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Germany and Brest-Litovsk

German policy failed utterly and conspicuously in the dependencies detached from Russia. If Germany had broken down the Russian front a year earlier than she did she would have had it in her power to develop Finland, Esthonia, Livonia, Lithuania, Courland, and the Ukraine into feeders for her armies, just as Napoleon had used Poland, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, and the German states. But serious mistakes of strategy in 1916 and 1917 and the utter lack in her make-up of the empire-building instinct fortunately debarred her from exploiting with any thoroughness the populations assigned to her mercies by the treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The Germans entered Poland as "liberators." They promised an end of Russian misrule. But the Poles had had some experience with Prussian methods of "liberation." They preferred Russia's tender mercies to Prussia's. They endured for more than three years the joint German and Austrian occupation and gave a passive assent to German-Austrian plans for creating a Polish buffer kingdom, under Teuton protection. Their lot was alleviated by the inability of Germany and Austria to agree on the status of the new state. The Polish Regency Council was able to play one claimant off against the other. Both Germany and Austria tried to recruit troops in Poland. They succeeded indifferently, except in a few districts, along the West Galician border. The Poles had flocked by the tens of thousands to Napoleon's standard. But they balked at serving either Germany or Austria. The Polish Legion, created by the Regency, became in the end a national rather than a vassal organization. It was a peril rather than a help to the Teuton allies, and it turned with the Regency against them both when the German situation on the West Front became critical.

The Baltic Provinces and Lithuania were much less anti-German than Poland was. Germany at least promised and gave them a sort of political "self-determination." Economically, Courland, Livonia, and Esthonia had closer natural attachments to Germany than to Russia. They were in the German Baltic zone. But their rapprochement to Germany was halfhearted. They were willing to accept German princes and grand dukes as rulers. But they gave Germany little economic and no military aid.

Ukrainia owed her independence directly to Germany and should have been turned into a useful German ally. She had both grain and "cannon fodder" to contribute. But here German rapacity again overrode sound military policy. The German satraps set out to strip the Ukraine bare of food supplies the moment they were installed at Kiev. They plundered and misgoverned, quickly displacing the government which signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and substituting a dictatorship. Governor-General Eichhorn was assassinated and Germany began to do in the Ukraine exactly what she had done in Belgium. Whatever power she retained rested on the sword. The Ukraine was quickly converted from a political asset into a political liability.

In Finland alone the Germans exhibited some gleams of political intelligence. They crushed the power of the Bolsheviki and restored a conservative government. Finland cheerfully accepted a German alliance and could have been converted into a valuable German recruiting ground, except for the fact that the alliance was concluded too late. Finland was willing to fight for Germany between March and August, 1918. After August she scented German disaster and was no longer willing to fight.

In the narrow sense there was no insuperable obstacle to Germany creating a limited military empire in Central Europe had she had the intelligence to make her strategy fruitful, getting the best results out of her vast initial superiority in military resources. But Germany offered no opponent, even Russia, "the opportunity of freedom and progress." She did not fight to spread civilization or to benefit humanity. She fought to stay the progress of the stars. Therefore, in the broad sense, she was doomed to defeat before she drew the sword.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:53:58 ZULU