The War That Will End War

by H.G. Wells

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter X - Common Sense and the Balkan States

The Balkan States never have been a problem, they have only been a part of a problem. That is why no human being has ever yet produced even a paper solution acceptable to another human being.

The attempt to settle Balkan affairs with the Austro-Hungarian Empire left out of the problem has been like an attempt to deal with a number of hospital cases in which the head and shoulders of one patient, the legs of another, the abdomen of a third had to be disregarded. The bulk of the Servian people and a great mass of the Rumanians were in the Austro-Hungarian system, and it was the Austrian bar to any development of Servia towards the Adriatic that forced that country back into its unhappy conflict with Bulgaria. Now everything has altered. English people need trouble no longer about Austrian susceptibilities, and not merely our interests but our urgent necessities march with the reasonable ambitions of the four Balkan nations.

Let us begin by clearing away a certain amount of 90nonsense that is said and believed by many good people about two of these States. It is too much the custom to speak and write of Servia and Bulgaria as though they were almost hopelessly barbaric and criminal communities, incapable of participation in the fellowship of European nations. The murder of the late King and Queen of Servia, the assassination of Serajevo, the foolish onslaught of Bulgaria upon Servia that led to the break-up of the Balkan League, and the endless cruelties and barbarities of the warfare in Macedonia, are allowed to weigh too much against the clear need of a reunited Greater Servia, a restored Bulgaria, and the reasonable prospect of a rehabilitated Balkan League.

Now there is no getting over the hard facts of these crimes and cruelties. But they have to be kept in their proper proportion to the tremendous issues now before the world. Let us call in a few figures that will fix the scale. The Servian people number altogether over ten millions, the Rumanians as many, there are more than twenty million Poles, and perhaps seven millions Bulgarians. The Czechs and Slovenes total six or seven millions, the Magyars exceed ten millions, and the Ruthenians still under Austrian control four millions. It is manifest to every reasonable Englishman now that very few of these sixty or seventy million people are likely to be socially and politically happy until 91they have got themselves disentangled from intimate subjection to alien rulers speaking unfamiliar tongues, and it is equally manifest that until they are reasonably content, the peace of the rest of Europe will remain uncertain. So that it is upon these regions that the peace of England, France, Germany, Russia and Italy rests.

The lives, therefore, of hundreds of millions of people must be affected, for good or evil, by the sane re-mapping and pacification of south-eastern Europe. In that sane re-mapping and pacification we are, in fact, dealing with matters so gigantic that the mere assassination of this person or the murder of that dwindles almost to the vanishing point. It is surely preposterous that the murder of an unwise young King, who subordinated his nation’s destinies to a romantic love affair, a murder done, not by a whole nation, not even by a mob, but by less than a hundred officers, who were at least as patriotic as they were cruel, or even the net of conspiracy that killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, should stand in the way of the liberation and unity of millions of Serbs who were as innocent of these things as any Wiltshire farmer. All nations have had their criminal and sanguinary phase; the British and American people who profess such a horror of Servia’s murders and Bulgaria’s massacres must be blankly ignorant of the history of Scotland and Ireland and the darker side of the Red Indians’ destiny. 92If murder conspiracy was hatched in Servia, were there no Fenians in Ireland and America? We English, at any rate, have not let the highly-organised Phœnix Park murders drown the freedom of Ireland for ever, or cause a war with America. The sooner we English and Americans clear our minds of this self-righteous cant against the whole Servian race because of a few horrors inevitable in a state of barbaric disturbance, the sooner we shall be able to help these peoples forward to the freedom and security that alone can make such barbarities impossible. It would be just as reasonable to vow undying hatred and pitiless vengeance against the whole German-speaking race (of seventy millions or so) because of the burning and killing in Liège. Stifled nations, outraged races, are the fortresses of resentful cruelty. This war is no cinematograph melodrama. The deaths of Queen Draga and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand are scarcely in this picture at all. It is not the business of statecraft to avenge the past, but to deal with the possibilities of the present and the hope of the future.

And the open possibility of the present is for us to bring about a revival of the Balkan League, and identify ourselves with the reasonable hopes of these renascent peoples. In that revival England may play an active and directing part. The break-up of the first Balkan League was a deep disappointment 93to liberal opinion throughout the world; but it was not an irrevocable disaster. The wonder was, indeed, not the rupture but the union. And the rupture itself was very largely due to the thwarting of Servia, not by her associates, but by Austria. Now Austria is out of consideration. For Rumania and for each of the three Balkan Powers, there is a plain, honourable and reasonable advantage in a common agreement and concerted action with us now. There are manifest compensations for Greece in Epirus and the islands and—we can spare it—Cyprus. For Bulgaria there is a generous rectification of Macedonia. The natural expansion of the two northern States has been already indicated. And should Turkey be foolish and blunder at this crisis, then further very natural and quite desirable readjustments become possible. What holds these States back from concerted action on our side now, is merely the distrusts and enmities left over from the break-up of the first Balkan League. They will not readily trust one another again. But they would trust England. They would sit down now at a conference in which England and Russia and Italy were represented, and to which England and Russia and Italy would bring assurances of a permanent settlement and arrange every detail of their prospective boundaries in a day. They would arrange a peace that would last a century. England could do more than reconcile; she could finance. 94And the attack upon Vienna and the German rear would then be reinforced immediately by six or seven hundred thousand seasoned soldiers.

Moreover, it is scarcely possible that Italy could refuse to come into this war if a reunited Balkan League did so. With the Servians in Dalmatia it would be scarcely possible to keep the Italians out of Trieste and Fiume, and long before that earnestly awaited Russian avalanche won its way to Berlin, this southern attack might be in Vienna. The time when the scope of this war could be restricted is past long ago, and every fresh soldier who goes into action now shortens the agony of Europe.

But it is not with the immediate military advantages of a Balkan League that I am most concerned. A Balkan League of Peace, for mutual protection, will be an absolute necessity in a regenerated Europe. It is necessary for the tranquillity of the world. It is necessary if the Wiltshire farmer is to herd his sheep in peace; it is necessary if people are to be prosperous and happy in Chicago and Yokohama. Perhaps “Balkan League” is now an insufficiently extensive word, since Rumania is not in the Balkan Peninsula, and Italy must necessarily be involved in any enduring settlement. But it is clear that the settlement of Europe upon liberal lines involves the creation of these various ten-to-twenty-million-people States, 95none of them powerful enough to be secure alone, but amounting in the aggregate to the greatest power in Europe, and it is equally clear that they must be linked by some common bond and understanding.

There can be no doubt of the very serious complication of all these possibilities by the jerry-built dynastic interests that have been unhappily run up in these new States. It is unfortunate that we have to reckon not only with peoples but kings. Such a monarchy as that of Servia or Bulgaria narrows, personifies, intensifies and misrepresents national feeling. National hatreds and national ambitions can no doubt be at times very malign influences in the world’s affairs, but it is the greed and vanities of exceptional monarchs, of the Napoleons and Fredericks the Great, and so forth, that bring these vague, vast feelings to an edge and a crisis. And it will be these same concentrated and over individualised purposes, these little gods of the coin and postage stamp that will stand most in the way of a reasonable Schweitzerisation and pacification of south-eastern Europe. The more clearly this is recognised in Europe now, the less likely are they, the less able will they be to obstruct a sane settlement. On our side, at least, this is a war of nations and not of princes.

It is for that reason that we have to make the discussion of these national arrangements as open and public as we possibly can. This is not a matter 96for the quiet little deals of the diplomatists. This is no chance for kings. All the civilised peoples of the earth have to form an idea of the general lines upon which a pacific Europe can be established, an idea clear and powerful enough to prevent and override the manœuvres of the chancelleries. The nations themselves have to become the custodians of the common peace. In Italy, indeed, this is already the case. The Italian monarchy is a strong and Liberal monarchy, secure in the confidence of its people; but were it not so, it is a fairly evident fact that no betrayal by its rulers would induce the Italian people to make war upon France in the interests of Austria and Prussia. I doubt, too, if the present King of Bulgaria can afford to blunder again. The world moves steadily away from the phase of Court-centred nationalism to the phase of a collective national purpose. It is for the whole strength of western liberalism to throw itself upon the side of that movement, and in no direction can it make its strength so effective at the present time as in the open and energetic promotion of a new and greater Balkan League.


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

© 2022