Constantinople: Principle or Pawn?
By Herbert Adams Gibbons
[The Century Magazine, February 1917]
For several years, during the precious months that I was able to spend in Paris between trips, I pursued a hobby that did not put money into my purse or fresh air into my lungs. But the spell of it held me even after the outbreak of war. Residence and travel in the near East had awakened interest in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople. There was not the leisure to wander through centuries, so I chose the period when the Osmanlis, a new race in history, spread their power through the Balkans and closed in upon the capital of the Byzantine Empire. In the Bibliothèque Nationale, from nine in the morning until four in the afternoon, I lived in the fourteenth century. Events since 1914 are strikingly reminiscent of that period: the anxiety of Europe as to what was going on at Constantinople; ambassadors at the Sublime Porte striving, for the sake of keeping open or cutting off the Black Sea, to win to their side the nation that held the key to the straits; the occupation of Tenedos by the maritime power that would brook no rival; the effort to reach Constantinople by way of Gallipoli Peninsula; and the seizure of Salonica to induce the Greeks to march on the side of the seizer. Two days before France mobilized for the Great War, I ordered from my German bookseller in Paris the latest book on the question of the succession to Constantinople. It was by the Rumanian minister to Belgium. M. Djuvara described one hundred and one schemes that had been conceived and elaborated in Europe during the last four centuries to take Constantinople from the Turks and to put the Bosporus and the Dardanelles under European control.
From the Treaty of Kutchuk-Kainardji in 1774 to the Treaty of Berlin in 1878, Russia was the powerful claimant to Constantinople. She fought three wars to attain her goal. Against Russian pretensions stood the two Occidental powers. Great Britain was the consistent defender of the Turks; France maintained a hostile attitude to Russian aspirations. Even when Napoleon, at the height of his power, was planning to divide the world with Alexander of Russia he could not reconcile himself to the idea of Muscovite domination at the place where Europe and Asia meet.
Since 1878 new defenders of Ottoman integrity against the Russians have arisen. The central European powers—Italy, Austria, and Germany—achieved their national unity in the two decades preceding the Treaty of Berlin. Hemmed in on the west by Great Britain and France and on the east by Russia, born too late to extend their political sovereignty over vast colonial domains, and unable, if only for lack of coaling-stations, to develop sea-power greater than that of their rivals, nothing was more natural than the German and Austro-Hungarian conception of a Drang nach Osten through the Balkan Peninsula, over the bridge of Constantinople, into the markets of Asia. The geographical position of the central European states made as inevitable a penetration policy into the Balkans and Turkey as the geographical position of England made inevitable the development of an overseas empire. British foreign policy has changed since Lord Beaconsfield forced the Treaty of Berlin upon Russia by a threat of war. The integrity of the Ottoman Empire became of secondary interest to the British from the moment they gained control of Egypt and realized what the Suez Canal meant to them. Gradually Germany and Austria-Hungary have drifted into the position of protectors of Turkey; for France made an alliance with Russia, the traditional enemy of Turkey, and it became increasingly evident, especially since the Anglo-Russian agreement of 1907, that British statesmen, despite the pledge implied in the occupation of Cyprus, no longer held as sacrosanct the policy of the maintenance of Ottoman integrity.
Since the Treaty of Berlin another complication has developed in the question of Constantinople. The Balkan Christian states, created to be dependent upon the great powers, asserted their independence. Rumania increased in population and wealth. Bulgaria and Greece ignored the limitations imposed upon them territorially and politically by the Treaty of Berlin. Little Montenegro on more than one occasion defied all the powers. Serbia, with Russian backing, began to make trouble for Austria-Hungary, and Serbian and Italian irredentism clashed on the Adriatic littoral. At the mouth of the Adriatic Greek aspirations were irreconcilable with those of Italy. The war that liberated the Christians of the Balkans from the bondage reimposed upon them by the Treaty of Berlin would have defeated both Austro-Hungarian and Russian ambitions had not war broken out over the partition of the conquered territory. By refusing to allow Greece and Serbia and Montenegro to divide Albania, the great powers were directly responsible for the second Balkan War. Had Serbia been permitted to retain the outlet to the Adriatic that she conquered by arms, she would not have broken her treaty with Bulgaria, and Macedonian territorial claims could have been adjusted. By listening to the remonstrances of Vienna and Rome, the conference of ambassadors at London thought they would avoid a European war. On the contrary, they made it inevitable.
No impartial student of the diplomatic correspondence during the momentous twelve days that precipitated the war can fail to attach the responsibility for the outbreak of hostilities to Berlin and Vienna. The evidence published by the central powers alone, their official documents put forth in the form of special pleading, are all one wants to refute the laborious defense that has been attempted by the German polemicists. Why, then, do I speak of the war as inevitable? It is because the explanation of the developments of the twelve days and the precipitation of the crisis must be sought in events that preceded the Sarajevo assassination. War does not arise from technicalities and from the ill will and bad faith of certain diplomats during a few days. Let us throw aside the defense of the German and Austro-Hungarian foreign offices during the twelve days, a defense weak to the point of absurdity. Had the statesmen of the central powers justification for adopting, perhaps unconsciously, the uncompromising attitude that Russia must not interfere in the Austrian punishment of Serbia, and that if Russia did interfere, and the Great War was precipitated, it would come better now than later, since it had to come? The central powers maintained that Serbia was a foyer of Panslavic propaganda, which, if unchecked, would menace the integrity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and destroy the power of Teutonic Europe to keep open the path to the East and to defend the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Were they right, or were their fears groundless? We cannot answer this question yet, for its answer depends upon whether the Entente powers regard Constantinople in the light of principle or as a pawn.
In the early part of the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire would have gone the way of all other empires the world has known had it not been for the rivalry of those who coveted the inheritance. Since the Congress of Vienna, Turkey has been a constant source of friction in European international relations. Because of Turkey, wars have been fought and alliances formed and shifted that influenced the destinies of nations which had no interest directly or indirectly in the fate of Turkey. Statesmen in European capitals, in the endeavor to solve the question of the Orient to what they believed was the advantage of their own nation and to prevent its solution to what they believed was the advantage of another nation, have not hesitated to play navies and armies on the diplomatic chess-board, to excite ill feeling among peoples who had no reason to be enemies of one another, and to use cynically the force behind them for the purpose of keeping in slavery the small Christian races of the Balkan Peninsula and Asiatic Turkey. One would hesitate to assert that public opinion in any European nation knowingly sanctioned the crimes and knowingly supported the blunders of the diplomats. Governments have been sustained in their fratricidal strife over the Turkish succession because the public has been kept in ignorance or misinformed. One is astonished at the lack of knowledge shown by the people who create governments in the questions their representatives are called upon to face and solve. Parliaments also are not cognizant of the most vital issues and agreements of international diplomacy. One almost despairs of the working of democracy when he studies European diplomatic history since the days of universal suffrage. The men elevated to power are just as irresponsible and as rebellious to democratic control as were kings.
One can go beyond the statement of an ignorant and misinformed electorate to set forth the ignorance and misinformation of the elected. A striking illustration of this is the action of the British cabinet when the Russians imposed upon Turkey the Treaty of San Stefano. To destroy this treaty, the British were willing to allow themselves to be led into a war as foolish and as futile as the Crimean War had proved to be less than a quarter of a century before. Beaconsfield and Salisbury declared that they had come back from Berlin bringing peace with honor; yet it was not long until Salisbury confessed that they had "backed the wrong horse!" Freycinet took upon himself the responsibility of depriving France, by a decision formed from imperfect knowledge and without consultation, of the work of two generations in Egypt and the fruits of the vision of the builder and backers of the Suez Canal. Ever since the Treaty of Berlin, France and Great Britain have been badly served by their foreign offices and their diplomatic representatives in the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans.
From the outbreak of the Great War up to the moment of this writing Anglo-French diplomacy in the near East has revealed a lack of brains and knowledge that is jeopardizing seriously the fortunes of the Entente powers. The aftermath of recrimination of the stubbornness of the Serbians, the "breaking with tradition" of Turkey, the "felony" of Bulgaria, the cowardice of Greece, and the lack of military virtues of Rumania, are not at all to the point. Nor is the military impotence of the Entente powers in the face of the bold, masterful strategy of the German general staff the reason of the unfavorable Balkan situation. The whole trouble, from the very beginning, is that the territorial ambitions of Russia and Italy, allies of France and Great Britain, are in conflict with the interests of the Balkan nations and with the principles upon which the Entente powers have asked for Balkan and neutral sympathy and support.
