THIS BOOK DOES NOT PRETEND TO BE A HISTORY OF THE WAR. It recalls many facts that are known, but some that have been ignored. It does not contain a complete and systematic account of what happened in the world from 1914 to 1918: the author goes on the assumption that most of the events of this period remain still in the memories of his contemporaries.
Nor is this book a collection of biographies, pure and simple. That field has been covered. In order to understand the sequence of events one does not always needs to know the facts of a statesman's private life. But particulars of this kind are sometimes relevant and help us to understand men's characters and historical occurrences.
Finally, our purpose has not been to lay down the law or to pronounce final judgments on the men who during those eventful years had in their hands the leadership of nations. Final judgments are for God. The time has not yet come, perhaps the time will never come, for us weak mortals to be able to declare: this man did right, that man did wrong.
But statesmen have motives, always, for their actions---motives within themselves or outside themselves. To form any kind of judgment of their actions, we must understand something about these motives. We shall try, therefore, in each instance to discover what can have been the impulses of these statesmen in acting as they did.
This inquiry will often lead us into the very heart of events which we have lived through, and it will be possible for us sometimes to base our appreciation upon personal memories and upon anecdotes which we have had at first hand. Although we have not known personally all the men of whom we shall speak here, our duties have brought us into touch with most of them, and many of them have honored us with their friendship.
It is a mistake to imagine that statesmen control the course of events; more often, it is the course of events that controls them. Not even the autocrats---nay, the autocrats least of all---are free. Their wills are fettered by their environment, by their own nation, by their allies, by their adversaries, and, above all, by circumstances. It is a rare thing for a sovereign or for a minister to have the feeling that he is doing as he likes ---and a rare thing for such a feeling to be well-founded. It is a rarer thing, still, for a king or a statesman, when he does do as he likes, to modify the course of events.
Efforts have been made to apportion the responsibility of individuals in regard to the origins of the War. In vain. The individuals who at the tragic hour held our destinies in their hands did not consciously desire war---none of them. If they were responsible for its suddenly coming about, this was because they were the slaves of a political and economic system which was stronger than themselves---slaves of their own earlier decisions, and of their own prejudices and the prejudices of other nations. Far from our mind be any notion of pointing, in the network of unconscious responsibilities, of unacknowledged motives, of mistakes, of distrust and arrières-pensées, to individual faults.
But if the leaders of the nations were not the controllers of events, they were the instruments. Their names are inseparable from the events, and the human mind cannot conceive of history apart from the personalities mixed up with it.
It may happen, moreover, that statesmen, without actually controlling, may influence events, and the knowledge of their lives, their character, their motives, may be not without value for the understanding of history.
Inversely, they themselves are influenced by the circumstances in which they have lived, and the knowledge of history is a requisite element in their psychology. Our purpose in presenting here a series of political portraits is the seeking out of these repercussions. We have felt that in studying the characters of the men, we might be able to explain their actions, the parts they played, the influence they exerted upon the minds of the people and upon the sequence of events. On the other hand, events sometimes enable us to understand the attitude of certain men at decisive moments of history. To explain events by the character of those who took part in them and the character of statesmen by the events in which they were involved is perhaps in the nature of a mental recreation, but it is a recreation not lacking in its use and its interest for history and for psychology.
The personalities included are of great diversity. Their choice is arbitrary. We have not tried to draw up a list of the twenty-five most important men of our epoch or of those most endowed with genius. Many others, assuredly, in certain respects, would have deserved to figure in such a list. It was necessary for us to restrict our list, and we believe that it includes no one who does not deserve to have a place in it by reason of the position he has held in the eyes of his contemporaries.
Among them are men whose celebrity has been the outcome of circumstances. What should we know, but for the War, of a Cardinal Mercier, or of a Colonel House, or of a Gustave Ador, or of a Masaryk, or of a Bénès? Others are great by reason of the influence they have exerted. What would have become of us without a Lloyd George or a Clemenceau? But this is not the stamp of true greatness. What marks great men, like great mountains, is the circumstance that a distant view increases their height. There were leaders whom the War wiped out. What will history recall of Tisza, of Czernin, of Bethmann, of Sonnino? They took part in the events but the events did not add to their stature. There were others, on the contrary, in the front rank of whom we place President Wilson, who dominated events to the point of standing out as their living symbol.
Ten years have passed since the Armistice. The perspective to-day is sufficient to allow of our attempting to distinguish, in the matters under consideration, what was lasting from what was ephemeral. This attempt at discrimination will show us that among these men those who will retain a name in history are those who understood their own time and its needs. Those who, like CIémenceau, only made war, great men though they may be, will leave behind them but a transient fame. The memory of them will fade. Only those men will live on who knew how to make peace by getting inspiration in justice and in the needs of peoples.
To make war at this moment in history was something, to be victorious in the name of justice and of democracy was much more. But the true statesmen were those who, looking beyond the immediate present and the apparent interests of their own country, devoted their efforts to preventing the return of such catastrophes in the future. To these, and to these alone, will belong the glory of having understood their time and of having exerted a profound influence on the destinies of mankind.
True it is that from the life and actions of each of these figures we may draw forth an example or at least a lesson and a political moral. It is in this way that our book may be not without its utility. For of what would the wisdom of men consist if it did not find sustenance in the examples set them by their forerunners!
Book dustjacket information
The Three Emperors
The Origins of the War
The Agony of Belgium
The New Allies
The Interminable War
Peace on the Way
The Liberation of Peoples
PRESIDENT MASARYK AND DR. BÉNÈS
PILSUDSKI AND PADEREWSKI
The Supreme Effort
The Three Emperors