The Crumbling of Russia
In 1916, the Allies had attacked the Central Powers on all sides, and they planned to do this again in 1917, but on a larger scale. There were great hopes that this course would bring the war to an end. Before anything could be done, however, an event came to pass in Russia which gave the Allies great encouragement and delighted every lover of freedom.
Russia had a strong army, and when the war broke out the Russian troops showed themselves fine soldiers. But again and again they lost thousands of lives because of the lack of ammunition. Then their favorite commander, the Grand Duke Nicholas, was transferred to a much less important position than he had been holding. A strong pro-German was made Prime Minister, and there was reason to believe that the Czarina herself was at the head of a pro-German movement. The soldiers had suspected that the failure to send them ammunition had been caused partly because the government officials were inefficient, and partly because they meant to make money, no matter what happened to the soldiers. But far back of these grievances was the fact that the Russian people had hardly any part in their own government.
The Czar and his officials had built up a strong army, and felt safe in its protection to do what they chose; but one Sunday morning in March, 1917, there were such crowds in the streets of Petrograd that the military and especially the Cossacks, who were the special dependence of the Czar, were ordered to shoot at them to make them disperse. The Cossacks fired as ordered, but they used blank cartridges, while the crowds cheered. A regiment of soldiers commanded to shoot the people, shot their officers instead. The Duma was the nearest approach in Russia to a parliament, and the Czar had ordered it to dissolve.
Instead of this, the Duma sent him a telegram, saying, "The hour has struck. The will of the people must prevail," and shut him up in his palace. The Duma announced promptly that the Russian people would stand by the Allies; but liberty was so new to the Russians that they did not know what to do with it. They did not understand that freedom does not mean freedom to do whatever you choose, regardless of the rights of others, and they seemed to have the notion that if only they stopped fighting, everybody would be friendly. German influence was as strong as ever, and the anarchists, who believe in having no government at all, became powerful. Kerensky, who led the new government, did his best, but a new party, the Bolsheviki, overthrew his rule, declaring openly that they meant to make peace with Germany.
Russia had failed us. She had broken all her promises to the Allies never to make a separate peace with Germany; but most thinking people realized that the Bolsheviki did not represent the Russian people as a whole, but only one party, and were more desirous of helping Russia to find herself than angry with her, though, of course, they were bitterly disappointed. With Russia making no opposition, many German troops could be released from the East and brought to the West, and so there was no longer any hope of ending the war in 1917. This was a dark moment, but it was of this very moment that the following story was told. It seems that some officers of a certain Belgian battery of artillery, relieved from active duty for four days, were at supper in their dug-out late one evening when a loud knocking was heard at the street door of the farmhouse overhead. As the story-teller puts it:—
"Presently the Colonel's orderly showed in a mud-begrimed dispatch-rider, who, after saluting, handed the Colonel a sealed envelope. We were all electrified and could hardly wait to hear the news contained in this urgent dispatch.
"The Colonel, drawing a little closer to him one of the bottles holding a lighted candle, tore open the envelope and proceeded to read.
"Heavens, what a long time did he study that paper! Was he ever going to share the news with us? We tried to read it from his eyes. Was it good or was it bad? Were we to 'attack at dawn,' or did it mean 'retreat'? Perhaps it contained news about his son, who was reported 'missing' in October, 1914, and whom he would not believe dead. But the Colonel was slow to solve our questions. For what seemed to us an interminably long time he sat there staring at that sheet of white paper. The old alarm clock on the table ticked the seconds, and I wondered whether it was not my heart that was beating so loudly. At last he showed some signs of action. The Colonel had sat down in order to be near the light; now he rose. For a second or so longer he stood there with large, wide-opened eyes staring straight in front of him, and then he announced, in a slow and trembling voice:—
"Gentlemen, America is our ally."
Russia had given soldiers, but, brave as they were, they could not be depended upon, for no one knew at what moment the Russian officials would do something or leave something undone that would make all their bravery of little value. The United States had no troops ready to send, but it could lend money by millions of dollars, while Russia had been a borrower. Our navy, however, could give at once a most valuable service; it could help dispose of the German submarines.
More and more countries declared war, and all on the side of the Allies. Cuba, Panama, Siam, Liberia, China, Brazil, all joined in the struggle for freedom. Siam's declaration said that she was opposing countries "showing contempt for the principles of humanity and of respect for small nations." Diplomatic relations were broken off by Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti, Costa Rica, Peru, Uruguay, Ecuador. This was chiefly because of Germany's piratical warfare and her scorn of small nations. There was much indignation at the trickery of the German charge d'affaires in Argentina, for he had induced the Swedish Legation to send as their own correspondence cipher cablegrams recommending, for instance, that Argentine vessels should either be spared altogether or else "spurlos versenkt," that is, sunk without a trace. Not all these countries had any idea of fighting, but all wished to protest against the methods and aims of Germany.
Greece had by treaty agreed to help Serbia if she was attacked by another power; and when the capture of the Dardanelles was planned, the Premier Venizelos promptly invited the French and English to land at the Greek port of Saloniki and help his country to keep her word. The Greek people favored the Allies, but King Constantine had been educated in Berlin and had married a sister of the Kaiser. His sympathies were with the Central Powers, and he refused to keep the treaty, declaring that the country should be neutral. He dismissed the Premier, although, since Venizelos possessed the confidence of Parliament, this was contrary to the constitution. Venizelos now established a provisional government at Saloniki. There was much reason to fear, first, that the unity of Greece would be destroyed; and, second, that if Germany should offer sufficient inducement to the King, even his so-called neutrality would vanish. The Allies now interfered on three grounds: first, Greece had been made a kingdom through their efforts; second, they had placed the present dynasty upon the throne; and, third, they had guaranteed a constitutional government. They called upon Constantine to resign, permitting him to name one of his family as successor. He named Alexander, his second son. Alexander recalled Venizelos, and in a few days the Greeks formally entered the war on the side of the Allies.
There was now no hope that the war could be brought to an end in 1917, but the fighting had to go on, of course, for every loss to the enemy would make the later campaigns less difficult. The French had borne the brunt of the battles of the Marne and of Verdun, and now the English took the leading place and attacked the Germans in northeastern France and in Belgium. Here English, French, Canadians, and Belgians united. The most tremendous explosion of mines ever known was caused by a mine laid by the English, in which 1,000,000 pounds of high explosives were suddenly set off. Field Marshal Haig had a fashion of striking a blow now here, now there, just where it was not expected and of driving the Germans back at every attack. When the year was almost at an end, an advance upon the French town of Cambrai, held by the Germans, gave the armored tanks an opportunity to show what they could do. They waddled on unconcernedly, paying no attention to holes, small trees, or barbed wire, and apparently not seeing them at all. Some one said of a favorite tank, "If it cannot silence a machine gun in any other way, it can simply sit down upon it." Against these monsters, nothing was of any power except a heavy siege gun brought to close range, not a particularly easy matter to manage. The Germans were forced to draw back in several places. As was their custom, they took pains to devastate every foot of the country over which they passed. The Allies were forced to retire somewhat, but, taken as a whole, the campaign in Flanders was in their favor.
On the Italian Front matters had been going on well through the summer. The Italians had captured many prisoners, they had taken mountains whose position made them of great value, and they had pushed on till only ten miles lay between them and Trieste. Then came the dropping-out of Russia. The Italians were splendid fighters, but German troops were set free, not only for the Western, but also for the Italian Front. German forces and guns were rushed to the rescue of Austria-Hungary. The Italians fought like the heroes they were. They were obliged to retreat slowly to the Piave River, but there they took their stand and faced the invaders. This halted the invasion, and England and France soon sent troops to Italy.
