THOMAS NELSON PAGE
ITALY AND THE WORLD WAR
ITALY'S SITUATION AT THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
THE Foreign Policy of Italy for over thirty years had been conducted with the Triple Alliance as its central principle, not only as a bulwark for Italy's defense, but as an instrument for her possible expansion, whether to round out her borders along the lines of her recognized nationality or to extend her influence to regions where she deemed such extension vital to her growth. When the war broke out, the entire force of the Consulta, from the Minister almost down to the youngest under-secretary and functionary, had been reared in the dogma that the Triple Alliance was Italy's Ark of Safety, and had held until recently that her sound foreign policy was absolutely and irrevocably bound up therewith. This view was especially supported by two elements in Italy: one among the Business class of the North, the other among the "Blacks," or Vatican supporters among the Noble class in Rome. Against this was the feeling of hostility to Austria-Hungary which was deeply implanted in the hearts of the People.
To the westward Italy's foreign policy was confined almost exclusively to maintaining advantageous relations with France and England. Spain came in for an occasional bit of attention as an old, historic Power that had had close relations with Italy; as more recently interested in the problem of the Mediterranean, and as a pious supporter of the Vatican. Toward America the attitude was one of well-nigh complete indifference. In the first place, there was almost universal ignorance of America, save among the ,agricultural laboring class, mainly from Southern Italy, and this ignorance was quite equalled by their indifference. Academically, it was known that there were two American Continents, and that therein were regions of immense extent and fertility; also, that there was vast wealth there, which might be profitably exploited some day. But how they compared with each other, Italians generally knew little and cared little. They were recognized as a good field for exploitation by their emigrant class, and the Italians were content to leave it at that. In fact, nearly all of Italy's political interest was in Europe, and mainly in Eastern Europe, including the Eastern Mediterranean and the regions bordering thereon. These she regarded with a jealous eye, and her interest in them constituted a part of her chief grounds for adherence to the Triple Alliance. In dealing with them she had strained the relations with Austria-Hungary under the Triple Alliance during the Turkish war almost to the point of rupture. And Austria's interference during that war with Italy's action against Turkey gave their relations a blow from which they never recovered. Serbia was regarded with mingled feelings of sympathy and possibly jealousy---the former by virtue of Austria's attitude toward her; the latter by virtue of her attitude toward Montenegro and Albania, both of which were prospective fields for protection by Italy. At least in "the Dictionary sense" Greece was looked on with some suspicion, as having her eye fixed on the Dodecanese Islands; Northern Epirus, and possibly other regions in which Italy was much interested.
Such was Italy's situation when in the last week of July, 1914, the tornado of the World War came tearing from the eastward, drawing great States and Nations within its devastating and devouring whirl, and spreading ever-increasing terror and anguish over the world.
Her war with Turkey had contributed distinctly to strengthen her national spirit; but it had drained her resources and exhausted her military equipment, which had not been appreciably replenished. She was short of everything requisite for a war---whether at the front or at the rear. From guns to tin cups, from coal to cotton or leather or jute, she was short. Her people were worn with War and had settled down to Peace, and Peace was in their hearts.
No country in the world was more ready to "seek Peace and ensue it."
Italy was, indeed, still a member of the Triple Alliance) but was rather entangled in it than bound by it.(42)
Furthermore, during Italy's war with Turkey, Austria, as has been stated, so far from acting as an ally of Italy, had distinctly opposed and thwarted her. If she had not kept her from going to Constantinople, she had at least impeded her in her action against Turkey. As she had demanded in October, 1911, that Italy should cease her naval operations in the Adriatic, so in April, later on, when in answer to the Turkish fire the Italian squadron damaged the Turkish forts on the European side of the Dardanelles, Austria had threatened that the repetition of such an occurrence would be serious.
Italian Statesmen watched jealously Austria's covetous moves toward the southward. Their partnership with her in the Triple Alliance was a concession to her power. There was no sentiment in it. But the People were never reconciled to the situation. Trieste had been in Austria's possession and under her rule for generations, but the population was Italian and the spirit was Italian likewise. Moreover, its possession by Austria was a continued menace to Italy that Austria might some day dominate the Adriatic. The Trentino was Italian in race and in sentiment, and was the gauge of Austria's will not only to withhold from Italy a defensive boundary, but to tyrannize over a numerous Italian population and destroy their Italian spirit by Austrianizing them against their will.
Thus, Trent and Trieste became in Italy what Alsace and Lorraine were in France. They were known as the Irridentist---that is, unredeemed provinces. Representatives sat in the Italian Parliament, who were born in those Provinces. Some years back an irridentist was placed in the Ministry, but Austria substantially threatened Italy with war, and the ministry resigned rather than yield. On the declaration of War with Austria, one of Italy's first steps was to place an irridentist in her Ministry.(43)
The People of Italy in the Summer of 1914 had no dream of war. They made it plain in various ways. They wanted peace and release from the exactions of military service.
In June, 1914, after a socialist demonstration, against the Government's order, in the dispersal of which a life or two were lost, certain malcontents undertook in the Romagna even to start a revolution and set up a local Republic at Ancona. They disarmed a general who drove from his headquarters to see what was going on. But the movement was handled with wisdom and without violence. The ringleaders were arrested or chased away, and the Country was as quiet as ever. About the same time, a railway strike of threatening proportions was averted, the Government taking into consideration the reasonable demands of the men, and Italy settled down to peace and to reap her harvest.
If, however, Italy was loosely entangled in her triple alliance, she was bound much more straitly by the commercial and financial ties which Germany had through more than a score and a half years woven around her. Taking advantage of her poverty and political situation, Germany had, with a definite and far-reaching policy of financial intervention, first invaded and then substantially subjugated Italy Commercially. The entire upper part of the Peninsula had fallen under her power. Not only had she aided Italy with advances in her work of development, she had loaned her, or, rather, had sold her, her experience in organization, and had impressed her with her power of organization to an extent which constituted a serious commercial subjugation. Germany had not only founded and financed manufactories, business establishments, industrial, commercial, and financial; but where she did not own them she influenced them and often controlled them. This was her true hold on Italy---a hold far more binding than any political treaty. It constituted for her so far-reaching and all-pervasive a system of control and of agencies that when, later on, Germany made up her budget of propaganda and control, she scarcely gave herself trouble to consider Italy. And when shortly after she started the fire and, discovering that Italy was not her catspaw, sent Prince von Bülow down to Rome, he said that if he did not succeed in his mission he "would despair of reason."
Yet every clear-headed man in Italy and out of Italy who knew her situation and knew how the war was made and what it meant, knew that Italy's vital interests were on the side of the Entente and that in the struggle she must take the side of Liberty. It was simply another case in which Germany misread the psychology of a people; as she did in the case of Belgium and of England, and, later, in that of America. She did not know that in Italy deep down in the hearts of her people is the inextinguishable fire of Love of Liberty. She did not know that this lies under their love of Italy; their idea of Italy's aspirations---that it burns always under her sacred Egoismo---and that when the line should be drawn between Liberty and its opposite, Italy could be only on one side. Germany thought it meant only geographical extension---communal expansion.(44)
The outbreak of the War found Italy totally unprepared and, in. a way, in a situation singularly unfortunate. She was a member of an alliance which had lasted for over thirty years, and had but recently been renewed with the two Germanic Empires which had made war against substantially the rest of the Great Powers of Europe. Moreover, the principles for which the Central Empires contended, and which the War was made to establish, were the very opposite of those for which the Italian people had fought through the generations and which had finally cleared the Peninsula of all but Italian rule. The struggle fundamentally was between Autocracy and Democracy. Austria was contending for that which meant the destruction of Italian aspirations. Her success would quench forever Italian hopes of the redemption of her unredeemed children---a principle deeply implanted in the Italian heart and which underlay their history for generations. This the Italian People knew even if some of her Statesmen did not appear to appreciate it. And, furthermore, they knew that the success of the Central Empires meant the doom of the Italian Democracy. The Italian Countryman or Workman may be ignorant, and generally is bounded in his knowledge of all outside of his limited horizon, but he is not generally stupid. He is often very keen, and he knows definitely what he wants. He may change suddenly under some new impulse given by some leader or new situation, but in each change he is moved actively and often passionately. He may appear indifferent to many things that one would think would stir him. But the fire is in the stone and may easily be struck by him who knows how, and at times even by accident. It is this which makes the Italian situation often so obscure and apparently contradictory.
In speaking of the sentiment of Italy a distinction exists between the political leaders who constitute the Government and the People of Italy. Indeed, an Italian Statesman of great note holds the view that the People may be ever so patriotic, but "need others to do their thinking for them." The former may have views and aims quite diverse from those which animate the people, and at times they are sufficiently in conflict with the latter to cause their repudiation and that of those holding them. This is well understood among the directing class, and the Opposition are quick to take advantage of any mistake on the part of the Government. Thus, as the Government is responsive to the Chamber, the aim of whoever may be called on by the King to form a Government is to secure as his coadjutors those who in combination may be able to carry the Chamber, which in turn is certain to desire to act in conformity with the views of the Country. This leads by virtue of the constituency of the Chamber in blocks or groups to the reposing of power in one or at most in two or three men, who, by their personal ability or address, are able to direct the policy of the country, while their coadjutors, content with the name of Ministers, administer their departments for the most part rather as so many bureaus. When it is considered that there are not less than fifteen different blocks or groups in the Italian Chamber divided from each other by differences ranging all the way from those so basic as to touch the fundamental principles of Government to those so tenuous as scarcely to be palpable to an uninstructed outsider, the complexity of the Italian system may be partly comprehended. Also some idea may be had of the complexity of the views of the various elements throughout the Country which lie at the basis of this division. For in this as in all other things touching Italy, one, to obtain a true comprehension of what might otherwise appear incomprehensible, must go back to the history of the region whose views and interests are faithfully represented by those forming these several groups. Whether it be in the North or in the Central provinces or in the South; in the Piedmont, Lombardy, Liguria, Emilia, the Veneto, Tuscany, the Marches, or in provinces of the South to the very end of Sicily, the same rule applies. The key to their action is to be found in their history and traditions, which are interwoven in the life and thought of the people to an extent quite incredible to those from lands virgin of such ancient traditions. This cannot be emphasized too much for those who would understand Italy. It must be borne in mind that until but yesterday, as History counts, these regions were as separate the one from the other as America is to-day from England, and were more inimical toward each other. Also certain regions burned with hostilities to which other regions were strangers, as, for example, in the North, where in Lombardy and the Veneto the hostility was against Austria and Hungary, and in the South where the hostility was rather against Turkey. There were few common bonds that could be reckoned as equally potent, equally to be counted on everywhere. Formerly, the chief of these were the racial bond, the race feeling, and the religious bond; latterly, in the last two generations the National feeling---which is comprised in the word: Italy. It absorbs all regions and all elements. However diverse and conflicting local interests and views may be, and however opposite and jealous the several portions of Italy may be the one of the other, they are more jealous for Italy. And Italy means for them wherever Italy was once and Italians are still. No passage of time, nor long control by an alien power serves to settle conclusively this matter. Did Italy once possess it? Do Italians in race, speaking the Italian tongue, still abide there? This is the question with them. If so, then for them it is Italy.
When the war broke out, the Government of Italy was presided over by Signor Antonio Salandra, who had been called on to form a government only a few months previously on the voluntary retirement from power on the ground of ill health of Signor Giovanni Giolitti, after the latter had secured from the Chamber an overwhelming vote indorsing his policy in the War with Turkey, known in Italy as the Libyan Enterprise.
Signor Giolitti is one of the Italians about whom an outsider finds difficulty in forming a judgment completely satisfactory to himself. His friends defend him and his enemies denounce him, with equal vehemence and sincerity. A Piedmontese, devoted to the Monarchy, brave, strong bodily and mentally, he had had an active past. His name had been mixed up with a bank scandal---his enemies assert, justly, his friends, most unjustly---and he had lived for a time in Germany, whence he had returned to new triumphs. The charge, indeed, appears to have been that he was implicated rather politically than personally, for hardly any considered that he had personally corrupted himself. His ambition was for power, not for wealth. He had now been for fifteen years the head of the Italian Government and substantially the dictator of Italian policy, and though he appears to have retained his Power by making at need concessions to all parties and groups hardly capable of reconcilement with any direct line of high governmental principle, he was conceded to be a master in the political game and his friends followed him with implicit faith.
He had recently---in the Autumn of 1913---gone before the Country and in a general election based on his last concession to the most advanced parties, of unqualified universal manhood suffrage, secured a great majority. Then having, as stated, obtained a vote of confidence with a majority of some three hundred and eighty-three votes, he pleaded ill health and retired from the Presidency of the Council, leaving to some one else the task of the finding of the funds necessary to meet the budget entailed by the Libyan enterprise so deftly indorsed.
This his critics declared his habitual way of procedure ---to retire in the presence of a serious situation, leaving on others the burden of solving the difficulties created by himself, while he stood with his parliamentary majority in hand controlling the situation without assuming any responsibilities therefor. Prophecies were freely made that he would now return to power within five months as he had already done on, at least, two previous occasions. It was known afterward that, although Italy had conducted the Turkish war with her own resources, as the Government had been able to boast she had done, the effort had completely exhausted her military supplies of every kind, and the World War found her wanting every imaginable necessary of war from boots to field-guns.
Giolitti was succeeded in the premiership by Signor Antonio Salandra, a forceful and able man with a certain infirmity of temper which led him at times to say sharp things, and a talent for striking phrases which hung in men's minds---both dangerous endowments.
The outbreak of the war caught Giolitti out of power, and the new currents of that unexpected flood for a time swept a considerable part of his following out of his hand, and threatened to do so permanently.
With Salandra remained Giolitti's Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Marquis di San Giuliano, the veteran Deputy for Catania, thus establishing a certain touch with the former premier and a certain continuity of his policy.(45)
San Giuliano was a man of great cleverness and address, as are most Sicilians, and of great force and steadfastness of purpose.
San Giuliano had in his earlier life travelled in Albania, and made a study of that little-known country and people. His letters therefrom had been printed by him and, indeed, published in a small volume and limited edition, long out of print: Lettere sull'Albania.
The guiding principle of the Italian Government was that which Article VII of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance laid down: the restraining of Austrian extension in the Balkans in a way to impair the equilibrium between her and Italy as accepted in the treaty. That of Austria was the holding of Italy in the condition existing at the date of the Treaty, while she herself had a freer hand to extend her power. This aim is shown unmistakably by the official records.(46)
On July 20, 1914, Austria having definitely determined to make war and crush Serbia, the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Count Berchtold, telegraphed to the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador at Rome that it was necessary for Austria-Hungary to consider the possibility that Italy, in case of warlike complications between the former and Serbia, would endeavor to interpret Article VII of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance in a way which would conform neither with its sense nor wording, and would claim compensation. He thereupon gave him explicit instructions as to what he should say to the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, detailing the very phrases he should utter. "You will," he wrote, "express yourself in this sense": that "so far you had not received any precise information as to the results of the trial at Sarajevo nor with regard to the steps we propose to take in this matter at Belgrade. Nevertheless, I had acquainted you with the fact that the evidence established up to date," etc., "are likely to compel us to assume a serious attitude at Belgrade." Then followed permission for him to say that it was entirely within the range of possibility that a peaceable issue might be reached in their undertakings in Belgrade, and instructions to say that he was convinced that in clearing up their relations with Serbia, Austria-Hungary could rely on Italy's loyalty in fulfilment of the terms of their Alliance. This was followed on the same day with a long note of instruction containing in much detail the argument which the Ambassador was to employ with the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs to convince him that in possibly resorting to a declaration of war, Austria-Hungary had no intention of territorial conquest, and that, therefore, Italy could not appeal to Article VII.(47)
This was the day before Herr von Jagow declared to the Russian Chargé at Berlin that he was "in complete ignorance of the Austrian note to Serbia"---a statement which is now known to have been untrue---and it was also the day before the Russian Ambassador at Vienna left the capital for the country, "in consequence of reassuring explanations made him at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs." So much for Austria's good faith.
To the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador's prepared arguments the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs urged "a conciliatory attitude," and expressed his " decided intention to assist Austria so long as her demands were justifiable." This conversation, naturally enough, the Austrian Ambassador reported as giving him "the impression of many friendly phrases with as many mental reservations."(48)
The following day the Austrian Ambassador at Rome was instructed (telegram dated July 22) to inform the Marquis di San Giuliano confidentially and in pursuance of the information already given him, that Austria's decisive step was now fixed for Thursday noon, 23d instant.(49) As to the contents of the note to the Serbian Government, the Austrian Ambassador was to say that "it contains demands dealing with the suppression of the agitation which endangers our (the Austrian) territories." The Austrian Ambassador was further informed that a forty-eight-hour limit would be given, and on the 24th instant the Signatory Powers would be notified, and he would be placed in a position to acquaint the Italian Government officially. A second telegram of the same date cautioned the Ambassador that "further verbal comments" would hardly be necessary, as he had already informed the Marquis di San Giuliano of what he bad to expect. He was, however, permitted to refer to the "Narodna Odbrana" as a fighting organization, scattered all over Serbia.(50) These telegrams were followed immediately by a copy of the Note to Serbia, containing Austria's ultimatum.
The instructions to the Austrian Ambassador were duly carried out. He "in strict confidence" gave the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs the information contained in the telegram of the 22d, and delivered at the proper time the copy of the ultimatum to the Secretary-General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister being at Fiugi taking a cure. San Giuliano, on receiving the note, "expressed his misgiving concerning Italian public opinion; nevertheless," adds the Ambassador, "he at once wrote a letter to Secretary-General de Martino with the professed instruction to inspire the Press with moderation when the news of the delivery of our ultimatum shall reach Rome."(51)
The Secretary-General was reported, on receiving the copy of the ultimatum on the 24th, as agreeing with the Austrian Ambassador's contention, "that he could not fail to admit the purely defensive character" of Austria's action. On concluding the reading the Italian Secretary-General made the sage remark to the Austrian Ambassador that apparently they "had reached a turning point in history."(52)
None of these exchanges of professed good-will prevented Italy from notifying Austria that should the conflict reach the stage of war, she would reserve the right to claim compensation under Article VII of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance.
On the following day the Italian Ambassador at Vienna informed Count Berchtold of this fact, adding that, "Beyond this the Royal Italian Government, in the event of war, intended to maintain a friendly attitude in accordance with its obligations under the terms of its alliance."(53)
The following day Austria notified Italy that Serbia, having refused to comply with the former's demand, she had broken off diplomatic relations with her, and "to her regret and much against her will" she was for the same reasons given, "placed under the necessity of forcing Serbia by the most drastic means to alter radically her hitherto hostile attitude."(54)
The tone of the Italian Press was no doubt moderated by the suggestions of the Secretary-General of the Consulta; but it showed sufficient feeling regarding the situation, recalling Austria's attitude during the Italo-Turkish war, to draw from Count Berchtold, on the 26th of July, a long instruction to the Austrian Ambassador at Rome referring to it, and trying to explain away Austria's reference at that time to Article VII. He evidently suspected the attitude of the Italian Press as being inspired by the Marquis di San Giuliano. He also sent to the Ambassador a copy of a despatch received from Berlin saying that Von Jagow had complained at not having been informed earlier, as an Ally, of Austria's step at Belgrade, and that he had replied that neither had Italy been informed any earlier; but he considered Austria's action perfectly correct, and he added that he would remind the Italians that Italy had not previously informed her allies of her forty-eight-hour ultimatum to Turkey.(55)
All the time that Austria was reassuring Italy and declaring that it was against her will that she attacked Serbia, and Germany was declaring that she had no knowledge of the steps Austria intended to take, reposing in their Government offices were documents showing facts which established beyond all question the deliberate intention of Austria-Hungary, backed by the Emperor of Germany and his government, to fling herself upon Serbia and establish her power, beyond future possibility of shaking it, over the Balkan states.
Austria had, in the opinion of many of those familiar with her intentions, been long working consistently toward her aim of securing what she coveted in the Balkan regions to the South of her, which would establish her power both on the Adriatic and the Ægean Seas. To accomplish this, it was necessary as a first step to reduce Serbia to impotency and thus dispose of the Power that was now looked to as the chief centre of the Pan-Serb or Jugo-Slav idea and propaganda.
Having found her aims deferred by the result of the Italian-Turkish war, and having been frustrated in her designs by the results of the Balkan wars and by Italy's refusal to accede to her plan in August, 1913, Austria promptly availed herself of the terrible episode of the 28th of June at Sarajevo, and prepared to occupy Serbia. She felt sure of Germany's co-operation, but she was more than uncertain as to what Italy's attitude might be.
On July 2, 1914, the Emperor Francis Joseph sent to Emperor William a personal letter enclosing a memorandum prepared by the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs prior to the Sarajevo assassination, outlining Austria's policy and apprehensions, and calling on him to back her, up in her proposed programme.
Austria's established policy as presented by her Emperor himself to the German Emperor was: to prevent a Balkan alliance under Russian patronage which tended to Pan-Slavism; to take Bulgaria into the Triple Alliance; hold Roumania by a guaranty of her territory; diminish Serbia; reconcile Greece with Bulgaria and Turkey, and thus keep Russia in check by an impressive presentation of her power, military and diplomatic.
The autograph letter, sent by the Emperor Francis Joseph to the Kaiser, dated July 2, 1914, states what his policy was. In accordance with his policy, "a new Balkan Confederation would be formed under the patronage of the Triple Alliance, whose purpose it would be to stem the flood of Pan-Slavism and to assure peace to our (His and the Kaiser's) countries." The correspondence shows that Italy was now hardly considered in his discussion of the Triple Alliance.
The key to his plan was the winning over of Bulgaria to the Triple Alliance and making it plain to Roumania that the friends of Serbia could not be Austria's and Germany's friends, and that Roumania could no longer count on them, should she refuse to abandon Serbia.
"The aim of my Government," wrote the Emperor, must in future look to the isolation and diminution of Serbia."
Having given the above-mentioned programme, he added: "However, this will only be possible after Serbia, which at present forms the centre of Pan-Slavic politics, has been eliminated as a political factor in the Balkans."
"You, too," continued the Austrian Emperor to the German Emperor, "will probably have gained the conviction after the most terrible recent events in Bosnia that a reconciliation of the differences which separate us from Serbia is impossible and that the Peace policy of all European Monarchs will be menaced as long as this hearth of criminal agitation in Belgrade continues to exist with impunity."
"The memorandum enclosed with this letter," adds the Emperor, "had just been completed when the terrible events of Sarajevo took place." It was prepared with the same aim as that of the Emperor's letter, and he says of it that it "contained convincing evidence of the irreconcilability of the differences between the Monarchies and Serbia, as well as of the danger and intensity of the Pan-Slavic movement."
The memorandum of Count Berchtold enclosed with this letter and which, as stated therein, was prepared prior to the assassination of the Archduke, sets forth in even greater detail and with more explicitness Austria's policy to increase her power in the Balkans and, with this aim, to reduce Serbia to a position of absolute political insignificance. Roumania, was to be shown "by acts" that her support was no longer essential to Austria. Russia and France were to be balked in their alleged designs to foster a new Balkan Confederation, and Austria and Germany were to "take action seasonably and energetically in the present status of the Balkan crisis against a development which (says the memorandum) Russia is systematically striving for and furthering and which can possibly be no longer retarded."(56) So boldly was this intention stated that even Count Tisza protested against the step proposed.
"I did not have an opportunity," he wrote on July 1 (1914) to his "Most Gracious Lord," the Emperor, "to speak to Count Berchtold, and to learn of his intention to use the crime of Sarajevo as an occasion for settling our accounts with Serbia until after my audience. I had not concealed before Count Berchtold that I should consider this a fatal error and that I should in no way share the responsibility therefor.
"In the first place, we have up to the present time no sufficient evidence to make Serbia responsible and to provoke a war with this state, in spite of eventual satisfactory explanations by the Serbian Government, we would be in the most disadvantageous position imaginable. We would be regarded by the whole world as the disturbers of peace and would kindle a great war under the most unfavorable circumstances."(57)
Notwithstanding this protest, the Emperor Francis Joseph sent off his letter with Count Berchtold's memorandum the following day.
The Emperor William, according to Tisza, had certain "prepossessions in favor of Serbia," which Count Berchtold urged His Majesty, the Austrian Emperor, to combat, using the recent occurrences to move him to an active support of Austrian Balkan policy.
Whatever the German Emperor's prepossessions in favor of Serbia may have been, they appear to have been sufficiently "combated" when the Emperor's letter and the enclosed memorandum were delivered to him, for we learn from a secret telegram sent to Count Berchtold by the German Ambassador, Count Szögény, on July 6 that the Emperor "read both documents with the greatest attention," and stated that he had expected that Austria would take serious action against Serbia, but that he felt it necessary to confess that he would have to bear in mind the possibility of a serious European complication, and would therefore desire to refrain from giving a definite answer until after he had conferred with the Imperial Chancellor. But that after the Austrian Ambassador had "emphasized again with great vehemence the seriousness of the situation the Kaiser instructed him to inform Francis Joseph that "in this case, too, Austria could depend upon the full support of Germany," and that he did not doubt that Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg would agree entirely with him. He said that " this was especially true with regard to an action on our part against Serbia. According to his (Emperor William's) opinion, however, this action must not be delayed." Russia's attitude, he said, would certainly be hostile, but that he had been "prepared for this for years, and even if a war should arise between Austria-Hungary and Russia, we (Austria) could rest assured that Germany would stand at our side in its accustomed fidelity." Furthermore, he said that as the situation stands to-day, Russia is far from being prepared for war and would surely be very reluctant about resorting to arms. But she will arouse the other Powers of the Triple Alliance against us and fan the flames in the Balkans. He said that "he understands very well that His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty will be reluctant, in the view of his well-known love for peace, to march into Serbia; but if we have really convinced ourselves with the necessity of a war against Serbia, he (Emperor William) would regret if we allowed the present moment which is so favorable for us to pass."
"So far as Roumania is concerned, he would see to it that King Charles and his advisers comported themselves correctly."
The Austrian Ambassador at Berlin sent a second secret telegram giving an account of a long Conference just had with the Emperor's Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State, who announced that "the German Government was of opinion that it rested with Austria to decide what should be done in order to improve the existing situation, and that, regardless of the character of Austria's decision, she might safely rely upon the conviction that Germany as the ally and friend of the Monarchy would support her, and further that the Imperial Chancellor, as well as his Imperial Lord, considers an immediate action on our part against Serbia as the most thorough and best solution of our difficulties in the Balkans. From the international point of view (said the German Emperor), he considers the present moment as more favorable than a later time; he agrees with us entirely that we should not consult Italy or Roumania, prior to a possible action against Serbia. On the other hand, Italy should even now be informed by the German, as well as our Government of our intention to effect the incorporation of Bulgaria into the Triple Alliance."
The impression created in diplomatic circles at Rome at the outbreak of the war through Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia was that the ultimatum had come as a complete surprise to the Italian Foreign Office. It was believed, however, that Germany knew of and approved the step, and some resentment at this was reflected in the press, as manifesting indifference to Italy if not a slight on her as the third member of the Triple Alliance. This was followed almost immediately by a generally accepted idea fostered by Germany that Germany had not been consulted, and as there was a general belief that the Triple Alliance was much more exigent than it subsequently proved to be, there was a general relief that Italy, not having been consulted, was left free in her action. Before the war became general, the feeling was strongly against Italy's siding with Austria, and even after it extended, the feeling was in favor of Italy's maintaining a position of armed neutrality. Socialist and Republican elements held meetings in various parts of Italy, calling on the people to refuse to take any part in the strife---a somewhat unnecessary proceeding in view of the popular hostility to Austria.
The popular feeling against Austria, always too strong to be overcome by the bonds of the Triple Alliance, was intensified primarily by Austria's having placed Italy in a somewhat equivocal position. And the Austrian Embassy was kept guarded as usual to prevent any hostile demonstration.
On August 3 Italy announced officially her determination to remain neutral. It was based on the reasons that her treaty obligations only required her to support her Allies defensively; and further that she had not been consulted by her ally before it took the steps, which it is now known Italy had made a strong effort to prevent. Meantime, Italy prepared quickly for eventualities. Stock exchanges were closed; the moratorium was decreed; foodstuffs and some other necessaries of life were forbidden exportation, and some hundred thousand men were called to the colors; but this was not considered to be mobilization, and Italian bonds remained substantially unaffected.
A little later some 240,000 men, besides the regular army, were called out "for exercise and training," and were sent to the northeastern frontier for protection. France was given to understand by clear intimation that Italy would not engage in an attack on her.
Turkey began to show great unrest after the dramatic arrival in the Bosphorus of the Goeben and the Breslau, and the unrest extended to Egypt, and indeed to Italy's North African possessions as well. In Albania also unrest manifested itself. The Italian fleet was mobilized in the southeastern ports, and the feeling steadily increased that before long Italy and Austria would be at war. Every effort was made to import grain and other prime materials.(58)
ITALY'S ATTITUDE IN THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR
WHILE Italy was wholly unprepared for war-at least, for a war of such Titanic proportions as that which was sweeping over Europe-Austria, as she herself showed in her premeditated action, was fully prepared. She held by land the commanding frontier from the Swiss border to the Adriatic, laid down by her for the very purpose of commanding Italy when she surrendered to the latter the Veneto; while, in the Adriatic, she held an equally superior position constituted by her possession of the Istrian and Dalmatian ports, islands, and inner waterways, which furnished for her convenience ports and protected waters, whereas Italy's long Adriatic coast was flat and without protection. Serbia and Russia, the latter being occupied with Germany, were not sufficient to engross all of Austria's attention should Italy have begun hostilities against her at that time, and the political position in the Balkans was such as required the most careful and sagacious handling on the part of Italy. Montenegro was friendly, but lay under the perpetual shadow of Austria, and the king of Montenegro, however friendly personally to Italy, was too astute not to recognize the great peril to his country, under the existing conditions, of breaking completely with his voracious neighbor to the Northward. Albania was a debatable land in which Austria's influence was potent, if not preponderant, and was apparently on the increase. Greece, under a king who was the brother-in-law of the German Emperor, was more than restive at Italy's continued possession of the Dodecanese Islands, which she had taken from Turkey during the Turkish War. Roumania was very distant and was under a scion of the Imperial family of Austria, and the attitude of Bulgaria was really controlled by Imperial influences and was too obscure to promise much that was favorable to Italy.
And, finally, Turkey was friendly to Germany, and certainly more friendly to Austria, who was making advances to her, than to Italy, with whom she had been at war only two years before and who had taken from her the Ægean Islands and the last of her possessions on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Indeed, all of these States except Roumania soon fell one after another into the hands of the Central Empires. Turkey and Bulgaria declared war on their side, Montenegro and Albania fell into their possession, Greece was held neutral with the greatest difficulty, and in time both Serbia and Roumania were overrun by Austria and put hors de combat.
Thus, Italy was in a situation whose difficulties cannot be exaggerated; and her eventual extrication therefrom was due mainly to the fortitude and devotion of her people, whose sacrifices in its achievement cannot be too highly extolled. It was by no means beyond possibility that, following Italy's declaration of neutrality and Germany's victorious advance through Belgium and the eastern provinces of France, Austria would attempt to seize the Veneto and a portion of Lombardy. This possibility Italy disposed of by strengthening her garrisons on the Austrian frontier.
It is frequently said that this or that country saved the cause of the Allies. Such assertions all have this much of truth in them: that the exercise of the full power of every country engaged on the Allied side was called for and was none too much to secure the final and complete victory. And, so far as human intelligence can decide, there were occasions when, had the action of any one of those countries been different, the results would have been different. Of no time nor action can this be affirmed with more positiveness than of the period when Italy declared her neutrality and, transferring the main body of her troops from her garrisons along the French border to the Austrian frontier, released the French troops who might otherwise have been required to guard the Italian frontier of France, and thus contributed effectively to the victory in the first and decisive battle of the Marne. This has ever been the contention of the Italians; it is the foundation of the charge on the part of the Central Empires that Italy was against them from the first, and there seems no reason to question the soundness of the Italian contention.
On August 20 the Pope died after a brief illness, his death hastened, it was said, by the shock of the World War, of which the complications which the Vatican found itself facing were only a part. He had been first a simple Parish priest and afterward the beloved Bishop of Venice. It is said that he wept when he was elected to the Papal throne. He was a good man, universally esteemed and revered for his simple piety and philanthropy. In the beginning he is reputed to have threatened to "put on his hat and walk out of the Vatican." But if so, he found the situation beyond his control, and later he resigned himself to his fate and, leaving the direction of the Vatican Polity to those about him, he applied himself to piety and good works. His successor, the new Pope (Cardinal della Chiesa), who on his elevation took the name of Benedict XV, was of a noble family of Bologna and had been trained in the Papal Diplomatic Service. He was therefore more familiar with politics than his predecessor. He was elected as early as possible after the death of his predecessor.(59) The very natural reason for this was given that the situation demanded as brief an interregnum as possible. But the fact that, on the very day of his election, two of the American Cardinals landed at Naples and posted on to Rome to take part in the Conclave, only to learn that the last "Scrutiny" had taken place just an hour or two before their arrival, caused some gossip. It was rumored that the selection of Cardinal della Chiesa was to some extent due to the efforts of the Cardinal Archbishop of Budapest, and that the "Scrutiny" on which he received a majority showed a majority of only two. However this may have been, there was, at times, a tendency to attribute to the Vatican a certain tenderness toward Austria-Hungary which on occasion caused some animadversion on the part of those opposed to the Vatican's declaration of neutrality. The representatives of the Missions from the Central Empires and the Kingdoms composing them withdrew from Rome, it was said, to Switzerland, where their presence was a cause of considerable anxiety to the Italian Government.
Certainly the position of the Holy See was a difficult one. The Spiritual Head of the Church could hardly do otherwise than declare his detachment from all secular strife and his neutrality in a war in which those who acknowledged him as such were numbered by millions on both sides. It may be said, therefore, without undertaking to go into the merits of the question in any way, that the animadversion referred to was accordingly not directed against the Pope personally, but rather against the Vatican. The line was not always easy to draw with precision. Yet it was drawn, and rarely if ever was criticism directed against the Pope, even during the most crucial hours of the war.
The situation, however, always somewhat delicate, became during the war yet more so, and amid the complexities of the unwonted strain it might have become intolerable but for the tact with which it was for the most part handled on both sides.
Nevertheless, this was one of the burdens which Italy had to carry, and to an outsider it appeared to be carried mainly with mutual forbearance.
During the ensuing months, Italy gradually prepared for eventualities, arranging to acquire, from without, grain, coal, oil, steel, guns, and ammunition, and organizing for manufacturing what she could within Italy herself. She labored under great disadvantages, not the least of which were the machinations of the Germans who swarmed in Italy, particularly in the industrial regions of the North. As Italy worked with more or less secrecy and her Government kept its own counsel, there were times during this period when the Allies, hard pushed in France, apparently felt some anxiety; indeed, there were times when they manifested an inclination to exercise a certain compulsion on her by shutting down on her supplies from without. Exactions were imposed on her as conditions for furnishing to her necessary supplies, and the exercise of certain rules of international law hitherto recognized was extended to a degree which caused much inconvenience and even some peril.
The escape of the Goeben and the Breslau to Constantinople early in August and the effect on the action of Turkey was a serious complication to Italy as well as a blow to the Allies---how serious was fortunately not known at the time. It unquestionably prolonged the war; but it tended to define more clearly the points at issue.
The stopping of the Germans before Paris and the victory of the French in the first battle of the Marne tended to offset the apparently insuperable power of Germany, and as the interim passed, Italy grew clearer and clearer in her view of the questions at issue.
Unfortunately, both England and France at sea were stretching the International Code to Italy's great disadvantage and exasperation, as well as to that of some other neutral countries, and there were times when their dealing with shipments of cotton, mineral oil, metals, and other necessaries was such as to give considerable color to the charge that it was sheer high-handedness.
Still, the general impression prevailed that Italy was drawing closer and closer to the Allies, as later proved to be the case, whatever the views of certain elements friendly to Germany might be. The sympathy of the people was undoubtedly with the Allies; especially against Austria-Hungary. During the autumn and winter the Austrian Embassy was kept constantly guarded, and the presence of troops engaged in picket service on the streets to prevent demonstrations on the part of the people became one of the habitual sights of Rome. These matters were always tactfully handled by the Government, which appeared unexceptionally well informed, and took such precautions that Carabinieri and troops were invariably sent with due prevision in sufficient numbers to the proper points to control the situation, and in all the critical months between the outbreak of the war and Italy's entry into the war there was no bloodshed in Rome and no serious outbreak.
The Vatican also was guarded on occasions, as unobtrusively as possible, to prevent any "accident"; for the feeling between the Vatican and the political elements composing the order of Free Masons was such as to render advisable the forestalling of all possibility of any "regrettable incident." No great danger of such trouble appeared on the surface, but from time to time the radical press adverted to the Vatican's attitude, and some anxiety must have been occasionally felt, inasmuch as inquiries came from Americans as to the protection of American priests and property. They were assured that as full protection would be given them as to any other Americans; that is, all the protection possible.(60)
In October (16) the Marquis di San Giuliano died---in harness, as he had lived---and the Premier, Salandra, took over his portfolio until his successor should be selected.
In November, Baron Sidney Sonnino was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in Salandra's reformed cabinet, and from this time became an ever-increasingly dominant force in the Italian Government. He had represented for some thirty years a constituency in Tuscany, near Florence, and with his intelligence and his character he had long been a forceful factor in Italian public affairs. He was born in Pisa. His father was a Jewish banker, or of Jewish extraction, and his mother was Scotch, which may account for certain elements both of intellect and decision of character which he possessed. Also it accounts for his having been reared a Protestant. That he was patriotic, goes without saying. He was able, self-contained, courageous, resolute, reticent even to secrecy, laborious, firm even to immovability, indifferent alike to flattery or censure. He gave himself and all that he was---and it was much---to his duties and his country. He avoided all demonstrations for or against him. He had been one of the chief founders of the Giornale d'Italia, but he cared not a button for the press, either for its praise or its criticism. He only used it to promote his principles. He worked alone, listened to the views of others with due deference, but formed his own conclusions, and when he had reached them was immovable. What he said, he stood by, and when he spoke, it was the truth; but be spoke little either in public or private.(61)
Sonnino was an opponent of Giolitti, to whom many of the leading men in the chamber owed their advancement. He had been twice Premier, but his ministry had in each case lasted only ninety days. He had no turn for handling Parliament, and in a parliament of "Blocks" the premier must possess this gift. But his high character and his force were generally recognized and in this crucial hour he was recalled to take charge of the Foreign Office. It was said that at the beginning of August, 1914, when on the outbreak of war Italy had to make her decision, Sonnino was in favor of her holding by her alliance with the Central Empires. Be this as it may, after he assumed the responsibilities of the Foreign Office he manifested no such views, and after Italy's entry into the war on the side of the Allies, Sidney Sonnino was the backbone of the war spirit of Italy, the protagonist of the view that stood for fighting the war through to the end. Like most Italian statesmen, his interest was addressed toward the East and he was not greatly interested in the West. Like them, he knew little of America.
During the autumn of 1914 both the German and Austrian Ambassadors were replaced, the former by Prince von Bülow and the latter by Baron Macchio; both diplomats of great experience, and considered by their respective governments to possess exceptional abilities---also, both supposed to possess special qualifications for dealing with Italy. The new Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, Baron Macchio, had been Minister for Foreign Affairs, and knew intimately the entire history of the Triple Alliance. And Prince von Bülow, the new German Ambassador, had been Chancellor, and not merely was supposed to be exceedingly friendly to Italy, but was married to the stepdaughter of the Marquis Minghetti, who had been an Italian Premier of note.
Prince von Bülow arrived in Rome toward mid-December, some five or six weeks after the change in the Austro-Hungarian Embassy. He immediately took up his quarters in his charming residence and began to entertain extensively, amid the roses of the villa called by their name and, according to account, he engaged sub rosa in other work than mere entertainment. His advent caused considerable anxiety on the part of the Embassies of the Allies. It was recognized that he was Germany's "Big Gun." He was clever, suave, cordial, diligent, resourceful, and had all the self-assurance of the German high official, and with his prestige it was not known what weight his influence might bear in the apparently evenly balanced scale of Italian proclivities. He had already, as had been thought, rendered Italy signal services in her diplomatic field with her neighbors, as was evidenced by his decoration of the Collar of the Annunziata.(62)
Prince von Bülow's receptions and dinners were attended by the pro-German element in Roman society and in political life, and by Neutral Diplomats, and Germany was prompt to avail herself of the exasperating measures adopted by the Allies to assert their power at sea and indicate to Italy how completely dependent she was on them. The Allies not only stopped neutral ships on the high seas and took them into their ports, where they were held, often to the great loss of both the consignors and consignees, but imposed on Italy conditions which were extremely damaging to the shippers, and certainly were not conducive to the bettering of the plight of the Italian people.
In America, as in other neutral countries, there was at times exhibited much exasperation at the action of England and France in this line, and on an occasion it was even declared in the House of Representatives by a member prominent enough to have been the leader of his party that America was in more danger of getting into a war with England than with Germany. Strong protests were, indeed, made to the Allies by the United States on the ground that the practice was not justified by International Law, and eventually the practice was substantially modified. It was by no means unnatural that some exasperation should have been manifested by Italy when it is considered that she was not only dependent for her subsistence on the importation of the cargoes of the ships which England and France were stopping on the high seas and conducting into their ports, but that her people were, for the most part, friendly to the Allied cause. There were, indeed, times when the situation growing out of this action of the Allies was sufficiently serious to cause the representatives of some of the neutrals personally friendly to the Allies grave concern. The effect on the press was instantaneous. From having been most cordial to the Allies in their attitude, the journals became sharp and critical, and began to discuss the merits of the respective sides in a spirit not always too favorable toward the controllers of the seaways.
This policy was, of course, based mainly on the apprehension on the part of the Allies that Italy might export to the Central Empires a portion of the material thus imported by her. But unfortunately it appeared to the Italians that the Allies were actuated in part by a less defensible motive: that of forcing Italy into the war on their side. This Italy would not tolerate. The Italians have a vast deal of sentiment and are as easily influenced through their sentiments as any people in the world, but they cannot be pushed. Even where it may be manifestly to their material interest, they will not submit to such methods. In the matter under discussion the Government met the situation by a decree assenting to the Allies' demand that thereafter bills of lading negotiable or payable to bearer should no longer be permissible. But even so, the difficulty was not sensibly alleviated.
During the autumn and winter, although Italy was neutral, she proceeded quietly with her work of preparation for eventualities. She sent commissioners and agents abroad to purchase supplies of all kinds necessary for whatever action on her part events might demand. She called out classes, or categories of classes for training and practice, and she endeavored to place herself in a posture, at least, of defense.
Owing to her situation already described, her difficulties in accomplishing this were very great. And these difficulties were increased by the mystery with which her work was veiled. Some secrecy may have been necessary, but undoubtedly the extreme secrecy which it apparently was deemed necessary to adopt aroused suspicion on the part of some and created a want of sympathy with her on the part of others, which resulted in consequences far from fortunate for Italy herself. It proved in the sequel an unfortunate policy that was adopted of preventing the American Press correspondents from visiting the Italian front. As soon as the immediate fighting fronts had been covered by their War correspondents, the leading American journals and periodicals sent among their cleverest men to view and report on the Italian situation. No abler nor more earnest body of men appeared in Italy than those American War correspondents. They comprised the best in America. Some were trained and tried men of international reputation who had been correspondents in all the wars of the last twenty-five years; others were new men chosen because of exceptional ability. Some had visited all the other fronts on both sides, and all had been on all the Allied fronts and had been given there every facility. They came to Italy friendly and full of expectancy, only to find themselves debarred as neutrals from any opportunity to visit the Italian front, or learn anything of Italy's work save what could be picked up at the rear, and the sources at the rear were not always friendly to Italy. Rome swarmed with those who if not unfriendly were at least indifferent to the Allied cause. Every effort was made to procure for the Americans the opportunity to receive the same consideration that they had received elsewhere, but without avail. The reply was always a reference to some one else ---sometimes to Baron Sonnino, usually to General Cadorna---and at the end they were turned back. What is said as to this is intended simply as an historical statement of an unfortunate situation, which in the end had the consequence of leaving the outside world to question what the reasons were for the exclusive Italian policy. The reason given for the exclusion of the neutral correspondents was that not all of the neutral press representatives could be admitted to see the Italian front, and that no distinction could be made between any of the class. No question can be raised as to Italy's right to pursue her own policy. But the flood-tide of American interest in Italy's work passed, and the golden opportunity to set it before America was lost. The consequence was what might have been expected, and, indeed, was foretold. Some held that Italy had nothing to show; some that she was not serious. Others became merely indifferent, and so remained to the end. Yet, during this entire period Italy was girding herself for the most stupendous effort in her history, and her entire people were steeling themselves to face the supreme decision on which was to hinge their salvation or their destruction.
Of this decision on the part of the Italian people, should it come to the issue, there could be no doubt in the minds of those who knew them and their history. The only question was what their statesmen who were responsible for the conduct of Italian policy might, on consideration of all the facts involved in the momentous judgment, conclude that Italy could or should do.
An Italian legion had already been enrolled and gone to France where, among other gallant young Italians, two of the seven Garibaldi brothers, who had responded to the call of Honor, using the sacred name of Liberty, added their young lives as a precious sacrifice to the shining roll of that distinguished race whose sword is ever at the service of those who stand for Freedom. Their bodies were brought home, and were received with honors befitting their noble spirit. And as they were in at the beginning, so their survivors were in at the end---those Garibaldis with other Italians pushing back the enemy in the last fierce drive along the now historic Ladies' Way.
It was a little before Prince von Bülow arrived to try his practised hand with Italy that the Italian Government began to signify to Austria-Hungary Italy's profound interest in the struggle that was shaking the foundations of Europe.
The collapse of Serbia had had a great effect on the situation both in Montenegro and in Albania, where Austrian influence had permeated a large part of the country, while Italy still retained a certain influence in the region of Durazzo, and to some extent in the whole Southern region. Albania, owing to its strategic position and also to its supposed mineral deposits, was a sort of Naboth's vineyard among the contiguous Powers. It was a nest of intrigue both on the part of the rival Albanian chieftains and of the neighboring countries. Italy watched Austria and Greece jealously and they both watched Italy. Serbia and Montenegro also came in for their share of suspicion until they were placed hors de combat by Austria. Albania's strategic relation to Italy was obvious and the latter had maintained its position there through backing Essad Pasha, a force in the revolutionary movement which had driven out King "William of Wied." Conditions there, however, were far from satisfactory. The minority, Malessori-Catholic,(63) element had tended toward Italy, but was now in a difficult position, while the Orthodox and Mohammedan elements were divided. But neither was friendly to Italy further than dependence on her to defeat their enemies made friendliness expedient. Liberty is the passion of the Albanians no less than of the Italians.
As early as the latter part of August, Italy, moved, doubtless in part, by apprehension that Albania might fall completely under Austrian influence and, repudiating its neutrality, even side openly with Austria and Turkey, and certainly in part, by her apprehension that Valona might be lost to her forever, began to provide against the latter contingency. On August 28 the Italian Ambassador at Vienna was authorized to report to the Austrian Government that the British and French Governments would not occupy Valona, as there had been some idea they might do. The Italian Ambassador took occasion to reassure Austria as to Italy's attitude of neutrality not being affected by this fact. A few days later Italy disclosed to Germany her "great desire to occupy the Island of Saseno, of course only in perfect harmony with Austria-Hungary and Germany, and only for the purpose of upholding the agreements concerning Albania."
The Italian Ambassador suggested that such a step "would enable Italy to display some activity, and thus divert public opinion from its attitude of hostility to the Triple Alliance. Besides, it would serve a useful purpose to state publicly that the occupation had been decided upon by the Triple Alliance. The Entente Powers would understand, probably to their discomfiture, that the Triple Alliance is still working together."
Germany was requested to broach the matter to Austria-Hungary and was assured that the measure would be a "purely temporary occupation for the duration of the war."(64)
This arrangement was carried through and Austria's consent to the step was secured, when the Italian Press announced semi-officially that Italy had no intention of occupying Valona. The Marquis di San Giuliano said that the suggestion of the proposed occupation of the Island of Saseno was to be ascribed to a misunderstanding. The Italian Ambassador at Berlin, however, said the change of plan was because "it had become apparent that Greece would respect Albania's neutrality, and the intended diversion of Italian public opinion from the relations with Austria had become superfluous, since these relations had become quite satisfactory." The chief reason was doubtless that Austria's consent having indicated her inability to prevent the step, it contained an inconvenient condition. Notwithstanding these denials, public opinion in Italy was kept directed toward Italy's interests in Albania, and both sides in the strife were kept in a state of anxiety as to her eventual action. The Marquis di San Giuliano's last days were occupied with the question of the sending of an Italian expedition to Albania "to be landed from time to time, to be used according to the development of affairs."
On October 22 an understanding was arrived at between Italy and the Entente by which Venizelos was allowed to send a Greek regiment to Argyrokastro, "to avert massacres," under a promise to withdraw his troops at a later date should the Powers so desire, and Italy was assured that "the Greek Government would not object to an Italian occupation of Valona." Four days later the Italian battleship Dandolo made port at Valona with "a sanitary expedition on board," and contemporaneously, "special correspondents of leading Italian papers arrived in Valona." A few days later it was reported to Austria that a small detachment of Italian marines had landed on the Island of Saseno, and the Italian flag had been mounted on the highest point of the Island. The local Italian representative at Valona informed the local authorities there that the occupation had taken place, and described it as a measure "for the protection of Albania's neutrality and for the maintenance of the London Agreement." He also added that no similar measures were contemplated in respect to Valona.(65)
Local representatives, however, are not always fully informed, even in Italy. There followed the long correspondence between the two Governments in regard to the application of Article VII of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, without its leading to any immediate result. Italy based her position on what the Austrian Ambassador at Rome termed "the old cry of woe that Italy had not been notified in good time of our intention toward Serbia."(66)
Austria appeared to consider that her engagement "not to annihilate Serbia" should suffice for Italy; but Italy rejected this idea promptly and announced that she "would not permit any encroachment on Serbia's integrity and independence." So much in her own interest.
On December 20 the Government at Durazzo, according to the record, appealed to Italy for protection, and requested the earliest possible intervention. This Government was that of Essad Pasha, who had for some time been supported by Italy. However, it served. On Christmas Day there were disturbances and "rifle-shots" in Valona, and the Italian population sought refuge in the Italian Consulate, and the Consul requested the protection of Italian war-vessels. Also on Christmas Day, Italy, acting on the appeal, promptly landed marines with "landing-guns" at that point, and followed it up immediately with a force of several hundred Carabinieri. The assigned reason was "the preservation of order and the protection of Italian citizens." Every one, however, who knew the situation, knew that Italy would never voluntarily retire from a position so advantageous, if not so essential to her.
Soon afterward Austria-Hungary notified Italy that she would reserve her right to compensation for Italy's occupation of Valona under Article VII. So the year closed.
Amid the crashing of Nations into the fray there was much anxiety as to what Italy's course would be. The precise terms of the Triplice Treaty were not known, and, indeed, are not completely known to-day. France knew that Italy was not bound to unite in any action against her should she be attacked or find herself wantonly provoked to defend her vital interests; for a secret treaty to this effect had been negotiated between them in 1902.(67) But she knew the feeling in Italy both as regarded Germany and herself, and Italy's allies were asserting vociferously that France had committed the first acts of war and that the casus foederis provided for in their treaty had actually occurred. Germany, indeed, notified Italy of her expectation that Italy would mobilize her army immediately.
Italy's reply was, as has been seen, to declare that the casus foederis provided for had not arisen and to declare that she would preserve her neutrality. This, though certainly not wholly unexpected, or at least unhoped for, was an immense relief to the Allies---France, England, Russia, and Serbia---as it was not then known that Italy had in 1913 notified Austria-Hungary that should the latter declare war on Serbia, she would not consider herself bound to join her. Even in Italy there were many persons who, ignorant of the true situation and possibly rather inclined toward maintaining the Triple Alliance as against France, considered that the Government had not acted fully up to the pledges which the Treaty was popularly supposed to contain.
Unfortunately, the actions of certain Italian Statesmen and the manner in which Italy's entry in the war was dealt with created the impression that Italy was indifferent as to which side she espoused, and eventually entered the War solely for what she could make out of it. Nothing could be more erroneous than this view, which has borne such unhappy fruit for Italy. Certainly, with the Italian people there was never any question as to on which side lay their sympathies, and even among the Italian Statesmen, to those who were the most responsible for the policy which created the impression referred to, must be given the credit for acting in a spirit of entire if, possibly, short-sighted patriotism. They knew better than any one else Italy's unfortunate condition. The naked truth is that when the War broke out, Italy was in a most difficult and perilous position. Her want of every conceivable necessary of war, save men, they knew, and, knowing all this, they feared Austria's power, holding as she did positions that commanded Italy's frontier from the Swiss line to the Cattaro. They knew and appreciated Germany's power and appreciated the motives which might make her Italy's ally in the future as she had been in the past. If the Alliance was simply an alliance de convenance, still it had served well enough as to the outside world. And, finally, they knew France-whom they did not now fear. And they had no illusions as to her attitude toward Italy. The Italians have long memories and deep sentiment. And Oudinot's attack on Rome, and Charette's Zouaves are not yet forgotten. "The ruin of the Vascello" is still carefully preserved as a monument above the Porta San Pancrazio; and wreaths are ever hung over the tablets which mark the breach beside the Porta Pia. Nevertheless, Italy enabled France to withdraw all but her customs officers from her frontier, and when she entered the war later on the side of the Allies, it was not because of her treaty with France; but because her People felt that the Allies were on the side of Liberty, and that Italian Freedom was linked with that of England and France not by treaties but in the essential Nature of things.
ITALIAN POLITICAL SITUATION IN THE AUTUMN OF 1914
IT was considered at the time both by England and France that a great step had been gained in obtaining from Italy a declaration of her intention to remain neutral. Also the manner in which she manifested this neutrality was undoubtedly of great service to France and the Allied Cause, apart from the immense moral support which Italy's decision had at this crucial time. Had Italy, instead of satisfying France that she was sincere in her declaration of neutrality, and even pursuing a policy of neutrality benevolent in character, taken any steps to throw a veil of doubt over her action, France, so far from withdrawing her troops from the Franco-Italian frontier, might have been compelled to maintain a force there sufficient to hold that frontier against any sudden change in Italy's policy, and the issue of the Battle of the Marne might have been essentially different.
There are those in Italy who maintain that Italy violated her neutrality by the excessive benevolence of her attitude toward the Allies, and that, instead of withdrawing so many of her troops ordinarily posted to guard the French frontier, and sending them to strengthen her Austrian frontier, she should have applied the same measure to both frontiers. Italy, however, had no apprehension of any violation of her confines where they marched with France, but was far from feeling secure as to her Austrian frontier. And, moreover, it was along the Austrian confine that she looked for amelioration of conditions which had been irksome and mortifying to her for many years. Nice and Savoy might be regarded by all but dreamers and irreconcilables as irretrievably lost, but the Trentino, and Trieste were still measurably Italian in all but title, and in those elements from which Austria had deliberately extirpated Italianism. The Adriatic was still the spouse of Venice, though no longer hers in possession. Divorces are not recognized in Italy, and on its eastern shore yet existed cities and settlements where the Lion of St. Mark still stood as the Governmental emblem, and which maintained their Italianism (Italianità) after generations of foreign subjugation. Italian officers speaking the Venetian dialect, disguised as fishermen or boatmen, were safe among these people even when exploring the islands and inner waterways which Austria utilized to double the effective power and menace of her Navy. The memory of Custozza and Novara, of Solferino and Lissa, still remained indelible among the people---however, for compelling political reasons, the statesmen might ignore and feign to forget them---and remained in their memory also the eternal, unforgetable infamy of Austrian subjugation in Lombardy and the Veneto, which had branded Francis Joseph with the stigma of "Emperor of the Hangmen." Notwithstanding this, however, and notwithstanding all the assurances given informally to France and England by Italy, the secrecy and astuteness of the Italian statesmen and, perhaps, also in some measure the exaggerated popular idea of their tendency to a certain Macchiavellianism served to keep the French and British statesmen in a condition of some anxiety throughout the early period of the War.
This situation was not without a certain value to Italy, as some of her Statesmen were quick to recognize, and it was utilized promptly---first as a means of facilitating the securing of articles of prime necessity and of equipment, and later of securing acknowledged recognition of Italy's services to the Allied Cause.
From the moment of the outbreak of the War, Italy set to work in her own way to prepare for eventualities. She could not escape being drawn into the sweep of the vast convulsion, and this her Statesmen well knew, as did every one who knew her people, her situation, and her history.
The terrible history of her subjection to Austrian tyranny has been told in outline in a previous chapter. Her physical situation with its difficulties and its perils may be seen from a glance at the map. This will disclose how France might attack her from the Swiss confine around to the southern point of Sicily, and how Austria held the commanding position from Switzerland around to Valona. Italy, however, proceeded on her path according to her own methods, with much deliberation, some hesitation and possibly, some want of precision, due to the position in which she was at the time. As stated, she was substantially denuded of everything necessary for any step that might require her taking the field. It was subsequently charged against the Government, when she finally entered the War, that it had failed to realize the necessity of providing duly for the dread decision she was called on to make. The criticism, while apparently borne out by the supervening facts, was, nevertheless, not really justified in view of the conditions existing at the time. While wheat, steel, coal, and all other articles of prime necessity might undoubtedly have been bought more cheaply than ten months later, Italy was not then in a position to acquire them, and had she undertaken to acquire them in the quantity in which she subsequently was called on to do, she would soon have found herself obliged to declare immediately for what purpose she was accumulating such stores. This would have meant a complete change in her policy, even had she been in a condition financially and politically to enable her to make such disclosure. But she was not in this condition. She could no more have done the other than she could have openly mobilized her forces. What she did was to change her War Minister, who was held somewhat responsible for her state of depletion, and set quietly and deliberately to work to provide for future contingencies. She raised an internal loan of some $200,000,000 from her own people, and arranged shortly afterward for another voluntary subscription loan. Her industrials were induced quietly to enlarge and adapt their plants to possible needs; agents and missions were sent abroad to study, investigate, and report; her financiers were called in to confer, all so quietly as to create an air of mystery not wholly uncongenial to Italian policy. And gradually her available men were called out---not by classes nor for mobilization, but by categories of different sections, and ostensibly only for training, while other categories of other classes were released---until such confusion existed in the public mind that few among the uninitiated could tell how many men were under arms or where they were. Suffice it to say that when, ten months later, Italy entered the War, she had forces sufficient on her Austrian frontier to make a successful Offensive on a front extending for some 800 kilometres.
Certainly the difficulties of Italy were largely increased by the fact that for the greater part of the period since she became united, she had fallen, industrially and financially, under the direction, if not the control, of Germany.
Many of her railways, her electric power, her industrial establishments, her financial institutions, were largely organized, financed, and influenced, if not controlled, by Germans. Where would it stop? Even before the War it was to some a matter of concern; when the War came, it was found how perilous had become Germany's grasp. Italy had to look elsewhere-h--ad, as it were, to begin almost de novo to build up with other forces.
So much was undeniable. But material prosperity does not comprise the whole equation of life. Germany had reached out Briarian arms, and Italy was in some danger of being compressed materially into a German mould---of becoming Germanized.
When, in October, the Marquis di San Giuliano died, working to the last moment of his consciousness with intrepid courage and unwavering resolution, Signor Salandra, on taking personal charge of the Foreign Office, made an address to the Personnel of the Consulta, in which, outlining his plans for Italy's guidance, he uttered a phrase which attracted great attention as embodying his policy. He declared that he proposed that Italy should thenceforth regard only her Sacro Egoismo. This phrase, which may be the equivalent only of her "own vital interest," but probably meant more, was one of those epigrammatic phrases which, struck off to meet a particular occasion and the feeling which it exemplifies, remains to trouble the user afterward when the occasion has passed. It was universally commended at the time, and served to rally behind the Government many who hitherto had manifested little adherence to its programme. The very want of detail in the definition served to attract. But it produced on the outside world an impression of scepticism as to Italy's true position.
Even in Italy it subsequently came in for considerable criticism as having given the world an idea that Italy's aims in the war were wholly selfish; but at the time it was much and generally applauded. It undoubtedly imported something of that sibylline character in which Italian statesmanship has appeared at times to delight, but it was a warning to whom it concerned that Italy proposed to pursue the path blazed by her higher interests, and it was a step in the direction which eventually led her out in the open day, aligned on the side of the Allies.
At this time, be it remembered, the issue between Austria and Germany and France and England had not become so clearly defined as it became soon afterward; nor had Germany's atrocious system of terrorism been then so boldly and wickedly developed. The conflict still partook somewhat of the character of former wars. Alsace-Lorraine and the invasion of Belgium, and the Freedom of the Seas were the watchwords on the one side and on the other. These appeared to appertain rather to the interests of France, England, and Germany than to Italy. Moreover, the fury of the war appeared to be directed by England, France, and Russia on the one side against Germany rather than against Austria, and with Germany Italy had, so far, no quarrel. Indeed, Germany had, no matter what her motives, stood her friend and, in fact, had at times rendered her signal service, both commercial and financial. Italy's traditional hostility was only against Austria. Her rights, as she deemed them, had been ruthlessly trampled on by Austria. It was Austria that had held and squeezed dry her provinces, driven out her sons into exile, hanged by hundreds those who resisted her. It was Austria who had held Italy herself under her guns, whereas Germany had professed great friendship for her, even sympathy with her aspirations, and had undoubtedly rendered national service in her economic and financial development.
