A Scambling and Unquiet Time: Armistice Day 1922 to Armistice Day 1923
NEITHER in the special session (November 20 to December 4, 1922) called by the President to consider the Ship Subsidy bill, nor in its second regular session (December 4, 1922, to March 4, 1923), did the 67th Congress of the United States accomplish much. The Ship Subsidy bill, considerably amended, passed the House, but it was done to death in the Senate by the elegant method of the filibuster. The Art of the Filibuster achieved its most brilliant triumph against the AntiLynching bill; reached its apogee there. It is a beautiful art, in which our preeminence is as manifest as that of the Greeks in sculpture or that of the Chinese in ceramics; but, if we are to arrive anywhere, we must relegate it to that political limbo where the shade of the Liberum Veto holds preposterous sway.
The Administration’s legislative programme was extensive but, aside from the routine appropriation bills, only two measures of considerable importance were enacted—namely, the Agricultural Credits bill and the bill amending the Debt Funding Act so as to validate the Debt Funding Commission’s arrangements for the British debt. Chiefly by adaptation and increase of the powers of existing Federal agencies, the Agricultural Credits Act provides sufficient credit facilities for the farmer and the raiser of live stock. But more important than credit facilities is the manner of using them. The ample credit proffered is applied most effectively through the medium of coöoperative marketing associations. The success of coöperative marketing, on a national scale, of the cotton and tobacco crops argues decisively for this view. The farmer has been at a disadvantage in the past because of lack of coöperation and lack of knowledge; these lacks are supplied by the coöperatives. By concentrating on the needs of the farmer, the 67th Congress removed the most legitimate target for the stock of levin-bolts Jupiter La Follette had laid in.
The which remark starts a train of hypochondriacal speculation. Will the Progressive bloc in the 68th Congress show restraint in wielding that balance of power bestowed by the electorate, or will they postpone all else to their anti-privilege programme? As this writer sees it, the most important matters requiring legislation are: immigration, reclamation, forestal protection, taxation, and transportation— with immigration easily ranking first. The proposal of yet straiter immigration restrictions has the support of the American Federation of Labor, whose members wear their altruism with a difference, but has to face the opposition of certain altruistic capitalists.
Apparently the people were content that the Ship Subsidy bill should die. The issue — a very great one — appears to be defunct or destined to lie perdu indefinitely. The Shipping Board fleet now consists of 356 vessels, with a total tonnage of 2,286,000. Whether Congress will continue for long to appropriate for its Government operation at a loss, and — far more important — whether it will provide for new tonnage for replacement and expansion, is highly dubitative. One wonders how far its name prejudiced the fate of the bill. To the olfactories of the general, ‘subsidy’ smacks vaguely of turpitude, of foreign commitments.
The only striking episode of the twelvemonth in the war between Capital and Labor, namely, the anthracite controversy, ended nominally in a compromise; actually, it ended in a substantial victory for the miners. The agreement marks no advance towards a fundamental solution of the coal problem. The report of the Coal Commission is a valuable exposé of the elements of that problem, but its recommendations reflect the distrust of men of the admirable type of the commissioners, of legislation as a cureall for industrial ills.
The recent activities of the Ku Klux Klan have made a great deal of clutter; but their importance is much overestimated. Some are apt to speak of the Klan as of a sort of Fascismo Americano; but such speakers are not 100 per cent Americans. ‘T is an indigenous product, and smacks of our soil. Its high fantasticality casts into the shade whatever Europe or China can show in that kind, not omitting the feats of such darlings of Momus as d’Annunzio and Mussolini. But its lease of life is short. It is too obnoxious to laughter. It is great pity it should not be at once ‘sped’ and immortalized by some satiric genius.
The conference of many weeks in Mexico City, between commissioners representing the United States and Mexico resulted in a satisfactory understanding as to the rights of American investors in Mexico and as to a machinery for adjustment of claims; and resumption of normal diplomatic relations followed at once.
On August 6 a new treaty of amity and commerce with Turkey was signed, to replace a treaty rendered obsolete by recent developments. The foreign policy of Secretary Hughes, thitherto so uniformly successful, struck its first snag in the Turk. Prior to the Lausanne Conference Mr. Hughes announced that our ‘observers’ at that conference would be empowered to ‘indicate’ our Government’s position respecting seven ‘subjects of particular American concern.’ Our observers ‘indicated’ with considerable energy, but in vain. Ismet Pasha fought for recognition of complete Turkish independence and sovereignty and won it from the Allies and the United States in separate treaties. The capitulations were abolished, the minor remnants of the minorities were left to the tender mercies of the Turks, and the economic was assimilated to the new political status. American educational, religious, and charitable institutions may remain in Turkey, but shorn of many privileges and immunities. To prove that we were not completely discomfited, it may be pointed out that Mr. Grew secured the validation of the so-called Chester Concessions to the prejudice of rival British and French claims, but that partial victory was not over the Turks; and, indeed, in view of the general nature of things in the Near East, and more particularly in view of the strong probability of renewal of the ancient relations between Great Britain and Turkey, it remains to see whether the Chester concessionaires have landed a bonanza or a white elephant. The subject, however, leaves this writer cold.
A resolution embodying President Harding’s proposal of adhesion of our Government to the protocol establishing the Court of International Justice at The Hague, with reservations ingeniously contrived by Mr. Hughes to keep us clear of League taint, was rejected by the Senate toward the end of the last session; but the adverse vote may have indicated nothing more than an unwillingness to decide upon so grand a matter without full discussion. Perhaps the late President’s most cherished hope was to win approval of that proposal at the next session.
An adequate review of the American year should take account of marked increases in the murder (including murder by automobiles) rate, the suicide rate, and the divorce rate, and a marked decrease in the marriage rate. On the other hand, the Great Commoner has pursued with undiminished vigor his crusade against Darwinism and all its works; censorship, official and unofficial, has flourished like the green bay-tree; and a great antitobacco drive impends. ‘T is still a naughty world; but if it is not to be made safe for intolerance, obscurantism, Mrs. Grundy, and the millennium, it will not be for lack of noble American effort.
The general elections in Britain on November 15, 1922, gave the Conservatives a working majority in the new Parliament. But more striking than the Conservative success was the showing of the Labor Party, which won more seats than the National (Lloyd George) and the Independent (Asquith) Liberals combined, thus becoming (O ye shades of Walpole and Chatham!), with its capital-levy plank, His Majesty’s Opposition. The Labor Party contains many men of ability and common sense, but it also includes a considerable number of those pestiferous doctrinaires who rejoice in the name of ‘intellectuals,’ and more than a sprinkling of downright rowdies. By their behavior the gentlemen of the last-named category have considerably prejudiced their party’s hopes of an early succession to the Government.
In May, Bonar Law was constrained by ill health to resign the office of Prime Minister and was succeeded by Stanley Baldwin, a man of like kidney — well informed, honest, and cool.
The grand necessity of Britain is the revival of foreign trade. The chief problems confronting the Law and Baldwin Governments have been (all except the last three still are): in the domestic field, unemployment, housing, agriculture; in the foreign field, the German business, the Turkish settlement, the difficulty with Russia, the debt to America.
The change of the official British attitude on the German Reparations question, since the London ultimatum of May 1921, is almost antipodal, yet easily explained. It sprang from the idea that the economic recovery of Germany is to Britain the most immediately desirable thing in the world, as being essential to the economic recovery of Europe as a whole and hence to restoration of the pre-war British markets in Europe (especially the German market); a thing so desirable, indeed, as to justify immense British sacrifices and, quite of course, even greater French sacrifices, on its behalf. How great the sacrifices Britain would make and was content that France should make, appeared in Bonar Law’s settlement proposal submitted at the conference of Allied premiers in January. There is no doubt whatever that Germany, disburdened to the extent contemplated in that proposal, could easily, with a minimum of good management and without the necessity of a capital levy, restore her finances and fisc and make a rapid recovery. France, to be sure, might be ruined; but let that pass.
But a tremendous offsetting consideration could not fail to present itself. For, suppose Bonar Law’s proposal to take effect. The German national debt would then be only $12,500,000,000, as against the British debt of about $31,000,000,000. This $12,500,000,000 is precisely the Reparations total, for the internal debt has been wiped out by inflation — the debts of the component States of the Reich and the debts of the great industrial chiefs and landowners have been extinguished in like manner. Moreover, as an incident of the German policy of mendacity and evasion, immense extensions, repairs, and improvements have, since the Armistice, been made to the industrial plant; so that the German capacity of production is, in the opinion of competent authorities, far greater to-day than it was before the war, far greater than Britain’s. What then of the prospect of British world trade in competition with a Germany whose per capita debt should be only two fifths that of Britain, with an industrial plant more extensive and far more efficient, and with no armament burden?
By what fantastic argument this offsetting consideration was quashed, will appear later. The official attitude of the British Government on German Reparations is still represented by the Bonar Law proposal. But that the offsetting consideration is dismally present to Mr. Baldwin’s imagination, is sufficiently apparent. The other day, in an address to the premiers of the Empire assembled in London, forecasting permanent loss of a large part of the pre-war European markets for British products, owing to the extraordinary increase since the War of ‘the European capacity of production’ (he was thinking chiefly of Germany), he urged the premiers to concert a programme looking to the economic self-sufficiency of the Empire. Later, addressing a convention of his party, he descanted mournfully on the danger of heavy dumping on the British market, on the export advantages so iniquitously furnished by depreciated currencies, on the barriers to British trade presented by foreign tariff walls, on unemployment; and concluded that ‘the only way to deal with the question of unemployment is by protecting the home market.’ Were those premonitory blasts, heralding a resolved policy of high protection and imperial preference? O shade of Cobden ! A terrific struggle within the realm seems surely to impend. ‘T is a situation that calls for supreme economic wisdom. Stanley Baldwin has proceeded Amphiaraüs. Will he proceed Hamilton?
Two nuances of the British attitude toward France require notice. It is to demand too much of British magnanimity to expect the British to regard with complete complacency the extraordinary aggrandizement of French influence on the Continent or — lend me your ears! — the prospect (almost amounting to certainty) of an ultimate alliance between Lorraine iron and Ruhr coal.
As for the Entente, it survives gaspingly, despite Curzonish infelicities.
At Lausanne, the awful mess in the Near East created by the rivalries, perfidies, rapacity, and stupidities of the French, British, and Italians, had to be ‘liquidated,’ and it seems to me that British interests were competently handled; at the first conference, by Lord Curzon, at the second, by Sir Horace Rumbold. To be sure, it was found necessary to sacrifice the holders of the Ottoman debt, but most of these are Frenchmen; and the betrayal of the Anatolian minorities — one of the most unjust and dishonoring facts of history — had to be consummated. But in politics as in gallantry, it is best to leave honor out of the question. The Straits settlement — after all, the main thing — is fairly satisfactory to everybody except the Russians. The Mosul question was left to negotiation; should nothing come of that, it is to be referred to the League of Nations. It is suspected that the British, with their flair for Oriental psychology, laid a substantial foundation for renewal of the old-time cordial relations with the Turk.
On December 5, 1922, the Irish Free State acquired full legal status as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations. In September it was admitted to membership in the League of Nations, the British delegates at Geneva, quite characteristically, leading the cheers. The friends of the Free State are a little apprehensive lest it come a cropper in the stony field of finance; but otherwise the outlook is bright. The Republicans gave over their guerrilla warfare in May, and that able and delightful person, GovernorGeneral Timothy Healy, assures us that Ireland is now as tranquil as Britain. May she ever remain so!
In India the experiment of the Diarchy proceeds obscurely. The British Raj seems more secure than it did a year ago. The ill-assorted union of Hindus and Mohammedans in resistance to the British rule cannot maintain itself; it is smothered in the resurgence of the ancient religious antagonisms. In consequence of recent developments in Turkey the Mohammedan leaders of India have lost a grievance — propagandishly effective, however factitious and false — against the British.
The Kenya (African colony) problem affords a pretty test-case for the racial policy of the British Empire, and has provoked a ferocious logomachy in the British journals.
In December 1922, the British war debt to the United States, with arrears of interest to date, was $4,600,000,000. It is estimated that the present value of that debt under the funding arrangements is $3,500,000,000; whence it is apparent that we did not act perfect Shylock in that affair.
To return for a moment to the British foreign trade. It is only 70 per cent of the pre-war trade. The number of registered unemployed is above 1,300,000; no great improvement since a year ago. Under present conditions Britain is overpopulated by ten million souls and the annual increase of births over deaths is 300,000. The Imperial Conference of Premiers and the associated Imperial Economic Conference, just ended, devoted much attention to the question of emigration from Britain to the daughter commonwealths. Something may be done that way, but not much, toward relieving the dreadful condition of supersaturation of population. And now comes insulin to join the war against the Malthusian dispensation. I leave the subject to Dean Inge, whose gloom I share.
The mass of literature on the German Reparations question equals that on the Tenth Horn of the Beast, and most of it is just about as valuable as the latter. It is a subject to addle any but the strongest wits. The best discussion thereof known to me is M. Poincaré’s letter of reply to Lord Curzon’s excessively Curzonish note of August 11, which letter is a lucid, candid, thorough and accurate exposition and review — indeed, one of the greatest of state papers; the next best is the remarkable article by ‘Alpha’ in the September Foreign Affairs. To those documents the reader is referred for what is denied him here. The following observations merely touch the fringe of the subject.
In December 1922, the Germans defaulted in fuel deliveries, and the Reparations Commission announced the default. Declaring themselves helpless to pay further, the Germans demanded a four years’ moratorium, an international loan, and reduction of the Reparations total.
The premiers of Great Britain, France, and Belgium, and a representative of Premier Mussolini, met in London early in January 1923, to discuss the crisis. Bonar Law made his famous proposal. In chief, it called for reduction of the German Reparations debt to 12½ billion dollars, a four years’ moratorium, and a mild supervision of the German fisc. It obviously contemplated great Allied sacrifices all around, but would partly compensate those of the continental Allies by writing off their debts to Britain (about seven billion dollars). By its operation the German debt would be $265 per capita, the French $575, the British $700. On a comparison of the average French and British incomes, the French debt burden under this arrangement is seen to be heavier than the British. It is, at least at first blush, perhaps the most astonishing proposal ever made.
Poincaré, the Belgian Premier, and the Italian representative, while content to accept the British offer to remit the debts of their Governments to Britain, — though recognizing that no generosity to those Governments was implied in it,— insisted that Germany pay, in addition to 12½ billions, the total in which their Governments were indebted to the United States — approximately 6½ billions. Further, placing no faith in German promises,— wherein the British professed a touching provisional faith, — Poincaré insisted on his programme of ‘productive guaranties’ (the Ruhr policy) and, instead of Bonar Law’s almost complete moratorium for four years, he proposed a complete cash moratorium for two years only and would require considerable deliveries in kind during that period. Under Poincaré’s proposal the German debt would be $390 per capita, the French $480, the British $700. The figures given lie a little, like all statistics, or rather, tell only part of the truth; but after an exhaustive study of the problem, after duly noting the significance of sundry ‘values’ such as the bearing of the extinguished German internal debt on the taxable resources of the Reich, I am convinced that Poincaré’s proposal contemplates the fairest distribution of debts yet suggested. It takes just account both of the German capacity to pay and of the capacity of the Allies to forgo payment. Bonar Law would not hear to it, and left the conference. The economic War of the Ruhr followed; but the great double issue between Britain and France — on the size of the Reparations total and on methods of collection—remains unaltered, except that Poincaré holds his ‘productive guaranties.’
But why, it may be asked, why, in heaven’s name, should Britain propose conditions so easy for Germany at the expense of herself and France? The answer is strange. The British attitude appears to be inspired by a bogey raised by the Manchester School and the Cambridge economic wits, — heaven save the mark! — who argue as follows. They point to the menace to British trade from the recognized considerable increase of the productive capacity of Germany since the war, and say that a Reparations burden only increases that menace, already sufficiently hideous, by calling forth an extra productive effort to rid said burden. The greater the Reparations total, the greater the menace. ‘Don’t stir those fellows up,’they say, ‘and perhaps they’ll take things easy and give us a chance; but once get ‘em into the habit of highspeed production, as would happen should we impose a big Reparations debt, and we’re done for.’ From this point of view, the logical course would be — following a hint of Bismarck’s — not to discuss the German Reparations debt at all, but to ascertain the amount of tribute which would induce Germany to refrain from pushing her economic advantage. No doubt it was in a spirit of complaisance that the Germans made their May and June proposals contemplating a Reparations total of only $7,500,000,000.
Well, the French and Belgians went into the Ruhr; and now, after nine months of so-called ‘ passive resistance,’ the Germans have surrendered, at least nominally. It remains to ascertain the fruits of victory. The ‘productive guaranties’ have not in fact proved productive, but Poincaré has often declared that he did not expect them so to prove prior to cessation of passive resistance. His prime object, worth the nine months’ effort, was to induce in the industrial magnates a will to pay, to place their expatriated wealth at the service of the Government, to put the Government on a paying basis, to cooperate to their limit in a policy of fulfillment.
Poincaré may or may not have induced that will; ‘t is highly dubitative. Coöperation so procured may well be thought precarious. But suppose the will, and that the industrial magnates possess expatriated resources to the extent claimed by Poincaré; alas! the way may now be found fatally obstructed. For there is confusion worse confounded in the Reich, and no man knoweth the end thereof. The old mark is beneath the tribute of a sneer. The farmers will not accept it, and hoard their produce for fear of confiscation. There is grave doubt lest the new financial measures may be too late to prevent immediate chaos. Hunger is abroad, mother of Revolution. Not that there is insufficient food in the country, but that conditions — chiefly the dislocation of finance — prevent its proper distribution. Separatist movements are afoot in the Rhineland and in the Palatinate. The loyalty of the Reichswehr is suspect; the Bavarian contingent is in open mutiny. Bavaria preposterously obstructs and threatens; there’s no telling what may develop from that quarter. In Pomerania and Mecklenburg the Monarchists are busked and ready; in Red Saxony, Red Thuringia, and elsewhere, the Communists ditto. Utter disruption of the Reich is a possibility, or a successful Monarchist putsch at last. Or this, or that. Should the worst happen, — and the very worst is possible, — it would be the logical outcome of a policy of rapacity, mendacity, and repudiation, conceived by the industrial chiefs and accepted by or imposed on successive Governments.
Disruption would mean a quite new face of the Reparations question. It might mean reduction to a negligible sum of the Reparations collectible. But, you say, it would at least provide security for France. Ah! but that would be casting out one devil only to replace him by others more diabolic. One could not face with equanimity the prospect of developments in a France crushed with a debt of 30 billion dollars and with no hope of Reparations.
Suppose the German Republic to have weathered the crisis intact, there would remain for solution the questions of the Reparations total and the methods of its collection. Can a satisfactory compromise between the conflicting attitudes of Britain and France be achieved? It is doubtful. The extreme difficulty thereof is referable to the bizarre characteristics of the industrial age. Any probable settlement must presuppose a substantial advantage to Germany over the victors in arms. A cosmic joke!
Of all peoples the British and French are the most richly endowed with humor. It were well to invoke the comic spirit on behalf of a settlement which, though satisfactory to neither people, should leave them friends.
The following brief sketch of a fascinating development presupposes in the reader familiarity with the fantastic background.
When, on the night of September 12—13, Primo de Rivera, Marquis de Estella, Captain General of Catalonia, proclaimed martial law throughout Spain, demanded the resignation of the Cabinet, and announced a military directorate, there was no opposition whatever. The King accepted the situation with aplomb and perhaps with satisfaction. A directorate, consisting of nine generals — representing the nine military ‘regions’ — and the Admiral of the Navy, now governs Spain by decree, as in the days following the Restoration of 1874. The provincial administrations have been abolished and in place of them a committee has been set up for each of the nine regions, consisting of a general of artillery, a general of infantry, and one of cavalry. The Cortes have been dissolved and the constitutional guaranties have been suspended. The political stables have been cleaned.
All very pretty, and most of it very desirable, if the genius of Primo de Rivera for construction is equal to his genius for destruction. His programme includes deracination of Communism and Separatism; retrenchment, honesty and efficiency in administration; a victorious conclusion to the war in Morocco; and trial of the civilians held by the military to be largely responsible for the Moroccan disasters.
The President of the Directorate promises to restore civil administration, guaranteed pure, as soon as practicable. But the day of restoration is far ahead, if it must await complete realization of the above programme. All else apart, Abdul Krim, the Rif chieftain, a welleducated, able, and resolute man, well versed in up-to-date military science, including the use of artillery and poison gas, is likely to obstruct the plans for Moroccan victory.
But suppose Abdul Krim brought to his knees, the rebellion, in the elegant modern expression, ‘liquidated’ — what next? Primo de Rivera has not made clear his intentions as to Morocco. Perhaps his ideas lack clarification, and he is waiting on events and the disclosure of popular sentiment. Would he retain and consolidate the conquest or, as he proposed some two years ago, chuck the Moroccan adventure, retaining only the coast with a very limited hinterland?
The quidnuncs all advise the latter. But is it quite, quite certain the quidnuncs have the right of it? If the Marquis is a man of genius, he might well make of the Spanish Zone a real extension of Spain. The population of Spain, whose area is about that of Germany, is only about twenty millions, and this though the Spanish are exceptionally prolific. The explanation is that emigration, mostly to South America, and a high death-rate, offset the high birth-rate, so that the total of population remains stationary. With proper administration, including in particular obvious agrarian measures, Spain could be made to support in comfort twice her present population, and for decades ahead the surplus could be established in Morocco.
It is true that there has been terrible political mismanagement in Spain for centuries past, but that does not absolutely prove Spanish political incapacity. It may merely indicate the lack, due to a variety of causes, of good political traditions. It may be that we shall see a Spanish renaissance.
No doubt the leitmotif of the revolution was a military grievance. No doubt the other alleged objects thereof were regarded as subsidiary to the satisfaction of this grievance. But it is permitted to hope — though perhaps against hope — that in due time one may be able to tell how the Marquis de Estella rose to the height of a magnificent opportunity; how he solved the Moroccan problem with the genius of a Lyautey, making wise arrangements looking to the conciliation of the Rif tribesmen, who are probably close akin to the original Spanish stock; how he gave the coup de grâce to el caciquismo; how he purified and restored the civil administration, breathing life into dead constitutional forms; how, daring greatly, he thoroughly reformed the army, with drastic purgations; how, content that Spain should remain predominantly agricultural, he set afoot a great agrarian programme; how he sent the alien agitators flying from Catalonia and conciliated the Catalans and Basques by amending the constitution in the direction of larger provincial autonomy; how he balanced the budget and corrected the incidence of taxation; and much else needed in old Spain.
Even so, old Spain, reformed conformably to her genius, would remain aloof from new Europe and the United States. But she might again become the lodestar of her daughters of New Spain; pan-Hispanism — nonpolitical — might become a force in the world. Though Don Joaquin Costa lock the tomb of the Cid with seven keys, the spirit of the Cid will abroad.
On October 31, one year from the day when Mussolini took office as Premier and the Fascist revolution was consummated, there were tremendous celebrations all over Italy. In the Sacred City the Roman Triumph, new style, of the previous year was repeated, and, as the Blackshirts tramped past the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, five hundred aircraft in ordered evolutions intercepted the view from Olympus. The most interesting feature of the celebration was the committal, by ardent patriots, to a bonfire on the Capitoline Hill, of Government promises to pay. It would be interesting to know how much of that precious food the flames licked up. ‘T is pity the citizens of France should not similarly sacrifice their twenty-three billion dollars of Government securities. That would be a solution of the Reparations problem for you!
Mussolini has abated no jot of the Dictator. His manner of dealing with Parliament continues Cromwellian, and Parliament submits. Apparently he has evinced something like economic genius. It seems possible that he will show a balanced budget for the year — if so, a marvel! On the data available I incline to the opinion that in its first year of Government control Fascismo has been justified of its works. Yet one cannot rid oneself of a suspicion of results attained by extra-legal methods, of a doubt that such high-tension patriotism can be sustained, and a feeling that relaxation to a mean of humor and common sense might be safer and more beneficent.
Before Mussolini assumed the power, he permitted himself a luxury of Chauvinistic utterance comparable to d’Annunzio’s. ‘The Mediterranean must be an Italian lake; the Italian cantons of Switzerland must be redeemed:’ that sort of thing. But, installed in office, he toned down. His policy was to be one of ‘dignity and expansion within the limits of our possibilities, and of equilibrium.’ He was for ‘the greatest possible accord with Jugoslavia.’ To be sure, at his meeting with Curzon and Poincaré before the first Lausanne Conference, he began by ruffling his plumes. ‘Italy shall no longer be Britain’s chambermaid,’ and such-like Voltairean gems, fell from his lips. But in the presence of Lord Curzon’s marmoreal dignity he soon lost his conceit of himself, his wings drooped, and he instructed his delegates at the Lausanne Conference to line up with the British.
That was in November 1922, and it was not until August of this year that Mussolini gave himself a loose. I must omit the details, however edifying. In the course of his rampaging, the hero nearly involved his country in war with Jugoslavia over Fiume, which must have caused a Balkan conflagration; he nearly involved his country in war with Greece, which must have involved ditto; he insolently challenged the indubitable competency of the League Council to deal with the Greco-Italian dispute referred to it by Greece; and he gave a shrewd jolt to the Entente.
So much harm can be done by a parvenu, swollen with conceit and unversed in the courtesies essential to international relations. In the event, Mussolini climbed down on the Greek matter with a flea in his ear, and this flea suggested that he go slow in the Fiume matter. At any rate, he withdrew his ultimatum to Belgrade and consented to resumption of negotiations on a fresh basis. It should, however, be remarked that Fiume is a continuing danger spot, that there may be a blow-up any moment over Fiume. Opinions are ‘at diameter and sword’spoint’ over the question whether the League of Nations gained or lost in prestige in consequence of the Council’s manner of dealing with the challenge to its competency. In my opinion, it gained, thanks chiefly to Lord Cecil, who averted war, sufficiently vindicated League authority, and, with the tact of a great gentleman (in such contrast with Mussolini’s behavior), allowed Mussolini to ‘save face’ — a matter so important to Romantics and Celestials. Mussolini furnished out the most interesting episode of the year, but proved a very sorry Orlando Furioso.
The Bulgarian coup of June 9 was a little gem of a coup. Briefly, it resulted in the overthrow of the Agrarian Government, the death — while attempting to escape after capture — of Premier Stamboulisky, the dissolution of Parliament with its overwhelming Agrarian majority, and the restoration to power of the bourgeois parties, which include the survivors of those gentlemen who, in 1915, against the will of the majority of the Bulgarian nation, caused the adhesion of Bulgaria to the Central Powers. The coup was executed by the army and the reserve officers, and the new Government definitely rests on military support. Thus ends that interesting experiment of a Farmers’ Government, and thus vanishes into air, into thin air, that by no means fantastic project so dearly cherished by Stamboulisky, of a Serbo-Bulgarian Federation which should control Balkan politics.
Partial as one could not fail to be to that experiment of a Farmers’ Government in a country over 80 per cent of whose men are farmers, one has to admit that the revolution was justified by Stamboulisky’s internal policy. That policy could have been forgiven for addressing itself solely to the interests or supposed interests of the farmers; but it was, in addition, oppressive, confiscatory and vindictive toward the bourgeois. Stamboulisky had many magnificent qualities, but he lacked magnanimity. He could not forgive his three years’ incarceration for his bold denunciation of Bulgaria’s adhesion to Germany, and, released, took it out on the bourgeois; and they in turn took it out on him.
In his foreign policy Stamboulisky showed himself great. That policy was pacific and conciliatory and one of honest effort to fulfill the Treaty of Neuilly. It had one great reward in the reduction of the Bulgarian Reparations debt from $450,000,000 to $110,000,000. It failed, however, to secure from the Allies fulfillment of their promise to provide Bulgaria with a satisfactory economic outlet to the Ægean, Allied action in this matter having been stupid, pusillanimous and faithless.
It is too soon for an appraisal of the new Government. It has had to deal with a Communist revolution — a desperate bid ordered in tempestively by Moscow in the hope of exploiting to the furtherance of the gospel of Lenin the peasants’ fresh resentment on account of the affair of June. A good many peasants did join the Red standards, but the movement was badly coördinated and was rather easily suppressed. Information is lacking as to whether the Government is showing toward the Agrarians that clemency which alone can assure it length of life. The peasantry have acquired political consciousness, and, though the Agrarian leaders have not yet shown themselves qualified to wield the power, they have doubtless learned much. By no means all the farmers belong to the Agrarian Party; but a misuse of their power by the bourgeois should mean the swelling of the Agrarians’ ranks to irresistible strength.
Professor Zankoff declares that his Government is free of Chauvinism, Imperialism, pro-Germanism and other obnoxious isms, and that its foreign policies differ no whit from those of Stamboulisky. That may be true as regards the Allies, but Stamboulisky’s policy of rapprochement with Serbia is defunct and along with it a plan for settlement of the very important Macedonian question on the federative principle.
It is proper that we give our eyes and ears to Bulgaria; for you have there, so to speak, the very Balkanization of the Balkan question. Somewhere in the Balkan range Atys hath her cave.
The chief losers by the new face of things in Turkey, next to the Greeks, are the French. The French cease to be the predominant foreign influence in Turkey. Not that the French deserve worse than the British; merely, they fare worse. The abandonment by the French of their Armenian protégés in Cilicia, and even the French separate pact with Angora, were not more flagrant instances of faithless dealing, than was the manner in which the British Government egged on the Greeks against the Turks, or at any rate allowed them to entertain false hopes of British help, and then callously left them in the lurch. It might, however, plausibly be urged that the British in a way redeemed themselves by their bold stand at the Straits after the Smyrna massacre. At any rate, one British reputation stands out refulgent from the murk and smells sweet amid the intolerable Near East stench — that of General Sir Charles Harington.
The French bid for the primacy in the Near and Middle East failed. Yet it should be some salve to French selflove that the langue d’oil gets a new lease of life as the language of diplomacy. O Oil, Oil! destined to embroil the earth.
Turkey is now a Republic with Mustapha Kemal as the first President. The courteous Turk (a Caucasian brother, for the Mongoloid strain is bred out) would fain soothe our feelings, ruffled by our diplomatic defeat at his hands, by pointing out the many ways in which he has done us the honor of imitation: citing the National Pact, the War of Independence, the programme of Turkification, the high tariffs, the C.U.P. (as like the K.K.K. as pea to pea), the Howling Dervishes . . . No more, sweet chuck!
So Tsao Kun, Super-Tuchun of Chi-li, Ho-nan, and Shan-tung, has reached the goal of his ambition; the Chinese Parliament (bribed, says Lady Rumor — for once probably correct) has elected him President of China. In a country immemorially governed by literati, he is illiterate. He has never shown any capacity except for Celestial intrigue and ‘squeeze’; not even military capacity, for the fighting required to clear his path was done by Wu Pei-fu.
We may only hope that he will falsify a very unsavory reputation. For all that he is President, he is a far less important person than Wu Pei-fu. What, then, one wonders, doth Wu Pei-fu, super-Tuchun of Hu-nan and Hu-peh, able soldier, gentleman and literatus, intend? There is something very curious about his silence and apparent; inactivity all these months. He was, and probably still is, the cynosure of the best elements of changing China. Peradventure he lieth low, ready to intervene at the psychological moment.
There has been some increase of piracy and banditry in China during the past year, the chef-d’œuvre of the latter being the famous Linching affair. But we, too, have our lynching affairs, and our Klan, our hold-ups, our Arkansas and other outrages, our unexampled murder rate; in a comparison of behavior, China would come off the better.
It might be remarked, too, that the attitude of the Chinese toward banditry goes to the credit of their honesty and philosophy. The profession of common or garden banditry is not discredited in China. Why should it be? say the Chinese; for most of the other professions and occupations are merely allotropic forms thereof.
It were foolish, of course, seriously to contend that the future Ssu-ma Ch’ien will dwell lovingly on Chinese performances of the past year; but the following weighty thing is to be said by way of palliation: China is in the throes of an evolution as tremendous as any in the history of mankind. Such is the stability — social, economic, political — of the ancient fabric, that the process must needs be slow. Should the process be carried to the point of thorough Westernization and industrialization, the result would be disastrous not only to China but to the whole human race; should it be limited to absorption of certain desirable elements of Western science and thought, the result might well be a renaissance of the Chinese genius to astonish, delight, and benefit the world. O ye memories of Ch‘ang-an, City of the Soul, Nest of the Lyric Bird!
In the above, a selection was made of what seemed to the writer most important. A larger article would discourse of many other things, some scarcely less important, as: —
Of France and her Empire: how her foreign trade prospers; how the Sahara has been crossed by automobile and a trans-Saharan railroad is planned, besides other great colonial projects not feasible unless the Germans pay.
Of Austria: how under League auspices she is making a magical recovery.
Of Greece: of the burden of the Anatolian refugees and how the League has stepped in to help; of her political blunders and perplexities, and the likelihood of a republic.
Of Russia: how at the end of July the A.R.A., a great work of humanity well done, departed; of the crops, and whether there is a surplus to justify the exportations; of the logomachy between M. Chicherin and Lord Curzon and how the Briton unpen’d his foe, a tale right Curzonish and delectable; of the persecution of the churches, and whether or no the new religion, Communism, is to be blamed for adopting the militant methods of its predecessors; and of the new Constitution of the Union of Soviet Republics, which under verbal camouflage leaves the old bloodstained gang in control.
Of Egypt and its new democratic constitution.
Of how Self-Determination, Heavenly Maid, won a famous victory in Memelland.
Of the Baltic States: how nicely they are doing, balancing their budgets and maintaining stable currencies.
Of Japan: the earthquake, Malthusian Nature, and what reason the Japanese, with a debt of only two billion dollars, have to congratulate themselves on the excellent past management of their finances.
Of the Fourth Assembly of the League of Nations and how Orlando Furioso Mussolini played havoc with the agenda.
Of aviation, and that the imagination must bestir itself to keep pace with its developments; nor should one forget that the future of war is in the air.
Of archæological activities: Tutankh-Amen and whether or no Lord Carnarvon was done to death by the outraged divinities of the Nile; the tablets of Nippur; Napata and Meroë, much new light on ancient Ethiopia; the boudoir of a Carthaginian lady, and how like Gwendolyn Smith is to Dido.
Of anthropology: the old boy of St.Ouen, and the Patagonian chap with his Tertiary patina.
Of what a dreadfull toll death has taken this year: President Harding, Steinmetz; Bonar Law, Frederic Harrison, Maurice Hewlett, Lord Morley; Ribot, de Freycinet, Delcassé, Pierre Loti, Sarah Bernhardt; Admiral Baron Kato, and Marquis Matsukata, last but one of the Genro.
Of how the Age of Mammals draws to a close; for Cynthia must have her fur coat and tippet — positively must, you know.
’T is the age of coups, ultimatums, and dictators, of oil and huggermugger finance, of vers libre and syncopated music, of mendacity and her allotropes: propaganda and publicity. ‘T is ‘a scambling and unquiet time.’ Some do say another Ice Age is toward; ‘t were well.