The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 1/American Interests and Bohemian Question

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The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 11–12 (1917)
American Interests and Bohemian Question by Robert Joseph Kerner
3078253The Bohemian Review, volume 1, no. 11–12 — American Interests and Bohemian Question1917Robert Joseph Kerner

American Interests and Bohemian Question.

By Robert Joseph Kerner, Ph.D.

Asst. Professor of History, University of Missouri.

American policy in this war may be defined as the preservation and the extension of democracy, the formation of some sort of world government, and the destruction of Pan-Germanism. It is a policy which adequately protects the interests of the United States, defends her institutions and offers aid to the nations of the world to free themselves from autocracy. By the second, she guarantees the freedom of the seas for all nations and hopes to do away with the fear of sudden attack and of overarmament by land and sea. By the third, she hopes to make an end of a military autocracy which through national selfishness arms nations and consolidates empires with the single aim of world dominion.

The United States will be—if she is not now—one of the greatest workshops of industry in the world. In fact, she is another England on a grander scale, and in the future will be just as dependent for the transportation over the seas of raw products for her population and for her factories. Soon her soil, like England’s will be unable to support her population, as indeed her soil can now no longer yield forth sufficient raw products to supply her factories. A billion dollars’ worth of raw products for manufacturers was imported into the United States in the course of the last year. American exports are now preponderantly manufactured goods, and this preponderance will increase steadily with time. Therefore the freedom of the seas and open markets for manufactured goods—not markets closed by economic leagues—are a vital necessity to the United States. Whatever endangers these interests endangers American democracy and American industrial life; the first is political and social, the latter is economic.

When the autocracy and militarism of Germany and her offspring, Pan-Germanism, endangered these interests, the United States became involved in the Great War. It is at this point that the Bohemian Question comes within the scope of American interests. The independence of Bohemia has been urged as the first step in the destruction of Pan-Germanism; it would be the first barrier to the expansion of German militarism and economic selfishness. A restored Serbia or a South Slavic state would be the second obstacle; the Dardanelles, neutralized under international control or Russian, the third; the partitioning of Asia Minor, the fourth.

The power of Modern Germany is the result of organization and method drilled into the modern German by autocracy and militarism. In this way, the Prussian army was created and Prussia’s population made submissive. In this way, the German empire was brought under the rule of the Prussian junker. In this way, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey were bound to Prussian Germany. In this way, the Pan-German plan has almost been realized.

What is the aim of the German government, which officially denies Pan-German aspirations, but actually carries them out at each opportunity? It is certain, from German utterances, official and unofficial, that the least which the German government aims to do is to make the balance of power in the world favorable to herself. At most, she hopes to dominate the world. This can only be accomplished by the realization of the plans of the Pan-Germans.

Pan-Germanism comprehends the incorporation or close alliance of the peoples of Germanic stock—the Germans, the Austrian Germans, the Dutch, and the Flemings of Belgium at least, if not also the Scandinavians. It looks forward evidently to two definite economic auxiliaries—a northern union, the Scandinavian states of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden before which the Pan-Germans parade the menace of the two giants, Great Britain and Russia; and a southern union in the Balkans and the Turkish Empire. This important land complex which stretches from Hamburg to the Persian Gulf is not connected—and perhaps never will be by the most brutal methods of denationalization—by a common language or common institutions, but by railroads and waterways. Its chief artery is the Hamburg to Bagdad Railroad with its possible African and Asiatic connections. It possesses access to all the important seas of the world and through its grasp upon the Dardanelles it spans one of the greatest of trade routes. With its unrivaled waterways—the Rhine and the Danube—it surpasses any other area its size in the world. It presupposes the economic vassalage of Russia, now almost wholly dependent on the passage of the Dardanelles and the vassalage of France, whose future on the continent would be forever blighted.

Russia has endeavored to reach the ice-free shores of the Pacific, but was checked by Japan in the Russo-Japanese war. England blocked the way through Persia. Germany, England and the Scandinavian states block the way through the Baltic and the Sound. Now Pan-Germanism stands on guard and offers vassalage through the Dardanelles. It may safely be asserted that as long as Pan-Germanism is not crushed or a world state is not established and the Dardanelles are neither internationalized nor Russian, so long will Russia have a good reason for disturbing the status quo, in other words, for war. Russian expansion or yearning for an ice-free port is nothing else than a clear manifestation that Russia is organically incomplete.

The British Empire, whose spinal cord is the trade route from England to India by way of the Mediterranean Sea, would be vitally menaced. Egypt and India would lie in the path of Pan-Germanism in its African or Asiatic extensions.

Lost in such a vast empire, the Czechs would be Germanized and the capital of the colossus perhaps moved to Prague as a compromise between Berlin and Vienna and because of its central geographical position. The Czechs are, therefore, conscious of the ultimate significance which Pan-Germanism has in store for them. Would an independent Bohemia fighting for her liberty, even though she succumbed, be worse off than one which was gradually to await absorption of the type intended for Prussian Poland?

Economic jealousies have beclouded the issue of the Bagdad Railroad. Too much has been said and written about the great commercial trade-route revolution that it would bring about; how the oversea route for fast express and light traffic would be diverted from the seas through Pan-Germany and that the railroad should be checked for that reason. Alas, its completion can only be retarded; it can not be prevented permanently. It is in the order of things. Nor is it worthy of the opponents of Germany to bewail her possession of the route or her favorable location with reference to it. In the defense of their interests they can advance the strongest argument in their opposition to the expansion of militarism and autocracy as exemplified by Germany. A democratic Germany interested in the building of such a road cannot be a menace. Some sort of world government and a democratized Germany would put an end to the danger. What the Allies are fighting is not the normal economic evolution—for they cannot prevent that any more than they can prevent the change of the seasons—but rather the political aspects, militarism and autocracy, which give this attempt on the part of Germany to wrest the economic leadership of the world its dangerous and destructive character.

American interests and policy demand the destruction of Pan-Germanism because it propagates Prussianism, the subjection of nations and races, the extension of exclusive economic understandings, and exalts German nationalism above the common interests of mankind. If Pan-Germanism were victorious, there would be only the seas to check it from being transferred in the course of time to the American hemisphere. How long would the seas be free then? Hence the destruction of Pan-Germanism is the first step, the creation of a league of nations or a world state the second step in American policy so far as Europe is concerned. The remaining questions and unrighted wrongs, as President Wilson has so rightly pointed out can only be solved after these two items in the programme of American and Allied policy are attained. It is clear, therefore, that America is at one on the essentials of the big task before the democratic world. And that is sufficient so far as Bohemia is concerned.

But how may Pan-Germanism be destroyed? Evidently its accomplishment has already been outlined by the powers. It presupposes the defeat of Germany and her allies on the battlefield and the dismemberment of Austria-Hungary. By the former, the belief in the invincibility of German arms and the leadership of the caste of war lords will be destroyed, by the latter, the most docile vassal of Germany will be taken away from her.

Why cannot a chastened and democratized Austria-Hungary answer the purpose? Why must she be dismembered? The simple answer is that in her present make-up, she can only be a tool of Germany; an independent policy is out of the question. The constitutions which govern the Dual Kingdom of Austria-Hungary give the real power to three elements, the German dynasty of the Hapsburgs, and the German minority in Austria and the Magyar minority in Hungary. This arrangement is as much a farce as is the German constitution which places the power in the hands of the Hohenzollerns, the junkers of Prussia and the captains of industry under the leadership of the princes of the Bundesrat. The German Reichstag, the Austrian Reichsrat, and the Hungarian Lower House are debating societies, where things are sometimes said, but where anything is rarely done.

Many plans have been drawn up and attempts have been made to remedy this intolerable condition which is a standing menace to peace as long as it lasts, because it is founded on injustice. The dynasty, German by nationality, tenaciously holds to the property conception of the state—the state belongs to it. And the state is a medley of nations and races of which at least six are of vital importance in any attempted solution of the problem: the Czechs and the Slovaks, the Germans, the Poles, the Magyars, the Serbo-Croats, and the Roumanians—neither of which has a numerical majority in the whole state or in either of the two component parts, but whose total population is preponderantly Slavic. In the past, only militarism has held this mosaic realm together under the domination of the Germans. On the whole, four solutions have been tried or advanced thus far. They are, Centralism (or a united consolidated state), Dualism (the present form), Trialism or Quadrupleism (by the inclusion of a new state like Bohemia or a reconstructed Poland or a new South Slavic state), and Federalism.

Centralism under absolutism has been tried and failed. It was carried out to its logical completeness by Joseph II (1780-1790). In its absolutist form, it must now be considered obsolete. But there are hopes among some Germans that centralism may be combined with federalism in which the essentials of unity and federalism may be maintained. For this another Bismarck is necessary, for it cannot be accomplished except by blood and iron. Above all, the Magyars will oppose this solution unless the dominant share, which the Austrian Germans wish, be handed to them. Not only would it mean the subjection of the other nations of the empire, but internationally the empire would be the tool of Germany as it is now.

Dualism has been tried and found wanting. It is founded on the injustice of the rule of the minority. The domination of the minority of Germans in Austria over the majority of Slavs and of the minority of Magyars in Hungary over a majority of Slavs, Roumanians, and Germans is not a foundation on which a durable peace may be built. How can the present Dual Kingdom be democratized, as some of her publicists now proclaim is becoming the state, and the domination of majorities still be retained? No careful student of Austro-Hungarian politics can believe that the present dominant minorities will commit suicide. It is easier to give them independence than to ask them to accept an equal place among six or seven where formerly two held sway.

Before the war, Trialism is said to have been the dream of the murdered Archduke. At times, it was rumored that Bohemia would be the new state added to give counterpoise to the arrogant Magyar state. Later, a new South Slavic state, which meant the incorporation of Serbia, was mentioned as the third state in this trialism. Naturally enough any attempts to trialize Austria-Hungary will meet with the stern opposition of Hungary. It would not be a peaceful solution. A new Poland might be substituted for Bohemia or the South Slavic state or Trialism might be changed to a combination of four states—Quadrupleism—but the main objection would still hold good. The Germans of Austria would endeavor to increase the membership of the combination as long as they could control it against the Magyars, and the latter would resist by force, if necessary. It is evident that Trialism or Quadrupleism is doomed to failure at the hands of the Magyars and such other elements in Austria-Hungary as would be injured by the new combination. At best, it would be a temporary makeshift.

Federalism presupposes equality or a measure of equality on the part of the nations which make up the Hapsburg empire If the principle of federalism be honestly carried out, it will mean the end of German and Magyar domination. The Hapsburg dynasty fears the federal government would either slip out of its grasp or that the empire might easily dissolve and it be unable to find the force necessary to hold the state together. A federation is in principle opposed, therefore, by these three elements, thus far the lords of the empire’s destiny. It is certain that federal Austria-Hungary would be much weaker from a military point of view and hence would not be to Germany’s liking, which would employ all possible means to prevent a just federalism. The Slavs might at some crucial moment at least prevent a German alliance or assistance to Germany, even if they might not be able to have positive control of foreign policy. In short, the obstacles to the formation of a state like a federal Austria which could encourage a durable peace would be insurmountable. They would be immense if each nationality were gladly willing to enter such a federation, but to form one against the interests of the vested elements in power would spell failure.

Since Centralism, Dualism, Trialism, and Federalism have either been failures or are impracticable, make unstable the peace of Europe, and offer no permanent obstacle to Pan-Germanism, they are unacceptable from the American point of view. A just federation could alone give the nations of Austria-Hungary their chance to live, but the statesman who can mould the Danubian Monarchy into a federation has not yet appeared. In fact, the solution of the whole problem seems far more simple when, it is preceded by dismemberment. The old order retains too many vivid memories of the power which must vanish when democracy makes its home where the Austrian Monarchy formerly held sway.

Hence dismemberment seems to be the only permanent solution. Its main outlines have often been traced. Bohemia with Moravia and Slovakia would form one unit; the Poles of Austria would be joined to a restored Poland, the Ruthenians to an autonomous Little Russia in the new federal Russian Republic, the Roumanians of Transylvania to a restored Roumania, the Magyars, shorn of their subjects, might form a state of their own. The Slovenians, Serbians and Croatians, might form the much talked of South Slavic state. The Germans of Austria might be incorporated with Germany in part or as a whole. If in part, then a small eastern strip would be handed over to Bohemia and the new South Slavic state to form a bridge for purposes of economic intercourse. This would be necessary as a precaution and only if a world state were not formed. In such a case, an alliance with the new South Slavic state and alliances with France, Poland and Russia would be advisable. On the other hand, with the existence of a sufficient guarantee in world government, neither the Austrian connecting strip nor the alliances would be in order.

It is clear then that Austria-Hungary should be dismembered and that a league of nations will better guarantee the peace of mid-Europe against the encroachments of Pan-Germanism. American interests and policy oppose a balance of power which at best can only be temporary and which periodically brings those participating in it into crises or wars. We may, therefore, say that American interests coincide with the best solution of the difficulties confront ing that part of the world and incidentally they come wholly within the desires of the Czechs.

It has been argued that the economic life of Bohemia will be stifled by the establishment of her independence, because now she is protected by the Austrian tariff and in the future would share in the tariff of Pan-Germany, if that were created. Those who argue in that way ignore the comparative wealth of the various parts of the empire. They do not know that Bohemia’s taxes have paid for most of the wars of the Hapsburg empire from the sixteenth century down into our own; that she possesses the bulk of industry of the empire; that her growth has been retarded by the capitalistic intrigues or high finance of the Austro-Hungarian Bank, from whose directorship Czechs, though owning one-third of the shares, have been excluded. It is a known fact that the aggressive expansionist policy of Austria-Hungary in the Balkans during the ten years preceding the war destroyed Bohemia’s greatest market, the Balkans. The Balkan peoples and the Turks boycotted Austrian goods, that is Bohemian goods, while the Czechs protested in vain against a foreign policy which could lead only to war. It is doubtful whether as an independent state Czecho-Slovakia would fare any worse than she has in the past. She has fought the wars of a German dynasty, which since 1879 has been the vassal of Germany, she has paid far out of proportion for all the costly wars of the empire, she has suffered economically worse than if she were surrounded wholly by German territory.

The solution of the Bohemian Question has become a vital American interest and should find a definite place in American policy. Once more may America stand up for democracy and the rights of small nations and, at the same time, help to destroy the ugliest dream of the ages—Pan-Germanism—and help to build a just federation for all the nations of the world. In the words of President Wilson, “These are American principles, American policies. We could stand for no others. And they are also the principles and policies of for ward-looking men and women everywhere, of every nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and must prevail.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1956, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 67 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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