The Dash Toward Paris
Two days after the Austrian Minister left Belgrade, a telegraphic conversation began among the representatives of several of the countries of Europe, which was in effect as follows:—
Sir Edward Grey, Minister of Foreign Affairs for England: I invite the German and the Italian Ambassadors to England, as friends of Austria, to meet the French Ambassador and myself, as friends of Russia, to try to find a way out of the difficulty.
Russia, France, and Italy: We will come.
Germany: I could not call Austria in her dispute with Serbia before a European tribunal.
Sir Edward Grey: But this would be only a private and informal discussion.
Germany: It is impossible. But will not France exert a moderating influence at St. Petersburg?
France: Will not Germany, especially as Serbia has shown herself so conciliatory, exert a moderating influence upon Austria-Hungary?
Germany: Oh, no, we have decided not to interfere. Russia and Austria might discuss the matter.
Austria: I decline.
The Kaiser to the Czar: I urge you to be a spectator only and not draw all Europe into war.
The Czar: Cannot the Austro-Serbian problem be given over to the Hague Tribunal?
Sir Edward Grey: Will not Austria at least give the other powers time and opportunity to mediate between Austria and Russia? Will not Germany “press the button” in the interests of peace?
Russia: If Austria will strike out from her note to Serbia the demands affecting Serbia’s sovereignty, Russia will stop her military preparations.
Germany: That would be impossible.
Austria: I am ready to discuss the matter with the other powers.
But it was too late, as Germany had before this sent her ultimatum to Russia demanding that within twelve hours Russia cease her military measures.
The European powers, especially England, had done their best to prevent war, but their efforts had been in vain. It was evident that Germany wanted war. Most nations do all in their power to avoid war; why, then, should this nation be so eager for it? The answer is, Because she longed for empire. “A place in the sun” had long been the slogan of the Pan-German party. Jealous of Great Britain, the Kaiser determined to win by the sword the world empire to which industrial prosperity at home seemed, in his eyes, to entitle him. Other large nations had colonies. After a while, Germany, too, had some colonies; but Germany is a nation of recent formation, the best places for colonization had already been taken, and German emigrants did not care to go to the newer settlements. They made their homes in other countries, among other nations; and the result was that they or their children often gave up German citizenship, and their emigration was not, as was the case with other countries, a gain to the mother country. Then, too, Germany had but little seacoast. To reach the ocean, her ships must go around the British Isles or else pass through Dover Strait and sail within ten miles of either England or France.
Germany had some genuine fear of being crushed by Russia and France, but for England she had a hatred arising from jealousy. England held Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, and many islands scattered over the world. It is true that she threw open her ports to every nation; but Germany feared her enormous power on the sea and determined to take from her all possibility of exercising it. Germany and England were commercial rivals. Germany declared that England was trying to prevent her from reaching a market, and in the same breath boasted that she was underselling the English in England itself.
Between Germany and France there had been great bitterness ever since the war of 1870. In this war Germany had marched into Paris, she had seized Alsace and Lorraine and held them. She looked upon the French as a feeble, worn-out race, and supposed that she could easily crush them, then crush England, then attend to Russia.
The power at which Germany aimed was nothing less than the rule of the whole world. She believed that her ideals and customs were the best on earth, and that she was destined to control the world. As a beginning, she aimed at a “middle Europe,” that is, at winning a broad belt running from the shores of the North and Baltic Seas, including Belgium, northern France, Austria-Hungary, the Balkan States, and a free “corridor” to Baghdad. She would then be well on her way to the world dominion for which she thirsted. By earlier wars Germany had gained in size, wealth, and influence, and she expected to make far greater gains in this war. The “Junkers”—that is, the wealthy landed nobility—longed for it. Moreover, opposition to autocracy was on the increase, and in Germany as well as in Austria-Hungary there was much internal strife. A short and victorious war would do away with this and unite the people.
Germany was the only country in the world that was prepared for war. In army, fleet, and munitions she was ready, and the officers of her “war machine” had long been eager for the time to come. Even in public banquets her naval chiefs had for many years drunk toasts to “The Day”—that is, the day when the Kaiser’s new fleet would meet England’s in a war which should finally destroy the English navy and the British Empire. There was no secrecy about it. Even little children were taught in school that their country was “surrounded by cruel and envious nations.” Prominent writers and lecturers had taught that Germans were far superior to other races, and that the land which others were unfairly keeping from them would one day be theirs by conquest. They made ready for warfare. For three years before the war schoolhouses were so built that almost in a day they could be turned into hospitals. Machines—for making ploughs, for instance—were especially designed so they could be used in munition work. Not long before the war, Germany increased her army by sixty per cent, prepared an unusually large supply of munitions, widened and deepened the Kiel Canal to accommodate the largest warships, built more railroads to the Russian, French, and Belgian frontiers, increased greatly the importation of some articles used in war and decreased the exportation of others, called home her reservists from other countries; and only a few weeks before war was declared, she bought an enormous quantity of hospital supplies. There was no question who brought on the war.
Germany against Russia, Germany against France, England against Germany, Austria-Hungary against Russia—so much for the first week of warfare. The air fairly hissed with declarations of war, or rather with declarations that a “state of war” was existing, for each country wished to make it clear that it was at war only as a matter of self-defense. The declaration against France stated that French military aviators had dropped bombs in Germany. On the following morning Viviani, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared to the Chamber of Deputies that this was entirely false. The correctness of his statement has since then been admitted in Germany.
German troops were at once mobilized—that is, called into active service—and the French troops promptly followed their example. In tiny French villages drums were beaten as a signal, and men left their harvest fields on the run, abandoning the half-cut grain. The oxen gazed at them wonderingly as they sped down the roads to their homes for the hour of making ready and the hurried good-byes before they boarded the train for the front, wherever that might be.
There was another frantic rush, and this was the race of American tourists to get away from the war. Thousands of them were scattered over the contending countries. Trains ran, but they had not room for any one but soldiers. Mails came or not, as it might happen. Telegraph and telephone wires were cut. To “go west,” to get to America, would be safety, and everybody wanted to sail by the first steamer.
Moreover, these tourists suddenly found that people would no longer cash their checks, so that many a man with a letter of credit in his pocket for thousands of dollars had to beg of some friend the money to pay for his dinner. But the United States took care of her wandering citizens. The Government sent over several million dollars to lend to them and also vessels enough to bring those home who could not get passage on regular lines.
But the tourists left behind them a continent full of trouble and anxiety. Just where Germany would strike, no one knew, but French troops were sent to the northeastern corner of France, just south of Belgium and Luxemburg, and a few miles away from the German border line. Luxemburg is a little independent duchy, a sort of toy kingdom, only four fifths as large as Rhode Island. It was a “neutralized” state; that is, by a treaty made in 1867, it was agreed that in case of war Luxemburg would be neutral, would give no aid to either side, and indeed would maintain no army. In return, France, England, Russia, and also Prussia, guaranteed her freedom from any invasion of her territory. Nevertheless, as this was the easiest road to the heart of France, the German forces took that road, saying that they would do no harm and that at the end of the war they would pay for whatever they had found it necessary to take. Luxemburg had already been violated by the French, they declared. The President of the Grand Ducal Government said that if this had been done, he knew nothing about it. The little state could make no resistance, but there is a report that the plucky Grand Duchess, an independent young girl of twenty, ran her automobile squarely across the road up which the German forces were marching, and indignantly protested against their entrance.
Belgium was also a neutralized state, protected since 1839 by treaties to which Prussia was a party. She was on friendly terms with both France and Germany, and only four years previous the Kaiser and his daughter had been guests of King Albert, ruler of Belgium, and had been received with every honor. The French Minister to Belgium had declared that his country would respect Belgium’s neutrality unless it was first violated by the Germans. The Belgians hoped that Germany would follow the example of France. But behold, the German Minister announced that the German troops wished to enter the country. If Belgium was friendly, Germany would at the close of the war pay for all damages; but if anything was done to hinder the troops Belgium would be regarded as an enemy. This was at seven in the evening of August 2. A reply was demanded within twelve hours.
Of course, the easiest way would have been to say yes and make no opposition to the coming of the troops. Belgium, however, was not looking for the easiest way, but for the most honorable. The little country had promised to be neutral. If she did not now do her best to prevent either Germany or France from entering her territory, she would be breaking her promise. The Chamber of Deputies came together, many of the members already in uniform, prepared to start for the front at a moment’s notice. Before them stood King Albert, tall, calm, and dignified. “I ask you, gentlemen,” he said, “are you absolutely resolved to maintain intact the sacred patrimony of your fathers?” They were resolved.
In the afternoon the Cabinet and Ministers of State held another meeting, and decided to appeal for help to England, France, and Russia, who, together with Prussia, had guaranteed the neutrality of their country. On the following day German troops entered Belgium, and the appeal was sent.
This had been a busy day in England as well as in Belgium. England had asked Germany to assure her before midnight that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected. The German Chancellor and the British Ambassador to Germany had held a meeting. “It is terrible,” said the Chancellor, “that just for a word—’Neutrality’— just for a scrap of paper [that is, the treaty]—Great Britain is going to make war upon a kindred nation who desires nothing better than to be friends with her.” No answer was made to England’s question. That night she declared war.
England had three reasons for entering the war. First, to keep her word to protect Belgium; second, to stand by her agreement with France; third, to protect herself. She was forced to the conviction that she would have to fight either in company with France and Russia or else, later, alone.
Meanwhile, German forces were streaming into Belgium. On the border line of France, south of Luxemburg, were forts and French troops. To pass these would be no easy matter; but with Belgium in her hands, Germany could mass her troops and supplies in that country. They pushed in toward the city of Liege. The Belgians tore up railways and blew up bridges as best they could; but the Germans built new bridges, and soon they were not far from the nine forts that stood on the heights above Liege. These forts commanded river, bridges, roads, and railroads, and until they were taken, German troops and supplies could not be brought into the town.
The forts resisted stubbornly, and the Belgian troops fought resolutely. Of course the little country could not withstand the big one, and within twenty-one days after the first German soldiers entered Belgium, they had taken Brussels, and a little later they forced the inhabitants to give them $40,000,000. They had also captured wonderful Louvain with its famous old churches, its superb cathedral, and its great university. The Germans declared that some of the people of Louvain fired upon them. Even if the charge is true, the revenge taken by the invaders was visited not upon these people only, but upon the whole town, for the city was now sacked and burned, and the famous university with its priceless library was ruthlessly destroyed.
Like the Roman hero in the story of Horatius at the bridge, Belgium with her slender might had held back the hostile armies. The Chancellor of Germany said of the invasion, “This is a breach of international law, but necessity knows no law.” Belgium had lost her treasures, her cities, her homes, but she had done the noblest thing in the world, she had kept her word even to her own hurt.
Those were the times when every day counted. The resistance of Belgium delayed the invaders for two weeks. Neither France nor England was prepared for war, but this delay gave them time to bring up their standing armies and hurl them into Belgium. The plan of the Germans was already formed. They promptly seized bases over the French line and aimed at making a sudden dash upon Paris. Belgians, French, and English were driven by the Germans, back, back, back, until they came to the Marne River.
But in Paris a quiet man with a genial, trustworthy face had been hard at work. He was the son of people who lived in the Pyrenees, and had made his way into a military school. He was not remembered at school for any special brilliancy, but he was remembered as a good scholar who never shirked or grumbled and always did his best. He had risen slowly from one position to another, until, three years before the opening of the war, he had become commander-in-chief of the French army; but he was so modest and unassuming that few people knew much about him. This quiet soldier, General Joffre, had collected half a million men, had chosen a battle-field on the Marne, and there he awaited the enemy. They came nearer and nearer. “Paris within a week!” had been their cry, and now Paris was almost in sight, only twenty-three miles away. Then came the battle of the Marne, not one battle, but a series of terrible engagements over a battle-line one hundred and forty miles long. Years ago a book was written called The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World. One more will have to be added to the list—the battle of the Marne. The German forces were turned back and were pursued hotly to the banks of the sluggish Aisne River. The French dashed across the stream, and the Germans drove them back. There was no victory for either side. Germany still held a long strip of the land of France, but she had not taken Paris.