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'World War II clouds gather in Europe'

Aug 20, 2023Aug 20, 2023

Dasu Kesava Rao, a veteran journalist who retired from active journalism after completing his tenure with The Hindu, has shared this story with Says he: The author of this research paper is my father Dasu Trivikrama Rao. It was published in Triveni, a well-known quarterly dedicated to literature, culture and Arts, in 1928. He had presented this paper earlier to the International Youth Congress which he had attended as a delegate from India.

The write-up warns of a war in Europe which did break out in 1939 engulfing the world. He had even visualised the probable line-up of forces on the two sides.

Over the years, names of some cities and even countries in Europe have changed. Some of the leaders of the time are not familiar to us, the post-war people. But I find it as relevant today it was in those days.

In spite of the Kellogg Peace Pact and the League of Nations, the trend of events in recent European diplomatic history points to a grave danger that would involve European and Asiatic countries in a colossal conflict, with warfronts extending from the Seine to the Hoangho or Yangtsekiang in an unbroken line. From the great European war of 1914-18 have emerged new orders of political society and the war-time principles of administration have found a permanent place in the methods of European Governments. In fact, apart from the evolutionary changes that have taken place in Germany, France and England, the rise into prominence of Fascism in Italy and Bolshevism in Russia has introduced new economic machinery upsetting the old standards of living and old outlook on life. These phenomena in their turn have produced a reaction in the traditionally conservative Governments of the elderly European states who, notwithstanding their centuries-old experience, prefer to view the new movements with distrust and are attempting to combat the new political forces with every available weapon, intellectual and physical. In short, England is ranging all her forces against Russia, and France is mobilising all her resources against Italy, and from what follows the danger spots of future European war can be easily looked for in the movements of this quartette.

It is an open fact, proudly asserted by British diplomats, that there is an active hostility between the British and Soviet Governments and that no stone would be left unturned to bring the Bolsheviks and their Government to a normal state of equilibrium. In this game of open enmity with the principles and methods of the Soviet Government, the British Foreign office had taken all the necessary measures to intensify its hatred by erecting a bloc of anti-Russian states. The Baldwin administration with Sir Austen Chamberlain as the Foreign Secretary has initiated a system of secret diplomacy by which “regional understandings” were concluded with different states of Europe, the first of which is the famous “Treaty of Locarno” in 1925. It has become the seedbed of the coming European conflict and set an end to the good work that was done by the Macdonald Ministry during its spell of office. The spirit of International good-will and the regime of open diplomacy inaugurated by Mr. Ramsay Macdonald culminating in the agreement on Reparations between Germany and the Allies, the Treaty with the Soviet Government and the acceptance of the true principles of Arbitration–Security and Disarmament–have now received the death blow and set in motion the evil forces of suspicion, distrust and fear. The ‘Spirit of Locarno’ to which the world had been treated ad nauseam was the reverse of what it had been represented to be and the treaty was only the first in the chain of the complicated system of multilateral treaties which, instead of preserving the security of the states, may at any time release forces of a powerful and evil nature, enveloping the world in a dire and gigantic struggle. “There is a widespread conviction” said the well-informed Constantinople correspondent of the London Times “that the published terms of the agreement do not tell the whole story and that there are secret clauses of a less anaemic character” and the result of Locarno was the conclusion of a new treaty between Russia and Turkey of a mutually defensive character, thus creating a set off to the palpable move of isolating Russia. It will be interesting, however, to note in this connection that it has been the historic policy of Great Britain to oppose, to isolate and finally to defeat, any military power that seemed likely to secure military predominance on the continent. In any case, she always effectuates a new Balance of Power whenever new factors present themselves in the scales.

The League of Nations, the unhappy child of President Wilson adopted by the European Powers, commands no allegiance or affection from its members. “Geneva” said The Times describing a meeting of the League of Nations, “the home of an institution designed to prevent war, was suddenly transformed into the scene of the crudest manifestations of those very intrigues that drive desperate nations into the blind arbitrage of war. The depths of national rivalries, suspicions and jealousies were revealed in full measure. The spectacle, revolutionary as it is, has at least been instructive.” And as to the Treaty of Locarno and the spirit in which it was viewed by Italy, there was no mistake. It was referred to as an expression of social democratic imbecility and that Geneva could not hasten or retard pre-ordained wars. “Italy” said the Tevere, the premier Fascist Journal, “has long abandoned all Utopian ideas of peace. Peace can only result from a balance of warring forces. Thanks to Fascism, Europe has now laid aside the Puritanical mask and becomes again a camp of the rivalries and ambitions of warring civilisations.” This was followed up by a speech by Signor Mussolini who said, “The spirit of Locarno has evaporated. Everybody is arming. Italy must arm. Italy must be able to mobilise 5,000,000 men and to arm them, and their air-force must be so numerous that the surface of their wings must obscure the sun over their land.”

With such definitive tendencies towards war, Italy has formed new alliances in the Balkans and with Spain which augur ill for the continuation of peace in Europe. Directed against the influence of France in Eastern Europe and against French nationals in South-Eastern France, a treaty of arbitration and friendship with Rumania was signed by Italy engaging the two countries to support each other for the maintenance of international order, which was later succeeded by the visit of the Duke of Spoleto and Marshal Bandogolio to convey the assurances of friendship of the Italian Royal House to Rumania. A further attempt in the same direction to range Bulgaria also on the side of Italy was made without any tangible results, and with such treaties of a militant and aggressive character, international order is proposed to be maintained!

Two incidents of a memorable character but isolated in the history of any nation, corresponding in many particulars to the murder of the Archduke at Serajevo in 1914, have stirred the embers of Italo-French antagonism and promise to be the forerunners of the future European struggle. Two years ago on the 15th September, an Italian, Gino Lucetti, attempted to assassinate Mussolini. It appeared that the would-be assassin was in France a short time previously and the Italian Press alleged that the incident was the result of French anti-Fascist propaganda. Signor Mussolini, a few days after the attempt, is reported to have said, “An end must be put to certain culpable tolerance on the other side of the Frontier if it is really desired to maintain friendship with the Italian people. We are ready for all the battles and all the victories.” Though eventually Italy regretted her indiscreet utterances and apologised to France, her sense of wounded pride could not be subdued and a prominent Government Journal remarked that “Italy shall never forget this humiliation and she shall see at the next 1914.”

A year later at Bologna, another attempt was made at the Fascist Dictator by a boy named Zambori, and at Ventimiglia, the Frontier station, scenes of a violent and bloody nature were witnessed. Hostile demonstrations resulting in serious accidents took place, and had the progress of the disturbance not been checked in time, war between France and Italy would have been unavoidable. French railway men who were at the Frontier station were relentlessly molested by the Fascist and within a short time little armed bands of Italian militia appeared on the Frontier. It was stated that they were going to invade France, but at 9 p.m. a special emissary arrived from Rome who disbanded the Fascist forces and stopped what would have been a casus belli.

Beneath these fulminations of Italian sentiments lies a deeply-laid scheme of military preparation similar to that of France–a threat to the security of Europe. The Great garrisons of Italy are within eighty miles of the Frontier, and the distance which separates them is every day getting more and more packed with men, works and ways of access to the French Riviera, and the Italian squadron at Port Mamice jeopardises Nice and Southern France. The construction of military roads, the establishment of an aerodrome at Albenga, the formation of an eleventh army corps with its base at Allessandia, are the nearest indices to the divergent feelings of friendship between France and Italy, and confirmation is lent to the apprehension by the recent military and naval movements of France which, amongst other changes, has regrouped the torpedo boat patrols and submarines and stationed a powerful army corps including the famous Chasseurs Alpins or “Blue devils” equipped with mountain batteries, tanks, gas and flame-throwing apparatus.

Supplemental to the above, the French Chamber of Deputies significantly adopted in the course of four days a measure for the conscription, in the event of war, of every man, woman and child in the country and in the French-African dominions as well. Its purpose, as it was expressed at the time, was to enable the Government to mobilise for war purposes not only individuals but organisations of every kind, including Trades Unions. This amazing measure was rushed through the Chamber almost without discussion, and with these events before one, can anyone deny the possibilities of an early war?

The material preparations for war are more or less complete in the two important Latin countries of Southern Europe, and it is interesting to know of Eastern Europe where the smaller nationalities of the Balkans, the offspring of the Versailles Treaty, are utilised by the Big Powers as pawns on the military chess-board. The peace of Europe rests on the Balance of Power in the Balkans, and any the least attempt to disturb the subtle and sensitive framework of international good-will in that area recoils with a vengeance, setting in conflagration the whole of Europe and her dependencies in the Old and New Hemispheres. The secret Anglo-Polish Entente, the promise of Italian help to Poland to annex Bessarabia, the determination of Great Britain to strengthen the position of border states which have erected a defensive frontier and an offensive front against Russia, throw into relief the tense conditions under which foreign diplomacy has to play its part in East Europe and the ease with which the rankling dissensions of the smaller states might give rise to misunderstandings and mutual warfare. International politics are more and more dominated by the Anglo-Russian tension and England is trying to combine the states on the Western frontiers of Russia against the Soviet. The nucleus of the anti- Bolshevik alliance is formed by a secret treaty between England and Italy, and the states that are proposed to be incorporated in it are Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Lettonia, Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary. It is anticipated that the combination will be resisted by an alliance of Germany and Russia joined by Jugo-Slavia, Czecho-Slovakia, Belgium, Turkey, Afghanistan and Persia. At the same time, Russia is re-organising her military and economic forces and availing herself of the most up-to-date technical advice and intelligence to adequately take part either in the defensive war or in the International Revolution that she hopes to bring about.

It is difficult to forecast the actual date of the next war, but it is certain that a great war far superseding that of 1914 in intensity and vigour and in the nature of alliance will take place, and allowing that the course of foreign relationship is liable to change, we can visualise the combinations that are in process of formation.

1. The combination of Italy, Hungary, Spain, Albania, with the probable arrival of Bulgaria, Greece and Rumania. This group has the cordial support of Great Britain.

2. In spite of the controversy over the Vilna question between Lithuania and Poland, Britain is encouraging the formation into a distinct group of the border states of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia.

3. France and the Little Entente of Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Jugoslovia.

4. The Soviet Union, Turkey, Afghanistan and Persia.

In a prospective grouping of the European states, the position of Germany is uncertain. Since the last war, she has been shrewdly adjusting her affairs and prefers to follow a realistic policy gaining her own ends rather than range herself on one side or the other. The neutrality of the Scandinavian and Dutch nations was a source of gain to them in the Great War, which Germany appreciates more than others. Japan, as she did in 1914, would, like the proverbial statesman, watch the struggle and proclaim herself on the winning side, should it enable her to extend her ambitions in the Pacific or China sea, while China, if absolved from her internal disturbances, is bound to set her household in order and improve it instead of participating in a futile conflict. In any case, her sympathies would align themselves with those of her neighbours, the Soviet Republics of Central and Northern Asia. As to the part which dependencies like India play in consequence of their being Imperial appendices, one cannot prophesy with certainty the extent of her support to Great Britain, save that the continued disregard of Great Britain of her promises and pledges has considerably lessened any chance of successful co-operation in that direction.

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Dasu Kesava Rao, a veteran journalist who retired from active journalism after completing his tenure with The Hindu, has shared this story with Says he: The author of this research paper is my father Dasu Trivikrama Rao. It was published in Triveni, a well-known quarterly dedicated to literature, culture and Arts, in 1928. He had presented this paper earlier to the International Youth Congress which he had attended as a delegate from India.The write-up warns of a war in Europe which did break out in 1939 engulfing the world. He had even visualised the probable line-up of forces on the two sides.Over the years, names of some cities and even countries in Europe have changed. Some of the leaders of the time are not familiar to us, the post-war people. But I find it as relevant today it was in those days.NOTE: This is a trimmed version of the article. Entire page is not accessible.WhatsAppTelegramFeatured NewsAndroidiOS