It Is Going to Get Worse Before It Is Better, Says Trained Observer—Peace Has Been a Failure.
SIR PHILIP GIBBSFebruary151924
Europe Faces Its Worst Days
It Is Going to Get Worse Before It Is Better, Says Trained Observer—Peace Has Been a Failure.
SIR PHILIP GIBBS
IN HIS series of six articles on the present situation in Europe and its possible outcome, written for recent issues of the Saturday Evening Post, Sir Philip Gibbs seems to have set out with the determination not to be an optimist. He has made a sincere endeavor not to be a pessimist, but in the latter respect he has not succeeded quite so well. He has just returned from an extended visit to the capitals of Europe, and, having been “over the ground,” he writes strictly of things as he found them to be. With what other waiters have written about “the healing processes of time” and the like he has nothing to do. Sir Philip has proved himself to be a successful novelist as well as a cold, cautious critic of world affairs—but he is first, last and always what his long training has made him, in spite of himself, perhaps, and that is a daily journalist. He relies absolutely on facts as he finds them for every opinion which he expresses, and he goes the limit of caution in stepping out of the journalistic traces. “Facts, facts, facts! I see only facts; I don’t care a snap about possibilities or probabilities!” That seems to be the Gibbs motto, and it must be taken into consideration in digesting the views he sets forth.
Discussing the failure of peace, he writes: “However hard one clings to hope, it is very difficult just now to maintain a cheerful belief in the prospect of a slow but steady recovery of Europe.” And later: “I had hoped—and by that hope I believed—that after the dreadful lessons of war and its overwhelming costs to victors and vanquished, there would be a growing allegiance to some new code of international law, such as that possessed in the League of Nations, which would substitute arbitration for the old argument of force, and justice for the brutal claim that might is right. . . .That hope must now, I think, be postponed. It is the conviction of many observers who see below the surface that Europe is going to get worse before it gets better. It is certainly my conviction after recent travels.”
He finds that after a period of partial recovery from the wastage and economic ruin of war, the bankruptcy of Germany and the present breakdown of the great industrial machine of Central Europe have checked all further progress of world commerce, and the purchasing power of all markets is again at low ebb from one end of Europe to the other. “The groundwork of the new order laid down by the treaty of Versailles is beginning to crack and crumble above a boiling lava of human passion. Europe is once more slipping downhill and gathering speed on the slope.” The worst, he repeats, is not over. On the contrary, “new ordeals must be faced and new calamities may happen, unless there is an abrupt and unlikely change in the direction of the tides of European passions and policies.”
The cause of the downfall of plans for peace and renewed prosperity? Sir Philip says the cause lies in “a reaction against constitutional law and the rights of democracy, a cynical disbelief in world justice, and a harking back to the primitive faith in brute force as the only argument of human life.” He cites the late Lenin and his Communistic regime as a first cause of this bedevilism of post-war
ideals, the red bogey of Bolshevism “doing more harm to liberal and democratic progress than anything that has happened in a hundred years.”
Another cause was the action of Mussolini. Though he admits that Mussolini and his army of civil guards, the Fascisti, “undoubtedly saved Italy from disintegration and ruin” and that Mussolini’s “benevolent despotism invigorated the spirit of the people and saved them from a miserable bog of Bolshevistic filth,” he finds that in his seizure of Corfu to satisfy the “sacred egotism of Italy” and his insulting answers to the protests of the League of Nations wherein he made it quite clear “that he did not care the toss of a coin for international law or any League of Nations” the same Mussolini aided Europe to revert to “belief in violence and to disbelief in the possibilities or advantages of peace.” A third cause which he cites was the open defiance of the league by Turkey, which was supposed to be among the weakest of the nations. “So,” he writes, “we are back again, after wild flights of idealism and hope, to the ethics of the years before the war, to the ethics of barbarism. The idealists have been defeated, routed and dismayed.... What fills me with the greatest uneasiness about the future is the absolute and passionate conviction in Central and Eastern Europe that the treaties imposed are so unjust, so unnatural, so intolerable, that they must be broken somehow and anyhow by force of arms, when the first chance comes.”
The one country in particular that is going to be hit hardest by the failure of peace and the inevitable decline of world trade owing to financial downfall of Germany, with the reactions evident in all surrounding states, is Great Britain. Sir Philip reminds his readers that Britain’s secondary source of wealth— not to mention the first, which is exports —was, in the good, old days of imperial prosperity, the transport of other people’s goods from one port to the other— in other words, shipping. Owing to present conditions in Europe, Britain’s shipping is dwindling at a remarkable rate. He quotes some figures: —
“Recent revelations of the actual position are staggering in their gravity. In pre-war years, the 40 shipbuilding establishments on the Clyde employed 96,000 men. To-day there are 33,000 shipbuilders and 36,000 marine engineers out' of work. There are 218 building berths in the Clyde yards. Recently there were 66 of these occupied by vessels in progress and 15 by vessels on which work has been suspended; 137 are vacant. The directors of these great shipyards, in a gloomy view of their position, state candidly they can see no prospect of getting work for 50 per cent, of their capacity during the next five or six years. Indeed, they maintain that for 25 per cent, of the mer, formerly employed on the Clyde there is no prospect of ever again being employed in the shipbuilding industry.
The non-recovery of Europe is hitting Britain in three vital places -the Factory, the Farm and the Shipyard. Because Central Europe is not buying so much wool from Australia, so much cotton from India, so much meat from
Argentina, so much timber from Norway, so much butter from Denmark, those countries and many others are not buying the 'manufactured goods of England by 50 per cent, of pre-war amounts in many important articles of trade. Great Britain, says Sir Philip, is faced with the hardest struggle for industrial life that has ever happened in her history. British agriculture, he declares, “is dying and nearly dead. . . . A policy of despair has been proclaimed by the National Farmers’ Union, and they have solemnly warned the government that unless there is some form of protection for English farmers, or some national subsidy, they will turn all their land to grass.”
Another great present difficulty with England is to keep the prices of her manufactured goods to a level which has any chance of competition with the products of those central states of Europe where the standard of living has so declined that costs of labor have gone down to the minimum. The low value of their money in exchange with English pounds and the low standard of life gives countries of Central Europe labor at prices on which the British workman cannot possibly exist. The fact is, he says, that Great Britain “is face to face with the tragic fact that unless there is a recovery in Europe—and that very soon—she will be unable to support her population.”
The British people for a year or two after the war “allowed themselves to be duped by the false belief that Germany, if properly squeezed, could be made to pay the costs of war of all victor nations, and that Europe after its blood bath would settle down for a long period of peace and progress.” They have been thoroughly disillusioned, he says. Every man and woman in Britain now realizes that the financial downfall of one part of Europe directly affects the prosperity of all other parts. It particularly has come home to them through the daily spectacle of “active lads on the threshold of life lounging about with the factory gates shut against them and no likely prospect of a job.”
So these are some of the things Britain’s diplomatic strivings for world peace have brought her, according to Sir Philip. “There is an element of weakness as well as strength in this policy of peace,” he continues. “It is all very well for England to proclaim peace as her watchword, to offer her services for conciliation, arbitration, compromise between the conflicting interests and passions of European peoples, but it makes England look rather silly, and her weakness is exposed nakedly to the world, when those nations ignore her advice, refuse to compromise, and have no fear at all of any force being brought to bear upon them.” What have all the peace powwows brought about anyway so far as disarmament is concerned? He quotes the words of General Smuts as a partial answer: ‘‘In spite of the disappearance of the German army, there are now almost a million and a half more men under arms than in August, 191 f.”
France, of course, is the greatest offender in this respect, and Sir Philip sees Britain faced by a tragic dilemma —how to maintain friendship with France and at the same time save Germany and Europe from ruin. “Unless the French people and their leaders entirely alter their methods of thought and action,” he writes, “there is bound to be a political duel between France and England, so intensified in bitterness on both sides during the next few years that friendship will be broken.”
Sir Philip sees one happy solution and that is for the federation of the British peoples “to gain the spiritual alliance and co-operation of United States.” Such a union would produce “an irresistible power in the sphere of international policy” which would not be lightly disregarded or ignored by opposing powers. If that happened, he declares, the present dangers and miseries of Europe would be quickly removed.
Again, there is the very evident danger of a monarchist reaction in Germany; and “not only in Germany, but in Austria and Hungary the reaction to monarchist sentiment is growing with their hopes of a return to the old order in Central Europe.” He gives us an interpretation of the Teutonic attitude toward the treaty of Versailles:
“It seemed to them then (at the time the treaty was first published ) as it seems
to them now, that it was not an instrument of justice in keeping with the ‘fourteen points,’ but a vindictive pact designed to keep them forever under the heels of France, to prevent them from ever paying off their debts—the more they paid the more they would have to pay—and to hold them in Europe an enslaved people, whose labor would be without profit, and whose military annihilation would be followed by the military domination of France.”
This reaction, he says, has been intensified as time passed, and when you add to this fact the other fact that the German mind is not democratic, “but believes in discipline and likes it’ believes in authority and is obsequious to rank,” the results must be inevitable. Germany, seeing nothing but poverty and despair facing her as a vassal republic, will become_ a militant monarchy, again bristling with bayonets and resounding with the tread of marching feet. Sir Philip predicts that if the present pressure on the part of France is kept up, the German states will be reunited under the leadership of Prussia and a Prussian kaiser.
How long will France keep up her present pressure upon Germany? After dealing with the possible French purpose of keeping the Teuton states in chaos and eventually bringing about the establishment of several separate republics in what was once the German empire, and after supplementing these possibilities with the statement that France at present is determined to carry out her policy at all costs, Sir Philip makes this prediction:
“France cannot stand alone and untouched in a world hostile to her arguments. She cannot defy for very long the outcry of Europe threatened by ruin so that France may be safe. She must not rely too much upon the loyalty of allies like Belgians and Czecho-Slovakians, whose trade is being undermined by the breakdown of Germany. She cannot count heavily on the fighting quality of her colored legions. Even Poincaré cannot rely on the unfailing support of the French people, becoming rather anxious, rather afraid of the future.
Last of all Sir Philip takes into consideration the bearing Russia may have on the future of Europe. There have been changes in that great country, for he writes: “The conditions of Russian life have improved considerably since I was there in 1921. . . . There is still misery in Russia, still hunger among great numbers of Russians, still only a slow revival of industry, still no real liberty of thought or speech or religious faith—but 98,000,000 peasants are getting the fruits of the earth again, enough for life, with a heavy surplus in many districts, and there is a more cheerful life, a new sense of welfare and progress to the cities. Russia is becoming a world power again.”
In case Germany should make a united attempt to throw off the yoke of France and bid defiance to the other powers of the entente, Sir Philip says it is certain that Russia will enter into an alliance with Germany, for economic reasons, if for none other; but men like Tchitcherin, who is very sensitive and jealous of Slav pride, will not admit any dictatorship by Germany, or any political domination. The Russians have no love for the Germans, but they are willing to make use of them, and especially to use the political turmoil in Germany as a most wonderful chance of undermining the foundations of Europe to their own advantage and power.
“The immediate future of Russia and her next steps are uncertain. But, broadly, it is almost certain that after the utter defeat of communism in Germany, her leaders will become less Bolshevik and more imperialistic, less international as an agency of world revolution and strongly national as a world power holding the balance in Europe because of the weight she can swing, if she likes, on the side of Germany.
“Poland has cause to be anxious, and those new Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia and Esthonia—standing in Russia’s way to the sea and her old frontiers.
“France, in financing Poland and the Polish army as part of her ring of iron around Germany, is not certain that her money will buy security in that quarter of Europe; and if that link breaks, the whole system of the French military domination of Europe will be jeopardized. For if Germany joins hands with Russia it is the beginning of a life and death struggle for France and her allies.”
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