A School History of the Great War – Coulomb, Gerson, and McKinley

To understand the Great War it is not sufficient to read the daily happenings of military and naval events as they are told in newspapers and magazines. We must go back of the facts of to-day and find in national history and personal ambition the causes of the present struggle. Years of preparation were necessary before German military leaders could convert a nation to their views, or get ready the men, munitions, and transportation for the war they wanted. Conflicts of races for hundreds of years have made the southeastern part of Europe a firebrand in international affairs. The course of the Russian revolution has been determined largely by the history of the Russian people and of the Russian rulers during the past two centuries. The entrance of England and Italy into the war against Germany was in each case brought about by causes which came into existence long before August, 1914. A person who understands, even in part, the causes of this great struggle, will be in a better position to realize why America entered the war and what our nation is fighting for. And better yet, he will be more ready to take part in settling the many problems of peace which must come after the war is over. For these reasons, the first few chapters of this book are devoted to a study of the important facts of recent European history. EUROPE IN 1913 A Hundred Years Ago.—It is remarkable that almost exactly a century before the present world war, Europe was engaged in a somewhat similar struggle to prevent an ambitious French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, from becoming the ruler of all that continent, and of America as well. He had conquered or intimidated nearly all the states of Europe—Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain, etc.— except Great Britain. He once planned a great settlement on the Mississippi River, and so alarmed President Jefferson that the latter said the United States might be compelled to “marry themselves to the British fleet and nation.” But England’s navy kept control of the seas; Napoleon’s colony in North America was never founded; and at last the peoples of Europe rose against their conqueror, and in the battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815, finally overthrew him.

Europe Since 1815.—After the downfall of Napoleon the rulers of Europe met in conference at Vienna and sought to restore conditions as they had been before the war. They were particularly anxious that the great masses of the people in their several nations should continue to respect what was termed “the divine right of kings to rule over their subjects.” They did not, except in Great Britain, believe in representative governments. They feared free speech and independent newspapers and liberal educational institutions. They hated all kinds of popular movements by which the inhabitants of any country might throw off the monarch’s yoke and secure a share in their own government. For over thirty years the “Holy Allies,”—the name applied to the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia,—succeeded tolerably well in keeping the peoples in subjection. But they had many difficulties to face, and after 1848 their policy was largely given up. Democratic Movements.—During the nineteenth century the people of Europe were restive under the rule of kings, and gradually governments controlled in greater or less degree by the people were established.

Almost every decade saw popular uprisings in some of the European states. About 1820 insurrections occurred in Greece, in Spain, and in southern Italy; and the Spanish American colonies revolted from the mother country. In 1830 popular uprisings took place in France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, and other places. In 1848 a far more serious movement occurred, which overthrew the French monarchy and established a republic. From France the flame of liberty lighted fires of insurrection in Germany, Austria, Poland, and Italy. Similar attempts were made at later times. As a result of these popular uprisings and of the growing education of all classes of the people, manhood suffrage and representative institutions were established in most of the European states. National Aspirations.—The Holy Allies had refused to recognize the right of nations to independent existence. They had bartered peoples and provinces “as if they were chattels and pawns in a game.

” But when the peoples tried to found democratic governments, they often discovered that the quickest and surest way was to unite under one government all who belonged to a given nationality. Thus the last hundred years in Europe has witnessed the erection of a number of new national states created by throwing off the yoke of some foreign ruler. Among the new nations thus established were (1) Belgium, freed from the kingdom of Holland; (2) Greece, Serbia, Roumania, Bulgaria, and Albania, freed from Turkish rule; (3) Italy, united out of territories controlled by petty sovereigns and Austrian rulers; (4) Norway, separated from Sweden. The same period saw also the unification of a number of German states into the German Empire. But during this time several races were unsuccessful in obtaining independence, among which we may note the Poles (in Russia, Prussia, and Austria), the Czechs (checks), or Bohemians (in northern Austria), the Finns (in the northwestern part of the Russian Empire), and the Slavic people in the southern part of Austria-Hungary. Industrial Development.—The nineteenth century was not only a period of political change in Europe. It was also a time of great changes in the general welfare of the people. It witnessed a remarkable alteration in everyday employments and habits. In 1800 a great part of the population was engaged in agriculture.

Manufacturing and commerce were looked upon as of minor importance. The goods that were produced were made by hand labor in the workman’s own home. Beginning first in England about 1750 and extending to the Continent between 1820 and 1860, there came a great industrial change. The steam engine was applied to spinning, weaving, and countless other operations which previously had been performed by hand. Steam engines could not of course be installed in every small cottage; hence a number of machines were put in one factory to be run by one steam engine. The workers left their small huts and gardens in the country and came to live in towns and cities. After the steam engine came steam transportation on land and water. Then followed an enormous demand for coal, iron, steel, and other metals. More goods could be produced in the factories than were needed for the people at home. Hence arose more extended commerce and the search for foreign markets.

Colonial Expansion.—In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain, Portugal, France, and England settled the American continents and parts of Asia. By a series of wars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Dutch secured part of the possessions of Spain and Portugal; and England obtained almost all of the French colonial territories. In the eighteenth century the thirteen English colonies on the Atlantic seaboard made good their independence; and in the nineteenth, Spain lost all of her vast possessions in America. During the early nineteenth century, Great Britain, in spite of the loss of the thirteen colonies, was by far the most successful colonizing country, and her possessions were to be found in Canada, India, the East and West Indies, Australia, and Africa. Leaders of other nations in Europe thought these colonies of Great Britain were the cause of her wealth and prosperity. Naturally they too tried to found colonies in those parts of the world not occupied by Europeans. They hoped by this means to extend their power, to find homes for their surplus population, and to obtain markets for their new manufactured goods. Thus Africa was parceled out among France, Germany, Great Britain, Portugal, Belgium, Spain, and Italy. The islands of the Pacific were seized in the same manner.

Proposals for a partition of China were made by Germany, Russia, Japan, France, and Great Britain; and if it had not been for the American demands for the “open door of trade” and for the “territorial integrity” of China, that nation probably would have shared the fate of Africa. The noteworthy fact about this rivalry for colonies is that almost the entire world, except China and Japan, came under the domination of Europeans and their descendants. Having noted a few general features of European history during the nineteenth century, we shall now take up in turn each of the more important countries. Germany.—After the overthrow of Napoleon, a German Confederation was formed. This comprised thirty-nine states which were bound to each other by a very weak tie. The union was not so strong even as that in our own country under the Articles of Confederation. But there were two states in the German Confederation which were far stronger than any of the others; these were Austria and Prussia. Austria had been a great power in German and European affairs for centuries; but her rulers were now incompetent and corrupt. Prussia, on the other hand, was an upstart, whose strength lay in universal military service.

As the century progressed, the influence of Prussia became greater; and the jealousy of Austria grew proportionately. Bismarck, the Prussian prime minister, adopted a policy of “blood and iron.” By this he meant that Prussia would attain the objects of her ambition by means of war. Under his guidance she would intimidate or conquer the other German states and force them into trade and commercial agreements, or annex their territory to that of Prussia. Bismarck looked for success only to the army. With the king back of him, he defied the people’s representatives, ignored the Prussian constitution, and purposely picked quarrels with his neighbors. In 1866, in a brief war of seven weeks, Austria was hopelessly defeated and forced to retire from the German Confederation. In 1870, when he felt sure of his military preparations, Bismarck altered a telegram and thus brought on a war with France. The Franco-Prussian War lasted only a few months; but in that time the French were thoroughly defeated. Many important results followed the war: (1) The German states, influenced by the patriotic excitement of a successful war, founded the German Empire, with Prussia in the leading position, and the Prussian king as German emperor or “Kaiser.

” (2) A huge indemnity of one billion dollars was exacted by Prussia from France, and this money, deposited in the German banks and loaned to individuals, played a large part in expanding the manufactures and commerce of Germany. (3) Prussia took away from France, against the wishes of the inhabitants, the provinces called Alsace-Lorraine. This “wrong done to France,” as President Wilson has said, “unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years.” (4) The French people carried through a revolution and established a republic—for the third time in their history—which has continued down to the present. After 1870 Germany made remarkable material progress. By 1911 her population had grown from 41,000,000 to 65,000,000. Her coal and iron production in 1911 was eight times as much as in 1871. In wealth, commerce, coal production, and textile industries, among European countries, Germany was second only to Great Britain; while in the production of iron and steel Germany had passed Great Britain and was second only to the United States. But this great industrial and commercial advance was not accompanied with a corresponding liberality in government. The constitution of the German Empire gave very large powers to the emperor, and very little power to the representatives of the people.

Prussia, the dominant state in the empire, had an antiquated system of voting which rated men’s votes according to the taxes they paid, and placed political power in the hands of a small number of capitalists and wealthy landowners, especially the Junkers (yoong´kerz), or Prussian nobles. The educational system, while giving a rudimentary education to all, was really designed to keep large masses of the people subject to the military group, the government officials, and the capitalists. Blind devotion to the emperor and belief in the necessity of future war in order to increase German prosperity, were widely taught. The “mailed fist” was clenched, and “the shining sword” rattled in the scabbard whenever Germany thought the other nations of Europe showed her a lack of respect. Enormous preparations for war were made in order that Germany might gain from her neighbors the “place in the sun” which she was determined upon. Other nations were to be pushed aside or be broken to pieces in order that the German “super-men” might enjoy all that they wished of this world’s goods and possessions.


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