Teuton against Slav
Dynastic Ambitions and Racial Entanglements That Underlie the Great War
By William Milligan Sloan
[The Independent, August 10, 1914]
The harsh simplicity of the issues of war is only superficial: the problems with which the nations of Europe wrestle in time of peace are no less bewildering than before and will loom large when the days of reconstruction come. With these essential factors in the future of Europe Professor Sloane is thoroly familiar, as his recent .study, "The Balkans; a Laboratory of History" attests. The best known of the other works prepared during his long service as professor of history at Princeton and now at Columbia are studies of Napoleon and of the French Revolution. He was Theodore Roosevelt Professor at Berlin in 1912-13..—The Editor.
The European situation seems unreal. We simply dare not consider the possibilities of a general European war and all its frightful consequences, Americans, who are really such feel a much deeper interest in their nearer European neighbors, even tho the recently adopted masses are still, at heart, most concerned with, the far-off governments and peoples from out of which they have lately come.
But it is absurdly insufficient to look at Europe from the west as we mostly do. Great Britain and France are full of poignant interest for us, Germany to quite the same degree. Their problems, internal and external, and their relations to each other, are fascinating to the extent of absorption. But we forget that they too have an eastward outlook and that much of the east which to us is far, far away is for them close by and that their policies cannot neglect what we see but dimly. At this moment, as for a year past, it is central to the comprehension of western politics that we recall how determinative in the arrangement and alignment of powers is a race question which presses upon the older western Europe from behind with the obstinacy of natural law: the oncoming of the Slav, the self-defense of the Teuton. Besides it Franco-German relations are, however weighty, of minor importance.
The European balance of power is as unstable as that of a pyramid poised on its apex. Race, religion, nationality, equality, interest are the stock terms of politics, and not one of them has a definite meaning. Nationality is the most misleading of them all, yet it is this vague concept which is central to the alarms of the present hour. The populations of Europe discriminate between Anglo-, German-, Irish-, Italo-, Slav- and Afro-Americans with insistence and give portentous reality to these designations because they cannot think in other terms. So far as they think at all they affect contempt for the assimilative process upon which we ourselves rely.
Russia and Greek Catholicism, Germany and Teutonic culture, France and Roman civilization, and British imperial sway, each of these has a planetary system which revolves about it. Language is not strong enough to depict the passion and devotion of the millions upon millions who pay and fight, who sacrifice all that life holds dear, for these undefinable but poignant conceptions. Intertwined with them are all the rest, material prosperity, race supremacy, peace of mind, social order and justice.
The pyramid has long been rocking and toppling: indeed the props and guys were always there in the form of treaties and alliances. Each of the systems has always been incomplete at the edges and sometimes at the very center. The Slavs are not all of the Greek confession, nor under Russian sway. A large minority are of the Roman faith and very many are faithful Moslems. The Latins are not all Roman Catholics, many are Protestants and among ecclesiastical adherents are enormous numbers of free-thinkers and indifferent. The number of Roman Catholics among Germans, within and without the empire, is as great as that of other confessions: the counter-reformation is still active thruout western Europe, tho quiescent in the central lands.
Accordingly the confessional bond still plays a major rôle, possibly the major rôle, on the stage of east European politics. But nationality runs it a hard race for first place. The cross purposes between the two act and react, to produce confusion, and dim the vision of observers.
Prolific as Anglo-Saxons once were, and as the Germans still are, no instance is known to history of a natural growth of population like that of the latest years among the Slavs.
They now outnumber the Germans nearly three to one: as we consider civilization theirs is, with the conspicuous but negligible exception of a minute proportion, about that much lower and more primitive than the German, dark and medieval as is the latter at its worst: Among the Slavs there are two lines of division: the aristocracy and towns-folk, a relatively very small number with some veneer of western culture and learning are separated by an abyss from all the rest, the overwhelming majority, of primitive artizans and peasants whose one controlling power is fear, fear of the state, fear of the Church. Then secondly straight thru the heart of the continent lies Hungary, which divides the north from the south Slavs and makes common cause with the Germans of Austria, as far as a hated necessity requires, to form the Dual Monarchy.
What with the iron sway of Turkey and the stern repression of the Magyars the south Slav, differs slightly from his congener of the north in speech, institutions, tradition, and general characteristics. But very slightly, after all. They are a peasant folk, placid when comfortable, savage when roused. Since their emancipation from the Turkish yoke they have produced no ruling class, and only a handful of native statesmen and administrators. Servia has a worthless native dynasty, Montenegro a strong but rude one; the other states have had foreign, princes imposed upon them.
Since the Slavs appeared in history there has been an embittered, remorseless, and often bloody struggle for supremacy between Teuton and Slav. The elements of humanity commingle in warfare as in peace, probably in the higher degree, by taking prisoners than by merchandising. Whatever order and control has existed in eastern Europe proceeded more or less directly from German sources, and along the broad mark or frontier from the Baltic to the Adriatic upon which the clashes have occurred there has been some admixture of blood as well as of institutions.
Until lately there were large numbers of German traders in Slavic towns, and in the administration of Russia men with German names were prominent. The University of Doormat was a distinguished center of German learning. Within the German lands Slavic laborers were numerous and men with Slavic names rose to considerable eminence in all walks of life as far westward as the Elbe. Eastern Prussia has large populations of Slavs and its Polish subjects in Posen constitute a Slavic society which defies assimilation. The landed proprietors of Russia's Baltic provinces and the merchants of the Baltic seaboard were and remain German in speech and tradition. On both sides of the frontier there was toleration for the respective aliens.
But within a generation the passion for "nationality" has become fanatical and insensate. Whoever was a subject must become Russian: in Finland the upper classes of Swedish stock and culture as well as the indigenous Finns; in Poland, where all are Slavs, all must become Russian; in the Baltic provinces Germanism must be uprooted and Dorpat was turned into Yourself with a corps of Russian professors. The same fiery zeal in the reverse sense overmastered Prussia and Hungary for Teutonizing or Magyarizing all the Slavs within their borders. There was from north to south a nationalizing passion which rekindled the fires of hate and fury until today the conflagration rages to destruction.
The flames leaped over and set fire to the Balkans. Germanism in Austria-Hungary was put on the desperately defensive alike by Magyars and Slavs. At no time within the historic record was the race and confessional antagonism as savage as it is today. Nationality and autonomy are the war-cries. "In the name of liberty" is the plea which the combatants shout westward as they arm to the teeth, marshal their enormous armies; and commit atrocity upon atrocity in the face of high heaven. The recent Balkan wars have completely overset the military equilibrium of Europe, because they have placed on its military map at least a million disciplined troops with the lust for combat engendered by their war of emancipation and the internecine conflicts for national grandeurs into which it degenerated.
Austria-Hungary is the most extraordinary congeries of unrelated parts ever compacted into a nominal state. On every treasury note the denomination and value are printed in about twelve languages so that it may circulate thruout the monarchy, and there are some eighteen groups of population that lay claim to "nationality." Within Cis-Leithia, which we know as Austria, lies the kingdom of Bohemia, overwhelmingly Slav, and vociferous for recognition as such. Trieste is almost a pure Italian city; lower Tyrol is Italian, and the townsfolk of Dalmatia are Italians. The districts of Carniola and parts of Carinthia are Slav again. Trans-Leithia, which we know as Hungary, is ruled by Magyars, but within its limits are millions of Slavs; and Croatia, which is pure Slav, possesses a would-be autonomous local government standing by treaty in the same or a similar relation to the supreme Hungarian power as that in which Hungary stands to Austria. Yet the "Hungarian" seaport of Fiume is a pure Slav city.
Confessionally the Slav subjects of the monarchy are of the Roman faith, the in certain places there are small congregations of the Greek faith. The recently annexed provinces of Bosnia and the Herzegovina belong to the monarchy as a whole, their populations are pure Slavs, mainly of the Greek confession, tho the higher social classes are faithful Moslems, the immigrant administrators and traders from the monarchy are Roman Catholics. Control is generally Germanic, stigmatized as the sauerkraut and sausage regime.
But over all this unprecedented mosaic of race, religion and language a German dynasty reigns and the once all-powerful German influence still largely predominates. The German empire in its entirety, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, exists today as it is because Austria was expelled from the German hegemony, but its peoples and its rulers have a deep concern for Austria-Hungary as a bulwark against the ever-rising and surging tide of Slavic numbers and a menacing inundation of lower civilizations.
Within the triple alliance of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy the relations of the two former are thus much closer than those of Italy with either. The dominant figure of the triple alliance is of course the German Emperor, and by an overmastering will, backed by military power of portentous strength both afloat and ashore, he has kept, indeed commanded, the peace of Europe so far thruout his reign. This has been to the immense advantage of his people, as they clearly understand, but a peace lord who is a war lord as well has an unenviable task in restraining a military party of great influence straining at the leash when wars are raging and insults fly hurtling thru space from defiant foes, increasing yearly in strength and self-reliance.
German socialism, stripped of all its trimmings, is nothing more or less than good old-fashioned American patriotism, a determination to share the offices high and low with the privileged classes and enjoy the social distinctions as well as the emoluments pertaining thereunto. Ambition for power and the pomp of power stir the breast of the humble. Thus far German socialism is not international and is not likely to become so. Yet it is a serious weakness in a system so hierarchical as that of Prussia or even in the other more democratic states of the federal empire.
Had the United States a Russia on one shore and a France on the other, with not one truly friendly power on either side, we could visualize the problem of the German empire, perhaps even realize it. The vast extent of her land frontier is a decided weakness. Another is over-population; sixty-six millions on a territory about the size of Texas and not comparable in fertility of soil and natural resources. Already by the magic touch of scientific agriculture but little is unreclaimed and most yields to the very limit of its capacity.
Still another weakness is the Polish question, which renders Posen a focus of discontent and exhibits the futility of all efforts at Germanization of unwilling Slavs. But the most serious weakness of Germany is the tenure and treatment of Alsace-Lorraine. The truth about this question is at the bottom of the well: the keenest French observers declare that they would be entirely content as an autonomous state in the federal German empire and do not desire reincorporation in France. But France desires it, and cannot condone their loss. The Hohenzollerns have conquered the German home, they desire no world conquest, but they mean to defend to the death what they have secured.
As between Germany, and German Austria the bonds of trade and sympathy are many and powerful, but the religious question lies athwart union in any calculable period. Prussia is still a Protestant, intensely Protestant power, altho the natural increase of Romanists is in excess of any other. In a high sense Prussian policy is German politics, and the majority of Protestants thruout the empire steadily dwindles. The entrance of German Austria would throw them into a hopeless minority. Nevertheless the question is as yet not perilous, for stauncher patriotism than that of Bavaria, the Rhineland and Westphalia does not exist in Prussia proper, or Saxony, or Würtemberg.
To these elements of strength and weakness possibly another should be added: the prosperity in commerce and industry of all Germany. Based on unprecedented expansion of credit, this is therefore an exceedingly delicate structure and forces a pause ere active, military steps are taken. In the alarms of a few years since it was the merchants and bankers who commanded a halt and a return to sanity.
Ultimately the increase of numbers may call for territorial expansion to the eastward or a desperate effort at it, but for the present German policy is easily legible: maintain what it has, strengthen Austria-Hungary against the Slav, and be prepared in every respect to repel any advance of its own eastern neighbors, perhaps even to drive them far behind their present lines. For success in this she must be strong enough to hold France in check, and to that end she has just enlarged her armaments.
Russian power viewed from without is portentous. With her population of a hundred and sixty-eight millions it seems as if she could put some millions of troops in the field, overpower all Europe, and constitute herself suzerain of Slavic peoples as well as of the Greek Church—to which position she has long laid claim. But so vast, so unorganized, so inert is most of her empire that its very weight seems often to threaten a break.
But her most salient weakness is the double question of Finland and Poland, with their sense of outrage and resistance to Russian influence. It was no wonder that she could not coerce Japan, or even conquer Turkey without Rumanian help: howsoever many men she may have under arms there is always a Polish terror of major size and a Finnish nightmare less in dimension but equal in grimness, at the very door of St. Petersburg, moreover. And the haunting specter of intestine violence can only be concealed by troops and police. The national territory must be garrisoned against Russian, Polish and Finnish discontent.
Apparently her Government measures greatness solely by size, so steady is its advance to the eastward in the seizure and occupation of territory or the establishment of influence zones. Quantity is the relentless foe of quality and numbers are the Iscariot of efficiency. The modern world is all astray on this question and Russia seems the blindest of the blind. Her northern frontiers are fortified by their Arctic position; her others are the weakest possible, the most vulnerable in all their extent. Her policy is not easily legible, but in the Triple Entente ,the bonds of which are very slight, there is of course a threefold understanding which gives some guarantee of her swollen dimensions and assures her a free hand for the defensive if not for the offensive. A hegemony among the Slavs she may secure if she strikes successful blows for the Servian cause, but a protectorate in form never. She has never been able to charm her southern relations and the great secret service of spies innumerable which she maintains among them exasperates, sometimes intimidates, but never cows them.
Why protect Servia? Why bring all Greek Christians under her religious sway? Why set up a Pan-Slavic federation? Why the pogrom and Jew baiting ? Why swell to bursting with zones of influence in Central Asia which belie their name in that they do not bind? Why the browbeating of Armenia and the hounding of Turkey? There seems no sense and little unity in the enormous program.
If there be any solution to the riddle at all, it lies in her persistence that her door-key may be wrested from Moslems and the exit to the area of world commerce thru the Straits as well as thru the Baltic be her very own to command. It is not given to outsiders quite to comprehend how everything works together to that end, but we hear it with perpetual iteration and it may be so. Meantime we somehow feel that Russia resembles the athlete who ran so far to gain impetus that on the takeoff line for the jump he fell in exhaustion. The preliminaries have hitherto been so protracted that accomplishment halted.
Since Russia has had armies on European battlefields their laurels have been those of subsidiaries rather than principals. It was not until Gorck and his Prussians went over to the Russians at Tauroggen in 1813 that their standards advanced by self-impulsion. We are told on good authority that the existing army, entirely regenerated since the Treaty of Portsmouth, longs and even lusts to redeem its good name. Therein lay the danger of the hour.
Should Russia restore to Finland the liberties of which she has been robbed, should she grant autonomy to Russian Poland as a buffed state between the Russian Orient and the German Occident and liberate a nation of twenty-four millions, Roman and romantic in religion and culture, her gravest internal danger would be diminished if not removed. But of this there is little chance, so fanatical is Greek ecclesiasticism and so powerful at St. Petersburg.
The Servian protection is ancillary to the broad Russian policy. The writer in his recent book on the Balkans has quite fully explained the genesis and described the distribution of the Slavic stock in the great southeastern peninsula of Europe. It suffices to say here that the Serbs are the purest and most numerous branch of the southern Slavs. They are numerous in Hungary proper round about the city of Temesvar, they are almost exclusively the inhabitants of Croatia, Slavonia, Istria, Dalmatia, Herzegovina and Bosnia. Of their confessional divisions we spoke in another connection. Within the Austria-Hungarian domain they number about five millions; without in Servia, Montenegro and elsewhere about as many more. These last are almost exclusively of the Greek faith, among the former possibly a fifth are also of that profession. Hence the concern of Russia, real or professed, for the orthodox who are anxious before the militancy of Romanism.
Thus divided the independent Serb states have remained insignificant in the power of their political sovereignty and are so still. But they have been impassioned apostles of the Great Servia idea and thru a desperate propaganda have infected the Austrian subjects of their own stock. It is the unrest within the dual monarchy which more concerns its Government than even the devilish complots which find hospitality in Servia and have found two victims in the Austro-Hungarian heir and his morganatic wife. The war on Servia may be merely punitive, but it is really a terrible warning to those within Austria-Hungary to cease from troubling.
The dream of a united Illyrian kingdom began with the liberation of Servia from Turkish misrule. But the congress of Vienna and Waterloo quenched all hope during thirty years. Hungary considered Croatia as a mere province and exasperated the Croats by an effort to Magyarize them. Their Emperor gave them, a patriotic Ban or viceroy in 1848, the famous Iellaschich, who in the crisis of his long career turned all his folk in frenzy against Hungary in her struggle for independence and saved the Hapsburg monarchy from extinction. The efforts of Joseph II to Germanize Croatia were vain, but it kept its identity. In 1868 an unsatisfactory "compromise" was forced on it. In spite of Hungarian stubborness this charter has been several times modified in a sense favorable to Croat aspirations, but the people still cherish resentment. They have a representative of the Hungarian crown, a national diet in control of local affairs, including courts and schools, and in the ministry at Buda-Pest they have one member with three members of the upper and forty of the lower house. There are endless wranglings and sometimes rebellious outbursts of violence as Hungary seeks to recall more or less of what has been wrenched from her, and Croatia to wrest from he a higher degree of autonomy. The Servians elsewhere sympathize, especially those not in Croatia-Slavonia but directly under Austrian administration. If we may trust our judgment, based on personal observation, Austria-Hungary has seized the occasion of the hideous crime so lately committed to secure peace within her own borders by the punishment of Servia.
France has always had a noble sentimentality for the insurgents against any "oppressor"' except herself, and claims for herself the liberation of Greece, It is hard that Austria-Hungary should pitilessly monopolize and regulate Servian trade, as she does; the enlarged Greece suspects the dual monarchy of seeking a highway of her own to the Aegean and desire to reserve for herself the transit and outlet for Servian commerce to the Mediterranean. Hence Servia may hope for at least moral and possibly for material aid from France and Greece as well as for the protection of Russia. During the recent wars Servia amazed the world by the regeneration of her army as a fighting machine and that of any invader, no matter how efficient, is likely to meet with fierce resistance.
Italy still harbors a deep-seated distrust of her next-door neighbor in the alliance and their interests clash on the Adriatic. At its head is an Italia irredenta under Austrian rule and opposite in both Montenegro and Albania they have opposing desires. The dynasty of the former is kin by marriage to the House of Savoy, and a German prince, if he of Wied ever gets a firm seat as Mpret of Albania, is not likely to favor Italian interests to any disadvantage for the powerful Austrian Lloyd steamship company, for long years the adroit and insinuating queen of the Adriatic, at least on the eastern shore.
Finally there is the movement, inchoate as yet and not very assertive but nevertheless of importance, to combine into a common interest the hitherto disjointed and mutually suspicious policies of the nations which border on the Mediterranean, for protection against the great commercial powers which make it a world's highway, notably Great Britain and secondarily Germany. France, Italy and Spain are Latin, the new Greece at least classical in its aspirations and maritime to the utmost. From Gibraltar to the Great Syrtis Spain, France and Italy hold the African coast. While Italy alone has hopes of important colonization in its possessions, since the population of the others stationary, all are engaged in the development of their possessions and the commerce which accompanies it. Each aspires to expand its Mediterranean importance, all are impatient of British super eminence on its waters. The maintenance of present conditions is manifestly the British policy and the line of her Mediterranean fortresses will not be without the support of her fleets whatever the understanding with France and Russia may be.
The efforts of the British Government, seconded by that of Germany, to keep the peace of Europe or at least localize the war, were as commendable as they were manifestly sincere and to the immediate interest of both. The struggle for the world's carrying trade is not entirely confined to Great Britain and Germany, nor the rivalry in building great fleets to defend it. French and Italian and Austrian, even Russian and Japanese, packets ply many a far distant main. Yet separately and combined they are minor rivals. It is to be hoped that if the great ones can emulate each other in peace for mercantile supremacy, they may combine to maintain the unstable equilibrium of the balance of power to which reference has been made. The internal politics of both are uneasy and in both there are portents of social upheaval, but their stability and domestic balance are rockfast compared with that of the other great powers.
Princeton, New Jersey
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald