The War That Will End War

by H.G. Wells

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter VI - The Need of a New Map of Europe

At the moment of writing the war has not lasted many days, great battles by land and sea alike impend, and yet I find my steadfast anticipation that Prussianism, Bernhardi-ism, the whole theory and practice of the Empire of the Germans, is a rotten and condemned thing, has already strengthened to an absolute conviction. Unforeseen accidents may happen. I say nothing of the sea, but the general and ultimate result seems to me now as certain as the rising of to-morrow’s sun. I do not know how much slaughter lies before Europe before Germany realises that she is fool-led and fool-poisoned. I do not know how long the swaggering Prussian officer will be able to drive his crowded men to massacre before they revolt against him, nor do I know how far the inflated vanity of Berlin has made provision for defeat. Germany on the defensive for all we can tell may prove a very stubborn thing, and Russia’s strength may be, and I think is, overestimated. All that may delay, but it will not alter 51the final demonstration that Prussianism, as Mr. Belloc foretold so amazingly, took its mortal wound at the first onset before the trenches of Liège. We begin a new period of history.

It is not Germany that has been defeated; Germany is still an unconquered country. Indeed, now it is a released country. It is a country glorious in history and with a glorious future. But never more after this war has ended will it march to the shout of the Prussian drill sergeant and strive to play bully to the world. The legend of Prussia is exploded. Its appeal was to one coarse criterion, success, and it has failed. Nevermore will the harshness of Berlin overshadow the great and friendly civilisation of Southern and Western Germany. The work before a world in arms is to clean off the Prussian blue from the life and spirit of mankind.

No European Power has any real quarrel with Germany. Our quarrel is with the Empire of the Germans, not with a people but with an idea. Let us in all that follows keep that clearly in our minds. It may be that the German repulse at Liège was but the beginning of a German disaster as great as that of France in 1871. It may be that Germany has no second plan if her first plan fails; that she will go to pieces after her first defeat. It seems to me that this is so—I risk the prophecy, and I would have us prepare ourselves for the temptations of victory. And so to begin with, let us of the liberal 52faith declare our fixed, unalterable conviction that it will be a sin to dismember Germany or to allow any German-speaking and German-feeling territory to fall under a foreign yoke. Let us English make sure of ourselves in that matter. There may be restorations of alien territory—Polish, French, Danish, Italian, but we have seen enough of racial subjugation now to be sure that we will tolerate no more of it. From the Rhine to East Prussia and from the Baltic to the southern limits of German-speaking Austria, the Germans are one people. Let us begin with the resolution to permit no new bitterness of “conquered territories” to come into existence to disturb the future peace of Europe. Let us see to it that at the ultimate settlement the Germans, however great his overthrow may be, are all left free men.

When the Prussians invaded Luxemburg they tore up the map of Europe. To the redrawing of that map a thousand complex forces will come. There will be much attempted over-reaching in the business and much greed. Few will come to negotiations with simple intentions. In a wrangle all sorts of ugly and stupid things may happen. It is for us English to get a head in that matter, to take counsel with ourselves and determine what is just; it is for us, who are in so many ways detached from and independent of the national passions of the Continent, not to be cunning or politic, but to contrive 53as unanimous a purpose as possible now, so that we may carry this war to its end with a clear conception of its end, and to use the whole of our strength to make an enduring peace in Europe. That means that we have to re-draw the map so that there shall be, for just as far as we can see ahead, as little cause for warfare among us Western nations as possible. That means that we have to redraw it justly. And very extensively.

Is that an impossible proposal? I think not. There are, indeed, such things as non-irritating frontiers. Witness the frontiers of Canada. Certain boundaries have served in Europe now for the better part of a hundred years, and grow less amenable to disturbance every year. Nobody, for example, wants to use force to readjust the mutual frontiers in Europe of Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and none of these Powers desire now to acquire the foreign possessions of any other of the group. They are Powers permanently at peace. Will it not be possible now to make so drastic a readjustment as to secure the same practical contentment between all the European Powers? Is not this war that crowning opportunity? It seems to me that in this matter it behoves us to form an opinion sane and definite enough to meet the sudden impulses of belligerent triumph and override the secret counsels of diplomacy. It is a thing to do forthwith. Let us decide what we 54are going on fighting for, and let us secure it and settle it. It is not an abstract interesting thing to do; it is the duty of every English citizen now to study this problem of the map of Europe, so that we can make an end for ever to that dark game of plots and secret treaties and clap-trap synthetic schemes that has wasted the forces of civilisation (and made the fortunes of the Krupp family) in the last forty years. We are fighting now for a new map of Europe if we are fighting for anything at all. I could imagine that new map of Europe as if it were the flag of the allies who now prepare to press the Germans back towards their proper territory.

In the first place, I suggest that France must recover Lorraine, and that Luxemburg must be linked in closer union with Belgium. Alsace, it seems to me, should be given a choice between France and an entry into the Swiss Confederation. It would possibly choose France. Denmark should have again the distinctly Danish part of her lost provinces restored to her. Trieste and Trent, and perhaps also Pola, should be restored to Italy. This will re-unite several severed fragments of peoples to their more congenial associates. But these are minor changes compared with the new developments that are now, in some form, inevitable in the East of Europe, and for those we have to nerve our imaginations, if this vast war and waste of 55men is to end in an enduring peace. The break-up of the Austrian Empire has hung over Europe like a curse for forty years. Let us break it up now and have done with it. What is to become of the non-German regions of Austria-Hungary? And what is to happen upon the Polish frontier of Russia?

