All the Tsar’s Men
Why Mobilization Can’t Save Putin’s War
WE need not be astonished at the length of the crisis precipitated by the generation of 1914. The war of 1914-1918 and the uneasy armistice which lasted until 1939 were stages of a revolution, and revolutions go on for a long while. The nature of the revolution is now plain. We are witnessing, and enduring, the breakup of nationalism.
We drew our concept of absolute national sovereignty from the idea of absolute monarchy, checked first by what remained of feudalism and, later on, by the liberal thought of the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century found this concept useful in its struggle for liberty. But when the idea of absolute national sovereignty reached its final forms -- the "100 percent" patriotism of the democracies and the totalitarian state of the dictators -- it became more dangerous than it had been under the kings. The internecine wars of nationalism are the political counterpart of the final excesses of religious absolutism which saw the persecution of the Protestant minority in France and the Catholic minority in England.
The concept of absolute sovereignty dies slowly. Its hallmark is strife. During the Middle Ages the Italian cities fancied themselves absolute sovereignties; and they never ceased fighting with one another. Even the prophetic genius of the Florentine Dante could not separate itself from the hatreds of the time: Dante's denunciations of Siena or Pisa were as full of venom as the tirades of Hitler and Mussolini in 1939 and 1940.
On the day when the excesses of nationalism have been finally buried in disgrace and ruin we shall move with more speed toward the next stage of man's political development. The "realists" who can see no future less bloodstained than the past forget that problems can come to a head in certain periods and be disposed of. During long periods of history the "best people" believed that slavery was a law of nature. But the idea of slavery has been totally discredited; and more was done to wipe out slavery during the forty years which followed the American Civil War than during ten preceding centuries. To add a minor example: those of us who were young at the beginning of this century have seen the immemorial institution of the duel disappear in our own time. When I tell my children that I fought a duel as a young diplomat they listen to me enchanted, as if I were telling a story from "The Thousand and One Nights."
Our revolution, then, is the breakup of the dogma of nationalism. But it has a secondary aspect. Its rigors are exacerbated by the resistance of those to whom nationalism gave special privileges. In every nation certain groups delude themselves into believing that by maintaining the old and unhealthy fevers of nationalism they will be able to retain a privileged economic position. It is largely from within those groups that we hear the protest that it is unpatriotic and downright wicked for people to propose the relinquishment of a degree of national sovereignty to an organization larger than any single existing state. That protest was disastrously effective, in 1935 and 1936, in preventing the application of sanctions against an aggressor state and thus in destroying the one agency which might have prevented the current war. Powerful groups in France and Great Britain would not permit their dear Mussolini to be seriously harmed; they expected that he would, indirectly, protect their interests. But two world wars in the same generation may have given those groups a clearer understanding of where their true interests lie.
Europe will not move toward unity at the wave of a magician's wand. The theoretically splendid plans showing how the interests of every European nation can be harmonized in one organization, immediately, are not political possibilities. It is wiser to begin in a smaller way. One accomplished fact is more significant than a hundred theories or a thousand exhortations.
What is needed in Europe is a concrete example of unity between nations, in one part of the Continent. Shown an open door, other nations will enter. Italy and France can give the example. When this war is over, no Italian will dream any more of a reconstituted Roman Empire. Frenchmen will not carry in their minds pictures of Louis XIV on the far side of the Alps. Both nations will be lifting themselves from the dust. They can most easily get to their feet by the simple and natural act of stretching out a hand to one another. The people of Italy know that they have no reason to fear France. They know that they can live in harmony with Frenchmen. I spent the first five months of 1940 in Provence and Languedoc. In the little hill towns, where people are so hard working and happy, I spoke of Mussolini's plan for an attack on France. Everyone thought it impossible. "Nearly thirty or forty percent of our population is Italian," people said. "We understand each other. We have intermarried. We live together happily." The spirit of the French people and the spirit of the Italian people are harmonious.
Will a passion of hatred for Italy sweep over France after the war? I do not believe so. One finds today exactly the same breadth of spirit among the young officers of the Fighting French as I found in those lovely towns of Provence. Those young men enter battle to risk their lives willingly. They shy away uncomfortably when subjected to anti-Italian tirades. Frenchmen know that the spirit of Fascism was alien to the spirit of Italy. They know that the Italian heart was never in Mussolini's war. France knows, too, that this nationalist war is also a class war. It was the Prime Minister of France, Poincaré, who rescued Mussolini from his mad enterprise at Corfu -- his first defiance of the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Shortly before Poincaré's death I asked him why he had saved Mussolini on that occasion. "My majority was enthusiastic about Mussolini," he replied. "He was being called the savior of the West." The story was the same at the time of the Fascist invasion of Ethiopia, and this time the French hand that was put forth to save Mussolini was the hand of Laval.
Surely by now there can be few, in Italy or in France, who do not see the essential fact that the responsibilities, the wrongs, the treasons of the tragedy which culminated in the "stab in the back" of Mussolini against France were the result of a line-up of interests and emotions which placed Frenchmen and Italians on one side and Frenchmen and Italians on the other side. Recriminations are beside the point. The fact is that the people of Italy are now and for centuries have been democrats, that the people of France are democrats, and that the common interest and the common ground for harmony between these two peoples is democracy.
Michelet wrote once that "Africa begins at the Pyrenees." It is one of those facile generalizations, tempting to repeat and quite false. The opposite is true. The Mediterranean is the center of Western Europe and the frontier of Europe is the Sahara. The armed forces which have been locked in battle for the mastery of Europe on the terrain between the Sahara and the south coast of the Mediterranean were drawn to that region not by theory but by the facts of geography and of history.
The Mediterranean is a common fatherland for all those peoples who live about it. Men experience the same feelings at the foot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on the quays of Zara, or in Santa Sophia at Istanbul. Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Palestine are more European than African or Asiatic. The Turkey of Constantinople was certainly European; and if the Turkey of Ankara is less so, that is because the proud genius of Kemal Ataturk preferred to turn his young republic as a pioneer of civilization and strength toward the East rather than toward the West, where he believed it would always be looked upon as a poor relation. When one perceives the true meaning of the Mediterranean world, which with Greece and Rome was the supreme inspiration of the West, one sees more clearly the frail nature of our national boundary lines. What are the national boundary lines of Europe? Are they those of Vienna of 1815? Those of Paris of 1855? Or are they those of Versailles of 1919? Why cannot the truth about this question of national boundaries be spoken plainly? Some of the boundaries seem good to us today, some seem bad; all, in point of fact, are merely a set of scars left after violent surgical operations. The day will come when boundary lines drawn with pencil will replace those now drawn on the map in indelible ink. It is blindness not to see that political good sense and moral and social good health demand that these hermetically sealed frontiers be opened.
For different reasons France and Italy will be greatly weakened by the war. Italy will have the terrible responsibility of having submitted to Fascism too long. France will not be able to escape an extended period of internal purification, which the timid are already calling civil war, but which others perceive to be merely the final chapter of the French Revolution, never accepted by an important French minority. And France and Italy will both be weakened in the field of international action. After their mistakes of the past, and in their weakened condition, neither country can command the respect of the world through force; they can obtain the world's respect only by winning its admiration.
In the world of tomorrow it will be easier for a country to behave greatly than to be undistinguished. To move in harmony with the law of the future will be to act greatly. To dream of the restoration of unworthy dynasties is one excellent way of violating that law; another is to insist upon continuing to think of European nations in terms of watertight compartments. There must be more room to breathe in the Europe of tomorrow.
Arch-Italian that I am, I hope with all my heart that those marvellous centers of western civilization, Italy and France, England and Spain, Portugal and Holland, will continue to enrich the world with their special philosophy, their particular art and their individual traditions. But tomorrow it will not be enough for any man merely to say: "I am Italian," or "I am French," or "I am Spanish." We shall be Italians and Frenchmen and Spaniards, certainly; but we shall think of ourselves also as citizens of a European and a world organization. Hitler has done us a good turn or two in that direction in spite of himself: he has talked about the unity of Europe in the same words that Mazzini used in 1850.
I am among those who distrust too exact blueprints of the future. Briand's plan for uniting the Continent was harmed by its neat label, "The United States of Europe," precise as a postage stamp. Some concrete acts inspired by the idea of union between France and Italy must be achieved. But we must leave open for the present whether the first steps should be taken in the sphere of politics or in that of economics -- such as the establishment of joint central banks, a common currency and equal opportunities for trade and labor. If we try to be too precise today we risk sounding utopian. What matters is the moral will: where there's a will there's a way.
When France and Italy give the great example their neighbors will follow, bringing added strength and added harmony to the new constellation. It is worth noting that the Swiss have been helped in withstanding the impact of two world wars upon their national unity by the fact that Switzerland is composed of people of three nationalities, French, Italian and German. Had there been only two, the strain would have been greater. It is for this reason that the adhesion of a free Spain would be most valuable to whatever organization France and Italy create.
Some sort of union between Spain, France and Italy would inevitably attract other neighbors. It would exert a helpful influence on the solution of North African problems. France has had splendid proof of the loyalty of her Arab troops, but it should not be forgotten that before the war the Arab people were restless from Syria to Morocco. The weakness of Marshal Lyautey's great work was that it was based on the interests of the feudal Moroccan chiefs. Their privileges and their ribbons of the Legion of Honor kept them content, but the silence of the masses was menacing. The situation in Algeria is not much better. Since 1914-1918 there has been a complete revolution in the attitude of the "natives," as we naively call them -- as if we were not all "natives" of some place. The union of the three most important names of the Mediterranean would strengthen the position of Europeans in North Africa and the Near East without involving any threat of aggression, and that in turn would result advantageously for the Arabs themselves, who would be able to look forward to the day when they could enter the new Mediterranean Commonwealth as a national entity. There is nothing utopian about this. The Arab world needs only an Arab Kemal to be one again, as it was centuries ago. And our most practical western interests should teach us not to hold blindly to our old prejudices of race and empire. Do we want to maintain the better part of our old position among the Oriental peoples? If so, there is only one way to do it: to accept new views of social and moral equality.
Among other results, the revival and integration of the Arab world might bring closer the solution of the Jewish problem. This cannot be solved within the narrow confines of Palestine; it can only be solved within the framework of a territory which embraces Syria and the region of the Euphrates, much of it desert land today but a prosperous and flourishing area at the time of the Roman Empire. With irrigation for agriculture and with industrialization to care for a larger urban population, it could become a new fatherland for the Jews, one much nearer their hearts than the Uganda, sometimes spoken of as the alternative. Greater strength for the Arabs, hence less fear of the Jews, is the pre-condition for Arab-Jewish harmony. Greater security, particularly economic security, for all the Mediterranean countries is the pre-condition for harmony among them all.
That security can be achieved only through mutual help. French capital and industrial strength, Italian industry and manpower, Spain's exports and her special import requirements dovetail; the one greatly strengthened body which the three united countries would form could provide the stabilizing influence that the whole Mediterranean area needs to pursue the solution of its problems in peace. The old slogan of "balance of power" inspires nothing but fear. But it would be apparent to anyone that by its nature the Mediterranean union could not be a force for aggression. Yet if a new spirit of national hegemony arose elsewhere it would be a bulwark of security for all.
In August 1942, the Congress of Free Italy in America which convened at Montevideo unanimously approved a political program which I had formulated. The eighth point read as follows: "The Italians will coöperate with courage and serenity toward the solution of any international problem concerning them, on only one condition: that there will be no discussion of Italian problems as such, but of Italian sides of European problems." A year later the wisdom of that formula is still more plain. There is no Italian problem. There are Italian, French, Spanish, Jugoslav and Greek aspects of European problems. No lasting or valid action can be taken toward any one part except in relation to the whole.
It is hardly necessary to note here that the interests of the British Commonwealth, which are vital in the Mediterranean, have everything to gain from the establishment of new and closer links between the three great Latin nations. These nations can be united only in a policy of peace and as members of a world organization. An aggressive Latin bloc is just as inconceivable as an imperialistic Switzerland.
Jugoslavia is part of the Mediterranean world. One of the reasons for my hostility to Fascism at its beginning was the certainty that Mussolini would end by making war on Jugoslavia. In the last conversation which I had with him, in November 1922, I emphasized Italy's need of help from the young Slav state in the common defense against the renewed German Drang nach Osten, already clearly to be foreseen. Nothing could now be more desirable than to have a federated Serb-Croat-Slovene state join the group of which France and Italy would be the center but in which Jugoslavia would hold an equal rank. In that event, the question of boundary lines which certain backward-looking Jugoslav writers have raised would lose much of its sharpness.
Italy and Jugoslavia together might make an important proposal. It is not certain that the new League of Nations which will rise from the ashes of the old one will wish to have its seat at Geneva, home of too many memories of a not-too-brilliant past. And it is by no means sure that the Swiss, whose traditional neutrality had just escaped the hurricane of war, would wish to have the headquarters of a much more powerful League in their territory. Italy and Jugoslavia could offer Fiume and the necessary neighboring territory to the new League as the seat of its sovereignty. Italy and Jugoslavia would be sacrificing territory and claims, but they would gain inestimable moral advantages. And the League would be admirably located between the Latin and the Slav worlds, with one of the best ports of the world at its disposal.
It is unnecessary to say that both France and Italy would be delighted to see Greece add her illustrious name to the new group. A free Italy should voluntarily offer Greece the Dodecanese Islands as proof of her friendship. And the Greeks are too intelligent not to know that what they gained through a voluntary and friendly action would be much more worth having than the same thing handed over to them as the result of a dictate from the conqueror to the vanquished.
I said at the beginning that the people of the nineteenth century found the principle of nationalism useful in their struggle for liberty; but the Nation, once a pure goddess, has been transformed little by little into a terrible idol, Nationalism. The word is now synonymous with the most vulgar racism, with anti-Semitism -- this socialism of fools. The work of the monster has culminated in two world wars and 30 million dead. The evil can be checked only by a new conception of international relationships, based on a Declaration of the Interdependence of Nations which would be for mankind what the Declaration of Independence was for America at the end of the eighteenth century.
Generations follow one another and their tasks change. The task of tomorrow will certainly still be to protect all independent nations, since each is a treasure-house of art, the disappearance of which would leave Europe and the world poorer. But a new imperative will be ours: to proclaim the new law of interdependence. This law will permit free nations to manage their domestic affairs as they wish, but will insist, under threat of sanctions, that they behave in a way to make war impossible. The social, moral and economic progress of the world depends upon that reform. Without it nothing important can be done, either in the moral or in the economic and social field. France, Italy and Spain would crown the glory of their great histories if they would begin by giving the example.