In 1916 the English were in Mesopotamia, trying to get to Baghdad; but when they reached Kut-el-Amara, they were forced to surrender or starve. They chose to surrender; but in 1917 they made a "whirlwind campaign "from Kut-el-Amara straight to Baghdad. There was a three-days battle, the Turks were completely routed, and the English soldiers were free to dream as many dreams as they liked about the good Caliph, Haroun al Raschid. But the capture of Baghdad gave more than the pleasure of dreaming; it produced a strong effect upon the people of the Orient generally. The failure of 1916 had jostled the English from their pedestal of power in the East, but now they were restored in the eyes of the Orientals.
More than six hundred miles from Baghdad, across the Syrian Desert, is the most famous country of the world, Palestine, where Jesus was born. In the southern part of Palestine is Beersheba, and people use the expression "from Dan to Beersheba," meaning from one end of a land to the other. Near Beersheba were English troops under General Allenby, and they soon captured the place. The story of the war in the East is now connected at every turn with Bible history, for the English next took Gaza, and Gaza is where the Old Testament story says that Samson took hold of the two middle pillars of the prison and brought the building down upon his enemies and himself. It was on the road between Gaza and Jerusalem that the Apostle Philip met the treasurer of Queen Candace riding in his chariot and reading some of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and on his invitation took a seat beside him and explained to him that they referred to Jesus.
After a number of fights the Turks fell back on Jerusalem, while the English pushed on after them, the right moving up directly from Beersheba, the left marching up the Mediterranean coast to Joppa, where Saint Peter visited Simon the tanner. Joppa was captured, and soon the English were only three and a half miles from Jerusalem. A line of hills lay between them, but in two weeks they had crossed these and were before the gates of the city. The Turks were obliged to evacuate it, and retreated to the northward. In 1898 the Kaiser had visited Jerusalem, and a break was made in the walls so that he might ride in where no one had ever ridden before. The English troops entered in no such fashion. They dismounted before the Jaffa (Joppa) Gate, and walked into the Holy City as simply and reverently as the pilgrims of centuries ago.
Jerusalem has had a strange and varied history. It has been captured again and again—by Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Macedonia, Rome, and in the seventh century by the Mohammedans. In 1096 the series of expeditions called crusades began whose object was to rescue the Holy Land from the Turks. Jerusalem was captured and was Christian for a century. Then it was taken by Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria. He is the brave and knightly enemy whom Scott pictures in The Talisman, the enemy whom the equally brave and knightly Richard the Lion-hearted tried in vain to conquer. Jerusalem remained in the hands of the Mohammedans from that day to the one when General Allenby brought it again under Christian control.
Jerusalem is sacred in the eyes of Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans. The Mohammedans, of course, expected no favors from the conquerors, but General Allenby, by a single act of tactful courtesy, made it clear to them that Jerusalem would be free to all. He not only issued a proclamation that every building, shrine, and holy place would be carefully maintained, but he asked the Mohammedan guardian of the Holy Sepulcher to retain his office and its salary, not as an emblem of power, but in memory of one Caliph Omar and the early Mohammedans, who, long before the days of Turkish rule, had taken the utmost care to preserve the sacred places.
The Jews have been for many centuries a people without a country, and long before the war a strong desire was felt among them to establish a national home for themselves in the Holy Land. England has expressed her interest in this plan and has declared that she will do all in her power to assist in carrying it out.
Jerusalem was taken during the last month of 1917. During this year, the piratical submarine warfare of Germany had destroyed much shipping, but it had brought the United States into the war. Germany and Austria had made gains in Italy, and Russia had fallen out of the race; but on the other hand, the Allies had made progress on the Western Front and had won important victories in Mesopotamia and Palestine.
In the early days of 1918 the English army reported the taking of Jericho. This was not especially difficult, though probably less easy than its capture as described in the Old Testament story, when its walls are said to have fallen at the sound of the Hebrew trumpets. For military reasons, this is a valuable place for the Allies to hold.