On October 23, 1916, Lord Grey, at a luncheon of the foreign newspaper correspondents in London, said:
"In what spirit is the war being conducted by the Allies? We shall struggle until we have established the supremacy of right over force and until we have assured the free development in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius of all the states, large and small, who constitute civilized humanity.... We shall continue our sacrifices until we have assured the future peace of the whole European continent."
Although the application of the principle of nationality is extremely difficult in countries where the population is mixed, and where the most numerous element has neither the wealth nor the education of the minority, nor the minority's bond of attachment with a neighboring larger state, it is manifest that if an equitable and durable peace is to be secured the majority must be considered. Only thus can the settlement be regarded as the triumph of right over force. Otherwise nationality will remain as it has been in the past and as it is now—a principle to be applied where it is to the interest of the dominant group of belligerents to apply it, and to be disregarded where it is to the interest of the victorious powers to disregard it. If the new map of Europe is to be made by right and not by force, as Lord Grey and all other French and British statesmen have asserted, the same principle must be applied everywhere. Not only will it be a mockery of justice, but it will be an impugnment of the good faith of the Entente powers before history and the leaving of questions unsettled for another test of arms, if the aspirations of all the belligerent powers are not decided upon the same principle.
Liberal public opinion in France and Great Britain needs to be enlightened concerning the Balkan and Turkish settlements. If the press continues to be muzzled by the censorship after the armistice is signed, and if the delegates who go to the peace conference are bound by agreements contracted during the war for the sake of expediency, and are uncontrolled by the democracies they represent, will not the sacrifices of this terrible war have been made in vain? The happiness of the nations of the Balkan Peninsula and of the races of the Ottoman Empire is not going to be secured by the division of the territories in which they live among the victors. The worst blunder made by Allied diplomacy since the beginning of the war in regard to the near East was the public statement by M. Delcassé that Constantinople was promised to Russia. Who promised Constantinople to Russia, and why? What fair-minded man can blame Bulgarians and Greeks and Turks for not regarding the Russian menace as less formidable than the German menace? The Balkan States do not want Austria-Hungary in Albania. But neither do they want Italy there. It would be disastrous for them to have Germany in Constantinople, but it would be equally disastrous for them to have Russia there. If the principle of nationality calls Rumania to free Transylvania from the Hungarians, it calls her with equal force to free Bessarabia from the Russians. If Rumania's act in joining the Entente powers, following a similar act in similar circumstances and for similar reasons by Italy, was glorious and noble and self-sacrificing, why should Bulgaria's analogous act be treason and felony? What benefit would the Greeks derive from the possession of Smyrna, across the sea from their own mainland and with a large hinterland to be defended, if they were to have the Italians in Epirus and the Russians in Thrace? Greece was offered overseas territory at the expense of seeing great powers installed in contiguous territory with splendid naval bases.
There are two arguments for giving Constantinople to Russia: Russia must be rewarded for her help in crushing Germany and the Turks must be punished for joining the Germans; Russia is hemmed in on all sides, and has a right to control her sole and natural outlet to the world. Both of these arguments regard Constantinople as a pawn, and both reveal what has been consistently held up to us as the typically Prussian point of view. The mental attitude is detestable, for it is a selfish one, and does not take into consideration at all the feelings or the rights or the interests of others. The reasoning is inadmissible, for it attacks the foundation of international morality and the only possible basis of a stable world peace.
If the Turks went into the war because they were wrongly led by a few men whom Germany bribed, they are to be pitied instead of punished. The way to correct the evil is to get after the men of whom the Turkish nation were the dupes, and not to put the Turks in subjection to Russia. If the Turks went into the war because they felt that their national existence was imperiled by Russian schemes of aggrandizement, they had as much right to take up arms as France had, and the only reason for depriving them of liberty would be right of conquest, which up to this time has been the justification for holding alien races in political bondage. The prevalence of this reasoning in the peace conference would mean that this war will go down to posterity as others of history—a struggle for booty, which the victors shared. If Russia ought to have Constantinople because she helped to defeat Germany, the war is not being fought in the spirit described by Lord Grey or for the ends claimed by Lord Grey. A very keen Frenchman recently said to me:
"You do not realize that Russia is a vital factor in our hope and determination to crush Germany. Therefore we must keep quiet about Poland, and we must agree to Russia's demands in the near East. Our one thought is the safety, now and in the future, of France, and the necessities of the situation alone guide the near Eastern policy of the Entente powers."
"But is not this the Notwendigkeit argument of Bethmann-Hollweg?" I remonstrated. He smiled sadly. "It always comes to that in war," was his answer.
The second argument for the Russian occupation of Constantinople—and this is presented most strongly to the French and British public— is that Russia must control her southern outlet to the sea. The Pacific outlet is thousands of miles across the continent of Asia. The Arctic outlet is ice-bound during the greater part of the year. The Baltic outlet is at the mercy of Germany. The lessons of the present war are used to demonstrate the peril of Russia's windpipe being held by a hostile power. It is argued that Russia is pushing her way seaward by irresistible economic forces, and that if she does not get now under her control the path to the sea, she will inevitably disturb the world's peace later. A prominent liberal and independent review in England recently published an article which proves, to the satisfaction of its writer, that a few million people in the way of a great and growing nation must not be allowed to disturb the bonds uniting the British and Russian peoples. The Balkan and Ottoman races must be made to understand that they cannot block the way to the reconstruction of Europe along the lines determined by the Entente powers. Their geographical position makes necessary subjection to Russia. One can find no difference between this reasoning and that of the German Weltpolitik champions. It bears the stamp of Berlin and Leipsic and Jena. It is the kind of argument by which the Germans justified in 1864 the conquest of Schleswig-Holstein, and plead today for the permanent inclusion of Belgium in the German Empire. It is the underlying motive of the Austro-Hungarian conquest of Serbia. The weak must stand aside for the strong.
If the economic-outlet-to-the-Mediterranean argument is a justifiable reason for subjugating alien races and bringing them under a government they abhor, and if a few millions must bow before a hundred millions, the retention of Trieste and Fiume by Austrians and Hungarians is also a necessity, and the Bosnia-Herzegovina annexation of 1908 was a wise policy, inspired by the desire to assure the peace of Europe! Advocates of allowing Russia to take Constantinople declare that they are backing Russia because they sincerely desire to reconstruct Europe along lines that take into account economic necessities and that are laid down in the view of avoiding another cataclysm for the next generation to face and suffer from. Very good. But how, then, can they logically support the Adriatic pretensions of Italy and the disappearance of German influence in the Balkans? If they do support both Russian and Italian claims, they are either insincere or are suffering through the bitter passions of the moment from a loss of the power of clear thinking.
The arguments against the Russian occupation of Constantinople are unanswerable. Only those who adopt the German mental attitude, or who are so anxious to defend the Russian point of view that they forget they are at the same time pleading for the German point of view, can combat them. Since the war began no article has been written advocating Russia at Constantinople which has not furnished material for German polemicists and weapons for German diplomats. The harm done to the cause of the Entente powers in the Balkans by thoughtless writers in Paris and London, who saw only one move in the great game, and believed they were helping the common cause by encouraging Russian aspirations, has been incalculable.
Too much writing about Constantinople and too little writing about Poland is giving the German propaganda in eastern and southeastern Europe the chance to instil doubt of the good faith of France and Great Britain. Did not the statesmen of the Occidental powers tell the world that they took up the sword in defense of small nationalities? It is because I am in perfect sympathy with the ideal clearly and unequivocally set forth by Lord Grey that I regard the arguments against the Russian occupation of Constantinople as unanswerable.
Lord Grey said, "We shall struggle until we have established the supremacy of right over force and until we have assured the free development, in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius, of all the states, large and small, who constitute civilized humanity." Unless Lord Grey believes that the Balkan States and the Ottoman subject races do not form a part of "civilized humanity," he, and all who have applauded his beautiful and soul-stirring setting forth of the cause of the Entente powers, must agree that the arguments against the Russian occupation of Constantinople are unanswerable.
Here are the arguments. I speak not from books, but from intimate personal knowledge gained by years of travel and residence in the near East.
(1) There is not a single element. Christian or Moslem, among those that make up the population of the Balkans and of the Ottoman Empire that desires Russian sovereignty, and there is no Russian element at all in Constantinople or anywhere around the straits. Pro-Russians do not exist in the near East, especially in Constantinople. In virtually every other debatable or contested territory in Europe I have found partizans of the power or powers that were ambitious of overthrowing the existing political status to their advantage. Considerations that make partizans are religious, political, and economic. Some point of contact is found and fostered by the outside propaganda. But Russia has no local support in Constantinople. None feels that his particular political, religious, or economic interests would be benefited in any way by Russian occupation.
On the contrary, the most bitter enemies of the Turks, and those who have suffered most at the hands of the Turks, never hesitate to tell you frankly that they prefer the status quo to a change in favor of Russia. The reasons for this are easily set forth. The Turks are occasional oppressors. While they can be, and sometimes are, annoying and harmful through arrogance and inefficiency and maladministration, for the most part and for most of the time they allow Christian subjects and foreigners as much liberty to carry on their business and amass wealth as they would have anywhere else in the world. The British and French residents are of this opinion. In Constantinople and along the shores of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmora,* [* It is possible to find at the present moment former Constantinopolitans of French and British nationality who declare that Russia must have Constantinople. They do this from the mistaken notion that the interest of their nations demands this sacrifice, and they are looking at the problem from the point of view of Paris and London. The statement in no way represents their real opinion as Constantinopolitans.] and the Dardanelles are probably as many people as in Serbia. Just as strongly as the Serbians do not want Austro- Hungarian domination, these people do not want Russian domination. The Entente powers are fighting to free Serbia. We applaud and second the efforts of the liberators. By the same token Turks and Greeks and Jews and Armenians of Constantinople and the straits can cite the ideal of the Entente powers, and claim our sympathy and support in their common determination not to undergo the Russian yoke.
If we consider the vital interests of the people of Asia Minor and the Balkans, who are equally unanimous in their opposition to Russia at Constantinople, the two millions increase to a formidable number of perhaps thirty millions. Rumania's only outlet to the world is through the straits, and Bulgaria's principal outlet is through the straits. The commerce of the Greeks is largely dependent upon the straits. These Balkan States have every bit as much reason for not wanting to see Russia at Constantinople as the British have for not wanting to see Germany at Antwerp. Who would dare to assert that Russian control of the straits would "assure the free development, in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius," of the Balkan States?
(2) Russia at Constantinople would make impossible a logical and equitable, and hence a durable, establishment of world peace. In the admirable discourses of MM. Viviani, Briand, Poincaré, Lord Grey, and Messrs. Asquith and Lloyd-George, there is a plea that has won for the Entente powers world-wide sympathy. We are taken to the mountain-tops and shown a new era of world history, in which right rules in the place of force. We have not regarded the discourses as the rhetoric of polemicists and the ideal as impracticable; for we believe in the sincerity of the speakers and in the soundness of the program set forth by them as a means of attaining the goal for which the nations they represent are fighting. The peace they intend to give the world will be durable, because it is to be logical and equitable. Therefore we do not consider the question of granting Constantinople to Russia from the point of view of military reward or expediency or Russia's own interest. It is a matter primarily of Balkan and Ottoman interest and secondarily of world interest. Is a peace that means Russian sovereignty of Constantinople logical? Is it equitable?
It is not logical. The sequels of past international treaties clearly indicate the fallacy of artificial settlements made at the point of the bayonet. When a nation accepts a peace dictated by victorious enemies according to the particular interests of the victors, it is simply a matter of yielding to force majeure. The preparation for the day of revenge begins immediately. Let us not forget that the war broke out over the question of Serbian independence. What is the issue between the Entente powers and Germany in regard to Constantinople? If the Entente powers are fighting Germany to prevent Constantinople from falling into Germany's hands and to save the Balkan States and the Ottoman Empire from subjugation to Germany, they are justified in their action from the world's point of view, and are contributing to the world's peace, only if they refrain from using their victory to do exactly what they fought to prevent Germany from doing. The allies of Russia in the near-Eastern theater of the war are under the imperative necessity of persuading Russia to declare her disinterestedness in Constantinople. Otherwise their contention that they are fighting for a durable peace breaks down. There is no durable peace for the near East in shutting out Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians to let in Russians. There is no durable peace for the world in increasing the Muscovite power in Europe. We have dreams of a regenerated, democratic, civilized Russia. The world needs that sort of Russia. But can we expect it after a triumphant war has added to the empire, already so large that its democratic evolution is seriously handicapped, territories inhabited by hostile aliens? If we do, we are believers in chimeras, and deny the general experience of mankind. It is not equitable. Unless we are going to see disappear from the Great War the glamour of idealism, then principle, not expediency and national interest, must be kept steadily in view as the goal of the struggle. The statesmen of the Entente powers interpret the spirit in which their nations are fighting and the spirit in which they envisage the problems of peace as that of right and justice. They have set out to overthrow militarism, to disprove the obnoxious axiom that might goes before right. They are not fighting for themselves, but for humanity. They are the defenders of small nationalities. Very well, then. In their agreement not to sign a separate peace the Entente powers must have laid down as the basis of the peace the right of every nation, once freed from the German yoke and the German menace, to decide its own destinies.
France and Great Britain are the splendid examples of nations that have developed to their present degree of civilization and enlightenment because they have evolved through many generations into democracies. By arms the two peoples have overthrown their autocrats and defended their soil from alien domination. They have frequently had to repel invaders. Each has tried to conquer the other. Within the memory of the present generation they have been on the verge of war. They have gone through a laborious period of interior assimilation, civil wars, anarchy, that extended through centuries. For Frenchmen and Englishmen to cite the antagonism between the Balkan races and the events of the last thirty years since the power of Turkey was weakened in the Balkan Peninsula as reasons for putting the Balkan States under foreign domination, or "protection," is illogical and unfair. Do they expect babies to become men without passing through the period of childhood, and then, forgetting their own slow, painful, uncertain development, are they going to declare the right of others to potential manhood forfeited because of the faults of childhood? Great Britain could never have become what she is today if France had controlled her destinies. Nor could France have become what she is under British guidance. Do French and British believe that it is equitable to attempt to force Russian domination upon the races of the near East? Certainly not. I can hear now Premier Viviani's ringing words, "Every small nation has the right to live its own life, and it is the glory of France that we are going into this war to defend Serbia and Belgium from the German covetousness;" and Mr. Asquith, "We shall not lay down the sword until we have established a just peace on the basis of the liberty of small nations."
In the reconstruction of Europe, if Constantinople is to be regarded in the light of principle and not as a pawn, the great powers, when they come to the peace conference, will adopt the formula of Lord Grey in dealing with the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire, just as they will adopt that formula in dealing with Belgium, Poland, and the Slavic elements of Austria-Hungary. Heretofore, in every international conference since the Congress of Vienna set the example of the strong using the weak as pawns, unfortunate subject races have seen their national aspirations discussed and decided wholly on grounds of expediency and of the interest of the big fellows who acted on the principle that might was right. The great powers, after each war, have remade the map of Europe without the slightest regard for the principle of the "free development, in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius, of all the states, large and small." Poles and Finns, Czechs and Croatians, Serbians and Bulgarians, Greeks and Rumanians, Turks and Arabs, Armenians and Syrians, have seen the lands in which they live and their national aspirations used as pawns. Diplomats have put them forward to block the game of other diplomats, and sacrificed them without compunction, when they thought there was any advantage in doing so. With the exception of Waddington, the French representative at the Congress of Berlin, there has not been in a hundred years a representative of a great power at a peace conference who, in action as well as in word, was inspired in the slightest degree with the spirit Lord Grey has set forth as that which imbues the Entente powers in the present war. Many diplomats, even at peace conferences, have spoken beautiful words about the little fellows, but their vote has invariably shown cynical and deliberately calculated selfishness.
If there is to be any change in the spirit and in the result of the next peace conference, it will come through the adoption of Lord Grey's noble ideal as a basis of settlement. The great nations will consider the interests of the little nations as they consider their own interests, and they will regard national aspirations and national revendications in the light of principle, judging all alike, and refuse to play weaker nations as pawns. This is idealism, this is humanitarianism, this is self-abnegation; and I suppose many who read these lines will laugh at what they call my naïveté. But I have a right to view the near-Eastern question from the idealistic point of view, for the Entente powers have struck that key-note. They must hold to it and not be carried away by the lust of conquest. Otherwise their children and ours will weep the bitter tears we are weeping to-day, and bear anew the grievous burdens of the present generation.
An exiled Napoleon, and the destruction of a military machine about which things were felt and written a hundred years ago curiously like what is being felt and written to-day, did not bring peace and harmony to Europe. No more will an exiled kaiser and the collapse of the Prussian militarism bring peace in our era.
Far be it from me to discount the indignation that demands chastisement and reparation for what has happened since 1914; for I have lived in the midst of the suffering since the first day of the war, and know what it means. But the violation of Belgian neutrality and the brutal reign of terror visited upon an unoffending people through the German invasion were not to me, as to most of those who saw and wrote, unprecedented events in contemporary annals, and the beginning of the horrible precipitation of Europe into hell. It was not a new story. It was another chapter in a story that had been unfolding for years, and of which I have been an eye-witness. Only those were surprised and shocked who did not know about the earlier chapters. In 1909, in one city of Asia Minor, I saw within a few days more civilians butchered than have been killed in all of Belgium during two years of war. The Armenians were just as much under the treaty protection of the European powers as were the Belgians. Not a single power that had signed the Treaty of Berlin made an official protest to Turkey. From 1909 to 1914 the near East was in a turmoil. What was the attitude of European diplomacy? Disregard of the legitimate aspirations of small nations, indifference to human suffering through war and oppression, the making of every move in negotiations for the advantage of the movers and with never a thought of the interest of the moved. Students of history in the face of a world war must adopt the attitude of physicians in the face of an epidemic. If physicians limit their attention to specific cases, and think only of curing the disease when it manifests itself, they keep getting new cases. To stamp out the disease they must hunt for the germs. A regenerated Germany or a chastised and powerless Germany will in no way destroy the germs that make for war. International diplomacy must be born again in the spirit of Lord Grey's program. International diplomacy must renounce the spirit of self-seeking, and remake Europe in such a way as to "assure the free development, in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius, of all nations, great and small."
I have confined myself to discussing the principle to be applied in dealing with the question of Constantinople. One is rash who would attempt to set forth a specific solution of the problem that has baffled Europe for a hundred and fifty years. If the Armenians, to whom Europe collectively owes a debt, are gathered into one or the other of their historic lands, between Turks and Russians and Persians, or between Turks and Arabs, their "free development, in conditions of equality and conformity to their own genius." can be assured by the collective guaranty of Europe. The Arabic-speaking peoples of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia, freed from Turkish domination, and put temporarily under European guidance, will evolve in time into an empire of their own. The Turks, limited to Constantinople and Asia Minor, will have more hope of political and economic regeneration than in the past, when they held an amorphous and disorganized empire, and were the victims of rival European ambitions. The states of the Balkan Peninsula should be left to work out their own salvation, as the rest of Europe has done. Is not this the application of the avowed policy of the Entente powers toward small nations?
As in the case of Poland, so in the case of the Balkans and the Ottoman Empire. The Entente powers in the third year of the Great War have come to the parting of the ways. If they stick by their original program, and hold fast to the ideals that have made their cause precious to lovers of humanity throughout the world, there is glorious hope for the future, and they can expect to keep and increase the sympathy and support of neutral nations—a sympathy and support that grow more precious, invaluable indeed, as the European conflict reaches its climax. But if, on the other hand, they are tempted by lust of conquest engendered in the heat of conflict, or if they yield to expediency, so easily confused with right when every nerve is strained to win, the durable peace becomes a castle in Spain. Lovers of France and the advocates of Anglo-Saxon solidarity ought to urge with all their heart and soul that Constantinople be considered in the light of principle and not as a pawn. It is only one of several issues where a choice has to be made; but Constantinople is in its potentialities the most important issue, and in its unmistakable clearness the test issue.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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