A General Sketch of the European War - The First Phase
by Hilaire Belloc
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First published June 1, 1915 Reprinted June 1915







(3) PRUSSIA 27

(4) AUSTRIA 39






The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of the Germanic Body 86

The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of the Allies 121


The Figures of the First Period, say to October 1-31, 1914 145

The Figures of the Second Period, say to April 15-June 1, 1915 151





(2) LEMBERG 322




It is the object of this book, and those which will succeed it in the same series, to put before the reader the main lines of the European War as it proceeds. Each such part must necessarily be completed and issued some little time after the events to which it relates have passed into history. The present first, or introductory volume, which is a preface to the whole, covers no more than the outbreak of hostilities, and is chiefly concerned with an examination of the historical causes which produced the conflict, an estimate of the comparative strength of the various combatants, and a description of the first few days during which these combatants took up their positions and suffered the first great shocks of the campaigns in East and West.

But in order to serve as an introduction to the remainder of the series, it is necessary that the plan upon which these books are to be constructed should be clearly explained.

There is no intention of giving in detail and with numerous exact maps the progress of the campaigns. Still less does the writer propose to examine disputed points of detail, or to enumerate the units employed over that vast field. His object is to make clear, as far as he is able, those great outlines of the business which too commonly escape the general reader.

This war is the largest and the weightiest historical incident which Europe has known for many centuries. It will surely determine the future of Europe, and in particular the future of this country. Yet the comprehension of its movements is difficult to any one not acquainted with the technical language and the special study of military history; and the reading of the telegrams day by day, even though it be accompanied by the criticisms of the military experts in the newspapers, leaves the mass of men with a most confused conception of what happened and why it happened.

Now, it is possible, by greatly simplifying maps, by further simplifying these into clear diagrams, still more by emphasizing what is essential and by deliberately omitting a crowd of details—by showing first the framework, as it were, of any principal movement, and then completing that framework with the necessary furniture of analysed record—to give any one a conception both of what happened and of how it happened.

It is even possible, where the writer has seen the ground over which the battles have been fought (and much of it is familiar to the author of this), so to describe such ground to the reader that he will in some sort be able to see for himself the air and the view in which the things were done: thus more than through any other method will the things be made real to him. The aim, therefore, of these pages, and of those that will succeed them, is to give such a general idea of the campaigns as a whole as will permit whoever has grasped it a secure comprehension of the forces at work, and of the results of those forces. It is desired, for example, that the reader of these pages shall be able to say to himself: "The Germanic body expected to win—and no wonder, for it had such and such advantages in number and in equipment.... The first two battles before Warsaw failed, and I can see why. It was because the difficulties in Russian supply were met by a contraction of the Russian line.... The 1st German Army was compelled to retreat before Paris, and I can now see why that was so: as it turned to envelop the Allied line, a great reserve within the fortified zone of Paris threatened it, and forced it back."

These main lines, and these only, are attempted in the present book, and in those that are to follow it in this series.

The disadvantage of such a method is, of course, that the reader must look elsewhere for details, for the notices of a particular action, and the records of particular regiments. He must look for these to the large histories of the war, which will amply supply his curiosity in good time. But the advantage of the method consists in that it provides, as I hope, a foundation upon which all this bewildering multitude of detailed reading can repose.

I set out, then, to give, as it were, the alphabet of the campaign, and I begin in this volume with the preliminaries to it—that is, its great political causes, deep rooted in the past; the particular and immediate causes which led to the outbreak of war; an estimate of the forces engaged; and the inception of hostilities.


This first volume will cover three parts. In Part I. I shall write of The Causes of the War. In Part II. I shall Contrast the Forces Opposed. In Part III. (the briefest) I shall describe the First Shock.

In Part I., where I deal first with the general or historical causes of the war, later with the particulars, I shall:—

1. Define the German object which led up to it.

2. Show how this object conflicted with the wills of other nations.

3. Briefly sketch the rise of Prussia and of her domination over North Germany.

4. Define the position of Austria-Hungary in the matter, and thus close the general clauses.

5. The particular causes of the war will next be dealt with; the curious challenge thrown down to Great Britain by the German Fleet before the German Empire had made secure its position on the Continent; the French advance upon Morocco; the coalition of the Balkan States against the remainder of the Turkish Empire in Europe.

6. Lastly, in this First Part, I shall describe the immediate occasion of the war and its surroundings: the ultimatum issued by the Austro-Hungarian Government to the little kingdom of Servia.

In Part II. I will attempt to present the forces opposed at the outbreak of war.

First, the contrast in the geographical position of the Germanic Allies with their enemies, the French, the English, and the Russians. Secondly, the numbers of trained men prepared and the numbers of reserves available in at least the first year to the various numbers in conflict. Thirdly, the way in which the various enemies had thought of the coming war (which was largely a matter of theory in the lack of experience); in what either party has been right, and in what wrong, as events proved; and with what measure of foresight the various combatants entered the field.

In Part III, I will very briefly describe the original armed dispositions for combat at the outbreak of war, the German aim upon the West, and the German orders to the Austrians upon the East; the overrunning of Belgium, and the German success upon the Sambre; then the pursuit of the Franco-British forces to the line Paris-Verdun, up to the eve of the successful counter-offensive undertaken by them in the first week of September. I will end by describing what were the contemporary events in the Eastern field: in its northern part the overrunning of East Prussia by the Russians, and the heavy blow which the Germans there administered to the invader; in its southern the Austrian opposition to the Russians on the Galician borders, and the breakdown of that opposition at Lemberg.

My terminal date for this sketch will be the 5th of September.




War is the attempt of two human groups each to impose its will upon the other by force of arms. This definition holds of the most righteous war fought in self-defence as much as it does of the most iniquitous war of mere aggression. The aggressor, for instance, proposes to take the goods of his victim without the pretence of a claim. He is attempting to impose his will upon that victim. The victim, in resisting by force of arms, is no less attempting to impose his will upon the aggressor; and if he is victorious does effectually impose that will: for it is his will to prevent the robbery.

Every war, then, arises from some conflict of wills between two human groups, each intent upon some political or civic purpose, conflicting with that of his opponent.

War and all military action is but a means to a non-military end, to be achieved and realized in peace.

Although arguable differences invariably exist as to the right or wrong of either party in any war, yet the conflicting wills of the two parties, the irreconcilable political objects which each has put before itself and the opposition between which has led to conflict, can easily be defined.

They fall into two classes:—

1. The general objects at which the combatants have long been aiming.

2. The particular objects apparent just before, and actually provoking, the conflict.

In the case of the present enormous series of campaigns, which occupy the energies of nearly all Europe, the general causes can be easily defined, and that without serious fear of contradiction by the partisans of either side.

On the one hand, the Germanic peoples, especially that great majority of them now organized as the German Empire under the hegemony of Prussia, had for fully a lifetime and more been possessed of a certain conception of themselves which may be not unjustly put into the form of the following declaration. It is a declaration consonant with most that has been written from the German standpoint during more than a generation, and many of its phrases are taken directly from the principal exponents of the German idea.


"We the Germans are in spirit one nation. But we are a nation the unity of which has been constantly forbidden for centuries by a number of accidents. None the less that unity has always been an ideal underlying our lives. Once or twice in the remote past it has been nearly achieved, especially under the great German emperors of the Middle Ages. Whenever it has thus been nearly achieved, we Germans have easily proved ourselves the masters of other societies around us. Most unfortunately our very strength has proved our ruin time and again by leading us into adventures, particularly adventures in Italy, which took the place of our national ideal for unity and disturbed and swamped it. The reason we have been thus supreme whenever we were united or even nearly united lay in the fact, which must be patent to every observer, that our mental, moral, and physical characteristics render us superior to all rivals. The German or Teutonic race can everywhere achieve, other things being equal, more than can any other race. Witness the conquest of the Roman Empire by German tribes; the political genius, commercial success, and final colonial expansion of the English, a Teutonic people; and the peculiar strength of the German races resident within their old homes on the Rhine, the Danube, the Weser, and the Elbe, whenever they were not fatally disunited by domestic quarrel or unwise foreign ideals. It was we who revivified the declining society of Roman Gaul, and made it into the vigorous mediaeval France that was ruled from the North. It was we who made and conquered the heathen Slavs threatening Europe from the East, and who civilized them so far as they could be civilized. We are, in a word, and that patently not only to ourselves but to all others, the superior and leading race of mankind; and you have but to contrast us with the unstable Celt—who has never produced a State—the corrupt and now hopelessly mongrel Mediterranean or 'Latin' stock, the barbarous and disorderly Slav, to perceive at once the truth of all we say.

"It so happens that the various accidents which interrupted our strivings for unity permitted other national groups, inferior morally and physically to our own, to play a greater part than such an inferiority warranted; and the same accidents permitted men of Teutonic stock, not inhabiting the ancient homes of the Teutons, but emigrated therefrom and politically separated from the German Empire, to obtain advantages in which we ourselves should have had a share, but which we missed. Thus England, a Teutonic country, obtained her vast colonial empire while we had not a ship upon the sea.

