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PEOPLES, like persons, are subject to changing moods of contentment and of discontent, moods which in their consequences affect not only them but others. The discontented are prone to be sensitive and unreasonable, if not quarrelsome, and this in itself is a danger to peace. In the world of today most of the peoples appear to be reasonably content with their position and with the existing framework of the international comity. Some, however, are profoundly dissatisfied and accept the status quo only in so far and as long as they have to.
Naturally enough, this applies first and foremost to the European nations defeated in the World War. They have met with disastrous calamity and have fallen from high estate. It would be too much to expect them to be pleased with their present conditions. It is also plain that an increasing number of populations in Asia and Africa have awakened to a sense of grievance, unfelt a generation or two ago, and are demanding with increasing vehemence a recognition of their claims. As a connecting link between these two discontents, we have Communist Russia in its remorseless campaign against the structure of modern society, eager to promote trouble anywhere and everywhere. On the other hand, we may take comfort because the smaller, formerly more or less oppressed, nationalities of Europe, such as the Poles, the Czechs, the Jugoslavs, the Irish and others have passed from the dissatisfied to the satisfied category. The same is true of the French and the Italians, though reservations must be made in both cases.
In the Western Hemisphere all the countries, with the possible exception of Peru, have the good fortune to belong in the satisfied class. The most striking example of one that has good cause to be pleased with its lot is the United States.
Although, as the World War has shown, a quarrel in which one of the two parties is a small nation may set the world in flames, a small nation can hardly achieve this unaided. If Serbia had not been supported by Russia in 1914 she would have had to submit to the Austrian ultimatum or undergo chastisement which might have ended her existence as an independent state. Similarly Hungary and Bulgaria, however bitterly they may brood over the wrongs which they believe have been done to them, however determined they may be not to accept their present boundaries as final, can only nurse their secret hopes and bide their time. Of themselves they can accomplish nothing. We may sympathize with them or we may condemn them, but it is not on them that the future tranquillity of the world depends. It does depend to an alarming extent on the actions and attitude of certain more important peoples who at the present moment are profoundly dissatisfied. We are beginning to learn that this is true of China, we are unpleasantly aware that it is so of Russia, and few have ever doubted it as regards Germany.
That Europe cannot settle down without some sort of voluntary acquiescence on the part of the Germans is indeed self-evident. It is however equally certain, though this has sometimes been overlooked, that there is nothing to be gained by purchasing German acquiescence at the price of the permanent discontent or alarm of some other great people. Therefore the problem is to reconcile whatever may be their legitimate demands with the interests of the nations affected by them. English statesmen realize this, albeit unwillingly, and admit that the question of the rehabilitation of Germany cannot be separated from that of the security, and even of the mere sense of security, of France.
Among the many obstacles to a better feeling between these old opponents is the unfortunate relation to each other in which they have been left by the outcome of the World War. Ordinarily after a trial of arms it is not difficult for one side--the victorious one--to forgive and forget. This means that at least one of the parties most concerned is ready for a reconciliation. For instance, after 1871 the Germans ceased to hate the French, indeed they would have liked to be friends with them if the latter had been willing to accept the loss of Alsace-Lorraine as irrevocable. But in the World War, victorious France on whose soil it was fought suffered far more than did defeated Germany, of whom, besides, owing to her inferiority in population, she is more afraid than Germany is of her. In consequence, although the victor, she harbors the passions not to say the desire for retaliation which we are wont to associate with the vanquished, while the vanquished nation has been equally embittered by the treatment meted to her by the terms of peace and in the years that have followed. We thus find a mutual sense of injury, a distrust and a dislike so intense as to make us almost despair of a solution.
And yet the necessity of appeasement and of some sort of relations that shall be tolerable to both sides is so obvious that in the two countries not only international Socialists and unsentimental capitalists but sensible and moderate men of all kinds are striving for an understanding. During the last few months real steps in this direction have been taken. Now that the Dawes Plan has worked for over a year, that the episode of the Ruhr occupation is past, that the first of the three occupied Rhine zones is to be evacuated, and that Germany is to enter into the League of Nations and be a member of the Council, a corner has been turned. Although she has still to bear the penalty of defeat, and part of the Fatherland is still occupied by foreign soldiers, Germany need no longer feel that she is regarded as a criminal and an outcast. Her first and most passionate demand that she be once more treated as an equal will have been in some measure acceded to, and she can resume normal international life and intercourse and play her part in general questions.
Up to now, the Germans say, they have been treated as sinners or at best penitents on account of a war which was the fault of somebody else; the Peace of Versailles has loaded them with servitudes and they have been bullied and humiliated ever since. Even the Dawes agreement is a measure which has been imposed upon them and which they have accepted only under dire necessity. For them to enter the League of Nations without having a permanent place in the Council would have been an added indignity. If assured of their proper position there, and of equality in the Security Pact, they can feel for the first time since the war that something has been done to relieve them from the badge of inferiority fastened upon them, and that Germany will once more stand on the same footing as Great Britain and France.
In answer to all this there is much that might be said, but we need not go into the question here. Galling as it is to Germany to be treated as a defeated state, of whom her victors are still suspicious, as the allies were suspicious of the French after the fall of the great Napoleon, such things right themselves sooner or later--how soon depends on the attitude of the vanquished as well as on that of the victorious party. They need not present a serious peril for the future, but obviously the sooner this grievance is removed the better for everyone concerned.
Many Germans dream of revenge today, as many Frenchmen did after 1871, and whether we approve of them or not, it is not always easy for a broad-minded neutral to condemn without qualification the one more than the other. All that can be exacted of Germany is that she accept the Peace of Versailles as France accepted the Peace of Frankfort, a thing hateful in her own sight but a necessity to which she has bowed. The most loyal acceptance by a defeated nation of an unfavorable treaty of peace need not preclude cherishing the hope that circumstances will lead to changes some day. Such circumstances are apt to be due to violence, yet they may come from outside. It was not a Polish insurrection but the World War and the Bolshevik Revolution which led to the rebirth of independent Poland. Germany also has a perfect right to obtain whatever modifications in the treaty she can persuade the other signatories to agree to. In the League of Nations she will have a field for effective legitimate action in the furtherance of her purposes such as no beaten country ever enjoyed in the past. She will have friends from the start and she may be counted on not to neglect her opportunities.
Leaving to one side minor and temporary objectives, we may well ask what will be her fundamental desires and what are the obstacles in the way of her attaining them. The Germans, and especially the German nationalists, evidently want a great many things. There is, of course, every variety of hope and design among them, from the most modest to the wildly extravagant. Still we can see a consensus of opinion on certain broad issues, remembering, too, that many of the demands of the extremists can count on the sympathy of the moderates who do not support them only because they regard such dreams as unattainable, not as undesirable.
If we wish to sum up their aspirations in a phrase, we can say that the Germans insist on the necessity of a revision of the Peace of Versailles, which to them is the embodiment of foolish wickedness. In this they have the sympathy of their partisans everywhere and of a good many idealists of one kind or another. But the difficulties in the way of a sweeping, wholesale revision which would have to be agreed to by all who had a hand in the treaty would be tremendous. Probably no one would maintain today that the Peace of Versailles was perfect in itself, but, whatever its imperfections, it is now an important integral portion of the public law of Europe. Parts of it, to be sure, have already proved inoperative, and others will doubtless be modified before long, but to imagine that the Powers which forged it out after months of labor and prolonged if sometimes futile discussion will sit down together again at the council table, this time with the participation of Germany, and take up the whole treaty, article by article, and recast it or substitute another in its place, is a foolish, not to say dangerous, illusion. The mere attempt at such a proceeding would be a menace to the peace of the world. Everyone, of course, will admit that there are provisions in the instrument which may profitably be changed if such changes can be brought about peacefully and without injury to others. Doubtless there will be many of them sooner or later, perhaps indeed very soon, but unless there is another catastrophe they will come piecemeal and not by any all inclusive act of general consent.
A peculiar feature of the Peace of Versailles was the unwise provision by which the Germans were compelled to acknowledge that they were responsible for the war. They protested emphatically at the time but had to submit, and did so, but with no more feeling of being morally bound by such a declaration than a man has for a lie he is forced to tell to a highwayman whose pistol is at his head. On the contrary, from that day to this, they have made every effort to prove that the charge, to which they gave the apparent confirmation of their signature, was an outrageous calumny whose falseness they are exposing to the world. With this incentive their historical writers have in the last half dozen years done far more and on the whole better work than those of any other country in investigating the causes and origin of the conflict. As might be expected, not only have they convinced their compatriots more firmly than ever of their own innocence but they have made no small impression among neutrals and even in lands formerly hostile to them.
The practical conclusion which the German people draw from these investigations is that as forsooth the provisions of the peace treaty were based on their supposed guilt, these should be changed at once, now that their innocence has been demonstrated. All the penalties imposed should immediately be abrogated if not imposed on someone else. Of course no such thing is going to happen. The French, and indeed people in the Allied countries generally, still hold the Germans primarily responsible. No international investigation, any more than one by the American Senate, could do much besides add a little fresh material to the controversy, and thresh over the old straw of what we know already. Men will be discussing the rights and wrongs of it for centuries. At any rate it has little practical bearing today on the terms of the Peace Treaty. Even if the charges against Mr. Poincaré, who has of late been the favorite object of attack, were proved to the full, his responsibility would be no greater than was that of Bismarck for the war of 1870. How many of the Germans who are forced to admit (though they do not condemn) the fact that Bismarck wished for a war at that time and did his best to bring it about, have ever suggested that the French indemnity after defeat should have been remitted for that reason? But logic or no logic, we must none the less realize that one of the acute grievances of the German people is that they believe they are being punished for a crime when it has been demonstrated that they were innocent. Even in regard to Belgium, about which outside opinion is practically unanimous, few can yet bring themselves to admit any real guilt.
From the point of view of pure equity, perhaps the severest criticism which can be made of the treaty is the number of permanent servitudes, large and small, which it imposes. Such servitudes are not usually after a war and a defeat. The limitation of the Prussian army by Napoleon I, the prohibition of a Russian fleet in the Black Sea after the Crimean War, the obligation of the "most favored nation" clause imposed on France by the Treaty of Frankfort are well known instances. But permanent servitudes, unlike indemnities which can be paid and forgotten, constitute, even when they are no real burden, a perpetual irritant and reminder of former humiliation. In practice they have seldom been effective for long. They are too incompatible with the pride of a self-respecting nation to be borne indefinitely. Germany will never accept hers for all time. The best that can be hoped is that the two most important of them, the reduction of her army, and the demilitarization of the Rhine zone, may become parts of some general agreement of disarmament to which she will accede as an equal and that her remaining servitudes will gradually disappear of themselves or be obliterated by other compacts. But a good deal must happen first to reassure the French.
Turning to the economic field, though there is plenty that might be said about many of the provisions of the Peace Treaty, the crucial question at present is that of reparations. The Germans declare that the reparations demanded of them have been far beyond their capacity to pay. What their "capacity" really is neither they nor anyone else can know with certainty. What a country can pay depends not a little on how you interpret the word "can," whether applied to reparations or to Allied debts. It is now widely admitted that the first totals arrived at were too high and that the whole vastly difficult and complicated matter has been mismanaged. The amount has been reduced several times, and in the adoption of the Dawes Report we have the last and most hopeful attempt at a solution. There may have to be others later, but for the time being the Dawes Plan is being tried out in a fair manner by all parties.
It is when we come to questions of national sovereignty and territorial limits that we meet with the most nearly insoluble problems. Here again the Germans have complaints and aspirations which are common, if in varying degrees, to all their parties. Some of the subjects on which they have felt most acutely, such as the occupation of the Ruhr, the encouragement given by the French to the attempts to set up a Rhineland republic, and recently the delay in the Allied evacuation of the Cologne region, now belong to the past. They have also other grievances of a temporary nature. As they begin to recover from the war they become increasingly desirous of being masters of their own household and bringing to a close the desecration of the soil of the Fatherland by a hated foreign soldiery whose expenses they have to pay. This is natural enough, and we may expect that negotiation will lead to a shortening and perhaps to a speedy end of the term of the military occupation of the west bank of the Rhine fixed by the Peace Treaty.
Another thing that has aroused deep resentment throughout Germany and some fear as to the future is the special régime of the Saar region. We need not enter here into the question of this complicated arrangement and of how it has worked. There have undoubtedly been hardships and abuses and these have been magnified by propaganda literature. It is interesting by the way to note how much attention the Saar question has received from outside. Several works on the subject, all from the same point of view, have been written in English alone. The temporary plight of the population has attracted far more sympathy than has the fate of the Germans of the south Tyrol, who have been handed over permanently to Italy and are being subjected to a severe process of denationalization. But the world is usually quicker to blame the French than it is the Italians for actions of the same sort.
At any rate, although troubles about the Saar region may well continue till the end of the fifteen-year period and the plebiscite that is to follow, as prescribed by the Peace Treaty, if not longer, the situation should some day clear up of itself.
Far more serious and lasting than any of the above grievances are the feelings which Germans entertain and will continue to entertain as to the justice of their present frontiers. They may have to submit indefinitely, time may heal their wounds, but it will be a long time. Forty years and more did little to heal similar wounds in France. It would be folly to expect acquiescence of the heart at least in any near future. Even those Germans most opposed to trying again the hazards of war will continue to hope that through the League of Nations or by some turn in the wheel of fortune at least some of their lost lands and brethren will come back to them.
On the western frontier, it is true, many Germans, including the Government now in power, are prepared to make a great concession. They are prepared, in return for recognition of their claims elsewhere, to accept finally the reunion to France of Alsace-Lorraine. Although such a concession horrifies those of more nationalistic tendencies, we may accept it as having been brought forward in good faith and also as not being merely a painful sacrifice consented to as part of a profitable bargain. The experience Germany had for almost half a century in her recent possession of Alsace-Lorraine was unsatisfactory from beginning to end and was not an episode which she can look back upon with pride, or wish to repeat. If the Alsatians, German-speaking though most of them are, prefer to belong to France, of which they have given abundant proof, we can understand why public opinion in Germany, supposing it to be desirous of a termination to the centuries-old feud between the two countries should be willing to accept as permanent the frontier of 1915 which now corresponds to the wishes of the populations on both sides. The world can only applaud if this is the case.
To the east and the south the situation is different. The Germans demand that there shall be a rectification of their eastern frontiers, that is, that the continuity of their territory shall be restored, that they shall be given Danzig, that the millions of Germans under Polish rule shall be freed, that they shall get back the portion of Silesia which has been taken away from them, robbing them of valuable resources and arbitrarily breaking up a natural economic unity. There is no doubt that strong arguments can be put forth in support of their contentions, so strong indeed that they have appealed to many outsiders, and especially to the English. We can understand, too, that most Germans, one might perhaps say all, even if resigned to the peace settlement on their western border as lasting, cannot conceive of its remaining unchanged in the east. But how are changes to be brought about? Can Poland, a country as large as Germany and with a people noted for courage and extreme patriotism rather than for calm reason, be expected to make any considerable concessions? The two populations are so inextricably mixed up that, whatever the boundaries, there have got to be either a large number of Germans in Poland or of Poles in Germany. The present situation is the result of a thousand years of national contact, not to say conflict. The Germans may feel, and a good many others with them, that it is a smaller hardship for Poles to be reluctant German citizens than it is for people who belong to one of the great cultural nations of history and who speak one of the chief world languages to be exposed to denationalization in a state whose history and language have seldom had more than local importance in the past, and are not likely to have in the future. Yet, however much may be said for this view, we can scarcely expect it to commend itself to the Poles, any more than a somewhat similar view did to the Irish. The Poles also declare that for them to be shut off by foreign territory from the Baltic would be a worse hardship than it is for Germany to be divided by the Corridor. Their need "of a free and secure access to the sea" was recognized in the Fourteen Points (Number XIII) and was accepted by the Allies and by Germany herself. Supposing even that the economic arguments balance each other, the guiding principle should be that of self-determination, and the large majority of the population of the Corridor are and wish to remain Poles. As for Silesia, it has no necessary unity. The Austrian part was separated from the Prussian long ago and the final division between Germany and Poland was based on the votes of the districts--and thus the old arguments thrashed over so many times in Paris and elsewhere in the last half dozen years are repeated again without getting us further. In England public opinion is on the German side, in France on the Polish. But though England is utterly unwilling to guarantee Polish security, and is under no obligation to do so in regard to the frontiers of Poland and Russia, which were drawn in a way that did not meet with her approval, those between Poland and Germany, much as she may disapprove of them, were fixed by the peace treaties which she helped to make and to which she has given her signature. Still, treaties or no treaties, we need not expect just yet that the Germans will bring themselves to accept as final the present delimitation of their eastern frontiers.
The question of a union between the Germans of Germany and the Germans of Austria is even more important and immediate. The enthusiasm for it may wax and wane on the two sides of the line in accordance with varying political or economic conditions, but these are mere temporary factors. The motive of common nationality and history on which the aspiration rests is as strong and as justified as is that of any other people. United Germany is as legitimate an ideal as United Italy, and, in spite of the differences in creed, there is no more incompatibility between the Austrian and the Prussian than there is between the Neapolitan and the Piedmontese. Certainly they are more alike than are the Breton and the Provencal. It is a question, too, not of union but of reunion. Save for a short period, German Austria has been during her whole existence a political as well as national part of Germany, and still was so in the memory of men now living. To refuse her permission to return to the fold is to fly flat in the face of every principle of self-determination.[i]
Yet, on the other hand, who can wonder that France and Belgium, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia--and possibly Russia--would view such a consummation with the liveliest alarm and may go far in their efforts to prevent it? Their reasons are plain and cogent enough. They are convinced that they would be endangered by such an accession of power to the German state. Poland would feel that her already existing peril was increased; Bohemia with her large minority of dissatisfied Germans would be on three sides surrounded by a Germany which would threaten to engulf her, or at least absorb her German fringe; Italy, though better able to defend herself and possessing in the South Tyrol but a fragment--and a particularly unjustifiable fragment--of Germania irredenta, would find her possession of it more precarious than now and also would dread German approach to the Adriatic. The reasons of France and Belgium for opposing the annexation of Austria are too obvious to need pointing out. We may indeed doubt whether any other country in Europe wishes to see the rebuilding of a German state more populous than the Germany of 1914.
Such being the case, and self-preservation still being the first law among nations as among individuals, there would seem to be little prospect that the wishes of Germany and Austria will soon be acceded to, especially as the peace treaties have put obstacles in the way. But it is an awkward and dangerous thing to have one's security permanently dependent on a wrong done to another. Time and accident offer opportunities, and a cause which is dear to millions and which is right and natural in itself is apt to triumph in the end, witness the resurrection of Poland. Every one who is not threatened by German power will probably recognize the inherent justice of the German claim. Great Britain may feel sure enough of herself to sympathize with it some day, and even those whose security appears menaced may not be in a position to face the reprobation of the rest of the world by using force to oppose the voluntary coming together of free peoples who wish to restore their national unity. If the peril of future aggression and war could be eliminated, there is no moral ground on which the wish could well be opposed.
Some have suggested that a possible union or at least close association between Belgium and France might serve in the nature of a counterpoise. There is no immediate likelihood of such a consummation, for never has Belgium been so conscious of her individuality or so justly proud of herself as she is at present. She is a monarchy, not a republic, and the Germanic-Flemish element of her population, already the larger of the two, appears to be gaining ground on the French. Nevertheless, an ultimate fusion, more or less complete, of Belgium and France is conceivable. The idea has come up before and may come up again. Needless to say, the mere thought of it would horrify Great Britain, which has gone to war again and again to keep the French out of the Low Countries. Indeed the necessity of doing so has been one of the cardinal, fixed features of British foreign policy for the last two hundred and fifty years. Yet, if the French and the Belgians were in favor of a union of any kind, political or commercial, the British would have no more right to keep the French out of Antwerp than the French have to keep the Prussians out of Vienna.
One German demand which has attracted but little attention abroad stands a fair chance of partial satisfaction some day. Few of us realize that many Germans have not resigned themselves to the loss of their colonial possessions. On the contrary, they are still keenly interested in these territories where they believe they achieved much, and of which they declare they have been deprived by barefaced robbery on a trumped-up charge of misgovernment. On the first favorable occasion they mean to ask for at least some of them back, for a moral vindication if for no other reason. When once Germany has been admitted to the League of Nations, she can easily propose that the mandates of her former colonies be transferred to her hands from those of their present holders. Such a request may be heeded. She will hardly regain possession of Southwest Africa or of her Pacific islands--South Africa and Australia will see to that--but it is quite on the cards that England may sooner or later abandon Tanganyka to her.
To all the above the cynic may reply with the query whether, if the Germans obtain these various things they are asking for, they will then be satisfied or any happier than before? Perhaps not, but doubt of that sort should not prevent the performing of an act of justice nor interfere too much with what seems to be clearly expedient. If Germany is deeply discontented--and she is--this is reason enough for other countries and especially for her neighbors to take stock of the situation from the point of view of their own interests as well as that of the public welfare, and make up their minds accordingly. The demands of Germany may require too much sacrifice of the rights of others for them to be granted, but for the peace of the world they must be considered with the utmost seriousness, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that sooner or later some of them will have to receive satisfaction.
[i] The province of Vorarlberg might well go to Switzerland, with which it belongs better geographically, and to which its inhabitants have shown a desire to be annexed.