World at War - M. B. Synge




The Lull Before the Storm

"I have touched the highest point of all my greatness."

—SHAKESPEARE.

While the dispute over Home Rule was apparently absorbing Great Britain, and a possible outbreak of civil war in Ireland might monopolise her fighting strength, a sudden outbreak of trouble in the Balkan States was crippling Turkey—Germany's ally.

The year 1912 opened with dark clouds in the East. The tyranny of Turkey, and her continued oppression of the people in Macedonia, had forced the Balkans into action. A miracle had happened, and the jealous little States were banding together in a League against the common enemy, Turkey.

True, there had been signs of possible union and friendship for some years past. Two years ago, the Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria had joined with the Crown Prince Alexander of Serbia and the Crown Prince Constantine of Greece to celebrate the jubilee of King Peter at Cettinje—Montenegro's capital. And in 1912, the coming of age of Crown Prince Boris of Bulgaria had been an occasion for the meeting of neighbouring Crown Princes at Sofia—Bulgaria's capital.

While these social gatherings were proclaimed to the world, secretly the States were arming.

First a Treaty between Bulgaria and Serbia was signed; then another between Bulgaria and Greece—all aimed against Turkey, until in the autumn of 1912 Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro had formed a military alliance by which each State was bound to assist the others with all its forces. In the event of dispute the Tsar Nicholas of Russia was to arbitrate.

In August, further Turkish massacres in Macedonia brought matters to a crisis, and the Balkan League burned for action.

In vain the Powers tried to intervene—war was in the air. On 8th October Montenegro precipitated affairs by declaring war, and a few days later, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia each presented their ultimatums. Forth to battle went the Kings and their heirs. Overwhelming was their success. Indeed by the end of the month the Balkan States had demolished the Turkish Empire. The old maps of Eastern Europe might be rolled up, for "Turkey in Europe" had ceased to exist. Four small countries, with a population of some ten million souls, had defeated a Power of more than double that number. The plight of the Turks was desperate, and when an armistice was suggested, they only possessed four towns in Europe including Constantinople and Adrianople—not a foot of ground in Europe outside the walls of these four cities!

Again the Powers of Europe intervened to make peace. A Conference was called in London, but difficulties proved insurmountable, and the New Year 1913 had not long dawned when the victors of the Balkan States began to quarrel among themselves over their spoils of war. King Peter of Serbia summed up some of the reasons of the new outbreak when he addressed his troops in July 1913. "The Bulgarians," he said, "our allies of yesterday, with whom we fought side by side, whom as true brothers we helped with our own heart, will not let us take the Macedonian districts that we won at the price of such sacrifices. Bulgaria doubled her territory in our common warfare, and will not let Serbia have land not half her size. Bulgaria is washed by two seas, and grudges Serbia a single port."

The only State that had not joined the League was Rumania. For forty-seven years King Carol had guided the destinies of his young kingdom with wisdom and foresight. At the outbreak of war in the Balkans he firmly believed that Turkey would win, and, with the Germans, was surprised and horrified at her downfall.

When Serbia was thus opening a quarrel against Bulgaria, whose successes offered danger to the smaller States, Rumania joined in. Although King Carol was German in sympathy, although German officers had instructed his army and German engineers had built his railways, yet together with Greece, Serbia, and Montenegro, he feared Bulgarian ascendancy in the Balkans. He knew that Austria would like to enfold Serbia and Rumania in a protectorate, he knew that Serbia again blocked Germany's road to the East, and with the Kaiser's dream of a world Empire the new national spirit aroused in the Balkans might prove fatal to his country's good. The second Balkan War of 1913 was soon over, and an unsatisfactory peace was signed at Bucharest.

"I offer you my most sincere congratulations on the splendid result for which the whole of Europe has to thank your wise and truly statesmanlike policy," wrote the Kaiser to King Carol. "This Rumania must be flattered into submission, and it must be drawn to Germany by every show of friendliness."

Meanwhile the Kaiser was busy at home celebrating the wedding of his only daughter to Duke Ernest of Cumberland, descended from George III. of England, and Berlin was rejoicing at the goodwill displayed on all sides. For among the guests were the Tsar Nicholas on one side and King George on the other. It was also the 25th anniversary of the Kaiser's accession to the throne. This was celebrated by the appearance of a book, 'Germany under William II.,' which was in fact an exhaustive history of the country. "The military machine," it told the people, "was the most perfect in the world; the High Sea Fleet was growing apace; the widening of the Kiel Canal was almost completed; the country was rich; the people well-educated and fully employed; the broad clean streets of the great cities spoke of order and prosperity; the rhythm of the national pulse was strong and clear."

Such growth, such efficiency was unequalled in the world's history. But the people were unsatisfied. They hungered for more—a world-empire was their dream—if not in the West, why then in the East, where a much dreamed of railway from Berlin to Baghdad should carry their teeming millions to new lands beyond the frontier of the Rhine. A "place in the sun" was necessary to the rapidly increasing population.

They were ready to preserve peace on their own terms—holding that the German should be so strong by land and sea that he could "swagger down the High Street of the World, making his will prevail at every turn."

To this end the Kaiser had followed a consistent policy, which in the end led his country to the "slippery slope down which she glided into war."