The Austro—Serbian conflict is a mere bagatelle—as if Hoboken should declare war on Coney Island-but all the civilization of Europe is drawn in.
The real war, of which this sudden outburst of death and destruction is only an incident, began long ago. It has been raging for tens of years, but its battles have been so little advertised that they have been hardly noted. It is a clash of traders.
It is well to remember that the German empire began as a business agreement. Bismarck’s first victory was the Zollverein, a tariff agreement between a score of petty German principalities. This commercial league was solidified into a powerful state by military victories. It is small wonder that German business men believe that their trade development depends on force.
“Ohne Armee, kein Deutschland” [“Without an Army, no Germany”] is not only the motto of the Kaiser and the military caste. The success of the militarist propaganda of the Navy League and other such jingo organizations depends on the fact that nine Germans out of ten read history that way.
After the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 came the “gründerzeit”—the “foundation period.” Everything German leaped forward in a stupendous impulse of growth.
The withdrawal of the German mercantile marine from the sea has reminded us of the worldwide importance of their transportation services. All these great German fleets of ocean liners and merchantmen have sprung into being since 1870. In steel manufacture, in textile work, in mining and trading, in every branch of modern industrial and commercial life, and also in population, German development has been equally amazing.
But geographically all fields for development were closed.
In the days when there had been no army and no united Germany, the English and French had grabbed all the earth and the fullness thereof. .
England and France met German development with distrust and false sentiments of peace. “We do not intend to grab any more territory. The peace of Europe demands the maintenance of the status quo.”
With these words scarcely cold on her lips, Great Britain took South Africa. And pretended to endless surprise and grief that the Germans did not applaud this closing of another market.
In 1909, King Edward—a great friend of peace—after long secret conferences, announced the Entente Cordiale whereby France promised to back up England in absorbing Egypt, and England pledged to support France in her Morocco adventure.
The news of this underhand “gentleman’s agreement” caused a storm. The Kaiser, in wild indignation, shouted that “Nothing can happen in Europe without my consent.”
The peace-lovers of London and Paris agreed that this threat of war was very rude. But they were getting what they wanted without dirtying their hands in blood, so they consented to a Diplomatic Conference at Algeciras. France solemnly promised not to annex Morocco, and above all pledged herself to maintain “the Open Door.” Everyone was to have an equal commercial chance. The storm blew over.
One example out of a thousand of how the French observed their pledge to maintain an Open Door in Morocco is furnished by the method of buying cloth to uniform the Moorish Army.
In accordance with the “Act of Algeciras,” which required that all contracts should be put up at international auction, it was announced that the Sultan had decided on a large order of khaki to make uniforms for his soldiers. “Specifications” would be published on a certain day-in accordance with the law-and the cloth manufacturers of the world were invited to be present.
The “specifications” demanded that the cloth should be delivered in three months and that it should be of a certain width—three yards, as I remember. “But,” protested the representatives of a German firm, “there are no looms in the world of that width. It would take months to build them.” But it developed that a far-seeing—or forewarned—manufacturer of Lyons had installed the necessary machines a few months before. He got the contract.
The Ambassador at Tangier has had to hire extra clerks to forward to Berlin the complaints of German merchants protesting against the impossibleness of France’s “Open Door.” . .
Perhaps the most exasperating thing of all has been the row over the Baghdad Railroad. A group of German capitalists secured a franchise for a railroad to open up Asia Minor by way of Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. It was an undeveloped country which offered just the kind of commercial outlet they needed. The scheme was blocked by England on the pretext that such a railroad might be used by the Kaiser to send his army half-way round the world to steal India.
But the Germans understood very well that the English merchants and ship owners did not want to have their monopoly of Indian trade threatened.
Even when they scored this big commercial victory—the blocking of the Baghdad Railroad—the English diplomats protested their love of peace and their pure-hearted desire to preserve the status quo. It was at this juncture that a deputy in the Reichstag said, “The status quo is an aggression.”
The situation in short is this. German capitalists want more profits. English and French Capitalists want it all. This war of commerce has gone on for years.
No one can have a more utter abhorrence of militarism than I. No one can wish more heartily that the shame of it may be erased from our century. “It is neither by parliamentary oratory nor the votes of majorities that the great questions of the day can be solved but by blood and iron”—“durch Eisen und Blut”—these words of Bismarck are the motto of the Reaction. Nothing stands more squarely in the path of democratic progress.
And no recent words have seemed to me so ludicrously condescending as the Kaiser’s speech to “his” people when he said that in this supreme crisis he freely forgave all those who had ever opposed him. I am ashamed that in this day in a civilized country anyone can speak such archaic nonsense.
But worse than the “personal government” of the Kaiser, worse even than the brutalizing ideals he boasts of standing for, is the raw hypocrisy of his armed foes, who shout for a peace which their greed has rendered impossible.
More nauseating than the crack-brained bombast of the Kaiser is the editorial chorus in America which pretends to believe—would have us believe—that the White and Spotless Knight of Modern Democracy is marching against the Unspeakably Vile Monster of Medieval Militarism.
What has democracy to do in an alliance with Nicholas, the tsar? Is it. liberalism which is marching from the Petersburg of Father Gapon, from the Odessa of pogroms? Are our editors naive enough to believe this?
No. There is a falling out among commercial rivals. One side has observed the polite forms of diplomacy and has talked of “peace”—relying the while on the eminently pacific navy of Great Britain and the army of France and on the millions of semi-serfs whom they have bribed the Tsar of All the Russias (and The Hague) to scourge forward against the Germans. On the other side there has been rudeness—and the hideous Gospel of Blood and Iron.
We, who are Socialists, must hope—we may even expect—that out of the horror of bloodshed and dire destruction will come far-reaching social changes—and a long step forward towards our goal of peace among men.
But we must not be duped by this editorial buncombe about Liberalism going forth to Holy War against Tyranny.
This is not Our War.