The Italian Chamber at this time was the same Chamber which had been elected shortly before the war, under the leadership of Signor Giolitti, and when Signor Giolitti voluntarily resigned the premiership, he had just received a vote of confidence by a great majority. This majority, it was felt by many, he could still count on. In fact, the Chamber was Giolitti's, and it was considered doubtful whether it would follow another leader without Giolitti's indorsement.
The conditions in Italy at that time, political and economic, were accordingly far from reassuring. She was certainly the poorest of the Great Powers, and she was very dependent economically on Germany. Her grain, cotton, oil, steel, and meat she imported largely from America, North and South, as she did much of her other necessaries of life; her coal she got from England or Germany, as she did most of the other articles essential for her existence. She was thus dependent on other countries, and especially was she dependent on Germany, which controlled in many fields both her commerce and finance.
Politically she was equally badly off. The Socialist element had been growing stronger and was in open and bitter opposition to the Government.(68)
The "Non expedit" of the Vatican had been withdrawn and "the Clericals" had, for the first time in years, taken open part in the Elections, and now composed an important if small block in the Chamber, certainly not with the design of relieving the Government from embarrassment.
In fact, it was charged that some 212 deputies had, in some way, combined and, in consideration of Vatican support, signed what was known as the Gentiloni Agreement or Memorandum. Many of these deputies denied having entered into such an agreement; but, at least, the "Roman Question" (as the whole question of the relation between the Quirinal and the Vatican is termed) had once more shown signs of having come to life to plague the Italian Government anew. And this "Roman Question" was a burden whose weight no one outside of Italy can estimate.
The "Roman Question" is not merely the Papal claim to the Right of the Pope to the restoration of his Temporal Power, together with the Papal estates and all that appertains thereto, though it includes this in one interpretation of the term. It is the whole question of the relation between the Quirinal and the Vatican. It is interminable, unsuppressible, and all-pervasive. Its very indefiniteness adds to its troublesomeness and its peril. It infects nearly every national question and increases its complexity. Indeed, speaking generally, it may be said that one of the difficulties that Italy has to endure is the inherent fact that no National question is simple; none can be considered on its own individual merits in relation to a recognized present condition, but has to be considered in relation to others past and present, often themselves far from defined, which adds vastly to its intricacy. The Roman Question is ever on the horizon even when not imminent, and during the war it was well within the horizon. For the Vatican was understood to be much out of harmony with the Quirinal in some of the most vital questions that in that period took on new vitality and poignancy. It had its own relation to the other powers quite distinct, and certainly, at times, quite out of harmony with those of the Quirinal. This relation included diplomatic relations, sentimental relations, and business relations. It had, likewise, its own Press and its own propaganda. These facts will indicate one of the difficulties that confronted Italy at the outbreak of war.
Signor Giolitti, who for fifteen years had been the most powerful political leader in Italy, arrived in Rome to attend the reopening of the Parliament, which took place on the 3d of December (1914), when it was supposed by some that the Salandra Ministry would indicate to the country that its vital interest demanded its siding openly with the Allies. Up to this time the former premier had given no public indication of his attitude toward Italy's future policy; nor, indeed, had the Government given any clear sign of its future policy, save as embodied in Salandra's sibylline announcement that Italy would regard her " Sacro Egoismo." The Statement of the Government, made by the premier on the 3d of December, contained a declaration of Italy's right to remain neutral, but went on to assert that in the origin of the war and in its manifest finality there existed a conflict of interests between Italy and the Central Empires, and that neutrality did not suffice to guaranty them against the consequences of the vast conflict. He added that, in the seas and lands of the ancient continent, whose political configuration was being transformed, Italy had vital interests to safeguard and just aspirations to affirm and sustain. The reference to the Trentino and Trieste brought forth a tremendous burst of enthusiasm, showing the drift of public sentiment. It soon became known, however, that the personal friends of Giolitti were earnestly engaged in minimizing the supposed meaning of the Government declaration, and on the 6th of December Giolitti read in the chamber a correspondence which had taken place in August, 1913, between his former Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Marquis di San Giuliano, and himself relative to Italy's position as to neutrality when Austria sought her co-operation in her contemplated attack on Serbia. It showed that Austria at that time had designs against Serbia, and attempted to secure Italy's co-operation, but was informed plainly that Italy would in such case consider herself not bound by the Treaty of the Triple Alliance to unite with her ally. The disclosure by the former premier of his correspondence with the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of the latter's reply to Austria regarding Italy's construction of the Treaty of the Triple Alliance, continued to cause much apprehension, and what had at first been accepted as a patriotic disclosure to establish the righteousness of Italy's position was considered by many as a step in an intrigue to weaken the existing cabinet and secure the reins of power in the interest of the Central Empires. The Chamber, however , on a vote of confidence in the Government, registered 413 for and only 49 against the Government. The Chamber rose for recess on the 11th of December.
Immediately after the arrival in Rome of the new German Ambassador, Prince von Bülow, Signor Giolitti had an interview with him, which caused much criticism, and which his explanation, that he had accidentally encountered the Ambassador on the street and had called on him the next day simply to pay his respects, did not serve to disarm. It was alleged by his adversaries that his visit to the German Ambassador took place on the 18th of December, the day after the latter arrived in Rome and the day before he had his first conversation with the official representatives of the Government, Premier Salandra and Baron Sonnino, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
It would appear that the Ex-Premier undoubtedly had the intention of taking from his successor and the latter's Minister for Foreign Affairs, if not the credit for the policy of neutrality for Italy, at least that of being the leader of the party of neutrality. He appears to have been successful, and from this time Signor Giolitti became the protagonist of the policy of neutrality, if not absolute, certainly until Italy should be attacked or in imminent danger of being so. It cannot be said that his work---which in the sequel proved unavailing, secured for him great appreciation from Austria, for not a word of appreciation appears in the Despatches between the Austrian Foreign Office and its representatives in Rome; while, on the other hand, his reported part in the negotiations which were carried on with the intent to prevent Italy's entry into the war on the side of the Allies obtained for him such bitter hostility from those who espoused her entry into the war that his house had to be guarded as carefully as the Austrian Embassy, and he who had once been the People's idol was, it might almost be said, driven from the city.(69)
Also he had an immense prestige for astuteness, and when his pronunciamento appeared regarding the wisdom of Italy's remaining at peace, and accepting the "Parecchio "(70) that could be obtained for her at Austria's hands without war, it was taken as an open challenge to the Government as the responsible representative of the Italian people. It was, indeed, charged with such grave consequences to the country that the Government was aroused to the imminence of the peril, and it forthwith set itself to meet the challenge before the People. The Press was promptly unmuzzled, and the press campaign that ensued was superlatively bitter, as Italians love to have them.(71)
Fortunately for his opponents, Germany's and Austria's attitude had sunk deep into the hearts of the People, and they were easily played on by those who advocated throwing off the yoke and boldly proclaiming Italy's independence of all foreign trammels. The War party was as passionate as the other party was cool and deliberate, and the former worked with the tide. The Interventionists, as they were termed, had all along been vociferous in their denunciation of the neutral position which the Government had assumed, and they were kept in a state of activity by men as earnest as the Advocate Barzelai, the eloquent irredentist Deputy of a Roman constituency, and Signor Bissolati, leader of the interventist socialists, and one of the most devoted and lofty-minded Italians of the time.
With these men were others of equal earnestness, if not in such signal position, such as the Deputies Albertini (head of the great Italian newspaper, the Corriere della Sera, of Milan), Eugenio Chiesa, etc., and the tide began to set so strongly toward war that the Government was fain to take measures to prevent Italy's being swept into the war in a condition of substantial unpreparedness.
A Government crisis began in November, due in part to the apprehension that Italy was not preparing herself properly for eventualities, but it resolved itself into a simple Cabinet reorganization, and several new members considered stronger men, less liable to Giolittian influences, were taken in. Among these, Signor Carcano, who took over the Treasury, was an old Garibaldian, while the War Ministry was intrusted to General Vittorio Italo Zupelli, whose father, a native Istrian, with just prevision, had named him Italy Victor, sixty years before. The appointment of these gentlemen was an indication of the drift of Italian sentiment which could not be mistaken. The efforts of the representatives of Germany and Austria, encouraged by Giolitti and the anti-interventionists, who were supposedly encouraged by the neutralists of the Vatican, were now redoubled.
The new terms which Austria was, in face of the imminently threatened break, prepared to offer were given out through suggestions in the press, and Herr Erzberger, the German Catholic representative, came to Rome and into evidence somewhat inopportunely, as his presence and supposed mission added fuel to the already lighted fires of popular indignation against the ultradiplomatic intrigues of Germany and Austria. However divided Italian public opinion may be, and however violent factionalism may in its manifestations appear, no surer way to bring union can be imagined than an attempt on the part of outsiders to interfere between them. It is inevitably fatal to the side espoused.
Table of Contents