To understand why Italy is at war you have only to look at the map of Central Europe. You can hardly fail to be struck by the curious resemblance which the outline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire bears to a monstrous bird of prey hovering threateningly over Italy. The body of the bird is formed by Hungary; Bohemia is the right wing, Bosnia and Dalmatia constitute the left; the Tyrol represents the head, while the savage beak, with its open jaws, is formed by that portion of the Tyrol commonly known as the Trentino. And that savage beak, you will note, is buried deep in the shoulder of Italy, holding between its jaws, as it were, the Lake of Garda. To continue the simile, it will be seen that the talons of the bird, formed by the Istrian Peninsula, reach out over the Adriatic in threatening proximity to Venice and the other Italian coast towns. It is to end the intolerable menace of that beak and those claws that Italy is fighting. There you have it in a nutshell.
[Illustration: (Austria-Hungary map)]
Just as in France, since 1870, the national watchword has been "Alsace-Lorraine," so in Italy, for upward of half a century, the popular cry has been "Italia Irredenta"--Italy Unredeemed. It was a deep and bitter disappointment to all Italians that, upon the formation in 1866 of the present kingdom, there should have been left under Austrian dominion two regions which, in population, in language, and in sentiment, were essentially Italian. These "unredeemed" regions were generally called after their respective capital cities: Trent and Trieste. But, though the phrase Italia Irredenta was originally interpreted as referring only to the Trentino and Trieste, it has gradually assumed, in the course of years, a broader significance, until now it includes all that portion of the Tyrol lying south of the Brenner, the Carso plateau, Trieste and its immediate hinterland, the entire Istrian Peninsula, the Hungarian port of Fiume, and the whole of Dalmatia and Albania. In other words, the Irredentists of to-day--and, since Italy entered the war, virtually the entire nation has subscribed to Irredentist aims and ideals--dream of an Italy whose northern frontier shall be formed by the main chain of the Alps, and whose rule shall be extended over the entire eastern shore of the Adriatic.
In order to intelligently understand the Italian view-point, suppose that we imagine ourselves in an analogous position. For this purpose you must picture Canada as a highly organized military Power, its policies directed by an aggressive, predacious and unscrupulous government, and with a population larger than that of the United States. You will conceive of the State of Vermont as a Canadian province under military control: a wedge driven into the heart of manufacturing New England, and threatening the teeming valleys of the Connecticut and the Hudson. You must imagine this province of Vermont as overrun by Canadian soldiery; as crisscrossed by military roads and strategic railways; its hills and mountains abristle with forts whose guns are turned United Statesward. The inhabitants of the province, though American in descent, in traditions, and in ideals, are oppressed by a harsh and tyrannical military rule. With the exception of a single trunk-line, there are no railways crossing the frontier. Commercial intercourse with the United States is virtually forbidden. To teach American history in the schools of Vermont is prohibited; to display the American flag is a felony; to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" is punishable by imprisonment or a fine. For the Vermonters to communicate, no matter how innocently, with their kinsmen in the United States, is to bring down upon them suspicion and possible punishment. By substituting Austria-Hungary for Canada, Italy for the United States, and the Trentino for Vermont, you will, perhaps, have a little clearer understanding of why the liberation of the Trentino from Austrian oppression is demanded by all Italians.
A similar homely parallel will serve to explain the Adriatic situation. You will imagine Seattle and the shores of Puget Sound, with its maze of islands, in Canadian possession. Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria are strongly fortified bases for Canadian battle-fleets and flotillas of destroyers which constantly menace the commercial cities along our Pacific seaboard. The Americans dwelling in Seattle and the towns of the Olympic Peninsula are under an even harsher rule than their brethren in Vermont. No American may hold a Government position. The Canadian authorities encourage and assist the immigration of thousands of Orientals in order to get the trade of the region out of American hands. A Canadian naval base at Honolulu threatens our trade routes in the Pacific and our commercial interests in Mexico and the Orient. In this analogy Seattle stands, of course, for Trieste; the Olympic Peninsula corresponds to the Istrian Peninsula; for Vancouver and Victoria you will read Pola and Fiume; while Honolulu might, by a slight exercise of the imagination, be translated into the great Austrian stronghold of Cattaro. Such is a reasonably accurate parallel to Italy's Adriatic problem.
For purposes of administration the Trentino, which the Austrians call Süd-Tirol, forms one province with Tyrol. For such a union there is no geographic, ethnologic, historic, or economic excuse. Of the 347,000 inhabitants of the Trentino, 338,000 are Italian. The half million inhabitants of Tyrol are, on the other hand, all Germans. The two regions are separated by a tremendous mountain wall, whose only gateway is the Brenner. On one side of that wall is Italy, with her vines, her mulberry-trees, her whitewashed, red-tiled cottages, her light-hearted, easy-going, Latin-blooded peasantry; across the mountains is the solemn, austere German scenery, with savage peaks and gloomy pine forests, a region inhabited by a stolid, slow-thinking Teutonic people. The Trentino and the Tyrol have about as much in common as Cuba and Maine.
The possession of the Trentino by Austria is not alone a geographical and ethnological anomaly: it is a pistol held at the head of Italy. Glance once more at the map, if you please, and you will see what I mean. The Trentino is, you will note, nothing but a prolongation of the valleys of Lombardy and Venetia. Held by Austria, it is like a great intrenched camp in the heart of northern Italy, menacing the valley of the Po, which is one of the kingdom's most vital arteries, and the link between her richest and most productive cities. From the Trentino, with its ring of forts, Austria can always threaten and invade her neighbor. She lies in the mountains, with the plains beneath her. She can always sweep down into the plains, but the Italians cannot seriously invade the mountains, since, even were they able to force the strongly defended passes, they would only find a maze of other mountains beyond. When, in the summer of 1916, the Archduke Frederick launched his great offensive from the Trentino, supported by a shattering artillery, he came perilously near--much nearer, indeed, than the world was permitted to know--to cutting the main east-and-west line of communications, which would have resulted in isolating the Italian armies operating on the Isonzo.
The Trentino is dominated by the army. Its administration is as essentially military in character as that of Gibraltar. It is, to all intents and purposes, one vast camp, commanded by thirty-five forts, gridironed with inaccessible military highways, and overrun with soldiery. Economic expansion has been systematically discouraged. The waterfalls of the Trentino could, it is estimated, develop 250,000 horse-power, but the province has not benefited by this energy, for the regions to the north are already supplied, and the military authorities have not permitted its transmission to the manufacturing towns of Lombardy and Venetia, where it is needed. Neither roads nor railways have been built save for strategic purposes, and, as a result, the peasants have virtually no outlets for their produce. In fact, it has been the consistent policy of the Austrian Government to completely isolate the Trentino from Italy. In pursuance of this policy, all telephone and telegraph communications and many sorely needed railway connections with the other side of the frontier have been prohibited. Though the renting of their mountain pastures had always been the peasants' chief source of income, the military authorities issued orders, long before this war began, that Italian herdsmen could no longer drive their cattle across the border to graze, the prohibition being based on the ground that the herdsmen were really Italian army officers in disguise. In recent years the fear of Italian spies has become with the Austrian military authorities almost an insane obsession. Innocent tourists, engineers, and commercial travellers were arrested by the score on the charge of espionage. The mere fact of being an Italian was in itself ground for suspicion. Compared with the attitude of the Austrian Government toward its Italian subjects in the Trentino, the treatment accorded by the Boers to the British residents of the Transvaal was considerate and kind. Thus there arose in the Trentino, as in all Austrian provinces inhabited by Italians, a strange, unhealthy atmosphere of suspicion, of secrecy, and of fear. This atmosphere became so pronounced in recent years that it was sensed even by passing tourists, who felt as though they were in a besieged city, surrounded by secret agents and spies.
But, oppressive and tyrannical as are Austria's methods in the Trentino, the final expression of her anti-Italian policy is to be found in the Adriatic provinces. Here lie Austria's chief interests--the sea and commerce. Here, therefore, is to be found an even deeper fear of Italianism, and here still sterner methods are employed to stamp it out. The government of Trieste is, in fact, organized for that very purpose--witness the persecutions to which the citizens of Italian descent are subjected by the police, the countless political imprisonments, the systematic hostility to Italian schools in contrast to the Government's generosity toward German and Slovene institutions, and the State assistance given to Czech, Croatian, and Slovene banks for the purpose of taking the trade of the city out of Italian hands. Italians are excluded from all municipal employments, from the postal service, the railways, and the State industries. Nor does the official persecution end there. The presentation of many of the old Italian operas is forbidden. The singing of Garibaldi's Hymn leads to jail. Every year thousands of Italian papers are confiscated. Until the war began hundreds of Italians were expelled annually by the police, to be replaced (according to the official instructions of 1912) "by more loyal and more useful elements."
Though for more than five centuries Trieste has belonged to the House of Hapsburg, the city is as Italian as though it had always been ruled from Rome. There is nothing in Trieste, save only the uniforms of the military and the K.K. on the doors of the Government offices, to remind one of Austrian rule. The language, the customs, the architecture, the names over the shop-doors, the faces of the people--everything is characteristically Italian. Outside of Trieste the zones of nationality are clearly divided: to the west, on the coast, dwell the Italians; in the mountainous interior to the eastward are the Slavs. But in Istria, that arrowhead-shaped peninsula at the head of the Adriatic, the population is almost solidly Italian. Though alternately bribed and bullied, cajoled and coerced, there persists, both among the simple peasants of the Trentino and Istria and the hard-headed business men of Trieste, a most sentimental and inextinguishable attachment for the Italian motherland. There is, indeed, something approaching the sublime in the fascination which Italy exercises across the centuries on these exiled sons of hers.
The arguments adduced by Italy for the acquisition of Dalmatia are by no means as sound ethnographically as her claims to the Trentino and Trieste. Though the apostles of expansion assert that ten per cent of the population of Dalmatia is Italian, this is an exaggeration, the most reliable authorities agreeing that the Italian element does not exceed three or four per cent. But this is not saying that Dalmatia is not, in spirit, in language, in traditions, Italian. Cruise along its shores, talk to its people, view the architecture of Ragusa, of Zara, of Spalato, and you will not need to be reminded that Dalmatia was Venetian until, little more than a century ago, Napoleon handed it over to Austria at the peace of Campo Formio in return for the recognition of his two made-to-order states, the Cis-Alpine and Ligurian Republics.
It is safe to say that the war will produce no more delicate problem than that of Dalmatia, which, as I have already shown, can never be settled on purely racial lines. Those who have studied the subject agree that to completely shut off Austria-Hungary from the sea would be a proceeding of grave unwisdom and one which would be certain to sow the seed for future wars. This is, I believe, the view taken by most deep-thinking Italians. The Italianization of the Adriatic's eastern seaboard would result, moreover, in raising a barrier against the legitimate expansion of the Balkan Slavs and would end the Serbian dream of an outlet to the sea. But the statesmen who are shaping Italy's policies are, I am convinced, too sensible and too far-seeing to commit so grave a blunder. Were I to hazard a prophecy--and prophesying is always a poor business--I should say that, no matter how conclusive a victory the Allies may achieve, neither Austria-Hungary nor Serbia will be wholly cut off from the salt water.
Events in the less remote theatres of war have prevented the Italian occupation of Albania from attracting the attention it deserves. The operations in that region have, moreover, been shrouded in mystery; foreigners desiring to visit Albania have met with polite but firm refusals; the published reports of the progress of the Albanian expedition--which, by the way, is a much larger force than is generally supposed--have been meagre and unsatisfying. The Italians figure, I fancy, on making their occupation as extensive and as solid as possible before the Albanian question comes up for international discussion.
If Italy's ambitions in Dalmatia bring her into collision with the Slavs, her plans for expansion in Albania are bound to arouse the hostility of the Greeks. The Italian troops at Argyocastro are occupying territory which Greece looks on as distinctly within her sphere of influence, and they menace Janina itself. Though Italy has intimated, I believe, that her occupation of Albania is not to be regarded as permanent, she is most certainly on the eastern shore of the Adriatic to stay, for her commercial and political interests will not permit her to have a Haiti or a Mexico at her front door. So I rather fancy that, when the peacemakers deal out the cards upon the green-topped table, Albania will become Italian in name, if not in fact, under a control similar to that which the French exercise in Morocco or the British in Egypt. And it will be quite natural, for there is in the Albanians a strong streak of Italian.
The settlement of this trans-Adriatic problem is going to require the most cautious and delicate handling. How far will Italy be permitted to go? How far may Serbia come? Shall Austria be cut off from the sea? Is Hungary to become an independent kingdom? Is Montenegro to disappear? What is Greece to get? The only one of these questions that can be answered with any certainty is the last. Greece, as the result of her shifty and even treacherous attitude, will get very little consideration. On the decision of these questions hangs the future of the Balkan peoples. Though their final settlement must, of course, be deferred until the coming of peace, some regard will have to be paid, after all, to actual occupancies and accomplished facts. That is why Italy is making her position in Albania so solid that she cannot readily be ousted. And perhaps it is well that she is. Europe will owe a debt of gratitude to the Italians if they can bring law and order to Albania, which has never had a speaking acquaintance with either of them.
Nor do Italian ambitions end with the domination of the eastern shore of the Adriatic. With the destruction, or at least the disablement, of the Austrian Empire, Italy dreams of bringing within her political and commercial sphere of influence a considerable portion of the Balkan Peninsula, from which she is separated by only forty-seven miles of salt water. But that is only the beginning of her vision of commercial greatness. Look at the map and you will see that with its continuation, the island of Sicily, Italy forms a great wharf which reaches out into the Mediterranean, nearly to the shores of Africa. Her peculiarly fortunate geographical position enables her, therefore, to offer the shortest route from Western and Central Europe to North Africa, the Levant, and the Farther East. It has been rumored, though with what truth I cannot say, that the Allies have agreed, in the event that they are completely victorious, to a rectification of the Tunisian and Egyptian frontiers, thus materially improving Italy's position in Libya, as the colony of Tripolitania is now known. It is also generally understood that, should the dismemberment of Asiatic Turkey be decided upon, the city of Smyrna, with its splendid harbor and profitable commerce, as well as a slice of the hinterland, will fall to Italy's portion. With her flag thus firmly planted on the coasts of three continents, with her most dangerous rival finally disposed of, with the splendid industrial organization, born of the war, speeded up to its highest efficiency, and with vast new markets in Africa, in Asia, in the Balkans opened to her products, Italy dreams of wresting from France and England the overlordship of the Middle Sea.
It would be useless to deny that an unfavorable impression was created in the United States by the fact that Italy, in entering the war, turned against her former allies. Her enemies have charged that she dickered with both the Entente and the Central Powers, and only joined the former because they made her the most tempting offer. That she did dicker with Austria is but the unvarnished truth--and of that chapter of Italian history the less said the better--but I am convinced that she finally entered the war, not because she had been bribed by promises of territorial concessions, but because the national conscience demanded that she join the forces of civilization in their struggle against barbarism. Suppose that I sketch for you, in brief, bold outline, the chain of historic events which occurred during the ten months between the presentation to Serbia of the Austrian ultimatum and Italy's declaration of war on Austria. Then you will be able to form your own opinion.
On the evening of July 23, 1914, Austria handed her note to Serbia. It demanded in overbearing and insulting terms that Serbia should place under Austrian control her schools, her law-courts, her police, in fact her whole internal administration. The little kingdom was given forty-eight hours in which to consider her answer. In other words, she was called upon, within the space of two days, to sacrifice her national independence. At six o'clock on the evening of July 25 the time limit allowed by the Austrian ultimatum expired. Half an hour later the Austrian Minister and his staff left Belgrade.
Now Article VII of the Treaty of Alliance between Italy, Austria, and Germany provided that in the event of any change in the status quo of the Balkan Peninsula which would entail a temporary or permanent occupation, Austria and Italy bound themselves to work in mutual accord on the basis of reciprocal compensation for any advantage, territorial or otherwise, obtained by either of the contracting Powers. Here is the text of the Article. Read it for yourself:
Austria-Hungary and Italy, who aim exclusively at the maintenance of the status quo in the East, bind themselves to employ their influence to prevent every territorial change which may be detrimental to one or other of the contracting Powers. They will give each other all explanations necessary for the elucidation of their respective intentions as well as those of the other Powers. If, however, in the course of events the maintenance of the status quo in the Balkans and on the Ottoman coasts and in the islands of the Adriatic and the Ægean Seas should become impossible, and if, either in consequence of the acts of a third Power or of other causes, Austria and Italy should be compelled to change the status quo by a temporary or permanent occupation, such occupation shall only take place after previous agreement between the two Powers, based on the principle of a reciprocal arrangement for all the advantages, territorial or other, which one of them may secure outside the status quo, and in such a manner as to satisfy all the legitimate claims of both parties.
Nothing could be plainer than that Austria-Hungary, by forcing war upon Serbia, planned to change the status quo in the Near East. Yet she had not taken the trouble to give Italy any explanation of her intentions, nor had she said anything about giving her ally reciprocal compensation as provided for in the treaty. Three days after the memorable 23d of July, therefore, Italy intimated to the Vienna Government that her idea of adequate compensation would be the cession of those Austrian provinces inhabited by Italians. In other words, she insisted that, if Austria was to extend her borders below the Danube by an occupation of Serbia, as was obviously her intention, thus upsetting the balance of power in the Balkans, Italy expected to receive as compensation the Trentino and Trieste, which, though under Austrian rule, are Italian in sentiment and population. Otherwise, she added, the Triple Alliance would be broken. On the 3d of August, having received no satisfactory reply from Austria, Italy declared her neutrality. In so doing, however, she made it quite clear that she in no way admitted Austria's right to a free hand in the Adriatic or the Balkan Peninsula--regions which Italy has long regarded as within her own sphere of influence.
Early in the winter of 1914 Prince von Bülow, one of the most suave and experienced German diplomats, arrived in Rome on a special mission from Berlin. In his first interview with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Baron Sonnino, he frankly acknowledged Italy's right to territorial compensation under the terms of Article VII of the Triple Alliance. There is no doubt that Germany, recognizing the danger of flouting Italy, brought strong pressure to bear on Austria to surrender at least a portion of the regions in question. Austria, however, bluntly refused to heed either Italy's demands or Germany's suggestions. She refused even to discuss the question of ceding any part of her Italian provinces. She attempted, indeed, to reverse the situation by claiming compensation from Italy for the occupation of the Dodecannesus and Vallona. The Dodecannesus was held as a pledge of Turkish good faith, while the occupation of Vallona was indispensable for the protection of Italian interests in Albania, where anarchy reigned, and where much the same conditions prevailed which existed in Mexico at the time of the American occupation of Vera Cruz.
The discussions might well have dragged on indefinitely, but late in March, 1915, Austria, goaded by her ally into a more conciliatory attitude, reluctantly consented to make concrete proposals. She offered to Italy the southern half of the Trentino, but mentioned no definite boundaries, and added that the bargain could not be carried into effect until peace had been concluded. In return she claimed from Italy heavy financial contributions to the National Debt and to the provincial and communal loans, also full indemnity for all investments made in the ceded territory, for all ecclesiastical property and entailed estates, and for the pensions of State officials. To assign even an approximate value to such concessions would entail a prolonged delay--a fact of which Austria was perfectly aware.
Italy responded to the Austrian advances by presenting her counter-claims, and for more than a month the negotiations pursued a difficult and tedious course. It must be admitted that, everything considered, Italy's claims were not particularly exorbitant. She claimed (1) a more extended and more easily defendable frontier in the Trentino, but she refrained from demanding the cession of the entire region lying south of the Brenner, as she would have been justified in doing from a strategic point of view; (2) a new boundary on the Isonzo which would give her possession of the towns of Gradisca and Gorizia (she has since taken them by arms); (3) the cession of certain islands of the Curzolari group; (4) the withdrawal of Austrian pretensions in Albania and the acknowledgement of Italy's right to occupy the Dodecannesus and Vallona; (5) the formation of the city of Trieste, together with the adjacent judicial districts of Priano and Capo d'Istria, into an autonomous State, independent of both Italy and Austria. By such an arrangement Austria would have retained nearly the whole of the Istrian Peninsula, the cities of Pola and Fiume, the entire Dalmatian coast, and the majority of the Dalmatian Islands. But she refused to even consider Italy's proposed changes in the Adriatic, or to do more than slightly increase her offer in the Trentino. Italy therefore broke off negotiations, and on May 4, 1915, the alliance with Austria was denounced.
Prince von Bülow was now confronted with the complete failure of his mission of keeping Italy yoked to Austria and Germany. No one realized better than this suave and astute diplomatist that the bonds which still held together the three nations were about to break. He next endeavored, by methods verging on the unscrupulous, to create distrust of the Italian Government among the Italian people. A member of the Reichstag circulated stealthily among the deputies and journalists, flattering each in turn with the assumption that he alone was the man of the moment, and offering him, in the names of Germany and Austria, new concessions which had not been communicated to the Italian Cabinet. It was back-stairs diplomacy in its shadiest and most questionable form. The concessions thus unofficially promised consisted of the offer of a new frontier in the Trentino, and for Trieste an administrative but not a political autonomy. The Adriatic, it seems, was to remain as before. And these concessions were all hedged about by impossible restrictions, or were not to come into effect until after the war. Yet at one time these intrigues came perilously near to accomplishing their purpose. Matters were still further complicated by the activities and interference of a former Foreign Minister, Signor Giolitti, whose vanity had been flattered, and whose ambitions had been cleverly played upon by the Teutonic emissary. To fully understand the extraordinary nature of this proceeding, one must picture Count von Bernstorff, at the height of the submarine crisis, negotiating not with the Government of the United States, but with Mr. William Jennings Bryan!
But, fortunately for the national honor, the Italian people, having had time to reflect what the future of Italy would be after the war, whatever its outcome, were they to be cut off from the only peoples in Europe with which they had spiritual sympathy, took things into their own hands. The storm of anger and indignation which swept the country rocked the Government to its foundations. The Salandra cabinet, which had resigned as a protest against the machinations of Giolitti, was returned to power. Through every city, town, and hamlet from Savoy to Sicily, thronged workmen, students, business and professional men, even priests and monks, waving the red-white-and-green banner and shouting the national watch-words "Italia Irredenta," and "Avanti Savoia!"
But there was a deeper cause underlying these great patriotic demonstrations than mere hatred of Austria. They were expressions of national resentment at the impotent and dependent rôle which Italy had played so long. D'Annunzio, in one of his famous addresses in May, 1915, put this feeling into words: "We will no longer be a museum of antiquities, a kind of hostelry, a pleasure resort, under a sky painted over with Prussian blue, for the benefit of international honeymooners."
The sentiment of the people was expressed by the Idea Nazionale, which on May 10 declared:
Italy desires war: (1) In order to obtain Trent, Trieste, and Dalmatia. The country desires it. A nation which has the opportunity to free its land should do so as a matter of imperative necessity.... (2) ... in order to conquer for ourselves a good strategic frontier in the North and East.... (3) ... because to-day, in the Adriatic, in the Balkan Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and Asia, Italy should have all the advantages it is possible for her to have, and without which her political, economic, and moral power would diminish in proportion as that of others increased.... If we would be a great Power we must accept certain obligations: one of them is war....
The voice of the people was unmistakable: they wanted war. To have refused that demand would have meant the fall of the Government if not of the dynasty. The King did not want war. The responsible politicians, with a very few exceptions, did not want it. The nobility did not want it. The Church did not want it. The bankers and business men of the nation did not want it. It was the great mass of the Italian people, shamed and indignant at the position in which the nation had been placed by the sordid dickering with Austria, who swept the country into war. I was in Italy during those exciting days; I witnessed the impressive popular demonstrations in the larger cities; and in my mind there was left no shadow of a doubt that the Government had to choose between war and revolution. On the 23d of May, 1915, Italy declared war on Austria.
For ten months Italy, in the face of sneers and jeers, threats and reproaches, had maintained her neutrality. Be it remembered, however, that it was from the first a neutrality benevolent to the Allies. Even those who consider themselves well informed have apparently failed to recognize how decisive a factor that neutrality was. Italy's action in promptly withdrawing her forces from the French border relieved France's fears of an Italian invasion, and left her free to use the half million troops which had been guarding her southern frontier to oppose the German advance on Paris. It is not overstating the facts to assert that, had Italy's attitude toward France been less frank and honest, had the Republic not felt safe in stripping its southern border of troops, von Kluck would have broken through to Paris--he came perilously near to doing so as it was--and the whole course of the war would have been changed. It is to be hoped that, when the diplomatic history of the war comes to be written, the attitude of Italy during those critical days will receive the recognition which it deserves.