Toward the end of 1917, the Germans took Riga and threatened Petrograd. They then summoned the Bolsheviki to a peace conference at Brest-Litovsk. Meanwhile, the Ukraine, an exceedingly fertile district in southwestern Russia, the home of 20,000,000 people, declared itself independent of Russia and made peace with Germany. This was the work of the "Reactionaries" of Ukraine. The Bolsheviki of the district opposed the peace, and Germany overcame them by force of arms. The Germans, then, were fighting the Bolsheviki in the Ukraine and holding a peace conference with them in central Russia at the same time. The Bolsheviki seem to have been obliged to yield; and they signed a German peace treaty by which Germany holds not only the Ukraine, but nearly all the Baltic provinces and much of Esthonia and Poland. Germany never forgets to look far ahead, and the Bolsheviki were forced as the price of peace to grant her many commercial privileges. So much of Russia now being in her hands, Germany took from her quantities of booty—cannon, machine guns, thousands of motor cars, and a vast amount of food and other supplies.
Russia is not so much a country that has broken her promises as one that has crumbled to pieces. To help Russia to find herself is an important part of the business of the Allies. The intelligent Russians long for peace and law and order. They are eager to win liberty and to free themselves from the clutches of Germany, and are begging for the aid of the Allies; and the Allies are ready to give this aid.
In Murmansk on the Arctic Ocean and in Archangel on the White Sea immense quantities of food and munitions are stored. The Russians living in this part of the country asked the Allies to protect these, and to keep them from falling into the hands of the Germans. The result was the prompt appearance of American marines, bluejackets, and soldiers, together with English and French naval forces in the White Sea. To the eastward, on the Siberian coast, a quarter of the way around the world, lies Vladivostok, and here, too, were similar stores. Japan lies close at hand, and with the aid of the other allies, her forces entered this city and saved it from the Germans.
A new ally has arisen from the very heart of the Central Powers, the Czecho-Slovaks, inhabitants of northwestern Austria and the adjoining territory of Hungary. Four hundred years ago, these people, in order to drive back the Turks, formed a free federation with Austria and Hungary, and elected a king. Later, Austria declared the crown hereditary. The Czechs resisted in the Thirty Years' War, but were beaten, their nobles beheaded or exiled, and their property confiscated. Although thus overpowered, the Czechs have always longed for independence. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, they alone among the Austrian parliaments protested against Germany's annexation of Alsace and Lorraine.
When the war began, in 1914, the Czechs were forced to join the Austrian army, but thousands deserted and other thousands were made willing captives by the Russians, and many of these joined the Russian army. Early in 1918, the Bolsheviki Government agreed to allow these Czechs to cross Siberia and go on their way around the world to join the French army. Germany objected, and in spite of their agreement the Bolsheviki suddenly attacked the Czechs. The indignant Czechs fought fiercely and won the day, marching to the northward to the railroad that runs from Petrograd to the Pacific, and entering Vladivostok.
Thus it is that those Russians and Siberians who love liberty can gather around the Czechs as around a standard. There are 10,000,000 Czechs and about the same number of Siberians. Siberia has declared her independence and her enmity to Germany. It is the business of the Allies to strengthen Siberia and central Russia, and in so doing to hold fast many millions of strong friends of liberty and enlightenment.
The failure of the German offensive in the spring of 1918 led, throughout the following summer, to a continually improved situation for the Allies. Gains of importance were made on all fronts, and the doom of the Central Powers to ultimate defeat appeared inevitable. During September, the Allies' success reached even to the forcing of Bulgaria to unconditional surrender. That country was put out of the war, and the first breach was made in the Pan-German plan for Middle Europe, and for the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. There seemed also to be fore-shadowed the collapse of Turkey, and perhaps of Austria. To hasten this, the Allies prepared to fight on—harder than ever.
From left to right these are: (1) General Petain, on of the leaders of the defense of Verdun, 1916; now Commander-in-Chief of the French Armies; (2) Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in France and Flanders. He was made Field Marshal after teh battle of Somme, in 1916; (3) Marshal Foch, Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies; with Marshal Joffre, he was joint hero of the battle of Marne, 1914, where his daring and impetuous attack started the Germans on their retreat. Joffre styles him "the greatest strategist in France"; and (4) General John Joseph Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces.