Redrawing the Map of Europe

“A conference called to give peace to the world must begin by tending the world’s fences. … The map of Europe on which we were brought up has passed forever into the limbo of discarded things.”

Map of Europe from 1914 (Library of Congresss)


The map of Europe has not simply been scorched by the consuming heat of our time: it has been, in large measure, destroyed. Only a few remains are left, to testify to its previous existence and to its transient character. Political boundaries, long established and generally regarded as permanent, have been swiftly burned away. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Urals, from Archangel to Salonica, modifications are demanded, modifications are in process, which will introduce, if not a new heaven, at least a new earth. In only a few instances, and those relatively unimportant, will the nation frontiers of the future resemble those of the past. Spain and Portugal may emerge unaltered from the Conference of Paris, as they did, for that matter, from the Congress of Vienna a century ago. Norway may remain the same, and so perhaps may remain the same, and so perhaps may Sweden and Switzerland.

But where is there another European state which will issue from the impending readjustment unchanged? The boundaries of the British Empire, of France, of Germany, of Austria-Hungary, of Italy and Russia, of Serbia and Greece and Roumania and Bulgaria, of Albania and the Turkish Empire, all these are to be sketched anew by the consulting draftsmen in Congress assembled upon the banks of the river Seine. For the dividing lines of the past have joined the snows of yesterday. The boundaries of Belgium and Holland and Luxemburg and Denmark will probably undergo rectifications.

And we must become familiar, not only with a new Europe, but also with a new Africa and a new Asia and a new Pacific Ocean. For the consulting cartographers of Paris will be compelled to submit also fresh designs and a novel coloration for large sections of the earth and sea beyond the confines of European lands and waters. A conference called to give peace to the world must begin by tending the world’s fences.

One thing, then, stands forth indubitable. The map of Europe on which we were brought up has passed forever into the limbo of discarded things. It will possess, henceforth, merely an historical or antiquarian interest, like the map of Ptolemy, or Waldseemüller. Political cartography is not a science; it is only a fleeting expression of that continuing and mocking process, called the historic—is really only a fable agreed upon.

Let us not think, for a moment, that we are passing through a unique experience, something hitherto unknown. For the fathers of our fathers passed through the same, and, stunned and bewildered by the overwhelming and cataclysmic occurrences of their day, as we by those of ours, they felt the same hot breath of seething and conflicting passions, they looked into a similarly uncertain and forbidding future. Economists used to speak of the periodicity of panics as if it were a law of nature. Historians may with equal confidence speak of cycles of convulsion as occurring with almost rhythmic regularity. The sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries all had their general convulsions, which swept away old landmarks with reckless haste and inaugurated new courses with careless rapture of imagination and with lordly indifference to the power of habit, to the authority of usage. The path of modern history is strewn with shattered Utopias, once the objects of the faith and hope of multitudes of men.

The last general convulsion was that which grew out of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and most instructive is its history for us, caught in the angry swirl of a similar commotion. Europe a century ago knew the same sensations that she has known in our day, faced the same problems, passed through the same strain of desperate endeavor, hovered over the same brink of failure and disaster. The strain lasted much longer and was even more generally diffused. There were no neutrals in Napoleon’s time, save Turkey. Spain and Portugal, Holland and Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland were swept into the fray on the one side or the other, and the waters of tribulation dashed over shores that were remote—Asiatic, African, American. Napoleon fought a famous campaign in Egypt, and his adventures in Syria may be talked about as long as those of General Allenby.

Our War of 1812 and the wars of South American independence were incidents in the story. Sea-power came to grips with land-power in memorable fashion, and the economic disturbance was world-wide. Instructive, indeed, is this chapter of history, rich in the comparisons it offers, in the parallels it affords, to our own contemporary chapter. Of course, there are differences between the two eras, but the points of resemblance are, I think, more striking and more significant than the points of divergence.

Europe found it harder then than even we have found it, to restore the balance of power, so essential to the freedom of the nations, so wantonly overthrown. It found it harder to build up a coalition that should match and then defeat the common enemy. Indeed, one coalition after another was fashioned, only to be smashed to bits. Some historians count eight of them. Finally one was secured that stood taut and firm until the hour of victory—an hour postponed again and again, to the deepening gloom and discouragement of that generation.

In the midst of the international diplomacy of the time, a diplomacy that compares not unfavorably with ours in intelligence and competence, stood the stout, heroic, but unmagnetic figure of William Pitt, Prime Minister of Great Britain. And Pitt succumbed at the darkest moment in the whole tragic chapter, but not until he had so impressed his personality and his policy upon men’s imaginations that they really established a tradition for his successors.

After Trafalgar, Pitt had been drawn in triumph to the Guildhall, where he was hailed as the savior of Europe. He had replied to the wonderful ovation in what Lord Rosebery calls ‘the noblest, the tersest, and the last of all his speeches.’ Here is the speech in its entirety. ‘I return you many thanks for the honor you have done me. But Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.’

This ovation at the Guildhall was, as Pitt’s biographer observes, ‘in some sort a State funeral, for he was never seen in public again.’ Then came the blow that killed, — or at least that prefaced death, — the battle of Austerlitz, shattering into ruins the third coalition. All that was left was Pitt, who stood alone.

He was at Bath, trying to recover his sadly shattered health, when he heard the furious gallop of a horse. ‘That must be a courier,’ he exclaimed, ‘with news for me.’ Opening the packet, he said, ‘Heavy news, indeed.’ It was the news of Austerlitz. He then asked her a map and desired to be left alone.

From that day he failed rapidly. On January 9, 1806, he set out for his home at Putney. He reached his villa on the 12th. As he entered it, his eye fell upon the map of Europe. ‘Roll up that map,’ he said, ‘it will not be wanted these ten years.’

Eleven days later Pitt was dead and the soul of the opposition to Napoleon left its earthly habitations.

But that soul did not leave England. It entered the innermost shrine of English patriotism. It became a beacon and an oriflamme to a nation that takes its defeats quietly and without complaint, a nation that out of the shattered ruins of its failures builds triumphal arches under which the soldiers ultimately pass. This is what it did in the time of Louis XIV and in the time of Napoleon; and what it was to do in an age not less momentous—our own.

Pitt’s forecast was approximately correct. The map of Europe was not needed again for nearly ten years, and during the intervening period it was not certain that it would ever be needed. During that astounding decade Napoleon, irradiated with the dazzling beams that streamed from the Sun of Austerlitz, played the rôle of cartographer-in-chief in truly imperial fashion and as it had never been played before: redrawing boundaries from Gibraltar to the river Niemen, from Norway to Sicily; creating new states for brothers and brothers-in-law; remoulding Europe to his hearts’ desire; paring Austria down in successive operations; dethroning royal houses; chopping Prussia to pieces; abolishing the Holy Roman Empire after a millennial existence; ending the temporal power of the Pope; making Rome his own second capital, and giving its name to his son as a title the instant he was born; fashioning Italy into new and strange and fleeting shapes as the fancy struck him. Boundaries were plastic playthings in the hands of this ex-lieutenant of artillery. He moved them back and forth, and up and down, with sublime indifference to history or nature, to principle or practice.

Then he fell with a crash, as is well known, and the map of Europe was unrolled once more at the Congress of Vienna. In the lurid light of those days, it was attentively examined by the ‘Powers,’ and found not so bad. Some changes were made, but they were slight ones compared with those which it had recently undergone. It is not necessary to entertain the sophomoric opinion, at present so widely diffused, that the Congress of Vienna was completely given over to sin and sloth. It committed many errors, some of which were grave; it spirit was not altogether beautiful, and it did not catch and embed in the life of the world the dream of peace on earth, goodwill to all. But it accomplished a fair day’s work, and, while it did not prevent subsequent local wars, it should be noted that Europe was visited by no general war for a full century.

The territorial problems that confront us to-day have a far wider sweep than those of a hundred years ago. They arise in large measure from the fact that a war begun for the extinction of one small state, Serbia, resulted, not in that extinction, but in the destruction of three great empires, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, and in the defeat of a fourth, Germany, and the overthrow of tis monarchs. Meanwhile, Serbia emerges from the colossal wreckage covered with glory, stronger than ever in its national integrity, and destined to a great enlargement of its territory. It is doubtful if the history of the world contains a more ironical page.

Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Turkey, in 1914, bulked large on the map: Russia 8,400,000 square miles, or one seventh of the land-surface of the globe; Austria-Hungary 261,000; Germany 208,000; Turkey 710,000 or three and a half times as many as the German Empire; in all, 9,579,000 square miles, or more than three times the continental area of the United States, excluding Alaska, and with a population of two hundred and fifty millions. The Congress of Vienna had a small area and a population of thirty-two millions to distribute as the prize of war, namely the Duchy of Warsaw, which was only a small part of former Poland, parts of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine, and the Italian peninsula.

In all this area of more than 9,000,000 square miles, supporting a population of a quarter of a billion, no man, no group of men can point out the boundaries. History fortunately is not a problem in mathematics. If it were, the outlook would be even darker than it is. If it took the Congress of Vienna nine months to work out a settlement of its territorial problems, which were few and simple compared with ours, how long will it take the Conference of Paris?


Those who wish to be optimistic about the Conference of Paris do well to forget the teachings of history, frequently so unpleasant and sobering. They find a greater solace in an act of faith, in the assertion that everything is different now.

And there certainly is at least one difference, though whether it makes for the greater harmony and the greater expeditiousness of the conferees, who after all are the five Great Powers, — Vienna, too, had its five, — remains to be seen. The characteristic work of the Congress of Vienna was restoration. The characteristic work of the Conference of Paris will be construction, creation: the drawing of a new map, not the unrolling of the old one slightly altered; the recognition of new nations, like Czecho-Slovakia and Jugo-Slavia, or old nations restored to life, like Poland.

Restoration is easy, if one only has the power and the will; creation is not easy, even if one has both. Restoration is reversion to the known, the certain; creation is a venture into the unknown and the uncertain, and is highly conducive to divergencies of thought, to division in the ranks; while an army of restoration knows precisely what it wishes to do, namely, to set up again the old landmarks—and that, too, as speedily as possible—to bring back the good old times, to renew the broken connection with the past. Whether we like it or not, ours is the more difficult task. If the five Great Powers of 1919 were anxious to restore the map of 1914, they could not do it; whereas the five Great Powers of 1814 found it easy to reverse the cartographical innovations of Napoleon Bonaparte. The work of Lenin and Trotzky will not be so easily undone. Fortunately for the peace of his spirit, Napoleon does not know that.

Napoleon, Lenin, and Trotzky—an incongruous trio of actors on the Russian stage! Napoleon, a Frenchman, bent upon conquering Russia, was the direct means of heightening the influence and increasing the territory of Russia, as all the world saw in 1815. Lenin and Trotzky, Russians, have not only coöperated zealously in destroying the prestige of their country: they have consented and contributed, to the best of their ability, to the colossal dismemberment of Russia and its utter impotence. Russia has become merely a geographical expression, the combined achievement of German militarism and Russian Socialism. There is not Russia. What was once Russia is a disorganized aggregation of local governments, presenting, among other things, a wild tangle of territorial problems—and territorial problems resembling those of primeval chaos, with most landmarks entirely obliterated.

The one outstanding landmark in contemporary Russia is that set up on March 3, 1918—the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. That treaty has never been recognized by any of the victorious Allies; nevertheless, it dogs them night and day in the time of triumph, embittering peace, if not preventing it, darkening counsel, and putting a strain upon friendship. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk may be repudiated by the conferees of Paris; it may be dead as far as Germany, its chief author, is concerned; but it is far from being a negligible factor in the history of the present. On the contrary, it, and the things it represents and embodies in its fell phrases, are bound to exercise a profound and disturbing influence upon the future.

By that treaty Russia renounced an enormous territory, more than twice the size of the German Empire, and a population nearly as large as that of Germany, sixty-five million people. Germany may not get what she expected and intended to get from having imposed these monstrous terms upon a defeated and demoralized foe, but she will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the might of her blows, aided by the ductility of Russian ‘reformers,’ who, having renounced patriotism as a bourgeois and capitalistic quality, found it not difficult to renounce an imperial territory, have profoundly transformed Russia as a factor in international affairs.

Of course, out of this vast domain, a domain stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, Germany intended to create a number of small states which might receive German-made kings, or might receive German-made kings, or which, at any rate, would be German satellites, parts of the German political, military, and economic system. She will be forced to let go the political and military control for the time being; but unless the Conference of Paris can invent safeguards more promising than any yet suggested against economic penetration, Germany may confidently look forward to a vast extension of her influence in all Eastern Europe. The barrier offered by a string of small states and a reduced and weakened Russia will constitute a less serious obstacle to German economic ambitions and German intrigue than was offered by the Russia of 1914, and particularly because these eastern neighbors, less developed than Germany, and devastated as she has not been, will be strongly tempted to look to her for the things which they need, and which she can furnish more cheaply and easily than other nations, because of geographical proximity.

Whatever amputations may be made in Germany herself, in Alsace-Lorraine, Schleswig, the Polish provinces, the one ineluctable fact that will remain will be this: Germany, with approximately seventy million inhabitants, will have as neighbors on the east and south numerous small states, several of them new and of uncertain viability. Formerly she had two great states as neighbors—Russia and Austria-Hungary. Both of these states have been broken into fragments. Germany has not been. Her potential rôle in Eastern and Central Europe has been improved as a result of the war.

Some repose hopes in the formation of federations which shall give collective protection, where the individual state would be incapable of self-protection. But federations, even of long-established states, are difficult to bring about; how much more difficult to effect out of states themselves just starting forth upon a career of independence, uncertain of their ability to walk alone, and at any rate sure to be preoccupied with domestic problems of immediate concern for many years to come! The outlook is not encouraging.

Not that Germany is likely at once to renew her Pangermanic exploits in the same old way. She too will have her preoccupations growing out of defeat and the coming terms of peace. But in time the national activity will become normal again, and she will see—as no doubt her leaders see now—that the field for her expansive energies presents fewer obstacles that ever before. Whether the Germany of the future be a socialistic or a bourgeois republic, or a restored monarchy, will make no difference with this situation. Here we have a great, blunt fact, staring at us from the coming map of Europe, whose implications we shall do well not to ignore or minimize.

There is another phase of the problem of the future of Germany, of which there has been as yet no serious discussion, but which the world will be compelled to face. Germany intends, if she can, to annex German Austria, and it is asserted that many German Austrians desire annexation. And we are told that the doctrine of self-determination requires that this be permitted, if the people directly concerned pronounce themselves in favor of it; that, however unpleasant it may be, we must swallow that particular pill.

Not unless we are the helpless and fatuous victims of formulas! Not unless we are anxious to multiply and accentuate the difficulties of the future! If the world permits a consummation like that, it will be guilty of a folly far beyond the flight of German imagination. It is not necessary to apply any principle anywhere, the inevitable tendency of whose application will be to endanger the peace of the world. To reward Germany for what she has done in the past four years, enabling her to issue from the war with a larger territory and a larger population than ever, would be the bankruptcy of common sense and decency. Germany could well afford to relinquish Alsace-Lorraine, Northern Schleswig, and her Polish possessions, could she gain Upper and Lower Austria, the Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, and other Austrian provinces. And Vienna would be an excellent exchange for Strasburg and Posen. German militarism could point with pride to so notable a success, so important an accession of strength to the state.

Germany has been the consistent and constant opponent of all arguments and plans for such an organization of the world as would render peace more certain and war more difficult, as is shown, for instance, by her record at the Hague Conferences. You could not tell Germans that war did not pay They know better. It emphatically did pay, and the achievements of the Great Elector, of Frederick II, and of Bismarck were there to prove it. If now, as a result of her latest appeal to arms, Germany can incorporate the large and rich provinces of German Austria, there will be only one more proof of the correctness of German political philosophy and practice, and the most brilliant proof of all. For if she can extract gain from defeat as well as from victory, war, hitherto regarded as the national industry par excellence, will seem more profitable than ever.

German armies are received as unconquered heroes on their return to Berlin. If, in addition, the German Peace Commissioners return from Paris with substantial prizes of war, will militarism in Germany or in Europe be weakened? It will be intensified.

We can rest assured that, barring a sudden access of insanity on the part of the Allies, Germany is to be taught the lesson that war does not pay. The Allies, it is quite safe to say, will not supinely acquiesce in an arrangement which will leave Germany, not only relatively stronger by reason of the disintegration of her neighbors, but absolutely stronger, in population and in territory, than she was in 1914.

And we need not worry unduly about the principle of the self-determination of peoples. Does that principle mean that Hungary, like Austria, may vote herself into the German Republic or Empire, whichever it may be; that Bulgaria, which is contiguous with Hungary, may do the same; that Turkey, whatever she may be, may do the same? Why not, if the principle is to be automatically respected, regardless of the opinions of the outside world, regardless of the interests and well-being of the rest of the world? The principle was designed to further the contentment of men; it was not designed to imperil peace, or for the greater glory of the common enemy of mankind.

The Conference of Paris will plant itself firmly upon the ground of guaranties from Germany, not concessions and benefactions to her. Nor will it assume that the German mind has changed. It will entertain the conservative notion that miracles do not happen in the modern world, and that Germany will not be made over in the twinkling of an eye. It will suspect that Germany will remain Germany in characteristic ways for a long while, and it will believe that old habits, old modes of thought, old purposes, will not quickly disappear. It will also be mindful of the fact that, historically, revolutions have generally been succeeded by counter-revolutions. Also, it will not hold it impossible that a nation, fed on her own egregious conceit for fifty years, blocked in her purposes after four years of various victories, will, at the opportune moment, seek to pay off this score, to avenge this humiliation, and to win once for all the things that she so nearly won before.

There is little yet to show that Germany has undergone, or is undergoing, any radical transformation, that she possesses, or is likely soon to possess a new psychology. New psychologies are not easily obtained, either by individuals or by nations. One is at liberty to prognosticate a radical change of policy as the result of an upheaval in a state, only when the ruler and his people have long been estranged in thought and long been estranged in thought and feeling, in purpose and in aspiration. This was the case in the France of the eighteenth century. The intellectual leaders, the masses of the peasantry, and particularly the bourgeoisie, all had come to look upon the state as opposed to their interests and needs, as a bar to national progress. Before the Revolution itself occurred, there had been a profound revolution in the minds of the larger part of the population. And thus, when the Revolution came, it easily changed—and in a comprehensive and fundamental fashion—the institutions, the laws, and the life of France, for the simple reason that they had already been changed in the hearts and minds of the majority of Frenchmen.

Where does one find anything in Germany parallel to this inner transformation? The history of Germany during the last forty years, during the last ten years, has shown the contrary phenomenon: a growing and not a decreasing harmony between the governors and the governed. If one wishes to test this statement, let him compare the stand taken by the only so-called opposition party in the war of 1870 and the war of our own day. In the former, the Socialists, who were few in number, were opposed to militarism, to aggrandizement, to the declaration of war, and to the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, and their leaders, Bebel and Liebknecht, paid for their opposition by being thrown into prison. The Socialists of to-day, vastly more numerous and with far greater powers of opposition, have compromised with militarism, have warmly approved annexations by voting for the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and have on every and all occasions, in the year of our Lord 1918, joined in the general clamor that Alsace-Lorraine must never be surrendered. It would seem to be the business of an opposition to oppose.

Should there emerge from the Assembly of Weimar a German democracy, that democracy will be the expression of German psychology. German psychology caused the war and kept it going. The ruling classes would never have risked the war, had they not known the temper and the nature of the German people. Nothing has yet occurred to show that the great masses of the people differed in 1914 from their rulers, either in their conceptions of the nature and the duty of the state, in their moral indifferentism, or in their arrogance and conceit. The defeat Germany has sustained may abate somewhat her contempt of other nations. It is not likely to diminish her hatred of them. It is far more likely to intensify that hatred. Men do not love their enemies any the more because their enemies have compelled them to bite the dust. What we know about the Germans does not lead up to believe, either that they have changed in essentials, or that they are changing, or that they are likely to change and to give the world the spectacle of the miracle of a new psychology. The majority of the members of the National Assembly of Weimar were members of the Reichstag, and belonged to parties that enthusiastically supported the policies of the Empire. Moreover, we might as well remember that the Prussians will still control Germany, for the excellent reason that three fifths of the Germans are Prussians, and Prussians we know as more rigid, in mind and manner, than most men. The world still waits the dawn of an essentially new Germany. And when it sees it, it will wait still longer, since frequently the full day does not bear out the promise of the dawn.


Such, then, are the great outstanding features of the situation. The great Slav Empire of Russia has been overthrown, and a vast field for German economic exploitation and for insidious or open political influence has been opened in the East. A restored Poland will, under the best of conditions, be for a long while only an uncertain and an inadequate barrier. Germany proposes the annexation of German Austria and of German Bohemia. If she succeeds in this, then the new and small Czecho-Slovak Republic will be surrounded on the north, the west, and the south by the mighty state of Germany. It will be a mere salient projecting into German lands, a salient held by a weak people in the face of the intense and secular hatred of an overwhelmingly stronger one. And when the time comes for the extinction of that salient, when the international situation favors, extinguished it will be, with as great ease as was the salient of St. Mihiel in the closing days of the war. An Eastern Europe disintegrated and demoralized; an Austria-Hungary broken into fragments; a Southeastern Europe consisting of small states; a Germany nearly as populous as, or even more populous than, ever; and a France and Italy, the only other states of any size, whose combined strength, considering the ravages and the permanent burdens of the war that will weigh upon both, would but equal, if indeed it would equal, that of Germany—such will be the spectacle offered by the future map of Europe, a spectacle far from reassuring.

And this further fact should be faced. The overwhelming mass of Germans will resent any mutilation of the fatherland, whether the fatherland be monarchical or republican; and mutilated it will be, since Alsace-Lorraine is going back to France and Poland is to be restored. It is far safer and more sensible to assume that Germany will permanently resist these changes, than to suppose that she will admit their justice and accept the altered situation in good faith. The world should make its plans accordingly.

The conclusion of the whole matter is this. For two generations, ever since the accession of Bismarck to power, the attention of Europe has been riveted upon Germany as the chief source of danger to its peace. This attention will continue to be so riveted for another generation, perforce, and perhaps for more than one, since the danger inheres in the very situation, in the fundamental and continuing factors of the international life of Europe, of the map, and all that it imports. The more the German menace changes, the more it is seen to be the same thing.

If this analysis is correct, if such are the deep underlying forces that will operate after the peace is made, then any facile optimism arising out of the present embarrassments of Germany is a grave disservice to a world which has just passed through the hideous ordeal by fire, and which can escape passing through it again only be clearly and effectively neutralizing the dangers that environ it. The hour for optimism has not yet struck, nor does it seem likely soon to strike.

All other questions involved in the readjustment of the boundaries of the world are distinctly secondary, in comparison with this central fact of the liberation of Germany from the pressure on her borders of powerful states, save toward the west; and there the comparison is between France, with a population of less than forty millions, and Germany with one nearly twice as large. The future of the German colonies, of the detached parts of the Turkish Empire, of the various Balkan states, will be important for the people concerned, but will not be decisive for the course of general history. The great decisive influences and impulses shaping and determining, in large measure, the destinies of those countries and peoples will emanate from Europe, as hitherto, and will be the product of European conditions. Asia and Africa will continue to be annexes of Europe, whatever guise be given them, because of the direct political connections that will exist between large areas of those continents and Great Britain, France, and Italy.

It would, of course, be both presumptuous and futile for any individual to attempt to indicate in detail the many boundary lines that must be drawn upon the map of the world as the result of the dissolution of Russia, Austria-Hungary, and turkey. It would be unseemly to usurp the high prerogatives of the Conference of Paris. Moreover, as Lamartine once said, in a moment of perplexity, ‘Il faut laisser quelque chose à la Providence.’ But it is possible for everyone to grasp clearly, and to keep tenaciously in mind, the larger features of the present situation; and it is desirable, since these ought to constitute the norm of criticism and the motive for action in the international politics of the future. Any sound idealism must be based upon hard, unpleasant realism.