Consequences: The Sequel to the League's Collapse

VOLUME 153

NUMBER 1

JANUARY 1934

BY FRANK H. SIMONDS

To those for whom the historical parallel has importance, the resemblances between the events of 1830 and 1933 must seem significant. A century ago, and just fifteen years after Waterloo, the July Revolution in Paris swept away the Bourbon Dynasty. Last March, and again precisely a decade and a half after the close of another general war, the National Socialist upheaval in Germany similarly abolished the Republic. And, different as the revolutions of 1830 and 1933 were in many details, their basic cause was identical.

For like the Bourbons, who, as Paris said scornfully at the time, were brought back by the Allied invaders in their baggage, the German Republic was established under conditions which condemned it to appear in the eyes of a proud people the symbol of defeat upon the battlefield and of continuing humiliation in the councils of Europe. And in each case present weakness was in immediate contrast to a long and glorious period of Continental primacy.

Exhausted by the strain of nearly a quarter of a century of conflict extending from Valmy to Waterloo, the French people had suffered Napoleon to depart, as a century later the German people accepted the consequences of the flight of William II. But neither the French people after 1815 nor the Germans after 1918 were resigned to accept permanently the rôle of a subordinate and secondary state in a world in which, until yesterday, their voice had always commanded attention and usually obedience.

It has been charged, and will doubtless be asserted indefinitely, that the rise of the National Socialists to power in Germany was the direct consequence of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. It is argued that if, instead of the Carthaginian peace of the Paris Conference, Germany had been dealt with generously, the course of post-war history would have been different and the ultimate triumph of Adolf Hitler impossible. But, without attempting to defend or excuse the actual provisions of the peace treaties themselves, it is possible to challenge this assumption.

Copyright 1933, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass. All rights reserved.

For if the Treaty of Versailles was in fact a Carthaginian settlement, those two treaties which the victorious Allies of a century ago imposed upon France before and after Waterloo were generous beyond earlier or later precedent. Thus, in the first Treaty of Paris, France was left with her frontiers of 1789 intact — in fact, extended in Savoy and at the Sarre; no money indemnity was demanded; her soil was promptly evacuated. And even after the Hundred Days the frontiers of the France to which Louis XVIII returned were substantially identical with those over which Louis XVI had reigned. Despite all the costs in blood and treasure incident to conquering Napoleon a second time, the indemnity demanded by the conquerors was less than $150,000,000 and the military occupation of French soil ended within three years.

In a word, the Allies of 1815, eager to insure themselves and Europe alike against a Revolutionary and a Napoleonic France, undertook to reëstablish the Bourbons in circumstances which would remove all chance that the French nation would wreak upon a dynasty restored by foreign conquerors that vengeance which it was for the time being helpless to satisfy otherwise. And yet, fifteen years after the Second Treaty of Paris had been made, France sent the last of the Bourbons on his travels.

For, once the French people had recovered from the immediate weariness and prostration incident to the final phase of the Napoleonic drama, they instinctively contrasted the France of the Empire with that of the Restoration, and increasingly resented a position of relative helplessness as they remembered the glories of the Imperial Age. As a result, they overthrew the Bourbons, not because the France of 1830 was economically depressed, militarily disarmed, territorially mutilated, but because it was not the France of the First Empire.

One may, then, at least with a show of warrant, argue that the downfall of the German Republic was assured by the circumstances which called it into being. It was at least as alien to any German ambition in 1918 as a Bourbon restoration had been to the mass of the French people in 1814. It was associated instantly and permanently with an unfortunate peace made with a conqueror. It was condemned from the start to live between the fears of the foreign enemies who had recently known the weight of German armies and the pride of German people who as recently had been masters of half the Continent.

