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EVERYBODY who knows the history of modern Europe is well aware that for centuries the dynamic forces centering in the Hapsburg dominions have affected the peace and political progress of the whole continent. Curiously -- but undeniably -- the little federal state of Austria created by the Paris peace treaties continues, despite its political, economic and military weakness, to occupy this pivotal position.
In 1919 the peacemakers laid down a veto against the union of the German Reich with small but purely German Austria. This veto went against the desire of seemingly strong currents of popular opinion in both countries. Consequently, during the first decade after the World War the problem of the "Anschluss" of the old Austrian "hereditary lands" with the German national empire preoccupied the cabinets both of the Great Powers and of the new Succession States. It became, in fact, a crucial problem in Central European politics. The transformation of Germany into the National Socialist "Third Empire" and Hitler's tremendous propaganda for the outright annexation of Austria changed the situation, but it did not diminish the importance of the Austrian question in European politics.
The successful defense of Austria against the attempts of Hitler's Austrian adherents to get into power and effect annexation was to a large extent the work of two men: Chancellor Ignaz Seipel and Engelbert Dollfuss, his successor and faithful disciple. Their clear vision and energy changed the course of postwar Austrian and German history. And in the decisive hour a third man, the President of the Republic, Wilhelm Miklas, acted judiciously for the safeguarding of Austrian independence.
The defense of that independence during the first years of the peace had been the coöperative work of the two great parties inherited from the old imperial Parliament, the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Social (or Catholic) Party. There is no doubt that the political craft of Dr. Seipel as the leader of the Christian Social Party was the chief factor in maintaining order and peace and in bringing about the financial regeneration of the country. This latter was a very difficult task indeed. It was highly interesting to watch this former professor of moral theology solving the intricate social and economic problems of an impoverished country. The League of Nations loan marked the success of his endeavors to promote the recovery of Austria's productive forces on a sound money basis.
From the moment the Nazi movement began to grow in Germany, Chancellor Seipel realized the danger it meant for Austria. Yet in spite of his opposition, groups of Nazis came together with the remnants of the German nationalist parties left from the Hapsburg era. These leftovers hoped that in the continual scramble for power to which Austrian parliamentary life had degenerated they would be able, with the support of their Nazi friends, to outbid both the Marxists and the Catholics. The ceaseless fights of the two big parties and of all the smaller political groups during the years of 1926-1931 produced parliamentary paralysis.
Meanwhile a new feature which began to be visible in Austrian political life was a forecast of greater events to come: the formation in the different provinces of organized military bodies called "home defense corps," or Heimwehr. It was in this guise that the idea of fascism took hold in Austria. In 1931 the Styrian home defense corps attempted a march against Vienna to make their leader the master of all the country. This "putsch" the government easily stopped. Yet the Heimwehr continued to strengthen its position and became increasingly popular throughout the country by virtue of its strong appeal to "provincial patriotism."
The peasantry stood behind the Heimwehr like a wall, and so did the landed aristocracy and a great part of the lower middle classes in the small towns. Step by step the organization grew, helped by former army officers. Prince Starhemberg became its leader and spent large sums of his own money on equipping the soldiers with arms and other military necessities. Chancellor Seipel aided the movement both morally and materially. When the Social Democrats organized a special military body for the protection of the Republic, the Chancellor said ironically: "Creating a defense corps is a very good idea, but the radicals forget that we, the conservatives, understand these things better!" He foresaw a conflict between the Christian Socialists and the Marxists.
In the meantime the continuous rise of Hitler's popularity and power in Germany stimulated the growth of the Nazi movement in Austria. The growing Nazi threat during the years 1930-1932 met an astounding lenience from weak Austrian ministries and from the courts, particularly in the provinces. There were many plots, both large and small, against the Austrian Government. Many agents were sent from Germany to help their Austrian party friends, smuggling explosive materials across the border to destroy state railroads and bridges. It was again Dr. Seipel who felt that a very strong man should lead Austria through these critical times. He therefore insisted on the appointment of Dr. Dollfuss as Chancellor.
From that moment came a great change, for ever since his entry into politics Dollfuss had been the vigorous embodiment of the idea of Austrian independence. He proceeded to show that he possessed a far-seeing political mind when in many public speeches he repeated that Austrian sovereign independence was based on the old Germanic conception of the state and was therefore opposed to the totalitarian system of Hitler. The German Nazi leaders soon began to recognize that his courage and sincerity were a force to be reckoned with. They therefore concocted plots against his person. On July 25, 1934, a "putsch" was carried out by Viennese Nazis, mostly mutinous soldiers and policemen. Dollfuss fell a victim of the traitors and died at his office in the Chancery. He was rightly lamented as a martyr who had sacrificed himself for the independence of his country.
The assassination of Dollfuss stimulated in all classes the feeling that the great cause of Austrian independence must be defended at all costs. This setback for Hitlerism was followed by the speedy appointment of a new ministry under a young Tyrolese, Dr. Schuschnigg.
This short survey indicates that, quite apart from the personal merits of Chancellors Seipel and Dollfuss, deep historic forces were imbedded in the political character of the German Austrian people and that they were working for the resurrection of full Austrian independence.
The Austrian has a strong feeling for the historic individuality and political autonomy of his tribe. It is a general characteristic of all the German tribes that from the moment of their entry into history they possessed a very outspoken tribal pride that prompted them to preserve their specific differences in customs, law, language and ways of life. The curious fact is that the Teutons never lost this tendency in their later development and have always endeavored to maintain their tribal and local historic groups as separate entities. As a result, the German language is not an amalgamation of the vernacular idioms of the prominent national tribes. On the contrary, the written German Schriftsprache arose in the sixteenth century in the chancery of the Elector of Saxony and was adopted by the chanceries of the other German governments. This is a characteristic feature of the very slow and partly artificial manner in which the German feeling for national unity developed in spite of the strength of local and tribal particularism. At present no German speaks the Schriftsprache without immediately showing by his accent and expression to which "tribe" he belongs. That is as true of the Low Germans in the north as of the Alpine Germans in Austria and Switzerland.
The history of German political unification shows how slow was the process of creating a strong national feeling in German life. This is to a certain extent the consequence of the fact that the old German empire as instituted by Charlemagne was not conceived as a centralized national state, but was the Roman Empire, which included in the east, south and west manifold non-Teutonic races and political units. The feudal system as it developed among the Germans further strengthened the power of territorial particularism. Luther's Reformation created for the first time the beginnings of a strong German national feeling. Yet the resistance of the Hapsburg emperor, as well as of Bavaria and of many clerical territorial magnates, produced a permanent division of Germany into two halves, expressed by the difference in Christian faith. The Thirty Years' War and the continuance of the "Empire" (Reich) as an administrative and judicial system, forming a kind of super-state over all the German states, large and small, confirmed this religious division.
In the eighteenth century, the successful attacks of Frederick the Great of Prussia against Maria Theresa, ruler of the Hapsburg dominions, strengthened for a time the idea of a political union of all Germany. But it was Napoleon who by his victories over both Prussia and Austria and by the abdication of Kaiser Franz, the last Roman Emperor of Germany, ultimately destroyed the old empire and thereby caused the rise of a strong movement in favor of the union of all German states in a new national empire.
The French Revolution made France the first modern national state in Europe and thereby set up a nationalist ideal for all European peoples. In combination with the conception of liberal democracy this ideal made the nineteenth century the great period for rising nationalism and democracy (exemplified in the French revolutions of 1830 and 1848). This meant for the Germans and Italians that the endeavor to secure national unification coalesced with the endeavor to create a new system of political life. The Austrian Empire, a multi-national structure, was threatened with disruption. Even after 1867, when dualism was created in favor of the Magyars, the Germans were still a numerical minority in the part of the empire that continued to be directly administered from Vienna. The question of German nationalism both in Germany and Austria unavoidably became a decisive factor in the relations between the two governments. But Franz Josef's fears that his empire might fall prey to the Pangerman movement were quieted by the Austro-German Dual Alliance of 1879 and by the Iron Chancellor's repudiation of any kind of Pangermanism.
During the nineteenth century national feeling throughout Europe showed a certain tendency to emotional exaggeration. That it was carried to the utmost in the case of modern Germany is illustrated by the fact that from the beginning it found expression in a very curious and reckless political philosophy which rested on the assumption that the Teutonic race towered above all others in the world. This led to the modern theory of the unique superiority of the Nordic race from which the Germans derived their special title to European leadership. The first to follow this way of thinking was J. G. Fichte, who laid down his ideas in famous speeches addressed to the German nation during its struggle against Napoleon. Fichte's almost megalomaniac philosophy remained a permanent source for the education of subsequent German generations. Yet so long as Bismarck was in power this political philosophy did not produce a popular movement; it remained a kind of sectarianism for middle-class idealistic intellectuals.
After their incomparable military success and the creation of the Reich in 1871, the German people made rapid progress in agriculture, trade and industry. Their technical and scientific ability, supported by increasing wealth, fostered the utilization of the nation's entire productive forces and made them the most powerful nation in Europe.
This development deeply affected the German Austrians. They became very proud of the achievements of their brothers in warfare, in politics, and in business. Nobody admired Prussianized Germany more than the average German Austrian. True, he very often did not like that German brother as an individual, nor his manners; and when he was in Germany he did not always feel at home, except in Bavaria or on the Rhine. Though he felt proud to be a German by race, he loved his Alpine homeland more than the large plains of northern and eastern Germany. But his constant obligation to wage political warfare against the Slavs, Italians and other races to protect what he felt was his birthright gradually transformed him into a nationalist, though not a rabid one. The Viennese continued to regard himself as a citizen of the real imperial city -- the Kaiserstadt.
From 1875 to the end of the century the Austrian Germans had to fight more and more fiercely with the other nationalities in the Hapsburg Empire. In this period, too, Pangermanism and union with the German Empire became for the first time a political issue in Austria. Georg von Schoenerer, who had early become a member of parliament, did much to make it the gospel of the German Austrian youth, particularly in the universities, where he was regarded as the herald of a great national future. Yet from the very beginning Pangermanism was flatly rejected by the ordinary Austrian when he voted on candidates for the Diet or for the central Parliament. And from the time that Schoenerer combined his agitation with a crude campaign against Catholicism, calling it the "away from Rome movement" -- "los von Rom" -- Pangermanism in Austria was doomed to fail, except in a few districts of Bohemia near the German frontier.
This examination of the bald facts of the relations of the Austrian Republic and the Nazi Reich has led us straight to the decisive point. German nationalism was first developed in the old Austrian Empire as a doctrine of Pangermanism. This doctrine was created as a political weapon to destroy the Hapsburg Empire, out of the wreck of which the German hereditary lands were to be salvaged and united with the Prussianized German Empire. When this scheme had failed, nothing hindered the young Austrian Adolf Hitler from adopting the doctrine of Schoenerer, whose weekly review he had avidly read and whose speeches he had listened to fervently while he was living as a youth in Vienna. Indeed, in his famous autobiography Hitler recites how in his teens he had been an ardent disciple and follower of Schoenerer. When, following the defeat of 1918, German nationalism began to manifest its revival in a diffuse but copious literature addressed to youth, he dedicated his immense force as a public speaker and indefatigable propagandist to teaching Schoenerer's doctrine of Pangermanism to the masses in Germany, making it the program of the National Socialist Party he had founded in Munich.
In Austria this doctrine, now re-imported from Germany, had no popular success. It was on the whole indigestible to the Austrian stomach. The great parliamentary parties of the Austrian Republic had not put up a strong fight against the veto of the victorious Allies against Austrian union with Germany. They could not be expected now to work for the Pangermanism of Schoenerer, which had made no headway among the Austrian masses in the old days. Hitler revived Pangermanism as a weapon in his fight against the democratic German Republic. He had high hopes of easily winning Austria, where all social classes were struggling against the terrible misery of the postwar years. But he soon saw his hopes frustrated; neither the Alpine farmer nor the city tradesman nor the workman believed in his messages and his promises. Nemo propheta in patria sua. Only among the half intellectuals and the lower middle class, particularly the lower ranks of the public officials, was there to be found a certain admiration for Hitler's force and courage.
The mind and soul of the German masses were largely dominated by bitter resentment against the victorious nations. Their pride and self-respect were deeply hurt. To see Germany recover her old glory of the imperial era became their great aim. Hitler by his vision and immense activity gave them new hope. But the German Austrian could neither join in these hopes nor in these hatreds. He knew that his country and its people were, as a result of the war, among the weakest in Europe, that they had no possibility of recovering at all without the good will and help of all the other nations. He desired nothing but to preserve the independence of his own beloved home by maintaining its good traditions, in peace with all other nations and undisturbed by any of the new doctrines that promised everything to everybody. Above all, he feared a huge centralized power that might seek to impose upon all the German tribes a uniform rule of life and a doctrine equalizing them in all things human and divine.
It was the profound and healthy conservatism of this, one of the oldest branches of the German race, which rejected Hitler's Pangermanism just as an earlier generation had rejected Schoenerer's Pangermanism. The Austrians knew that their own ideas about the federative character of their state coincided with the old German conception of the national political order, and they continued to believe that nothing should be substituted for that old wisdom.
Moreover, Hitler's outspoken anti-Christian attitude, and particularly the open enmity of the Nazis for the Catholic Church, provoked the deepest indignation in Austria, not only in the rural masses but also in the middle and upper classes of the urban population. Also, in spite of the fact that the German Austrian's opposition to the political aspirations of the Slavs and Italians in the old empire had made him a staunch nationalist in Franz Josef's time, he had never accepted the radical theory of the superiority of race that forms the core of Pangerman and Nazi ideology. This was a curious by-product of Protestant Germany, as is illustrated by the fact that Paul Lagarde, one of the great scholars of Protestant theology and a leading German nationalist writer in the seventies of the last century was, as it were, the teacher of Georg von Schoenerer.
On the other hand, we must never forget that a moderate German national feeling has been one of the fundamental elements in the whole social, political and cultural life of German Austrians ever since 1848. German Austrian men and women of all classes have recognized that the reunion of their country with the German nation forms the great future aim of Austrian policy. They simply do not believe that Hitler's "totalitarian" state can be regarded as the realization of the national ideal cherished during at least four generations. They feel instinctively that incorporation in that state would entail suffering for hundreds of thousands of good Austrians. They know that it would mean a surrender of the old Austro-German culture and political spirit.