Rorate Caeli

The Guns of August Still Rumble: Part II
- In the End, Austria Dismantled, but Germany More Centralized and Unified than Ever: Why?

Balmoral, 1896: Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna with Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna in her arms, Tsar Nicholas II, Queen Victoria, and Edward, Prince of Wales (Edward VII) 
The Guns of August Still Rumble
(Part II)
by Roberto de Mattei
for Il Foglio
(excerpts )

English historian Niall Ferguson recalls that on the eve of the war, descendents and relatives of Queen Victoria sat on the thrones not only of Great Britain and Ireland, but also of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Romania, Greece and Bulgaria. In Europe only Switzerland, France and Portugal were republics. “Despite imperial rivalry in pre-war diplomacy, the personal relations among the monarchs themselves remained cordial, even friendly: the correspondence between George, Willy and Nicky, reveals the continuation of the existence of a royal, cosmopolitan and polyglot elite with a certain sense of common interests.” (The Truth Silenced. The First World War: the greatest error in modern history, tr. It. Corbaccio, Milan 2002, p.559).

An Italian scholar, Alberto Lumbroso published The Imperial and Royal Correspondence 1870-1918 (Bompiani, Milan 1931) wherein he collects telegrams exchanged between the European sovereigns during the “the tragic week” which closed July and opened August of 1914. On the 29th of July a intense telegram from Willy (Wilhelm II) convinces Nicky (Nicholas II) to renounce the general mobilization for a few hours as well as the order of only one partial mobilization against Austria. On the 31st July, the Kaiser turned once again to his cousin, appealing: “Peace in Europe can only be saved by you, if Russia decides to stop the military measures that threaten Austria-Hungary.” When Nicky receives Willy’s last telegram, asking for “an immediate, affirmative, clear and precise reply” to “avoid incalculable disasters” , Germany’s ambassador has already consigned the declaration of war to the Russian Minister of Foreign affairs.

London, May 1910: Standing, from left to right: King Haakon VII of Norway, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria (abdicated, 1918), King Manuel II of Portugal (deposed, 1910), Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire (abdicated, 1918), King George I of Greece (assassinated, 1913) and King Albert I of Belgium. Seated, from left to right: King Alfonso XIII of Spain (fled country, 1931), King George V of the United Kingdom, King Frederick VIII of Denmark.

Europe precipitated into the abyss in gleeful frenzy. Pacifist predications had produced the opposite effect in young Europeans, thirsty for glory and heroism. In the more recent national States, like Germany and Italy, war was seen as an occasion to create a new national conscience. Social Darwinism affirmed the inevitable character of combat and Catholic Modernism saw in it a form of spiritual purification. If for Benedict XV war was a “useless slaughter”, for Romolo Murri, and his disciple Luigi Sturzo, [future] founder of Christian Democracy in Italy, war was a “powerful purifier” destined to raise up “the value of divine and eternal principles of morality, law and religion.” (E. Gentile, op. cit., pp 211-212).
By drinking at these ideological fonts, the political interventionists saw the war as an achievement of modernity, i.e. the last phase of a cultural process that would have definitively freed Europe from the last residues of obscurantism. Typical of this perspective, was the work of Moravian Thomas Masaryk and the Bohemian Eduard Benes, promoters along with Britons Wickham Steed and [Robert] Seton-Watson of the Congress for the Oppressed Peoples of Austria-Hungary, organized in Rome from the 9th to the 11th of April 1918. For them, as Augusto Del Noce explained well, radical democracy had turned the war into a revolution, by globalizing the thought of Giuseppe Mazzini, read in the key of the Enlightment, and suppressing all religious and “romantic” aspects. (Introduction to Wolf Giusti, The Decline of a Democracy, Rusconi, Milan, 1972). The legacy of the Hussite movement, interpreted as a national and social movement, beyond its religious significance, converged into a scheme where the First World War was seen as a vendetta by the “defeated” at the Battle of White Mountain (1620) which had jointly marked the victory of the Counter-Reform and the Hapsburgs.

Another important congress, of all the allied and neutral types of Freemasonry to decide on the future order of Europe after the war, was held between the 28th and 30th of June 1917 at the French Grand Orient in Rue Cadet, Paris. The base of its philosophy was contained in the book by Ernest Nys, Idèes modernes, droit international et franc-maçonnerie (1908), which set out the plan for the new international society. This project achieved by the Peace Treaties in Paris of 1919-1920, created, as the French historian Francois Furet notes, “a European revolution more than European peace, ” (Le Passè d’une illusion. Essai sur l’idèe communiste au XXe siècle, Calmann-Levy/Robert Laffont, Paris 1995).

The new European and world order marked not only a geo-political upheaval, but most of all a Revolution in culture and mentality. The American President, Woodrow Wilson, appeared as the prophet of the new era, in which the free nations would have finally found the way to progress, justice and peace. He considered the First World War to be the conflict which would have brought an end to all wars. (T. S. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995).The principles of legitimacy and balance, on which Europe was built after the Congress of Vienna, were substituted by the one called “ the self-determination of the peoples” . The post-war map of Europe saw the emerging of republics in Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and in the three Baltic states, as well as in Belorussia, West Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan (absorbed by force into the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics during the period from 1919 to 1921).

The Treaty of Saint-German-en-Laye establishing the borders inside what had been the Austrian crown territories is signed on September 10, 1919, in the Château of Saint-German-en-Laye, west of Paris. A similar treaty, the Treaty of Trianon, would be signed with Hungary in 1920.

The Austrian Empire was dismantled and replaced by a mosaic of little States no longer homogenous and not even associated to the Empire they had dismembered. Czechoslovakia was artificially created and held a great part of its resources in German, Polish and Hungarian territories, including the ancient Hungarian capital, Poszsony (Pressburg) [Bratislava]. It not only consisted of Czechs and Slavs, but also of millions of Germans, who were not renouncing their rights, of a considerable number of Polish in Silesia and of a certain number of Hungarians - convinced irredentists. Masaryk and subsequently Benes would both be presidents.

In the Balkans, the role Austria had exercised was handed over to Yugoslavia, also created ex-novo. It would have been fair, certainly, to reward the Serbs, but to give them Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, a great part of Albania, and more access to the sea which they lacked in the past, meant re-doubling their territory, with no guarantee of stability in that area.

1919: Prime Minister Clémenceau, President Wilson, and Prime Minister Lloyd George

Italy, on the other hand, which had entered the war mainly against Austria-Hungary, after peace [was established] found itself with a new State on the eastern borders, which created no less of a threat than the Hapsburg Empire. It would have been better if Italy had come to a compromise with Austria in order to gain Trieste and Fiume. The disillusionment of Italy for the “mutilated victory” destined her to come to an understanding with Germany, while Austria could not aspire, for survival, but to unification with Germany. The path to follow would have been, then, not the “balkanizing” of the Austrian Empire, but the “de-balkanizing” of the Balkans.

In the same way, Poland, which from the end of the 12th century had played a primary role in Christianity, could have become the bastion of Eastern Europe and, at the same time, contain the pressures from Germany. The Conference for Peace instead weakened Eastern Poland , separating it from Lithuania, which it had been united to by a freely ratified bond for almost five centuries, and recognized the independence of Russia from Ukraine and Courland (the future Latvia), while conceding Prussian lands to the Polish, such as the Gdansk corridor, inevitably destined to form a casus belli with Germany.

What the powers at Versailles did to Austria, they did not do to Germany. They could have dismembered her; instead they limited to imposing the republican form, maintaining its unity. The territorial mutilations which William’s Reich was subjected to (a seventh of its territory and a tenth of its population) left the essential nucleus of its political and social structures intact as well as the mechanisms which had allowed for political, military and economic expansion.

1924 German periodical cover:
Resentment and Self-victimization: always a bad combination

The Conference of Paris not only did not weaken Germany, but consolidated it, destroying the system of little sovereign states - about thirty odd little states and thrones - which could have formed a strong element of resistance against totalitarianism. With this the Paris Conference rendered a greater service to Pangermanism, than what Bismarck himself would have been able to do. Jaques Bainville noted it immediately: “The work of Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns was respected in what was essential. German unity was not only maintained, but reinforced.” (Les consequences politiques de la paix, Godefroy de Bouillon, Paris 1996 (1920), p.31). Not only did the Allies respect it – the French historian points out – “but they consecrated it with their seal; they gave it the international legal base that had been missing since 1871.” (p.669). William’s Empire was, despite everything, a Federation. The new republican Germany was like a centralized State, whose borders reunited sixty million men feeling humiliated by their victors.

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana. Images and captions by Rorate. Originally posted at Aug. 6, at 4:00 a.m. It is being reposted here since the main page was overwhelmed by other events.]