A Celebration of Women Writers

"Chapter 112." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: An Island Story: A History of England for Boys and Girls by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) With pictures by A. S. Forrest. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, Publishers, 1920.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


EDWARD VII. was succeeded by his second son, George, his eldest son, the Duke of Clarence, having died in 1892, while he himself was still Prince of Wales.

George V. came to the throne in a time of peace and good will. We were at peace within our own borders, we lived in greater friendship with our neighbors on the Continent, and our understanding with the United States of America, the greatest power of the New World, was far better than it had ever been.

George V. came to the throne in a time of peace, but soon the peace not of Great Britain alone, but of the whole world was shattered.

Throughout this book I have tried to give you reasons for the many wars, in which, during the long ages since our story began, Englishmen have taken part. In many cases the cause was easy to find, but to find the real cause of the World War which began in 1914 is not easy, for "its roots run deep into all the obscure soils of history." But so far as it is possible to do so shortly I will try to explain.

In 1870 the Franco-German war broke out. In that war the French were defeated, and as victors the Germans not only made the French pay an enormous sum of money, but took from them part of their land–the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine.

The money did not matter much. It was paid and forgotten. Not so the loss of land. That was neither forgiven nor forgotten. The memory indeed rankled until in the hearts of Frenchmen an undying sorrow for the lost provinces was born. Outwardly there was peace between the two countries, but the sorrow for the lost provinces was never stilled, and never so long as they were misruled by Germany could there be other than bitterness between the two countries. Yet France had no real thoughts of war, and unprovoked she would probably never have attacked Germany.

At one time Turkey in Europe was a large country stretching from the Bosporus to the Adriatic. But after a war between Russia and Turkey in 1877-8, by the Treaty of Berlin, Turkey lost a great deal of territory. The Treaty was "made in Germany," however, and it left Turkey too powerful, Russia dissatisfied, and the subject people, who had been oppressed by the Turks, restless. Almost even since that day the Balkans have been filled with intrigue and unrest.

Among other things the Treaty gave to Austria two provinces called Bosnia and Herzegovina which had belonged to Turkey, but which were on or near the Adriatic. They were not given to Austria outright, but merely to rule and protect until their peace and prosperity should once more be restored. No one believed that they would ever be given back to the misrule of Turkey, but meanwhile, in theory, they remained part of the Turkish Empire.

Now Bosnia and Herzegovina were peopled with Slavs, as were also the countries adjoining, such as Servia and Montenegro. And, as was very natural, in time all those Slav peoples began to wish to join together into a Greater Servia. But that was the wish neither of Austria nor of Germany, for Germany had designs of "expansion" towards the East. For this expansion a clear highway through southeast Europe was necessary, and this highway a peaceful and united Servia would have fatally blocked. So the Slav peoples were rudely awakened from their dream of union by the Emperor of Austria, who announced in 1908 that he intended to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina outright.

By this unjust annexation all the Slav hopes of a greater Servia were shattered, and two Slav provinces were bound to a country with which they had nothing in common. But the blow was not taken quietly. The whole land seethed with rebellion, Servia was ready to fight for the freedom of her sister states, and they all looked to the greatest of Slav rulers, the Czar of Russia, for aid.

Russia had not yet recovered from the disaster of the Japanese war. Still the Czar seemed not unwilling to undertake this new adventure. It was not, however, the will of Germany that Austria should thus be baulked. In his grandest manner, therefore, the Emperor of Germany let it be known that should Austria be attacked, "a knight in shining armor" would come to her aid.

The Czar could not fight both Austria and Germany and bitterly humiliated he gave up the idea of helping the Slavs. But this German interference in a purely Slav question humiliated not only the Czar but all Russia, and henceforth Russia was the enemy of both Austria and Germany. Servia too was the enemy of Austria. Italy, the ally of both Germany and Austria, was not pleased, because it seemed to her that Italy had far more right to provinces on the Adriatic coast than had Austria.

In 1912 there was a war among the Balkan states. But when it was over it seemed for a short time as if the Slav peoples, the Bulgarians, and the Greeks might forget their quarrels, and be united into a Balkan federation. But again Austria and Germany interfered, and as a result instead of a federation a second and far more deadly war broke out in 1913. It ended in the utter defeat of Bulgaria, the catspaw, and of Turkey, the ally and tool, of Germany. It left Germany also with the fear that a Balkan federation might still be formed which would block her way to the East.

There were other causes of jealousy and rancor, too many and too complicated to tell here. But from what you have already read you can easily see that both Germany and Austria were clever at making enemies, and if, as the German Emperor said, in 1914, Germany was surrounded by enemies, Germany alone was to blame for at least some of them.

In 1914 there were then several causes which made for war. There was the old, unforgotten quarrel between France and Germany; there was a new jealousy on the part of Germany against Great Britain, jealousy of her overseas empire, jealousy of her vast trade. There was the eternal question of the restless Balkans, Germany and Austria keenly on the watch lest Russia should gain power there, and ruin their ambitions, while still other countries suspected Russia of ambition likewise to extend her rule over Balkan lands.

Besides all this the German nation had been taught that they were a very great nation, a nation which by divine right was destined to rule the world. They were taught that their very greatness must arouse the jealousy of lesser nations eager to keep them out of their just heritage. They were taught that as a mere measure of safety these pernicious nations must be crushed ere they could crush Germany. For her, they were taught, it was a choice between world power and downfall.

This teaching was all wrong. No European power, not even France, was preparing to attack Germany. No European power desired to ruin her trade, or deny her any lawful expansion. Satisfied that their own intentions were honest, the nations of Europe paid little attention to German sword rattling and nothing was further from the thoughts of most people than a European war, when suddenly they were rudely awakened to its possibility.

One day towards the end of June, 1914, while driving through the streets of Serajevo, the capital of Bosnia, the Austrian Archduke, Francis Ferdinand, and his wife, were shot and killed. The Archduke was heir to the throne of Austria, the Austrian Emperor already a very old man, and all Europe was moved with sympathy, and filled with horror at the crime.

The murder took place on Austrian soil, in the land which Austria had unjustly annexed. The murderer was a Bosnian, therefore an Austrian subject. But he was a Slav; and the Servian government was accused of having encouraged the murderer to do the dreadful deed.

Many people were inclined to admit that Servia was somewhat in fault. But no one was prepared for the brutal demands which the Austrians made upon Servia. They were such as to rob her of all independence, and make her almost as much an Austrian possession as Bosnia. No nation could submit to them without national degradation, and Servia was allowed only forty-eight hours in which to submit.

From a passionate, turbulent people like the Servians submission was hardly to be expected. Yet, listening to wise counsels, they yielded to almost all the Austrian demands, asking for arbitration on a few points only. But Austria and her ally Germany, with whom she was in consultation, wanted not submission but war. And, in spite of the frantic efforts of the statesmen of Europe to bring about an understanding, on the 28th of July Austria declared war on Servia, and began immediately to prepare for it. But these preparations seemed to be far greater than were necessary for the defeat of a small country like Servia, and Russia, fearing that they were aimed at her, also began to arm.

It was now seen that the peace of all Europe was in danger, and peace-loving statesmen did their utmost to preserve it. Foremost among them Sir Edward Grey, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, worked untiringly, suggesting, imploring, using every honorable means to keep the peace. But all his efforts were in vain, because from the beginning Germany and Austria meant to have war both with Russia and with France.

The Central Powers, as Germany and Austria were called, believed that they could easily crush both France and Russia, and that henceforth they would be all powerful in Europe. They did not wish, however, to be saddled with the blame of plunging Europe into war, so they used the murder of the Archduke as a stalking horse. The murder of the Archduke was not the cause of the war, it was merely the excuse.

On the 1st of August, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia. By the 2nd her armies had actually crossed the boundaries of France, but she declared war against France on the 3rd. It was not until a few days later that war between Austria and either France or Russia was declared. From the first Germany was the aggressor. And yet, while Germany was forcing war on Europe with almost every public act the Emperor still talked largely of his love for peace. "The envious," he cried, "are forcing us to a just defense. The sword is being thrust into our hand."

With Europe aflame Britain still strove to keep the peace. She had no cause to love Servia. It seemed almost monstrous that a peace-loving people should plunge into war, merely to preserve the independence of a little, turbulent nation to which no ties of friendship bound them. Still less was it seemly that freedom-loving Britain should fight the battles of a despot by joining hands with Russia. With France it was somewhat different. Britain had held out the hand of friendship to France. What in our own eyes, in the eyes of France, in the judgment of the world would that friendship be worth did Britain stand quietly by while France was felled by the mailed fist of Germany?

It was the mailed fist of Germany that put an end to doubt and brought Britain into the war.

For long ages in the past Belgium had been the battle field of Europe, and her plains had been laid waste in quarrels not her own. But in 1831 all the great powers of Europe had agreed that henceforth Belgium should be neutral. Belgium was to take no part in any European war, and on the other hand no European power was to enter Belgium for any purpose of war. Germany as well as the other great powers of Europe signed this agreement. But the easiest and quickest road to France lay through Belgium, and Germany, respecting no law but her own will, marched her armies through the land. Even some of the Germans themselves knew that this act must forever stain her national honor. Speaking in the Reichstag, or Parliament, the Chancellor acknowledged it. "We are now in a state of necessity," he said, "and necessity knows no law. Our troops have already perhaps entered Belgian soil. This is contrary to the rules of international law. France could wait. We could not wait. We were forced, therefore, to disregard the just protests of the Belgian government. The wrong–I speak frankly–the wrong which we do now, we will try to repair as soon as our end is served."

That end was never served. For by this international falsehood and stupendous blunder Germany, in the end, brought the whole moral forces of the world against her.

As a first fruit of her folly on the 4th of August, 1914, Great Britain declared war against Germany. When the German Chancellor heard it he was filled with consternation. "What," he cried, "Britain will go to war for a mere word like 'neutrality'–for a scrap of paper?"

The whole world gave him his answer. "Not for a scrap of paper, but that treaties may be held sacred, that the world may be made safe for small nations, that the power of the mailed fist may be broken."


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom