had revealed to the Cardinal himself at once what he could do and what he should do.
It revealed to him, in the first place, what he owed to his people. His pastoral letters followed each other, a succession of them each year, each of them an event in the monotonous and dismal existence of the invaded country. "The sower," he wrote in September, 1915, "must await the harvest at its proper time; it will come and will not escape us. Do not let your courage sink! . . ." His letter of October, 1916, was entitled "The Voice of God"; that of February, 1917, "Courage, My Brethren!"; that of May, 1917, "Justice and Charity". Each one of them was an act.
These letters represent only a minor part of the activities of Cardinal Mercier. He alone retained the privilege of moving about Belgium, which came to be, as it were, clogged with military regulations. Of all the terrorized inhabitants he alone retained freedom of action. Therefore he made himself ubiquitous. He preached, he presided over ceremonies, he organized good works, he visited the unfortunate. This man, who by temperament was a thinker and an ascetic, was at every one's disposal. He neglected none of the duties of his high calling. On the contrary he multiplied them. Nor was this all. He alone could address the invaders as an equal to an equal, as one power to another. He did not fail to do so. His correspondence with the Governor Generals who succeeded each other at Brussels was unceasing. We find him protesting against their barbarities, making himself the interpreter of legitimate requests, stigmatizing the injustice of deportations.
In a letter to his colleague, the Archbishop of Cologne, he proposed to Germany the institution of an impartial tribunal to inquire into the atrocities that were being perpetrated. "I affirm," he wrote, "upon my oath that I have not down to the present been able to establish the reality of a single act of barbarity committed by a Belgian against a German soldier but that I know hundreds of cruel acts transgressing all the laws of civilization committed by German soldiers against innocent Belgians. Your Eminence will understand that patriotism and justice make it our duty to protest against these acts until they have been punished, and I may add that if you knew them as I know them the probity of your conscience would oblige you to add your protestations to ours."
At the same time the Cardinal was calming impatient spirits and doing what he could to prevent collisions. He was able to render some services and thus came to be in a position to ask some in return. It was he who at the suggestion of the German authorities addressed to the Kaiser the petition of which the latter was in need in order to be able to stop the deportations of Belgian workers to Germany. Face to face with Germany, the Cardinal was a power whose basis was moral and spiritual.
Cardinal Mercier could do anything because nothing could be done against him. The Church insures to its dignitaries such prestige that the civil power and, to an even greater degree, the military power, is disarmed against them. The Germans were able to shoot Miss Cavell, to deport Burgomaster Max, to take hostages, to massacre civilians, to burn down villages. Their fury stopped at the gates of the Archbishopric of Malines. They never dared to take the slightest measure against this man, who more than any other defied their authority
The power of Cardinal Mercier found its source in his dignity as Archbishop and Cardinal, in the justice of his protestations, and in their moderation. But it went further back still---to the Pope himself. In 1916 the Sovereign Pontiff sent his portrait to the primate of Belgium with this inscription: "Upon our venerated brother, Cardinal Mercier, We bestow with a full heart the apostolic benediction, assuring him that We take part in all his sorrows and tribulations and that his cause is also Our cause."
Would it have been possible after that for the Germans to take sanctions against the Cardinal without striking indirectly at the Pope?
The authority of Cardinal Mercier had in truth a yet higher source. It came from the universal Church with all its moral prestige which has always imposed itself upon even the non-Catholic peoples. Ever since the times when the great Popes of the Middle Ages rose up against the Emperor, this unarmed force has been more powerful than armies. It has been weak only at those periods when, forgetting its true nature and the source of its influence, it has entered into politics and levied troops. But that period has passed and the word of the Church in our epoch of feeble faith has an authority beyond discussion.
Finally the Cardinal was strong in the support of the universal conscience of mankind. His journey to Rome in 1916 was a veritable triumph. It was not without apprehension that his people had suffered him to go. It seemed when the Cardinal was no longer in Belgium that new dangers threatened the nation. The Belgians just then were like children traversing a wood at night, they dared not let go of the hand of their father. The Cardinal at that time was truly the father of his people. As long as he was there and could lift up his voice, it was felt the invader would shrink from new measures of oppression. But with him away, what might they not fear!
The journey, however, was to bear fruit. The Cardinal was the object of ovations without end; the crowds gathered wherever he passed; the statesmen of the Allied countries, assembled in conference at Rome, laid their homage at his feet; in his person Belgium was acclaimed along the entire length of his route. And it was this that enabled him on his return to assert solemnly: "The independence of our country is no longer in doubt."
Yes, wherever he went, in Switzerland and in Italy, Belgium was acclaimed; from France, from England, from Spain, he received the most thrilling testimonies of respect, of admiration, of worship, of the moral grandeur, the nobility of soul, the calm and resolute patience of the Belgian nation.
"Suppose," he exclaimed, "suppose that on the 4th of August, 1914, the Belgian people had not known how to die, suppose the youth of our country had fled at the sight of danger! Great God, where should we be now! And if you yourselves, wives and mothers, lamenting your husbands and your sons far off, perhaps lost to you forever---if you had not known how to wait for the providential hour and had clamored for a peace which would have been a truce merely and a lure, will you not admit that you would have tarnished the honor of our fatherland!"
Thenceforward, strong in the support he felt he had won on his journey, the Cardinal became more persistent, more direct, more energetic. Preaching in 1916 in the Cathedral of Sainte-Gudule in Brussels on the 21st of July, the day of the Belgian national festival, which was then a day of public mourning, he uttered this phrase: "Crime, whether emanating from an individual or from a collective body, should be repressed. The hour of our deliverance draws nigh."
These words at such a moment, in such a place, before an audience athirst for encouragement, caused a sensation so profound that, when the sermon was over, the organist, disobeying the military regulations and braving the anger of the authorities of the Occupation, gave forth the Belgian national hymn, "La Brabançonne." And the entire congregation, rising to their feet as though electrified, took up in chorus three separate times the heart-moving refrain: "Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté."
The Governor addressed to Cardinal Mercier a strong remonstrance: "This demonstration, incompatible with the state of occupation, had its source in Your Eminence." The Cardinal restricted himself to the answer: "I spoke as a Bishop and I uttered only words of charity and comfort." The Germans dared to do nothing.
And yet this man of power was a solitary man. The burden of a crushing responsibility lay upon his shoulders and he could not share it with any one. Each of his utterances had extraordinary effect; he was upholding the country's hopes, but he might, had he been lacking in prudence, have called forth impatience and perhaps revolt. Above all, being himself personally out of the reach of sanctions, he knew that every time he raised his voice he brought down sufferings on others. His parish priests were punished for his pastoral letter of Christmas, 1914; each of the subsequent letters had its painful sequels---prison or exile sometimes for the printers, for the brave fellows who carried the copies about, for the priests who read them in the churches. For a sensitive mind what could be more miserable than to be oneself immune while bringing down dangers upon one's friends? This was the misery which the Cardinal had to face if he was not to be reduced to silence.
In his own heart also he had difficulties to overcome. Cardinal Mercier, if he had no distaste for the pomps of the Church, was in himself a man simple and modest. The necessity now to be in the center of the stage, to take his place in the forefront, in the eyes of his own people and of the whole world, must have been a heavy burden to him.
He had to do violence to his feelings in yet another way. It was the force of circumstances that made him into a fighter; he was by nature a man of peace. All through his career his bent had been to soften differences, to tone down antagonisms. A Walloon Bishop of a Flemish diocese, both before and after the War, he was a promoter of national union in Belgium. He was, moreover, the inspirer of those Malines Conversations which have worked for a rapprochement between the Churches. And even during the War, what gave to his words so much force and authority was that they were truly Christian and had no bellicose ring about them.
Mr. Brand Whitlock, who was United States Minister at Brussels during the invasion and who has written the best book of memoirs covering this period, thus describes a visit paid to him by the Cardinal:
"He entered, advanced, tall and strong and spare, in the long black soutane with the red piping and the sash, not with the stately, measured pace that one associates with the red hat, but with long quick strides, kicking out with impatience the skirt of his soutane before him as he walked, as though it impeded his movements. He was impressive in his great height and he bent slightly forward with an effect of swooping on, like an avenging justice. But his hand was outheld, and in his mobile countenance and kindly eyes there was a smile, as of sweetness and light, that illumined the long lean visage. . . .
"His hands were large and powerful and of the weathered aspect of his face. It was a countenance full of serene light, with little of the typically ecclesiastical about it: a high brow, a long nose, lean cheeks, strong jaw, and a large mobile mouth, humorous and sensitive the mouth of the orator, with thin lips that could close in impenetrable silence. The eyes were blue, and they twinkled with a lively intelligence and kindly humor. Perhaps I could do no better, in the effort to give some impression of him, than to say that had it not been for those touches of red in his black garb be would have recalled some tall, gaunt, simple, affectionate Irish priest, whose life was passed in obscure toil among the poor, in humble homes, amid lowly lives whose every care and preoccupation he knew and sympathized with, going about at night alone in all weathers, unsparing of himself, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, forgetting to eat, accustomed to long, weary vigils, and of an independence that needed none of the reliances or approvals of this earth.
"There was something primal, original about him, a man out of the people, yet above them---one of those rare and lofty personalities who give the common man hope because they are like him and yet better, greater than he, who, create in him new aspirations and higher hopes because they demonstrate in their sufficient selves what a common man may become if only he have the will by devotion, by abnegation, by sacrifice, and by love. In his mere presence one felt all little things shrivel up, and wondered why small annoyances should fret and irritate; and when he had gone, the impalpable influences of his lofty spirit hung for hours about one in the air. He was the incarnation of the principle that is the antithesis of that upon which the nation that had overrun his country is founded, and because of this, all its armies and all its guns and bayonets and Kommandanturs were powerless; its minions, who had not hesitated to destroy whole cities and communities, did not dare even so much as to touch a hair of his head. Ultimate history, written at that hour when mankind shall have emerged out of the darkness and savagery of these times into the light of those better days that must come if there is any meaning of order in the universe, will celebrate the astonishing coincidence that, in the little nation which the most ruthless power of all times chose as the first and most tragic of its many victims, there was a man whose personality, alone and of itself, proved the superiority of moral over physical force."
The Pope said to Cardinal Mercier: "You have saved the Church!" Nothing could be truer. For the universal Church, torn between enemy peoples, remained strangely silent throughout these years. The Pope could take no part without shocking a great portion of his faithful and tearing the Church in twain. He was paralyzed by the extent of his responsibilities. But it is fortunate for the moral authority of the Church that one of its highest dignitaries was to be found ready to protest against injustice and to speak in the name of Right. It was Cardinal Mercier who in that time of sorrow made the Catholic Churches an asylum for the harassed people.
In thus saving the Church, the Cardinal proved faithful to his mission---his mission of personifying his country. Without him Belgium would have remained mute in the War. The world would not have known its feelings and might have misinterpreted them---might have doubted whether the souls of the people had risen to the height of the circumstances. Without such a leader, indeed, the people might have wavered. Their protestations might at the start have been unanimous, but lassitude and discouragement might have gained ground. Belgium might never have become in the eyes of the world such a symbol of fidelity and heroism.
The Germans themselves saw this and it was to the Cardinal that in October, 1918, the Governor General conveyed the first official notification of the impending retreat of the army: "In our eyes you are the incarnation of occupied Belgium, of which you are the venerated pastor, to whom all your compatriots listen." Could one imagine a tribute more unlooked for, more honorable and more amply deserved?
In saving his people, the Cardinal did more. He laid the foundation for the New City which must be built upon patriotism, justice and faith. A man of war from love of peace, Cardinal Mercier at a cruel hour stood out as the incarnation of his country, of invincible justice and of faith in God.
BARON SONNINO WAS AN EXTRAORDINARILY COMPLEX personality---Italian on his father's side, English on his mother's, a Protestant by religion, yet somewhat of a Jew by blood. His loyalty, his intellectual integrity, his culture, his personal disinterestedness were never called in question. All that was wanted to make him a real statesman was a touch of political insight.
But Baron Sonnino was no politician; he set no store on popularity---in fact he despised it. He set no store on power. For twenty years Giolitti governed Italy as Bratiano governed Rumania. When he grew tired of it, he could call upon one of his opponents, a Luzzatti, a Sonnino, a Salandra, to take his place for the moment. After a few months he would then overthrow that government and take up the reins of power again. It was by such precarious tenure that Baron Sonnino twice governed Italy for ninety days, but he never had the chance of putting his ideas into practice and showing the stuff he was made of.
He was a liberal in politics and an aristocrat by nature. He hated the crowd. He was a fine scholar, an ardent student of Dante, and he was happiest in his library, round which there ran this proud motto, the keystone of his life's philosophy: "Quod aliis licet, non tibi!" ("What others may do, you must not!")
Baron Sonnino was not in Rome when the Great War broke out, but he returned at once, and his friends met him at the station with the words "Italy has declared her neutrality." Sonnino threw up his hands in despair---"We are dishonored," he exclaimed. That was the sort of man he was. Not, as was alleged, a Germanophile or a zealot for the Triple Alliance---that has been completely disproved by subsequent events---but a man who honored all treaties and written pledges with a loyalty so scrupulous that it sometimes became shortsighted. It dictated his actions during the early days of August, 1914, and later, at the Peace Conference, was the basis of his advocacy of the application of the Treaty of London.
Seldom has a statesman been put in so difficult a position as Signor Salandra, the Italian President of the Council, when the War broke out. He was at the mercy of the Parliamentary majority which Signor Giolitti commanded, the army was totally unprepared, Austria and Germany both accused the Italian government of treachery, and Signor Salandra, who appreciated how necessary it was for Italy to come in on the side of the Allies, found ranged against him a large section of the people, comprising the Catholics, the Socialists and the Freemasons.
When Signor San-Giuliano, the Foreign Minister, died in October, 1914, Signor Salandra was faced with the difficult problem of finding a successor. Most of the men who were qualified for the office were committed to Signor Giolitti and were sworn partisans of neutrality. Signor Salandra could appeal to none of these for help in bringing his country into the War. He had to have a man gifted with political acumen in whom he could put his whole trust, and who would inspire an equal trust in the country.
In these circumstances Signor Salandra turned to Baron Sonnino, who was an old friend and held political views similar to his own.
The only difficulty was that, at the time, Sonnino was opposed to his foreign policy. Hostile to neutrality, he was still more hostile to the War. His aim was by diplomacy to obtain from Austria the realization of Italy's national aspirations, and especially the unconditional cession of the Trentino. Signor Salandra gave him his confidence, trusting in his loyalty, and knowing that if eventually he did not come round to his point of view he would go.
The upshot was that Baron Sonnino found himself intrusted with the historic negotiations which were to end either in bringing Italy into the War or keeping her definitely out of it. It is well known that Germany sent Prince von Bülow specially to Rome to be intermediary between Italy and Austria. He failed. "Silence is not the outstanding characteristic of this nation," he said, "but it was my misfortune to strike the one Italian who did not talk."
Baron Sonnino was indeed no talker. His compatriots nicknamed him "the Taciturn." During the negotiations he listened to his visitor, and when he felt that no useful purpose could be served by the conversation he simply did not answer, and the interview degenerated into a monologue.
Baron Sonnino, saw very soon that there was nothing to be expected from Austria. That country had no desire to pay for the neutrality of Italy and reward what she looked upon as treachery. Nor had she any desire voluntarily to dismember herself and encroach upon the very territorial integrity that she was at the moment defending by force of arms. But the frontier adjustment that she did offer, the parecchio, the small concessions that Signor Giolitti was prepared to accept, were to enable Baron Sonnino to obtain large concessions from the Allies. For if the Central Powers would give Italy something to remain neutral, what would the Allies not give her to enter the War on their side?
It was thought at the time that the intervention of Italy would end the War, and no price was too high for such a result. Besides, Italy's price was the annexation of enemy territory, and why should the Allies be niggardly over that!
What Baron Sonnino did not see, and never even suspected, was that this war was not the same as other wars and that it was above all a conflict of moral values. Perhaps at that time his colleagues, the Allied foreign ministers, did not see it any more than he did, in spite of all their protestations. Devoid of imagination, one and all, they could not believe that the future would be different from the past. In all the previous wars---even the Balkan war of 1912---countries had found themselves in difficulties because they had not sufficiently specified their claims in advance. Baron Sonnino took this lesson so literally that he was too specific in his claims.
Imbued with the spirit of the old diplomacy he felt that he would be failing in his duty to his country if he did not obtain for her every possible aggrandizement. In his eyes the War was nothing more than a question of the balance of power, and he thought that when the other allies were enlarging their territories Italy, to preserve her relative position, should expand as much or even more.
Then Baron Sonnino made the great mistake of his career. He was lacking in that spirit of moderation which is the first essential in a statesman. In the name of the right of nationality Italy claimed the Trentino and Trieste. That was clear and logical, and if Baron Sonnino had stopped there he would have had the moral support of all the Allies and of a great part of the people of Austria-Hungary, and the power of the Italian Army would have been increased tenfold. But Baron Sonnino then embroiled himself in questions of military safeguards and balance of naval power, questions which were incompatible with the principles for which the Allies were fighting. That was how he got promises regarding the Tyrol and Dalmatia, which were territories whose population was German or Slav, and which recoiled with horror from the idea of annexation by Italy. All this strengthened the morale of the Austrian army against which his own soldiers had to fight.
This error of judgment had serious consequences for Italy. Her policy, instead of being clear, definite and logical, became involved in a series of paralyzing inconsistencies. The Treaty of London might be justified if the new Europe was to be like the pre-war Europe; Austria-Hungary, although beaten to the point of accepting the harshest conditions, was not to be allowed to break up; Russia was not to be so victorious that she could take Serbia under her wing or get a footing in the Adriatic; Germany, although beaten, was to remain a counterbalance to the power of France; Serbia, although victorious, was not to claim Austro-Hungarian territory; Greece was to keep out of the War and not to seek aggrandizement in Asia Minor. In a word, things were to remain exactly in the position most favorable to Italy; or rather, to put it a better way, the easy working of the Treaty of London postulated that Italy would have to emerge the only victor from the War! It is really surprising that a man of such penetration as Baron Sonnino, should not have seen how precarious and artificial his position was.
Or rather he did see it, and that is what explains his war policy. First of all, his fear of publicity. He knew that his treaty would not bear any public discussion which proceeded on the principles in the name of which the Allies boasted they had taken up arms. So he resolutely maintained that the Treaty of London must remain secret, and he would not have it officially communicated to the Serbs. It was the Bolsheviks who were good enough to publish it for him. He would not even take part in diplomatic conversations on the Treaty, for to his mind it was inviolate and beyond all discussion.
With much more reason he set himself against all pourparlers with the Emperor Charles, who was in such straits that he was prepared to give the fullest satisfaction to Italy's national aspirations. But it was obvious to Rome that if a separate peace were concluded with Austria she could not be asked to cede German or Slav territory. It was not for the districts inhabited by Italians, the Trentino and Trieste, that Italy fought so long, it was for the Brenner and Dalmatia. This explains the vehemence with which the Italian delegation pushed their claims at the Peace Conference.
But although Baron Sonnino set his face against a separate peace with Austria, he was equally opposed to the nationalist movements which were working for her disruption, for he knew that if these movements succeeded the Italian claims to Slav territory would come up against insurmountable opposition. This was why he was opposed to the Congress of Rome which Signor Orlando favored against the wishes of his Foreign Minister, and this was why, by analogous reasoning, he opposed the claims of Poland.
In law the position of the Italian government was unimpeachable. As the inducement for Italian intervention in the War, the Allies had made Italy certain promises, and these promises should now be redeemed. But in equity her attitude was less justifiable, and from a political point of view indefensible. This territorial greed not only deprived Italy of almost all the moral credit she might have drawn from a war waged for the rights of nationalities, but also gave rise to grave misunderstandings between the Allies.
Baron Sonnino, was in power throughout the War. He seemed to his compatriots to be the right man in the right place. It was to him personally that the Allies had pledged themselves, and he alone had the authority to see that they fulfilled their pledges. One might well believe that if Sonnino fell his treaty would fall with him. It was thus imperative that Baron Sonnino should be the Italian plenipotentiary at the Peace Conference. That is why Signor Orlando did not dare to dissociate himself from his policy, although he disagreed with it. The onus that would rest on the man who overthrew Sonnino would be staggering, for he would have to carry on his shoulders the sole responsibility for the Peace.
Baron Sonnino arrived at Paris with a threefold handicap ---his conscience, his delegation and his Treaty.
First of all his conscience. He had taken upon himself the most terrifying personal and national responsibilities, and several times he reminded the Conference of it:
"You others," he said to his colleagues, "who have been attacked or provoked, you have had no choice but to go to war. No one can reproach you with it, but I am in a different case. Impelled by no such necessity, I have involved my countrymen in a ghastly war by making them specific promises. I have on my conscience six hundred thousand Italian lives, and what shall I say to my people if I fail to keep these promises?" And then he added, with a shudder, "I am a criminal!"
These words, spoken in all sincerity, undoubtedly made a great impression on President Wilson, and probably secured the Brenner Pass for Italy, but they also prevented Signor Sonnino from being an agile and adroit negotiator, an artificer of the New Europe.
He was further handicapped by the divergence of views that showed itself within the Italian delegation and also in the country. His idea was to hold fast to the Treaty of London and demand its application pure and simple. To gain that point he was naturally foreclosed from any other claim. Now, Signor Orlando, President of the Council, had neither eyes nor thoughts for anything save Fiume.
The Treaty of London was based on the assumption that Austria-Hungary would remain a power; no one had dared to take away Hungary's only maritime outlet. To ask for Fiume was thus to go beyond the scope of the Treaty, to recognize that circumstances had changed, and thus to preclude any possible claim to Dalmatia. Baron Sonnino was well aware that Signor Orlando was damning his policy by introducing this inconsistency into it. But he succeeded neither in converting Signor Orlando, who was more interested in Fiume than in Dalmatia, nor Signor Tittoni, who wanted neither the one nor the other. That is partly the reason for the creation of the Council of Four. Signor Orlando wished to be rid of Baron Sonnino and found ready support in President Wilson, who was embarrassed by Mr. Lansing, and in M. Clémenceau, who found M. Pichon troublesome. From that moment Italy was represented by Signor Orlando alone.
Signor Orlando was clever, but he was variable, weak and sentimental, and given to weeping. With tears in his voice he would make touching speeches to his colleagues on the "Italianity" of Fiume, only to succeed in irritating them and supplying them with arguments against the Treaty of London.
The Italian delegation to the Peace Conference gradually slipped into the rôle of Oliver Twist. Italy had entered the War freely and voluntarily, for the realization of a national ideal which was in perfect accord with those of the Allies; she had rendered them great service and had fought heroically. In the peace as in the War, she could have held an outstanding position. This, however, was not to be, because instead of taking her stand on the rights of nationality, instead of invoking President Wilson's Fourteen Points, instead of collaborating wholeheartedly in the establishment of a just and lasting peace, the Italian delegation concentrated its efforts upon the strict execution of a Treaty which practically the whole world recognized as fundamentally unjust.
Was the Treaty still valid and did it morally bind the Allies? That was the first question which the Conference had to answer. The Italians contended that as they had carried out their engagements they were entitled to look for the promised rewards. But President Wilson was not a signatory to the Treaty of London, which was indeed in conflict with his principles. Moreover, Italy had obtained the Treaty on the grounds that she must have strong frontiers against Austria-Hungary, and protection against the dangers of Russia establishing naval bases on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. But now Austria and Russia had ceased to exist as great powers.
It must be admitted that Italy had a case. She had turned down the Austrian overtures in 1915. She had lost six hundred thousand men, she had seen two of her fairest provinces laid waste, and now after four years of sacrifice she was almost brought back by virtue of the principle of nationality to the parecchio which she could have got by remaining neutral.
A story was told at that time of a father whose son, an Italian aviator, had been killed in an air combat during the last days of the War. After the Armistice he visited the scene of the combat and there found his son's victorious adversary, an Austrian officer who now sported the Jugo-Slav colors in his button-hole and held out his hand with the words "We are allies now!"
That story illustrates how the Italians felt towards the Jugo-Slavs. In the Lombardy country the old people who remember the Austrian régime still call their former oppressors "Croats". It was hard to have to regard as friends the enemies they had fought so fiercely for four years from trench to trench.
But if it was natural for the people to have such feelings, the duty of the government surely was to educate them past these sentimental considerations to conceptions of higher policy.
That is just what the government did not do. The Italian delegates refused to recognize the Jugo-Slavs as Allies. They refused to sit with them in committee, and would not even shake hands with them. On the eve of the Armistice Baron Sonnino had arrested on Italian soil the Jugo-Slav representatives who had come to hand over the Austrian fleet: and its finest unit, the Viribus Unitis, was sunk by the Italians while still in Jugo-Slav hands. It was in truth an act of war.
From the very beginning of the Conference, therefore, the Italian delegates found themselves in open conflict with the Serbs, and, what was more serious, with the Americans. They were thus driven to countenance and support all those who at the Conference were claiming more than their due. They pushed France to the Rhine, Poland to Danzig, Rumania to the Banat, in order to create precedents which they could invoke later, and in order to render services which they could be sure of turning to account. When the Council of Four was considering problems that affected Signor Orlando and Baron Sonnino, the two Italians almost invariably pressed for a solution which was most inimical to peace. They could all do whatever they liked, provided always that they did what Italy wanted!
It has been said that at Paris Baron Sonnino carried out simultaneously the policies of Metternich and Machiavelli. That is too sweeping---he contented himself with Metternich. He had law and logic on his side, but the logic was cast-iron. He was a jurist of the same type as M. Poincaré. All his law was written law and the law of contractual obligations. Once beyond these and he was out of his depth. Baron Sonnino was out for the Treaty and for nothing else.
The question has often been asked, why did Italy get no share of the German colonies along with the great powers! The answer is simple. Baron Sonnino was afraid that if he accepted the slightest thing outside the Treaty of London, that would give the Allies an excuse to demand a quid pro quo and reopen discussion on the Treaty. From that standpoint he never moved an inch. He asked for nothing more than had been promised him in 1915, and it was not of him, but of Signor Boselli, that M. Briand could say during the Inter-Allied Conference "If this goes on, I'll get away with nothing but the seat of my pants!"
And it was not he, but Signor Orlando, who at the Peace Conference laid claim to Fiume on the one hand by invoking Wilsonian principles, and to Dalmatia on the other by taking his stand on the text of the Treaty of London.
This was what in April, 1919, precipitated the fateful crisis of the Peace Conference.
President Wilson had gone to Rome to try to convince the Italian people over the heads of their delegates. He had failed and had come back very displeased. Various incidents had combined to upset him still more when on April 22nd he suddenly learned that the Italian government was getting ready to proclaim the annexation of Fiume. There was no time to lose, and he published his famous declaration at once. Signor Orlando made an impassioned reply and decided to return to Rome, partly for reasons of domestic politics and partly to exert pressure on President Wilson. Rome gave him an enthusiastic welcome and the U. S. Embassy had to be put under military protection.
Signor Orlando's idea was that the departure of his delegation from Paris would prevent the Allies from concluding peace with Germany. Baron Sonnino never approved of this policy, which he characterized as that of "the servant who trundles her trunks into the hall." But he yielded eventually to Signor Orlando's urgent representations and the delegation left Paris.
This move did not have the intended result. The Allies were exasperated with the Italian delegates. After one of the meetings where the British, American and French had been present, Mr. Seton-Watson, who was reputed to be implacably hostile to the Italian policy, said with astonishment, "I was the only one to say a good word for Italy!"
The Supreme Council---in Signor Orlando's absence the Council of Three---came to the conclusion that as the Italians had taken part in the drafting of the Treaty, their absence need not postpone its being communicated to the Germans. It was in vain that Baron Sonnino tried to make out that this was a breach of the agreement between the Allies that they would make no separate peace, and the Italian government, appreciating the fact that the absent are always in the wrong, decided to send back the delegation in haste to Paris.
Naturally this episode did nothing to increase the prestige of Signor Orlando or Baron Sonnino. For, although the latter had had nothing to do with the decision to return to Rome, public opinion, which is incapable of drawing fine distinctions, held the Foreign Minister responsible. The result was that, as often happens, Baron Sonnino, who had made so many mistakes, found himself blamed for one which was not his.
"We have the whole Chamber with us," said a member of the Italian government, "but in a week we shall be out of office." His prophecy came true. Immediately after the Peace Treaty was signed Signor Orlando was disowned by a Chamber which would not even listen to him. Baron Sonnino fell with him.
True to his character, Baron Sonnino maintained his attitude of silence throughout his retirement and to the moment of his death. He put forward no attempt at personal vindication, he gave no explanation of his conduct, he offered no pro domo defense. He despised the abuse of the mob just as he had despised its plaudits.
Two lessons, both of them melancholy, may be learned from this story. The first is that it takes more than an upright conscience to make a great statesman. Baron Sonnino on his death-bed could say with truth that he had served his country wherever his conscience would let him. His patriotism and his honesty were above suspicion. More than once, for love of country, he had submitted to opinions which he did not share, and the tragedy was that a man with a will and a definite policy could carry into effect neither the one nor the other.
But when all is said and done, it must be admitted that Baron Sonnino has probably done his country more harm than good. For he failed to understand the spirit of his age, and, in the name of Italy, and in the days of President Wilson, he tried to carry out the Bismarckian policy which brought Germany to her ruin.
The second lesson which is to be learned from all this is that nations do not always understand the causes of the fortune and misfortune which is their lot. For the Italians, instead of blaming Baron Sonnino for his reliance on force, his contempt for principles, and his fetish of the balance of power, have reproached him with too much weakness and moderation. From his failure they have not learned the lesson that they should adopt a policy different from his, but believe that they must follow the same policy, only with greater force and better results.
And that perhaps shows that Baron Sonnino was the sport of fate, and that what he did he could not have done otherwise.
SOME YEARS BEFORE THE WAR AN ENGLISH DIPLOMAT AT Constantinople asked a friend to name the greatest statesman of the day. His friend mentioned several well-known names---Poincaré, Grey---but it was none of these. At last, the Englishman confided: "It's a young man. He lives in Crete. But I can't remember his name!"
At that time M. Venizelos was a member of the revolutionary government of his native island, which had revolted against the domination of the Sultan. It was in that capacity that he came into touch with the consuls of the great powers at Canea, and addressed notes to them which they in turn transmitted to their respective governments. In this way the word was passed round the various chancellories that somewhere in the South there was an outstanding man with the political sense of a Pericles and the eloquence of a Demosthenes.
He was known in Athens too. Greece at that time was a country of barely two million inhabitants, with its government in the hands of a few powerful but rival families. How could this country on which the Turks had just inflicted a crushing defeat, take the helping hand stretched out to it by the island rebels? How could it dream of retaliating when its government, preoccupied with domestic squabbles, gave in to the powers, and cringed to Turkey?
But in the universities and the army, among the youth of the land, there was being born a new hope and a new discontent. Their love for freedom and the traditions of their country made them suffer acutely under defeat. It was the call to nationalism. One day in 1909, the Military League was formed. At the mere sight of it the government fell, the League took control, and chose as its head Eleutheros Venizelos, come post haste from Crete.
This man, who in one day was called upon to take charge of another nation's destiny, had three fundamental characteristics: he was honest, he was an optimist, and he was a liberal.
His honesty could be read in his eyes, clear as a child's. In the course of his career he has proved it many a time. During the War it was his honesty that rebelled when his government refused to come to the aid of Serbia under the pretext that the alliance only held good in connection with Balkan affairs. Venizelos knew that this was not true, for he had been the author of the treaty, and he refused to lend his name to what he considered an "infamy." At the elections of 1915 he declared that his policy would be towards immediate intervention on the side of the Allies, and when some one remarked to him that it might have been politic to leave that point vague, Venizelos answered hotly, "I would never want any Greek to be able to confront me and say that I had deceived him or won his vote on false pretences."
