February 13, 2017

1933. The Spread of Nationalism Threatens to Ignite Another World War

Europe on Edge
The cathedral of light on display over Zeppelin Field at the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, Germany in 1937 (Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. Soon after Hitler took power in 1933, New York Times correspondent Harold Callender wrote about Europe's unease about the future of the international order established after World War I.

From The New York Times, April 30, 1933:
The Proposed Four-Power Pact and Hitler's Rise Have Forced It to the Fore—The Aims and Discords of the Rival Camps


LONDON — Benito Mussolini's proposed four-power pact looking toward revision of the peace treaties which created the present map of Europe has been followed by feverish diplomatic activity. The Little Entente nations—who regard themselves as prospective victims of treaty revision as contemplated by Rome and by Berlin—quickly issued empathetic warnings of the dangers of attempting to change European frontiers.

Two members of the German Cabinet, von Papen and Göring, as well as the head of the Austrian Government, Herr Dollfuss, paid visits to Rome and talked with Mussolini. Speaking of the proposed four-power pact in the British Parliament, Sir Austen Chamberlain, former Foreign Minister, and Winston Churchill denounced the present German regime as a menace to peace. French Socialists, who had insisted upon reduction of the military budget, suddenly changed their minds and voted for credits asked by the government. Marshal Piłsudski surprised the Polish Army by summoning it to Vilna for a review and inspection. All of which means that the question of revision of the peace treaties—an issue pressed by Germany and Italy—has aroused acute disquietude from one end of Europe to the other.

The nations of the Little Entente—Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia—as well as Poland, have been particularly bitter about the pact proposed by Mussolini because it would embrace two of the leading powers that have been demanding revision and none of the countries at whose expense revision (if it were to satisfy Germany and Italy) would necessarily be made. Under this arrangement Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain apparently would determine what frontiers should be changed; that is, how much territory the Little Entente and Poland should be called upon to surrender in order to appease nationalist Germany, Italy, Hungary and perhaps Bulgaria.

Revision "Only by War"

The Italian press paid Hitler the courtesy of publishing almost nothing about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but Mussolini was not pleased by the German anti-Semitic phobia, and it is reported that he told von Papen he disliked the impression it created abroad.

In England, where the press did not hesitate to publish full news reports of these German activities, the reaction was prompt and unmistakable. Britons of all classes and parties were shocked and amazed. Mr. Chamberlain spoke in Parliament of the "savagery" of the new German regime under which it is a "crime to be a Jew and a crime to be in favor of peace." "This is not a Germany to which we can afford to make concessions," he added. Sir John Simon, the Foreign Secretary, then said he would not express the feeling of the country if he did not associate himself with what had been said in Parliament.

Germany seems to have succeeded in dampening Mussolini's ardor for diplomatic partnership—Italy not being desirous of opposing England on any vital European issue—and certainly she has succeeded in alienating the considerable British sympathy for Germany which existed prior to the Nazi revolution and led many Britons to favor treaty revision.

The specific policies of the new German regime are still in the making, but it is not difficult to foresee their general lines. The nationalist government is not expected to abandon any of the familiar German claims of the past, such as military equality, rectifications of the German eastern frontiers, annexation of Austria—all of which involve revision of the Treaty of Versailles, but is more likely to pursue them with increased determination. The new Fascist Germany is driven by its own oft-expressed principles to be a good deal more ambitious and vigorous in foreign affairs than the moderate governments which preceded it. Everything its leaders have said, before and since coming to power, points in this direction.

It is true that the new Germany seems to speak with two voices and that what it designs for foreign ears differs markedly from what its authorized spokesmen say to German audience. Adolf Hitler at Potsdam said Germany wanted to be a true friend of peace and help heal the wounds from which all countries suffered, but at Essen Captain Göring asserted that "for the living it is a holy duty to fulfill the mission for which Germans gave their lives in the war, and if there is no other way they must be ready to redeem with blood a pledge written in blood."

"Martial Spirit" Praised

Meanwhile the German President extols the "martial spirit," the Nazi Commissioner for Justice in Prussia sanctions dueling because "the fighting spirit must be promoted," and local Nazi leaders proclaim the forthcoming reconquest of North Schleswig, which Germany lost by a plebiscite after the war.

Hitler himself, in his book, "My Struggle," contended that Germany must have "more room" in Europe, and that, just as "our forefathers" did not receive the land they ruled "as a gift from heaven," so the necessary territory for the future could be obtained "only by the power of a victorious sword."

This, then, is the spirit of the new regime, the spirit that its leaders have been industriously cultivating throughout Germany for a decade. Whatever pacific intentions Hitler may now express in formal speeches or conversations with foreign diplomats, it is difficult for Germany's neighbors to forget what he and his colleagues have preached so long and so loudly, and what many are still preaching; or to forget the reiterated territorial aims of Germany which cannot be realized save by extensive changes in the map of Europe at the expense of other countries.

In view of Prime Minister MacDonald's statements at Geneva and his discussion of the proposed four-power pact, it may be said that the British Government has given a fairly definite, if guarded, sanction to the new revisionist thesis. This was a new fact which strengthened the anti-treaty forces, but this effect has since been largely offset by the severe criticism of the German Government in Parliament.

It is not that MacDonald favors upsetting Europe by undertaking to recast the frontiers fixed a dozen years ago, but he wants to prevent any attempt to do so by force. He believes that some clear prospect of peaceable revision through diplomatic channels is better than the risk of violent clashes which might develop into war. He apparently thinks that such a concession might check the nationalistic fever which is the greatest danger to European peace.

The Dilemma

This, then, is the dilemma: Shall Europe grant to the extreme nationalist government of Germany what it declined to grant to Socialist and moderate governments, on the assumption that the best way to disarm the inflamed nationalism of the Germans is to concede, at least in principle, what it demands, and thus strengthen its hand at home by enabling it to boast of a foreign diplomatic victory?

Or shall the dominant powers, relying upon their present military superiority, sit tight and refuse to give in, thus perhaps driving Germany and Italy into an alliance which would complete the already fairly sharp division of Europe into two antagonistic camps such as those whose rivalry brought on the World War?

Either course is admittedly risky. Revision means war, if the Little Entente spokesmen are to be believed. On the other hand, if the Disarmament Conference finally fails, Germany may rearm and force the issue of revision.
The territorial changes accorded after World War I (from The New York Times, April 30, 1933)
Faults in Present Frontiers

There is much to be said against the present frontiers on purely economic grounds, since they have led to a network of tariffs in which Central European trade has been all but strangled; and if some omniscient dictator were to be charged with the task of revision, he could carry it out in such a way as to restore a cooperating economic unit in Central Europe which would supply the workable alternative to the former Austro-Hungarian Empire that so far has been wanting. But this would not please the principal revisionist power, Germany, because it would block German expansion to the southeast and put an end to the hopes of annexing Austria to the Reich.

There is something to be said for numerous revisions on racial grounds, though the national minorities under alien rule in Europe today are far less numerous and they were before the war. But revision on racial grounds would not give Germany the strip of territory known as the Polish Corridor, which comprises her greatest grievance; nor would it allow Italy to retain the German-speaking Upper Adige, much less to acquire a part of the Dalmatian Coast, populated predominantly by Yugoslavs, which she sought at the Peace Conference.

How far would treaty revision go, and in what directions? That is the vital question which nobody at this stage can answer, so conflicting are the national claims and so far-reaching some of the more ambitious aspirations. The project of treaty revision remains largely an expression of emotional nationalism or—as on the part of MacDonald—of apprehension of the damage that emotional nationalism may do. If the principle of treaty revision were formally accepted, even by France and the Little Entente, the colossal task of rebuilding the political framework of Europe would remain. It would still be the work of years, if not decades.

Europe's present political shape derives from four peace treaties—the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, the Treaty of St. Germain with Austria, the Treaty of Trianon with Hungary, the Treaty of Lausanne with Turkey—and various subsequent agreements such as the Treaty of Riga between Poland and Russia and the Allied agreements giving Vilna to Poland, dividing Upper Silesia and fixing the boundary of East Prussia. The work of carving the new map of Europe and appeasing the territorial appetites of the new States was not finished at Versailles, but continued for several years after the settlement with Germany was signed.

How much of this huge labor, admittedly done in a disturbed and excited atmosphere and often by rule of thumb, would need to be gone over and revised? How many of the peace treaties and territorial agreements would it be necessary to throw into the melting pot?

If Germany is to be satisfied by some new arrangement of her eastern frontiers, the Treaty of Versailles—already altered as regards reparations and perhaps soon to be altered as regards Germany's armament—would have to undergo extensive revision. If the status of Austria is to be changed, the Treaty of St. Germain must be revamped. If Hungary is to recover some of the Hungarian-inhabited areas given to Rumania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the Treaty of Trianon must be done over. If the military stipulations for Europe are to be removed or modified, Turkey might logically ask that the status of Constantinople and the straits be reconsidered, and this would bring the Treaty of Lausanne within the field of revision. The possibilities are almost limitless, once revision begins.

The Revisionist Program

Moreover, the aspirations of the revisionists are fairly broad. It is assumed that the revision that Signor Mussolini had in mind in proposing the four-power pact would give the Polish Corridor and perhaps part of Upper Silesia back to Germany if Germany would renounce the annexation of Austria; Hungary's frontiers would be redrawn at the expense of Rumania and Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria would receive part of Macedonia, and Italy would acquire some of the present Yugoslavian territory on the eastern shore of the Adriatic.

It would be difficult for Chancellor Hitler to abandon the hope of extending the Reich to embrace those whom he recently called "our brothers" in Austria, so intense and incessant has been the preparation for this "anschluss" for six years or more. On the other hand, Italy has no desire to see an expanded Germany reaching to the Brenner Pass, beyond which live, under Italian rule, some 200,000 German-speaking people.

Logically, the pan-German gospel cannot overlook these German subjects of Italy any more than the millions of other Germans living outside the Reich—in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Denmark, etc. Yet it is one of the cornerstones of Hitler's policy to work in close unison with Italy, whose leader he admires and imitates. Here dreams of racial unity would run counter to the desire for a German-Italian alliance founded upon a common political creed; pan-Germanism and Fascist internationalism would clash.

Revisionist Discord

If there is something less than complete harmony between the two principal protagonists of treaty revision, Germany and Italy, the divergence of interest and aspirations is still greater in Central Europe. The Austrian Catholics are, to say the least, not enthusiastic about the prospect of being ruled by a Nazi Germany, and the Hungarian nationalists (though desiring treaty revision to extend their own frontiers) do not relish the spectacle of German expansion, by way of Austria, to Hungary's borders.

The cultural regimentation, which is one of the leading articles in the Nazi creed, makes no appeal to Central Europe, where robust local cultures persist—not even to Austria, which, though German in speech, is as far from being Prussian in spirit as any non-German land. A German push toward the southeast, which annexation of Austria would bring, might supply a link of apprehensive sympathy between Czechoslovakia and Hungary, just as the fear of Germany has led to the consolidation of the Little Entente.

Thus Italy wants revision of the eastern frontiers and would not mind German expansion at Poland's expense, but does not want the Anschluss; Hungary wants to regain territory taken from it, but does not want Germany as a neighbor; Germany wants a common front with Italy, but does not want to abandon the hope of acquiring Austria. Not only are the revisionists and the anti-revisionists bitterly opposed, but even among the revisionists there is no common agreement as to what kind of revision they should seek.

An Old Problem in New Guise

It is the old problem of German expansion eastward and the effort to check it; it is the old line-up (in somewhat altered form) of the nations that hope to profit by siding with Germany and those that are convinced that the hope of peace lies in restraining her ambitions. Germany, rendered impotent by the Treaty of Versailles, has recovered sufficiently to be able to make her voice heard and to press her case for revision of the peace which reduced her resources, her territory, her army and her influence.

Mr. MacDonald hopes that the promise of a peaceable revision can be linked with armament limitation—with Germany's army on a parity with those of France, Poland and Italy—and thus that the altercation of frontiers can proceed judiciously, undisturbed by outbursts of menacing nationalism; though this program of appeasement involves a concession to nationalism which might calm it or encourage it to make further demands.

In either event the territorial status of the defeated would be gradually modified. As Mussolini has put it, "Treaties are not eternal." Revision sooner or later, in one form or another, is inevitable. The important question for Europe is what form it will take.