The Turn of the Tide in Europe

I

SOME months ago, on the morrow of the bloody suppression of the Socialists in Vienna by the Dollfuss Government, I wrote in this magazine on the outlook for peace or war in Europe. At that time I pointed out that there were three possibilities: France and her allies might launch a war of prevention; the National Socialists in Germany might precipitate a war of aggression; or, finally, in the face of the German menace, Europe might construct still another of those familiar coalitions by which, in the past, it has met and mastered the attempts of a single state to establish Continental hegemony.

Patently it is the third of these possibilities which has actually materialized. Within a relatively brief span of time the world has heard Stanley Baldwin announce in the House of Commons that the frontier of Britain is at the Rhine. It has seen Weygand in London, and British and French soldiers resuming the association which existed before 1914. It has witnessed Red Russia renewing the relations of the Romanoff’s with Republican France. Most significantly of all, it has beheld Mussolini with the mandate of Europe, countersigned alike by France and by England, mobilizing his army and mounting guard over Austrian independence.

The consequence has been the decisive defeat of that Nazi Putsch which was to have accomplished by violence the union of Austria and Germany. In many respects that defeat recalls another equally decisive episode in post-war history — namely, the rout of the Red Army before Warsaw in the summer of 1920. Actually that rout put a term to the expansive phase of the Soviet regime, at least for many years. Its thrusting power broken, Red Russia by slow degrees passed from the offensive to the defensive and from the World Revolution to the consolidation of the results of the Russian Revolution.

Much the same results seem likely to flow from the bloody events in Vienna on July 25. Had the murder of Dollfuss been followed by the triumph of the Nazis and the creation of a National Socialist dictatorship, obviously controlled from Berlin, only war could have abolished that dictatorship, and in that war most of the Continent would have been involved eventually. The speed and efficiency of Mussolini’s mobilization averted that disaster, and, in leaving his agents in Austria to face the firing squad and decorate the gallon’s, Hitler destroyed his own legend. The killing of Dollfuss demanded to be followed by triumph because it was, of itself, an act of violence which was certain to destroy the last surviving sympathy in the civilized world for Hitler and his movement. Not since the assassination at Sarajevo has there been a crime so peculiarly calculated to shock the sensibilities of European mankind. It was therefore bound in the nature of things to crystallize world opinion and to arouse public opinion everywhere.

This Austrian Putsch was the decisive episode for Hitler, as the Battle of Warsaw was for Trotsky. When the Red armies had failed, Europe, tardily aware of the danger which had menaced it, reacted promptly. The rôle Millerand had played in the affair won him the presidency of France and bestowed upon his country a prestige which was the foundation of the later supremacy of France on the Continent. For Mussolini and Italy, the consequences of the Austrian episode promise to be almost as considerable.

II

As regards the immediate future, it is plain that the uprising in Austria, following closely upon the meeting of Mussolini and Hitler in Venice, has put an end to all present possibility of a German-Italian alliance. And that, after all, constituted one of the gravest of all possible threats to European peace. For both Rome and Berlin have disruptive purposes. Both seek to upset the status quo of the Peace Treaties, and in the present circumstances that status quo can be modified only by war.

Ever since Hitler came to power the Duce has vainly sought to find a basis for common action with him. In fact, Mussolini made the same effort when Brüning was Chancellor and his Foreign Minister, Curtius, visited Rome significantly. To that end Mussolini again and again declared his approval of the German demand for a revision of the Treaty of Versailles, both in its armament and in its territorial clauses. And, of course, his aim was to break the French supremacy on the Continent, equally restrictive of his own influence and prestige. But Mussolini failed to do profitable business with Briining because the last republican Chancellor was, like the present Dictator, a champion of the Austro-German union, and in 1981 sought to bring it about by his notorious project for a common tariff wall enclosing both the Reich and the Austrian Republic. In the face of that direct danger, Mussolini was compelled, with obvious reluctance, to rally to the French cause and defeat this project. For the Duce must in the very nature of things stand firm against any project to extend German frontiers to the Brenner and the hinterland of Trieste.

When Hitler came, Mussolini began all over again. In the Disarmament Conference his representatives stood with the German in asking parity for the Reich, and from Rome the Duce once more preached territorial revision. But it was revision in the cast and not in the south that he favored, in the Polish Corridor and not in Austria. Hitler was at the same time both encouraged and warned. Italian support was his for the asking, but the price was the recognition of the permanence of Austrian independence. When, however, Hitler made a ten-year truce with the Poles and turned his attention to Austria, Mussolini’s whole programme came down in a heap. Seeking an ally in Germany, he was compelled to mobilize his army to meet a German menace.

When in the last days of August the new Austrian Chancellor kept the appointment with Mussolini which had been made for Dollfuss in July, there emerged from the conference a statement of utmost importance for the immediate future. In positive terms Mussolini accepted for Italy the role of protector of Austrian independence. His personal prestige, the position of Italy in Europe — these were now engaged. Henceforth the fate of Austria became the gage of battle between two dictators, and while Mussolini was making his historic decision Hitler was conducting a plebiscite to demonstrate the extent of his hold upon the German people.

III

It is obvious that what has happened within Germany during the weeks since the ‘blood bath’ of June 30 plainly discloses the growth of domestic dissension. Hitler no longer heads a united nation. The first and finest phase of his regime is over. He may still retain power at home for a considerable period, but he cannot now run the risks of a doubtful foreign war, and for the next few months he must face the deadly peril of economic and financial crisis. Food, raw materials, and foreign credits are all lacking. He is now on the defensive at home, and a war could only accentuate the domestic misery which stares him in the face.

Patently the actions of Hitler’s regime are unpredictable. Nevertheless the ‘purge’ of the Storm Troops has put the Führer almost completely in the hands of the Reichswehr, and, ironic as is the fact, it is the Prussian soldier who to-day constitutes one of the best guarantees of European peace. For no professional soldier could wish to take on the odds which have accumulated against Germany in recent months. Not even at the close of the World War, when half the nations of the planet were in arms against Germany, was the Reich morally or materially as isolated as at the present moment.

Like Trotsky and the Red Regime in Russia after the Battle of Warsaw, Hitler and his Nazi following arc now thrown back upon the domestic field. Russia, France, and Britain, as well as Italy, are hostile. To go west — that is, to come to grips with France — is to meet British as well as French troops in the Rhine area. To go south is to meet Italian troops in the Tyrol and Czech forces in Upper Austria, while French armies would doubtless move on the Rhine. East, moreover, Hitler cannot go, because he has made his ten-year truce with Poland.

IV

The territorial settlements of Paris have, then, survived their most serious challenge. The third German offensive against them, counting the resistance which led to the occupation of the Ruhr as the first and the attempted Austro-German Tariff Union as the second, has failed. Each of these adventures has brought down unlimited ruin upon the German head. After fifteen years of so-called peace, the German situation — economically, politically, and socially — is as desperate as it was on the morrow of the Armistice. In many ways it is even more desperate, because in the first post-war years British and American sympathy and material assistance went to the Germans. Together the two countries lent to the Reich billions which have been largely lost, and in international conferences gave Germany support in the matter of both armaments and reparations. Neither money nor sympathy will be available henceforth. On the subject of the National Socialist regime, British and American public opinion has crystallized.

On the Continent, however, the situation has oddly changed. It is no longer France but Italy that occupies the front-line trenches in the face of the Germans. Despite all the outward show of vitality which accompanied Barthou’s ‘swing round the circle’ of the French allies, the French system is visibly crumbling. Poland has escaped altogether, making her truce with Germany and turning a cold shoulder to French urgings for a Locarno of the East. Too long, in her own judgment, treated like a satellite by the French ally, she has set up as a Great Power on her own. Yugoslavia is also visibly cooling toward France. For the Serbs the value of the French alliance lay solely in the protection it gave against Italy; but, under the impulsion of the Hitler menace, France and Italy are visibly abandoning their post-war feuds. Friends they are unlikely to be, but allies in the face of a common danger they are becoming — with every show of reluctance, to be sure. And as a result Belgrade is turning toward Berlin as Warsaw did. Concomitantly, the relations between Italy and Yugoslavia are becoming more and more acute.

Here, at the moment, is the worst danger spot in Europe. If Mussolini had sent his troops across the Austrian frontiers after the murder of Dollfuss, the Serb forces would have gone in also, and there might have been a clash. Belgrade is entirely willing to see Austro-German union, because it carries no menace for Yugoslavia, and could provide a ready and convenient ally. For France, after all, is far away.

To offset this Serb hostility, Mussolini has Austria and Hungary as allies, but his friendship with Hungary excludes the chance of any agreement with Rumania or Czechoslovakia. In the Balkanized Middle Europe of to-day, a Great Power seeking allies must choose one of two possible friends, assured in advance that the other will become at once an active member of an opposing coalition. Thus Rumania certainly, and Czechoslovakia not impossibly, will turn to Berlin now that, on the one hand, France and Italy are becoming allies, and, on the other, Italy has allied herself with Hungary. Were Berlin to offer Czechoslovakia a ten-year non-aggression pact like that bestowed upon the Poles, it is a fair guess that Beneؖ would accept it.

This process of squeezing France out of Central Europe must, however, prove exceedingly embarrassing for Mussolini. His hope had been to destroy the French partnership by dissolving the Little Entente. He had calculated that, with the dissolution of that alliance, Rumania and probably Czechoslovakia would join his AustroHungarian camp. But it is to Berlin and not to Rome that the Little Entente states are visibly looking, and the economic detail reenforces the political, for Germany and not Italy is the promising market for these agrarian states.

There are, then, these two oddly conflicting tendencies discoverable in the Danubian area. On the surface, Hitler has been defeated and the programme of Mitteleuropa arrested. About Germany there has been drawn a circle of Great Powers, and on land, at sea, and in the air the Reich is confronted by a superiority in force which would make war for it now a form of suicide. Beneath the surface, however, the old French system in the Danubian area, which has been the bulwark against German expansion for nearly a decade and a half, is disintegrating; and, as it disintegrates, the states which belonged to it are drifting toward a German orientation.

For the moment, to be sure, this drift can have no real importance. The conviction that the Hitler regime is impermanent is general now all over the world. The nations of the Little Entente, with the possible exception of Yugoslavia, are not likely to go to decisive lengths in making agreements with Germany for the present, although Czechoslovakia might follow the Polish example and negotiate a non-aggression pact. On the other hand, as the ties with Paris loosen, they are likely to choose Berlin rather than Rome as their ultimate direction; and even in Austria an Italian protectorate is sure in the end to prove irksome and unpopular.

In reality the present question seems to be whether the gradual drift of the Danubian states toward Berlin can be restricted to a pace which will prevent any real change until the Hitler episode is terminated. Of course Mussolini will now renew his efforts to establish some form of union between the Danubian states, if only economic. He may try to seat a Hapsburg upon the Austrian throne. He may attempt to bring about some restoration of the old union between Vienna and Budapest, but the barriers to success in this last enterprise are almost insuperable.

V

The simple truth is that, once the old Hapsburg Monarchy was destroyed, the union of Austria with Germany and the economic, financial, and political supremacy of Germany in all the Danubian area became wellnigh inevitable. If at the Paris Conference the economic ties between Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia could have been preserved when the political were destroyed, the basis for future political association between the Czechs, the Germans, and the Magyars of this area might have been assured. But the racial passions and the economic prostration of the post-war period have largely removed chance of this.

Before Hitler came to power most informed Frenchmen were largely reconciled to the idea of eventual union between Austria and Germany. All of the Left, too, was profoundly opposed to a French policy which undertook to maintain the status quo on the Danube and the Vistula, because it saw the task beyond French resources and certain in the end to bring disaster. When Hitler arrived, all elements in France united to oppose any extension of German frontiers or power while the Nazi regime endured, because such extension would only strengthen a dictatorship based upon violence; and that resolution still holds firm. It is the French calculation, however, — and in that I think most British judgment concurs, — that Germany will emerge from the present phase in her post-war history terribly weakened. The shrinkage of her foreign markets continues, and, since she depends upon the outside world for the raw materials essential to her industry and lacks the means to purchase these, that decline is likely to proceed. The Jewish boycott goes steadily on; German credit is sinking; within Germany the standard of living is declining. In such a situation the task of rearming becomes ever more difficult.

In the end the French and British believe that Hitler will succumb to the economic forces which are arrayed against him. But at least in Paris the view is held that such a collapse will not come until Germany has been weakened to a point which will render her less formidable than she has been at least since 1929, when the Great Depression arrested her recovery and prepared the way for Hitler. If, by that time, the evolution in the Danubian area has reached a point where French responsibilities have been liquidated by the action of the states of the Little Entente themselves, then France will occupy an advantageous situation.

VI

What has complicated the French problem ever since Mussolini came to power has been the obvious attempt of the Duce to play Germany against France in the effort to break down French predominance. That predominance, in its turn, rested upon the system of alliances France had constructed immediately after the war, and included Poland and the Little Entente. But the objective of French policy was not hegemony, but security, and security was to be attained only by encircling Germany with armed states.

Once, however, the issue of AustroGerman union had been raised, it was Italian and not French security which was immediately compromised. So far from being able to play the balance-ofpower game between France and Germany, Mussolini was compelled to look to Paris for support against Germany. France, therefore, recovered her freedom of action, and her situation was further improved by the fact that Britain, taking alarm at German plans for expanding her air force, was at last prepared to renew her military arrangements with the French. If Hitler should to-day attempt to occupy Austria, it would be Italy that would have to bear the brunt of the war which would ensue. That was plainly demonstrated when Mussolini was forced to mobilize at the moment of the murder of Dollfuss. If Hitler should undertake to intervene in the Saar, while France would have to meet the first thrust, she would now be certain of British military support, as the recent conversations between French and British general staffs have disclosed. Certainly France would back Italy in Austria, but it would be Paris and not Rome which would fix the terms.

Before Hitler came, the French situation was difficult because neither the British nor the Italians were concerned with French security; both were ready to placate Germany at French expense and also eager to see French supremacy modified. Hitler, however, by supporting Göring’s air programme, aroused British anxiety for security, and by launching his Austrian adventure he alarmed Italy as to her security. Thus French dependence upon her Polish and Little Entente allies disappeared.

If, by any chance, the Disarmament Conference were to reassemble, neither British nor Italian delegates would give further support to the German demand for parity in arms with France, for that would constitute an obvious extension of the menace Hitlerized Germany has for Britain in the air and for Italy in Austria. In a word, the ultimate effect of the triumph of Hitler has been to restore the ranks of the European coalition which opposed Germany during the war. Britain, France, Italy, and Russia are united in common hostility to the present regime in the Reich because its programme threatens the security of all four.

To destroy this coalition, Hitler must renounce his Austrian adventure, abandon his air programme,and resign his plan to seize Ukrainian lands for colonization. But when he has abandoned all of these projects publicly and formally — and he would have to give solid proofs of his good faith — there will be nothing left of his own programme. And it would be a very long time before the British would be sufficiently reassured to resume their support of Germany against France.

VII

Whatever else Hitler may now do, there is no discoverable escape for him from the present impasse save by seeking some form of truce. His immediate concern is with the plebiscite in the Saar, which comes early next year. There the employment of familiar tactics of violence has already aroused protest in Geneva and apprehension everywhere else. While it still seems probable that the vote will favor reunion with the Reich, there are unmistakable signs of anxiety in Berlin; and a defeat in the Saar would be for Hitler the last straw, since, until he Came, even the French conceded that the vote for the Fatherland would be unanimous.

For what it is worth, my own judgment is that the Hitler regime will not survive the winter, and that what is most likely to follow is some form of Hohenzollern restoration, with one of the grandsons of the ex-Kaiser as the new sovereign. Such a restoration would now enlist the approval of the British and the French. The only alternative one can discover is a Red Revolution and a Communist régime, but that seems totally unlikely unless the misery of the masses goes beyond anything which now seems indicated.

The reassuring detail is the fact that the danger of war, which was real and acute even as late as the Putsch in Vienna in July, seems remote and destined to diminish still further. No one of the four Great Powers has any further temptation to exploit the German situation for its own profit or protection. It would be absurd to imagine that the underlying rivalries and jealousies which divide the Great Powers have been abolished. It would be equally unwise to calculate that, once the German danger is exorcised, they will not revive promptly. But, unless all signs fail, the present coalition of interest will last until the Hitler domination is over in the Reich or the Fuhrer has given such guarantees of good behavior as to have ceased to be a menace to peace and order. In my judgment it is the former that must take place, since all the considerable European states arc for different reasons equally satisfied that it is impossible to carry on ordinary relations with a nation that is dominated by the men and ruled by the methods which to-day are in control in the Reich.

I fear I shall be accused of undue optimism, but I cannot conceal my conviction that the events in Vienna on July 25, which constituted a sensational celebration of the anniversary of the decisive action of twenty years before, marked the turn of the tide in Europe. To survive, Hitler had to win that battle, for thereafter the alarm which the assassination of Dollfuss was bound to awaken in Europe would otherwise prove fatal to his cause. It was, in fact, his Batt le of the Marne, and when he lost it he lost his war as well. Now, as in 1914, the struggle has descended to the trenches, and another siege of Germany has begun.

VIII

But dictators do not flourish on the defensive. Even Napoleon, the greatest of them all, could not rally the French people to support his Empire once Allied armies were in France and his foes had offered peace on terms acceptable to a weary nation. One wishes that there were a Castlereagh and a Metternich to-day outside of Germany and a Talleyrand within, for the great problem of the not-very-distant future may very well be to make peace with Germany again.

Real peace was actually made at Locarno, and it might have lasted if Stresemann had lived and the Great Depression had been delayed for at least a few more years. Now it. all has to be done over again, and the years of Hitler have dug a new gulf between the German people and the rest of the world at least as deep and broad as that which was produced by the World War itself. I recall vividly the impressions of the gap between German and world opinion gathered on a first visit to Germany on the morrow of the occupation of the Ruhr, when Stresemann was just, beginning to lay the foundations of Locarno. And I recall even more vividly the hopes aroused by the great scene at Geneva when Briand welcomed Stresemann to the League and the two great statesmen proclaimed a truce in that Franco-German struggle which for two generations had been an insuperable obstacle to the organization of peace in Europe.

To-day, as at all times since the close of the World War, the possibility of peace in Europe turns upon the arrival of some form of cooperation between Great Britain, France, and Germany, and Italy and Russia have also become hardly less important factors. In a word, there must be some restoration of that Concert of Europe which from the Congress of Berlin to the outbreak of the World War managed to preserve peace in the Old World. Briand, Stresemann, and Austen Chamberlain tried to combine the old Concert with the new League of Nations after Locarno, and for a moment succeeded. But when France, Britain, and Germany fell apart after Stresemann’s death in 1929, the League proved as futile as the Concert had been in 1914.

When Hitler first came to power, Mussolini tried to revive the Concert in his four-power project, but the allies of France, Poland, and the Little Entente forced the hand of French statesmanship and the project was wrecked. To-day it could hardly be revived without the inclusion of the Soviet Union. Beyond much doubt, too, the British and the French would both insist that the machinery of the League should be employed in the operation of such a Concert, and that would require the return of Germany to Geneva and the admission of Soviet Russia to the League. Neither is at all unlikely.

The greatest force to-day making for a new truce if not for actual peace in Europe is exhaustion. No people desires war, and events have demonstrated how mistaken was Hitler’s assumption that by employing the methods of violence he could avoid the use of force. On the contrary, he has been far less successful than Stresemann in obtaining concessions from the former foes. And he has ended by restoring the coalition against Germany which Stresemann dissolved. But, what is most important of all, he has worn out his own people. The moment of enthusiasm and exaltation has passed, the processions and parades have palled. The Führer has killed only Germans, and there have been almost as many Aryans as Jews in the casualty lists.

In sum, Hitler has now become a domestic, not an international, problem. As a threat to European peace he has shot his bolt. The great crisis that his coming precipitated has passed without bringing that new war which at the moment seemed probable and for a long time remained possible. There are dangerous elements in the situation, of which the Yugoslav-Italian is the worst, but something like a common front has been restored between the Great Powers, and it is only when they are divided that the danger of a general war is acute.

It is, moreover, an odd coincidence that, as one assassination in Austria precipitated a world war, another seems to have averted a second conflict like that of 1914-1918. The killing of Dollfuss crystallized public opinion the world over. It put an end to Italian hopes and British hesitations. It restored a unity in Europe, at least among the Great Powers, that had not existed since the moment when the German delegates received the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors.

In the end it may perhaps turn out that Adolf Hitler has accomplished what Woodrow Wilson failed to do — that is, made the world safe for democracy. In any event he has already made it difficult for all dictators, and most difficult of all for himself. Ever since Mussolini’s march on Rome succeeded, Democracy has been on the defensive. But since Hitler’s march on Vienna failed there has been developing a healthy doubt as to whether assassination is a satisfactory substitute for the ballot box, or the firing squad more efficacious than the parliamentary machine for determining the will of a free people.