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THE NEW YORK TIMES CURRENT HISTORY
diplomat, what, at bottom, this war was, he would answer you thus:
"This war is an armed conflict provoked by the German-speaking peoples under the leadership of Prussia against the Slavs under the leadership of the Russian Empire. It has been provoked by Prussia as leader of the German peoples, not in a spirit of aggression but in a spirit of self-defense. The German peoples have for centuries regarded themselves as the bulwark of European civilization against Slav barbarism. They believe that the Slav power is rapidly getting so great as to be an immediate peril. They think
it must be fought now or never. On this account Austria was induced by Prussia to challenge the Russian Government over the Servian question.
"Either that challenge would be accepted, with the result of war, or Russia would give way, thereby obtaining for the German peoples a victory without bloodshed. And Austria would proceed to administrate the Servian Slavs and to control them-driving a wedge into the whole Slav power and rendering it innocuous for the future.
"In this struggle between Teuton and Slav France comes in as an accessory, having made an alliance with Russia long ago for her own ends and having nothing to do with the quarrel tween Teuton and Slav.
The German-speaking peoples regret the interference of France, but are prepared to take on the burden of a French war rather than abandon the moment for restricting the growing power of the Slav.
"Now, in all this," (your experienced man with a wide view of Europe would add,)" England was not concerned. Her position was quite subsidiary in all this quarrel. She had far less to do with it even than France had, and it was in every Cabinet of Europe doubted whether England would come in at all. By the Prussian Government it was taken for granted that England would have no reason to come in. By the French it was feared, in spite of the recent relations between the two countries, that England would remain neutral. And, in general,
the fact that England is at war at all is a fact on one side of the original quarrel and its original motives, though it is a fact that will pròfoundly affect the progress and the results of the war."
Such a statement would be no more than the plain truth as educated men know and see it in Europe today. The entry of England into the field of conflict was an entry from one side. It did not fall into line with the general motives of the people. It was, among all English statesmen, a matter of debate; it was decided by but a narrow majority of those responsible for so enormous a decision.
When we have clearly grasped these two fundamental facts-first, that the war is not on its mechanical side mainly a war between England and Germany, but mainly a war between two contrasting European and Continental ideals; secondly, the correlative fact that the entry of England into the war was not certain until the last hour, and was, when it was made, made only after doubtful consideration and after a division among the politicians, responsible for the conduct of her affairs, something almost accidental, as it were we can proceed to consider the three causes which converging were sufficiently strong in their combination to produce that result, and when we know what those three causes were, their strength and the accidents of their convergence, at this moment we shall have answered the question, “Why is England at war with Germany?" These three causes are:
1. The fixed cardinal point for English policy upon which no English patriot worthy of the name would hesitate for a moment, and which no historian with any sense of justice can condemn, to wit, that no one, if England can help it, shall have naval predominance over the British fleet, particularly in the narrow seas.
2. The effect of certain undertakings, a whole network of diplomatic actions, particularly in connection with France, engaged in by the English Foreign Office during the last ten years.
3. A certain vague attachment to the Western, or Latin, tradition of civiliza
tion with its routine of conventions in war and peace, and particularly of treaties as between first-class powers. This tradition was still sufficiently strong to act as a motive converging with the two others mentioned above to produce a sufficient moral stream in favor of war as, though sluggish, to help to turn the scale.
I say that these three things combined, upon the whole and doubtfully, discovered a sufficient strength between them to make the English politicians, after serious hesitation and close division, determine upon war.
Let me take them in their order:
1. The cardinal point of statesmanship upon which all English foreign policy has turned for two hundred years, that no one shall be more powerful at sea than England, especially upon the shores of the narrow seas, appears to foreigners unarguably arrogant.
It is, indeed, of its nature a challenge to the rest of the world, but if the reader will consider a moment he will see that it is a challenge to which modern England, at any rate, is inexorably condemned. However much such a position may clash with the temperament of chivalrous and peaceable men-and it does clash with the temperament of many an English statesman of the past and of the present-no one with a respect for his country, or paying the common duty of allegiance to it, can compromise upon the matter. It is here with England precisely as it has been with all her parallels, the great oligarchic commercial commonwealths of the past; she lives by the sea, and the closing of the sea would be to her not inconvenience, but death.
It is, I think, this very sentiment that England can live only on condition that the English fleet is supreme which has led England to use that supremacy so sparingly. It is true to say that there has been no force of so much superiority to its rivals as the British Navy which in all history has been used for such purely defensive purposes as the British Navy has been used during the present generation, and this moderation I conceive to be due to a clear recognition that morally
the claim to supremacy at sea is a challenge which the great rival nations must feel acutely, and which they have a right to feel acutely, and which, therefore, must be softened in every possible way.
But if it is necessary that Great Britain should brook no rival at sea it is still more necessary that such a rival, should he arise, should not have naval bases within striking distance of her coast. The great exception has, of course, been France, and for two centuries at least that fact has molded the whole of British policy. Had Germany remained a Continental power and re.jected maritime ambition that would still continue to mold British policy.
The French have, and Europe being what it is will always continue to have, the aptitude for the sea, the genius in mechanical invention and the superabundant wealth which between them are the three factors of the great modern fleet. A lengthy coast line training millions of her workers to a seafaring life, a long tradition of naval families, and pioneer in every form of modern naval war from the armor plate to the submarine, is the proof of this, if proof were needed.
As against the presence of some part of the French naval power on an opposing coast across a narrow armed water, the English Channel, Great Britain proceeded, generation after generation, to keep her control an essentially defensive naval force. She did it upon the position that her military effort, and therefore expenditure, should be slight; that her economic as her other energies should be chiefly devoted to her marine.
And though the French in the moments of their greatest prosperity were able, for all their constant military effort, to produce navies that rivaled those of Great Britain, yet Great Britain's effort was the more constant. She never engaged large bodies of men in war; she could take advantage of every French reverse during the two centuries when the French were perpetually engaged in huge Continental conflicts.
Great Britain, in a word, by ceaseless vigilance and at a great expense of
energy, managed upon the whole to dominate one branch of the narrow seas, the Channel. Upon the other branch, the North Sea, she felt nearly always secure. An exception to this security was found during the brief Dutch period in the seventeenth century and again, much more acutely, when the French were the masters of the Low Countries, and when Napoleon took control of the shipbuilding yards not only from Brest to Dunkirk, but from Dunkirk to the Bight of Heligoland.
This presence of the French power in Holland, Belgium, and Frisia, in particular the French control of Antwerp, was the true cause of violent anxiety, and the no less violent efforts in reply which Britain made during the Napoleonic wars. For twenty-three years she fought, with but two short intervals of repose, upon a dozen nominal pleas, but with one plain piece of statesmanship at the back of her mind-that no one should control the narrow seas against herself.
And especially that if she could not prevent the existence in normal times of a very powerful, dangerous French fleet, rendering her anxious for one-half of those seas, at least the other half should be free from such anxiety.
In the midst of such a secular determination, successfully maintained, Germany began to build her new great modern fleet.
The German Empire had a most unquestioned right thus to challenge the power of Great Britain. It was indeed the most effective challenge which a nation jealous of Britain's commerce could deliver, but it is none the less true that the plain policy of self-preservation compelled Britain to take up that challenge.
For the first time in three hundred years Britain found herself beginning to support French trades, in the general policy of the world.
The French, for reasons which had nothing to do with England and with which the mass of the English governing classes in no way sympathized, had maintained for more than thirty years a determination to restore their own
power at the expense of Prussia. Because modern Germany was building her fleet, modern Britain, in order to check that movement, began thus in novel fashion and against all the old English traditions to support the French.
The thing was done at the bottom with reluctance. All Englishmen felt the common bond of religion which united their country with that which governs modern Germany. Many Englishmen believed that there was some vague bond of race between the two countries. Not a few worthy, ignorant men, and even one or two men of great ability, attempted to direct negotiations whereby a fixed ratio should exist between the two fleets; in other words, whereby the German Empire should pledge itself to a permanent inferiority at sea.
That empire would indeed have been more foolish even than cowardly had it listened to any such proposals. The position, therefore, was one of inevitable and increasing friction. It was a matter of life and death to England that no other great Western fleet should exist besides the French, and it was a matter of national existence to Germany once she had undertaken a policy not to give up that policy at the dictation of any other power-for, among other things, modern Germany lived on prestige, her whole internal structure depended upon it, and for Prussia to lose faith before Europe would be the end of the Germany that Prussia had made.
There are those who say that a Germany conducted by some Richelieu, or even by a surviving Bismarck, would never have attempted the building of a great fleet until accounts had been finally settled with France. There are those who say that the elements of statesmanship required the German Empire first to settle herself politically upon the shores of the Straits of Dover and the Netherlands, first to destroy the danger of a great war in the west on land, then and then only to begin building that fleet which must inevitably challenge Great Britain. It is no part of this criticism to consider the statesmanship of another nation, but at any rate once the
policy of building the fleet was begun conflict with England was in sight.
2. The second cause of England's joining in this war is the effect of a number of internal arrangements, some of them of minor importance, but all leading in one direction and ultimately placing the Government of Great Britain in a position from which it was difficult to retire. In general terms these arrangements were based upon the idea of joining the group of powers, French and Russian, which formed the counterpoise to the Germanic group in Europe, the German Empire and Austria. At the same time there was running through these arrangements the idea of detaching Italy, whose Government was firmly attached to Germany, but whose population was very doubtful, from the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy, which had been the cardinal point in European affairs for a generation.
The various steps by which Great Britain approached this position are well known. In the first place, she came to an arrangement with France whereby she should have a free hand in Egypt and France should be supported by England in the occupation of Morocco. This was done behind the back of Germany to the manifest loss of Germany's colonial ambition and, what is more noticeable, England was openly paying a very high price for the new state of affairs she hoped to create, for she had pretty well a free hand in Egypt, already, while France's opportunity of going to Morocco and exploiting a very large area of valuable territory-something quite new and additional to her-depended upon England's withdrawing her opposition.
That opposition was withdrawn; and though the most violent effect was produced in Germany, though there were threats of war, pitiable quarrels within the French Cabinet and a moment of grave danger, the pact was accomplished, and Morocco, all save the strip opposite Gibraltar, became French, while all that Germany had to show for her share was an irregularly shaped and not valuable couple of slices cut out of tropical Africa in the Congo Basin from the vast French
possessions there, and added to her own still insufficient share.
Another group of arrangements was that with Russia, and here again England willingly paid a heavy price, and again completely reversed her traditional policy. She gave all that is vital in Persia to Russian control. She forgot her old anxiety about the Indian frontier; she lost her old and hitherto unbroken policy of supporting Turkey in Europe. When the war came she was with the French in supporting the Balkan powers, "The Little Nations."
Finally, in the matter of Italy, she supported or permitted the Italian attack upon and annexation of Turkish territory in North Africa, and consistently, before and after that event, worked for the strengthening of Italy in the Triple Alliance and for securing the neutrality of that country, at least in case of a European war.
There were many other arrangements besides these three principal and typical ones, but all, small or great, were based upon the same idea, and pointed in the same direction. England was leaning upon the Russian side against Germany. The most important in the minor details in this new policy, the one which has had most effect perhaps in producing the war, was an understanding whereby the French fleet should virtually evacuate the Northern Seas and undertake for England the policing of the Mediterranean trade routes, and the guardianship of that source of food supply to Great Britain, thus leaving the whole weight of the British Navy free to guard the North Sea, and to face the new and growing German naval force.
Now, it must always be borne in mind that these arrangements, large and small, detailed and general, whereby Great Britain gradually involved herself in a network of French and Russian supports and reciprocal duties, never took the form of an alliance. The utmost pains were taken by English diplomatists and permanent officials at the English Foreign Office, experts and servants, to state that England remained
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4ion was maintained by the Germent of Great Britain until the for 24 moment.
But we cannot to a number of things. en we dated with a similar tendency. *Chat and whole conduct and fate sing determined in the direction to Who Came actions tend *1 preserve one's egal or technical independence is not enough. In this specific case, for notanes, the naval arrangement proved an exceedingly weighty thing. France 006 267
"Relying m your explicit, though not expressed, mypport of myself and Rus*', I varied your trade routes in the Med Serranean and left my northern evvaste andefended. Here is war about
to break out with those northern coasta of wine ware against the overwhelming attack from the German Eeet, and with noth ng wherewith I can guard it; and that navetness is entirely due to having trusted you. You may not have a legal obligation, but the moral one is not to be shirked."
At any rate, I inaiat upon the tendency of all these various diplomatic acts, because it has been they that might have Aragged the most reluctant Government into tra conflict, and it was they which, in combination with the cardinal policy of preventing maritime rivalry in the narrow seas, decided the present policy of this country.
2. But, as I have said, there was a third cause, much vaguer and, until war actually broke out, of little effect. Though there had existed for thirty years from 1880 until after the beginning of the new century such strong bonds of sympathy between Great Britain and North Germany-bonds riveted by Court influence and much more strengthened by
the minence of the verses and of Zigious leavers-gh some contempt for and allenation from the French had become of cressing noten English public erances and iterature, get Great Britan med pan the whole the Western toetine of ivilization and of to tacitors.
The increasing German reaction against those actions, parteniarly in morais, was not wholy sympathetic to the temper of the entry, at least in EngLand, and was sometimes exasperating.
A nations have cynicaly violated treaties at one time or another, but there is about a solemnly undertaken treaty by the great European powers and affecting the happiness of the smaler neutral States something particularly sacred. And though it must not for one moment be regarded as the principal cause of the war, it is true that the cruvity of Pinssia's neglect of treaties. the too simple fashion in which Prussia proposed a breach of international obligations in the matter of Belgium, did affect the conscience of not a few powerful men in England, and, what is perhaps more important, furnished a definite and concrete point on which the doubtful issue of peace or war could repose.
It must be remembered in this connection that Prussia had a novel tradition of her own in such matters. The phrase "The Frederickian tradition" is an accurate phrase. Frederick the Great did start the open and avowed doctrine that a breach of international convention and of international morals is always tolerable in the aggrandizement of one's country.
I think one is not telling the truth if one says that the proposed violation of Belgian territory for the invasion of France was of a nature to cause an explosion of anger in the very hardened minds of the professional politicians in any modern country. There is not one group of them that has not been guilty of something of the sort before. But I think one is telling the truth if one says that the over-simple and cold way in which Prussia took it for granted that the violation of a solemn and most im