The Spark That Exploded the Magazine
When the grandfathers of the present school-children were studying geography and came to the map of Europe, they found just north of Greece a broad band of country extending from the Black Sea to the Adriatic which was called Turkey. It was bounded on the north by the Save River, but at the northeast it stretched far up along the east side of the Carpathian Mountains. This was "Turkey in Europe," but the Turks ruled a much larger territory in Asia, just across the Straits of Bosphorus.
The original home of the Turks was in Persia. They had gradually pushed on to the westward, until they held Asia Minor, Constantinople, and much of what is now known as the Balkan States. They had forced their way to the north and had even besieged Vienna. Then came struggles with Russia. Russia was successful, but the other European countries feared that she might become so powerful as to threaten them, and so made her give up most of her Turkish conquests. Europe wanted the Turks driven back into Asia, but no state was willing that any other state should become heir to their territory. An attack upon them would be likely to bring on a general European war. That is why no one ventured to interfere in 1895, when the Turks, who are Mohammedans, massacred tens of thousands of Armenian Christians.
In Turkey in Europe there were several small nations. They were inclined to quarrel among themselves, but on one point they agreed, namely, they all hated their ruler and meant to get free. Greece had freed herself long before Germany began the present war, and one by one most of the other little nations had declared their independence. Bosnia and Herzegovina had fallen into the hands of Austria-Hungary and were helpless. In 1878, after a war between Russia and Turkey, the Treaty of Berlin had been signed, which allowed Austria-Hungary to "occupy" and rule these two countries. In 1908, she announced that she should retain them as permanent parts of her empire. This was not according to the treaty, but for one reason or another nothing was done to prevent it.
The Balkan peoples—for the district took its name from the Balkan Mountains—were all excellent fighters, and if they had held together and been willing to yield a point to one another now and then, they could have driven the Turks out of Macedonia and Albania, and perhaps even across the Bosphorus. "Those peoples will never unite," said the wiseheads of Europe; but in 1912 the unexpected happened, the little countries did unite, and they drove the Turks so far toward the Bosphorus that they had nothing left in Europe but Constantinople and a little of the country west of that city.
But now the Balkan countries began to quarrel again. Bulgaria did not think there had been a fair division of the land that she had won in the struggle. The result was that they had a little war of a few weeks among themselves, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, and Rumania lining up against Bulgaria, and winning the day.
In the first war the influence of Germany and Austria had been in favor of Turkey; in the second war it had been in favor of Bulgaria. In both wars they had favored the side that lost. Russia had favored Serbia, and therefore was on the side that won. Not long before the Balkan Wars, the interests of France and Germany in Morocco had clashed, and France had come off victor. Within a few years, then, Russia and France had gained in prestige, while Germany and Austria-Hungary had lost. It was practically certain that as soon as an opportunity appeared, the last two countries would try to make themselves more powerful.
Taken as a whole, the people of the Balkans are a quick-tempered folk; and whatever strikes them as showing the least shade of injustice, they are ready to resent—with a gun. Indeed, in many districts, the inhabitants have such a relish for gunpowder that they delight in using it to welcome their friends as well as to make away with their enemies. Like the Russians they belong to the great Slavic family, but they are of different nations and origins.
In the Balkan States there is much that is beautiful. There are grand old mountains, deep green valleys, wide fields of swaying grain, and everywhere there are flowers. Bulgaria is so well adapted to the growing of roses that they are raised there by the million to make the delicious attar of roses; but wherever you go, there are daisies, wild clematis, poppies, and scores of other kinds of flowers, and the summer air is always sweet with the perfume of the honeysuckle.
Serbia is called the "poor man's paradise." In many parts of the country there are two crops a year, and the soil is so rich that a very little land will support a family. There are gypsies who wander about and beg and tell fortunes, but there are no poorhouses, and it is exceedingly rare to find a really needy person.
The capital of Serbia was Belgrade. It was a clean white city, and stood high up on a hill, looking far away to the mountains on the horizon. At the foot of the hill the Save River meets the Danube and sweeps half around the town. In the streets were trolley cars and also lumbering ox-carts drawn by the biggest and slowest of oxen. There were peasants just in from the country, the men wearing sheepskin coats, fur inside, and the women in short skirts of blue or cream-colored homespun, and always displaying an apron gorgeous with bright embroidery. On fête days the women sometimes wore long velvet coats embroidered with gold thread and fastened with gold buttons as big as marbles.
The Serbians were as independent in dress as in other matters, and when parliament was in session, some of the members wore handsome frock coats and fine linen, while others appeared in their sheep-skin coats or whatever else they might choose. They were not ignorant, these roughly clad farmers, and many of them had very good incomes; but they saw no reason for changing their garb to suit the whim of any one else. Many of them sent their sons to the university. They were a kindly folk, pleasant and hospitable, and proud of keeping their word. They loved their ballads and fairy legends; they sang the magnificent old chants in their churches; they said a bit of a prayer when they kindled their fires; and when they went to battle, they were the bravest of the brave.
There were two things that the Balkan peoples wanted with their whole hearts. One was to be free from Turkish rule; and this they had succeeded in bringing about. The other was quite a different matter, for they were not satisfied to be divided by mountains and rivers and political boundaries; they wanted to include in each state all the people of the same nationality. This would have been difficult enough even if they had been willing to keep within the limits of the group of states, but that would not answer their purpose. East of Rumania, for instance, was Bessarabia. Here lived many Rumanians; but of course Russia had no idea of giving up this fertile district, larger than Switzerland, just to accommodate Rumania. West of Rumania, in eastern Hungary, there was the same condition, for here too lived many Rumanians, and Austria-Hungary would not for a moment consider surrendering this part of her territory.
With Serbia matters were even worse. Her one great wish was to bring the Serbs under one rule by uniting Serbia, Montenegro, and the two provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were in the hands of Austria-Hungary. If this had come to pass, Serbia would have been somewhat larger than the State of Michigan. Moreover, she would have won access to the sea, and would no longer have been obliged to get permission of her neighbors when she wished to send her products to market.
This is the way it stood with the Balkan nations at the end of 1913. None of them were contented. Bulgaria was angry because in the settlement after the war so much of the land which she had won from Turkey had been taken from her. Bosnia and Herzegovina were enraged at having been made a part of Austria-Hungary. Serbia was perhaps the most wrathful of all, for she was left with no hope of uniting the Serbian race. Moreover, in order to appease Austria-Hungary a port on the Adriatic which Serbia had captured had been taken from her, thus leaving her with no approach to the sea. The Balkan States had long been called the "powder magazine of Europe," and now the magazine was all ready to explode.
The spark that exploded the magazine flashed out in Serajevo, the capital of Bosnia. This is a wide-awake little city, whose inhabitants make a vast amount of pottery and metal ware, dye and weave silk, and carry on a large trade. It is a pleasant town. A river runs through it, and gardens are all around. Some fine modern buildings have been erected, and in contrast with them there are, high up on a hill overlooking the city, picturesque ruins of the stone walls of a castle seven centuries or more old.
One beautiful June day in 1914, a gentleman and his wife were riding in procession in Serajevo. The mayor of the place stood waiting in the town hall, all ready to make his address of welcome, for the gentleman was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of the Emperor of Austria, and was himself heir to the Austrian throne. Suddenly a bomb exploded directly behind their automobile, evidently aimed at the Archduke and his wife. They were not harmed, but the occupants of the car following them, part of their escort, were fatally injured. Some hours later, while the royal guests were on their way to the hospital to inquire for the wounded, a student of only eighteen years sprang out of the crowd and threw a bomb at their car. This failed to explode. The young man then drew a revolver and fired three shots, two of which struck the Archduke and the third his wife. Both died within an hour.
Emerson writes, in his Concord Hymn, of the Massachusetts farmers who "fired the shot heard round the world," and surely this shot at Serajevo was heard round the world. The assassin belonged in Herzegovina, in Bosnia, but he had been living in Serbia, in Belgrade, and the Austro-Hungarian papers declared at once that Serbian influence had made him a murderer. They demanded that Serbia should be punished.
For one whole month Austria-Hungary plotted and prepared. Then a note was sent to Serbia. This accused the Serbian Government of planning or at least conniving at the assassination, and demanded that Serbia should suppress all newspapers and societies unfriendly to Austria-Hungary, and cut out from the public schools all teaching tending to the same result and to any thought of a possible future union under Serbian rule. It demanded the arrest and punishment of all connected with the crime, especially two men who were mentioned by name, one an officer in the army. It demanded that Austria-Hungary should share in the investigation of the conspiracy. Austria-Hungary had taken a month to prepare this note, but she required Serbia to present her reply within forty-eight hours.
Then the telegraph wires began to hum, and messages whizzed back and forth among the diplomats in the attempt on the part of several countries to avert war. England did not want war, neither did France, nor did Serbia's "big brother," Russia, and the little country was urged to return as conciliatory a reply as possible. Serbia put her pride into her pocket and yielded, but required that if any one was to be punished, proof should be given of his crime. One demand, however, she refused flatly, a demand to which no self-respecting country could yield. This was that Austria-Hungary should take part in the investigation of the conspiracy. She expressed her willingness, however, to leave the whole question to the Hague Court in case this reply should not be satisfactory. This was given to the Austro-Hungarian Minister within the forty-eight hours, and although Sir Edward Grey, English Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, declared that this reply was the greatest humiliation he had ever seen a country undergo, the Minister said that it could not be accepted, as Serbia had not yielded to the demands in every particular, and that same day he and his staff left Belgrade.
War between Serbia and Austria-Hungary now seemed unavoidable, but why need the other states of Europe have anything to do with it? Why, if there must be conflict between the two countries, could they not fight it out and leave the rest of the world in peace? The answer is, "Because of the aims of Germany and because of the Eastern Question." At the outbreak of the war few people thought much about any possible aims of Germany, but they thought a great deal about the Eastern Question, that is, the relations of Turkey and the Balkan States with the rest of Europe, especially Russia, Austria-Hungary, and England.
Russia is an enormous country. That portion of it which is in Europe is one fourth larger than all the rest of the Continent. It is a land of almost endless resources. It is rich in minerals and precious stones; it raises flax, hemp, timber, cotton, and quantities of sugar beets, besides great numbers of cattle, horses, sheep, hogs, and goats. It has millions of acres of the best wheat land in the world. Of course the Russian winters are long and cold and the summers are short; but when summer does come, it is so hot that vegetation grows wonderfully fast.
Naturally, after Russia has produced all these valuable articles, she wants to sell them to other nations. Then come difficulties, for transportation is not good. If Russia had as many miles of railroads in proportion to her size as France has, the big country would have six and one half times as much mileage as at present. She has rivers and canals, and at the north she has harbors, but from three to six months of every year all these are closed by ice. On the Black Sea she has her port of Odessa, but to carry her goods out of the Black Sea her ships must pass through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, which are controlled by Turkey. Russia, then, would be glad to have the Turks pushed over into Asia Minor. As to Serbia, her "little brother," both Russians and Serbians are of the same family of nations, the Slavic, and while Russia would hardly have wished Serbia to become powerful enough to rule all the Balkan States, she could not endure the thought of her becoming a part of Austria-Hungary, and thus enormously increasing the Austrian and the German power.
Germany had long felt what is called the "Drang nach Osten," that is, the push toward the East, for trade, agriculture, and colonization. She had already, as has been said, secured the right to build a railway from the Bosphorus to Baghdad, and had built one third of it. A "middle Europe" combination, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Balkan countries, and Turkey, would open Germany's way to Baghdad, to the Far East, and to the rich lands of southeastern Russia, the Ukraine. With Turkey Germany had made friends; Herzegovina had become a part of Germany's ally, Austria-Hungary; nothing blocked her way but the other Balkan countries, especially Serbia. If Serbia, then, fell under German control, Russia must give up all hope of ever holding Constantinople, and she had strong reason to fear losing the Ukraine, which was somewhat restless under Russian rule, and no one could say how much more of her territory. It is no wonder that, when Austria-Hungary threatened Serbia, Russia made her prompt declaration, "On the day that Austrian troops cross the boundary line of Serbia, Russian troops will mass for war."
Austria-Hungary is a combination of two countries, ruled by one man, but independent in many respects. Delegations from the parliaments of the two countries meet one year in Vienna in Austria, and the following year in Budapest in Hungary. These delegations settle questions of national finance of war, and of foreign relations. Other matters are settled by each country for itself. Each half of the "Dual Monarchy" is made up of numerous small states. No one of these forgets that it was once independent, and its people do their best to maintain their old language and their old customs. They have formed one kingdom, but they have never formed any real union. Indeed, neither Austria nor Hungary is a closely united state. In Austria, about one fourth of the inhabitants are Germans; but the government is so ordered that they are in control. In Hungary, the Magyar aristocracy hold the ruling power. In each state the Slavs are the "under dog." They have no political power, and small attention is paid to their interests or wishes. These Slavs belong to the great Aryan family whose home was in central Asia. They form nearly one half of the population of Austria-Hungary, but they are of many nations, and each little group cling together and look upon others with some jealousy and often with dislike.
The different peoples in the Dual Monarchy are discontented, and the two kingdoms are not happy together. Their union was formed merely as a matter of convenience. Between two and three centuries ago there were, instead of one Germany, two hundred or more tiny states, which were supposed to owe some allegiance to the Emperor of Austria. It was not a willing allegiance; nevertheless, a sort of union was at length formed with Austria at its head. But Prussia, one of these states, grew strong and began to rival Austria. The Prussian statesman Bismarck now brought it about that a confederation was formed with Prussia as its head and Austria left out. Then came the war with France in 1870, during which this confederation was changed into an empire, and William I, grandfather of the present Kaiser, and already King of Prussia, was proclaimed German Emperor. Neither Austria nor Hungary was quite strong enough to stand alone, and therefore they formed the twofold monarchy. Moreover, in 1879, Austria-Hungary and Germany formed an alliance for mutual defense. A little later, Italy joined them. This union was known as the Triple Alliance.
A war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia would serve Germany well, for of course the big country would subdue the little one, and the way to Constantinople would be open. But if Russia entered the fray, that was quite another matter, for if Russia gained power in the Balkans, Germany's plans for the Far East would fall through. Therefore, if Russia was to protect Serbia, Germany would enter the war as the ally of Austria-Hungary.
But what about France? After the Germans defeated France in the war of 1870, the two provinces, Alsace and Lorraine, had been taken by Germany, and France felt the need of a friend as a support against the increasing German power; therefore she had formed an alliance with Russia, and if Russia fought, France would fight.
Then one more country must be considered, England. It was England's policy to keep out of "Serbian quarrels," but England had large interests in the East; she must look out for a clear way to Egypt, Persia, India, Thibet, and Afghanistan. Those who are in charge of a country's interests must look far ahead, not only to what is reasonably certain to happen, but also to what might by any possibility happen. England had also interests in the Mediterranean, and she had agreed with France that in case of any necessity, the French navy should guard those interests. In return, England was to guard the western shores of France. Then, too, Dover Strait is hardly more than twenty miles wide at its narrowest point. If the Triple Alliance should crush France, then Belgium, then Holland, and so control the English Channel, Dover Strait, and the North Sea—England would be hemmed in by enemies. Of course, no one in England expected these things to come to pass, but it was the business of her statesmen to be on guard against whatever might be within the bounds of possibility. Therefore, some years earlier, England, Russia, and France had made an informal alliance called the Triple Entente, that is, the triple understanding or agreement. The object of this was to preserve the balance of power in Europe against the Triple Alliance. Its purpose was wholly defensive, for protection against the aggressive German plans.
At the beginning of the war, Germany announced her intention of standing by Austria-Hungary. Italy, as a member of the Triple Alliance, was bound to stand by Germany and Austria if they were attacked. They were not attacked, they were making the attack, and Italy declared her intention to be neutral.
Three days after Serbia handed her reply to the Austro-Hungarian Minister, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and two days later she began to bombard Belgrade.
A few months later it came to light that, one whole year before the Serajevo incident, Austria, certain of the aid of Germany, had determined to attack Serbia in order to clear the way to the East. The assassination of the Archduke was the spark that exploded the powder magazine of Europe; but if that had not occurred, some other pretext for war would surely have been found.