Iran’s Crisis of Legitimacy
An Embattled Regime Faces Mass Protests—and an Ailing Supreme Leader
WHEN the year 1914 had half run its course the world as a whole appeared fairly tranquil. It is true that there had just been two wars in the Balkans, whence ominous rumblings were still being emitted, that there was strife in Mexico and American troops had been landed at Vera Cruz, that disorder was rife in China, and that the situation in Ireland was critical, nevertheless in the main there was peace on earth and a reasonable amount of good will among men. Today we have peace once more, but of good will among men, or at least among nations, there has been a deplorable decrease. In the last ten years a large part of mankind has passed through a period of untold suffering which in many cases has not yet ended. We have witnessed disasters of appalling magnitude, a waste of human life, a destruction of property, an overthrow of long established governments and the erection of new ones, an unsettlement of the most fixed relations and countless other subversive phenomena undreamt of and undreamable. What does it all mean and whither are we going?
The World War burst upon us like a sudden thunderclap. The storm had long been brewing, so long indeed that many had got used to the threat and gave little heed to it. Statesmen in the countries concerned might be full of apprehensions, and military men be expecting war very soon, as is their wont, but the mass of the public had no particular forebodings. When the crisis did come, five of the six leading European nations were swept into the maelstrom within a fortnight. The Austrian ultimatum started an inexorable sequence, against which rulers and statesmen seemed to struggle in vain. The ultimatum itself was so severe--and meant to be--that no self-respecting state could accept it. When it was not submitted to unconditionally, Austria, who had prepared her demand with deliberation and with a realization of the seriousness of the risks incurred, felt she would stultify herself if she accepted the Serbian refusal. Russia could not leave Serbia to her fate. The whole history of the Eastern Question, every ambition of Russia in the Near East, the intensity of her public sentiment as to her duty to protect the weaker Slav peoples, forbade this. But if Russia attacked Austria, Germany, bound by the assurances Berlin had given to Vienna at the start, as well as by the Austro-German treaty of 1879, must support her ally. But then, France was even more bound in honor to stand by Russia, otherwise the Franco-Russian alliance would have been the veriest scrap of paper.
The next development, however, was more uncertain. Germany and France were the only states in Europe brought into the war by existing treaties of alliance. England was tied to France by no formal pact of this sort, and in spite of Anglo-German rivalry and of the Anglo-French entente there were high hopes in Berlin that she would remain neutral. If the Germans, instead of violating the neutrality of Luxemburg and Belgium, had remained on the defensive in the west, taking the ground that they had no quarrel with France, and had thrown their main strength against Russia, we may well doubt whether England, where at first the majority of the Cabinet were against intervention, would have laid her sword on the scale. Had she stood aside, Italy and Rumania might sooner or later have joined the Central Powers, their old allies, instead of doing just the opposite. But the German Government chose to sacrifice political and moral considerations to what it believed to be military ones, as it did a second time with equally fatal effect in 1917 in its relations with the United States.
After the conflict had once begun, the vast majority of people involved, high and low, were convinced, as most of them still are, of the essential righteousness of their cause. This was not altered by the fact that four of the states bargained hard and long with both parties before casting in their lot with either. When they did act, they were as sure as anyone else that they were animated by the highest principles. Their motives were comprehensible and even their miscalculations were not altogether foolish. Turkey and Bulgaria have indeed paid heavily for having guessed wrong, but in 1917 it looked as if it was they who would emerge triumphant and aggrandized, while Italy and Rumania would suffer for their disastrous mistakes.
The war was fertile in surprises. At the outset no one foresaw its length, though Lord Kitchener came near to doing so. Even the wildest fancies were surpassed by the immensity of the effort, the consumption of life and treasure, the sheer destruction of every kind. The battle of the Marne meant the miscarriage of the long and meticulously prepared German plan of striking France to earth by one terrific blow. On the other hand, British failure at the Dardanelles may well have prolonged the struggle by a couple of years. The Russian Revolution, followed by the withdrawal of Russia from the field and by the forced capitulation of Rumania, would probably have meant German victory but for the entrance into the war of the United States, a contingency undreamt of in July, 1914. The German submarine warfare proved a complete miscalculation in its ultimate objects, but who can say how near it came to success? Had the Leviathan alone been sunk by a torpedo, with her cargo of twelve thousand soldiers, we cannot tell what would have been the effect on American opinion and on the transport of armies across the ocean.
When at last Bulgaria, Turkey, and Austria had collapsed and Germany had been beaten to her knees, the victorious Allied and Associated Powers, in congress assembled, were called upon to determine how the world was to be refashioned. Thanks chiefly to the desire of President Wilson to array against the Central Empires the moral opinion of mankind, the Allies had welcomed to their ranks a number of nominal adherents--Cuba, Liberia, Siam, and others--who added to the congestion of representatives at the Peace Conference. Under such circumstances all the real decisions had to be made by a few men. It was hard enough to get even them to agree on the many and complicated questions. Though their principles might be theoretically the same, their views were far apart and the interests of their countries differed. Nothing could have been achieved by public debate in a general conclave where all might have a voice and a vote, but where no majority could bind sovereign states. To get results much compromise was indispensable, and compromise can best be reached by a few responsible individuals whose arguments are addressed to each other and not to the gallery. In delicate negotiations, public or private, however friendly, "open diplomacy" is sometimes about as feasible as open strategy in warfare.
Contrary to precedent, the defeated foes were not invited to take part in the discussions of the terms which were to be imposed upon them. Such objections as they were permitted to make afterwards met with scant attention. This has been resented by them ever since as a crying injustice. It is unlikely, however, that the presence of their delegates throughout the Conference would have had serious influence on the final result. There were no new facts they could bring forth or arguments they could urge which would have affected the sentiments of the nations which had just come out victorious after four years and a half of life and death conflict. At any rate the Allies did not wish to be bothered by representatives of their enemies to make the difficult work of obtaining a consensus of opinion more difficult still, nor did they propose to run the risk of having some German diplomat repeat the exploits of Talleyrand at the Congress of Vienna.
Certain notable articles of the Peace of Versailles were due primarily to a popular craving that those responsible for the terrific suffering and loss the world had undergone should be brought to justice before the tribunal of mankind. This is the explanation of the futile provision for the trial of the Kaiser (the one thing which could have rehabilitated him), who was already well out of harm's way, and also of the extraordinary demand that Germany must acknowledge her guilt as the author of the war. Such a requirement was as unwise as it was unusual. The German people had fought for years in the belief that they were defending themselves against the unprovoked aggression of a coalition of jealous rivals. To be forced now at the point of the sword to announce that the blame was theirs appeared to them a monstrous perversion of the truth. They submitted because they had to, but without the least moral acceptance. Ever since they have been investigating with passion the subject of the origin of the war and of course they are as convinced as ever of their own essential innocence. Even in regard to Belgium they have been unwilling to plead guilty, though outside opinion has been practically unanimous against them. They have jumped at every scrap of so-called evidence that the English and French had intended to act in the same way, and that the Belgians deserved their fate, assumptions of a kind common among culprits. Many of them believe, too, that if they could discover a document which would fasten the responsibility for the World War on some other nation the whole peace treaty would be overturned as being based on a false premise and would have to be remade on totally different lines.
The three powers in whose hands lay the decision at Paris had the good fortune to be represented by very remarkable men. President Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George were as unlike each other as they could well be, but all three will stand high in the annals of their countries. The mere play of their contrasting personalities presents a fascinating study. The Americans held a position of immense advantage. Not only was their material power unlimited as compared with that of their exhausted associates, but, thanks to circumstances rather than to their superior virtue, they were the most disinterested of the important participants. Their championship of the self-determination of peoples, of the League of Nations and of other general causes was not hampered by previous commitments or by necessities of security and reparations. Nor were their representatives simple inexperienced citizens who were circumvented by the "wily diplomats" of Europe. Clemenceau and Lloyd George were no more professional diplomats than was Wilson, and we may doubt whether any European delegation contained a man of larger and more varied diplomatic experience than Mr. Henry White. The fatal mistake in the American Commission in Paris, fatal not for its work then but for the confirmation of that work afterwards, was that it did not include a Republican of political standing and influence.
Although not ratified by the United States, the Peace of Versailles has been termed an American peace. It was based on propositions laid down in advance by the United States and in the main adhered to. This is particularly true of the geographical provisions where the doctrine of self-determination, which was one of President Wilson's cardinal tenets and which roughly corresponded with that of nationalities, was accepted as the guiding principle. The later treaties followed the model of the first. In disputed questions and matters of detail friends rather than enemies were favored, and there were a few cases of glaring violation, notably the allotment of the German-speaking southern Tyrol to Italy, which France and Great Britain had agreed to in the Treaty of London in 1915 and to which the consent of President Wilson had been obtained in the early days of the Conference, a consent he regretted later but did not feel justified in withdrawing. But in general the principle of self-determination prevailed and in doubtful instances the decision was left to plebiscites. Even if the newly formed countries contain too large a percentage of citizens who are hostile to the dominant nationality, they correspond as a whole to the wishes of the majority, and in most cases of the great majority, of their inhabitants.
With the new frontiers due to the Russian revolution and the emancipation of peoples formerly under Russian rule, the Paris Conference had little or nothing to do. The states thus formed are indirect results of the war, though not of the peace. Even Poland and Rumania owe their size to the triumph of Lenin as well as to that of Wilson. Europe today contains more republics than does South America. It is easy enough to declare that many of them are economic monstrosities and cannot live in this age of great agglomerations. But Switzerland has contrived to get on very respectably for the last four centuries, in spite of her scant natural resources, her lack of a seaport, her open frontiers, her two religions and her four recognized languages.
For the disruption of the empire of the Hapsburgs the Allies were not immediately responsible. In the end of 1918 Austria-Hungary went to pieces of itself, and no authority from outside, unless supported by armed force, could have restored it. All that was left for the umpires at Paris was to mark out the lines for the new dominions, and they had trouble enough in determining these and in enforcing their decisions. It has often been asserted that they should have insisted on the preservation of at least the economic unity of the fragments of the former Dual Empire. But such unity could have been imposed on millions of people whose claim to independence had been formally recognized and whose most passionate desire was complete self-determination, right or wrong, only by a foreign administration supported by foreign bayonets. Besides which, the Poles, the Jugoslavs, and the Rumans of Austria-Hungary did not of themselves constitute new states. They joined already existing ones outside. Even what was left of Austria and Hungary showed no inclination to keep up the century-old connection between them.
Austria, despite her recent rally perhaps the least viable of the new republics, is forbidden from entering into a voluntary union with Germany. This flat violation of the principle of nationalities and of the right of self-determination was due to the fears of France, and should not be lasting, though we can understand the repugnance of Frenchmen to granting Germany an accession of territory which would make her larger than she was in 1914. It is all very well to condemn French selfishness in this respect, but the English would put on a sadly wry face if circumstances were to lead to a voluntary union between France and Belgium, for which some analogy might be claimed; and as for our virtuous selves, would not the Monroe Doctrine forbid any Latin American state from having enough right of self-determination to enter into a political union with a European power? For France, organic connection with Belgium might serve as a compensation for the building up of a greater Germany, but, unluckily for her, in Belgium (where the dispute between the two nationalities has begun again since the war) it is probable that the Flemish would fiercely oppose closer permanent relations, even if the Belgian monarchy should be succeeded some day by a republic.
For the future peace of Europe the problem of the security of France must be solved somehow or other. The world does not wish to see another Franco-German war nor does it wish to see France led by her fears into making futile attempts to keep Germany in bondage and to check natural recovery by artificial means. French fears are indeed exaggerated, based though they are on the very real grounds of Germany's much greater population and her much higher birth-rate, which renders the disparity ever worse. It should be remembered, on the other hand, that Greater France has a population not of forty but of about one hundred millions--or not much less than the United States. Admitting that as a military and economic unit the average Annamite or Senegalese is not the equal of the German or the American--though there is no reason why a French black should not fight as well as an American one--still the military power of France is not to be measured by her European resources alone. In the World War she drew from her colonial possessions half a million troops of one kind or another. Besides, already before the war the German birth-rate had begun to decline and the process has continued.
Whatever may be the peril of France, that of Poland is incomparably greater. We may hope that the Germans will learn to accept their present boundaries to the west as the last word in the age-long controversies on this subject, but can we expect them to take a similar view to the east, where the territories left to them are not even contiguous and where millions of their compatriots have been put under the rule of a nation which they regard as far inferior to themselves historically and culturally? The decisions of the Allies in regard to the Danzig corridor and to the division of Silesia may have been right on moral grounds, but they have hardly made for lasting peace. And Poland's danger is not only from Germany. To her misfortune, she has always lacked clear-cut boundaries, geographical, historical, and ethnical. Today both on the east and on the west her frontiers present few natural features. She may have a good claim to Vilna, but as long as she retains this former capital of Lithuania the present Lithuanian republic will not forgive her. She also counts among her citizens some five million Russians of one kind or another. They are not contented, and just across the border are their kinsmen, now organized into White Russian and Ukrainian national republics to give them greater powers of attraction, and with the whole power of the Soviet Union behind them. To meet this menace, Poland has allied herself with Rumania, a neighbor standing in like fear of Russia. As against Germany, she relies on the assistance of France which, since the days of the Paris Conference, has favored her aspirations as consistently as England has opposed them.
The economic chapter of the Peace Treaties was, if anything, even more complicated than the political. There were the questions of what the Central Powers ought to pay, what they were able to pay, and to whom they ought to pay it, concerning all of which it was possible to hold, in good faith, quite conflicting opinions. In the background there lurked the problem of the debts of the Allied powers to one another and particularly to America.
In theory the defeated nations were not to be penalized by any war indemnity, they were only to be asked to make good what they had wantonly destroyed. This magnanimity was facilitated by the fact that the cost of reparations alone might well equal if not exceed the total of what could be extracted from the Central Powers; indeed this became certain from the moment that Lloyd George, in order to make the British claims comparable to those of the French and to give something to the Colonials, put through the principle that reparations should include pensions.
Before long, too, it dawned on the most reluctant that there was little to be got out of Austria, Hungary, and Turkey. Germany was more promising. She had greater resources and in spite of severe curtailment she was left more nearly intact. But what the Germans really could pay, neither they nor anyone else knew then or knows now.
It is still an open question whether it would have been wise for the Peace Conference to have decided in 1919 on a fixed sum for reparations. This was not done, and the official demands were not formulated until two years later. But the amount then named, though accepted by Germany under pressure, was soon recognized to be impossible. Since then there has been an uninterrupted series of proposals, conferences, negotiations and acrimonious discussions until at last the report of the experts has furnished a ground on which there are better chances of agreement and of actually accomplishing something than there have been up to the present time. The report looks like not only the best guess yet made, the one most carefully worked out, and the most impartial; it also has come at a time when in all the countries concerned the public is more than wearied of fruitless controversy and is so eager to get real peace that it is willing to make serious sacrifices of what it believes to be its rights.
A most discouraging complication throughout has been the estrangement between England and France. Of course it was to be expected that when the Allies came to make the peace settlement, and still more when they were called upon to interpret their formulas, there should be a certain divergence of views between them and a cooling off of the enthusiasm they had felt for each other before and during the war. Unfortunately, besides natural differences of opinion in regard to Poland, the Near East, and various other matters, the question of reparations has led to most serious disagreement, due to a clash of fundamental interests for which neither country has been responsible. France, the more self-supporting of the two, but the devastated one, has placed reparations above everything else except her future security. She has insisted on payments which, by making good the vast sums she has had to spend on her devastated regions, should save her from bankruptcy. Compared with this object the sufferings of Germany and the general rehabilitation of Europe have been a secondary outside interest. England, on the other hand, with her huge number of unemployed, has felt that she needed above all the restoration of normal conditions the world over (including Germany) in order to set the wheels of her business going again at full speed. Reparations are comparatively unimportant to her, and the sufferings of France no longer make the appeal they once did. She has sufferings of her own. To her the increasing bankruptcy of Germany and the danger that the Reich might be submerged in anarchy have been real terrors, but she has been little worried by Germany's non-payment of her debts and the recrudescence of Teutonic militarism. On the contrary she has accused France of imperialism and of a desire to destroy Germany altogether.
During the years 1920 and 1921 most of the political provisions of the Peace Treaties were gradually put into effect. Plebiscites were held, boundaries were marked out, the new states managed somehow to stand on their own feet, not too shakily, and except in the Near East, where the Treaty of Sèvres proved unworkable, fighting ceased. But the question of reparations, of what Germany could or would pay, made no progress towards a settlement. The French came to feel that, in the conferences and negotiations, they invariably got the worst of it, that they made one concession after another without gaining anything in return, and were continually being duped by the superior cleverness of Lloyd George, for whom their dislike grew into a mania. The fall of Briand was due in good part to the belief that he was continually outwitted by his British colleague.
With the advent of Poincaré the situation changed abruptly. Henceforth it was the French who had their way while the British angrily demurred. Lloyd George came to grief at the Conference of Genoa, where the Germans whom he was trying to aid played him false, the Russians with whom he wished to make terms proved intractable, and the Little Entente, alarmed by his attitude about Galicia and Bessarabia and by his readiness to revise the Peace Treaties, the foundation of their existence, rallied to the support of France. The failure of British policy in the Near East further discredited the British Premier and he fell soon after. His successors, Bonar Law and later Baldwin, though disapproving, were unable in 1923 to prevent the French occupation of the Ruhr, nor did they enjoy even the moral support of the United States, for which they had hoped. Poincaré went on his way undisturbed. In open argument he got the better of Lord Curzon and with public sentiment in France solidly behind him he was as little moved by the fulminations of the British press as by the howls of the German. Now the English are not used to having their wishes ostentatiously disregarded. They were sure that not only was Germany being ruined but that the welfare of Europe and particularly of Britain was being endangered by French greed and blindness, and they deeply resented their own apparent impotence. Poincaré soon became as unpopular in England as Lloyd George had been in France, and for about the same sort of reasons.
In the last few months the situation has improved. Germany, which had long been banking on some kind of active support from England, was forced to a surrender by the costly failure of her policy of passive resistance. On the other hand the French, although they had possessed themselves in the Ruhr of a tangible guarantee for ultimate payment, had lost financially by the transaction, and the discreditable fiasco of the separatist movement in the Rhineland made them feel that they had gone too far. Above all they were alarmed by the decline of the franc, whose fall was only checked by outside assistance. The obviously good intentions of Ramsay Macdonald disarmed much suspicion in France, the fall of Poincaré produced satisfaction in England. Public opinion thus was ripe for the Dawes Report. All told, the immediate political prospect in western Europe, though still uncertain enough, gives more reason for optimism than it has done at any time since the outbreak of the war, except for a short moment after the close of hostilities when so many in the victorious countries and some in the defeated indulged in golden visions of a new world where peace on earth should be maintained by the League of Nations.
But an agreement as to Allied Debts still looks sadly far off. American opinion that they should be paid, at least in the main, is apparently as unshaken as ever. On the other hand, the sentiment of the European debtor states is growing stronger that, however theoretically valid their debts to us may be, to exact payment when they are unable to obtain what is owed to themselves would be a crying injustice and a flagrant instance of the oppression of the poor by the rich. In 1922, England missed her opportunity. If she had had the courage and foresight to declare that, while willing to fulfill her own obligations, she would renounce what was due to her from her allies, they would have followed suit by canceling what they owed each other, and the United States would have found itself in the unenviable position of being the sole country exacting its pound of flesh from its friends. The consequent moral pressure on us to show ourselves magnanimous in our turn would have been very difficult to resist, and from this England would have profited. Instead, by the tactless Balfour declaration she angered both the United States and France, and so far her policy of conditional offers has had unfortunate results. As for the Baldwin agreement, it may have proved to Americans that Britain had a high sense of financial honor, higher perhaps than that of the nations of the continent, but for their own part they were convinced that they had been generous in their concessions. They had not the least feeling of having been put under any obligation and the attempt to win them over to support British policy against France, which in the British mind underlay the negotiation, failed completely. In England there is today much suppressed anti-American bitterness, a bitterness which is revived as each fresh pay-day comes round, and which does not seem likely to diminish as long as these payments continue. It is not sure, too, that the Baldwin agreement has not complicated rather than facilitated the clearing up of the whole international financial situation, for it has stiffened the attitude of America towards her continental debtors, while its success has not been such as to impress most of them with the advisability of following England's example. Italy in particular, which owes much and is owed nothing by her partners, cares little about German reparations compared with Allied debts.
The spectacle of what is going on south of the Alps is absorbingly interesting and may contain lessons for several countries. Fascismo, starting as an ultra nationalistic movement, with unabashed imperialistic ambitions which it has never disavowed, evolved into an expression of a reaction against the increasing socialistic peril and of a craving for efficiency in place of the apparently hopeless ineptitude of the parliamentary government of Monte Citorio. It has stood for order rather than for law. Indeed, Mussolini has shown almost as much contempt as Lenin for the wishes of the majority if they happen to disagree with his own views. The world has looked on and wondered whether he was a Napoleon or a South American dictator, whether he was a savior of society or a menace to free democracy and to the peace of the globe. But over and above the question of his personal characteristics and achievements, remarkable as they both are, is the broader one of whether he represents a general movement of real significance, as suggested by recent developments in Spain and elsewhere. There is no doubt that today parliamentary, not to say congressional, government, though commonly admitted as a necessity, enjoys but little sentimental popularity. Hereditary and aristocratic privileges are gone not to return, but the prestige of the strong man "who does things," compared with the legislators who only talk, is if anything on the increase. Unluckily the strong man who puts down opposition at home is not apt to be patient when it comes from abroad, nor when he thinks he has been smitten to turn the other cheek by appealing to the League of Nations.
The League has in truth assumed a tremendous sum of responsibilities as well as of aspirations. The difficulty of its task has been added to by the incorporation of the Covenant into the Peace of Versailles. The motives which dictated this step were of the highest and in keeping with the idea of "the war to end war," but the results have been disadvantageous to both League and Peace Treaty. The combination of the two has, among other things, increased the suspicion which the majority of the voters in the United States felt towards the whole work of the Peace Conference and has helped to keep us out of the League which we took such a part in forming. Our refusal to honor President Wilson's signature was a blow as stunning as it was unexpected abroad. That the League has survived is strong testimony to its vitality. Although people differ about the importance of its actual achievements, in its comparatively crippled condition, and contrast them with the dreams of world regeneration which it was to have made real, no one can deny that whatever it has accomplished has been unselfish and for the good of humanity. To Soviet Russia the League may be an embodiment of the evil bourgeois spirit, to the United States it may be an association of foreign idealists who wish to meddle in our business, to Latin America it may mean chiefly an opportunity to take part in the general affairs of the world free from the aegis of the United States, but to much of Europe it represents the one hope of the future against the recurrence of the disasters which have brought her to the verge of ruin.
Grave as are the perils which still menace the peace of Europe, and immense as are the difficulties in the work of rehabilitation, there are other political problems which are perhaps even more momentous for the world. One of the most immediate arises from the fact that formerly backward peoples have acquired a new consciousness and are no longer willing to submit to being ruled by foreigners. To argue that if left to themselves they will relapse into despotism or anarchy and barbarism may be true, but as they or their leaders do not think so it does not help matters. The danger threatening the governing powers is not open insurrection, which in most cases could be put down without much trouble. The essential difficulty is that as far as we can judge no democracy can and will persist in keeping another nation in permanent subjection. A modern democracy is capable of harshness at a given moment but is ill fitted to maintain an iron rule for an indefinite time. To do so is too much against its own ideals, and there will always be a party at home to espouse the cause of the discontented. The working masses everywhere, preoccupied with the questions of their own immediate betterment, tend to care little for foreign dominion, which they suspect of being only for the benefit of the rich. They are becoming increasingly unwilling to allow their children to be conscripted to hold down malcontent subjects in distant lands, and even the obtaining of the necessary troops by voluntary enlistment is not as easy as it used to be.
Nor let it be supposed that any people is likely to remain content with semi-independence. It may welcome this as a first step, a partial concession, but not for long. There is no logical stopping place, no halfway house which will make a permanent home on the road to equality, and those who have once got well started on that road grow increasingly impatient and resent every effort to delay them on their way to their final goal.
A good result of the above truths is that they have diminished the temptations to imperialism at the expense of backward races. The task of governing them, developing them, exploiting them and elevating them no longer looks as attractive as it once did. People are not so eager as they used to be to "take up the white man's burden." This may prove the salvation of certain countries, notably China. It may be that China at the present moment is, as Lord Curzon has recently said, "nothing more than a great splash on the map--an amorphous collection of human beings without government, without cohesion, without solidity, and with nothing except their vast numbers. China is split up into a series of small, independent governorships under military dictators, who collect the taxes, amuse themselves, despise the Central Government, and do exactly what they will."[i]
Not long ago these were just the circumstances which would invite foreign intervention. Today no power, great or small, is anxious to take over millions of Chinese subjects. The "break-up of China" may be a possibility, but the "partition of China" can hardly be called so. In any event no political vicissitudes will eliminate the vast numbers of the Chinese or the great qualities of the race which must sooner or later ensure them their due place in the framework of society.
It is also evident that existing colonial empires rest upon insecure foundations. There seems, indeed, something unnatural in the spectacle of seven million Dutch ruling over fifty million Malays. Not long ago Germany hoped that Holland would look to her for assistance when the task of controlling so many dependents should prove too arduous, and that thus both the Dutch and their colonies could be attached to the Teuton empire. This dream has vanished, at least for the moment, and the future of the Dutch possessions is highly uncertain. Those of Belgium and Portugal will in their turn present similar problems, though as yet tropical Africa has not reached the cultural stage of agitation for self-government.
Of the hundred million of the population of Greater France, almost sixty are not of European origin. If they are to be kept in permanent French allegiance their loyalty must be secured. The French flatter themselves that they are peculiarly successful in winning the affections of those over whom they rule. So be it, though it is probable they entertain a good many illusions in this respect. In any event, they have an immense task before them. In particular one may well doubt whether the distant millions of their Indo-Chinese empire, who have their own ancient Asiatic civilization and history to look back to, will ultimately consent to submit to foreign control, however slight. It is true their loss might not be very serious for France. Far more vital is the question whether she can permanently assimilate the inhabitants of her territories in North Africa. The European element, even reinforced by the Jews, will always form only a small minority. The large majority of the population are Mohammedans, imbued with the traditions of Islamic empire, and at least half of them speak as their native tongue Arabic, one of the chief cultural languages in the history of the world. The prospect of making good Frenchmen out of them looks discouraging, for if religious antagonisms are less acute than they once were, nationalistic ones are more so. But the loss of North Africa, followed, as would be likely, by that of her tropical holdings further to the southward, would be an irreparable blow to France. Without her colonies she cannot maintain her position in the front rank of nations. Still we must remember that her powers of attraction are great. In North Africa she may be able to rally to her side the Berber half of the inhabitants, who are racially of much the same stock as the south Europeans and are not as fanatical as the Arabs, for whom they have little love. If she can do so she will vastly strengthen her position.
Whatever the more distant future may reserve for Holland or France, Great Britain is called upon to face now and at once the problem of how she is to preserve her wonderful empire, perhaps the most remarkable political achievement of any people. The dangers which menace it have long been foreseen by thoughtful observers and are at last beginning to be generally realized. To meet them, such plans as an Imperial Federation and a British Commonwealth of Nations have been devised--so far without marked success. One would have imagined that the magnificent way in which the colonies rallied to the support of the mother country in the World War would have bound them more closely to her. This may yet prove to be the lasting effect. For the moment the reaction produced by the present period of hardship and disillusion is more visible. But supposing that the British Commonwealth of Nations can be made a reality and can include among its loyal components a reconciled Ireland, which is trying to unlearn the hated English language, a Canada, all of whose natural interests draw her closer to the United States, and a South Africa, where the Boer by a superior birth-rate may supplant the Briton as the leading factor and where both are far outnumbered by the blacks--granting a Commonwealth comprising all of these, what is to become of India?
India today, though covering only about a seventh of the territory of the British Empire, contains more than two-thirds of its population. In the last twenty years she has wrested one concession after another from Great Britain--a process hastened by the World War. To all appearances they have quite failed to satisfy her. On the contrary, it seems as if the discontent were steadily becoming more widespread and acute. There is little reason for thinking that the movement will stop. The outlook is rather that within a few years India will be given up as Egypt has been given up. The British democracy will not try to retain her by force. Of that we may be sure. The enormous benefits that England has conferred on the country and its swarming millions will count for nothing in retaining their allegiance. The jealousies, rivalries and hatreds of race and creed among the many different peoples, though they may make trouble enough hereafter, have not proved capable of preventing them from combining against their British masters. If India is to be given home rule, as seems inevitable, it takes a stretch of the imagination to conceive of her as merely an Asiatic member of a European commonwealth in which only one other member has as much as a twenty-fifth of her population, and several of them exclude her inhabitants from their territories. We can see no reason, too, why the example of India should not be followed in course of time, and according to the measure of their abilities, by other parts of the British dominions where Asiatics or African races predominate. To be sure, even without them and reduced to its white constituents, the British Commonwealth would cover a large surface on the map and would be one of the first among states, but it would be something very different from the old British Empire.
Of the greater nations the United States can most easily slough off its foreign holdings. We shall let the Philippines go before long, and we shall hardly know the difference. Porto Rico likewise is not essential to our happiness. Our race difficulties are within our own borders, where we have a black population we have absorbed culturally but do not accept as our political and social equals, who are too numerous to be expelled and from whom we cannot get away. It was feared that as a result of the war, in which we had about as many colored men in military service as did the French, we should witness among our negroes an increase of independence or insubordination--call it what we will--that might produce alarming race conflicts in the south. Fortunately these fears have not so far been justified.
Beyond and beside the affairs of the western world, revolutionary Russia has pursued her blood-stained path. At the outbreak of the war the public rallied as enthusiastically in Russia as elsewhere to the support of its rulers and threw itself with passion into the struggle. The army was by far the largest in the world. The resources of the country seemed limitless, but the machinery of the bureaucratic and corrupt administration, inefficient at best, was inadequate to handle the vast numbers of men it had to care for and the innumerable difficulties which confronted it. Russia, too, had no such reserves of educated, intelligent, and patriotic private citizens as did the United States and Western Europe to come to the rescue of the official machine, put new vigor into it and supply its deficiencies, nor were the relations between government and people such as to bring about loyal cooperation in time of stress. The Russian soldiers fought with their customary courage; some of their commanders were men of ability and achieved brilliant successes; but as the months went on one disaster followed another in the field and confusion reigned supreme. The autocracy in the hands of a well-meaning but weak, incompetent and blind emperor so completely lost credit that by the beginning of the year 1917 there were on foot several separate conspiracies of a more or less revolutionary character, conspiracies among men of all classes including even members of the imperial family.
The revolution itself broke out almost accidentally and triumphed with scarcely an effort. The old system was too hopeless. But the new improvised government did not succeed, and could hardly expect to succeed, in dealing with the bewildering problems it was called upon to master. To the millions of soldiers at the front "liberty" meant the liberty to go home after years of suffering and slaughter for a cause they did not understand. Hence the armies soon began to melt away. As time went on, the more radical factions in Petrograd got the upper hand and they in their turn were overthrown with little resistance by the Bolsheviks. Communist Russia withdrew from the war and entered upon her career of revolutionizing her own social structure as a prelude to world revolution.
The Soviet Republic is now seven years old. At first, it had to contend with widespread armed resistance which received substantial aid from outside. It triumphed, and since 1921 its authority has been supreme within its borders. The prophecies of violent dissensions among the leaders after the death of Lenin have not as yet proved true. On the other hand, the intended world revolution has spread no further (except for a short time in Hungary) although the Communists, who take their inspiration if not their orders from Moscow, are now a recognized party or faction in every country, and in several constitute a danger to the existing order. In Russia itself scarcely had the Bolsheviks overcome their opponents and established their communistic system when they were obliged by the almost universal economic ruin to reverse their policy and return, in a large measure, to a system of private ownership and trade. Of late there has been at least a beginning of economic recovery, but few dispassionate observers would maintain that Russia bids fair to be happy or prosperous for a good while yet. Her relations with the rest of the world, however, are becoming more normal. One after another the European powers, tired of waiting for the oft promised counter revolution which has never eventuated, have recognized the state which in its official title no longer calls itself Russia, but the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, a name emphasizing the fact that it is based not on land or nationality but on a theory of society. Since every good communist regards those of his creed in other countries as his enslaved compatriots, the promises of official Moscow to abstain from propaganda abroad are open to skepticism. Likewise, it is not easy for foreign trade and capital to function in a normal fashion in a country where the rights of private property are at best only tolerated as a disagreeable necessity for the time being, and where there is almost no guarantee against arbitrariness and violence. Russia indeed presents a vast and menacing enigma, and no sure sign of the solution is yet discernible.
The temporary eclipse of Russia, the power which formerly had the least to hope or fear from us, is one cause of the commanding position now held by the United States. The war losses and crying needs of the victorious Allies, as well as the disaster to Germany, have contributed still more to our relative superiority. To be sure, vast as are our territories and resources and large as is our population, they are smaller than those of the British Empire, but our immediately available wealth of men and material is much greater, and we are incomparably more secure against attack from without or dissolution from within. The United States is at present the strong man and the rich man, courted by all and having little to ask or fear from anyone. It cannot, however, expect the popularity it has enjoyed in the past. On the contrary it must be prepared to be widely disliked. Thus, in spite of the extraordinary generosity it has shown so often in recent years, it is charged, as rich men are apt to be, with callous selfishness, and there are Americans who believe that as long as we keep out of the League there is ground for the charge.
President Harding's administration, wishing to prove that even if America had withdrawn from the European embroilment she had not lost her interest in the welfare of the world, called the Disarmament Conference at Washington. The Conference proved a success, if only a partial one. The limitation and scrapping of battleships was a step in the right direction, and the Far Eastern agreements, besides bringing about the end of a superfluous alliance, laid the foundation for a better future. Unfortunately, whatever good feeling the Conference created between the United States and Japan has been more than undone by what has seemed to the Japanese the gratuitously nasty treatment they have received in our recent immigration law. Henceforth, though American relations with Japan may be correct and courteous, there is scant reason why she should feel affection for us or pay any more attention to our desires than her own well understood interest demands.
Nor let anyone imagine that the immigration question is settled for all time. It may be for the present, and in the way that is most beneficial to us. We are convinced that we have acted for sufficient cause within our own undoubted rights. None the less we must not forget the spread and power of socialistic ideas in all countries and the weakening of faith in the sanctity of private property, especially in regard to the holding of wide lands. If it is held to be morally wrong and anti-social for one man to possess huge estates, which he may develop or not as he chooses, while hundreds of others near by are relegated to landlessness, why should one people acquire, by similar accident of birth or achievement, a claim to an inordinate share of the good things of life and a right to exclude from them other less fortunate peoples, white, black, or yellow? Already the theory has been urged officially by European statesmen of high standing that the exploitation of the fundamental natural resources of the earth, wherever they may be located, should be open on equal terms to men of all nations. Already it has seemed an anomaly that the Australians should have the right to exclude the Chinese from a continent which is twice the size of China proper and has only about a sixtieth as many inhabitants. But this is only the most flagrant of many cases of the sort, including our own. We shall hear more about these questions some day.
Ten years is but a fleeting instant in even that small portion of history of which we have actual knowledge. But the ten just past have been momentous beyond precedent. It is true we must not ascribe too exclusively to them the political and social changes that have taken place. The decay in the ancient loyalty to the throne and the altar, and in the belief in privilege as a right, is no new thing. The ultimate triumph of democracy throughout the civilized--and, indeed, the whole world--has long appeared inevitable to many thinkers, whether they liked it or not. The growing power of the doctrines of international socialism has also been obvious, although their antithesis, extreme nationalism, has gained rather than lost in force, and now the reaction of the other races against the dominant white man constitutes one of the gravest questions of the day. But though the origin of all these movements lies far back of the World War, the war has immeasurably stimulated them. Similarly, the old ideas of general disarmament, international tribunals and associations of nations have been made vital issues by the unparalleled horrors and sufferings we have witnessed. Who would now venture to advocate frankly the imperialism which was unblushingly avowed by leaders of opinion a decade ago?
There have been times in the last ten years when, in the old world at least, men have been tempted to despair of humanity. The aftermath of the war has seemed to some more cruel than the war itself and they see no end to it. Yet there has been progress as well as destruction. Even if we must admit that the cost has been fearful, that more has been destroyed than has been built and that more questions have been raised than have been answered, we may still trust that we have been moving forward not backward. To face with courage the present difficulties of mankind let us have faith and hope in the future and also charity for the past.
[i]The Near East, July 10, 1924.