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A School History of the Great War - Chapter 1

Europe Before the Great War

To understand the Great War it is not sufficient to read the daily happenings of military and political events as they are told in newspapers and magazines. We must go back of the facts of to-day and find in national history and personal ambition the causes of the great struggle. Years of preparation were necessary before German military leaders could convert a nation to their views, or get ready the men, munitions, and transportation for the war they wanted. Conflicts of races for hundreds of years have made the southeastern part of Europe a firebrand in international affairs. The course of the Russian revolution has been determined largely by the history of the Russian people and of the Russian rulers during the past two centuries. The entrance of England and Italy into the war against Germany was in each case brought about by causes which came into existence long before August, 1Q14. A person who understands, even in part, the causes of this great contest, will be in a better position to realize why America entered the war and what our nation was fighting for. And better yet, he will be more ready to take part in settling the many problems of peace which -must come after the war. For these reasons, the first few chapters of this book are devoted to a study of the important facts of recent European history.

A Hundred Years Ago. It is remarkable that almost exactly a century before this great world war, Europe was engaged in a somewhat similar struggle to prevent an ambitious French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, from becoming the ruler of all that continent, and of America as well. He had conquered or intimidated nearly all the states of Europe Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain, etc. - except Great Britain. He once planned a great settlement on the Mississippi River, and so alarmed President Jefferson that the latter said the United States might be compelled to marry themselves to the British fleet and nation. But England’s navy kept control of the seas; Napoleon’s colony in North America was never founded; and at last the peoples of Europe rose against their conqueror, and in the battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815 finally overthrew him.

Europe Since 1815. After the downfall of Napoleon the rulers of Europe met in conference at Vienna and sought to restore conditions as they had been before the war. They were particularly anxious that the great masses of the people in their several nations should continue to respect what was termed “the divine right of kings to rule over their subjects.” They did not, except in Great Britain, believe in representative governments. They feared free speech and independent newspapers and liberal educational institutions. They hated all kinds of popular movements by which the inhabitants of any country might throw off the monarch’s yoke and secure a share in their own government. For over thirty years the “Holy Allies,” - the name applied to the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, - succeeded tolerably well in keeping the peoples in subjection. But they had many difficulties to face, and after 7848 their policy was largely given up.

Democratic Movements. During the nineteenth century the people of Europe were restive under the rule of kings, and gradually governments controlled in greater or less degree by the people were established. Almost every decade saw popular uprisings in some of the European states. About 1820 insurrections occurred in Greece, in Spain, and in southern Italy; and the Spanish American colonies revolted from the mother country. In 1830 popular uprisings took place in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, and other places. In 1848 a far more serious movement occurred, which overthrew the French monarchy and established a republic. From France the flame of liberty lighted fires of insurrection in Germany, Austria, Poland, and Italy. Similar attempts were made at later times. As a result of these popular uprisings and of the growing education of all classes of the people, manhood suffrage and representative institutions were established in most of the European states.

National Aspirations. The Holy Allies had refused to recognize the right of nations to independent existence. They had bartered peoples and provinces “as if they were chattels and pawns in a game.” But when the peoples tried to found democratic governments, they often discovered that the quickest and surest way was to unite under one government all who belonged to a given nationality. Thus the last hundred years m Europe has witnessed the erection of a number of new national states created by throwing off the yoke of some foreign ruler. Among the new nations thus established were 1) Belgium, freed from the kingdom of Holland; (2) Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania, freed from Turkish rule; (3) Italy, united out of territories controlled by petty sovereigns and Austrian rulers; (4) Norway, separated from Sweden. The same period saw also the unification of a number of German states into the German Empire. But during this time several races were unsuccessful in obtaining independence, among which we may note the Poles (in Russia, Prussia, and Austria), the Czechs (checks), or Bohemians (in northern Austria), the Finns (in the northwestern part of the Russian Empire), and the Slavic people in the southern part of Austria-Hungary.

Industrial Development. The nineteenth century was not only a period of political change in Europe. It was also a time of great changes in the general welfare of the people. It witnessed a remarkable alteration in everyday employments and habits. In r8oo a great part of the population was engaged in agriculture. Manufacturing and commerce were looked upon as of minor importance. The goods that were produced were made by hand labor in the workman’s own home. Beginning first in England about 1750 and extending to the Continent between 1820 and 1860, there came a great industrial change. The steam engine was appiled to spinning, weaving, and countless other operations which previously. had been performed by hand. Steam engines could not of course be installed in every small cottage; hence a number of machines were put m one factory to be run by one steam engine. The workers left their small huts and gardens in the country and came to live in towns and cities. After the steam engine came steam transportation on land and water. Then followed an enormous demand for coal, iron, steel, and other metals. More goods could be produced in the factories than were needed for the people at home. Hence arose more extended commerce and the search for foreign markets.

Colonial Expansion. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain, Portugal, France, and England settled the American continents and parts of Asia. By a series of wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Dutch secured part of the possessions of Spain and Portugal; and England obtained almost all of the French colonial territories. In the eighteenth century the thirteen English colonies on the Atlantic seaboard made good their independence; and in the nineteenth, Spain lost all of her vast possessions in America. During the early nineteenth century, Great Britain, in spite of the loss of the thirteen colonies, was by far the most successful colonizing country, and her possessions were to be found in Canada, India, the East and West Indies, Australia, and Africa.

Leaders of other nations in Europe thought these colonies of Great Britain were the cause of her wealth and prosperity. Naturally they too tried to found colonies in those parts of the world not occupied by Europeans. They hoped by this means to extend their power, to find homes for their surplus population, and to obtain markets for their new manufactured goods. Thus Africa was parceled out among France, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, and Italy. The islands of the Pacific were seized in the same manner. Proposals for a partition of China were made by Germany, Russia, Japan, France, and Great Britain; and if it had not been for the American demands for the “open door of trade and for the ” territorial integrity” of China, that nation probably would have shared the fate of Africa. The noteworthy fact about this rivalry for colonies is that almost the entire world, except China and Japan, came under the domination of Europeans and their descendants.

Having noted a few general features of European history during the nineteenth century, we shall now take up in turn each of the more important countries.

Germany. After the overthrow of Napoleon, a German Confederation was formed. This comprised thirty-nine states which were bound to each other by a very weak tie. The union was not so strong even as that in our own country under the Articles of Confederation. But there were two states in the German Confederation which were far stronger than any of the others; these were Austria and Prussia. Austria had been a great power in German and European affairs for centuries; but her rulers were now incompetent and corrupt. Prussia, on the other hand, was an upstart, whose strength lay in universal military service. As the century progressed, the influence of Prussia became greater; and the jealousy of Austria grew proportionately. Bismarck, the Prussian prime minister, adopted a policy of “blood and iron.” By this he meant that Prussia would attain the objects of her ambition by means of war. Under his guidance she would intimidate or conquer the other German states and force them into trade and commercial agreements, or annex their territory to that of Prussia.

Bismarck looked for success only to the army. With the king back of him, he defied the people’s representatives, ignored the Prussian constitution, and purposely picked quarrels with his neighbors. In 1866, in a brief war of seven weeks, Austria was hopelessly defeated and forced to retire from the German Confederation.

In 1870 when he felt sure of his military preparations, Bismarck altered a telegram and thus brought on a war with France. The Franco-Prussian War lasted only a few months; but in that time the French were thoroughly defeated. Many important results followed the war: (1) The German states, influenced by the patriotic excitement of a successful war, founded the German Empire, with Prussia m the leading position and the Prussian king as German emperor or “Kaiser.” (2) A huge indemnity of one billion dollars was exacted by Prussia from France, and this money, deposited in the German banks and loaned to individuals, played a large part in expanding the manufactures and commerce of Germany. (3) Prussia took away from France, against the wishes of the inhabitants, the provinces called Alsace-Lorraine. This “wrong done to France,” as President Wilson has said, “unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years.” (4) The French people carried through a revolution and established a republic.- for the third time in their history - which has continued down to the present.

After 1870 Germany made remarkable material progress. By 1911 her population had grown from 41,000,000 to 65,000,000. Her coal and iron production in 1911 was eight times as much as in 1871. The wealth, commerce, coal production, and textile industries, among European countries, Germany was second only to Great Britain; while in the production of iron and steel Germany had passed Great Britain and was second only to the United States.

But this great industrial and commercial advance was not accompanied with a corresponding liberality in government. The constitution of the German Empire gave very large powers to the emperor, and very little power to the representatives of the people. Prussia, the dominant state in the empire, had an antiquated system of voting which rated men’s votes according to the taxes they paid, and placed political power in the hands of a small number of capitalists and wealthy landowners, especially the Junkers, or Prussian nobles. The educational system, while giving a rudimentary education to all, was really designed to keep large masses of the people subject to the military group, the government officials, and the capitalists. Blind devotion to the emperor and belief in the necessity of future war in order to increase German prosperity, were widely taught. The “mailed fist” was clenched, and “the shining sword” rattled in the scabbard whenever Germany thought the other nations of Europe showed her a lack of respect. Enormous preparations for war were made in order that Germany might gain from her neighbors the “place in the sun” which she was determined upon. Other nations were to be pushed aside or be broken to pieces in order that the German “super-men” might enjoy all that they wished of this world’s goods and possessions.

Austria-Hungary. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1910 had a population of 49,000,000, made up of peoples and races who spoke different languages and had different customs, habits, and ideals. These races, instead of being brought under unifying influences as foreigners are in the United States, had for centuries retained their peculiarities. Germans comprised 24 per cent of the total population; Hungarians, 20 per cent; Slavic races (including Bohemians, Poles, South Slays, and others), 45 per cent; Romanians, over 6 per cent; and Italians less than 2 per cent. The Germans and Hungarians, although only a minority of the total population, had long exercised political control over the others And by repressive measures had tried to stamp out their schools, newspapers, and languages. Unrest was continuous during the nineteenth century; and the rise of the independent states of Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria tended to make the Slavic and Romanian inhabitants of Austria-Hungary dissatisfied with their own position.

After 1815 the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy continued under the rule of the royal family of Hapsburgs, whose proud history extends back to the fifteenth century. Austria (but not Hungary) was part of the German Confederation, and her representative had the right of presiding at all meetings of the confederation. Between 1815 and 1848 the Austrian emperor and his prime minister were the leaders in opposition to popular government and national aspirations. But in 1848 a serious uprising took place, and it seemed for a time that the diverse peoples would fly apart from each other and establish, separate states. The emperor abdicated and his prime minister fled to England. Francis Joseph, the young heir to the throne, with the aid of experienced military leaders succeeded in suppressing the rebellion. For sixty-eight years (1848-1916) he was personally popular and held together the composite state.

In 1866 Austria was driven out of the German Confederation by Prussia. Seven years earlier she had lost most of her Italian possessions. Thereafter her interests and ambitions lay to the southeast; and she bent her energies to extend her territory, influence, and commerce into the Balkan region. A semblance of popular government was established in Austria and in Hungary, which were separated from each other in ordinary affairs, but continued under the same monarch. In each country, however, the suffrage and elections were so juggled that the ruling minority, of Germans in Austria and of Hungarians in Hungary, was enabled to keep the majority in subjection.

Austria-Hungary has not progressed as rapidly in industry and commerce as the countries to the north and west of her. Her life is still largely agricultural, and cultivation is often conducted by primitive methods. Before the war her wealth per person was only $5oo, as compared with $1843 in the United States, $1849 in Great Britain, $1250 in France, and $1230 in Germany. She possessed only one good seaport, Trieste, and this partly explained her desire to obtain access to the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. About half of her foreign trade was carried on with Germany. The low standards of national wealth and production made the raising of taxes a difficult matter. The government had a serious struggle to obtain the funds for a large military and naval program.

Italy. For a thousand years before 1870 there was no single government for the entire Italian peninsula. Although the people were mainly of one race, their territory was divided into small states ruled by despotic princes, who were sometimes of Italian families, but more often were foreigners - Greeks, Germans, French, Spanish, and Austrians. The Pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church, governed nearly one third of the land. This condition continued after 1815. But during the nineteenth century the Italians began to realize that they belonged to one race. They saw that the rule of foreigners was opposed to the national welfare.

By 1870 the union of all Italy into one kingdom was completed. In this work three great men participated, as well as ninny lesser patriots. The first was Garibaldi, a man of intense courage and patriotism. He aroused the young men of Italy to the need of national union and the expulsion of the foreigners. For over thirty years he was engaged in various military expeditions which aided greatly in the establishment of the national union. The second leader was of an entirely different character. Count Cavour was a statesman, a politician, a deep student of European history, and a man of great tact. He, too, wished for a united Italy, but he believed union could not be gained without foreign assistance. By most skillful means he secured the support of France and of England, while at the same time he used Garibaldi and his revolutionists. He had succeeded, at the time of his death in ‘86i, in bringing together all of Italy except Rome and Venice. He won for the new Italian kingdom a place among the great nations of Europe.

The third great Italian was Victor Emmanuel, king of Sardinia. He approved of a limited monarchy, like that of England, instead of the corrupt despotisms which existed in most of the Italian peninsula. He knew how to use men like Cavour and Garibaldi to achieve the national ambitions. By a popular vote in each part of Italy Victor Emmanuel was accepted as king of the united nation. The country was not ready for a republic; but Victor Emmanuel proved a wise national leader, willing to reign according to a written constitution under which the people’s representatives had the determining voice in the government. In 1870 the king entered Rome and early the next year proclaimed the city to be the capital of Italy.

Belgium. The country we now know as Belgium has had a very checkered history. At one time or another it has been controlled by German, French, Spanish, and Austrian rulers. At the opening of the nineteenth century it was annexed to the kingdom of Holland (1815). But a revolt took place in 1830, and the Belgians separated from the Dutch and chose a king for themselves. Theft constitution declares that the government is a constitutional, representative, and hereditary monarchy.” The government is largely in the control of the people or their representatives. There is one voter for every five persons in the population, nearly the same proportion as in the United States. In 1839 the principal states of Europe agreed to recognize Belgium’s independence, and in case of war among themselves to treat her territory as neutral land, not to be invaded. This treaty was signed by Prussia as well as by Austria, France, Great Britain, and Russia. The treaty was again acknowledged by Prussia in 1870. It was in violation of these treaties, as we shall see, that Prussian and other German troops invaded Belgium on August 4, 1914.

France. In 1789 France entered upon a period of revolution. The old monarchy was shortly overthrown, and with it went aristocracy and all the inequalities of the Middle Ages. A republic, however, did not long endure; and Napoleon Bonaparte used his position as a successful general to establish a new monarchy called the French Empire. After Napoleon’s downfall, the allied monarchs of Europe restored the old line of kings in France. But the country had outgrown despotism. A revolution in 1830 deposed one king and set up another who was ready to rule under the terms of a constitution. In 1848 this monarchy was displaced and the second French republic was established. But again a Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon I, seized the government and established a second empire, calling himself Napoleon III. He aped the ways of his great predecessor and tried by foreign conquest or annexation in Africa, Italy, and Mexico to dazzle the French people. But he was never popular, and his reign closed in the defeat and disgrace of the FrancoPrussian War (1870-71), for which he was partly responsible.

The third French republic was proclaimed in 1870 and is the present government of the country. Under the constitution there is a senate, the members of which are elected for nine years, and a lower house, elected for four years. The president is chosen by these two houses of the legislature for a term of seven years. No member of the old royal families may become president of the republic. The president of France- does not possess neatly so much power as the president of the United States. Many of the executive duties are performed by the premier, or prime minister, and other cabinet ministers.

Republican France has become one of the great nations of the world, and its democratic institutions are firmly rooted in the hearts of the people. It has been compelled to face German militarism by erecting a system of universal military training. The patriotism and self-sacrifice of all classes during the Great War have been beyond praise.

Great Britain. During the nineteenth century Great Britain did not experience any of the sudden revolutions which appeared in nearly every other country of Europe. For centuries England, Scotland, and Ireland had possessed representative institutions. When reforms were needed, they were adopted gradually, by the natural process of lawmaking, instead of resulting from rebellion and revolt. In this way Great Britain had been changed from an aristocratic government to one founded on democratic principles. By 1884 the suffrage was nearly as extensive as in the United States. Parliament became as truly representative of the people’s will as our American Congress. Far-reaching social reforms were adopted which advanced the general welfare. Among these reforms were acts for improving housing conditions, regulating hours of labor and use of machinery in factories, and establishing a national insurance system, old-age pensions, and compensation to injured workmen.

Great Britain was the first nation to experience the advantages and disadvantages of the new age of coal and iron, and the new methods of factory production. Her wealth and commerce grew at a rapid rate, and she invested her profits in enterprises in many parts of the world. The factory system drew so many workers from the farms, that Great Britain no longer raised sufficient food for her population. She became dependent upon the United States, Australia. South America, and other lands for wheat, meat, and other necessaries of life. Her merchant vessels were to be found in all parts of the world; and her navy was increased from year to year to protect her commerce and colonies. From now on it became evident that England’s existence depended upon her ships. If in time of war she lost control of the seas the enemy could starve her into submission. Hence during the nineteenth century Great Britain’s policy was to maintain a fleet stronger than that of any possible combination against her.

England’s colonial system had been developed into a great empire. Principles of English liberty and representative government, were carried by Britishers to many parts of the world. The American Revolution showed the mother country that Englishmen would not brook oppression even by their own king and parliament. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries England adopted the policy of erecting her colonies into self-governing communities. Thus the separate colonies in Canada, in Australia, and in South Africa were grouped in each case into a federal government, somewhat similar to that of the United States, and three great British democracies were formed within the boundaries of the empire. So successful has been the British system of colonial government that there was virtually no question of loyalty during the Great War. All parts of the dominions have contributed in men and money to the common cause, and frequent imperial war conferences have been held in London. In these conferences representatives from the colonies and the mother country have joined in the discussion of important imperial questions.

Turkey and the Balkans. In 1453 the Turks captured Constantinople. Thereafter their power was rapidly extended in southeastern Europe and for several centuries they were the dominant power in the Balkan peninsula. During this time they overran Hungary and invaded Austria up to the walls of Vienna. They subjugated Greece and all the lands now included in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, as well as a number of near-by Austrian, Hungarian, and Russian provinces.

Many diverse races were included within the Turkish dominions. They differed among themselves in language, religion, and culture. The Turks were Mohammedans, while their subject peoples in Europe were mainly Christians belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.

First driven out of Hungary and Russia during the eighteenth century, the Turks lost nearly all their European possessions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The subject peoples had kept their national traditions and customs and from time to time they aimed at independence. The Turkish rule was oppressive and at times its methods were barbarous. If there had been no jealousies among the great European powers, it is probable that Russia would have occupied Constantinople long ago. The other powers, fearing this might make Russia too strong, interfered on several occasions to prevent such an occupation. But the powers could not prevent the smaller nationalities from attaining their independence from Turkey. Greece, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania were freed from the rule of the “unspeakable Turk” and erected into independent kingdoms at various times between 1829 and 1913. Of her great empire in Europe, Turkey retained, at the outbreak of the Great War, an area of less than 11,000 square miles (less than the area of the state of Maryland), and a population of 1,890,000, which was almost altogether resident in the two cities of Constantinople and Adrianople.

Russia. In 1914 Russia was an empire occupying one seventh of the land area of the world and inhabited by about 180,000,000 people. During the nineteenth century the country was ruled by absolute monarchs called czars, under whom political and social conditions were corrupt and oppressive. However, some progress was made during the century. Serfdom or slavery was abolished from 1861 to 1866; restraints upon newspapers, publishers, and schools were partly withdrawn. Natural resources were developed, factories established, and railroads built. But these measures only served to whet the appetite of the people for more liberal government. The activities of revolutionists and reformers were met by most severe measures on the part of the government. Thousands were transported to Siberia and many were executed. Even as late as 1903 five thousand persons were imprisoned, exiled, or executed for political activity against the Czar’s government. An attempt of the people to force a representative government upon the Czar failed after a seeming success in 1905-1906; for the Duma, or legislative assembly, then created was given little power.

Russia has not been fortunate in her relations with the neighboring states. Her great ambition, the occupation of Constantinople, was repeatedly balked by other countries. In an attempt to obtain an ice-free harbor on the Pacific, Russia brought on the Russo Japanese War of 1904-1905, in which she was disastrously defeated. In another direction Russia was more successful. She posed as the protector of the Slavic provinces under Turkish rule and saw the day when nearly all of them were free.

Russia is a country of vast territory, enormous population, and unbounded natural resources. But before the war it had no experience in self-government. Its land and mineral resources were not used for national purposes. A small governing class, with the Czar at the head, controlled its tremendous powers and wealth. Naturally, when an insurrection is successful against such a government, the people lose all self-control and go to great extremes. Liberty and self-government succeed only when all the people are willing to abide by the laws made by the majority. May this time soon come for Russia!

Suggestions for Study. - 1. Look up facts concerning Napoleon Bonaparte, Gladstone, Bismarck, Cavour, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel I. 2. On outline maps of the world show the principal colonial possessions of Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Holland. 3. Show on an outline map of Europe the location of peoples that had not attained to national independence before 1914. 4. Compare the size and population of the European countries with your own state in the American Union. 5. How far did the people in European countries possess a share in their government in 1914? 6. Look up in detail the government of Germany.

References. - For facts such as those mentioned above see the World Almanac, the Statesman’s Yearbook, and any good encyclopedia. For Germany, see Hazen, The Government of Germany, published by the Committee on Public Information, Washington, D. C. Reference may also be made to Harding’s New Medieval and Modern History or to other histories of Europe.