"France, a nation then healthier than it is now, but still of much baser stock than our own, played for centuries the leading part in Western Europe; she is even to-day 'over-capitalized,' as it were, possessing a far greater hold over the modern world than her real strength warrants. Even the savage Slavs have profited by our former disunion, and the Russian autocracy not only rules millions of German-speaking subjects, but threatens our frontiers with its great numbers of barbarians, and exercises over the Balkan Peninsula, and therefore over the all-important position of Constantinople, a power very dangerous to European culture as a whole, and particularly to our own culture—which is, of course, by far the highest culture of all.

"Some fifty years ago, acting upon the impulse of a group of great writers and thinkers, our statesmen at last achieved that German unity which had been the unrealized ideal of so many centuries. In a series of wars we accomplished that unity, and we amply manifested our superiority when we were once united by defeating with the greatest ease and in the most fundamental fashion the French, whom the rest of Europe then conceived to be the chief military power.

"From that moment we have incontestably stood in the sight of all as the strongest people in the world, and yet because other and lesser nations had the start of us, our actual international position, our foreign possessions, the security that should be due to so supreme an achievement, did not correspond to our real strength and abilities. England had vast dependencies, and had staked out the unoccupied world as her colonies. We had no colonies and no dependencies. France, though decadent, was a menace to our peace upon the West. We could have achieved the thorough conquest and dismemberment of France at any time in the last forty years, and yet during the whole of that time France was adding to her foreign possessions in Tunis, Madagascar, and Tonkin, latterly in Morocco, while we were obtaining nothing. The barbarous Russians were increasing constantly in numbers, and somewhat perfecting their insufficient military machine without any interference from us, grave as was the menace from them upon our Eastern frontier.

"It was evident that such a state of things could not endure. A nation so united and so immensely strong could not remain in a position of artificial inferiority while lesser nations possessed advantages in no way corresponding to their real strength. The whole equilibrium of Europe was unstable through this contrast between what Germany might be and what she was, and a struggle to make her what she might be from what she was could not be avoided.

"Germany must, in fulfilment of a duty to herself, obtain colonial possessions at the expense of France, obtain both colonial possessions and sea-power at the expense of England, and put an end, by campaigns perhaps defensive, but at any rate vigorous, to the menace of Slav barbarism upon the East. She was potentially, by her strength and her culture, the mistress of the modern world, the chief influence in it, and the rightful determinant of its destinies. She must by war pass from a potential position of this kind to an actual position of domination."

Such was the German mood, such was the fatuous illusion which produced this war. It had at its service, as we shall see later, numbers, and, backed by this superiority of numbers, it counted on victory.


When we have clearly grasped the German attitude, as it may thus be not unfairly expressed, we shall not find it difficult to conceive why a conflict between such a will and other wills around it broke out.

We need waste no time in proving the absurdity of the German assumptions, the bad history they involve, and the perverse and twisted perspective so much vanity presupposes. War can never be prevented by discovering the moral errors of an opponent. It comes into being because that opponent does not believe them to be moral errors; and in the attempt to understand this war and its causes, we should only confuse ourselves if we lost time over argument upon pretensions even as crassly unreal as these.

It must be enough for the purposes of this to accept the German will so stated, and to see how it necessarily conflicts with the English will, the French will, the Russian will, and sooner or later, for that matter, with every other national will in Europe.

In the matter of sea-power England would answer: "Unless we are all-powerful at sea, our very existence is imperilled." In the matter of her colonies and dependencies England would answer: "We may be a Teutonic people or we may not. All that kind of thing is pleasant talk for the academies. But if you ask whether we will allow any part of our colonies to become German or any part of our great dependencies to fall under German rule, the answer is in the negative."

The French would answer: "We do not happen to think that we are either decadent or corrupt, nor do we plead guilty to any other of your vague and very pedantic charges; but quite apart from that, on the concrete point of whether we propose to be subjugated by a foreign Power, German or other, the answer is in the negative. Our will is here in conflict with yours. And before you can proceed to any act of mastery over us, you will have to fight. Moreover, we shall not put aside the duty of ultimately fighting you so long as a population of two millions, who feel themselves to be French (though most of them are German-speaking) and who detest your rule, are arbitrarily kept in subjection by you in Alsace-Lorraine."

The Russians would reply: "We cannot help being numerically stronger than you, and we do not propose to diminish our numbers even if we could. We do not think we are barbaric; and as to our leadership of the Slav people in the Balkans, that seems as right and natural to us, particularly on religious grounds, as any such bond could be. It may interfere with your ambitions; but if you propose that we should abandon so obvious an attitude of leadership among the Slavs, the answer is in the negative." There is here, therefore, again a conflict of wills.

In general, what the German peoples desired, based upon what they believed themselves to be, was sharply at issue with what the English people, what the French people, what the Russian people respectively desired. Their desires were also based upon what they believed themselves to be, and they thought themselves to be very different from what Germany thought them to be. The English did not believe that they had sneaked their empire; the French did not believe that they were moribund; the Russians did not believe that they were savages.

It was impossible that the German will should impose itself without coming at once into conflict with these other national wills. It was impossible that the German ideal should seek to realize itself without coming into conflict with the mere desire to live, let alone the self-respect, of everybody else.

And the consequence of such a conflict in ideals and wills translated into practice was this war.

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But the war would not have come nor would it have taken the shape that it did, but for two other factors in the problem which we must next consider. These two other factors are, first, the position and tradition of Prussia among the German States; secondly, the peculiar authority exercised by the Imperial House of Hapsburg-Lorraine at Vienna over its singularly heterogeneous subjects.


The Germans have always been, during their long history, a race inclined to perpetual division and sub-division, accompanied by war and lesser forms of disagreement between the various sections. Their friends have called this a love of freedom, their enemies political incompetence; but, without giving it a good or a bad name, the plain fact has been, century after century, that the various German tribes would not coalesce. Any one of them was always willing to take service with the Roman Empire, in the early Roman days, against any one of the others, and though there have been for short periods more or less successful attempts to form one nation of them all in imitation of the more civilized States to the west and south, these attempts have never succeeded for very long.

But it so happens that about two hundred years ago, or a little more, there appeared one body of German-speaking men rather different from the rest, and capable ultimately of leading the rest, or at least a majority of the rest.

I use the words "German-speaking" and "rather different" because this particular group of men, though speaking German, were of less pure German blood than almost any other of the peoples that spoke that tongue. They were the product of a conquest undertaken late in the Middle Ages by German knights over a mixed Pagan population, Lithuanian and Slavonic, which inhabited the heaths and forests along the Baltic Sea. These German knights succeeded in their task, and compelled the subject population to accept Christianity, just as the Germans themselves had been compelled to accept it by their more powerful and civilized neighbours the French hundreds of years before. The two populations of this East Baltic district, the large majority which was Slavonic and Lithuanian, and the minority which was really German, mixed and produced a third thing, which we now know as the Prussian. The cradle of this Prussian race was, then, all that flat country of which Koenigsberg and Danzig are the capitals, but especially Koenigsberg—"King's Town"—where the monarchs of this remote people were crowned. By an historical accident, which we need not consider, the same dynasty was, after it had lost all claim to separate kingship, merged in the rulers of the Mark of Brandenburg, a somewhat more German but still mixed district lying also in the Baltic plain, but more towards the west, and the official title of the Prussian ruler somewhat more than two hundred years ago was the Elector of Brandenburg. These rulers of the Mark of Brandenburg were a family bearing the title of Hohenzollern, a castle in South Germany, by which name they are still distinguished. The palace of these Hohenzollerns was henceforward at Berlin.

Now, much at the same time that the civil wars were being fought in England—that is, not quite three hundred years ago—the Reformation had produced in Germany also very violent quarrels. Vienna, which was the seat of the Imperial House, stood for the Catholic or traditional cause, and most Germans adhered to that cause. But certain of the Northern German principalities and counties took up the side of the Reformation. A terrible war, known as the Thirty Years' War, was fought between the two factions. It enormously reduced the total population of Germany. In the absence of exact figures we only have wild guesses, such as a loss of half or three-quarters. At any rate, both from losses from the adherence of many princes to the Protestant cause and from the support lent to that cause for political reasons by Catholic France, this great civil war in Germany left the Protestant part more nearly equal in numbers to the Catholic part, and, among other things, it began to make the Elector of Brandenburg with his Prussians particularly prominent as the champion of the Protestant cause. For, of all the warring towns, counties, principalities, and the rest, Prussia had in particular shown military aptitude.

