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EUROPE: 1,063 Weeks

19 minute read

For nine years the whole world (pop. 2,134,000,000), with brief exceptions here and there, has been in a Great Depression. At some point in these bitter years, the post-War world became a pre-War world—that is, a world anticipating World War. Millions and millions of young men, in the U. S. as elsewhere, had a War marked fatalistically on their private calendars.

Since the big guns began to go off or to be wheeled into place, most U. S. readers have followed current European history closely and anxiously. Not so familiar to them is the history of the period immediately before it—the sequence of post-War settlements, conferences, treaties that began when the Armistice was signed. Briand with his drooping lips and shaggy head, Stresemann with his dueling scars, Sir Austen Chamberlain with his monocle, his glassy stare and elegance of dress, are names in history books for high-school students, dim recollections for those students’ parents.

Only voluminous histories can retrace the steps of post-War diplomacy, unravel post-War complexities. But refreshing memories of events since the Armistice makes last week’s war news seem less abrupt, the transition from post-War to pre-War less startling. Against the broad sweep of history, that period is brief—246 months, 1,063 weeks, 7,453 days, time for 20 wheat crops, for 20 classes to graduate.

War’s End. In periods of sweeping change history is measured by days and hours, not by years. In the last weeks of the War events followed each other so rapidly that General Foch himself could not believe that the end was in sight. Only one month before the end, when he was launching what he called “the greatest of all battles,” Foch was making plans for campaigns the next year. Then, in 300 hours:

> Turkey appealed for an armistice; Belgrade, Trieste, fell to the Allies; Austria-Hungary signed an armistice; sailors of the German Grand Fleet, ordered to sea in a move of desperation, mutinied; Socialist Kurt Eisner led a monster demonstration in Munich which culminated in the proclaiming, November 8, of the Bavarian Socialist Republic; the German Majority Socialists served the Kaiser with an ultimatum to abdicate; revolution spread to Frankfort, Cologne, Diisseldorf, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Madgeburg, Brunswick; the rulers of Brunswick, Bavaria, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, abdicated; the Kaiser fled; the German Republic was proclaimed; Croatian independence was proclaimed in Zagreb; a revolt in Budapest put liberal Count Karolyi in power.

> The German Army, which had already retreated 100 miles, with a loss by capture of 390,000 men and 6,600 guns—the largest in the history of military operations—fled through Belgium, Holland, over the Rhine, swiftly and efficiently, in a manner that Liddell Hart viewed not as a rout but as a skilful military movement.

> The Allied pursuit through Belgium, Luxemburg, Alsace-Lorraine penetrated Germany to the left bank of the Rhine and 30 kilometers beyond the bridgeheads at Mainz, Coblentz, Cologne. By the terms of the Armistice, Germany delivered 5,000 locomotives, 150,000 railroad cars, 5,000 trucks to the Allies, and U. S. General Tasker Bliss, astute observer, antimilitarist general, feared the sort of peace that generals and politicians would dictate.

The War was over. It ended in bewildering darkness, and, said General Bliss, happiness at its ending was subdued. The old States, the old ways of life, the old political and social organizations of Europe were shattered; 9,000,000 men had been killed in battle or had died of their wounds; 22,000,000 had been wounded; an unknown number of civilians died as a result of the War. “Not until our children’s time can the former joy of life come into the world,” Bliss remarked. “And it can come then only if our culminating work makes it impossible for them ever to see another such war.”

The War was over. Except: >In Russia, the Bolsheviks fought the Whites and the Allies on a great wavering battle line that reached from Archangel to Vladivostok.

> In the Balkans, Greece invaded Turkey, occupied Anatolia, was driven back after more than a year of fighting. Rumanian, Czech and Yugoslavian armies overran Hungary, seized livestock, locomotives, battled the Communist Government of Bela Kun.

> Poland seized Vilna; Lithuania seized Memel; Yugoslavia seized Montenegro.

> In Dublin, a Sinn Fein Government was established within two months of the establishment of a republic in Vienna. For three years the Irish fought the English. At the same time, in Morocco, Riffs fought Spaniards.