Later still, when he was rebuked for his bad choice of friends---a failing which was eventually to lead him to his fall---his reply was: "They have left everything and risked everything to follow me to Salonika. I could not desert them now."
Besides being a faithful friend, he was an optimist. His optimism has been the cause of all his big achievements and of not a few of his mistakes. When he was still in Crete, an unknown, powerless subject of Turkey, he astonished those who met him by the assurance with which he spoke of the union of Crete with Greece. It was the vision he already had of the expansion of Greece which enabled him to make it a reality. Nothing great can be done in this world without optimism.
From the beginning of the World War he never for a moment wavered in his belief in the victory of the Allies. "We must make up our minds to intervene at once," he said to the Cabinet in 1914, "for in three weeks the Allies will be in Berlin." He maintained that confident attitude in spite of all reverses, and it more than once led him into an error of judgment. For, convinced as he was that Allied victory was imminent, M. Venizelos lived in perpetual fear that Greece would come in too late and that the Allies would be victorious without her.
His optimism was again evident at the Peace Conference. No task seemed to be beyond the resources of his country. Without the flicker of an eyelid he took the risk of the Asia Minor gamble from which all competent observers tried to dissuade him. He would have tackled Constantinople itself, if the powers had asked him!
Finally, besides being an optimist, he was also a liberal. The term is somewhat surprising when one remembers that M. Venizelos has been responsible for seven revolutions in his lifetime. The figure is his and should be correct.
In Crete he headed several revolutions against Turkey. He arrives in Greece and straightway finds himself at the head of a Military League which overthrows the constitution. The war breaks out, and on his dismissal by King Constantine, he organizes a revolutionary government at Salonika. Still another revolution was needed in Athens before he could reenter the capital. The elections drove him out again and he was recalled as a result of a new coup d'État.
But it is not by temperament that M. Venizelos has been a revolutionary during his whole career; it is rather by the force of circumstances and the turn of events. In his heart he has always been for law and order. In the autumn of 1915, when he was rudely dismissed by the King, a foreign diplomat hastened to his house and found him there with some of his supporters, dejected and forlorn. "This is rank treachery," he exclaimed. "Your place is in the Chamber. You must defend yourself."
But Venizelos refused, with the remark, "It is not power that I hold to---I despise it. All I hold to are my convictions."
When, on the day after the Peace Conference, a fanatic shot at him in the Gare de Lyon at Paris, Venizelos was holding in his hand a little book entitled "Small History of English Liberalism." It was his breviary.
After the War he was an all-powerful dictator. He could do what he wanted in Greece, and the continuance of that power seemed to rest entirely with him. But he had had no respite in which to prepare for the elections and put his power on a constitutional basis. Blinded by his optimism, he could not see that these elections would prove disastrous to him. By very reason of his revolutionary career Venizelos had to exert himself more than any other to prove to the people that he was not merely destructive, but that he was a statesman.
A statesman he has always been. When he arrived in Greece that first time, carried on a wave of national feeling, he exercised moderation in his dealings with Turkey, reassured the powers, and himself advised the deputies elected from Crete (which did not yet belong to Greece) not to take their places in the Chamber, in order to avoid raising international issues for which Greece was not yet prepared. In that way he gave himself time to organize the army and set on its feet the Balkan League, which was to give the signal for war by driving the Turks from nearly all their European possessions.
When the Balkan allies began to quarrel among themselves over the partition of the conquered territory, he worked more than any other man to establish the Greco-Serb alliance and crush the Bulgarians.
When the World War broke out, the reaction in Greece was unanimous. That country, maritime and open to easy attack, was wholly at the mercy of England. Even before the Battle of the Marne, the Greek government had made an official offer of coöperation to the Allies. The Allies thanked them but refused their aid. Turkey and Bulgaria were neutral; every one believed that the war would be over quickly, and Greece could not bring any additional help to the Allied cause ---quite the contrary.
When Turkey entered the War, however, the situation was changed; the help of Greece had now become valuable, and it was asked for several times. But from that moment a fundamental difference of opinion between M. Venizelos and the King began to show itself.
King Constantine believed in the victory of Germany, in the word of William II, and in the divine right of kings. He wanted to be the Kaiser of Greece. He had defeated the Bulgarians because they were exhausted, but he believed that another war with them was inevitable, and he wished to keep his army fresh for the struggle.
Actuated by the same motives, Venizelos bestirred himself in quite the opposite direction. "Greece," he said to me later in a conversation I had with him in Paris, "entered the war to escape the dishonor of having violated her treaty. She entered it at the worst possible moment, yet I do not regret it, Better that Greece should be beaten along with the Allies---which I cannot for one moment believe---than that she should remain neutral and be beaten alone in a few years by a greater Bulgaria. Besides, it is unthinkable to me that an autocracy, however perfect, should win a lasting victory over democracy."
Venizelos was anxious for the victory of democracy, because his liberalism urged him to make autocratic government impossible for Constantine. Moreover, he believed that England would win. To some one who predicted a German victory he answered: "Germany will win when England has lost her last ship." He understood, too, that France and England, even if beaten, could not be kept out of the Mediterranean, and that they would continue to have Greece at their mercy. For the Greeks, therefore, it was better to be beaten with the Allies than to conquer with the Germans.
To appreciate the full extent of the clash of policy between the King and his minister, one must bear in mind the fact that in modern as in ancient Greece politics are neither domestic nor foreign; they are purely personal. Now, the King and Venizelos both possessed, although in different degrees, the power of personal fascination. Both had emerged with glory from the Balkan wars, the one as a statesman, the other as a military chief, and both had a following.
At all public functions the King and his ministers were followed by their partisans in two processions, and it was patent to every one that M. Venizelos had the larger following. Yet his excessive optimism so blinded him that he could not see how precarious such popularity was.
The new Greeks were afire to deliver the millions of their brothers left in Turkey. By instinct they welcomed the War as a new crusade. But the old Greeks, tired out by two wars, felt that after its recent rapid development what their country needed was peace.
Venizelos naturally turned to the newcomers. He had against him all the traditional forces of the nation ranged round the King and his vassals. His friends were in Macedonia and the islands, but it was his enemies who were at Athens in the Cabinet and at the court.
This difficulty might have been resolved by patience. If Venizelos had waited Greece might have voted unanimously for intervention when America entered the War. But he could not wait---that was his greatest mistake. M. Bratiano failed through excess of caution, Venizelos through excessive zeal. He lived for three years in the fear that the Allies would win the War without him!
It would have been a simple matter for Venizelos and the King, if they had joined forces, to bring their country into the War on the side of the Allies. But from the moment of their disagreement it became a superhuman task for either of them, particularly for Venizelos. The King, after all, stood for constitutional continuity. In separating himself from him Venizelos once more had the appearance of putting himself in conflict with the constitution. Many of his friends hesitated to follow him. No one knew how things would turn out, and was it not safer to remain faithful to the constitution? Those who did follow him were not the best, with the result that Venizelos was often obliged to say, "I am no Venizelist!"
Last but not least, Venizelos in his struggle with the King got no support from the Allies. They were continuously favorable to Constantine---Russia for dynastic reasons and to keep the Greeks away from Constantinople, Italy to keep them out of her way in Asia Minor, and England out of opposition to the eastern campaign. France alone upheld Venizelos, but unenergetically and of no set purpose. The Allies made one mistake after another. As the price of his joining them the King asked only one thing, the guarantee of the integrity of his territory---a guarantee which William II had already given. The Allies, in deference to the susceptibilities of the Bulgarians, refused, and even went so far as to offer the latter Kavala---unknown to the Greek government. They gave no reply to certain of the King's proposals, and on occasion even broke their word to him.