II

But apart from all speculation as to the things which might have happened had the Treaty of Versailles been conceived in the spirit of both of those of Paris a century earlier, what is interesting is to seek in the events following the July Revolution of 1830 some light as to the meaning of the similar events of 1933. What, then, was the effect of that upheaval by which the French threw off the Bourbons as the symbol of national defeat and humiliation and thus announced their final refusal to accept the European Settlement of the Congress of Vienna, which had been founded upon French disaster?

The result was neither immediate war nor instantaneous collapse of the system of Vienna. On the contrary, the victors of Waterloo were still able to exert a pressure upon France adequate to prevent the Orleans Monarchy from exploiting the Belgian revolt to recover Antwerp and Brussels. For nearly twenty years after the ’three glorious days’ of July in Paris, Metternich as the coachman of Europe was still able to guide his lumbering diligence over the diplomatic roadways of the Old World. Nevertheless the July Revolution did constitute the first and a fatal breach in the edifice of the Congress of Vienna.

It did something more: it disclosed the basic inexactitude of the calculations of those who made the Settlement of 1815. For they had reckoned that, with the Bourbons restored, France would presently enter pathways of peace; that these same Bourbons would eventually become the partners of the Hapsburgs, the Romanoffs, and the Hohenzollerns in the maintenance of a state of order which had been shaken to its foundations by the Revolution and by the later Napoleonic epoch.

The Holy Alliance, which was the expression of that hope, however fantastic in detail, was nevertheless the symbol of another League of Nations to maintain a status quo, and in that League it was assumed that the France of the Restoration would presently take its place. For the time being, the victors of 1815 were prepared to stand to arms about the periphery of France, but in the end they well knew that European order could only be assured if France joined their circle voluntarily. To that end they dealt generously with France in the peace treaties and considerately in the immediate postwar years.

When, however, France cast out the Bourbons and turned to the House of Orleans, she chose a dynasty which had ostentatiously identified itself with the Revolution, and thus deliberately and defiantly rejected the programme of her conquerors. She became, not a partner in the preservation of the System of Vienna, but a frank if for the moment only a passive foe. Thus the July Revolution doomed the status quo of 1815, although the actual destruction was delayed for another generation and achieved only by the unification of Italy and Germany.

III

Now, looking at the situation today, it is impossible to escape the conviction that the German Revolution has the same meaning. All the calculations at Paris turned upon the eventual agreement of the citizens of the German Republic to coöperate with their conquerors in the establishment of a state of order based upon the Settlement of 1919. In the councils of the League of Nations, Germany was to play the rôle which had been reserved for France in the conferences of the monarchies a century before. And when the Germany of Stresemann came to Geneva in 1926 to be welcomed by the France of Briand, European peace seemed to be assured by the ‘sun of Locarno.’

It is plain now, however, that while the German people desired peace and were willing to associate themselves with their conquerors at Geneva, they desired peace only on terms which amounted to the complete revision of the territorial clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Actually they joined the League only as they saw the possibility to obtain at Geneva what was for them those concessions which could alone reconcile them to the existing order. In the long run the permanence of the Republic at home and the presence of Germany at Geneva turned similarly on the revision of those portions of the Treaty of Versailles which were in all German eyes intolerable.

But France and the Succession States which in the end had welcomed Germany in the League had welcomed her only because they were satisfied that, once subjected to the influences and restrictions of Geneva, the Germans would be forced to abandon their programme of treaty revision. Their calculations were those of the members of the Holy Alliance a century earlier. The system of Versailles was to be guaranteed by the acceptance by the German people of the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

From 1926 onward there was, therefore, this fatal divergence between the purpose of Germany on the one hand and of France and her allies on the other. Germany was in the League to recover the Polish Corridor, Upper Silesia, and to achieve the Anschluss with Austria. In a word, to escape from the consequences of the defeat of 1918. But France and her allies were at Geneva to employ the machinery of the League to block the German purpose, to preserve what Germany would abolish.

Moreover, once the German people became fully aware that membership in the League would not and could not bring them relief from the territorial provisions of Versailles, and that escape from the unilateral military restrictions was possible only at the sacrifice of hopes of territorial changes, ihen inevitably the German people turned upon the Republic which had brought them to Geneva under false pretenses, and upon the League which had become in their eyes an extension of the coalition that had defeated them in war.

But the very essence of the German revolt, the fundamental explanation of the rise of Hitler and of his subsequent withdrawal from the League of Nations, was the fact that for the German people the situation in which they found themselves in Europe and in the world as a consequence of the defeat of 1918 was intolerable. It was intolerable precisely as the situation of France had seemed in French eyes intolerable a century before, because it constituted a fall from a position of power and primacy in Europe. Like the French people after Waterloo, the Germans after the Armistice of Rethondes were unwilling permanently to sink to the status of one great power among many.

In seceding from the League, therefore, Germany finally and dramatically served notice upon the world that the Settlement of Paris in 1919 and the System of the League of Nations which had developed about that Settlement were similarly unacceptable to the German people. She recovered her freedom of action and disclosed her programme of action as well. Whatever influence remains to the League now, it cannot flow from any unity in the world. Geneva cannot speak for all peoples, because the Germans, like the Japanese before them, have rejected its authority, while the Soviet Russians and the Americans have never accepted it.

IV

And what, exactly, does that mean in terms of practical politics? It means that Europe must now pass from the stage marked by the attempt to preserve peace through the League to a new period in which the same attempt will be made through the old familiar method of the balance of power. Germany’s purposes, publicly proclaimed by her present masters, look to the annexation of French, Polish, Czech, Belgian, Danish, and Russian territory, and to union with Austria, which constitutes an obvious threat to Italy.

Since Germany has left the League, the machinery of Geneva cannot be invoked effectively against her. If she resorts to aggression, the decision of the League may give moral weight to the cause of her victims, but it will not bring any force into the field to resist that aggression. It is for those nations whose security and unity are directly menaced by German purposes to look to their armaments and to their alliances to create a combination of power adequate to restrain Germany from violence, or at the least to overpower her if she resorts to it.

But obviously such a machinery for maintaining a status quo is something far removed from the League of Nations, at least as it has been conceived of by its adherents in Anglo-Saxon countries. It is something totally different from the ideal of peace assured by international understanding and cooperation. It is at best no more than a combination of the beneficiaries of the last war to prevent their gains from being wrested from them in a new conflict. And it is clear beyond debate that the assurance of security which such an alliance, founded on community of interest, can provide will only be transitory.

Thus, in the case of France a century ago, while the partnership which had conquered Napoleon in 1815 was still in 1830 strong enough to prevent the timid Louis Philippe from annexing Belgium, a quarter of a century later it had broken down completely and France and Britain were at war with Russia, while a few years later still Russia, Prussia, and Britain stood aside while France defeated Austria at Magenta and Solferino. It is, then, unmistakable in the light of all past history that, if the German people persevere in their present purposes, the chance to realize these purposes must presently arise through the disintegration of the forces which at present prevent it.

To say that war is bound to be an immediate consequence of the German Revolution is of course to assert what no man can prove, and what plainly may not be the sequel. The truth is that war has become, not an immediate probability, but an eventual certainty, because the German Revolution has shattered the last hope that there can be any system of peace internationally accepted and assured by the equal yielding of all nations to the moral and legal authority of the League of Nations. Between the nations which desire changes in the territorial decisions of Paris and those which are prepared to resist to the death all programmes of change, the basis of understanding is undiscoverable.

For both, the League had become through the Disarmament Conference a battle ground, Germany seeking to employ the machinery of Geneva to advance her claims to equality of armaments, which would prepare the way for a violent attempt to attain treaty revision, France striving to invest the League with the power and the means to restrain all violence, and, until that end was achieved, to prevent German rearmament. In such a struggle there could be no peaceful and voluntary adjustment, and in the end the League was foredoomed to be the victim.

V

This tragic fate of the League was foreshadowed, not by the triumph of Hitler in 1933, but by the decision of the Bruening Cabinet in 1930, when the Republic still seemed secure, to open the question of the Eastern frontiers and thus confront Europe with a German demand for treaty revision. It was rendered inevitable when a few months later the same Bruening Government undertook through the Austro-German Tariff Union to lay what the rest of Europe believed was the foundation for a future political union between the Reich and the Austrian Republic.

These two actions, taken by Republican Germany, put the world on notice that all calculations for the future based upon German agreement to cooperate with the world through Geneva, and under the system established by the peace treaties, were unfounded. And with them the whole illusion of Locarno expired. By 1930 the Republican leaders of Germany were aware that the Republic itself could not longer survive if it did not identify itself with national public opinion, which demanded treaty revision. But when they sought to express that national demand abroad, they were met by a force which was irresistible, and were compelled at Geneva, in September 1931, to make the most abject and humiliating surrender to France in German history since Tilsit.

When, at that moment in Geneva, Curtius, for Germany, publicly renounced the Austro-German Tariff Union project, forced to such renunciation by the financial pressure exerted by France, the Republic was stripped of the last vestige of appeal for the mass of the German people, and Geneva became no more than a name as humiliating to German ears as Olmutz had been to Prussian in the nineteenth century. Henceforth it was patent to all Germans that the Republic could not bring treaty revision, and that Geneva was an instrument for preserving the status quo always available for French use.

What happened at the subsequent Disarmament Conference was of minor importance. Bruening, aware of the fate which overhung him at home, strove to obtain concessions which were beyond his reach because the steady rise of the Nazis within Germany had alarmed all of the neighboring nations, whose consent was necessary to give Germany even a juridical claim to equality in armaments. And while the Arms Conference was floundering into its second year Hitler seized power, and the final rejection by the German people of the Settlement of Paris was established.

The remark of Pitt after Austerlitz that the map of Europe must be rolled up for ten years is equally applicable to-day to the prospectus of the League of Nations. It has no relevance, and can have no relevance, in a world in which peoples like the Japanese and the Germans set the realization of national programmes of expansion above all considerations of international order. It can also have no relevance in a world in which people like the French and the Poles place the maintenance of their present frontiers above all similar considerations.

VI

The League of Nations was established upon the assumption that the World War had brought about a complete change in the nationalistic spirit of peoples, that they were all equally ready to submit their respective aspirations and ambitions to international adjustment as the sole means of escaping the horrors of another universal catastrophe. From the very outset it was obvious that if all peoples were not similarly ready to accept what existed, then the League could only become a combination of the satisfied powers to restrain the discontented. And as such it was doomed to lack all moral authority in the eyes of peoples thus forcibly restrained.

For fourteen years the struggle was carried on at Geneva and elsewhere to create an institution which would substitute international agreement for national rivalry. But during those fourteen years, although an enormous mass of machinery was created and pacts without number were signed and ratified, not the smallest progress was made in establishing international authority in a world in which nationalistic sentiments and emotions were ever visibly on the gain. While Germany was weak and at first outside the League, the semblance of unity and progress there existed. When Germany entered the League, while her statesmen and people still believed the League was a way to the recovery of lost provinces and departed prestige, that illusion still prevailed.

But the success of the League of Nations always turned on the ultimate consent of the German people to surrender their hopes or of the neighbors of Germany to cede their territories. When the German people clearly and definitively declared for the restoration of their Polish Marches and for union with Austria, while their neighbors with equal clarity indicated their resolution to resist all such aspirations, by force if necessary, and to keep Germany disarmed while she nourished these ambitions, then the League was finished for precisely as long a period as these various peoples were in their present state of mind.

The fundamental inveracity upon which the League was established, too, was sensationally exposed in the Japanese adventure in Manchuria. On the one hand, that adventure demonstrated that the Japanese placed their national necessities, as they saw them, above all international considerations. On the other hand, it similarly indicated that in the face of such a resolution the moral authority of the League was without avail, and that apart from moral authority the League was without resource. Seeing this, the nations who were menaced by German purposes hardened their will against German rearmament.

In its last stages the Disarmament Conference became a tragic mockery because what was sought was some kind of paper agreement which would preserve the semblance of a world unity which had actually departed. Had such a pact been framed, it would only have added one more to the scraps of paper now drifting back and forth over the earth under the impulsion of the nationalistic gales. For peace, like all else in this world, turns upon what men do and not upon what they say; upon what their purposes reveal and not what their phrases conceal. And nothing that Germany or her neighbors might sign would change the basic fact that their purposes are irreconcilable and their spirits intransigent.

For myself, having for the past twenty years traveled Europe in war and peace, the question has always been there, a question of the spirit. For a moment I was cheered by the hope of Locarno — not by the language of the pacts, but by the words of the statesmen who made them. I was in Berlin and in Paris during the making; I was in touch with French and German people alike. In both it seemed to me I discovered at last a real longing for peace and understanding, which found eloquent expression when, in 1926, Briand welcomed the Germans to the League. And that impression lingered in 1928 when I returned to Berlin.

By 1930, however, all had changed. Not less than the French people, the Germans desired peace and longed for understanding, but despite all these longings it was for them intolerable that the frontiers of the East should endure. Becoming impatient, too, because four years of membership in the League had brought no relief, they were listening to the voice of Hitler. Bruening, Who now ruled in Stresemann’s stead, shared the feelings of his fellow countrymen. But for revision there was no hope this side of war; of this fact a few days in Poland satisfied me. After that stay in Berlin, in Warsaw, and finally in Paris after the Germans had proposed the AustroGerman Tariff Union, I had no further hope.

To-day it has become the fashion again to denounce the German people for their course, which has brought the Disarmament Conference to confusion and the League of Nations to disaster. Personally I do not share the state of mind which explains these denunciations. No one can have more contempt than I for the cruelties and brutality of the Nazi régime. It does violence to every conception of personal liberty and private dignity which I hold. But nothing in the present German domestic excesses seems to me to warrant the denunciation of German policy in the matter of the Settlement of Versailles.

In the light of the present-day performances within Germany, the public opinion of the United States and Great Britain, which yesterday condemned the French, Polish, and Czech resistance to German aspirations, is now declaring those aspirations criminal. Those who recently denounced French militarism are to-day chorusing their ‘Thank God for the French Army!’ Both states of mind seem to me equally irrational, both similarly irrelevant. Both betray unreasonable anger born of original miscalculation.

The great and noble dream which was the League of Nations has been demonstrated for all present time as only a dream, because all peoples with equal energy and conviction place their national interests above all international considerations. Neither the secession of the Germans nor that of the Japanese from Geneva constitutes an action more criminal or more worthy of execration than the American refusal to join the Geneva body or the British rejection of the Protocol of 1924. Nor is the French desire to make the League a guarantee of French security illustrative of a different spirit.

Primarily, Geneva was a great gamble based upon faith and hope: faith in the masses of the people in every country; hope in the future that this faith seemed to assure. But the success of Geneva always turned on the similar and equally complete abandonment by all peoples of their nationalistic purposes where these conflicted with world peace and order. It was a system based upon an assumed miracle, which was a change in the mind of mankind produced by the World War. We were the first to demonstrate that the miracle had not taken place; the Germans are the latest, that is all.

VII

Europe is now going back to a system of balance of power with the purpose of restraining German ambitions, which menace various states not only individually but collectively, for the realization of the programme of the Nazis would restore the Mitteleuropa of the war period and give Hitler a power in Europe which Napoleon never enjoyed. That combination of force centring in France may or may not avail for any length of time to restrain German purpose. When it appears inadequate, Germany will resort to war to realize her aims. Willingly or unwillingly, Italy and Britain will eventually be forced to stand against Germany, because German possession of Trieste or Calais would be for them similarly menacing.

We shall hear little more of Kellogg Pacts or of the Covenant of the League. Geneva will in due course become as deserted as did The Hague in the years just preceding the World War. It has many useful and necessary international tasks to perform, and it will go on performing them. But it will no longer be the headquarters of World Peace, because that World Peace has again become a fiction, and the measure of temporary tranquillity which endures will be determined by the G.H.Q. of various armies, not by any body meeting beside the shores of Lake Leman.

With the rise of the National Socialists to power, Europe has passed from a post-war to a pre-war period. That was precisely what happened after the July Revolution in France a century ago, and it happened because that revolution supplied definitive evidence that the French people would not permanently endure either the domestic government or the foreign situation imposed upon them by military defeat. The result of the French decision was not a general war because France was not strong enough to constitute a peril to the whole Continent.

But France did fight Russia in 1855, Austria in 1859, and Prussia in 1870, seeking to remove the humiliations of 1814 and 1815, but ending in the disasters of Metz and Sedan. To-day war in Europe cannot again be a series of duels as it was in the last century, because no great power can afford to ignore the consequences for it of a German success over any other state or combination of states. On the contrary, it must have the character of a world war, because the Germany of 1933, like the Germany of 1914, is strong enough to dominate Europe if she can dispose of France.

The machinery of peace of the postwar era having collapsed, Europe has returned to its traditional methods, and the United States has now to retire to its similarly traditional isolation or to take sides in a new Continental war to preserve the balance of power. In a word, Europe is back in 1914, and America is facing the problems which confronted it two decades ago.

VIII

One final word. Implicit in the parallel drawn between the circumstances of 1815 and 1919, in the opening paragraph of this article, is the suggestion that even had the victors of the World War made as generous and moderate a settlement with Germany as the conquerors of Napoleon did with France a century before, the Germans, like the French, would still have refused to accept such a settlement as definitive. And behind that lies the further inference that Woodrow Wilson’s famous phrase about a ‘war to end war’ was in fact meaningless. War is, after all, the only end of war.

That is my profound conviction. Twenty-five years of more or less continuous contact with Europe in peace and war, innumerable excursions across all the frontiers of friction in the Balkans, the Carpathians, along the Danube and the Vistula, have satisfied me that, at least in Europe, peace and nationalism are irreconcilable. In the very nature of things all wars are nationalistic; all settlements after war accord with the interests of the victors; for the vanquished all such adjustments are therefore intolerable.

Three years ago, at the moment of the Austro-German Tariff Union crisis, I was in Paris, and the most distinguished of Rumanian statesmen, in discussing that crisis and the European problem generally, said to me: ‘Do you think that if I were tsar of my country, absolute monarch, mind you, and I believed that by returning some Magyar villages I could establish a permanent peace with Hungary, I would not give them back? After all, I am not a fool. But no. The Hungarians would not get them; my countrymen would get me.’ A few months later, in Budapest, I saw in the shop windows the maps of Hungaria Irredenta, but these were not the maps marking the Magyar villages taken from Hungary by that Treaty of the Trianon which was the least defensible of all the settlements of Paris, but of the millennial Kingdom of Saint Stephen, which in 1914 contained nearly 10,000,000 Slavs and Latins.

Europe is now going back to the balance of power precisely because, as all European history demonstrates, the life of a post-war settlement is directly conditioned, not by its inherent justice, but by the forces available to sustain it. The Continent had a generation of peace between 1815 and 1848, not because the settlements with France were generous, but because the interest of the victors in preserving the decisions of the Congress of Vienna endured that length of time, and the combined strength of their military establishments was beyond the power of France to challenge. But when the Holy Alliance collapsed in the upheaval of 1848, France welcomed another Napoleon and the struggle for the ‘natural frontiers’ was resumed, the struggle which was designed to recover Cologne and Coblenz and resulted in the loss of Metz and Strasbourg. Yet half a century later, at the Paris Peace Conference, Poincare and Foch resumed that offensive.