WHY ITALY ENTERED WW1

To understand fully Italy’s relation to the great war, we must go back to the historic causes. To have a complete conception of the underlying principles and motives which controlled her action, one must have a reasonably complete knowledge of her relation to France and Austria during the period of the reconstruction of Europe---and especially during the last century. Where the problem is so complex, one must know the clew to find the true solution.

The relations of the European States to each other are, in fact, so complex, and the questions involved in those relations are so inextricably entangled, that without a knowledge of their history it is quite impossible to understand them. They extend back through the centuries, and include dynastic rivalries and territorial claims; they include and are intensified by religious antagonisms, and racial and traditional contentions. But under all lie economic and fundamental causes---the eternal law of supply and demand. And with these the prizes that men strive for through the ages, and will strive for more and more as population increases and civilization advances---the means of living more and more easily, and of displaying more and more the power of superior organization of human forces. And closely connected with this is the command of the highways of traffic. Nineveh, Babylon, Carthage, Rome, Bagdad, Constantinople, Venice, Paris, London---the story at bottom is the same---the aim to possess the fertile places of the earth, and to gain access thereto, whether in Spain, North Africa, the Valley of the Po, the Danube, or the Rhine. And the control of the highways by land or by sea lies at the base of their history in ancient as in modern times, whether it be of the Brenner or the Carnic Passes; of the Adriatic or Ægean Seas, or of the eastern Mediterranean, most noted of all historic highways; of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus; or of the Suez Canal and the Hamburg-Bagdad Railway.

he Punic wars were for the wheat-fields of Sicily and North Africa; for the coastwise and inland trade and the control of the Mediterranean; and for the supremacy of the conflicting civilizations engaged therein. The World War was fundamentally for the control of the great fields of enterprise in Asia and Africa, and of the highways leading thereto; and for the dominance of the conflicting ideas applied in the process. It was this aim which brought the Medes and Persians down into Mesopotamia; the Huns and Goths into Italy in ancient days; which brought the Cossacks to the Don; the Franks to France; the Slavs into the Balkan peninsula---to the shores of the Ionian and Adriatic Seas; which brought the Ottoman Turks to Constantinople and to the gates of Vienna. And it was this which set on foot the enterprise of reducing the world under German rule.

The history of Italy during the Middle Ages is so bound up with that of what is now known as Austria; but was then known sometimes as “the German Empire,” sometimes as “the Holy Roman Empire,” that to understand the one we must comprehend the other also, and the relations between them.
Without going back save to state that, although when the chief ruler of Europe and the source of future Emperors, Charlemagne, was crowned Emperor at Rome (A. D. 800) it resulted in what was termed later “the transference of the Empire from the Greeks to the Franks,” it may be said that “the Holy Roman Empire,” in the sense which it commonly bore in later centuries as “The Sovereignty of Germany and Italy under a Germanic prince,” began with Otto the Great, descended from Charlemagne through a female line.

From this time the struggle for supremacy over Italy proceeded with fluctuating degrees of success down to our own time, and the history of Italy has never been wholly free from the effects of this struggle. Emperors succeeded each other and Imperial houses rose and fell, one after another, all exercising or claiming rights over Italy which affected, in greater or less degree, Italy and the Italian people. Popes rose and passed away, contesting or yielding to the Imperial claims; often conquered; sometimes victorious; but always Italy and dominion over the Italian people were the prizes for which they strove, and the Italian people were the victims of their strife. Emperor after Emperor invaded Italy and claimed sovereignty over her dismembered parts, accepted by the rulers or resisted by them; working with them or rejected by them. At times the claims were relinquished only to be reasserted later on.

The contest that went on so long was intensified by the rivalry between the head of the Empire and the head of the Church for supremacy. It began far back. It had its origin in the very foundation of the Empire on a Christian basis, and of Christianity on an Imperial basis. The “Donation of Constantine” was a long-subsequent invention to meet a certain political situation; but the contention for the supremacy between the Emperor and the Pope had long raged, each claiming that the other was his subordinate and vassal. With a relation at first accepted by both, one side from time to time encroached on the rights of Emperor or Pope, drawing their people into the quarrel. It had its apogee, after a long contest over investitures of ecclesiastics, when in 1077 at Canossa the Emperor Henry IV, excommunicated by the Pope and abandoned by many of his supporters, stood barefooted in the snow to do penance before Pope Gregory VII. Both Emperor and Pope died in exile; but both maintained their contention and handed it down to their successors to be the source of future quarrels as immortal as their respective titles. It has been said that the resentment felt by the German people, or their rulers, at the humiliation put on the German Emperor by the Roman Supreme Pontiff had its direct fruit in the Reformation and the support it found in Germany three centuries later. And all through the centuries, whatever their relations otherwise might be, the respective claims to supremacy kept them in an unending rivalry which colored and emphasized the division between their respective peoples and furnished ever fresh grounds for renewed conflict.

The long and fateful conflict (1160-90) between the Emperor Barbarossa and the Pope Alexander, in coalition with the Lombard League and Sicily, whatever prescriptive -right there may have been on the Emperor’s side, and whatever selfish political ambition may have been on the side of the others, was at bottom a contest as to whether Italy should be governed by Italian or by foreign rulers; and the latter won. Then came Innocent III, who asserted his claim to rule all Italy, and for a time appeared to have made it good against the Henrys of Germany. Then after a time the old fight was renewed and presently Italy was divided in the long contest between Guelfs and Ghibellines: representatives of, at least, the contest between domestic and foreign tyranny and later between degrees of the former.

After the interregnum which covered the period from, the death of Frederick II, or of his son, Conrad IV, the conditions became so insupportable that a new German Emperor had to be chosen, and the choice fell on Rudolph, Count of Hapsburg, who was chosen in 1273 and became the founder of the Austrian House and Empire.
It was a long road that stretched before them, but from the beginning to the end, however the tides of fortune ebbed and flowed, there was always Italy left, its people, however divided and antagonistic among themselves, still Italians, still proud, even arrogant, because of Rome, because of Italy with her memories of Rome. Sunk in misery, debased in some sections by conditions which would have debased any people and might have destroyed any other; engaged as they were in interminable internecine strifes, and subject to the rule of strangers, they yet retained something that held them by a common bond united against the Stranger’s subjugation, and this was the Italian spirit. Its great source was far back in the past, and like that river which courses under mountain and ocean to burst forth in the Garden of the Sun, its current was lost in the desert of the Dark Ages to issue forth with unabated force and ever-increasing volume in later days. In the past they---the people---had been conceded as their portion, at least, panem et circenses, and they still held that their right to food and recreation was inalienable. They were ever ready to rise for their rights; to close their gates and to ring their bells against all invasion thereof, as against even the victorious Charles VIII. Often they rose against their local tyrants; at times, indeed, against Emperors and Kings and Popes. And, although the cost was dear, they possessed inherent traits which made it possible to pay it and still survive with a potential endowment of racial and even national consciousness which to-day is found in the Italian word “Italianità.” It would lead too far afield to undertake to follow in any detail the tortuous and broken course of Austria’s violation of and dealings with Italy.

Italy, from the death of Frederick II in 1250, had been sensibly emancipated from the Imperial power, although several Emperors entered Italy and many claimed Imperial power over her; and some, even of the great Italians, dreamed of an Emperor, suzerain of all powers and peoples under him, and an Italy recognizing his suzerainty, yet free within herself. This Utopian dream filled even great Dante’s cosmic mind. But the reign of the last German Emperor who was crowned in Rome, Frederick III, ended the year after America was discovered and thenceforward, however divided and torn by internecine strife; however invaded by Imperial rulers; and bound and harried by ducal scions of the Imperial German-Austrian House, Italy’s dreams were of herself. From Dante and Petrarch and Tasso to Mazzini and Carducci, the dreams were of Italy---the Italy of the Italians, free and rounded out.

Maximilian I, who has been said to be the true founder of the House of Hapsburg, came to the throne the year after America was discovered, and, although he obtained from the Pope (Julius II) the right to the title of “Emperor Elect,” he never reached Rome and he was essentially Emperor of the German Empire, rather than of the Roman Empire.

His grandson, Charles V, was crowned by the Pope, but at Bologna, and, however his power may have extended over northern Italy, it did not reach Rome.
Strengthened on the one hand by the acquisition of the Netherlands, the Austro-German Emperor had lost on the other by the repudiation of his suzerainty on the part of Poland, Bohemia, Switzerland, and Burgundy, as well as Italy. Thenceforth, however persistently the House of Hapsburg claimed and invaded and fought for it, conquered parts of it and established its provinces in its duchies, Italy was Italy, and the Italians were Italians. Whatever the leaders may have thought, the people felt differently---and with them feeling was deeper than thought. Meantime, a stronger power had grown up on the western side of Italy: the Kingdom of France.

In the last half of the fifteenth century, Burgundy and Provence fell to France, and Switzerland was breaking loose, to become practically independent of the German Empire in 1500, and be recognized by Europe a century and a half later (Treaty of Westphalia, 1648) as an independent state.
The great Duchy of Burgundy, falling to France, made the latter a formidable rival to the Austro-German Empire; and this rivalry, extending to the contest for dominion ostensibly over Burgundy and northern Italy, but really over central Europe from the North Sea to the Adriatic, was the true source of a struggle which has lasted intermittently and with varying fortunes down to our own time.

Although France was defeated by the Emperor of Austria-Germany in the great struggle for Italy, and lost at Pavia all save honor, the genius of her people in time recouped her disaster, and eventually made her the mistress of central Europe. The French civilization almost eclipsed that of Italy, and the Grand Monarch, served by the most redoubtable armies of Europe, bade fair to restore once more the prestige of the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne. Then, following the law that appears to govern nations with almost rhythmic regularity, she sank under the combined forces without and within, until she lost to her foes her great colonies and her prestige, and fell into revolution only to rise again and acquire for a time, under an Italian by race, all and more than she had ever lost in Europe---including all that had ever belonged to the Holy Roman Empire.

The Holy Roman Empire which had survived until, as Voltaire said, it was “neither holy, Roman, nor an Empire,” perished at length (in 1806) before the overwhelming power of an Italian in race, if French by citizenship. He conquered the western part of the continent of Europe as Charlemagne had done, and crowned himself King of Italy, and gave to his only son the title of “King of Rome.” As the master of continental Europe, he drove out of Italy the tyrants great and small, who had ruled and misruled from one end of the peninsula to the other, and with a view to making Italy secure he laid off her northern boundary along the highest ridge of the Alps, including the Brenner Pass, a confine which Italy claimed in this war, and has just been accorded by the treaty of peace.

Napoleon was certainly not interested in giving to Italy entire Liberty in the sense in which we regard it to-day. He, however, intended to free Italy from the subjection of foreign rulers, and to become himself her sole ruler and, no doubt, his intentions were not inspired by any lofty ideas regarding Liberty, for he allied himself with the Austrian Emperor and, when it served his purpose, handed over Venice to Austria without compunction. When, unsatiated with conquest and still aiming at new worlds to conquer, Napoleon failed before the aroused fear and hostility of Europe, the Congress of Vienna, representing nations whose united fear and hatred had overthrown him, partitioned out his conquests, and handed Italy back to those whom Napoleon had driven out: mainly scions and wards of the Austrian Emperor, the head of the House of Hapsburg. Even so, however, Italy was less divided than she had been previously. There were fewer states and fewer tyrants. Previously there had been many more separate states in Italy, now there were but eight. These were all dependent directly or indirectly on the Austrian Empire. In these transactions not the slightest attention was paid to the wishes of the Italian people, high or low. They were considered simply objects of barter and sale. When Talleyrand, who presided, declared the Congress open in the name of Public Right, the Prussian representative, Baron von Humboldt, rose in some indignation and demanded to know what right had the public with which that Congress was concerned. When the English representative referred to England as interested in the rights of Peoples, Metternich declared that whoever might consider themselves representatives of the People, Austria held herself as the champion of the Rights of Dynastic succession. Such was the temper in which the Congress undertook its labors, and the result of its labors was what the Congress promised. The re subjection of Italy to foreign rulers who, set up by external force, were maintained in their position by external force until their tyranny, their mismanagement and misrule, unexcelled if not unequalled during the whole course of human history, so roused the Italian people, even habituated as they were to misrule, that the spirit of Liberty in the Italian people, immortal under all conditions, burst forth and eventually brought about that great revolution known as the Risorgimento, or the Resurrection of Italy, which overthrew the governments of the tyrants, great and small, who had attempted to destroy Italy, and resulted in the union of the Italian states and of the Italian people in that great kingdom which is the Italy of to-day, great because founded on the love of liberty of a great people united under a great constitutional sovereign: King Victor Emmanuel III.

The story of this Resurrection covers almost exactly one hundred years, one continuous whole, as it begins toward the end of the second decade of the last century and comes down through the misadventures and activities from Novara to Caporetto---from Caporetto to the final victory of the Piave and the Vittorio-Veneto to-day.
In the long contest between the Austro-German Empire and Italy, when to antagonisms of races and dynasties and rivalries of trade and commerce, were added immortal hostilities of religions, across the Alps and the Adriatic a new power arose where, toward the end of the first one thousand years A. D., Cisalpine Gauls and Latins, now become Italians, had sought refuge from barbarian invasion on the islands formed by the currents of the Piave and the Adige, and established as a seafaring people the great democratic commercial Italian city of Venice, destined to become one of the great promoters of commerce and civilization of the world. The form of government was republican, like that of its young rival across the peninsula: Genoa. The chief magistrate was the Doge---the Duke. The government became an oligarchy. It grew so marvellously as to become a proverb for wealth and magnificence and power. It took part in the Crusades. It extended its rule across the Adriatic, where it possessed itself of Istria and Dalmatia, and planted colonies and built cities along the coast, which carried the Italian name and tongue, and the Italian civilization, from Trieste to the Cattaro; cities which, through all vicissitudes and subjugations, exist down to the present.

Its Doge added to his titles that of Doge of Dalmatia. It fought the Greek Emperors of Constantinople and seized the Greek islands, and one of its Doges refused the Imperial crown. It penetrated the East. It fought the Turk and the Austrian. Like a second Rome, it conquered and annexed its rivals, and subjugated the cities and provinces between the Alps and the Po. The Republic, which had lasted longer than any Republic in history, in time lost its power and its possessions at the hands of its traditional enemies, Turk and Austrian, and a century or more ago perished at the hands of the Conqueror of Europe, who remorselessly handed it over to its traditional enemy, Austria. But later on it revolted, to become, some fifty years ago, a part of United Italy.

During its more potent days the Holy Roman Empire, or that part of it which was Austria and under Austrian dominion, lay as a bulwark against the advance of the new and menacing power of the Ottoman Turk, a branch of the power which, having swept over southwestern Asia, Africa, and southeastern Europe, where its capital in the fourteenth century was Adrianople, had overthrown the Eastern Empire in 1453, and, establishing itself at Constantinople, proceeded to complete its conquests of southeastern Europe. Substantially the entire Balkan peninsula---Greek, Slav, and Venetian---fell into its hands, and its sway extended to the Adriatic and to the very gates of Vienna. Defeated by Charles of Lorraine and John Sobieski in 1683, its power gradually declined under its internal conditions of rottenness and the enmity of Christendom. Its strategic position, however, enabled it, owing to the jealousy of the European Powers, to maintain itself down to our own time, holding sway over a large part of the Balkans until the European Powers could agree among themselves as to the division of the spoils of the Ottoman Empire.

While the Holy Roman Empire, or Austria, and Italy were engaged during these later centuries with their own internal troubles and external conflicts, there had arisen in eastern Europe a new power so vast as to threaten, should it now become fully organized and awake to the realization of its strength, the very existence of the older States of Europe. The great Empire of Russia, about the beginning of the eighteenth century, under the commanding genius of its Tzar, Peter the Great, suddenly arose like some young giant from long and profound sleep, and made Europe aware of a power which, already weighty, might in no long time become perilous---the power of the Slav. The head of this gigantic power established its capital at St. Petersburg, and proceeded to open the way to the North Sea by conquering the Baltic provinces; reconquered from Poland Little Russia, and then, defeating the Turk, wrested from him Azov and established himself on the Black Sea at the head of the waterway to the high seas. From this time Russia and Turkey were in necessary antagonism, for Russia, which had received her faith from the Eastern Empire, looked, by virtue of her power, to extend her sway over the fat regions which the Eastern Empire once held, and to become, by virtue of her race and religion, the head and guardian of the Slavic race which had swept down centuries before and now inhabited those regions. This brought her naturally into antagonism with Austria-Hungary, which viewed with jealousy any extension of the influence of her powerful neighbors over her weaker neighbors, all of whom she regarded as within her sphere of influence and destined in the not remote future to become subject to her control. Diversity in religion only accentuated her jealousy, for the two churches were even more antagonistic than the political States.

At times the antagonism between the Austrian and the Turk faded before the hostility and fear of the growing, and as yet unknown power of the Russians, as when Russia’s advance southward aroused the apprehension of Europe, and Austria was able to rally to the aid of Turkey, but really to her own aid, the strong, if poorly handled, power of the Allies against Russia in the Crimean War, or as when yet later, in 1878, Russia, claiming the guardianship of the Slav race, once more pushed southward to the gates of Constantinople and was stopped by the Allies’ warnings---and the treaties of San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin followed. In all of these Austria and Italy were interested and took part. In all of these their interests, however they may temporarily have coincided for a certain occasion or to attain a certain object, were at bottom, when the occasion had passed or the temporary object had been gained, fundamentally in conflict. The rivalry was for the fertile plains of Lombardy and Venetia and the control of the Adriatic with its island-guarded ports and its commerce both to the East and the West; and for the possession of the Alpine passes and valleys which were the gateways of traffic for half of Europe and a part of Asia and North Africa, as well. Such they were in times of peace. In time of war they were, as Italians feel, the very doors of their house. It was through them that the Barbarians poured in who overthrew the Roman Empire; it was through them that the invaders of Italy have poured down ever since and have kept Italy divided and subjected through the centuries. With these doors in her possession Italy would feel safe; without them she believes she will be in peril.

Tags: History,

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