Their biggest mistake was the blockade which, although intended to punish the King and his entourage, only succeeded in making the people suffer. Venizelos, who was supposed to have influence with the Allies, was held responsible. It was then that he said: "Not only have I had to defend myself against my enemies abroad and at home, but even against my friends, and that is the most difficult task of all." After he had explained this situation to the Inter-Allied Council at Versailles, Lloyd George said, "I am ashamed of the way in which we have treated our friend M. Venizelos."
How bitter was the hatred of the Greek people against Venizelos was shown in the revival from ancient times of the terrible ceremony of the curse. The words of the curse were pronounced by the same Bishop of Patras who was later to congratulate him on his return to power. Then forty-five thousand people, among whom were many society women, came in procession, each bringing a stone as a sign of the evil they wished to heap upon Venizelos.
During that time the object of their hatred was at Salonika trying to improvize an army from a people who did not wish to fight, from a state without money, and from a government without men. He was equal to every task, with an activity, an energy, and a perseverance that were wholly admirable. But these years undermined his health, and to-day his premature old age bears witness to them. When at last he could return to Athens after Constantine had been deposed by the Allies, it was under foreign patronage and with half the nation against him. Yet if his return did not contribute anything to his personal popularity in Greece, at least it allowed his country to figure among the conquerors at the Peace Conference.
It was then that M. Venizelos showed his mettle and appeared as a statesman of the first rank. His country, whose efforts during the War had been tardy and restricted, could not claim great authority at the Conference, but he, as the man who had rendered great services to the Allies and risked his popularity for them, could. His cleverness lay in the skill with which he turned this authority to the benefit of Greece.
M. Venizelos had brought his country into the War without haggling about conditions. Unlike Italy and Rumania, therefore, she did not have the advantage of a secret treaty. This was her chance. For M. Venizelos had to appeal not to memoranda but to principles, not to pledges but to rights. He put himself firmly on the side of moral forces, and that is what enabled him to win a complete victory.
"If you tell me," he declared, "that President Wilson refuses Thrace to us because he does not believe the population is Greek, I undertake to demonstrate that he is mistaken. If you tell me he refuses it to us for any other reason, I will undertake to prove that that is not consistent with his Fourteen Points."
So apt a student was he of the Wilsonian phraseology that when the Conference was nominating the provisional members of the Council of the League of Nations, Greece was an obvious appointment.
But even this success could not postpone his fall. When, in the name of the rights of nationalism, he had asked and won for Greece Smyrna and its hinterland, he believed that the United States would accept the mandate of Armenia and that Turkey would thus be kept at bay. As things turned out, however, the nationalist element in Turkey started the War again, Europe washed her hands of the whole business, and it became clear that the occupation of Smyrna would be a difficult and costly affair. At a time when every other state was demobilizing, Greece alone was compelled to remobilize her army.
All this naturally renewed Venizelos' unpopularity. That he had saved his country from defeat and its dire consequences, was forgotten in a moment. Forgotten too was the fact that he had twice doubled her territory. The people saw no further than the burdens which a new and probably protracted war would place upon them. For twenty-two months Venizelos, though continually on the move, had practically never set foot in Greece. His opponents on the other hand had been there all the time, and they had spared neither his own mistakes nor those of his colleagues.
It was at that particularly unfavorable moment that Venizelos, carried away once more by his optimism, and his desire to be constitutional, decided to appeal to the people. The elections which he had counted on to strengthen his hand, turned out in fact to be a crushing defeat for him and a vote of confidence in his enemy, King Constantine. Venizelos had to go into exile. One of his old friends, an Englishman, W. R. Miller, who saw him then at Rome, said he was a broken man. Shortly afterwards he was afflicted by congestion of the lungs.
His sole satisfaction was that he could watch the blunders of his successors, but it hurt him to see the unhappiness of his fellow-countrymen.
The elections had been won on the cry "Down with the Asia Minor campaign," but when Constantine came back he had to look round for some means of gaining prestige and success. He increased the army from 60,000 to 300,000 men. He sent them right into the heart of Asia Minor to meet the Turks, who inflicted a crushing defeat. The Allies, on their side, were engaged in reprisals of every kind against Constantine; they cut off his credits, supplied his enemies with munitions, and broke his blockade. The Greek army was pushed down to the sea and with it the whole Greek population of Turkey. Millions of them poured into Greece in utter destitution. It was an unprecedented disaster, and the Lausanne Conference completed the ruin of the diplomatic policy of Venizelos.
He did not even have the satisfaction of healing his country's wounds. He came back twice to Athens, but only for very short periods. He could not take office again because of his health, but at least Greece was willing to take advantage of his great diplomatic reputation; she sent him to Geneva. But he had greatly changed. The man who had so admirably understood President Wilson's ideas at Paris, was now defying the Council and mocking the League of Nations. His defeat was lamentable, and I can see him still after the meeting sitting alone in a corner, his black skull-cap on his head, deserted by all.
The saddest thing of all is that Venizelos, has lost his genius for power, but not his taste for it.
Several times he has taken the road to exile, and each time he has returned; he has promised never again to take power and has broken his word; he has put lieutenants in his place and then overthrown them; after having fought the republic against his friends, he has come to save it when it was no longer menaced; after having preached stability of government and the reconstruction of his country, he has interrupted the work of stabilization and reconstruction of his successors. Finally, he the great liberal has put the crowning touch on his career by elections that have made him a dictator. Unfathomable contradictions of ambition!
The great misfortune of this man who loved his country as no other has, will be to leave behind him a greater Greece but one which is, through his mistakes, more divided than ever before. As one of his biographers has said with verity and severity, "His name is still a symbol of glory to some, of hatred to others, and a source of discord to all."
THERE ARE TWO DYNASTIES IN RUMANIA, ONE NATIONAL dynasty, that of the Bratianos, and one German dynasty, that of the Hohenzollerns, the national one being, naturally, the stronger.
A dynasty is a family that has gained ascendancy over the others; in Rumania no one noble family has been able to overcome the others. For centuries the great Rumanian aristocratic families had fought amongst each other. One of the last princes, Georges Bibesco, who had for a time united the country, was overthrown by a coalition of his brothers and cousins. Bratiano realized that it was useless to count upon a self-seeking aristocracy and that another house, a foreign dynasty, must be found to rule in Rumania.
Jon Bratiano, senior, was one of the revolutionaries of 1848 and had fought on the barricades in Paris. Upon his return to Rumania, he became the savior of his country, founded its national unity and placed the King on the throne.
In the nineteenth century it was thought that kings could be transplanted like shrubs. Experience has proved that in the present epoch of nationalism, such imported dynasties do not easily become acclimatized and that they find it difficult to gain the hearts of their subjects. This may be seen in Greece and Bulgaria. In Rumania, King Charles remained a German until the end of his life in spite of his high ideal of royal duty and the great services he rendered his adopted country.
Unfortunately, the principle of heredity broke down upon two occasions. King Charles did not have a son, and in order to insure the succession it was necessary to bring his nephew, Prince Ferdinand, who was then twenty years of age, from Germany. At this age a man is already formed, and although Ferdinand, a German prince and a Catholic, became loyally and completely King of Rumania, it was at the cost of a daily effort of will and not without spiritual suffering. A devout Catholic, he was obliged to baptize his six children into a religion that is excommunicated by the Church of Rome. A German, he had to make war upon his own country, a war that brought him great affliction, from the betrayal of his Russian allies to the separate peace.
The comfort he needed was not to be found in his family. His last grief was to see the heir to the throne, the first of the princes born in Rumania, desert his post in the army in the midst of the War, retire behind the enemies' lines to get married, become successively a Fascist and a Bolshevist and, rebelling openly against his parents, find himself obliged to renounce the crown. The King died without any assurance for the future, for he left the crown to a child of five.
What, one wonders, would have become of the country if it had not had a native dynasty of statesmen besides these foreign princes?
When he came to Rumania, Prince Charles had wisely realized that his position in the country had no foundation and that his name alone was not sufficient to inspire loyalty to the monarchy in a people who did not know him. He needed a support of some kind and found it in the person of Jon Bratiano, who had called him to the throne. He understood that this little man was a great man and for twenty years based his popularity and authority upon him.
Bratiano, senior, was the first to die, but he left the King a son, two sons in fact. Jon, the elder, had inherited his gifts as a statesman and all his ideas. He became the King's advisor and the leader of the party, while his brother, Vintila, became the Minister of Finance.
Until the War, the Liberals and Conservatives in turn were in power in Rumania. But the Conservatives were disunited and the Liberals always had the advantage of superior organization. It was they who set the pace, taking power or letting it go, as it served their purpose. It was this that enabled Bratiano to be the moving spirit of Rumanian policy, from 1907 to 1927, whether he was on the stage or in the wings.
Elections are what one makes them in a country where eighty per cent of the population are illiterate and the man is all-powerful who can control the country through the banks and the court through the women. Bratiano's regime was a dictatorship thinly masked by constitutional forms.
Jon Bratiano's work is marked by two outstanding facts that to some extent changed the history of his country: Rumania's entry into the War and the agrarian reform.
Before the War, the King of Rumania was bound to the Triple Alliance by a secret treaty that, however, not having been submitted to Parliament, had no legal validity. It was renewable every ten years and the King arranged that the Minister of Foreign Affairs at that time should be a man upon whom he could rely. Therefore, only a few of the King's ministers, two or three at the most, knew that such a treaty existed. A royal council was called in haste, at the end of July, 1914. One of the statesmen present, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lahovary, asked the King whether his allies had consulted him before declaring war. The King was obliged to admit that they had not done so. "We do not allow our King to be treated as a vassal!" was Lahovary's reply. Neutrality was proclaimed and King Charles never recovered from the blow. He died shortly afterwards.
Jon Bratiano thought, from the beginning, that the Allies would be victorious. He saw Rumania must enter the War on their side if she was to realize her national aspirations. The mass of the people had no expression of opinion and the only persons who had any influence upon the attitude of the public were the Transylvanian intellectuals, who hated Hungary. The politicians, such as Take Jonesco, the idealists and the enthusiasts, such as Filipesco, all men who might have harmed Bratiano, were in favor of war. He understood very early that Rumania must intervene.
But it was not easy to make the decision. Cut off from all direct contact with the West, it was difficult for Rumania to follow what was happening on the various fronts and to estimate which side might be expected to win. The King pinned all his faith upon the Prussian infantry, to which he had belonged. Bukovina, in which Rumania was directly interested, changed hands four times in two years. And the belligerents were doing their best to bespatter each other with mud, overwhelm the enemy with propaganda, obscure the issues and confuse men's minds, affirm lies and give the lie to truth. This was the maze through which the Rumanian government had to find its way.
Suspicion was the fundamental trait in Bratiano's character: in connection with Russia it became a frenzy. Bratiano was the son of the man whom Gortschakof had played false in 1878; he was the minister of King Charles who was accustomed to say, "All Russia's belongings, her treasury, her cannons, her guns, her munitions, everything is to be found in one place, in Monte Carlo."
Bratiano saw Bessarabia losing her nationality more quickly than Transylvania. He saw Russia becoming stronger and Austria-Hungary declining. In his opinion, Rumania should first increase her territory at the expense of Russia.
These were the grounds upon which he pursued at the same time, despite their apparent contradiction, a policy of neutrality and a policy for the extension of Rumanian frontiers. He endeavored to put as high a price as possible upon his intervention by showing himself to be resolutely neutral. By making exaggerated claims for territory he was able to reserve the possibility of remaining neutral as long as he wished. He used his neutrality as a weapon and his claims for territory as a shield.
He had decided to enter the War, but in his opinion, the question of date was of first importance. He knew that the Rumanian army was very weak and, lest his country might run undue risks, he did not wish to intervene until the last minute. He intended to do so, however, early enough to share the spoil. "We will only keep," he said, "the country that we occupy." This saying was utterly false, as events subsequently proved. At the end of the War, the Rumanians, completely beaten, occupied nothing and they received in all more than they had been promised. But Bratiano, who was free to intervene or to remain neutral, firmly made up his mind only to enter the War when he should think fit.
Thus for two years, he allowed every opportunity to slip. He allowed Serbia to be overwhelmed; he allowed Italy to intervene alone, Bulgaria to join the Central Empires, and the Russians to advance to the borders of Hungary. It was never the moment, the Rumanian army was never ready, the strategic position of the Allies was never sufficiently favorable. In the end, he declared war upon the central empires at the least favorable moment and under the worst military conditions, when Russia's approaching ruin was obvious to all and when the destruction of Serbia freed a large number of German divisions.
Excessive suspicion is profoundly naive. Bratiano wished to be so clever that he finally became entangled in his own subtleties. The day when the Allies, weary of his evasions, suddenly agreed to all his demands, he could no longer retreat. The surest way to fall into an abyss is to look into it. Bratiano was so completely hypnotized by the Russian abyss that he became giddy.
The history of this decision has not been written. It is said that Sturmer, the Tsar's first minister, had urged that Rumania should enter the War immediately, add that he had made this suggestion to the German Staff, with which he was in touch. This may be true, but there is no proof. What, however, is certain, is that the French Minister was given orders to deliver to Bratiano a common ultimatum from the Allies, agreeing to all Rumania's territorial claims and saying, "Now or never!" There were tears in the eyes of the English military attaché as be came from this audience. "We have committed a great crime!" he said.
He knew the state of the Rumanian army. It had no supplies, no munitions, no barbed wire. The policy of neutrality had prevented Rumania from buying arms; such an action would have appeared suspicious. Moreover, Rumania could obtain nothing through Russia, who was not able to supply her own needs. "Rumania," it has been said, "was thirsty beside a sponge."
Having no supplies, had the Rumanian army, at least, experience? It had none. Bratiano had not dared to send any military missions to the belligerents. The Rumanian army was worse than inexperienced; it was an army of recruits. The soldiers did not know how to dig a trench or put up barbed wire. "One might have thought," wrote a French officer, "that the Rumanian officers had never read L'Illustration.
Rumania even had no allies. Bratiano, fearing to tie his hands, had refused to enter beforehand into any negotiations with Russia concerning possible military agreements. Then, when the force of the contingent to be sent by Russia to help the Rumanian army had been fixed, Russia and Rumania had agreed upon the lowest possible figure; Rumania, because she was afraid that if the Russians once came into the country they would never leave it; Russia, because she was in the state of mind, with regard to Bulgaria, of "the gentleman who thinks that some one is in love with him." Russia imagined that she had only to show herself in order that Bulgaria should throw herself into her arms.
The worst was, however, that, faithful to the principle that he must occupy the territory that he claimed, Bratiano refused to send troops against Bulgaria, from whom he demanded nothing and to advance to the aid of the Macedonian army. He threw his entire army into Transylvania, where it was confronted by the combined forces of Germany and Hungary.
In short, the whole affair was a pitiful adventure that soon became a disaster. The Rumanian army was completely overcome and the Germans occupied the country. To crown all, the Russian Revolution broke out behind Rumania's back and spread to the Russian troops stationed in the country. Every Russian regiment became a hot-bed of mutiny and agitation. The effect upon the Rumanian army was less serious than it might have been on account of the fact that the Rumanian peasant despises everything Russian. In Rumanian, the word "moujik" means "base," "abject," "despicable."
The Rumanian government, fleeing before the invaders, retreated to Jassy. The town was occupied by the Russians, whose one idea was to dethrone the King. The people blamed Bratiano, holding him responsible for all their misfortunes. He went in terror of his life and fell a victim to neurasthenia; at night his house was lighted by six are lamps for fear of any sudden attack. Exanthematic typhus was raging in the town. Cut off as it was from the rest of the world, seething with intrigue and political passion, Jassy was both morally and mentally unhealthy. "At Jassy," it was said, "they are all at daggers drawn; it is a wonder they don't knife each other." Only one man was contented and had any authority, the French Minister, De Sainte-Aulaire, who said, "It is the best year of my life."
When Russia had concluded the peace of Brest-Litovsk, it must be admitted in Bratiano's favor that he clearly understood the situation. In opposition to his Conservative colleagues, who were in favor of resisting to the bitter end and of the retreat of the court and the army through Russia in the throes of revolution, he himself advised the King to appoint a minister with German sympathies and to conclude a separate peace.
The mistake made by the central empires gave Bratiano his opportunity. If the peace had been moderate or even tolerable he would have been held responsible for the disaster and would have had to face a long period of unpopularity. But from this peace, whereby they even lost the territory promised them by Bratiano, the Rumanian peasants drew the paradoxical conclusion that the War had been justified. Both before and after the declaration of war there had been a certain amount of opposition to Rumania's intervention; after the peace there was none. There was a change of feeling in favor of the King and his minister, and when in their turn the central powers collapsed, it was Bratiano who was called upon to negotiate for peace.
The internal situation in Rumania was extremely difficult immediately after the War. "We live on ukases and dry bread," wrote a Rumanian at that time. "There is a new decree every day but there is no wood for heat. Nor is there any longer a parliament; only the government flourishes. It is the same with cancer, it thrives, the patient becomes pale and thin." In these circumstances, Bratiano fell back upon the traditional resource of a government in difficulties, that of a counterirritant. He thought that the only way to extricate himself was to present his people with Bessarabia, Bukovina and half Hungary upon a silver salver. He wished to demand the utmost for the nation; none should go further than he.
Bratiano managed to persuade his compatriots that he was the only man for whom the Allies would fulfil the promises made to Rumania through M. Bratiano himself, by the treaty of 1916. In order to regain his popularity he promised Rumania the impossible and left for Paris with the very definite mandate to obtain the execution of the treaty to the letter. His mistake lay in accepting such a mandate; having to comply with it was his ruin.
For the 1916 treaty no longer existed, either legally or morally. It pre-supposed the existence of Austria-Hungary and excluded the separate peace. But Austria-Hungary had disappeared and Rumania had concluded a separate peace. She had even received Bessarabia for her trouble, a colossal tip that she intended to keep.
It would have been logical, under these conditions, to have allowed the 1916 treaty to lapse. It was obsolete, it had been made before President Wilson's messages by people who knew nothing of the mystic meaning of the War. It would have been wise simply to have pleaded the people's right of self-determination. Bratiano's failure to realize this was the most serious mistake in his career. He still belonged to the old school of diplomacy; "I come of a race of peasants," he himself said during the Peace Conference, "and I never think the harvest is assured until I have the money for it in my pocket."
Too much cannot be said of the evil effects upon certain countries of such false realism on the part of statesmen who consider themselves shrewd. President Wilson could not recognize the secret treaty between the Allies and Rumania, for in that case he would have been obliged to give Dalmatia to Italy and Shantung to Japan. These treaties were against his principles and he had not signed them. If the 1916 treaty, giving Hungary to Rumania as far as the Theiss, had been carried out integrally, war would long ago have broken out again in Europe.
Bratiano, otherwise so able, did not realize this. The frontiers he demanded would have entailed a permanent state of war for his country, both at home and abroad. For weeks he fought for the Banat, against the Serbs, his allies in the past and his natural allies in the future. It was President Wilson who had to protect Rumania's true interests and her permanent welfare from Bratiano!
At the Peace Conference there were two groups of statesmen. Those who had gauged the true strength of their country, such as Bénès took up their stand with President Wilson. The others---the Bratianos, the Dmowskis, the Sonninos---underestimated Anglo-Saxon influence and came into opposition with President Wilson.
Thus Bratiano found himself involved in the Italian policy; he stood by it without reserves and fell with it. He followed the Italian delegation in its retreat. He preferred to go away rather than to sign a treaty that made his country three times as large as it had been and that was subsequently to surround his own name with a halo of glory!
Upon his return to Rumania he made a fresh attempt to retain his power. He freed Europe of Hungarian Bolshevism; the Rumanian armies were in Budapest in no time. Curiously enough, instead of bringing him the congratulations of the Allies, this earned him their dislike. At the Peace Conference Marshal Foch had been asked for a plan of invasion of Hungary. He replied that it would demand considerable resources such as were not available. Bratiano proved that Foch was mistaken and instead of thanks he met with reproaches!
However, Fortune is stronger than human error. In spite of serious defects of character and judgment, Jon Bratiano was and will remain in the eyes of posterity, the instrument of his country's greatness.
Bratiano soon returned to power. Upon him fell the burden of settling the difficulties arising from the War and the increase of territory. The greatest of these were economic and, more particularly, agrarian.
Bratiano had had the idea of the radical reform of the land policy since 1907, the year of the great peasant revolutions. After the Russian Revolution he realized that an immediate and fundamental agrarian reform was the only means of protecting the Rumanians, almost exclusively peasants, from the spread of Bolshevism. When Bessarabia and Transylvania were united and Rumania found herself wedged between Russian and Hungarian Bolshevism the reform was finally carried out.
It would be a mistake, however, to think that the agrarian reform was forced upon Bratiano solely by external and fortuitous circumstances. It corresponded to a plan upon which he had been meditating for some considerable time.
Jon Bratiano's idea, from the beginning of his career, had been to establish his power upon the middle classes in the towns. A strange and daring scheme, because thirty years ago this class barely existed in Rumania. But it was a brilliant idea because this class was in the process of formation and owing everything to the Liberal party, supported it unreservedly in return. The Liberal policy was nationalist and protectionist and in a purely agricultural country favored the introduction and development of industry. Consequently, Bratiano was able to help himself with both hands to the funds of the banks for election purposes and to impose upon his country an unrestricted political and economic dictatorship.
These facts must be realized in order to appreciate the extent of the three-fold agrarian reform carried out by Bratiano. It was his idea, certainly, that the land should be given to the peasants who demanded it. But, above all, it should be taken from those who were in possession, the economic power of the landed proprietors, that is to say, of the Conservatives, should be broken and a middle class should be formed in the towns.
Bratiano achieved a great deal, but he was not wholly successful. A Rumanian lady who has a deep knowledge of politics combined with considerable literary talent, Princess Bibesco, once said, "Nations are like trees. They always bear the same fruit." This is profoundly true; Russia produces terrorism, Turkey produces despotism, China produces anarchy, Italy produces dictatorship, etc. As for Rumania, she produces great estates. The middle class, having become wealthy through the Liberal economic policy, hastened to become landed proprietors, Bratiano first of any, in his beautiful property Florica, with the whole Wallachian plain spread out before it.
Bratiano went a step further. The object of his policy and of that of his father was to break down the supremacy of the old feudal families. By his marriage he entered into one of them. He did with regard to the Stirbeys exactly as they had done, two centuries before, with regard to the Brancovans. This man from the middle class, who was jealous of all aristocrats, became a great landed proprietor, the husband of a princess and the brother-in-law of a prince.
It should be observed that Prince Stirbey, Bratiano's brother-in-law, had considerable influence upon the King and Queen. He had persuaded them that he was their only true friend and that the day upon which he disappeared, they would disappear with him. He had identified himself with the dynasty and his wealth proved that he was disinterested. "If I am attacked," he said, "you are lost."
Only one man dared to oppose Stirbey and Bratiano, Prince Carol, the heir to the throne. He was broken for it. Everything had been forgiven, and Heaven knows there was much to forgive. This alone was unpardonable. Bratiano, forced him to leave the country, deprived him of the throne and instituted a regency under his own control in order to prevent the prince from returning.
Bratiano was too clever to imagine that a regency with three heads could last. Perhaps the worry it caused him hastened his end. In any case, if he had lived, he would certainly have taken further steps in this connection. It is said that he had thoughts of a republic, a dictatorial republic with himself, naturally, in control. Thus, imperceptibly, perhaps unconsciously, he approached the throne set up by his father and in actual fact tended to replace these foreigners by a national dynasty.
He was unable to complete his task. There are times when Fate seems particularly hard upon a country. In the space of a few months, Rumania lost, first the heir to the throne, under conditions, for her, worse than death, then the King, then the man who for twenty years had represented the stability of the country and the continuity of her policy. Her two dynasties have died out together and she is left bewildered seeking to steady herself once more.
The Interminable War
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