From that day to this the advance of Prussia as, first, the champion, then the leader, and at last the master of Northern Germany as a whole (including many Catholic parts in the centre and the south), has been consistent and almost uninterrupted. The "Great Elector" (as he was called) formed an admirable army some two hundred years ago. His grandson Frederick formed a still better one, and by his great capacities as a general, as well as by the excellence of his troops, gave Prussia a military reputation in the middle of the eighteenth century which has occasionally been eclipsed, but has never been extinguished.

Frederick the Great did more than this. He codified and gave expression, as it were, to the Prussian spirit, and the manifestation of that spirit in international affairs is generally called the "Frederician Tradition."

This "Frederician Tradition" must be closely noted by the reader, because it is the principal moral cause of the present war. It may be briefly and honestly put in the following terms:—

"The King of Prussia shall do all that may seem to advantage the kingdom of Prussia among the nations, notwithstanding any European conventions or any traditions of Christendom, or even any of those wider and more general conventions which govern the international conduct of other Christian peoples."

For instance, if a convention of international morals has arisen—as it did arise very strongly, and was kept until recent times—that hostilities should not begin without a formal declaration of war, the "Frederician Tradition" would go counter to this, and would say: "If ultimately it would be to the advantage of Prussia to attack without declaration of war, then this convention may be neglected."

Or, again, treaties solemnly ratified between two Governments are generally regarded as binding. And certainly a nation that never kept such a treaty for more than a week would find itself in a position where it was impossible to make any treaties at all. Still, if upon a vague calculation of men's memories, the acuteness of the circumstance, the advantage ultimately to follow, and so on, it be to the advantage of Prussia to break such solemn treaty, then such a treaty should be broken.

It will be apparent that what is called the "Frederician Tradition," which is the soul of Prussia in her international relations, is not an unprincipled thing. It has a principle, and that principle is a patriotic desire to strengthen Prussia, which particular appetite overweighs all general human morals and far outweighs all special Christian or European morals.

This doctrine of the "Frederician Tradition" does not mean that the Prussian statesmen wantonly do wrong, whether in acts of cruelty or in acts of treason and bad faith. What it means is that, wherever they are met by the dilemma, "Shall I do this, which is to the advantage of my country but opposed to European and common morals, or that, which is consonant with those morals but to the disadvantage of my country?" they choose the former and not the latter course.

Prussia, endowed with this doctrine and possessed of a most excellent military organization and tradition, stood out as the first military power in Europe until the French Revolution. The wars of the French Revolution and of Napoleon upset this prestige, and in the battle of Jena (1806) seemed to have destroyed it. But it was too strong to be destroyed. The Prussian Government was the first of Napoleon's allies to betray Napoleon after the Russians had broken his power (1812). They took part with the other Allies in finishing off Napoleon after the Russian campaign (1813-14); they were present with decisive effect upon the final field of Waterloo (1815), and remained for fifty years afterwards the great military power they had always been. They had further added to their dominions such great areas in Northern Germany, beyond the original areas inhabited by the true Prussian stock, that they were something like half of the whole Northern German people when, in 1864, they entered into the last phase of their dominion. They began by asking Austria to help them in taking from Denmark, a small and weak country, not only those provinces of hers which spoke German, but certain districts which were Danish as well. France and England were inclined to interfere, but they did not yet understand the menace Prussia might be in the future, and they neglected to act. Two years later Prussia suddenly turned upon Austria, her ally, defeated her in a very short campaign, and insisted upon Austria's relinquishing for the future all claims over any part of the German-speaking peoples, save some ten millions in the valley of the Middle Danube and of the Upper Elbe. Four years later again, in 1870, Prussia having arranged, after various political experiments which need not be here detailed, for the support of all the German States except Austria, fought a war with France, in which she was immediately and entirely successful, and in the course of which the rulers of the other German States consented (1) to give the Hohenzollern-Prussian dynasty supreme military power for the future over them, under the hereditary title of German Emperors; (2) to form a united nation under the more or less despotic power of these emperors.

This latter point, the national unity, though really highly centralized at Berlin, especially on the military side, was softened in its rigour by a number of very wise provisions. A great measure of autonomy was left to the more important of the lesser States, particularly Catholic Bavaria; local customs were respected; and, above all, local dynasties were flattered, and maintained in all the trappings of sovereign rank.

From that date—that is, for the last forty-four years—there has been a complete Northern Germany, one strong, centralized, and thoroughly co-ordinated nation, in which the original Prussian domination is not only numerically far the greatest element, but morally overshadows all the rest. The spiritual influence ruling this state issues from Berlin and from the Prussian soul, although a large minority consist of contented but respectful Catholics, who, in all national matters, wholly sympathize with and take their cue from the Protestant North.

So far one may clearly see what kind of power it is that has initiated the German theory of supremacy which we have described above, is prepared to lead it to battle, and is quite certain of leading it to victory.

But we note—the fatal mark in all German history—that the unity is not complete. The ten millions of Austrian Germans were, when Prussia achieved this her highest ambition, deliberately left outside the new German Empire. And this was done because, in Prussian eyes, a so-called "German unity" was but a means to an end, and that end the aggrandizement of the Hohenzollern dynasty. To include so many southern and Catholic Germans would have endangered the mastery of Berlin. The fact that Austria ruled a number of non-German subjects far larger than her Austrian population would further have endangered the Hohenzollern position had Austria been admitted to the new German Empire, and had the consolidation of all Germans into one true state been really and loyally attempted. Lastly, it would have been impossible to destroy the historic claims to leadership of the Imperial Hapsburgs, and that, more than anything else, was the rivalry the Hohenzollerns dreaded. Once more had the Germans proved themselves incapable of, and unwilling to submit to, the discipline of unity. What part, then, was Austria, thus left out, to play in the international activity of Prussia in the future? What part especially was she to play when Prussia, at the head of Northern Germany, should go out to impose the will of that Germany and of herself upon the rest of the world? That is the next question we must answer before we can hope to understand the causes of the present war in their entirety.


Austria, or, more strictly speaking, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, means no more than the congeries of States governed each separately and all in combination by the head of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine. Of these various States only one is German-speaking as a whole, and that is the Austrian State proper, the "Eastern States" (for that is what the word "Austria" originally meant) which Christendom erected round the Roman and Christian frontier town of Vienna to withstand the pressure of the heathen Slavs and Mongol Magyars surging against it upon this frontier.

The complexity of the various sections which make up the realm of the present Emperor Francis Joseph, the present head of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, would be only confusing if it were detailed in so general a description as this. We must be content with the broad lines of the thing, which are as follows:—

From the Upper Danube and its valley—all the basin of it, one may say, down to a point about twenty miles below Vienna—is the original Austrian State; German-speaking as a whole, and the historic centre of the entire agglomeration. East of this is the far larger state of Hungary, and Hungary is the valley of the river Danube, from where the German-speaking boundary cuts it, just below Vienna down to the Iron Gates, up to the crest of the Carpathians. These two great units of Austria proper and of Hungary have round them certain frills or edges. On the north are two great bodies, Slav in origin, Bohemia and Galicia; on the south another Slav body, separated from the rest for centuries by the eruption of the Magyars from Asia in the Dark Ages, and these Slav bodies are represented by Croatia, by much of Dalmatia, and latterly by Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have been governed by Austria for a generation, and formally annexed by her with the consent of Europe seven years ago. Finally, there is a strip, or, to be more accurate, there are patches of Italian-speaking people, all along the coasts of the Adriatic, and occupying the ports governed by Austria along the eastern and northern coast of that sea. There is also a belt of Alpine territory of Italian speech—the Trentino—still in Austrian hands.

This very general description gives, however, far too rough an idea of the extraordinarily complicated territories of the House of Hapsburg. Thus, there are considerable German-speaking colonies in Hungary, and these, oddly enough, are more frequent in the east than in the west of that State. Again, the whole western slope of the Carpathians is, so far as the mass of the population is concerned, Roumanian in tongue, custom, and race. Bohemia, though Slavonic in origin, is regularly enframed along its four sides by belts of German-speaking people, and was mainly German-speaking until a comparatively recent revival of its native Slavonic tongue, the Czech. Again, though the Magyar language is Mongolian, like the Turkish, centuries of Christian and European admixture have left very little trace of the original race. Lastly, in all the north-eastern corner of this vast and heterogeneous territory, something like a quarter of the population is Jewish.

The Western student, faced with so extraordinary a puzzle of race and language, may well wonder what principle of unity there is lying behind it, and, indeed, this principle of unity is not easy to find.

Some have sought it in religion, pointing out that the overwhelming majority of these various populations are Catholic, in communion with Rome; and, indeed, this Catholic tincture or colour has a great deal to do with the Austro-Hungarian unity; and of late years the chief directing policy of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine has been to pose as the leader of the Catholic Slavs against the Slavs belonging to the Greek Church.

But this principle of unity is not the true one, for two reasons: first, that the motive leading the House of Hapsburg to the difficult task of so complicated a government is not a religious motive; and, secondly, because this religious unity is subject to profound modification. Hungary, though Catholic in its majority, contains, and is largely governed by, powerful Protestant families, who are supported by considerable bodies of Protestant population. The Greek Church is the religious profession of great numbers along the Lower Danube valley and to the south of the river Save. There are in Bosnia a considerable number of Mahomedans even, and I have already mentioned the numerous Jewish population of the north-east, particularly in Galicia.

The true principle of unity in what has hitherto been the Austro-Hungarian Empire is twofold. It consists, first, in the reigning family, considerable personal attachment to which is felt in every section of its dominions, utterly different as these are one from another; and, secondly (a more important point), in the historical development of the State.

It is this last matter which explains all, and which can make us understand why a realm so astonishingly ill constructed was brought into the present struggle as one force, and that force a force allied to, and in a military sense identical with, modern Prussian Germany.

For the historical root of Austria-Hungary is German. Of its population (some fifty-one millions) you may say that only about a quarter are German-speaking (less than another quarter are Magyar-speaking, most of the rest Slavonic in speech, together with some proportion of Roumanian and Italian).

But it is from this German quarter and from the emperor at their head that the historical growth of the State depends, because this German quarter was the original Christian nucleus and the civilized centre, which had for its mission the reduction of Slavonic and Magyar barbarism. The Slavs of the Bohemian quadrilateral were subjected, not indeed by conquest, but by a process of culture, to Vienna. The crown of Hungary, when it fell by marriage to the Hapsburgs, continued that tradition; and when the Empress Maria-Theresa, in the last century, participated in the abominable crime of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and took her share of the dismembered body of Poland (now called the Austrian province of Galicia), that enormous blunder was, in its turn, a German blunder undertaken under the example of Northern Germany, and as part of a movement German in spirit and origin. The same is true even of the very latest of the Austrian developments, the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The act was that of Vienna, but the spirit behind it, perhaps the suggestion of it, and the support that made it possible came from Berlin.

In a word, if you could interrogate the Genius of the Hapsburgs and ask it for what their dominion stood, it would tell you that for uninterrupted centuries they had stood for the German effort to repress or to overcome pressure upon the German peoples from the East. And that is still their role. They have come into this war, for instance, as the servants of Prussia, not because Prussia threatened or overawed them, but because they felt they had, in common with Prussia, the mission of withstanding the Slav, or of tolerating the Slav only as a subject; because, that is, they feared, and were determined to resist, Russia, and the smaller Slavonic States, notably Servia to the south, which are in the retinue of Russia.

* * * * *

We may sum up, then, and say that the fundamental conflict of wills in Europe, which has produced this general war, is a conflict between the German will, organized by Prussia to overthrow the ancient Christian tradition of Europe (to her advantage directly; and indirectly, as she proposes, to the advantage of a supposedly necessary German governance of the world under Prussian organization), and the will of the more ancient and better founded Western and Latin tradition to which the sanctity of separate national units profoundly appeals, and a great deal more which is, in their eyes, civilization. In this conflict, Prussia has called upon and received the support of not only the German Empire, which she controls, but also the Hapsburg monarchy, controlling the organized forces of Austria-Hungary; while there has appeared against this strange Prussian claim all that values the Christian tradition of Europe, and in particular the doctrine of national freedom, with very much else—which very much else are the things by which we of the civilized West and South, who have hitherto proved the creators of the European world, live and have our being. Allied with us, by the accident that this same German claim threatens them also, is the young new world of the Slavs.

It is at this final point of our examination that we may see the immensity of the issues upon which the war turns. The two parties are really fighting for their lives; that in Europe which is arrayed against the Germanic alliance would not care to live if it should fail to maintain itself against the threat of that alliance. It is for them life and death. On the other side, the Germans having propounded this theory of theirs, or rather the Prussians having propounded it for them, there is no rest possible until they shall either have "made good" to our destruction, or shall have been so crushed that a recurrence of the menace from them will for the future be impossible.

There is here no possibility of such a "draw" or "stalemate" as was the result, for instance, of the reduction of Louis XIV.'s ambition, or of the great revolutionary effort throughout Europe which ended with the fall of Napoleon. Louis XIV.'s ambition cast over Europe, which received it favourably, the colour of French culture. The Revolutionary Wars were fought for a principle which, if it did not appeal universally to men, appealed at least to all those millions whose instincts were democratic in every country. But in this war there is no such common term. No one outside the districts led by Prussia desires a Prussian life, and perhaps most, certainly many, of those whom Prussia now leads are in different degrees unwilling to continue a Prussian life. The fight, in a word, is not like a fight with a man who, if he beats you, may make you sign away some property, or make you acknowledge some principle to which you are already half inclined; it is like a fight with a man who says, "So long as I have life left in me, I will make it my business to kill you." And fights of that kind can never reach a term less absolute than the destruction of offensive power in one side or the other. A peace not affirming complete victory in this great struggle could, of its nature, be no more than a truce.

* * * * *

So much for the really important and the chief thing which we have to understand—the general causes of the war.

Now let us turn to the particular causes. We shall find these to be, not like the general causes, great spiritual attitudes, but, as they always are, a sequence of restricted and recent events.


After the great victories of Prussia a generation ago (the spoliation of Denmark in 1864, the supremacy established over Austria in 1866, the crushing defeat of France and the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, with two millions of people in 1870-1), Europe gradually drifted into being an armed camp, the great forces of which were more or less in equilibrium. Prussia had, for the moment at least, achieved all that she desired. The French were for quite twenty years ardently desirous of recovering what they had lost; but Europe would not allow the war to be renewed, and Prussia, now at the head of a newly constituted German Empire, made an arrangement with Austria and with Italy to curb the French desire for recovery. The French, obviously inferior before this triple alliance, gradually persuaded the Russians to support them; but the Russians would not support the French in provoking another great war, and with the French themselves the old feeling gradually deadened. It did not disappear—any incident might have revived it—but the anxious desire for immediate war when the opportunity should come got less and less, and at the end of the process, say towards 1904, when a new generation had grown up in all the countries concerned, there was a sort of deadlock, every one very heavily armed, the principal antagonists, France and Germany, armed to their utmost, but the European States, as a whole, unwilling to allow any one of them to break the peace.

It was about this moment that Prussia committed what the future historian will regard, very probably, as the capital blunder in her long career of success. She began to build a great fleet. Here the reader should note two very important consequences of the great Prussian victories which had taken place a generation before. The first was the immense expansion of German industrialism. Germany, from an agricultural State, became a State largely occupied in mining, smelting, spinning, and shipbuilding; and there went with this revolution, as there always goes with modern industrialism, a large and unhealthy increase of population. The German Empire, after its war with France, was roughly equal to the population of the French; but the German Empire, after this successful industrial experiment, the result of its victories, was much more than half as large again in population as the French (68 to 39).

Secondly, the German Empire developed a new and very large maritime commerce. This second thing did not follow, as some have imagined it does, from the first. Germany might have exported largely without exporting in her own ships. The creation of Germany's new mercantile marine was a deliberate part of the general Prussian policy of expansion. It was heavily subsidized, especially directed into the form of great international passenger lines, and carefully co-ordinated with the rest of the Prussian scheme throughout the world.

At a date determined by the same general policy, and somewhat subsequent to the first creation of this mercantile marine, came the decision to build a great fleet. Now, it so happens that Great Britain alone among the Powers of Europe depends for her existence upon supremacy at sea, and particularly upon naval superiority in the Narrow Seas to the east and the south of the British islands.

Such a necessity is, of course, a challenge to the rest of the world, and it would be ridiculous to expect the rest of the world to accept that challenge without protest. But a necessity this naval policy of Great Britain remains none the less. The moment some rival or group of rivals can overcome her fleet, her mere physical livelihood is in peril. She cannot be certain of getting her food. She cannot be certain of getting those foreign materials the making up of which enables her to purchase her food. Further, her dominions are scattered oversea, and supremacy at sea is her only guarantee of retaining the various provinces of her dominion.

It is a case which has happened more than once before in the history of the world. Great commercial seafaring States have arisen; they have always had the same method of government by a small, wealthy class, the same ardent patriotism, the same scattered empire, and the same inexorable necessity of maintaining supremacy at sea. Only one Power had hitherto rendered this country anxious for the Narrow Seas: that Power was France, and it only controlled one-half of the two branches of the Narrow Seas, the North Sea and the Channel. It had been for generations a cardinal piece of English policy that the French Fleet should be watched, the English Fleet maintained overwhelmingly superior to it, and all opportunities for keeping France engaged with other rivals used to the advantage of this country. On this account English policy leant, on the whole, towards the German side, during all the generation of rivalry between France and Germany which followed the war of 1870.