First, then, I would suggest that the three fragments of Poland should be reunited, and that the Tsar of Russia should be crowned King of Poland. I propose then we define that as our national intention, that we use all the liberalising influence this present war will give us in Russia to that end. And secondly, I propose that we set before ourselves as our policy the unification of that larger Rumania which includes Transylvania, and the gathering together into a confederation of the Swiss type of all the Servian and quasi-Servian provinces of the Austrian Empire. Let us, as the price greater Servia will pay for its unity, exact the restoration to Bulgaria of any Bulgarian-speaking districts that are now under Servian rule; let us save Scutari from the iniquity of a nose-slashing occupation by Montenegrins and try to effect another Swiss confederation of the residual Bohemian, Slavic and Hungarian fragments. I am convinced that the time has come for the substitution of Swiss associations for the discredited Imperialisms and kingdoms that have made Europe 56unstable for so long. Every emperor and every king, we now perceive, means a national ambition more organic, concentrated and dangerous than is possible under Republican conditions. Our own peculiar monarchy is the one exception that proves this rule. There is no reason why we should multiply these centres of aggression.

Probably neither Bulgaria nor Servia would miss their kings very keenly, and anyhow, I do not see any need for more of these irritating ambition-pimples upon the fair face of the world. Let us cease to give indigestible princes to the new States that we Schweitzerize. Albania, particularly, with its miscellaneous tribes has certainly no use for monarchy, and the suggestion that has been made for its settlement, as a confederation of small tribal cantons is the only one I have ever heard that seemed to contain a ray of hope for that distracted patch of earth. There is certainly no reason why these people should be exploited by Italy, since Italy can claim a more legitimate gratification. There, in a paragraph, is a sketch of the map of Europe that may emerge from the present struggle. It is my personal idea of our purpose in this war.

Quite manifestly in all these matters I am a fairly ignorant person. Quite manifestly this is crude stuff. And I admit a certain sense of presumptuous absurdity as I sit here before the map of Europe like a carver before a duck and take off a slice 57here and decide on a cut there. None the less it is what everyone of us has to do. I intend to go on redrawing the map of Europe with every intelligent person I meet. We are all more or less ignorant; it is unfortunate but it does not alter the fact that we cannot escape either decisions or passive acquiescences in these matters. If we do not do our utmost to understand the new map, if we make no decisions, then still cruder things will happen; Europe will blunder into a new set of ugly complications and prepare a still more colossal Armageddon than this that is now going on. No one, I hope, will suggest after this war that we should still leave things to the diplomatists. Yet the alternative to you and me is diplomacy. If you want to see where diplomacy and Welt Politik have landed Europe after forty years of anxiety and armament, you must go and look into the ditches of Liège. These bloody heaps are the mere first samples of the harvest. The only alternative to diplomacy is outspoken intelligence, yours and mine and every articulate person’s. We have all of us to undertake this redrawing of the map of Europe, in the measure of our power and capacity. That our power and capacity are unhappily not very considerable does not absolve us. It is for us to secure a lasting settlement of all the European frontiers if we can. If we common intelligent people at large do not secure that, nobody will.

58If we have no intentions with regard to the map of Europe, we shall soon be going on with the war for nothing in particular. The Prussian spirit has broken itself beyond repair, and the north coast of France and the integrity of Belgium are saved. All the fighting that is still to come will only be the confirmation and development of that. If we have no further plan before us our task is at an end. If that is all, we may stand aside now with a good conscience and watch a slower war drag to an evil end. Left to herself a victorious Russia is far more likely to help herself to East Prussia and set to work to Russianise its inhabitants than to risk an indigestion of more Poles; Italy may go into Albania and a new conflict with Servia; it is even conceivable that France may be ungenerous. She will have a good excuse for being ungenerous. Meanwhile, German-speaking populations will find themselves under instead of upper dogs in half the provinces of Austria-Hungary; mischievous little kings, with chancellors and national policies and ambitions all complete, will rise and fluctuate and fall upon that slippery soil, and a bloody and embittered Germany, continually stung by the outcries of her subject kindred, will sit down grimly to grow a new generation of soldiers and prepare for her revenge....

That is why I think we liberal English should 59draw our new map of Europe now, first of all on paper and then upon the face of the earth.

We ought to draw that map now, and propagate the idea of it, and make it our national purpose, and call the intelligence and consciences of the United States and France and Scandinavia to our help. Openly and plainly we ought to discuss and decide and tell the world what we mean to do. The reign of brutality, cynicism, and secretive treachery is shattered in Europe. Over the ruins of the Prussian War-Lordship, reason, public opinion, justice, international good faith and good intentions will be free to come back and rule the destinies of man. But things will not wait for reason and justice, if just and reasonable men have neither energy nor unity.


Return to the The War That Will End War Summary Return to the H.G. Wells Library

© 2022