"Delenda Est Austria"
By the Duke of Litta-Visconti-Arese
[The North American Review, July 1918]
The most important problem confronting the Allies in their struggle against Teutonism is probably the destiny of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many illusions concerning it are prevalent, and even President Wilson, whose war messages will ever remain as models of the deepest insight and noblest political ideals, uses, where Austria is concerned, the tone of a friendly adviser. The only explanation, though apparently absurd, seems to be that President Wilson was deceived by the circumstance that for over two centuries the rulers of Austria have known how to mask under remarkably urbane and deceptive international manners their unscrupulous aims and ruthless ferocity. They lack in certain respects the brutal force of their German compeers, but because of the quasi-Oriental perfection of their training, are vastly superior to them in the arts of dissimulation and mendacity. Only those who have been long submitted to their despotism have been able to unmask the tyrants and plumb the depths of their hypocrisy.
But great as may be the impulse to deliver the victims of this infamous thraldom, this might not be a sufficient reason to advocate the disruption of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for unfortunately the aspirations of nationalities must often be sacrificed to "higher" international considerations. The new dispensation, solemnly announced by President Wilson, proclaims the rights of each nationality to be the arbiter of its destiny, and choose its own form of Government, but in the case under consideration this fundamental axiom is not quite sufficient, as the champions of Austria, with chameleonic adaptiveness, already hint at a possible " Federalization," by which, to quote Count Czernin's favorite utterance, "the several nationalities would allowed to develop freely within the Empire." The present article is intended to prove that if the United States and the Allies wish to win the war, not only formally but substantially, the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary must be absolute, for otherwise, even though the Teutonic bloc is forced to reintegrate Belgium, Serbia and Roumania, to return Alsace-Lorraine to France, the "unredeemed" provinces to Italy, and lose its colonies, virtually it would still be the victor.
The historical growth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire shows that in spite of all reverses and rebuffs encountered in its secular progress, the ambitious motto of Frederic III: "Austria Est Imperare Orbi Universo" or "A. E. I. O. U.," is still the mainspring of its policy. It is no paradox to assert this even when all but nominally it is the vassal of Germany. As a rule, spirit dominates matter, and Austrian statesmen are confident that the nimble subtlety of their minds may enable them to control, in the end, the cumbrous mentality of their would-be masters, although upheld and protected by their military power. The spirit of Prince Metternich never ceased to haunt the Ball-Platz, and many disciples of Gentz are ready with their pamphlets, according to orders; but even disregarding these secret ambitions, there is no room to doubt that Austria is indissolubly bound to Germany, and that a mortal blow inflicted upon the former would fatally react upon the latter.
A current fallacy has been that if the Danubian Monarchy were properly handled and safeguarded by the United States, Great Britain and France against "the preposterous pretensions of Italian Imperialism," it would hasten to break away from the shackles of the German alliance, in order to obtain a separate peace, indispensable to the country because of its financial and economic exhaustion. Accordingly, Great Britain and France were for a long time only nominally at war with Austria, and when an Austrian submarine intercepted and captured a British officer and M. P., bearer of important despatches, he was not only treated with marked courtesy by the authorities, but spontaneously allowed to return to England, an eloquent earnest of their good intentions. But after the Italian disaster of Caporetto, Great Britain and France discovered their fatal error, and President Wilson recommended that the United States declare war on Austria.
By the time this fallacy had been exploded, the United States and the Allies were faced by the tragical farce of Russia's dissolution, which justifies still more the contention that Germany's aims of world-supremacy can be thwarted only by the constitution of independent States, comprising the several races so long oppressed by the House of Hapsburg. A reunited Poland, a free Bohemia, a Serbo-Croatia within reasonable linguistic frontiers, and a strengthened Roumania must form the barrier against which the menacing flood of "Mittel-European" ambitions will be irretrievably broken.
One of the principal arguments set forward by the champions of the Austrian Empire is, its necessity for the peace and so-called "equilibrium" of Europe. They urge that to break up Austria would mean the immense strengthening of Germany, as the ten million German-speaking Austrians must, in self-defense, coalesce with the German Empire to which they have ever been attracted by identity of race, language, interests and culture, while, on the other hand, the ten million Magyars, hemmed in by hostile Czeco-Slovacks, Poles, Roumanians and Serbo-Croats, would more than ever be the champions of Germanism, and ready to kindle conflagrations in the East. They insinuate that the Danubian Monarchy (reorganized as a Federation under the House of Hapsburg) might yet be Great Britain's and France's most powerful ally against Germany, whispering engagingly, at the same time, that the Hapsburgs have never forgotten the humiliations suffered at the hands of Prussia, nor relinquished their legitimate hegemonic designs over the German-speaking race, snatched from them by the Hohenzollerns.
These specious arguments are entirety based upon falsehoods and destroyed by a logical examination of facts. The Germans in Cis-Leithania, as the Magyars in Trans-Leithania, form the predominant factor, under the leadership of officials of those nationalities, and others chosen among the most reactionary nobility of Bohemia and Poland, with a few renegade Croats and Italians. Gerrymandering is for them a fine art, and by pertinaciously sowing hate and distrust between coexisting races or sects, they have managed to foment internecine struggles to their exclusive benefit, so that in this proposed reservation of Austria it is not ten or twenty minions that would be definitely thrown in the arms of Teutonism, but the whole of the fifty-one millions of the Austrian Empire. One fact must be emphasized. The ties riveting Austria to Germany are incomparably stronger than identity of race, language or hate; Austria has totally relinquished its individuality, and its despotic Ally curbs with brutal outspokenness the dwindling attempts of its "ward" to assert its rights. The results of the Brest-Litovsk Conference, whether Lenin and Trotsky were paid agents of Germany or hare-brained ideologists acting in good faith, have diverted Germany's attention from the irremediably lost Berlin-Bagdad scheme, to another, even more promising because of its enormous natural resources.
Through the trumped-up Ukrainian Republic and the Caucasus lies the road to Persia, and from there on to India and China. It has Odessa as port of entry in a fully Germanized Black Sea, protected by the Dardanelles, which, by a remarkably short-sighted policy, the Allies seem inclined to leave in the hands of Turkey, and by Austria, paramount in the Balkans. But the success of this far-reaching and ambitious plan, with its ultimate aim of dealing a mortal stroke to the "arch-enemy" England, in its most vital spot, India, depends upon one condition: the preservation of Austria, to which is entrusted the most important mission. 'Abutting upon Ukrainia, the economic resources and racial idiosyncrasies, of which Austrian statesmen, have mastered by years of secret separatist propaganda and stealthy espionage, Austria forms Germany's bridge-head on the great road to India. Deprived of this bridge-head, the gigantic plan crumbles to pieces, and Germany, isolated by a hostile ring of nations, constricted into frontiers rigorously closed to its "commercial penetration," would be incapable of jeopardizing the world's peace, and then, but only then, the seemingly Utopian scheme of a universal brotherhood of nations might become a reality.
Another argument advanced in support of Austria's integrity is that the new States to be formed by its disruption comprise nationalities either notoriously incapable, of self-government (Poles), or not sufficiently homogeneous (Czechs), or not clearly defined (Serbo-Croats). Numberless causes of social and political unrest would arise in these immature communities, when no longer controlled by the Austrian authorities who are thoroughly trained by centuries of practice to deal with those complicated racial problems. A rapid surrey will prove the disingenuousness of these assertions.
Poland appears at first as most disheartening. It seems as if the Poles were dragged apart by centrifugal forces. But the secret of this is hidden in the deep schemes of its Austrian masters, and may explain likewise those alternatives of pro- and anti-Slav tendencies, interpreted often by puzzled observers as symptomatic rifts in the lute of Austro-German complicity. The Poles, petted and cajoled by Austria, had ceased to consider the possibility of a reunion with their brethren, either martyrized by the brutal assaults of Pan-Germanists, or debased by the more subtle tyranny of Czarism. The war came to awaken the dormant Polish conscience, because of the Czar's promise of autonomy to Poland, followed later, as a counterblast, by the Austro-German proclamation of ah independent Polish State, from which, however, was carefully excluded any portion of Polish territory under Prussian domination. Even the solemn farce of a Polish " Provisional Government" and of the "Polish Legions," staged by Germany, helped to awaken the race, and when President Wilson, in accord with the Prime Ministers of Great Britain, France and Italy proclaimed as a fundamental axiom for the peace of Europe, the necessity of a free and united Poland comprising every inch of Polish soil, and with an access to the Baltic, a great thrill went through the nation, and it has ever more and more explicitly manifested its cohesion, as lately when the cession of the Kholm territory to Ukrainia caused a storm of protest, even among the highest Polish officials in the service of Austria,
The Apologists of the Danubian Monarchy point out that in Bohemia the Czechs form only sixty-five per cent of the population, the other thirty-five per cent being Germans, and that the Czechs themselves are subdivided in a large number of factions ever ready to fly at each other's throats. But they omit to say that Bohemia and Moravia form a well-individualized unit, with clearly defined frontiers; they are silent concerning the fact that the Germans were deliberately imported into Bohemia to denationalize the country; and they include Czechs, Germanized by those systems of violence and corruption of which Austrian rulers are past masters. As to the intestine dissensions among the Czechs themselves, the resolutions voted by the great meeting of Prague, at which, without one single exception, all the Members of the Czech delegation to the Austrian Reichsrat were present and which, though suppressed by the censor, have been published by Dr. Benès, Secretary of the Czeco-Slovack Committee in London, leave no possible doubt that the Czechs have but one aspiration: that so pithily expressed by the Denny Hélas, the Slovack paper of Cleveland, O., "the complete dismemberment and dissolution of that absurd (Austrian) empire, vassal, satellite and ruthless instrument of Militarism and Kaiserism.''
