Page images
PDF
EPUB

between the Balkan States. Irredentism is the cause of Italy's and Rumania's intervention in the war. It is the disease which has denatured the German people. It is the rock upon which Poland may be shipwrecked.

In solving irredentist difficulties, it is important to keep two facts in mind: that nationalism is a product of the nineteenth century, and that the formation and evolution of political organisms have been, and always will be, influenced fully as much by economic as by racial considerations. In dealing with the Balkan problem one must emphasize the cardinal fact that the various races of the Balkan peninsula were subjected to the Ottoman yoke centuries before the feeling of nationality was born in the European races. Therefore any attempt to go back to tradition and historic claims in the formation of a modern state is illogical and mischievous. The Germans found this to their cost when they annexed Alsace and Lorraine on the ground of irredentism. They sowed the seed for another war. Will Italy attempt to saddle herself with a similar cause for inevitable future conflict with Teuton and Slav by trying to annex the territories at the head of the Adriatic? Will Rumania try to cross the Carpathians?

One reads the abundant literature of Polish nationalists with misgiving and sinking of the heart. Poland went to her downfall as an independent nation by refusing to recognize the loss of territories on the west and northwest through the working of economic laws, and by diffusing her energies and making herself vulnerable to the extension of her political system over eastern and southeastern territories that could not be assimilated. In the last generations of her existence she went on the principle of all or nothing. The result was two partitions and nothing. It is altogether hopeless for the Poles of to-day to believe that they can include in their new Poland all their historic territories. No cataclysm of defeat, whichever way the fortune of war turns, is going to compel Germany and Russia to give up Silesia, the Prussian Baltic coast

line, Lithuania, Volhynia, and Podolia, and it is doubtful if the Poles can make good their claim to the eastern portion of Galicia. Even if economic and political considerations do not militate against the Polish claims to these territories, the hard facts of present ethnological conditions. are not in favor of the Poles.

Many patriotic Poles who read these words will think either that I am misinformed and an ignoramus or that I have at heart no real sympathy with or understanding of Polish aspirations. The limits of a magazine article do not permit me to elaborate the arguments against unreasonable Polish irredentism. But how can you argue with the man who, when you point out to him that the population of Dantsic is only four per cent. Polish, replies, "We have been under the German yoke: now they must taste ours"? His mind is fixed not only upon unrealities, but also upon impossibilities. Who is going to force Russia and Germany to give up historic Polish territories, and some of them lost centuries before the first partition? Certainly not the Poles, or the rest of Europe combined. Never in the history of the world has it been more imperative for us all to face cold facts than it is to-day. Irredentism, except where it is a question of a homogeneous population whose economic interests would be favored by union with the mother country, has nothing in common with facts and logic.

Possible independent Poland would include about two thirds of Posnania from Germany; the kingdom of Poland, including Khelm, from Russia; and Galicia, excluding the eastern territory known as Red Ruthenia, from Austria. It is conceivable that the issue of the war may compel or persuade the three partitioners of Poland to yield these territories to an independent Polish state.

4. The reconstitution of Poland as an independent state is not only a wise political step in establishing a durable peace, but is also an act of justice to one of the largest and best races of Europe, which has purchased the right to be free by

heroic sacrifices willingly made and by the ability amply demonstrated to survive and thrive through four generations of persecution.

Poland is the best example of the wisdom of the buffer-state theory. Russia and Germany, the largest and most powerful states in Europe, have been endeavoring to expand each in the direction of the other. The partition of Poland was long held to be the bond that kept peace. between them, for they were partners in crime. But their common frontier eventually brought them into conflict. German statesmen and publicists have frequently told me since the beginning of the war that the underlying, as well as the direct, cause of the present conflict was the everpresent nightmare of the Panslavic "Westward ho!" and that the Germans were fighting for European civilization against Asiatic invasion. On the other hand Russian polemicists claim that the Teutonic Drang nach Osten is the basic cause of the war from the point of view of their particular national interest. If this is true as far as the issue between Germany and Russia is concerned, why not restore Poland to her traditional historic post as the defender of Slavs against Teutons, and the outpost of Occidental Europe against invasion from the East?

The creation of an artificial buffer state closely allied in race and sympathies with one of the other of the rival powers or too weak to resist her neighbors would be a makeshift and a farce. But the Poles are neither pro-German nor pro-Russian, nor are they weak. In numbers, in brains, in vitality, in wealth, in unity of spirit, they are stronger to-day than ever in their history, and as an independent nation would very rapidly become the seventh great power of Europe. In considering the fitness of the Poles for independence it is just as absurd to hark back to the weakness and the faults of Poland of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as to judge Germany and Italy of to-day by the Germans and Italians of two hundred

years ago. It is what the Poles are to-day that counts. Poland was partitioned before the Poles became a nation. Their birth as a nation has come in the period of bondage. Now they are ready to break the bonds, for they have arrived at that age of manhood which Talleyrand prophesied.

The Poles were once as enlightened and cultivated a people as any in Europe. They have come back to their former place in Galicia. In Posnania they have confounded every effort of German Kultur and organization to assimilate them, and in the face of Prussian Landtag, Prussian officials, and Prussian schoolmasters, they have gained in lands, in wealth, and in knowledge of their own language and literature since 1896. In Russian Poland economic and political handicaps have brought an increasing degree of superiority in wealth and culture to their oppressors.

There are more Poles to-day in the world than ever before, and their fecundity is unrivaled. Their national feeling was never deeper-rooted and more intelligent. If a Pole tells you he is in favor of autonomy under Germany or Russia or Austria, he is lying for expediency's sake or he is a Jew or he has some narrow selfish business interest stronger than patriotism. The Poles want only one thing, and that is independence. In this are they not like every other nation worth its salt? Would you not despise them if they did not long for that which you yourself hold to be the most precious thing in the world?

"Are you a patriot?" said Napoleon in 1810 to John Sniadecki, rector of the University of Vilna.

"Sire," answered the rector, "from my birth I have learned to love my country, and her misfortunes have only strengthened the love I bear for her." After an additional century of Poland's misfortunes, her children, scattered over the whole world, would give the same answer. And there are seven times as many of them now as there were then.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small]
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed]

"I rode for a long distance in one of the public coaches, on the day preceding Christmas. The coach was crowded, both inside and out, with passengers, who, by their talk, seemed principally bound to the mansions of relations or friends to eat the Christmas dinner"

[graphic]

"It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold; our chaise whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the post-boy smacked his whip incessantly'

« PreviousContinue »