To understand the Great War it is not sufficient to read the daily happenings of military and naval events as they are told in newspapers and magazines. We must go back of the facts of to-day and find in national history and personal ambition the causes of the present struggle. Years of preparation were necessary before German military leaders could convert a nation to their views, or get ready the men, munitions, and transportation for the war they wanted. Conflicts of races for hundreds of years have made the southeastern part of Europe a firebrand in international affairs. The course of the Russian revolution has been determined largely by the history of the Russian people and of the Russian rulers during the past two centuries. The entrance of England and Italy into the war against Germany was in each case brought about by causes which came into existence long before August, 1914. A person who understands, even in part, the causes of this great struggle, will be in a better position to realize why America entered the war and what our nation is fighting for. And better yet, he will be more ready to take part in settling the many problems of peace which must come after the war is over. For these reasons, the first few chapters of this book are devoted to a study of the important facts of recent European history.
[Illustration: Europe in 1913]
A hundred years ago.—It is remarkable that almost exactly a century before the present world war, Europe was engaged in a somewhat similar struggle to prevent an ambitious French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, from becoming the ruler of all that continent, and of America as well. He had conquered or intimidated nearly all the states of Europe—Austria, Prussia, Russia, Spain, etc.—except Great Britain. He once planned a great settlement on the Mississippi River, and so alarmed President Jefferson that the latter said the United States might be compelled to “marry themselves to the British fleet and nation.” But England’s navy kept control of the seas; Napoleon’s colony in North America was never founded; and at last the peoples of Europe rose against their conqueror, and in the battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815, finally overthrew him.
Europe since 1815.—After the downfall of Napoleon the rulers of Europe met in conference at Vienna and sought to restore conditions as they had been before the war. They were particularly anxious that the great masses of the people in their several nations should continue to respect what was termed “the divine right of kings to rule over their subjects.” They did not, except in Great Britain, believe in representative governments. They feared free speech and independent newspapers and liberal educational institutions. They hated all kinds of popular movements by which the inhabitants of any country might throw off the monarch’s yoke and secure a share in their own government. For over thirty years the “Holy Allies,”—the name applied to the monarchs of Austria, Prussia, and Russia,—succeeded tolerably well in keeping the peoples in subjection. But they had many difficulties to face, and after 1848 their policy was largely given up.