After the War: A Forecast
[The Independent, August 24, 1914]
All Europe is in arms, and all the larger nations are actually at war, all but Italy; and such minor powers as Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway, Bulgaria and Rumania. Even these have the sword drawn from the sheath and the bayonets pointed toward their borders. These smaller nations are in dire danger, like Holland; and Belgium and Luxemburg have already been invaded and may be annexed if the victors choose. Treaties of neutrality have failed to protect. They are written on parchment, and parchment crackles and crumbles in the fire of war.
The war is on: how will it end? We venture a forecast. On one side are Austria-Hungary and Germany. Their only possible recruit is Italy; and Italy, however bound by treaty as a member of the Dreibund, can hardly keep her pledge. The people hate and fear Austria. They know that Austria provoked and opened the war by her attack on Servia, and that this is no defensive war. Italy declares that she is under no treaty obligation to help Austria and Germany in a war which they have initiated. Austria is Italy's old foe, and were the Italian Government to join her allies in war the Italian people would refuse to obey. They would overthrow the government and the throne. So Austria and Germany are likely to have no partners; the rest of Europe is against them—Russia, France, Great Britain, and all the minor powers, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland in sentiment solid against the two nations that have dared to open the most tremendous and momentous war the world has ever known. It is practically all Europe against Germany and Austria; and not all Europe alone, but all the British dependencies of Asia, Africa, Australia, and America as well, not to speak of those of France, which more than balance those of Germany.
On the face of it, considering population and wealth and armies and navies, the heavier battalions ought to win. But in favor of the nations is the fame of the German army. It is said to be the most admirable, the best trained and equipped fighting machine in the world. It is not forgotten how like a tornado it swept to Paris in 1870, and carried back with it two French provinces.
But the German generals and soldiers are not gods; they are men. They have the advantage of confidence, but perhaps they are too mechanical; and perhaps there will be more passion, more dash, more vengeance with the French soldiers. For forty years the children in French schools have been taught never to forget Alsace and Lorraine. The weakness of the Triple Entente is in the bulky but ill-trained Russian army, which was beaten by little Japan; but this is balanced by the overwhelming superiority of the British and French navies. On the whole, it looks as if in a long war Germany and Austria would be defeated, hemmed in by land and water.
But of that we cannot be certain. Now what after the war? That is the greater question.
Let us suppose Germany and Austria by a sudden dash to overcome all obstacles and to capture Paris as in 1870, to escape the combined navies and to repel the Russian rabble; what would happen then?
First Austria would annex Servia and Montenegro, despite Italy's protest; and any other of the Balkan nations that might help Servia. Russia would lose her Polish province, and the neighboring provinces of Russia would go to Germany, from Riga to Warsaw, closing the Baltic to Russia and facing her on the Pacific Ocean, very likely with Finland or whatever else in the way of contiguous territory she may demand, driving Russia to the east. Then to the west, Germany would annex Belgium and Luxemburg, and extend her French border by the taking of the French line of defenses, so as to make France a second-rate power. France would lose to Germany all her African colonies except Algeria, while the Belgian Kongo would give more German sunshine. Great Britain would suffer less, for her own territory and her colonial empire would be protected against the German fleet. She would suffer chiefly in prestige. Germany would be the greatest military power in the world, Russia again humbled, and Great Britain and the United States the only two great powers that would not be dominated by her. The whole English-speaking world would be more closely joined in sentiment and purpose, and in practical alliance. Military autocracy would rule continental Europe from Berlin.
But let us suppose that the alliance against Germany and Austria should be successful, what would follow?
First and foremost Alsace and Lorraine would be returned to France. Next, instead of France losing her African colonies, the German colonies in Africa would probably be taken by France and England. Surely Germany would lose her foothold in China, to whom the German concession would be returned by Japan. What advantage Russia would gain beyond her relief from fear of Germany and Austria we cannot conjecture, but all Poland would become wholly Russian and self-governed. But Austria's loss will probably come in another way.
The most important result of German defeat is yet to be considered. We must believe it would be the end of the imperial dynasties of both Germany and Austria. It will be remembered that the defeat of France in 1870 made France a republic, never again to be ruled by king or emperor. We may expect a like result in case of the defeat of the two present emperors. They would have utterly lost their prestige in their own countries, and would be held responsible for loss of national honor as well as for terrible loss of property and life. It is they that have inaugurated the war; and the dynasties must suffer for it. The Socialists are already strong in Germany, dangerously so, and they are already anti-imperialist. They would even now acclaim a Republic. They are not so strong in Austria, but Hungary is only loosely attached to Austria, and when the political revolution comes that will make Austria a republic, it is likely that Hungary will set up for herself, as she tried to do in the early fifties under Kossuth, whose son is now a chief Hungarian leader. Thus a great war would accomplish what came so near a success in 1848. Europe would become a continent of republics, for when Germany and Austria dispose of their rulers by divine right, the smaller nations, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Holland, will begin to consider, as Norway already questions, whether the luxury of a king is not one that can well be dispensed with. Even Russia may drift with the tide, altho on the winning side, and Italy will soon after follow the example of her south European sister nations, France, Switzerland and Portugal; and the Spanish throne will totter. Only the English throne will be safe; and that will be safe only because the House of Lords will be drastically reformed, and Great Britain will be a republic under a permanent titular king who will, because he is not elective, be maintained as an interesting archeologic relic saved from the time when the ax tempered disobedient kings. The Liberal Ministry will be returned to a long lease of power, as was our Republican party after the Civil War.
Then the civilized world will be ruled by the people. Then there will be a long peace between the nations, not to be broken by any great war, until, which God forbid, Russian pressure or Anglo-Saxon arrogance shall provoke China, and the last great war of the world, the Yellow Peril that Emperor William anticipated, shall come. But it will not come. While China will learn western civilization as Japan has already leaded it, the better western influences which are converting the West to the doctrine of peace and good will, will yet forbid western insult or aggression, and will assure the sense of justice and patience and good will in the East, so that with the rule of peace-loving peoples will come the kingdom of heaven in the republics of the world. And that will come in the end and will be only delayed if those who made the battles should be victors in this gigantic conflict.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald