Probabilities of War in Europe

A decade after the war, dictators still ruled, and more men were under arms than ever before.

After the treaty was signed at Versailles, in 1919, a man with a pickax destroys implements of war. The German army was limited to 100,000 volunteers, and its navy was left with only six cruisers. (Berliner Verlag/Archiv/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP)

What are the probabilities of war in Europe?

First of all, we must take into account the complete failure of the last European war, materially and morally—especially morally. During that war, half of Europe claimed that it was fighting the other half in the name of liberty and democracy. We were told that it would be the last great conflict. We saw, to be sure, the disappearance of the empire of Austria-Hungary, followed by the formation of new states that were called nations, and the end of [Germany’s] Hohenzollern monarchy—these conditions being highly favorable to the cause of peace.

But the failure was complete. Ten million men had been killed, more than 30 million had been wounded, and a considerable part of the wealth of Europe had been destroyed, with pitiable results. Before the war one Austria-Hungary existed—that is to say, one nation composed of widely differing populations—where now four or five nations exist. Before the war there was just the Alsace-Lorraine question, only one piece of contested territory, whereas today there are at least nine or 10 such pieces of territory. There was only one great absolute monarchy, Russia, and two great authoritarian empires, Germany and Austria-Hungary. The war reduced all Continental monarchies almost to nothing and extended the republican form of government everywhere. Yet liberty has almost completely disappeared. There is red tyranny in Russia and white dictatorship of the most violent, sanguinary description in Italy, Bulgaria, and Hungary. The dictatorships in Poland, Roumania, Lithuania, and other countries are less cruel, but they are all thoroughly bad, and there are a number of absurd, comic dictatorships such as those in Spain, Portugal, and elsewhere.

Not only has Europe been transformed from a creditor continent into a debtor continent, but she is no longer the center of world power. She is not only in debt—she is discredited. The Great War was chiefly a civil war among Europeans, and all the European countries—vanquished, victors, and neutrals—are weaker than they were before the war.

The least one might have hoped for after the war was a diminution of armaments. As a result of the peace treaties, the four beaten countries—Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria—have been compelled to destroy their fortifications, abolish armaments, and promise not to manufacture any military weapons. They are allowed only very limited equipment to maintain domestic order, and they are virtually stripped of all artillery and airplanes. Since so large a part of Europe has disarmed, one might at least expect a proportionate limitation of armaments all around.

But the exact contrary is the case. Europe now has more men under arms than she had before the war.