Savage and costly though they were, these clashes were minor compared with the titanic conflict that had ended; they were the death struggles of the World War, rather than the War itself. And they were dwarfed by political developments that moved as swiftly, as bewilderingly. In the first 500 days of peace:

> Thirty-five new Governments came into existence in Europe, struggled to establish themselves.

> The Treaty of Versailles set up Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland; wiped off the map Montenegro, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Galicia, Livonia, Courland, Schleswig; established a League of Nations, which 42 nations soon joined.

The German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian Empires, under whose political organizations most Europeans lived, were swallowed up in the cataclysm—the Austrian ministry appointed for liquidation found the Empire had disappeared before it could map its program. With them went bureaucrats, ruling cliques, political leaders, military castes, police functionaries, armies of officeholders, diplomats, the props and supports of the ruling dynasties. Replacing them came, along with the new States, new political organizations employing new methods to realize new social theories. In Russia a brilliant group of social theorists under Lenin struggled with rival theoricians, Tsarist generals, Allied intervention, for control of the former Russian Empire, but everywhere social experimentation—good or bad, radical or reactionary—was in the air. It was administered by politicians of a new type—professors like Masaryk, artists like Paderewski, literary figures like Kurt Eisner or D’Annunzio, trade unionists like Ebert, visionaries like Karolyi, soldiers like Pilsudski—and as they consolidated their power or went under, they fitted into a Europe in which the demand for peace dominated everything else.

Germany. Defeated, exhausted, blockaded, Germany passed through a staggering cycle of panics, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary outbreaks, financial debacles, governmental upheavals. Her Army was disarmed, her fleet scuttled, her merchant marine forfeited, but 62,000,000 Germans nevertheless remained to be fed, clothed, housed, organized in some political community. Europe’s new States outside Germany emerged slowly, bumped shoulders, clashed over boundaries, made alliances. But Germany remained Europe’s central problem, while Russia was still split with civil war. For the first five years of peace, from the Armistice to the Ruhr, the biggest development in Europe, outside of Russia, was France’s policy of keeping Germany weak.

Weak Germany certainly was. At the War’s end, after the Versailles Treaty, she had lost:

> 1,700,000 killed in battle, 4,200,000 wounded, 1,150,000 missing.

> Alsace-Lorraine, most of Posen and West Prussia, all her colonies, other territorial concessions.

> 18,000,000 of her population, over 1,000.000 square miles of her territory, 45% of her coal, 65% of her iron ore, 15% of her arable lands, 10% of her factories, 5,100,000 tons of her merchant fleet.

> To France she agreed to deliver 105,000 tons of benzol, 150,000 tons of coal tar, 90,000 tons of sulfate of ammonia, 500 stallions, 30,000 mares, 2,000 bulls, 90,000 cows, 1,000 rams, 100,000 sheep, 10,000 goats, and she agreed to pay (but paid only in part) $5,000,000,000 reparations before May 1921.

But 62,000,000 Germans weakened to desperation seemed as menacing to the rest of the world as, to France in her post-War mood, they seemed reassuring. Inside Germany political chaos became almost normal, marked by Communist and reactionary uprisings, the brief soviet of Bavaria, by Putsche like those of Kapp, Hitler and Ludendorff. Walther Rathenau, brilliant economist, industrialist, Foreign Minister, was assassinated by two young nationalists who sped past his automobile on the way to the Foreign Office, tossed hand grenades into it, riddled his mangled body with shots from a Lewis gun, then committed suicide in a castle hideout in Thuringia. But Rathenau’s murder was not the only one: Liberal Matthias Erzberger and Socialist Kurt Eisner were killed; Revolutionists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht were kidnapped and murdered.

Outside Germany the States created by the Treaty of Versailles and the treaties which followed it were linked to France in a chain of alliances. Poland and France in the treaty of February 19, 1921 pledged themselves to mutual assistance in the event of German aggression. When Belgium and Czecho-Slovakia also signed with France, the ring around Germany was closed. When Czecho-Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Rumania, formed another such ring around Hungary—and this ring was coordinated with the other by the Franco-CzechoSlovakian alliance — French security against possible German ambitions seemed as solid as diplomatic measures, military might, economic dominance, could make it.

Outworn in the post-War world were measures of national revenge backed by military strength. Revulsion at the Treaty of Versailles was revulsion at its territorial and reparations clauses, not only at its idealistic plans for war’s prevention, which these contradicted. By 1921, despite U. S. rejection of the League of Nations, the U. S. had taken the lead in proposing naval limitation, and at the Washington Conference, when Charles Evans Hughes proposed that the U. S., Great Britain and Japan scrap 1,876,000 tons of their battleships, Balfour with poker-faced aplomb called it: “. . . the basis of the greatest reform in the matter of armament and preparation for war that has ever been conceived or carried out by the courage and patriotism of statesmen,” and the work of scaling down war vessels began. In 1922, when Germany requested a three-year moratorium on reparations, Great Britain was favorable to the idea, Poincare refused. Outside the ring that France had built around Germany, hostility to the defeated ebbed fast. It ebbed faster when, in 1922, German recognition of the Soviet Union brought fears of a Russian-German alliance. And when Poincare, on January 1, 1923, sent French troops to seize 80% of Germany’s coal, iron and steel sources, in “the mad and ruinous Ruhr episode,” Great Britain’s criticism swelled, Great Britain’s sympathies shifted. Lloyd George, who four years before had been re-elected on a platform of punishment for Germany, later called it “. . . the dismal and tragic episode of the Ruhr occupation,” and said that it caused “untold misery to many millions of Central Europe, had put back the clock of post-War reconstruction throughout the world, intensified unemployment problems and industrial depression, and had signally failed in its main object of extracting reparations from Germany.”

For 600 of the maddest days in history French troops patrolled the Ruhr:

> 147,000 German citizens were driven from the district in eleven months.

> Burgomasters of every major city in the land of 4,000,000 people were expelled or imprisoned.

> Funds and records of manufacturing companies were seized and their offices taken over; at least 100 people lost their lives; newspapers were suppressed; 19,000 officials in the area of the French-sponsored “Autonomous Government of the Palatinate” were deported.

> In Munich, Ludendorff and Hitler attempted to set up a dictatorship. German workers in the Ruhr downed their tools, supported by the German Government, which printed more paper currency to pay them.

> Germany’s economy was swept away in an avalanche which threatened to break the ring around her, sweep over Europe. In December, shortly before the French occupied the Ruhr, a U. S. dollar would buy 7,000 marks. In a month it would buy 50,000. By June it would buy 100,000. Prices were quoted by the hour; workmen paid by the day; savings wiped out; housewives rushed to spend money before nightfall, knowing morning would make it worth less. In August one U. S. dollar would buy 5,000,000 marks. By the middle of November the U. S. dollar was quoted at 2,500,000,000,000 in Berlin, and 4,000,000,000,000 at Cologne 300 miles away.

Occupation cost France more proportionately than she got out of it. It brought Germany to the edge of revolution. It unleashed a whirlwind—big guns could not bombard a falling mark, diplomats could not make treaties around it. By the beginning of 1924, powerful France jittered defiantly as she prepared to back down—her own currency was skidding fast. First stage of post-war policy had ended.

Inside her ring of States, Germany spun like the whirling dervish, tossing off bits of old treaties, remnants of old economies, fragments of old customs, large chunks of old moralities, and threatening at any moment to fly apart. State power, in Charles Beard’s phrase, lay in the streets. And it threshed around like a live wire, destroying whoever seized it. Awed and appalled, the new States of Europe looked on: if that was post-War democracy, most of them wanted dictatorship.

Outside Germany stabilization came fast: Czecho-Slovakia prospered; Poland and the Soviet Union made peace; Mussolini, still working with regularly elected deputies, was known primarily as a theatrical figure who, by some process that involved castor-oil applied to his opponents and the suppression of free speech, had made the trains of Italy run on time. But inside Germany the great problem remained: 62,000,000 Germans had to be fed, clothed, housed, organized in some political system and, as the Ruhr occupation had demonstrated, organized economically as well.

Locarno. Grapes were ripe on the white dusty hills around Locarno, the blue waters of Lake Maggiore were warm, when Briand, Stresemann, Sir Austen Chamberlain and representatives from four other countries assembled to make the Locarno Treaties. Those treaties are dead letters now. But the Locarno spirit in 1925 was Europe’s biggest hope. And as it radiated out, promising an easement of armaments, a solution of war debts, new dreams of a warless Europe and even of a European Federation of States, it coincided with the world-wide prosperity of 1925-29.

As treaties, the Locarno pacts were not so much. Stresemann, Foreign Minister through ten German ministries, met Aristide Briand, unpunctual, disorderly French Foreign Minister who held portfolios in 26 French Governments. Stresemann drank beer with German journalists, Chamberlain rode around in a glittering red-cushioned Rolls-Royce that had been built for an Indian Maharaja, Briand took the delegates sailing in a small lake steamer, as for eleven days they consulted. They worked out five important agreements. In four of these the clumsy, nervous Stresemann pledged Germany to settle by arbitration disputes with France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland. These were the States allied in the ring around Germany. In a Treaty of Mutual Guarantee, however, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Great Britain, guaranteed the inviolability of the Franco-German and Franco-Belgian frontiers. France’s fear of Germany, source of her post-War policy, seemed over.

In the evening of October 16, the treaty was signed while church bells rang and a crowd clamored outside the town hall. It was brought to the window, lighted like an ikon. Mussolini took a special train from Rome to Milan, drove a racing car from Milan to Stresa, a speedboat from Stresa to Locarno. Briand, always in bed by nine if possible, was asleep two hours after the signing. But he was stirred: “It is ended,” he said later, “that long war between us. Ended those long veils of mourning for the pains that will never be assuaged. Away with the rifles, the machine guns and the cannon! Here come conciliation, arbitration and peace!”

The post-War world now began to seem not only warless, but prospering. The years of German loans, of the building of the Bremen, the Graf Zeppelin, of reconstruction, of speculation, of U. S. financial dominance unaccompanied by an increase of U. S. political responsibility, were also years that saw the production of the world’s goods reach new heights. They were the years when Coolidge said of war debts, “They hired the money,” when Charles Dawes was Coolidge’s vicegerent in Europe, wearing laurels won with the Dawes Plan.

They were the years in which German steel production approached its pre-War level; Germany’s merchant marine climbed from 400,000 to 3,700,000 tons. They were the years in which France stabilized her currency, recovering from the post-Ruhr crisis that swept six ministries out of office in 15 months. They were the years when Edward, Prince of Wales, was known as the Empire’s greatest salesman. And though England was laboring with an unemployment problem and China was torn by internal revolt, advocates of international cooperation flourished in the capitals of Europe as trade grew, production increased.

On New Year’s Day 1929, a spectator from any place but Mars might have seen, beneath the hysteria and hangover of the boom years, a perspective of peace ahead. The ribbons of trenches that crisscrossed Europe had been filled in, the post-War statesmen of revenge were out of office, the Soviet Union had turned from its program of international revolution to its program of internal development under the Five-Year Plan. U. S. tourist spending in Europe jumped over 350% between 1920 and 1928, building went on as rapidly as in any period of history, and if for a moment a steadily rising standard of living seemed an approachable goal for mankind, it was a measure of what continued peace meant, of what might happen in a community of nations that was not haunted by dreams of the last War, or by premonitions of the next.

Collapse. On October 24, 1929, the market crashed in New York, and in that year world unemployment swelled to 30,000,000. By 1931:

> The price of copper slumped from 18¢ to 8¢ a pound; U. S. wheat fell from $1.30 to 53¢ a bushel; cotton from 16¢ to 6¢ per Ib.; beef from $9 to $5 per 100 Ib.

In the summer of 1929 in Germany there were 720,000 unemployed. That winter there were 2,000,000. Looming bigger in a new crisis was a 40-year-old World War corporal named Adolf Hitler. If he looked back on his last nine years, on the growth of his National Socialist Party, he could see gains more impressive to him than to Germany’s rulers. Nine years before he had joined seven men in one of the innumerable visionary parties of desperation that post-War Germany produced. There were then seven and one-half marks in the party treasury. With his colleagues he had worked out a 25-point program, designed a flag and uniform, floated a newspaper, taken the party itself from its founders. Now it had 108,000 dues-paying members. Now it had twelve members in the Reichstag (out of a total of 490). It had 13 deputies in the Berlin City Council. It won more than eleven percent of the total vote in an election in Thuringia. It had become important enough to be courted by Hugenberg, leader of the powerful Nationalists.

For the first time since the War, history began to be measured in days. The Miiller Government, socialist and conciliatory, gave way to the Bruning Government. In the Reichstag election the Nazis gained 107 seats, 6,401,200 votes (out of a total of 35,000,000). Hitler was no longer a rival of von Papen, von Schleicher, Bruning, but of Hindenburg himself. The Bruning Government ruled by decree, the von Papen ministry lasted 170 days, was followed by the von Schleicher ministry that lasted 56. On January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

Pre-War. Simultaneously U. S. citizens, previously preoccupied by three long years of Depression, were compelled to take a new interest in foreign news. Strange news it was at first, confused, murky, seething, a sequence of brutal events, of medieval vengeance wreaked with modern weapons, news of German book-burnings, of anti-Semitic outbreaks, of a bloody purge, news of statesmen who seemed only masters of vituperation and violence. What could be expected from a country whose leaders believed, in Propaganda Minister Goebbels’ words, that their mission was “to unchain volcanic passions, to cause outbreaks of fury, to set masses of men on the march, to organize hate and suspicion with ice-cold calculation?”

Beneath the surface of the news, bigger forces were in motion. Hitler’s Germany warned that the post-War world had ended. Its end was soon thundered by the renewed sound of big guns pounding in Japan’s 1932 attack on Shanghai. Crises began to come so fast, were reported so fully, speculated about so constantly, that they became horrifyingly familiar: a crisis over the League censure of Japan for seizing Manchukuo, followed by crises over the brief civil war in Austria, the assassinations of Dollfuss and of King Alexander of Yugoslavia, over the invasion of Ethiopia, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the civil war in Spain, the German seizure of Austria, the Russian-Japanese clash in the Far East, the menacing gestures of Hitler against Czecho-Slovakia—until at Munich the sequence of bluffs, threats, swift moves, force and the threat of force culminated in the panicky weeks of Europe’s worst war scare in 20 years.

History is at best violent, doubly so in such periods. Bombers over Shanghai and Guernica, refugees from Barcelona and Prague, tell stories whose raw horror blurs the minds of those who try to understand the causes of war. When philosophers, economists, historians try to penetrate the wild surface of events, to see the forces that have created them, their dry generalizations and statistics seem cold beside the living reality of the headlines. In different terms they state the causes of international conflict—as rivalry between the Haves and the Havenots, between the countries struggling to keep what they have and the countries struggling to expand. Or they see it as the clash of rival ideologies or of rival imperialists, with a vast segment of the world looking to Great Britain to maintain order while protecting her remote dominions, and another segment threatening to block her channels of communication with them. Or they see it as a problem of overpopulation in the crowded centres of the world, the masses of Europe and Japan swelling and pressing against the barriers that block them from the sparsely inhabited areas of the globe. Or they see it as a problem of armaments, the countries jockeying desperately for first place in a race whose only end is death. But however they state it, their theories, analyses, guesses and figures come out the same and say, as do events, that war is inevitable.

But one great difference separates the new period from the one before the World War. Citizens of that pre-War world had no knowledge of what lay ahead of them, had no historical precedent for the tragedy toward which they were moving, and even the statesmen who tried to avert it had no conception of its terrible scope. On the evening of Aug. 3, 1914, when Great Britain pondered war, Sir Edward Grey stood at the window of the Foreign Office, watching the lamps being lit in the summer dusk, and said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” To those who expect another war, his phrase seems optimistic ; many are in a mood to say: “They will never be lit again.”

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