The study of history may not make you wise, but it cannot fail to make you sad,” wrote the great Bishop Stubbs of Oxford in the comparative security of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. If true then how much truer today, when the contemplation of the contemporary scene makes not only for melancholy but for complete bewilderment. Often critical, the European situation has never been more gloomy of outlook, nor more frankly baffling of analysis.
With the greatest armaments race in the world’s history in progress, with the record of a million dead in one year of Spanish civil war, with a return to outrage and reprisal upon the high seas, and with the Orient once more ablaze, there is both lack of wisdom and ample cause for sadness.
Nor in modern times has there been so remarkable a series of incongruous events as that which has taken place in the last two years; anomalies of so stupendous a character that they savour of bedlam. In Russia the former President of the Communist International is executed as a Fascist, and, in the face of the possibility of war, eight of the leading Soviet military leaders are shot. In Spain a rebel movement avowedly Catholic in nature is supported by a dictator who has been engaged in persecuting the Catholic Church in his own territories, thereby depriving himself of the support of the Vatican in his battle against their common enemy, Bolshevism. Political alignments and military groupings are formed of states without a basic thought in common, thrown together by the force of circumstances and the caprice of fate.
To master the intricate system of cross currents and contradictory influences in European affairs is virtually impossible, more especially in view of the recent Asiatic complications which are beyond the scope of this article; to explain it is entirely so, and to prophecy is sheer lunacy. All one can hope to do is to record and indicate the possibilities, and to endeavour, while hanging one’s shirt on a hickory limb, not to get left out on it.
From the apparent chaos, however, a few definite facts emerge. There are, for example, certain clearly defined political alignments. Two rival constellations dominate the political horizon. The Berlin-Rome stellar grouping includes within its orbit Hungary, half Spain, and an unwilling Austria; while in the Anglo-French Entente, one partner, France, has intimate ties with the Little Entente, and Great Britain has close relations with some of the Balkan States. Portugal wobbles momentarily between the two, although her recent break with Czechoslovakia would indicate a closer affiliation with Germany. Each group has attendant satellites which carry the influence of both beyond the confines of Europe and into Asia: thus the alliances concluded by France and Czechoslovakia with the Soviet Union, and the German-Japanese anti-Comintern Front, make both France and Germany at least additional interested parties, with Great Britain, in any Far Eastern conflagration.
The remainder of Europe may be divided into those States which intend to remain neutral and those States which would like to do so. In the first category come the traditional neutrals, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and Switzerland, whose ambitions for political quiescence are aided by their geographical positions, though in the case of Holland and Denmark this advantage is somewhat precarious.
The second category of neutrals is composed of those States which, though having certain affiliations with one or other rival groups, or in some cases both, nevertheless desire to remain as far as possible outside the area of immediate political manoeuvring. Such, for example, is Belgium. For centuries the Cockpit of Europe, this unfortunate country has in the last hundred years experimented with a variety of methods whereby her peace and national integrity might be secured. In the first instance her neutrality was guaranteed by the Great Powers of Europe, and twelve million dead are mute witnesses to the efficacy of such a pledge. After the Peace Conference of Paris, Belgium sought the guarantee of France, replacing this in 1925 by the wider basis of protection offered by the Locarno Agreement, and when this freely negotiated pact was unilaterally repudiated eleven years later, Belgium, suddenly faced with a rearmed Germany upon her frontier, returned to her former status of proclaimed neutral power, but this time under the joint protection of France and Great Britain. Each and all of these expedients have proved futile in securing peace for Belgium, for the simple reason that her geographical position renders it impossible for the French and German General Staffs to respect her neutrality in any major Western European conflict. Strategically Belgium belongs willy-nilly within the Anglo-French grouping. But Belgian usefulness in Europe is not exhausted. The economic plans of King Leopold and his Prime Minister, M. van Zeeland, which are not dissimilar from those that Chancellor Bruning proposed to King Albert in the Spring of 1932, may yet be destined to give to Europe that fillip necessary for economic salvation.
On the other side of Europe Poland lies in a somewhat similar position. Sandwiched between two powerful neighbours, each fundamentally hostile to the other and to Poland, the Polish State has pursued with a marked degree of success a policy of tight-rope walking between Germany and the Soviet Union. In company with her ally, Rumania, bound to her by the sixteen year old treaty of 1921, Poland has refrained from aligning herself in any definite manner with either of the rival groups. At one moment, immediately after Marshal Pilsudski’s death in 1935, there was an indication that under the Slavek-Beck regime, Poland might be drawn finally into the German orbit. The friendship between Beck, Goring, and Gombos formed the basis of an understanding between Poland, Germany, and Hungary, while the antagonism between Beck and Titulescu and Benes strained Poland’s relations with Rumania, and exacerbated those with Czechoslovakia, with whom she had never been friendly. In the summer of 1935 it was common gossip in the capitals of Central Europe that there existed draft plans for the tripartite division of Czechoslovakia, by which German Bohemia went to Germany, Slovakia to Hungary and the Teschen district to Poland, leaving the Czech population a rump state around Prague.
With the accession to power of Marshal Smigly-Rydz, however, the Cabinet of Colonels gave way to the Government of the Generals, and the resignation of Slavek and the lessened influence of Beck (followed by the wholly fortunate death of Gombos in Hungary), resulted in the swing of Polish policy away from Germany and, if anywhere, towards France, though with a certain disapproval of the Franco-Soviet Pact. With considerable agility the Polish Marshal, who was once a landscape-artist, has restored the balance.
Of the remaining neutrals, those in the Balkans would at the moment appear to be attracted towards the Italo-German constellation. A very extensive propaganda has been expended by both Germany and Italy in the Peninsula, and as a result the States concerned have been awakened to a realization of their importance. Yugoslavia has coquetted with amazing volatility with Berlin, Rome, and Paris: an economic agreement has been signed with the first; a “gentleman’s agreement” with the second; the chief of the General Staff has been sent on a visit to the third. Yugoslavia is playing safe, though in recent months she has found better markets than Germany for her agricultural produce, markets where payments are made in cash and not in credits or barter.
Both Bulgaria and Greece have succeeded in remaining on the extreme periphery of the Italo-German constellation, though the first is bound to the House of Savoy by dynastic ties, and the recent banning of the Periclean Funeral Oration in Greek schools would seem to qualify General Me-taxas for a high grade in dictatorship.
To return to the two rival political groups: when analysed, their composition does not lead to an easy straightforward classification. It is not essentially a case of We or They, of Democracy versus Totalitarianism, of the Haves against the Have-Nots. Though the States comprising the Italo-German bloc are all dictatorships in some degree, they are by no means all Totalitarian States; neither Austria, Hungary, nor Japan falls within this category. On the other hand, in the Anglo-French group, though the majority of the component States still adhere to democratic institutions, few could be more totalitarian in aspect than the Soviet Union and Turkey.
Again, though in the early ‘thirties both Japan and Italy could be classed with Germany as the leading Have-Not States, both have recently remedied this state of things in carving out for themselves dependent empires, which, though they may not satisfy the need of the conquering States for raw materials, at least render them subscribers to the doctrine of “What we have we hold.”
Thus the situation, sufficiently complex at the outset, becomes still further complicated on examination.
There would appear to be four possible alternatives before Europe:
1. A show-down between the two rival groups as they stand composed at the moment.
2. A tacit understanding between England and France on the one hand and Germany on the other, that, in return for a guarantee of peace in Western and Central Europe, Germany shall have a free hand in the East.
3. A Russo-German rapprochement.
4. The Miracle of Peace.
The two first of these may be taken together, since both are largely dominated by the incompatibility of interests within each group. At more than one moment during the Spanish Civil War it seemed as if foreign intervention on behalf of the Loyalists and the Insurgents would develop into a major European war. The danger in all cases was more apparent than real. The vituperations of the German and Italian dictators on the one hand and of the French leftist press on the other evaporated into the clouds of uncertainty which vitiate the European atmosphere. The incidents were declared closed. Honour was satisfied.
Fortunately for the peace of Europe, there is little real cohesion in either of the rival groupings. Great Britain, for example, is pledged only to France and Belgium, and would turn a most jaundiced eye upon a demand to protect the integrity of Czechoslovakia. The embattled might of the Peace Balloteers, those forensic pacifists who bludgeoned the British Government into a policy of sanctions in 1935 and brought an unprepared Great Britain within a measurable distance of war in the Mediterranean, has dwindled and waned. Their influence, though not yet negligible, is materially less. Delaying tactics are now the or-. der of the day. “A war postponed may be a war avoided” is the axiom of the British Foreign Secretary. “Peace at almost any price” is the British policy until her rearmament program is completed—a matter, perhaps, of some eighteen months.
Above all, there is little love in conservative England for the French liaison with the Soviet Union. In the early days of 1935 when France and Great Britain, made anxious by Hitler’s pyrotechnics, indulged in a Russian honeymoon, no pains were spared to assure the sceptics that in the course of the mellowing years the Soviet regime had changed and softened. The halls of the Kremlin echoed to the air of “God Save the King” in honour of Mr. Eden, while M. Laval was entertained, perhaps less appropriately, with the new revolutionary ballet entitled “The Flames of Paris.”
There followed in direct sequence the French and Czech treaties with the Soviet, the German reoccupation of the Rhineland, the rupture of the Locarno Agreement, German threats against Czechoslovakia, M. Blum’s Popular Front in Paris, and a pronounced tendency on the part of France to assist Russia in supplying the sinews of war to the Loyalist Government in Spain. It was realized in London that the new ally in the East might prove more of a liability than an asset (a role which she had frequently performed before in history); but if, in the final analysis, there was war with Germany, it was felt that it was better to have the Red Army on the side of the angels, and the performance of the Russian arms in Spain created a very favourable impression with expert military observers.
But the veil of illusion was torn aside by the Soviet Government itself, disclosing the fact that the trappings of democracy, so recently assumed with the new constitution, could not hide the horns, tail, and cloven hoof of totalitarianism. Apparent panic and wholesale executions constituted either a tacit admission that one political exile could, from without its confines, terrorize the whole Soviet regime into a state of mass hysteria, or else that Stalin was making use of a decidedly flimsy pretext to “liquidate” all possible rivals and opponents. The culminating point was reached with the shooting of a Marshal of the Soviet Union and seven of the leading generals in the Red Army.
To the revulsion of public opinion in England was now added the practical consideration that a State which finds it necessary to decimate its General Staff on a charge of disloyalty is of little material value as an ally. The British attitude assumed a distinct frigidity, while in Paris pro-Slav enthusiasm cooled considerably. France became more amenable to the British policy of “Peace at almost any price.”
But if the ranks of one of the rival groups are shaken, those of the other are none too steady. Though superficially based on the common ground of totalitarianism, the Rome-Berlin axis is a monumental incongruity. A mariage de convenance negotiated between outlaw States, it has immediate advantages for both parties but is barren of the fruits of permanent friendship. No two men in Europe are more different from one another than Hitler and Mussolini. In their very conceptions of nationalism they are opposites. Mussolini’s whole appeal is to the past and to tradition. Hitler has little feeling for either. Too much must be forgotten on either side. To Mussolini, Hitler must ever appear a pale imitation of himself. The impression gained at their meeting at Stra in 1934 still lingers. More than that, the ghost of Mussolini’s friend Dollfuss, murdered by Nazi gunmen, still stands between them. Germany dominant in Central Europe is a bitter pill for Italy to swallow. German influence paramount from the Baltic to the Brenner and from the Rhine to the Carpathians must always be a threat to Italian interests and prestige. German policy in Austria has not been calculated to set relations with Italy on a permanent basis of friendship. The wooing of Schuschnigg away from Italian influence and the conclusion of the Austro-German Treaty of Reconciliation and Friendship in July, 1936, at a moment when Italy was still exhausted from her Ethiopian victories, was a blow to Mussolini’s amour-propre which only the direst necessity could have forced him to accept without return.
Even in Spain, where the pro-Franco adventure was undertaken in joint partnership, there is a suspicion that Italy is pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for Germany, an uncomfortable feeling that the cat’s paw is held perhaps too fast in the monkey’s grip. “The Germans,” it is whispered in Rome, “are prepared to fight on to the last Italian.” Is Spanish ore being purchased by Germany with Italian lives? Yet it is difficult for Italy to withdraw. She is too deeply committed, more deeply than Germany. The Duce’s words, magnificent and grandiloquent in themselves, might prove an indigestible diet were he himself obliged to eat them.
Nor is the German enthusiasm for Italy as wholehearted as might appear on the surface. The memory of what is, rightly or wrongly, called the Italian treachery of 1915 dies hard. “No matter which side Italy may be on at the opening of a war,” said a distinguished German soldier to the writer in 1934, “at its close she will be found fulfilling her historic role as the whore of Europe.” And the Fuhrer also remembers that process of concentrated humiliation to which he was submitted at Venice. German military circles have little or no admiration for Italian troops as fighting men. “We had no mules in our transport until Italy entered the war and then we had plenty,” has been a standing joke in the Army ever since 1915. And though the final phase of the Ethiopian campaign disclosed the Italian soldier as capable of swift marching and great physical endurance, there was little in the whole East African war which could establish his abilities as a fighting man. The Spanish adventure has, however, provided this opportunity and to German minds the memories of Caporetto have been revived by the behaviour of Italian “volunteers” on the Guadalajara sector.
Nor is Germany entirely single-hearted in her relation with Japan. It must not be forgotten that the Chinese army which is now battling at Shanghai owes much to the influence and organizing genius of German officers. Beginning with the unofficial advice of Colonel Bauer, Luden-dorff’s former Chief of Operations, and continuing with the more official mission of General von Seeckt in 1933 and 1934, Chinese officers and men have been trained and inspired by German military experts. Though Japan is nominally the ally of the Third Reich, particularly in the anti-Comintern pact, there has been no news at this writing of the withdrawal of these experts from Nanking. The reason for this may be in the alleged report which high German military officers made to Berlin after a visit to Japan earlier in the year, to the effect that the Japanese army lacked modernization and that Germany might well beware of relying on the Island Empire as a military—as opposed to a political—ally.
The relations between Germany and Italy are further complicated by the fact that both states are anxious to stand well with Great Britain and would desert each other at the drop of a hat in exchange for her good graces. For Great Britain is emerging from the diplomatic debacle which followed the disastrous policy of sanctions and is rapidly approaching the moment when her face can no longer be slapped with impunity. Both Germany and Italy (Public Face-Slappers Nos. 1 and 2) realize that the days of this particular pastime are numbered and that it may be well to conciliate while yet there is time. The Fuhrer, despite the contradictory nature of his actions and those of his Ambassador in London, has never ceased to hanker after an understanding with Great Britain. The Duce, though the way is harder, would not be averse to returning to those halcyon days of Anglo-Italian friendship which reached their brief apogee at Stresa in 1935.
Despite these indications for peace, the chances of war between the two rival groups must not be ignored or underestimated. Chief amongst them is the fundamental psychology of dictatorship. Dictatorship needs success and spectacular success. Success breeds success. Japan seized Manchuria, Italy conquered Ethiopia, Germany reoccu-pied the Rhineland and tore up the Locarno Agreement. The result was a terrible display of finger-shaking in Europe, but nothing more. Nothing succeeds like success and with each new achievement the appetite increases. Italy defied England, Germany uncrossed her fingers and snapped them in the face of France; both got away with it. The Leipzig incident is a terrifying example of the ease with which the unbridled power and caprice of one man can endanger the peace of Europe; the Deutschland incident, with its sequel at Almeria, is an equally terrifying example of the capacity of that man for barbaric reprisal.
It is not impossible therefore that the Spanish situation may yet prove the spark to ignite the European powder-keg, if for no other reason than for the consuming contempt entertained by Germany for France. Unimpressed by the bristling might of the Maginot Line, Germany looks beyond and believes that she descries a France on the verge of a red revolution and reduced to the status of a second-class power. Nazi Germany feels more than equal to taking on France, but is deterred by two considerations, the uncertainty of England’s reaction to such a step and her real desire to stand well with England. No doubt the degree to which French weakness has been magnified by officials of the Nazi Party is due to wishful thinking—always a dangerous indulgence. It is not shared in toto by the German Foreign Office or by the General Staff. They are mindful of the fact that when in January of this year France was faced with the threat of a German occupation of Spanish Morocco, she presented a united front from the Royalists on the Right to the Communists on the Left, and that things were said to the German Ambassador in Paris which gave him very seriously to think. The pundits of the National Socialist Party would do well to remember the price that Germany paid for her overestimation in 1914 of French decadence and British disunity.
It is not untrue to say that two of the greatest forces for peace in Europe at the present moment are the German Foreign Office and General Staff. With the traditional attitude of all experts towards most amateurs, these professional diplomats and soldiers of Germany look with mingled anxiety and contempt upon the activities of the National Socialist Party officials in the conduct of external affairs. The professional soldier and diplomat is not by nature a gambler. Lie makes sure of one position before proceeding to the next. He does not relish embarking upon a war unless he is reasonably sure of his chances of winning. With the revolutionary party official it is different. Without background or foresight, he is undeterred by risks that would restrain the expert. He is, above all, a gambler because the very nature of maintaining a revolutionary dictatorial government in power is in itself hazardous. It was the Party therefore that urged the reoccupation of the Rhineland in opposition to the advice of the Foreign Office and the General Staff, who considered the risk of war too great to be so lightly undertaken. But the Fuhrer and the Party had so frequently called Europe’s bluff since 1933 that once more it seemed worth the risk. Success justified the gambler’s choice of policy. France backed down and the influence of the moderate forces within the Reich dwindled accordingly.
The same was true in the case of the Spanish adventure and the attendant Deutschland and Leipzig incidents. The Foreign Office and the General Staff opposed the headstrong councils of the Party, though the latter had the support of the Navy and the Air Force, rejoicing in the zealous enthusiasm of unblooded junior services. Again the Party won, but this time the results were not so immediately successful. German intervention in Spain was undertaken with the object of establishing another totalitarian state in Europe, more particularly on the rear and flank of France, and incidentally to obtain Spanish ore for German rearmament. It took a year of fighting to secure the Basque ore mines and the final issue in Spain is still postponed. Germany, though she has appeared in shining armour and has half-drawn the rattling sabre, has undoubtedly found Franco something of an incubus, and the Fiihrer might well be inclined to heed the voices of caution and moderation within his council.
It is here that the possibilities of the second alternative arise: Peace in the West in exchange for a free hand in the East. The chief aim of German foreign policy is to destroy the influence of the Soviet Union in international affairs and more specifically to break up the Franco-Soviet Pact. For this reason Germany has refused to participate in negotiations for a Western Pact to replace the Locarno Agreement. She has persistently represented the treaties of France and Czechoslovakia with Russia as the main stumbling blocks to an agreement between the Western Powers. It is not impossible therefore that she would be amenable to a solution on these lines. It would involve a vast game of bargaining and give-and-take on both sides. The withdrawal of “volunteers” from Spain might be involved and a jettisoning of Austria to Germany in order to safeguard Czechoslovakia. For France could agree to abandon her Soviet agreement only if the integrity of her Czech ally was guaranteed.
The reaction of Great Britain to such a proposal is problematic. The liquidation of the Spanish situation would be entirely in accordance with her policy and the idea of a Western Pact is the child of Mr. Eden’s diplomacy. She might not be averse to giving Germany a free hand in Russia if that would assuage the German thirst for return of colonies, and there is no doubt that Germany could obtain more raw materials from the rich lands of the Ukraine than from all her former colonies. To satisfy German craving for raw materials without involving a redistribution of colonies would not be unwelcome to Great Britain. And she would be freed of the Soviet connection. But what of Czechoslovakia? There is little hope that even the most militant pacifists could bulldoze the British Government into guaranteeing the territorial integrity of that country. Only after specifically omitting her from Britain’s guarantee would Sir Austen Chamberlain accept the Locarno Agreement, and nothing has happened in the past twelve years to increase the desire for further British commitments on the Continent. If Czechoslovakia is to be guaranteed Great Britain must be counted out.
Not so France. Though she might be persuaded to abandon the Soviet liaison on the practical grounds that Russia is no longer a valuable military ally—and to this conclusion the recent conversations between General Gamelin and General Beck of the Reichswehr may well have contributed —France is nominally pledged to the hilt in support of the I Czechs. In a recent interview M. Daladier, Minister of War, stated emphatically that in defense of Czechoslovakia j France would mobilize and march against Germany. This opinion, though significant, is not necessarily final. The French General Staff is known to be reluctant to take any ! action against Germany without the certainty of immediate j and substantial assistance from England—a fact which was | made abundantly clear at the time of the German action in the Rhineland—and Britain will not fight for Czechoslovakia. A conceivable solution is a joint guarantee of Czech independence by France and Germany in return for the abrogation of the Soviet alliances.
Here arises one of the chief difficulties in negotiating with Germany. Supposing, with the aid of good-will, stratagem, and cajolery, a Western Pact is negotiated and Czechoslovakia guaranteed, how much trust can be put in Hitler’s signature? In four years there has been little in the Fuh-rer’s record which could inspire confidence in this respect. If the Treaty of Versailles was fair game for destruction (and there are few who will deny it) the same cannot be said for the Locarno Agreement, in the negotiation of which Germany participated on a free and equal footing. Nor is the story of the Concordat with the Holy See a glowing example of Nazi Germany’s “pact-worthiness” (liundes-fahigkeit), and the agreement with Poland has done little to lessen the tension between the two countries. Britain alone, in the naval agreements of 1935 and 1937, has displayed a readiness recently to trust to Germany’s signature; the theory being that it is better to have a bad signature than no signature at all. It is uncertain, however, whether this theory could be carried into any but bilateral agreements.
Of all solutions to the European problem this would certainly be the most acceptable to Germany. A Western Pact would free her hands—even at the cost of a compromise in Spain—would leave her in good standing with Great Britain, and would eliminate Russian influence in the West. Indeed, if Germany would limit her ambitions in Central Europe to economic penetration and “spheres of influence” in place of abolishing frontiers and instituting Nazi regimes, she might make a very good bargain.
What would “a free hand in the East” mean to Germany? Here again there is the clash between the amateurs and the professionals. The object is to exploit the rich lands of the Ukraine and Siberia, to gain access to the vast sources of raw materials in which Russia is so abundant. Shall this be done by peace or war? From the earliest days of the Nazi revolution the Rosenberg group within the Party has preached the gospel of annexation in regard to the Ukraine: an outlet for Germany in eastern Europe, a gradual expansion across the western plains of Russia. Hitler himself subscribed to this doctrine in “Mein Kampf,” partly as an item of policy and partly as an integral part of his inveterate fight against Bolshevism. At one time, too, there was a certain school of thought within the Reichswehr which had imbibed the anti-Bolshevik teachings of General Hoffmann. It dreamed of realizing once again those visions of conquest which shimmered before Germany like a mirage after the Peace of Brest-Litovsk and in pursuit of which she devoted a million men who, had they been transferred to the Western Front during the spring and summer offensives of 1918, might well have turned the tide against the Allies.
The Rosenberg group and the Hoffmann School were for war with the Soviet Union, a war of conquest and annexation which would place the wheat lands of the Ukraine in the possession of the Reich and open up the way for general exploitation of Russia’s vast resources by the creation of an economic protectorate. But the Hoffmann School were in a minority in the Reichswehr and in the General Staff. The majority adhered to the Seeckt tradition, and General von Seeckt was a man of pro-Russian policy. His whole program of military reorganization for Germany after the war was based on a close understanding between the German and Russian General Staffs, whereby the latter would give to German officers instruction in those arms and branches of military activity forbidden to Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, in return for which German officers and instructors would train the Red Army.
This felicitous relationship existed from 1921 to 1933, when, with the advent of Hitler to power, all connection with the Soviet Union was ostensibly severed. But the German Staff never ceased to hanker after the good old days, and the death of General von Seeckt in January, 1937, consecrated his beliefs into a legend and a tradition. Experience in Spain confirmed the German General Staff in their respect for the Russian military forces. The Soviet weapons proved proficient and superior. The Germans realized that they themselves had yet far to go in efficient rearmament.
“Why fight these fellows at all?” was the obvious deduction from this experience, being a somewhat free rendering of the biblical injunction to “agree with thine enemy quickly,” and from it there grew that third alternative, a Russo-German rapprochement, which, though now very remote in possibility, was a matter of calculation in the spring of the year, and may yet recur.
The pro-Soviet element in the German General Staff is believed to have had the support of the heavy industrialists and of the economic planners who saw an opportunity of gaining access to Russian raw material without having to fight for it. Certain forces in the Foreign Office, harking back to the days of Maltzan and Brockdorff-Rantzau, recalled also the famous dictum of Bismarck that there did not exist two countries with a greater community of interests than Germany and Russia. It was believed that a group existed within the Red General Staff which also held these views and which was ready to enter into direct negotiations with Germany. But the main obstacle to success in both camps was the clash of ideology which existed between Hitler and Stalin, despite the apparent similarity in practice of National Socialism and Bolshevism.
What followed is not known in detail, but according to some sources of information, the German General Staff approached the Fuhrer early in this year urging upon him the desirability of a military alliance with the Soviet Union on the theory that the two powers together would be stronger than any other conceivable combination in Europe. A partition of Poland was hinted at, Germany securing the Corridor and Danzig, and Russia extending her frontier to the old Curzon Line laid down at the Peace Conference before the Russo-Polish War of 1920, with a joint protectorate over the Baltic States.
According to this same source, Hitler immediately rejected the suggestion, refusing, even in the interests of Realpolitik to have any truck with Bolshevism. Marshal Tukhashevsky apparently had as little success with his superior. Desultory negotiations however are said to have been kept up between the Reichswehr and the Tukhashevsky group in Moscow, using General Putna, Soviet military attache in London, who had held the same post in Berlin, as “outside contact man.” These continued until cut short by the arrest, trial, and execution of the Marshal and seven generals, including Putna.
Such is one version of the story, and it is as plausible as any explanation of the mysterious affair. But whether it is wholly accurate or not is of little importance compared with the indisputable fact that such an entente was actually contemplated and became sufficiently real in possibility to set every Foreign Office in Europe by the ears. Whether it be a frustrated desire which may yet find its outlet, or a bogey-man to be periodically resuscitated for diplomatic bargaining purposes, is not clear, but the possibilities of a combination of the organizing genius of Germany with the natural resources and man-power of the newly industrialized Russia are such that no western European can contemplate them with equanimity.
There remains a fourth alternative before Europe, the
Miracle of Peace, and, all outward appearances to the con-
trary, it is not impossible of realization. Whether the mir-
acle will be achieved or not depends largely upon two men,
Adolf Hitler and Anthony Eden, for through no fault of
his own, this youngest of European statesmen has been ele-
vated to the unenviable position of arbiter in international affairs. The next two years will be the most critical in the history of Europe. At their close—perhaps earlier—Great Britain will emerge rearmed and with a replenished treasury, ready to speak from strength and not from weakness, ready to support her arguments with force. The logical time for war, therefore, from the German point of view, is before the conclusion of that period, with Britain still between strength and weakness, with France disorganized by civil and economic difficulties, with the Soviet Union in the throes of a gigantic heresy hunt. Germany, however, in common with other states, does not desire war, but she does not shrink from its possibilities as do the less militaristic nations. If she can get what she wants by peaceful means she will be satisfied with that, for so sedulously has she fostered the myth that the German armies in the late war were undefeated to the end, that she has no necessity for blood-letting in order to wash away the stain of ignominy. Germany has no Adowa to avenge.
Yet Germany is controlled by a system which, as has been seen, will not hesitate to take risks which may entail armed conflict. Her bluffing and threats have so far been justified by success, and her appetite for bluffing and threatening has increased proportionately. It may very easily lead her into a position from which neither she nor the other side can withdraw. There is no worm that will not turn eventually.
Great Britain is already in an increasingly strong position. Her friendship would be welcomed by either of the two European disturbers of the peace. She can sell her favours dearly. Mr. Eden’s present policy of “Peace at almost any price” is the only possible one for Britain today, but as her rearmament programme approaches completion, she will become a stiffer and a sterner bargainer. Her dif-j ference with Italy is no more impossible of settlement than was that with France over a similar problem before the Entente Cordiale of 1904. Her restored prestige renders her more capable of meeting other military powers on a basis of equality and of negotiating with them. To Germany she may yet say, “Thus far and no farther.”
The burden which Mr. Eden is shouldering is of such gigantic proportions that one trembles for him. He is fighting the greatest diplomatic delaying action in history; it may end as at Waterloo—or as at Thermopylae. His task is to keep the peace of Europe at all costs until the time-lag between British and German rearmament has been eliminated. He must, in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “speak softly and carry a big stick”—in this case a stick becoming progressively bigger; threatening here, conceding there, restraining friend and foe alike, never allowing himself to be caught in a position from which he cannot retreat. If he succeeds, the Miracle of Peace will be achieved. Every month gained now is a month gained for peace, that peace of which British rearmament will be the greatest bulwark. “A war postponed may be a war avoided.” Admittedly the chances for the Miracle are slim. The race will be a close one, and it would be a brave man or a fool who would bet on the result.