A Popular History of The Great War/Volume 1/Chapter 1
← Title and Foreword
|A Popular History of The Great War (1933)
Edited by Sir John Alexander Hammerton
The Fateful Thirteen Days →
THE GREAT WAR
The World Drift to War
EVERY war, like everything that happens, is but the outcome of something that has happened before: the result of preceding causes. For the real origins of the vast upheaval that broke upon the world in 1914 we should have to dig very deeply into the past if we wished to arrive at a proper understanding of what took place; but it may suffice for our present purpose if we go no farther back than the events of 1870-71, when the seeds of the war of 1914-18 and its almost equally calamitous aftermath were sown with so prodigal a hand.
In 1870 the rivalry of France and Germany had been for over 1,000 years a main issue in European politics, and historians have traced it step by step from the 9th century — when the empire of Charlemagne broke into pieces and Lorraine, though not as yet Alsace, became a debatable land — until the present day. The cleavage between the East Franks, soon to be known as Germans, and the West Franks, who, in the form of France, kept the name hitherto common to both, is usually dated from 842 when the two Frankish rulers, on taking an oath of peace at Strasbourg, found it necessary to prepare the formula in two languages, so different had the speech of the two branches of the Franks become. Throughout the later Middle Ages the rivalry continued, though the French kings found their main occupation in consolidating their kingdom, a task which Germany postponed for some 500 years. It became more intense when Bourbon and Hapsburg ruled the two realms, and the aggrandisement of France during the reign of Louis XIV was largely at the expense of Germany, which about the time of his birth had suffered terribly during the Thirty Years' War.
In the 18th century a Hohenzollern, Frederick the Great, took the place of Louis in the centre of the European stage and, in spite of his admiration for French literature and his association with French scholars, spent much of his time in fighting France. Napoleon made Germany a battleground and then carved it up just as it suited his imperious will; but his mosaic did not last, although its memories did, Germany regained the upper hand in 1814, and the settlement of Europe in 1815, largely made by German statesmen, prepared the way for the transformation of the king of Prussia into the German emperor. For fifty-five years Prussian statesmen worked steadily at their task and when, in 1866, their armies had crushed Austria, their only rival within the German orbit, William I and Bismarck were prepared, even anxious, to face the anger of an alarmed and bellicose French emperor, the third Napoleon.
As in the Great War, the immediate cause of the Franco-Prussian struggle of 1870-71 was a comparatively unimportant event, in this case the succession to the throne of Spain. In 1868 the plight of that country under Isabella had become so unhappy that General Prim headed a revolution; the queen lied and the general set up a provisional government which decided to offer the crown to a foreign prince, its own royal family having become impossible. After the consideration and rejection of various candidatures, the crown was accepted in 1870 by the duke of Aosta, the younger son of the king of Italy, who had already declined it once. But one of the princes whose candidature had been tentatively invited was Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a kinsman of the king of Prussia. William I did not countenance, but quite unmistakably discouraged, the candidature, though Bismarck secretly encouraged it; France’s hostility to it was not disguised, and Bismarck was defeated. Leopold definitely refused the offer (July 12, 1870), but William had not definitely vetoed it. For a moment Bismarck believed that his own public career was at an end. But on July 14 he had the game in his hands. Napoleon's position in France was critical. His successes, such as they were, in Italy and the Crimea could hardly be regarded as brilliant. He had been palpably out-manoeuvred by Bismarck in 1866; he had intervened in troubles in Mexico, and his intervention had been a disastrous failure. The palpable clerical influence in his counsels was a weakness rather than a strength in France and had driven him to maintain the Papacy in Rome, while the sympathies of the country were with the republicans. He had lived on the Napoleonic idea, and the idea would be exploded unless he did something worthy of his mighty uncle’s name. France believed fervently that the French army could repeat its triumphs under the first Napoleon, whereas her ruler knew that the army organisation was honeycombed with corruption; but there was a gambler’s chance of success, and the probable alternative was the collapse of the Third empire. He did not want war, but he dared not exercise the necessary restraining influence. Yet the announcement of Leopold's refusal of the Spanish crown was, on the face of it, an immense diplomatic victory.
His minister, Grammont, threw the victory away. The French ambassador was instructed on July 13 to demand from William, who was at Ems, a pledge that he would in no circumstances support Leopold’s candidature. William replied with perfect truth that he never had supported it, that Leopold’s refusal was final, but that to give pledges was out of the question. There, he supposed, the matter was ended, and he telegraphed a report of the interview to Bismarck at Berlin. Late that night the telegram appeared in a condensed form in the Norddeutsche Zeitung. The condensed telegram conveyed to all Germany the impression that an outrageous demand had been answered with firmness but without discourtesy; to all France that an entirely justifiable demand had been met with insolent defiauce. Twenty-four hours later Napoleon declared war and the French armies began to mass on the German frontier.
The first collision was at Saarbrücken on August 2, where a German army was driven out of an advanced post it had occupied. But in the course of the month a succession of German victories at Worth (August 6), Colombières (August 14), Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte (August 16 and 17) shut up Bazaine in Metz with 170,000 men, and drove MacMahon to join the emperor at Sedan, where, after a hot resistance, Napoleon was compelled to surrender with his whole force on September 1. The emperor would of necessity have accepted any terms, but the empire ended at Sedan. His ministry had already been swept away, and Paris for the third time proclaimed the French republic, with a "government of national defence." The empress with her son had taken flight to England, where she was ultimately joined by her husband. The republic wished for peace, but not at Bismarck's price, which included the cession of Alsace and Lorraine with Metz and Strasbourg. On September 19 the Prussian crown prince’s army was at the gates of Paris, which prepared itself as best it might for a long siege.
On September 27 Strasbourg fell. The government shut up in Paris could do nothhig outside the city; on October 7 Gambetta escaped in a balloon to Tours, where he became in effect the French government and the inspiration of the French defiance. He raised new armies in the provinces, but on October 27 Bazaine and his great host in Metz surrendered. Gambetta proclaimed a levée en masse. The raw troops fought with heroic devotion, but the desperate successes they won were counter-balanced by far more crushing defeats; while Paris held out grimly till sheer starvation forced her to capitulate on January 28, 1871.
The Germans dictated their own terms to the French government, to the head of which the veteran Thiers was called. The terms were crushing. The preliminaries were signed on February 26, and the definite treaty of Frankfort on May 10. Alsace and most of Lorraine, with Metz and Strasbourg, were ceded; and an enormous indemnity was extracted.
Bismarck's grand object was achieved. He had created a German empire with the king of Prussia, as hereditary emperor. While the war was in progress, one after another of the South German states had been admitted to the Confederation of which Prussia was the head. Bismarck had gradually overcome the opposition of the monarchs, including William himself, to the imperial project; and on January 18, ten days before the capitulation of Paris, William I was acclaimed German emperor by the assembled princes in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Incidentally the withdrawal of the French troops from Rome, necessitated by the war, enabled Victor Emmanuel, immediately after Sedan, to capture Rome and incorporate it with the Italian kingdom, and to make it the national capital, while the pope remained in the Vatican deprived of all temporal power; also Russia, supported by Bismarck, was able to procure the virtual abrogation of the Black Sea treaty of 1856 by the treaty of London of 1871. There sults of the Crimean War were washed out. A burning hostility to Germany had been implanted in the soul of every Frenchman, and England was more convinced than ever that her own Indian empire was Russia's objective.
In the Turkish empire diverse Christian populations were still under the Ottoman sovereignty. Germany had for the first time in her history become united, and united with her own assent, under an organized central government, which controlled an army incomparably the most powerful in Europe. France, shorn of her Rhine provinces and exhausted by a crushing war, had for the third time set up, though she had not yet established, a republic; she had still a crowd of difficulties to surmount before her old powder could be restored — and it was the interest of her victorious neighbour to foster those difficulties.
Bismarck had no desire for German expansion. What he did want was to secure the friendship of Austria, now that she could no longer be Prussia's rival in Germany, and to prevent the hostility of Russia, and so avoid setting an enemy on either flank of the new empire. When in 1872 he had established the unwritten "league of the three emperors," there was nothing immediately to be feared. But the danger point for the permanence of the new league lay in the Balkans, to which the eyes of Austria, now shut out from Germany, were more persistently turned. Austro-Russian rivalry for ascendancy in the Balkans might produce a breach, and Germany might be reduced to the painful necessity of taking a side. If she were, she would take Austria's – but such a contingency must not arise if it could be prevented. Russia must be encouraged to find in Asia the field for the development of her ambitions. If that brought her into collision with the British, Germany would lose nothing. From this point of view Russia's progress in Turkistan during the last decade was quite promising. But the Balkans were uncontrollable.
Serbia, Rumania and Montenegro had all attained a degree of autonomy, though remaining nominally in the Turkish empire. But in 1875 the peasants of Herzegovina revolted against their Moslem masters. All their Slavonic neighbours actively sympathised with them. Both Russia and Austria had some title to pose as the natural protectors of the Slavs, Orthodox and Catholic respectively. The insurgents appealed not to one or the other, but to the Powers generally. The Porte had given effect to none of its promised reforms; it was reasonable that the Powers should insist upon them — the insurgents demanded no more, but they would remain in arms till they got something more substantial than promises on paper. The Porte had no sort of objection to making any number of promises, but an ineradicable objection to fulfilling them.
In May, 1876, thee three emperors issued a memorandum to which they invited the assent of the other three Powers. Disraeli, the British prime minister, declined; Turkey was not to be coerced — if the Turkish sovereignty were allowed to go, Russian ascendancy would take its place, and that was a thing Great Britain could in no wise permit. The memorandum programme was strangled at birth. At the same time the Bulgarians rose, and the atrocities with which the suppression of the revolt was accomplished stirred up a fiery anti-Turkish political campaign in England, though in parliament Disraeli’s ascendancy was complete. The new sultan, Abdul Hamid, who succeeded in June, was defiant. In July, Serbia and Montenegro declared war on Turkey.
If a frank and cordial understanding between Russia and Great Britain had been possible, the Eastern question might conceivably have been settled. Mutual mistrust made it quite impossible. The British cabinet was divided on the question of armed intervention on behalf of Turkey. When Great Britain herself demanded from Turkey an armistice and a conference of the Powers to be held at Constantinople (Istanbul) in December, Abdul Hamid dared not refuse. But when the conference met he laid before it a full-blown scheme of reforms which he proposed to carry out — as a sovereign who would submit to no external control over his actions. The meaning was obvious. Diplomacy failed to find a way out of the deadlock; and in April Russian forces, having been granted free passage through Rumania, crossed the Pruth.
Austria had made a private compact of neutrality; Germany had no motive for intervention; Great Britain was satisfied to wait and watch. Three months passed before the Russians could effect their passage of the Danube; for the next month they advanced rapidly; then suddenly they found themselves held up by the Turks under Osman, who had seized and entrenched a flanking position at whence the most desperate efforts, culminating in a grand attack on September 11, failed to dislodge him. Assault was then abandoned for investment; three months later, after a desperate attempt to cut his way out, Osman was compelled to surrender (December 10). In the East, also, the Russian advance through the Caucasus had been held up in the first months; but there, too, the tide had turned decisively before December. After the fall of Plevna the Turkish resistance began to crumble; on January 20, 1878, the Russian forces were in Adrianople (Edirne), where on January 31 peace preliminaries were signed. On March 3, the Adrianople convention became the treaty of San Stefano.
Meanwhile, however, the fall of Plevna had set the governments of the other Powers in motion. A sweeping triumph might enable Russia to dictate terms destructive both of Austrian and of British interests — regardless of the conditions on which those Powers had observed neutrality. Neither Russia nor Britain wanted war, but the British government felt it necessary to demonstrate its readiness for that alternative, and through the first months of the war the tension was extreme. Austria proposed a conference, which ultimately took shape as the Congress of Berlin, since the terms of the treaty of San Stefano intensified instead of allaying the perturbation of Austria as well as of Great Britain. The fundamental disagreement between the Powers was oil the question: how far had Russia the right to dictate her own terms to Turkey, and how far had the Powers concerned in the previous treaties the right to insist upon modifications of those terms?
The congress met in June at Berlin under the presidency of Bismarck as the representative of Germany in the character of the sincere friend of all parties, having no interests of her own at stake and desiring only to induce them all to accept equitable adjustments of their divergent or antagonistic interests. The result was the treaty of Berlin, generally regarded as a triumph for Disraeli's diplomacy since at the end of it very little was left of the San Stefano treaty; while it was accompanied by independent pacts, on the one hand between Great Britain and Turkey and on the other between Austria and Russia, which left the whole Eastern question on a footing new but scarcely more harmonious than before.
The map on the left shows the boundaries of the various Balkan states after the treaty signed at San Stefano in 1878. The one on the right shows how these boundaries appeared after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.
The ostensible effect of the Turco-Russian War, followed by the San Stefano treaty and the Berlin Congress, was the establishment or the strengthening of sundry independent principalities in the Balkan peninsula, and the re-assertion of the principle that the concert of Europe, not the particular interests of a successful military power, must have the deciding voice in material redistributions of European territory, which necessarily have their repercussions upon Europe generally. But in actual fact the episode had another effect quite as far-reaching though not so superficially obvious. It had brought about the thing which the most powerful statesman in Europe was most anxious to avert, a rupture in the relations subsisting between Germany, Austria and Russia. For in Bismarck’s view there were three European Powers which counted for Germany, since Britain's non-intervention could generally be ensured, though definitely to alienate her would be inadvisable: Russia, Austria and France. French hostility to Germany was a matter of course. Austrian hostility had melted away under tactful management; Austrian and Prussian interests no longer clashed since Germany had identified itself with Prussia; Austrian friendship was the best security available for Germany. But Russia remained.
Germany had a hostile France, which might again become powerful, on one flank. A hostile Russia on the other flank would be a serious menace, especially in conjunction with a recovered France. It was therefore essential for Germany to preserve friendly relations with Russia, only in less degree than with Austria. If Germany should ever be forced to choose between Russia and Austria, she must choose Austria. Since the French war it had been a main object with Bismarck to maintain the friendliness of the three Powers and to avert any complications which would drive Germany into siding with one against the other. But the antagonistic interests of Russia and Austria in the Balkans had been too much even for Bismarck. However skilfully he might pose as the "honest broker," the fundamental fact remained that by the Berlin Congress the ambitions of Russia in the Balkans suffered a set-back, those of Austria were advanced, and Germany had done nothing to forward Russian interests, though it was at the hands of Great Britain that Russia had most conspicuously suffered diplomatic defeat. There was no open breach between Germany and Russia; but the rift was there. The trouble that Bismarck had been so anxious to guard against developed by degrees, and the rift between Russia and the Central empires gradually widened. France, already convalescent, grew stronger as the years passed. The gulf between the autocratic tsardom in the east and the democratic republic in the west proved no insuperable barrier. The perpetual sources of friction between Great Britain and France on the one hand and Russia on the other proved capable of accommodation. So that at last all Germany convinced itself that those three Powers were joint conspirators whose common aim was her own destruction. And the outcome of that conviction was — Armageddon. These developments, however, were not immediate. For a quarter of a century the British empire remained in splendid isolation, and France hardly less than Great Britain, though after a long interval the beginnings of amity sprang up between her and Russia; while the effect of the Berlin treaties was at first to intensify the established antagonism between Russia and Great Britain.
Great Britain had made a private bargain with the Porte guaranteeing the Asiatic possessions of the Turks — other than those ceded to Russia under the treaties — conditionally upon the carrying out of reforms, and upon the British occupation and administration of the island of Cyprus, which would provide her with a naval station of considerable value in the eastern Mediterranean.
Nor was Russia’s policy in Bulgaria successful in furthering her own projects. The prince nominated for Bulgaria was the tsar’s nephew, Alexander of Battenberg. At the outset, Russian influences predominated, arousing patriotic antagonism to foreign control. But the prince established his own despotic authority by a coup d’état setting aside the theoretically admirable but practically paralytic constitution which had been bestowed on the principality. Russia applauded, but when he turned his powers to account, assumed the championship of Bulgarian independence, and dismissed the Russian counsellors, Russia was wroth. He could and did gain popularity by restoring the constitution (1883) without loss of authority.
In 1885 Eastern Rumelia ejected its Turkish governors and proclaimed its own union with Bulgaria. Alexander hastened to assume the proffered sovereignty. Serbia took alarm — she must be compensated for this Bulgarian expansion. Compensation was not forthcoming, so she declared war, and was badly beaten at Slivnitza. Austria intervened and stopped the fighting. The Porte saved its face by appointing Alexander governor of Rumelia, a practical acceptance of the fact that he had got it and meant to keep it. Only a threatened blockade by a British squadron restrained Greece from attempting to snatch compensation for herself.
But Alexander's triumph wrought his fall. The tsar's indignation was high; Russian conspirators kidnapped the Bulgarian king, forced him to sign his abdication and carried him over the border. But the national government carried on under his indomitable minister Stambulov; Alexander, less courageous, threw up the struggle in the face of the tsar's implacable hostility, and resigned the crown which the Bulgarians would have restored. Stambulov, fervidly anti-Russian, remained dictator until in 1887 a new prince was found — ready to take the risks and play a waiting game — in Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg. Meantime, the Balkan states continued to seethe.
As concerned the Balkans, then, the actual outcome was that Russia lost ground, since she succeeded in alienating both Rumania and Bulgaria without definitely attracting Serbia or Greece under her influence. Austria had gained by establishing herself in Bosnia and giving to that region an administration better than it had ever known before. Great Britain had acquired a dominating influence at the Porte, though she was too unsympathetic to Turkish methods for the satisfaction of the Turkish government, which continued in its old ways, but with a much smaller Christian population under its rule than of yore. And between the several Balkan states there was no love to lose, while none of them was conscious of a deep debt to any European Power for disinterested services rendered.
Bismarck's position as the dominating factor in international politics was unchanged. From France in isolation there could be nothing to fear for a long time to come, and to keep her isolated was no very difficult task. A republic which could set up no administration of tolerably convincing stability could hardly be attracted by, or attractive to, the iron despotism of Russia. Between her and Great Britain Egypt provided a constant source of friction; and an opportunity occurred for providing another between her and Italy, incidentally attracting the latter to the Central Powers. France had effected an amazing economic recovery since the war, but in 1878 it was still uncertain whether monarchism might yet take the place of the republic. The resignation of MacMahon marked the turning point; Bonapartism disappeared with the death of the Prince Imperial in Zululand, in 1879; the legitimism which clung to the house of Bourbon was paralysed in the country by the firmness or obstinacy with which the Bourbon princes, like the exiled Stuarts, clung to their religious and political convictions or prejudices. From that time monarchism was merely a pious opinion, and the continuity of the republic grew more secure.
At this time France found herself encouraged to develop her aspirations in Africa by taking possession of Tunis, for which she found a pretext in 1881. Great Britain had no objection, as it might make France less irritable on the subject of Egypt. Germany had no objection, having no African interests and a perception that Tunis might bring to France more trouble than profit; for Italy, with her own eyes on Tunis, would certainly regard the annexation of Tunis by France as an unfriendly act towards herself. She did, and her annoyance made it comparatively easy for Bismarck to draw her into a somewhat non-committal alliance in 1882 with Germany and her former enemy, Austria. If trouble with France should arise, Italy would be on Germany’s side.
France's acquisition of Tunis did nothing to mitigate her jealousy of British influence in Egypt, which she had never ceased to covet since the days of the first Napoleon. In the successive complications of the Eastern question she had kept that objective before her throughout the Bourbon and Orleanist monarchies; while Palmerston, with preservation of the integrity of the Turkish empire a fundamental aim of his policy, had been a constant obstacle. But the maintenance of French influence there had remained a constant aim, furthered by the construction of the Suez Canal, a French project in which Palmerston had no share, though Disraeli had more than made up for the oversight by his dramatic purchase from Khedive Ismail of the bulk of the company's shares in 1875, virtually placing control of the canal in the hands of the British government.
At the same time the khedive's extravagance, and his huge debts to British and French financiers, had forced him to place the Egyptian finances in the hands of a dual board of control, British and French, with the inevitable result that the board became in effect, though not in form, largely responsible for the government; a state of things by no means to the liking of the officials, drawn for the most part from other parts of the Turkish empire, who had hitherto battened according to custom upon the khedive’s helpless subjects and the revenues, of which latter only a fraction reached the treasury.
It was not difficult, in the circumstances, to raise the cry of Egypt for the Egyptians, or to draw an army colonel, Arabi Pasha, into the role of patriot leader and champion of the anti-foreign sentiment. Ismail’s successor, Tewfik, found himself powerless; the anti-foreign agitation became a grave danger to the very considerable European population in Alexandria and elsewhere. The Porte (the suzerain) would not and the khedive could not do anything. The French and British governments offered Tewfik their support at the beginning of 1882, and sent naval squadrons; the only effect was to produce riots. A European conference was called to deal judicially with the problem, but the position at Alexandria and the menace to the Europeans there from Arabi's troops were too critical for delay. The British admiral took the responsibility, which the French admiral declined to share, of sending an ultimatum to Arabi, and, when it was ignored, of opening a bombardment and occupying Alexandria, while the French retired.
The force at the admiral’s disposal was obviously inadequate for the restoration of order and security. With due notification to the sultan, troops were dispatched to Egypt from England and India. Arabi’s army was shattered in a brief and decisive campaign, and he himself was deported. But the whole situation had been changed. The khedive's government — anything that could be called a government — could be restored only by the British. In the public interest the British on their own sole responsibility had taken upon themselves to do the thing that was admittedly necessary, but which no one else had been ready or willing to undertake either alone or in conjunction with them; the French had had the opportunity to take part in the operation, but had deliberately rejected it.
The British thereupon occupied Egypt as the Austrians had occupied Bosnia, on the theory that they would evacuate it as soon as a government had been established which could stand securely upon its own feet. And in the meanwhile the government continued to be the khedive’s, but the reorganization of an Egyptian army was in the hands of British officers, and the administration was in the hands of British officials in the service of the khedive. There was no room for French ambitions, in Egypt, and though France was thoroughly conscious that she had no one but herself to thank for the fact, that made her none the less resentful.
Italy had attained her unity under Victor Emmanuel, but half the countiy had not yet been accustomed to the idea that governments exist for some other purpose than the oppression of the people. Economic stability was still distant, and, if she ranked as a great Power, it was still only by courtesy, eager though she was to assert herself. The almost simultaneous deaths of Victor Emmanuel and Pius IX did not heal the breach between the crown and the Papapy.
Spain on the other hand was entering upon an era of recuperation after her profonged sufferings. The king, Amadeo of Savoy, who had accepted her crown when it was refused by Leopold of Hohenzollern, resigned it again in disgust in 1873 but after a year of dictatorship in the guise of a republic Spain recalled Alfonso XII, the son of the formerly expelled queen Isabella. There was a brief struggle before the old Carlist party was finally broken up; the young king set himself seriously to the task of government; and when he died prematurely in 1885 his widow, Maria Christina, discharged the duties of regent on behalf of her infant Alfonso XIII, until he reached man's estate.
Russia as we saw lost ground in Europe. Alexander II had striven or rather groped after ideals, while lacking the resolution and the insight without which it was impossible to bring them to realization. He had liberated the serfs without restoring to them what they regarded as their own rights in the soil. He had encouraged Western education, but it had fallen upon ground in which it was only the seed of passionate revolt, and government terrorism was faced by the black spectre of nihilism. The tsar himself was no enemy of reform, but even at the moment when an effort was being made in that direction the world was shocked by his murder at the hands of the nihilists (1882). All thought of reforms vanished, and under the dead tsar's son, Alexander III, the tyranny became if possible more rigid and more merciless than before. There was at this period a general European movement towards expansion. France had turned her eyes once more to the East; if India was unattainable, there were still lands beyond India where a footing might be established; though it was not without many troubles that she acquired from China the protectorate of Annam by the treaty of Tientsin in 1885. Her activities in Indo-China were probably the real though not the ostensible warrant for the British annexation of Upper Burma in 1887. European interests in the Farthest East were developing. But it was the scramble for Africa that set in most vigorously in the years immediately following the conclusion of the Congress of Berlin.
Expansion manifestly could take place only in lands — whether densely or sparsely populated — where the civilization in general and the community organization in particular were on a lower plane than those of Europe. America was already occupied by Europeans; so was most of Australasia and the islands of the Pacific. Western Asia was not an open field; northern and central Asia were out of reach except for Russia. In the farthest east of Asia there were perhaps possibilities, but there was the Chinese empire to be reckoned with. But the whole African interior was an almost unknown region, scarcely penetrated except by an occasional adventurous missionary, peopled by negro races whose culture was primitive and barbaric. The coastal districts on the Mediterranean were provinces in which such governments as existed might fairly be classed as barbaric. The Atlantic seaboard was dotted with European colonies which were little more than very unhealthy trading depots. The south was occupied by the British, the Boers and the Portuguese. Farther north, on the east, Zanzibar and Abyssinia, like Morocco on the north-west coast, and to some extent the island of Madagascar, claimed a doubtful recognition of independent states. But the rest of Africa was open to any Europeans who could take effective possession.
The British, then, as we have seen, established a temporary protectorate in Egypt, to which other Powers could hardly refuse assent; France had established her own protectorate in Tunis, not only with assent but with positive encouragement from Great Britain and Germany, though very much to the annoyance of Italy, who could only hope to find compensation on the north of Abyssinia and ultimately in Tripoli. In 1885 France without European intervention set up a protectorate in Madagascar, which island was later annexed. But all the various European Powers, including Germany, who had hitherto felt no call to colonial expansion, had suddenly realized that Africa was the only division of the earth's surface still open to appropriation, and that the British, with a northern base in Egypt, a southern base in Cape Colony and sundry starting points on the western and eastern coasts, would by mere force of circumstances absorb the interior and leave nothing for anyone else to appropriate unless they made haste to anticipate her.
The precedents of the 18th century, when France and Great Britain had fought each other to a finish for America and India on the hypothesis that there was not room for both, were not promising. In Africa after all there was room for everyone; and so between 1880 and 1890 a series of treaties or compacts was entered upon, partitioning the Dark Continent into protectorates or spheres of influence appropriated to one or another of the European stales, though not without leaving occasions for acute controversy in the future.
In 1888 the emperor William I died at the age of ninety; three months later his son Frederick I followed him, and his grandson William II became the German kaiser. The German empire had been achieved through the never-failing loyalty of the old man and his great chancellor to each other. What might have befallen if Frederick had not been already a dying man when he succeeded to the imperial crown none can say, for it was notorious that there were many points on which emperor and chancellor did not see eye to eye; but during those months there was no breach between them. On Frederick's death it seemed at first that Bismarck’s ascendancy would be unimpaired, but the new kaiser believed implicitly in himself; he had ideas of his own which were not Bismarck's, and in 1890 William "dropped the pilot," and took the management of affairs into his own hands. The world did not know what to make of Germany's new master and his passion for unexpected activities and startling pronouncements, which were occasionally somewhat nerve-racking; but it was, on the whole, inclined to regard them as temperamental eccentricities which must not be taken too seriously.
One thing, however, was clear. Bismarck had striven to the last to placate Russia and prevent any rapprochement between her and France. That a rapprochement was taking place became more apparent every day, In 1891 the French channel fleet visited Kronstadt, where it received an ovation; two years later a Russian squadron paid a return visit to Toulon, where its reception was even more enthusiastic. Alexander III died in 1894, when he was succeeded by the third of the tsar-idealists, Nicholas II; next year an alliance between France and Russia became an accomplished though not a published fact, the existence of which was acknowledged and even emphasised by somewhat ostentatious displays of mutual good will in the two following years. Germany can hardly be reproached if the conviction was implanted, and grew ever stronger, that hostility to her was the bond between the two Powers, otherwise so inappropriately yoked together, which lay on her western and eastern marches.
There could be no question about the solidarity of the interests of the two Central Powers, Germany and Austria. If they broke with each other, neither would be secure against attack by one, or, more probably, two hostile Powers; while they stood together, holding strategically the interior lines, the risk of attacking them would be too great to be undertaken lightly. And at the same time they had no clashing interests, and no material divergencies of political sentiment such as those which made a firmly rooted friendship so difficult between a typically autocratic and a typically democratic state. By attaching Italy to themselves they had gained an additional security in relation at least to France. On the other hand, concord between Russia and France gave to each security against aggression by the Central Powers. An equilibrium was established simply because the issue of an armed conflict would be too doubtful — the more because no one was able to gauge the real strength of Russia.
At the same time the isolation of Great Britain was complete, nor had she any desire that it should be otherwise. She was in possession or occupation of the greater and better part of so much of the world as had not been occupied by Europeans before the middle of the 18th century, a position from which no one could hope to oust her while her fleets commanded the ocean highways; those fleets were an impassable bulwark except where their place was taken by the all but impassable mountains of the Indian frontier, or where her only neighbour was the United States. She was hardly conscious of a challenge to her commercial and manufacturing supremacy, which she had learned to regard as a matter of course. So long as she kept her navy up to standard she had nothing to fear from Powers whose resources were under the perpetual strain of maintaining huge armies; while she could content herself with one comparatively insignificant in size.
She could see no cause of quarrel with any of her neighbours save Russia, except what she felt to be their rather unreasonable jealousy; she had no sense of hostility to any of them — with the same exception, Russia. Consequently she had no desire for alliances which might prove embarrassing, but if she should incline to one scale or other in the European balances it would fairly certainly not be the Russian scale. Though French and English had fought each other often enough in the past, they had also occasionally fought side by side, and towards France Great Britain had no sort of ill will; France might persist in her annoyance about Egypt, but common sense would forbid her to manufacture a casus belli; while, if at times the British relations with Austria and Prussia had not been over cordial, they had not fought each other for more than a century, nor was there any apparent reason why they should wish to fight each other now.
Britain was hardly alive, however, to the fact that jealousy was growing in Germany, who had embarked on an active career of trade expansion, was pushing her way into markets which the British had hitherto monopolised, and was ill satisfied with the bargains struck over the partition of Africa — though the British expansionists were no less displeased by the "graceful concessions" of Lord Salisbury's diplomacy. The German commercial community felt more and more that British rivalry and British intrigues were barricading her out of her rightful "place in the sun." On the other hand, the kaiser had realized the fundamental fact that "peaceful penetration" was the only useful weapon that could be employed until there was a German navy which could hold its own against the British navy.
No one then was disposed to interfere in the troubles of minor states or nationalities. No one was concerned if Norway wanted the separation from Sweden which she achieved, by strictly constitutional methods, at the opening of the 20th century. The oppression of the Poles by Russia might demand sympathy, but certainly not intervention. The absorption of Finland into the Russian system disturbed no one but the Swedes. The subordination of the Slavs within the Austrian empire to Austrian or Magyar domination made Slavs everywhere look to Slavonic Russia, developing the race hostility between Slav and Teuton; but the time was not ripe for a duel — and the astute sultan was very well aware that all the Powers would fight shy of active interference with his doings, lest they should thereby be brought into active collision with each other. The inflammability of the Balkan peninsula was the standing menace to that general peace which the concert of Europe was most anxious to preserve, while that same desire paralysed the concert itself for drastic action. Incidentally, since Germany had no territorial interests of her own in the Turkish empire, Abdul Hamid, having nothing to fear from her "friendship" and possibly much to gain, was ready enough to cultivate it, while the kaiser was thoroughly alive to the advantages that might accrue therefrom.
In the Balkan storm centre, Serbia was too much torn by domestic troubles to endanger the peace of her neighbours, though a period of reconstruction was promised by the fall of the Obrenovitch dynasty and the accession of a prince of the former rival house of Karageorgevitch in 1903; though the consequent development of pan-Slav doctrines was ominous from the Austrian point of view.
In Bulgaria, Ferdinand watched and waited while Stambulov ruled, till the chance came in 1894 accepting the minister's resignation — much to the surprise of Stambulov himself, who was assassinated not long afterwards. Ferdinand was far too wary to commit himself to provocative action in any direction, while he was especially careful to cultivate the good will of the Porte on one side and Germany on the other. With a Hohenzollern reigning in Rumania and a Coburg in Bulgaria — both states which declined to regard themselves as Slavonic, and both having very definite grudges against Russia — the gravitation of both towards the Central empires was inevitable.
When definite trouble arose, it was within the Turkish dominions. It appeared in 1894 there was a revolutionary movement in Armenia which needed repressing. The Turk repressed it, finding himself under the unhappy necessity of massacring some 50,000 of the population before the European concert was in tune for intervention, though, as a matter of course, he then accepted the paper schema of reforms submitted by the Powers, which as usual failed to materialise. Next came the revolt of Crete, bent on escaping from Moslem sovereignty and on joining herself to the Greek kingdom. Greece answered the call of Crete and sent a force to the island. The concert intervened. A joint squadron arrived at Canea, bringing peremptory orders that the fighting was to stop, that the Greeks were to withdraw and no more Turkish troops were to be landed, and the orders were perforce obeyed. But the Greeks lost their heads and invaded Thessaly, whence they were decisively ejected by the Turkish troops.
To deny the right of the Turks, in the circumstances, to demand rectifications of the Thessaly frontier was impossible; but the Powers — without Germany and Austria, who refused to cooperate — required from Turkey autonomy for Crete under their joint supervision, with a Greek prince as governor. In Crete, Greek patriotism centred in the future minister, Venizelos. But with Abdul Hamid German influence was supreme, though a Young Turk party, a Turkish nationalist party, was now coming into being with a programme of its own which was not favourable to the khalif, who in the last twenty years had lost for Islam effective sovereignty in Cyprus, Egypt, Rumelia, Bosnia and finally Crete. The party's existence, however, was as yet unsuspected. The accord of Germany and the Porte bore significant fruit in 1902, in the authorisation a German railway to Basra and Bagdad, which would give the Germans their first foothold in the Middle East.
In the Far East Japan had passed through a period of thorough reorganization on western models, and the scramble for penetration bases in China had begun after a quarrel over Korea had shown how powerless China was to stand up to the growing might of Japan.
The war between China and Japan took place in 1894-95, and when it was over Europe intervened, forbade Japan to reap the fruits of her victory, and the Powers were duly rewarded by China for their intervention; Russia in concessions for the railway she was carrying across Serbia to Vladivostok, France in the neighbourhood of Tonkin, Germany at Tientsin — arrangements which made an ultimate collision between Russia and Japan certain, unless Japan should give way to Russia. Germany, whatever her ultimate aim may have been, ranged herself along with Russia and France, and Great Britain could not encourage Japan to defy that combination. Japan submitted with dignity, and bided her time.
China, however, did not love the foreign devils. A year later (1897) two German missionaries were murdered. Germany demanded compensation, and got it in Kiao-chau. France and Russia demanded equivalents for the concessions to Germany, and got them; on the same principle, Weihaiwei was leased to Great Britain. The concessions intensified the popular Chinese hostility to the foreigners, and to the emperor Kuang Hsü, who was deposed next year by the dowager-empress, Tzu Hsi, the incarnation of the anti-foreign reaction while north China was seething with the Boxer rebellion.
All the foreign Powers had legations at Peking (Peiping), and in 1900 came the news that the legations were either in the hands of the Peking mob or were on the point of falling into them. All the Powers, Japan and the United States included, took joint action, and dispatched to China contingents which marched on Peking, where they found that the legations had, after all, held out successfully. The Chinese government submitted, with professions that it had done its best but had been unable to control the rebels. The allies refrained from demanding further concessions, though insisting on effective guarantees for security in the future; and in the following years it appeared that the progressive or westernising element predominated in the Chinese government, though Tzu Hsi continued to reign.
The conduct of Japan throughout had more than established her right to recognition on an equal footing with the Western Powers, which was sealed by a treaty of alliance with Great Britain in 1902. The treaty meant that, if and when Russia and Japan should come into armed collision, Great Britain would not join Japan against Russia by herself, but would intervene if anyone else joined Russia against Japan.
The collision was not long postponed. Russia wanted both Manchuria, where she had established herself, and Korea, where Japan had established herself. Japan proposed mutual accommodations; but Russia claimed that the compromises should not be reciprocal. Japan proposed control for Russia in Manchuria and for Japan in Korea. Russia returned no answer, and in February, 1904, Japan declared war. She had only the resources of her own islands to draw upon, while Russia's resources in men at least were incalculably greater. But she could bring her whole force to bear at once; of Russia's naval squadrons one was icebound at Vladivostok, while she could reinforce her armies in Manchuria only by way of the single-line trans-Siberian railway, which was still far short of completion.
On February 9 Japan broke up the second Russian fleet from Port Arthur, whither she drove it back and which she proceeded to blockade. A little later she was able to invest it on the land side also, while the Russian commander Kuropatkin was endeavouring not to overwhelm but to hold back her main army on the Yalu till he should be adequately reinforced. Port Arthur held out stubbornly, and in spite of heavy fighting the Japanese commander could make no impression until a desperate effort was put forth at the end of the year in order to anticipate the expected arrival of a new Russian fleet, the Port Arthur squadron having sallied forth in August, only to be annihilated by Admiral Togo.
Kuropatkin had been pushed back from the Yalu in May; he was again pushed back upon Mukden in August, as the result of the nine days' battle of Liao-yang; in which the Japanese actually suffered more heavily than the Russians. Being at last reinforced in October, he resumed the offensive, but was again compelled to retire upon Mukden after a fifteen days' battle on the Sha-ho, which left both armies so exhausted that neither could take the offensive. Port Arthur, however, was so hard pressed by Nogi's final onslaught that it was forced to surrender on January 1, 1905.
Nogi was thus released to reinforce the main army after which another prolonged and exhausting struggle drove Kuropatkin from Mukden at the end of February back to the lines which he was able to hold for the remainder of the war, since there was no more heavy fighting on land. The sea, however, provided one more episode. Rozhdestvensky's fleet arrived in May, only to be obliterated by Togo in the battle of Tsushima. The war was ended by the treaty of Portsmouth, USA, in August, 1905; Russia evacuating Manchuria, while Japan retained Korea and also the Liau-tung peninsula.
As concerned Europe, no change in the isolation of Great Britain had taken place when the 20th century opened. It was a moment when every country on the European continent was sympathising not with her but with her stubborn antagonists in the South African War, under the curious conviction that all the dominions of the British empire were craving to be free from a bondage which had no existence. In actual fact, for fifty years past Great Britain had consistently fostered autonomy in her colonies, which were aware of no bondage except when the exigencies of international relations made the imperial government actually or apparently neglectful of the interests of particular colonies. Regarding themselves and being regarded as partners in the empire, and not as subordinates, they had no desire for separation, however jealous they might be in regard to their own rights and privileges; and the sense of imperial solidarity was growing, not diminishing. South Africa was on a different footing from the rest, for the simple reason that the Dutch element there declined to regard itself as British, looked upon the British as interlopers, and presented the British claim to sovereignty in territories which the Dutch, who had been there long before them, regarded as being rightfully their own. And that sentiment among the Boers had been intensified by the retrocession of the Transvaal's independence in 1881.
When this antagonism issued in the South African War in 1899, the popularity of Great Britain in Europe had not been increasing. Her prospective evacuation of Egypt seemed to grow more remote; it could not come till the Egyptians could be trusted to govern themselves, and she was not teaching them the art of self-government. She was showing them how the thing ought to be done, giving them stable rule, developing their resources, bringing to the fellaheen an unprecedented prosperity; but the men who were doing it all, holding all the responsible posts, were not Egyptians but Britons — after the Indian precedent, and for the same reasons.
In 1896 Britain made the first open move towards the reconquest of the Sudan by pushing the Egyptian frontier defences up to Dongola. The business was done in the single campaign of 1898. The fanatical hordes of the Khalifa, the Mahdi's successor, were completely shattered at the battle of Omdurman. The Sudan became what it had been before in theory, but never in fact, a province of Egypt, and virtually a British protectorate. But the concentration of the Khalifa's forces against the British advance had enabled a small expeditionary party from the French Congo to reach Fashoda unharmed and hoist the French flag there; and French susceptibilities were painfully irritated when Sir Herbert Kitchener, the conqueror of the Khalifa, declined to recognize the validity of the French occupation. The French government acknowledged the British claim, but French sentiment cherished yet another grievance against what it regarded as British aggression.
Two years after the reconquest of the Sudan, the antagonism of the Dutch to the British in South Africa resulted in the outbreak of the South African War. In the first months the British troops met with a series of to verses, but by the following midsummer they were in occupation of the two capitals, Bloemfontein and Pretoria. In September the annexation of the Boer states was proclaimed. Nevertheless the Boers refused to submit, maintaining a persistent guerilla warfare until so many of them had been rounded up that the remnant could no longer keep the field; and in May, 1902, the peace of Vereeniging terminated the war.
The republics were annexed, to be administered temporarily as crown colonies, but instead of exacting indemnities the victors provided large sums for the reinstatement of the farms which had suffered in the war. There had certainly been on the continent a strong inclination to intervene, but though the Kaiser's attitude in the preceding years had caused some resentment in England, during the war his influence was certainly exerted to discourage intervention. It may be that he realized the practical futility of attempting, as matters stood, to challenge the British fleet; for it was while the war was in progress that he developed an unprecedented naval programme for Germany which was difficult to dissociate from the idea of rivalry with the leading maritime Power.
The South African War had not long been ended when new factors began to influence European relations. In Great Britain, where for half a century free trade had been the accepted theory and practice on all hands, a new propaganda was vigorously pushed and in some quarters enthusiastically adopted, but it had a political effect which could hardly have been anticipated; it was interpreted in Germany as being malevolently directed against German commerce and German prosperity. That conception was unaffected by the defeat of the tariff reformers at the general election of 1906, and the conviction was thoroughly established in the popular mind that the British were saturated with jealousy of Germany's commercial progress.
It befell, moreover, that at the moment when the propaganda was in full swing Great Britain and France discovered that their outstanding differences were capable of reasonable adjustment and that living on terms of mutual good will was much more satisfactory than the perpetuation of needless friction. The long reign of Queen Victoria had just ended; the new king, Edward VII, had the gift of popularity, and a visit to France facilitated the development of the new spirit of friendliness. The position of the monarch in England is not readily grasped in other countries, and it was not difficult to imagine that a Machiavellian diplomacy was at work. Coupled with the supposed anti-German tariff agitation, the new accord between Great Britain and France was doubly ominous, and the belief in England's sinister designs gained ground.
Nor was this all. France had already established friendly relations with Russia, and the accommodation of interests between France and Great Britain was soon followed by similar accommodation between Great Britain and Russia, made possible as it had never been before by the effects upon Russia of the disastrous Japanese war. It had been a fundamental part of Bismarck's policy to keep those three Powers at arm's length from each other. Those who carried on this tradition believed that there were plenty of motives holding them apart; there could be only one for their reconciliation of their common desire for the destruction of Germany. The development of this idea was at least a fundamental factor in the complicated story of the ensuing years, and its catastrophic climax in August, 1914.
It is curious to observe that the most idealistic if not the most successful efforts to design an organ for the preservation of the world's peace have emanated from Russian tsars, Alexander I and Nicholas II. In the last thirty years of the 19th century international disputes had with increasing frequency been referred for decision to a neutral arbitrator, Great Britain and the United States having practically led the way by referring their own dispute over the Alabama claim to a neutral court of arbitration.
In 1898 Nicholas invited the Powers to send delegates to a conference to be held at The Hague to discuss ways and means for the reduction of armaments by consent, the common adoption of what may be called humanitarian regulations in warfare, and the establishment of a permanent court of international arbitration to which nations might, if so minded; refer their disputes. As a result the Hague Tribunal was actually set up. No agreement could be reached as to reduction of armaments, because no scheme was in the German view compatible with Germany's security. Regulations were generally though not universially accepted later for the humanising of warfare, and these were loyally observed by the belligerents both in the South African and the Russo-Japanese wars; but in them there was the grave defect that no sanction existed for their enforcement if any belligerent chose to ignore them, just as it was open to any nation to refuse the appeal to arbitration.
Great Britain and France reached their mutual understanding, the entente, in 1904. Both Powers had interests in Morocco, both had interests in Egypt; each recognized in effect that the other should have a free hand in the country where her interests were paramount. Their agreement, which was not an alliance, was laid before the Triple Alliance, and no objections to it were raised. But the Kaiser had for some time been posing as the friend of Moslem peoples in general – both Russia and Great Britain had a vast number of Mahomedan subjects. In 1905 it became apparent to Germany that the interests of the sultan of Morocco as well as those of Germany in Morocco required protection from France's peaceful penetration. Incidentally, Russia was having a bad time in her struggle with Japan, and France could not count upon effective support from that quarter. Unless Great Britain supported her she would have to give way.
When it became apparent that Great Britain would stand loyal, Germany proposed that the question should be dealt with by a conference. The proposal was accepted, though it involved the resignation of the French foreign minister, Théophile Delcassé. The conference of Algeciras was held in 1906, all the Powers, including the United States, participating. Germany's demands were supported by Austria alone. It appeared, however, that she was satisfied with the result, while no one suggested that she had met with a rebuff, though for practical purposes the position of the French in Morocco was confirmed. The coherence was preluded by the sanctioning in Germany of a huge programme of naval construction; on the other hand, only a year later, the entente between Great Britain and France was supplemented by the entente between Great Britain and Russia, already the ally of France; while at the conference Italy had rather significantly affirmed the identity of her interests with those of Britain. It was not clear how far Italy regarded herself as committed to support the policy of her imperial allies.
Thus the grouping of the Powers and their attitudes towards each other had changed materially in the four years 1903-7. At the beginning Germany and Austria were balanced against France and Russia; while the security of the central alliance against Franco-Russian aggression was guaranteed by the actual adherence of Italy, and by the constant friction between the Dual Alliance and Great Britain. At the end Russian prestige and self-confidence had suffered a shattering blow, in itself a sufficient guarantee against aggressive action on her part; but the friction with Great Britain had passed, while between Great Britain and Germany friction had undoubtedly set in. The expectation, little short of certainty, that the greatest maritime Power would operate against Franco-Russian aggression had given place to the still more confident expectation that it would operate against Teutonic aggression, while little but neutrality could be looked for from Italy if the Central Powers should be the aggressors. That was the lesson of the Algeciras episode.
Europe, then, in 1908 was staging for a new drama, in which the first act was unexpectedly opened by the Young Turks. Their organization had secured the support of the army at Salonica; in July they suddenly demanded the long-promised constitution which had never materialised. The sultan promptly acceded. The Powers hopefully withdrew their supervisors from Macedonia, to give the reformers free play. Consequently, in October, Ferdinand of Bulgaria judged that his time had come; he proclaimed the complete independence of Bulgaria, and assumed the ancient title of tsar. Two days later Austria announced the annexation of her protectorate in Bosnia, in defiance of the undertakings under which the protectorate had been established. This was very definitely the concern of Russia. But beside Austria, in the Kaiser's significant phrase, stood Germany "in shining armour"; after a brief hesitation, Russia acquiesced.
If the Central Powers had been checked at Algeciras, they recovered now more than they had lost then. But the price was the intensification of Slavonic hostility to the German-Magyar domination over the Slavs in the Austrian empire. It was generally believed that the Austrian heir presumptive — Francis Ferdinand, a nephew of the aged emperor Francis Joseph — favoured a constitutional reconstruction which would have placed the three races on an equal footing; but the ascendancy party was too strong to allow such a solution to be attempted; the racial antipathy was fostered by pan-Slavism within and without the empire, and the fruit thereof was bitter.
For two years there was no further move. Each of the Entente Powers had its Own domestic troubles. England was in the thick of a prolonged constitutional crisis, in the course of which Edward VII died and was succeeded by George V; conflict raged round the powers of the House of Lords, arising from the unexpected exercise of their technical right to reject the financial proposals of the Liberal government, which were carried in the Commons by the support of the Irish parliamentary party. The strife was marked by exceptional bitterness, which increased in virulence when, after two general elections in twelve months, which proved the parties within Great Britain to be of all but equal strength, the Irish group obviously held the scale; and the Liberals held that their pledge in 1905 to suspend their avowed Home Rule policy was no longer valid.
At the same time one section of the British press was crying aloud that the British navy was no match for the German navy, while another section was proclaiming with equal fervour that expenditure on naval construction was blatant folly. Also in India the Morley-Minto Scheme was introduced, admitting Indians to the enlarged provincial councils, exciting lively opposition among British officials and residents in India; while it was accompanied by a highly seditious agitation in the vernacular press, which was treated by the Indian government with what was zealously denounced as pusillanimous leniency or intolerable tyranny according to the predilections of the critic.
Between factions at home and Indian unrest, it did not appear that any formidable intervention in European affairs on England's part was to be looked for, whatever her commitments to the other Entente Powers might be. Russia's weakness had been manifested by the Bosnian affair. In 1911 Germany made the real testing move. France's paramount interest in Morocco had been recognized at Algeciras and later by separate agreements both with Spain and with Germany. But the sultan of Morocco was totally incapable of controlling his turbulent subjects; anarchy in Morocco had its repercussions upon the tribesmen of Algeria, and in the spring of that year France marched troops to the capital for the defence of the sultan and the restoration of order. On the assumption that this was merely a preliminary to the partition of Morocco between France and Spain, Germany dispatched the corvette Panther to Agadir in July, an unmistakable threat of war.
It appeared, however, very shortly that this was by no means what Germany intended. In the interval D. Lloyd George, the British minister who was at that time credited with being the most zealous of pacifists, made a speech which in the view of pacifists was almost truculent. Thereupon the Agadir incident was explained away. Germany was only anxious lest her commercial interests in Morocco should be prejudiced by the French domination, for which fears a portion of the French Congo territory would be adequate compensation. The agreement was duly signed in November, and harmony was officially restored.
Meanwhile, however, war had broken out in another quarter – war with which neither the Central Powers nor the Entente could claim to be directly concerned. When France occupied Tunis, Italy had been in some degree placated by the recognition of her own paramount interests in Tripoli. But this did not prevent peaceful penetration by German commerce and the development of German influence, which threatened to supersede that of Italy, which could only be saved by the declaration of a formal protectorate. The Young Turks, moreover, were doing their best to undermine all infidel influences. Italy demanded from the Porte, the nominal suzerain of Tripoli, the recognition of her own protectorate; acquiescence was not immediately following, and she declared war on Turkey in September, 1911.
Twelve months of desultory maritime warfare followed. Italy occupied the Tripolitan coast town, and seized islands in the Aegean, whereby she annoyed the Greeks, in whose eyes Aegean islands were "Hellas irrendenta." Austria would not allow her to seize territory on the Balkan mainland, the war was expensive and unprofitable, and in October, 1912, peace was made which left her in possession of Tripoli and her captures in the Aegean, while the doubtful bonds which held her to the Triple Alliance had been loosened.
Almost at the moment when Turkey and Italy were signing the peace, four Balkan states were declaring war on Turkey, where the Young Turks had thoroughly established their ascendancy, exiled Abdul Hamid and set in his place his feebleminded brother Mohammed V, but had by no means dissolved the amity with Germany. Their rule in Macedonia was no more to the liking of the independent Balkan states than that of Abdul Hamid. The Cretan leader, Venizelos, had now become the trusted minister of the king of the Hellenes. Mainly through his diplomacy, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro reconciled their differences and united in the Balkan League with a view to the liberation and absorption of Macedonia upon agreed lines, as an alternative to its erection into an independent state; the various negotiations between state and state having been conducted separately without any of the Powers being privy thereto. This point was reached before midsummer in 1912.
At that moment the Albanians, whom no one, Mahomedan or Christian, had ever been able to rule except by sheer force of a dominating personality like Skanderbeg, revolted against the Turkish governors, whose troops mutinied and either joined the rebels or broke before them, and the Albanians began to invade Macedonia. At Constantinople the Young Turks, who were held responsible, were turned out of office. In September the new league appealed to the Powers to intervene; the Powers remonstrated, but forbade the league to move, but by the middle of October war had been declared between Turkey and all the states of the league.
There followed, before the concert could recover from its astonishment, an amazing débâcle. The old Turkish array had been broken up, and a new one was in course of organization under German officers — but it was not yet organized. Each of the league states had its allotted task. The Greek fleet swept the seas; in the western area; the Serbs routed the Turks in one battle after another; in the eastern the Bulgars were threatening Constantinople and investing Adrianople. Before the end of November the Greeks only just anticipated the Bulgars in capturing and occupying Salonica. Then the Powers stepped in: there was a brief armistice; a conference in London was apparently on the point of achieving a settlement, when the Young Turks suddenly recovered control at Constantinople and rejected the peace terms. The fighting started again in February. Janina, Adrianople, Scutari fell in rapid succession. The Powers stepped in again, the armistice was renewed, the London conference was reopened, and at the end of May, 1913, the treaty of London was signed.
Much as after Japan's triumphant victory over China, the Powers which had merely leaked on and wait ten notes arranged matters according to their own ideas, to the unmitigated dissatisfaction of every one of the states which had shared the triumphs of the war. But the most — and most justly — dissatisfied was Bulgaria, which had been allotted the hardest task, achieved the most striking victories and got next to nothing for her pains. In an evil hour Bulgaria resolved to remedy the injustice by a sudden attack (June 29) on Serbia, to which had been allotted portions of Macedonia that she regarded as rightfully her own. The Serbs defeated the Bulgars, the Greeks came in to the support of the Serbs, Rumania joined in on her own account, and the last state of Bulgaria was worse than the first. In August she was compelled to accept the treaty of Bukarest, whereby she lost territory to Rumania, to Serbia, to Greece and finally to Turkey. Before, if she had not the spoils she had at least the honours. Her tragic blunder had lost her the honours, and subjected her to actual spoliation; but it had done more. It had shattered the new accord among the Balkan states, and brought back the old atmosphere of brooding and vindictive suspicion.
The Central Powers would have profited by Bulgaria's victory over the other members of the now shattered league, of which, on the other hand, the consolidation would have been particularly inconvenient for Austria. As matters stood, the state which gained most by the war was the one whose depression she most desired — Serbia. But Serbia had failed to gain access to either the Adriatic or the Aegean sea; her want of a seaboard made it the easier to bring a strangling economic pressure to bear on her, and she had been deprived of Monastir, which she had captured, and on the acquisition of which she and Greece and Bulgaria were all set. Monastir would be a bone of contention calculated to keep alive the mutual jealousies and suspicions of the Balkan states, which was all to Austria’s advantage, since it had been her purpose to open for herself the way to the Aegean, which would be blocked to her as long as they remained even superficially united. And while Bulgaria, and possibly Greece, might be won over, Serbia was at once the main obstacle to the Austrian expansion, and the external focus of Slavonic sentiment which was the most disintegrating influence within the heterogeneous Austrian empire.
The motives which actuate governments and those which actuate their peoples at moments of crisis are not necessarily the same, though the peoples may be unconscious of the difference — the more in those countries where the governments do not derive their authority directly from the people. It is not difficult to believe in the conviction of the German people that the entente between Great Britain and France was a grand conspiracy, born of political vindictiveness and begotten of commercial jealousy, for the overthrow of Germany; that the organization of the nation for war was only the necessary preparation for self-defence, and that when the Central Powers flung down the challenge it was because no other course was open to them. But it is not possible to credit the German government with the same belief, or to doubt that it chose its own moment under the impression that it would have only France and Russia to fight and would be able to wipe France off the board before Russia could come into action effectively. The Kaiser and his entourage were aiming at a world domination; Algeciras, Bosnia, and Agadir were all moves intended to test the strength of the opposing combination, and the mastery of the Near East was regarded as the key to the situation.
In the affairs of Algeciras and Agadir the British attitude had been disturbing; Britain, without acknowledging the existence of any formal alliance, had manifested a determination to stand by France if she were made the definite object of aggression, Britain had indeed professed her own warm desire for such a mutual understanding with Germany as she had already reached with France and Russia, her readiness to do her best to facilitate a similar understanding between the two empires and the other Entente Powers, and even to pledge herself to neutrality should the latter take aggressive action against the Central Powers; but she had firmly declined to pledge herself to neutrality should the Central Powers be the aggressors. But in 1914 a change had apparently befallen. England was paralysed. The Irish question had reached such a pitch of intensity that Ulster was proclaiming her right to resist in arms her subordination to an Irish national parliament and executive, half England was declaring that Ulster was in the right, and officers of high standing in the army were openly asserting that they would refuse to act against Ulster. Civil war was in the air. A Liberal government was in office, and it was the established belief of European chancelleries that Liberal governments were peace-at-any-price governments. All the circumstances being taken into consideration, the risk of England being drawn into a European war was small, and if she did come in, her army was small and apparently mutinous, her fleet, according to her own vociferous publicists, was inefficient, either Nationalist Ireland or Ulster would seize the opportunity to revolt.
The hour, then, had come for striking. The Bismarck tradition required that an occasion should be manufactured, and that the occasion should have at least the appearance of being an unwarrantable aggression by the party that was in fact being attacked. The occasion rose in June, 1914. On the 28th of that month the archduke Francis Ferdinand, the prince who was generally believed to be Slavophil, was assassinated in the streets of the Bosnian city of Serajevo. The assassins were Austrian subjects — but they were Serbs. The murder, then, must-be a Serbian plot fostered by the Serbian government. It was indeed not difficult to suggest an entirely different origin for the crime, since it could in no conceivable manner further Serbian or Slavonic interests; but the Austrian government had no doubts about the matter. Even at the best, the intolerable Slavonic propaganda emanating from Serbia must be at the bottom of the outrage, and events moved fast.