But when the Germans began to build their fleet, things changed. The Germans had openly given Europe to understand that they regarded Holland and Belgium, and particularly the port of Antwerp, as ultimately destined to fall under their rule or into their system. Their fleet was specifically designed for meeting the British Fleet; it corresponded to no existing considerable colonial empire, and though the development of German maritime commerce was an excuse for it, it was only an excuse. Indeed, the object of obtaining supremacy at sea was put forward fairly clearly by the promoters of the whole scheme. Great Britain was therefore constrained to transfer the weight of her support to Russia and to France, and to count on the whole as a force opposed, for the first time in hundreds of years, to North Germany in the international politics of Europe. Similarity of religion (which is a great bond) and a supposed identity (and partly real similarity) of race were of no effect compared with this sentiment of necessity.

Here it is important to note that the transference of British support from one continental group to another neither produced aggression by Great Britain nor pointed to any intention of aggression. It is a plain matter of fact, which all future history will note, that the very necessity in English eyes of English supremacy at sea, and the knowledge that such a supremacy was inevitably a provocation to others, led to the greatest discretion in the use of British naval strength, and, in general, to a purely defensive and peaceful policy upon the part of the chief maritime power. It would, indeed, have been folly to have acted otherwise, for there was nothing to prevent the great nations, our rivals, if they had been directly menaced by the British superiority at sea, from beginning to build great fleets, equal or superior to our own. Germany alone pursued this policy, with no excuse save an obvious determination to undo the claim of the British Fleet.

I have called this a blunder, and, from the point of view of the German policy, it was a blunder. For if the Prussian dynasty set out, as it did, to make itself the chief power in the world, its obvious policy was to deal with its enemies in detail. It ought not, at any cost, to have quarrelled with Russia until it had finally disposed of France. If it was incapable, through lack of subtlety, to prevent the Franco-Russian group from forming, it should at least have made itself the master of that group before gratuitously provoking the rivalry of Great Britain. But "passion will have all now," and the supposedly cold and calculating nature of Prussian effort has about it something very crudely emotional, as the event has shown. From about ten years ago Prussian Germany had managed to array against itself not only the old Franco-Russian group but Great Britain as well.

This arrangement would not, however, have led to war. Equilibrium was still perfectly maintained, and the very strong feeling throughout all the great States of Europe that a disturbance of the peace would mean some terrible catastrophe, to be avoided at all costs, was as powerful as ever.

The true origin of disturbance, the first overt act upon which you can put your finger and say, "Here the chain of particular causes leading to the great war begins," was the revolution in Turkey. This revolution took place in the year 1908, and put more or less permanently into power at Constantinople a group of men based upon Masonic influence, largely Western in training, largely composed of Jewish elements, known as the "Young Turks."

The first result of this revolution, followed as it inevitably was by the temporary weakening in international power which accompanies all civil war at its outset, was the declaration by Austria that she would regard the provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina—hitherto only administrated by her and nominally still Turkish—as her own territory.

It was but a formal act, but it proved of vast consequence. It was an open declaration by a Germanic Power that the hopes of the Servians, the main population of the district and a Slav nation closely bound to Russia in feeling, were at an end; that Servia must content herself with such free territory as she had, and give up all hope of a completely independent State uniting all Servians within its borders. It was as though Austria had said, "I intend in future to be the great European Power in the Balkans, Slav though the Balkans are, and I challenge Russia to prevent me." The Russian Government, thus challenged, would perhaps have taken the occasion to make war had not the French given it to be understood that they would not imperil European peace for such an object. The Prussian Government of the German Empire had, in all this crisis, acted perhaps as the leader, certainly as the protector and supporter of Austria; and when France thus refused to fight, and Russia in turn gave way, the whole thing was regarded, not only in Germany but throughout the world, as equivalent to an armed victory. Observers whose judgment and criticism are of weight, even in the eyes of trained international agents, proclaimed what had happened to be as much a Prussian success as though the Prussian and Austrian armies had met in the field and had defeated the Russian and the French forces.

The next step in this series was a challenge advanced by Germany against that arrangement whereby Morocco, joining as it did to French North Africa, should be abandoned to French influence, so far as England was concerned, in exchange for the French giving up certain rights of interference they had in the English administration of Egypt, and one or two other minor points. Germany, advancing from a victorious position acquired over the Bosnian business, affirmed (in the year 1911) her right to be consulted over the Moroccan settlement. Nor were the French permitted to occupy Morocco until they had ceded to Germany a portion of their African colony of the Congo. This transaction was confused by many side issues. German patriots did not regard it as a sufficient success, though French patriots certainly regarded it as a grave humiliation. But perhaps the chief consequence of the whole affair was the recrudescence in the French people as a whole of a temper, half forgotten, which provoked them to withstand the now greatly increased power of the German Empire and of its ally, and to determine that if such challenges were to continue unchecked during the coming years, the national position of France would be forfeited.

Following upon this crisis came, in the next year—still a consequence of the Turkish Revolution—the sudden determination of the Balkan States, including Greece, to attack Turkey. It was the King of Montenegro (a small Slav State which had always maintained its independence) who fired the first shot upon the 8th of October, 1912, with his own hand. In the course of that autumn the Balkan Allies were universally successful, failed only in taking Constantinople itself, reduced Turkey in Europe to an insignificant strip of territory near the capital itself, and proceeded to settle the conquered territory according to an agreement made by them before the outbreak of hostilities.

But here the Germanic Powers again intervened. The defeated Turkish Army had been trained by German officers upon a German system; the expansion of German and Austrian political military influence throughout the Near East was a cardinal part of the German creed and policy. Through Austria the Balkans were to be dominated at last, and Austria, at this critical moment, vetoed the rational settlement which the allied Balkan States had agreed to among themselves. She would not allow the Servians to annex those territories inhabited by men of their race, and to reach their natural outlet to the sea upon the shores of the Adriatic. She proposed the creation of a novel State of Albania under a German prince, to block Servia's way to the sea. She further proposed to Servia compensation by way of Servia's annexing the territory round Monastir, which had a Bulgarian population, and to Bulgaria the insufficient compensation of taking over, farther to the east, territory that was not Bulgarian at all, but mixed Greek and Turkish.

The whole thing was characteristically German in type, ignoring and despising national feeling and national right, creating artificial boundaries, and flagrantly sinning against the European sense of patriotism. A furious conflict between the various members of the former Balkan Alliance followed; but the settlement which Austria had virtually imposed remained firm, and the third of the great Germanic steps affirming the growing Germanic scheme in Europe had been taken.

But it had been taken at the expense of further and very gravely shaking the already unstable armed equilibrium of Europe.

The German Empire foresaw the coming strain; a law was passed immediately increasing the numbers of men to be trained to arms within its boundaries, and ultimately increasing that number so largely as to give to Germany alone a very heavy preponderance—a preponderance of something like thirty per cent.—over the corresponding number trained in France.

To this move France could not reply by increasing her armed forces, because she already took every available man. She did the only possible thing under the circumstances. She increased by fifty per cent. the term during which her young men must serve in the army, changing that term from two years to three.

The heavy burden thus suddenly imposed upon the French led to very considerable political disputes in that country, especially as the parliamentary form of government there established is exceedingly unpopular, and the politicians who live by it generally despised. When, therefore, the elections of last year were at hand, it seemed as though this French increase of military power would be in jeopardy. Luckily it was maintained, in spite of the opposition of fairly honest but uncritical men like Jaures, and of far less reputable professional politicians.

Whether this novel strain upon the French people could have been long continued we shall never know, for, in the heat of the debates provoked by this measure and its maintenance, came the last events which determined the great catastrophe.


We have seen how constantly and successfully Austria had supported the general Prussian thesis in Europe, and, in particular, the predominance of the German Powers over the Slav.

We have seen how, in pursuit of this policy, the sharpest friction was always suffered at the danger-point of Servia. Servia was the Slav State millions of whose native population were governed against their will by Austro-Hungarian officials. Servia was the Slav State mortally wounded by the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. And Servia was the Slav State which Austria had in particular mortified by forbidding her access to the Adriatic, and by imposing upon her an unnatural boundary, even after her great victories of the Balkan War.

The heir to the Hapsburgs—the man who, seeing the great age of his uncle, might at any moment ascend the throne—was the Archduke Francis. He had for years pursued one consistent policy for the aggrandizement of his House, which policy was the pitting of the Catholic Slavs against the Orthodox Slavs, thereby rendering himself in person particularly odious to the Orthodox Serbs, so many of whose compatriots and co-religionists were autocratically governed against their will in the newly annexed provinces.

To the capital of these provinces, Sarajevo, he proceeded in state in the latter part of last June, and there, through the emissaries of certain secret societies (themselves Austrian subjects, but certainly connected with the population of independent Servia, and, as some claimed, not unconnected with the Servian Government itself), he was assassinated upon Saturday, the 28th of June, 1914.

For exactly a month, the consequences of this event—the provocation which it implied to Austria, the opportunity which it gave the Hapsburgs for a new and more formidable expression of Germanic power against the Slavs—were kept wholly underground. That is the most remarkable of all the preliminaries to the war. There was a month of silence after so enormous a moment. Why? In order to give Germany and Austria a start in the conflict already long designed. Military measures were being taken secretly, stores of ammunition overhauled, and all done that should be necessary for a war which was premeditated in Berlin, half-feared, half-desired in Vienna, and dated for the end of July—after the harvest.

The Government of Berlin was, during the whole of this period, actively engaged in forcing Austria forward in a path to which she was not unwilling; and, at last, upon the 23rd of July, Europe was amazed to read a note sent by the Imperial Governor at Vienna to the Royal Government in the Servian capital of Belgrade, which note was of a kind altogether unknown hitherto in the relations between Christian States. This note demanded not only the suppression of patriotic, and therefore anti-Austrian, societies in Servia (the assassins of the Crown Prince had been, as I have said, not Servian but Austrian subjects), but the public humiliation of the Servian Government by an apology, and even an issue of the order of the day to the Servian Army, so recently victorious, abasing that army to the worst humiliation. The note insisted upon a specific pledge that the Servian Government should renounce all hope of freeing the Servian nation as a whole from foreign government, and in many another clause subjected this small nation to the most thorough degradation ever suggested by a powerful European people towards a lesser neighbour.

So far, though an extreme hitherto unknown in European history had been reached, the matter was one of degree. Things of the same sort, less drastic, had been known in the past.

But what was novel in the note, and what undoubtedly proceeded from the suggestion of the Prussian Government (which was in all this the real agent behind Austria), was the claim of the Austrian Government to impose its own magistrates upon the Servian courts, and to condemn at will those subjects of the Servian king and those officers holding his commission whom Austria might select so to condemn, and that to penalties at the goodwill and pleasure of Austria alone. In other words, Austria claimed full rights of sovereignty within the territory of her small neighbour and enemy, and the acceptation of the note by Servia meant not only the preponderance of Austria for the future over the Slavs of the Balkans, but her continued and direct power over that region in the teeth of national and religious sentiment, and in clean despite of Russia.

So strong was the feeling still throughout Europe in favour of maintaining peace and of avoiding the awful crash of our whole international system that Russia advised Servia to give way, and the Germanic Powers were on the eve of yet another great success, far more important and enduring than anything they had yet achieved. The only reservation which Servia was permitted by the peaceful Powers of Europe, and in particular by Russia, to make was that, upon three points which directly concerned her sovereignty, Austria should admit the decision of a Court of Arbitration at the Hague. But the time-limit imposed—which was the extraordinarily short one of forty-eight hours—was maintained by Austria, and upon the advice, as we now know, of Berlin, no modification whatever in the demands was tolerated. Upon the 25th, therefore, the Austrian Minister left Belgrade. There followed ten days, the exact sequence of events in which must be carefully noted if we are to obtain a clear view of the origin of the war.

Upon that same day, Saturday, July 25th, the English Foreign Office, through Sir Edward Grey, suggested a scheme whereby the approaching cataclysm (for Russia was apparently determined to support Servia) might be averted. He proposed that all operations should be suspended while the Ambassadors of Germany, Italy, and France consulted with him in London.

What happened upon the next day, Sunday, is exceedingly important. The German Government refused to accept the idea of such a conference, but at the same time the German Ambassador in London, Prince Lichnowski, was instructed to say that the principle of such a conference, or at least of mediation by the four Powers, was agreeable to Berlin. The meaning of this double move was that the German Government would do everything it could to retard the entry into the business of the Western Powers, but would do nothing to prevent Russia, Servia, and the Slav civilization as a whole from suffering final humiliation or war.

That game was played by Germany clumsily enough for nearly a full week. Austria declared war upon Servia upon Monday the 27th; but we now know that her intention of meeting Russia halfway, when she saw that Russia would not retire, was stopped by the direct intervention of the Prussian Government. In public the German Foreign Office still pretended that it was seeking some way out of the crisis. In private it prevented Austria from giving way an inch from her extraordinary demands. And all the while Germany was secretly making her first preparations for war.

It might conceivably be argued by a special pleader that war was not the only intention of Berlin, as most undoubtedly it had not been the only intention of Vienna. Such a plea would be false, but one can imagine its being advanced. What is not capable even of discussion is the fact that both the Germanic Powers, under the unquestioned supremacy of Prussia, were determined to push Russia into the dilemma between an impossible humiliation and defeat in the field. They allowed for the possibility that she would prefer humiliation, because they believed it barely possible (though all was ready for the invasion of France at a moment already fixed) that the French would again fail to support their ally. But war was fixed, and its date was fixed, with Russia, or even with Russia and France, and the Germanic Powers arranged to be ready before their enemies. In order to effect this it was necessary to deceive the West at least into believing that war could after all be avoided.

One last incident betrays in the clearest manner how thoroughly Prussia had determined on war, and on a war to break out at her own chosen moment. It was as follows:

As late as Thursday, the 30th of July, Austria was still willing to continue a discussion with Russia. The Austrian Government on that day expressed itself as willing to reopen negotiations with Russia. The German Ambassador at Vienna got wind of this. He communicated it at once to Berlin. Germany immediately stopped any compromise, by framing that very night and presenting upon the next day, Friday the 31st, an ultimatum to Russia and to France.

Now, the form of these two ultimata and the events connected with them are again to be carefully noted, for they further illuminate us upon the German plan. That to Russia, presented by the German Ambassador Portales, had been prepared presupposing the just possible humiliation and giving way of Russia; and all those who observed this man's attitude and manner upon discovering that Russia would indeed fight rather than suffer the proposed humiliation, agreed that it was the attitude and manner of an anxious man. The ultimatum to France had, upon the contrary, not the marks of coercion, but of unexpected and violent haste. If Russia was really going to fight, what could Prussia be sure of in the West? It was the second great and crude blunder of Prussian diplomacy that, instead of making any efforts to detach France from Russia, it first took the abandonment of Russia by France for granted, and then, with extreme precipitancy, asked within the least possible delay whether France would fight. That precipitancy alone lent to the demand a form which ensured the exact opposite of what Prussia desired.

This double misconception of the effect of her diplomatic action dates, I say, from Friday, the 31st of July, and that day is the true opening day of the great war. Upon Sunday, the 2nd of August, the German army violated the neutrality of Luxembourg, seizing the railway passing through that State into France, and pouring into its neutral territory her covering troops. On the same day, the French general mobilization was ordered; the French military authorities having lost, through the double action of Germany, about five days out of, say, eleven—nearly half the mobilization margin—by which space of time German preparations were now ahead of theirs.

There followed, before the action state of general European conflict, the third German blunder, perhaps the most momentous, and certainly the most extraordinary: that by which Germany secured the hitherto exceedingly uncertain intervention of England against herself.

Of all the great Powers involved, Great Britain had most doubtfully to consider whether she should or should not enter the field.

On the one hand, she was in moral agreement with Russia and France; on the other hand, she was bound to them by no direct alliance, and successive British Governments had, for ten years past, repeatedly emphasized the fact that England was free to act or not to act with France according as circumstances might decide her.

Many have criticized the hesitation, or long weighing of circumstance, which astonished us all in the politicians during these few days, but no one, whether friendly to or critical of a policy of neutrality, can doubt that such a policy was not only a possible but a probable one. The Parliamentarians were not unanimous, the opposition to the great responsibility of war was weighty, numerous, and strong. The financiers, who are in many things the real masters of our politicians, were all for standing out. In the face of such a position, in the crisis of so tremendous an issue, Germany, instead of acting as best she could to secure the neutrality of Great Britain, simply took that neutrality for granted!

Upon one specific point a specific question was asked of her Government. To Great Britain, as we have seen in these pages, the keeping from the North Sea coast of all great hostile Powers is a vital thing. The navigable Scheldt, Antwerp, the approaches to the Straits of Dover, are, and have been since the rise of British sea-power, either in the hands of a small State or innocuous to us through treaty. Today they are the possession of Belgium, an independent State erected by treaty after the great war, and neutralized by a further guarantee in 1839. This neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed in a solemn treaty not only by France and England, but by Prussia herself; and the British Government put to the French and to the Germans alike the question whether (now they were at war) that neutrality would be respected. The French replied in the affirmative; the Germans, virtually, in the negative. But it must not be said that this violation of international law and of her own word by Germany automatically caused war with England.

The German Ambassador was not told that if Belgian territory was violated England would fight; he was only told that if that territory were violated England might fight.

The Sunday passed without a decision. On Monday the point was, as a matter of form, laid before Parliament, though the House of Commons has no longer any real control over great national issues. In a speech which certainly inclined towards English participation in the war should Germany invade Belgium, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs summed up the situation before a very full House.

In the debate that followed many, and even passionate, speeches were delivered opposing the presence of England in the field and claiming neutrality. Some of these speeches insisted upon the admiration felt by the speaker for modern Germany and Prussia; others the ill judgment of running the enormous risk involved in such a campaign. These protests will be of interest to history, but the House of Commons as a whole had, of course, no power in the matter, and sat only to register the decisions of its superiors. There was in the Cabinet resignation of two members, in the Ministry the resignation of a third, the threatened resignation of many more.

Meanwhile, upon that same day, August 3rd, following with superstitious exactitude the very hour upon which, on the very same day, the French frontier had been crossed in 1870, the Germans entered Belgian territory.

The Foreign Office's thesis underlying the declaration of its spokesman, Sir Edward Grey, carried the day with the politicians in power, and upon Tuesday, August 4th, Great Britain joined Russia and France, at war with the Prussian Power. There followed later the formal declaration of war by France as by England against Austria, and with the first week in August the general European struggle had opened.



Here, then, at the beginning of August 1914, are the five great Powers about to engage in war.

Russia, France, and Great Britain, whom we will call the Allies, are upon one side; the German Empire and Austria-Hungary, whom we will call the Germanic Powers, are upon the other.

We must at the outset, if we are to understand the war at all, see how these two combatant groups stood in strength one against the other when the war broke out. And to appreciate this contrast we must know two things—their geographical situation, and their respective weight in arms. For before we can judge the chances of two opponents in war, we have to know how they stand physically one to the other upon the surface of the earth, or we cannot judge how one will attack the other, or how each will defend itself against the other. And we must further be able to judge the numbers engaged both at the beginning of the struggle and arriving in reinforcement as the struggle proceeds, because upon those numbers will mainly depend the final result.

Having acquired these two fundamental pieces of information, we must acquire a third, which is the theories of war held upon either side, and some summary showing which of these theories turned out in practice to be right, and which wrong.

For, after a long peace, the fortune of the next war largely depends upon which of various guesses as to the many changes that have taken place in warfare and in weapons will be best supported by practice, and what way of using new weapons will prove the most effective. Until the test of war is applied, all this remains guess-work; but under the conditions of war it ceases to be guess-work, and becomes either corroborated by experience or exploded, as the case may be. And of two opponents after a long peace, that one which has had the most foresight and has guessed best what the effect of changes in armament and the rest will effect in practice is that one who has the best chance of victory.

We are going, then, in this Second Part, of the little book, to see, first, the geographical position of the belligerents; secondly, their effective numbers; and, thirdly, what theories of war each held, and how far each was right or wrong.


The position of the original belligerent countries (excluding Turkey) upon the map of Europe was that which will be seen upon the accompanying sketch map.

Of this belligerent area, which is surrounded by a thick black line, the part left white represents the territory of the Allies at the origin of the war—Great Britain, France, Russia, and Servia. This reservation must, however, be made: that in the case of Russia only the effective part is shown, and only the European part at that; Arctic Russia and Siberia are omitted. The part lightly shaded with cross lines represents the Germanic body—to wit, the German Empire and Austria-Hungary.

1. The first thing that strikes the eye upon such a map is the great size of the Germanic body.

When one reads that "Germany" was being attacked by not only France and England, but also Russia; when one reads further that in the Far East, in Asia, Japan was putting in work for the Allies; and when one goes on to read that Belgium added her effort of resistance to the "German" invasion, one gets a false impression that one single nation was fighting a vast coalition greatly superior to it. Most people had an impression of that kind, in this country at least, at the outset of the war. It was this impression that led to the equally false impression that "Germany" must necessarily be beaten, and probably quickly beaten.

The truth was, of course, that we were fighting something very much bigger than "Germany." We set out to fight something more than twice as big as Germany in area, and very nearly twice as big as the German Empire in mere numbers. For what we set out to fight was not the German Empire, but the German Empire plus the whole of the dominions governed by the Hapsburg dynasty at Vienna.

How weighty this Germanic body was geographically is still more clearly seen if we remember that Russia north of St. Petersburg is almost deserted of inhabitants, and that the true European areas of population which are in conflict—that is, the fairly well populated areas—are more accurately represented by a modification of the map on page 81 in some such form as that on page 84, where the comparative density of population is represented by the comparative distances between the parallel cross-lines.

2. The next thing that strikes one is the position of the neutral countries. Supposing Belgium to have remained neutral, or, rather, to have allowed German armies to pass over her soil without actively resisting, the Germanic body would have been free to trade with neutral countries, and to receive support from their commerce, and to get goods through them over the whole of their western front, with the exception of the tiny section which stands for the frontier common to France and Germany. On the north, supposing the Baltic to be open, the Germanic body had a vast open frontier of hundreds of miles, and though Russia closed most of the eastern side, all the Roumanian frontier was open, and so was the frontier of the Adriatic, right away from the Italian border to Cattaro. So was the Swiss frontier and the Italian.

Indeed, if we draw the Germanic body by itself surrounded by a frontier of dots, as in the accompanying sketch, and mark in a thick line upon that frontier those parts which touched on enemy's territory, and were therefore closed to supply, we shall be immediately arrested by the comparatively small proportion of that frontier which is thus closed.

It is well to carry this in mind during the remainder of our study of this war, because it has a great effect upon the fighting power of Germany and Austria after a partial—but very partial—blockade is established by the Allied and especially by the British naval power.

3. The third thing that strikes one in such a map of the belligerent area is the way in which the Germanic body stands in the middle facing its two groups of enemies East and West.

The Geographical Advantages and Disadvantages of the Germanic Body.

With this last point we can begin a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages imposed by geographical conditions upon the two opponents, and first of these we will consider the geographical advantages and disadvantages of the Germanic body—that is, of the Austrian and German Empires—passing next to the corresponding advantages and disadvantages of the Allies.

The advantages proceeding from geographical position to Germany in particular, and to the Germanic body as a whole, gravely outweigh the disadvantages. We will consider the disadvantages first.

The chief disadvantage under which the Germanic body suffered in this connection was that, from the outset of hostilities, it had to fight, as the military phrase goes, upon two fronts. That is, the commanders of the German and Austrian armies had to consider two separate campaigns, to keep them distinct in their minds, and to co-ordinate them so that they should not, by wasting too many men on the East or the West, weaken themselves too much on the other side of the field.

To this disadvantage some have been inclined to add that the central position of Austria and Germany in Europe helped the British and Allied blockade (I repeat, a very partial, timid, and insufficient blockade) of their commerce.

But this view is erroneous. The possibility of blockading Austria-Hungary and Germany from imports across the ocean was due not to their central but to their continental position; to the fact that they were more remote from the ocean than France and Great Britain. It had nothing to do with their central position between the two groups of the Allies.

Supposing, for instance, that Germany and Austria-Hungary had stood where Russia stands, and that Western Europe had been in alliance against them. Then they would have been in no way central; their position would have been an extreme position upon one side; and yet, so far as blockading goes, the blockade of them would have been infinitely easier.

Conversely, if Germany and Austria had been in the west, where Great Britain and France are, their enemies lying to the east of them could not have blockaded them at all.

As things are the blockade that has been established exists but is partial. As will be seen upon the following sketch map, the British Fleet, being sufficiently powerful, can search vessels the cargoes of which might reach the Germanic body directly through the Strait of Gibraltar (1), the Strait of Dover (2), or the North Sea between Scotland and Norway (3). But it is unable to prevent supplies reaching the Germanic body from Italy, whether by land or by sea (4), or through Switzerland (5), or through Holland (6), or through Denmark (7), or across the frontier of Roumania (8); or, so long as the German Fleet is strongest in the Baltic, by way of Norway and Sweden across the Baltic (9).

The blockading fleet is even embarrassed as to the imports the Germanic body receives indirectly through neutral countries—that is, imports not produced in the importing countries themselves, but provided through the neutral countries as middlemen.

It is embarrassed in three ways.

(a) Because it does not want to offend the European neutral countries, which count in the general European balance of power.

(b) Because it does not wish to offend Powers outside Europe which are neutral in this war, and particularly the United States. Such great neutral Powers are very valuable not only for their moral support if it can be obtained, but on account of their great financial resources untouched by this prolonged struggle, and, what lies behind these, their power of producing materials which the Allies need just as much as Austria and Germany do.

(c) Because, even if you watch the supplies of contraband to neutrals, and propose to stop supplies obviously destined for German use, you cannot prevent Germany from buying the same material "made up" by the neutral: for example, an Italian firm can import copper ore quite straightforwardly, smelt it, and offer the metal in the open market. There is nothing to prevent a German merchant entering that market and purchasing, unless Italy forbids all export of copper, which it is perfectly free not to do.

To leave this side question of blockade, and to return to the relative advantages and disadvantages of our enemy's central position, we may repeat as a summary of its disadvantages the single truth that it compels our enemy to fight upon two fronts.

All the rest is advantage.

It is an advantage that Germany and Austria-Hungary, as a corollary to their common central position, are in some part of similar race and altogether of a common historical experience. For more than a hundred years every part of the area dominated by the Germanic body—with the exception of Bosnia and Alsace-Lorraine—has had a fairly intimate acquaintance with the other part. The Magyars of Hungary, the Poles of Galicia, of Posen, of Thorn, the Croats of the Adriatic border, the Czechs of Bohemia, have nothing in race or language in common with German-speaking Vienna or German-speaking Berlin. But they have the experience of generations uniting them with Vienna and with Berlin. In administration, and to some extent in social life, a common atmosphere spreads over this area, nearly all of which, as I have said, has had something in common for a hundred years, and much of which has had something in common for a thousand.

In a word, as compared with the Allies, the Germanic central body in Europe has a certain advantage of moral homogeneity, especially as the governing body throughout is German-speaking and German in feeling.

That is the first point of advantage—a moral one.

The second is more material. The Governments of the two countries, their means of communication and of supply, are all in touch one with another. Those governments are working in one field within a ring fence, and working for a common object. They are not only spiritually in touch; they are physically in touch. An administrator in Berlin can take the night express after dinner and breakfast with his collaborator in Vienna the next morning.

It so happens, also, that the communications of the two Germanic empires are exactly suited to their central position. There is sufficient fast communication from north to south to serve all the purposes necessary to the intellectual conduct of a war; there is a most admirable communication from east to west for the material conduct of that war upon two fronts. Whenever it may be necessary to move troops from the French frontier to the Russian, or from the Russian to the French, or for Germany to borrow Hungarian cavalry for the Rhine, or for Austria to borrow German army corps to protect Galicia, all that is needed is three or four days in which to entrain and move these great masses of men. There is no area in Europe which is better suited by nature for thus fighting upon two land frontiers than is the area of the combined Austrian and German Empire.

With these three points, then—the great area of our enemy in Europe, his advantage through neutral frontiers, and his advantage in homogeneity of position between distant and morally divided Allies—you have the chief marks of the geographical position he occupies, in so far as this is the great central position of continental Europe.

But it so happens that the Germanic body in general, and the German Empire in particular, suffer from grave geographical disadvantages attached to their political character. And of these I will make my next points.

The Germanic body as a whole suffers by its geographical disposition, coupled with its political constitution, a grave disadvantage in its struggle against the Allies, particularly towards the East, because just that part of it which is thrust out and especially assailable by Russia happens to be the part most likely to be disaffected to the whole interests of the Germanic body; and how this works I will proceed to explain.

Here are two oblongs—A, left blank, and B, lightly shaded. Supposing these two oblongs combined to represent the area of two countries which are in alliance, and which are further so situated that B is the weaker Power to the alliance both (1) in his military strength, and (2) in his tenacity of purpose. Next grant that B is divided by the dotted line, CD, into two halves—B not being one homogeneous State, but two States, B1 and B2.

Next let it be granted that while B1 is more likely to remain attached in its alliance to A, B2 is more separate from the alliance in moral tendency, and is also materially the weaker half of B. Finally, let the whole group, AB, be subject to the attack of enemies from the right and from the left (from the right along the arrows XX, and from the left along the arrows YY) by two groups of enemies represented by the areas M and N respectively.

It is obvious that in such a situation, if A is the chief object of attack, and is the Power which has both provoked the conflict and made itself the chief object of assault by M and N, A is by this arrangement in a position politically weak.

That is, the strategical position of A is gravely embarrassed by the way in which his ally, B, separated into the two halves, B1 and B2, stands with regard to himself. B2 is isolated and thrust outward. The enemy, M, upon the right, attacking along the lines XX, may be able to give B2 a very bad time before he gets into the area of B1, and long before he gets into the area of the stronger Power, A. It is open to M so to harass B2 that B2 is prepared to break with B1 and give up the war; or, if the bond between B2 and B1 is strong enough, to persuade B1 to give up the struggle at the same time that he does. And if B2 is thus harassed to the breaking-point, the whole alliance, A plus B, will lose the men and materials and wealth represented by B2, and may lose the whole shaded area, B, leaving A to support singly for the future the combined attacks of M and N along the lines of attack, XX and YY.

Now, that diagram accurately represents the political embarrassment in strategy of the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance. B1 is Austria and Bohemia; B2 is Hungary; A is the German Empire; M is the Russians; N is the Allies in the West. With a geographical arrangement such as that of the Germanic alliance, a comparatively small proportion of the Russian forces detached to harry the Hungarian plain can make the Hungarians, who have little moral attachment to the Austrians and none whatever to the Germans, abandon the struggle to save themselves; while it is possible that this outlier, being thus detached, will drag with it its fellow-half, the Austrian half of the dual monarchy, cause the Government of the dual monarchy to sue for peace, and leave the German Empire isolated to support the undivided attention of the Russians from the East and of the French from the West.

It is clear that if a strong Power, A, allied with and dependent for large resources in men upon a weaker Power, B, is attacked from the left and from the right, the ideal arrangement for the strong Power, A, would be something in the nature of the following diagram (Sketch 9), where the weaker Power stands protected in the territory of the stronger Power, and where of the two halves of the weaker Power, B2, the less certain half, is especially protected from attack.

Were Switzerland, Alsace-Lorraine, and the Rhineland, upon the one hand, the Hungarian plain, Russian Poland, and East Prussia, upon the other hand, united in one strong, patriotic, homogeneous German-speaking group with the Government of Berlin and the Baltic plain, and were Bavaria, Switzerland, the Tyrol, Bohemia, to constitute the weaker and less certain ally, while the least certain half of that uncertain ally lay in Eastern Bohemia and in what is now Lower Austria, well defended from attack upon the East, the conditions would be exactly reversed, and the Austro-German alliance would be geographically and politically of the stronger sort. As it is, the combined accidents of geography and political circumstance make it peculiarly vulnerable.

Having already considered in a diagram the way in which the geographical disposition of Austria-Hungary weakens Germany in the face of the Allies, let us translate that diagram into terms of actual political geography. These two oblongs, with their separate parts, are, as a fact, as follows: Where A is the German Empire, the shaded portion, B, is Austria-Hungary, and this last divided into B1, the more certain Austrian part, and B2, the less certain exposed Hungarian part, the latter of which is only protected from Russian assault by the Carpathian range of mountains, CCC, with its passes at DDD. M, the enemy on the right, Russia, is attacking the alliance, AB, along XX; while the enemy on the left, N, France and her Allies, is attacking along the lines YY.

Hungary, B2, is not only geographically an outlier, but politically is the weakest link in the chain of the Austro-Germanic alliance. The area of Hungary is almost denuded of men, for most of these have been called up to defend Germany, A, and in particular to prevent the invasion of Germany's territory in Silesia at S. The one defence Hungary has against being raided and persuaded to an already tempting peace is the barrier of the Carpathian mountains, CCC. When or if the passes shall be in Russian possession and the Russian cavalry reappear upon the Hungarian side of the hills, the first great political embarrassment of the enemy will have begun—I mean the first great political embarrassment to his strategy.

(a) Shall he try to defend those passes above all? Then he must detach German corps, and detach them very far from the areas which are vital to the core of the alliance—that is, to the German Empire, A.

(b) Shall he use only Hungarian troops to defend Hungary? Then he emphasizes the peculiar moral isolation of Hungary, and leaves her inclined, if things go ill, to make a separate peace.

(c) Shall he abandon Hungary? And let the Russians do what they will with the passes over the Carpathians and raid the Hungarian plain at large? Then he loses a grave proportion of his next year's wheat, much of his dwindling horse supply, his almost strangled sources of petrol. He tempts Roumania to come in (for a great sweep of Eastern Hungary is nationally Roumanian); and he loses the control in men and financial resources of one-half of his Allies if the danger and the distress persuade Hungary to stand out. For the Hungarians have no quarrel except from their desire to dominate the southern Slavs; to fight Austria's battles means very little to them, and to fight Germany's battles means nothing at all.

There is, of course, much more than this. If Hungary dropped out, could Austria remain? Would not the Government at Vienna, rather than lose the dual monarchy, follow Hungary's lead? In that case, the Germanic alliance would lose at one stroke eleven-twenty-fifths of its men. It would lose more than half of its reserves of men, for the Austrian reserve is, paradoxically enough, larger than the German reserve, though not such good material.

Admire how in every way this geographical and political problem of Hungary confuses the strategical plan of the German General Staff! They cannot here act upon pure strategics. They cannot treat the area of operations like a chessboard, and consider the unique object of inflicting a military defeat upon the Russians. Their inability to do so proceeds from the fact that this great awkward salient, Hungarian territory, is not politically subject to Berlin, is not in spiritual union with Berlin; may be denuded of men to save Berlin, and is the most exposed of all our enemy's territory to attack. Throughout the war it will be found that this problem perpetually presents itself to the Great General Staff of the Prussians: "How can we save Hungary without weakening our Eastern line? If we abandon Hungary, how are we to maintain our effectives?"

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