The Serbo-Croats form at present, it has been said, the weakest link in the chain of arguments propounded by those who uphold the dismemberment of the Austrian Empire. Their somewhat exaggerated claims, which often clash with the just aspirations of the Italian race, have been grossly distorted by those who have the greatest interest in sowing irreparable dissension between Jugo-Slavs and Italians. Though the writer's nationality might seem an unavoidable obstacle to an objective attitude, it will be safe to say that mutual good will is required to settle all differences, and to quote the words of Dr. Trumbic himself, the signer, with the Serbian Prime Minister Pacic, of the Pact of Corfu, "that nine millions of Jugo-Slavs have but one aim, their liberation from the debasing slavery imposed upon them by Austrians and Magyars."
Very few words are needed about Roumania. Though apparently engulf ed in an appalling disaster by the treason of Bolshevist Russia and Ukrainia, that intrepid race has kept intact all its potentialities, and it is no empty rhetoric to proclaim that because of its magnificent steadiness, Roumania is entitled to reunite under her flag those of her sons, in the West as well as in the East, who have been separated from the mother-country. They will assuredly form the most resolute, if not the principal, barrier against all dreams of Teutonic conquests in the East.
The demonstration that the dismemberment of Austria is of paramount importance, on political grounds, for the stability of the world's peace, seems so incontrovertible that one is inclined to wonder how this obvious fact has not struck most forcibly those whose duty it is to reorganize civilization.
But there is yet another, and much higher, ethical reason for which the Austro-Hungarian Empire should be pitilessly blotted out of its corporate existence. It is almost impossible to conceive how President Wilson, the exponent of Justice and Humanity's most sublime ideals, should be willing "to extend an open hand to Austria," as the Philadelphia Public Ledger summarizes his last great Message. Is President Wilson fully aware of the revolting outrages perpetrated by Austrian officials not only upon harmless non-combatant enemies, but up on their own co-citizens of Slav and Italian birth? Mr. Gladstone in an historic letter branded the Bourbon Government of Naples as the "negation of God;" what terms would he have used to designate that of Austria-Hungary?
In a speech pronounced on the 19th of October, 1917, in the Austrian Reichsrat, Mr. Tresic-Slavicic, the prominent Jugo-Slav poet, has denounced such acts of unparalleled cruelty as the "history of civilized Europe has never registered. This speech, only half of which, and in a very mutilated form, has passed out of Austria, says textually among many other things:
"During four nights we were penned in a stable from which one hundred carts of manure had just been removed....suffocated by the fetid stench of urine and forced to look upon the Magyar soldiers spitting in the food-prepared for us.... In Mostar, the most terrible was the head-gaoler, Caspar Scheller, armed with a curved iron stick he had nicknamed "Kronprinz." He beat the prisoners on head and shoulders till the blood squirted, insulting them meanwhile with diabolical fury.... Many, as the Editor of the Narod and the Rev. Tichy, succumbed at the hands of this tiger.... The hostages were chosen from amongst the most distinguished and cultivated members of the community, and very few were able to stand this martyrdom to the end. To be chosen as a hostage was equivalent to a sentence of death. They died by the hundred.... From Mostar the prisoners were taken to Arad, already overcrowded by several thousand hostages from Herzegovina. During the journey the Hungarian rabble pelted them with stones and mud and spat in their faces. Starving, naked, exhausted, urged on with bayonet-thrusts and blows from the butt-ends of muskets, they were herded as cattle in bomb-proofs infested with bugs and lice. In those long, narrow underground corridors, even in winter, the atmosphere was heavy as with a noisome vapour.... Very soon spotted fever developed, called with ghastly humor by the hostages:
'Tunnelitis Terribilis'.... Later they succumbed to it in masses. For entire nights the living lay side by side with the dead...son the fetid straw...only noticed when the stench of "corruption betrayed their presence... The dead were thrown in heaps upon carts and escorted by Magyar soldiers howling with joy. The dead at Arad were from three to four thousand..."
From Bohemia little by little other unspeakable horrors leak out. The strenuous opposition of the Czechs to mobilization, their steadfast abstention from subscribing to the Austrian war-loans, and their unshaken refusal to declare their loyalty to Austria has cost the lives of many thousand patriots. The reservists swore, amid the acclamations of the people, to fight only for Czechish liberty, and were therefore massacred without discrimination or pity. Whole regiments, as the 8th Landwehr, when it refused to leave Prague, were destroyed by German-speaking troops. In the prisons of Prague, built to hold no more than 2,500 inmates, nearly 4,000 political prisoners are packed, forced to sleep on the bare ground; "but nothing is mown of the atrocious physical and moral torments which their gaolers no doubt have inflicted upon them.
Even the Slovenes in and around Gorizia, who before the war and during its first months were petted and pampered by the Austrian authorities, as they could be used to persecute and martyrize the hated Italians living in the same district, did not escape from the blind brutality of their Teutonic or Magyar masters at their return. From the Slovenec of Laibach we learn that indiscriminate arrests of hundreds were made simply at the caprice of a Captain Shubert, and that the Magyar troops of General Nagy committed all sorts of depredations and excesses. In one case at least, a woman, too ill to be moved from her bed, was shot then and there without provocation or judgment of any kind.
This being the treatment meted out by the Austrian authorities upon the citizens of their own country, it is not difficult to imagine the atrocities of which they have been guilty on alien soil. The world rang at America's tremendous outcry of indignation upon hearing of the German cruelties in Belgium and of their treatment of British prisoners of war, but no one seems to notice Austria's unspeakable barbarities against the civilian population of Serbia and Friuli, and the Serbian and Italian prisoners of war. The Germans seem almost humane when compared to their Austrian allies. In Serbia over 150,000 civilians were deported to Austria or Hungary; all instruments of industrial production have been impounded and the peasants robbed of their last cart, horse and ox. The outrages perpetrated by the Austrian officials are indescribable; they imprison, whip and hang without judgment. In the village of Ramatja thirty-five peasants and the schoolmaster were executed in one morning. Even a pregnant woman was hung, the body remaining several days exposed to view. In the district of Leskovatz thirty-six villages were burnt and razed to the ground, over twenty thousand men, women and children massacred on the pretext that they had furnished food to "insurgent" bands, and Mrs. Saja Nicolic, wife of a Member of the Skupcina, was shot after being starved for eight days, for having, during the "revolt," established an ambulance to assist wounded Serbians. The Austrians are enthusiastically abetted by their worthy allies, the Bulgarians, notoriously the most brutal and treacherous people in the world, whose war-songs, officially distributed to the soldiers by their Government, contain such bloody obscenities that it would be impossible to reproduce them in these pages.
It is very difficult to obtain exact news from Friuli, but it has been fully ascertained that the towns of Belluno, Feltre, Tarcento, Valdobbiadene, Cividale and Udine were thoroughly sacked, and the orders proscribing pillage were promulgated "pro forma" only after most of the booty had been removed. Train-loads of all sorts of property were despatched to Vienna and Buda-Pesth, under the supervision of special officials who organized the methodical plunder of everything movable. A flock of predatory ghouls accompanied them, and the division of spoils among them gave rise to such disputes that Austrian papers unblushingly discussed whether it was Vienna or Buda-Pesth that had been defrauded. Metals were of course carefully collected, all bells above fifty pounds being removed from churches and chapels. The officers are even greater thieves than their men: a Captain Franzer "collected" the best paintings from the Castle of Castellavazzo; a Lieutenant Skbek, in a state of drunkenness, devastated the Villa of Pelos, near Auronzo; a Captain Opitz sent home one "quintal" of coffee, now worth 1,600 crowns in Austria. Murders ("executions," as they are dubbed with Austrian euphemism) and violences of all kinds are daily, not to say hourly occurrences.
The fate of Italian prisoners of war is terrible. Not only are they starved 'beyond the limits of credibility, but are incessantly submitted to the most ferocious and debasing treatment. The Austrian non-commissioned officers placed at their head are, as a rule, delinquents," as that Magyar Sergeant Izaaks who tortured insane soldiers of whom he had the supervision. Those escaped from the prison camps, or who have been exchanged, unanimously declare that tuberculosis was reaping victims by the hundred among their fellow prisoners, that the Austrian doctors either cannot or will not do anything to better the sanitary and alimentary conditions of those unfortunate sufferers, and that the few who may return home at the end will, without exception, be irremediably broken in health and spirits. This frightful condition of affairs has been summarized by one of the soldiers who was taken prisoner near Caporetto and eventually escaped, when he wrote to his sister: "If I had known what I was destined to suffer, I would a thousand times have preferred to shoot myself rather than fall into the hands of these beasts!"
It seems almost superfluous to draw conclusions from what has been said above. If the disruption of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is the one step necessary to overthrow definitively and forever the awful threat of Teutonic Kaiserism and Militarism, it is still more so in the name of those exalted spiritual and moral ideals of which President Wilson is the banner-bearer. In the universal brotherhood of nations which must arise from the crumbling ruins of the Old World, there can be no place for that organized machine of deceit, oppression and murder, the Danubian Monarchy.
Delenda est Austria!
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald