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of its own. A strange mentality that which finds honor and glory in holding a fine-spirited body of people against its will in political and social subjugation.
But Germany now has reasons other than sentimental for holding the district. Only in recent years has the value of the immense iron mines of Eastern Lorraine been appreciated. These furnish now some 80 per cent of all German iron. This ore, known as “Minette” contains, 2 per cent of phosphorus which made the ore useless until two English chemists, Thomas and Gilchrist, invented (1878), a process by which the phosphorus was thrown into the slag, becoming of itself a valuable fertilizer while the iron was relieved of its presence. This process gave to a part of Lorraine a special value in the eye of Germany. With the fate of the iron of Lorraine or the potash of Alsace, the world has little concern. The advent of natural trade would render political ownership a secondary matter.
It has now been proposed, for the benefit of Prussia, to dismember the united province. This would of course weaken opposition to the severe but “necessary” process of “Entwelschung" (deforeignization) while making another substantial addition to the wealth and power of Prussia, to which Kingdom this plan would add Lorraine. Such an adjustment, it is urged, would be a great boon to Lorraine, while inflicting on refractory Alsace a just punishment. The latter would thus find herself permanently excluded from Prussia, “a great state alone capable of guaranteeing to the Alsatian people the free opportunity of public manifestation of their national sentiments.” One German journal declared that a "Prussia enlarged by the acquisition of Alsace-Lorraine could realize by her all-powerfulness the destinies of the empire." Meanwhile Prussia “never weary of trampling on men's souls,” has neither in this case or any other regarded the will of the people concerned as a factor in determining their future.
1 According to Prof. C. C. Eckhardt, Scientific Monthly, May, 1918.
In this deadlock, many have suggested splitting the difference by dividing the territories. Some would make the division lengthwise, giving the French-speaking communes to France. Some would cut crosswise, giving Lorraine to France and Alsace to Germany.
Neither suggestion I think would be final, and certainly neither would be acceptable to the people concerned. Alsace and Lorraine, once very different in temper, have been welded into one by common misfortune. To divide the district would be simply to cripple it. As already indicated, its problem is not one of language, nor of race. There is, moreover, no natural frontier even between the Germanic and the French communes. The center of opposition to Germany lies by no means in the French areas nor in their now more than half-Germanized chief city of Metz, but in Upper Alsace and especially in the ten towns (The “Décapole') which were free cities under the old German empire. These are Mühlhausen, Colmar, Türckheim, Rösheim, Münster, Schlettstadt, Hagenau, Weissenburg, Kaysersburg and Oberehnheim. Later Landau entered the league while Mühlhausen left it to become a canton of Switzerland, afterwards voluntarily joining herself to France. Strassburg, meanwhile, was a republic, ruled by a bishop.
It is suggested that the question of Alsace-Lorraine should be settled by a plebiscite at the end of the war, under control of some neutral authority. But then there is at present no such authority and the difficulties in the way are considerable.
The plebiscite, or ballot, is a device for ascertaining the will of the people. It is not clear that this can ever be safe and effective in determining the fate of any disputed district of Europe. The process can have no value unless voting rests on intelligence and the ballot is fully guarded, with a secret vote and the absence of all duress, intimidation, or bribery. As some form of duress is a regular accompaniment of the suffrage in many parts of Europe, we can therefore hardly expect the stream to rise above its source. Even in the best-ordered districts a plebiscite as to national allegiance would be fraught with embarrassments. In case of any proposed change in boundaries, public feeling would run high in the states concerned, as well as in the strip of territory to which the plebiscite should be applied. This condition would encourage intrigue, with manipulation of public opinion. The struggle for ascendency would affect the rest of the world, and sympathies racial, political, religious, would form a disturbing element far beyond the limits of the regions concerned. “I can imagine," says Professor Walter Rauschenbusch, “a plebiscite turning into an active volcano. . . . . This provision would operate as an almost insuperable check against any change. It would give the population no initiative, only a vote.”
The former bond of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany rested on her busy commerce across the Rhine, and on the large influx of German manufacturing interest in Strassburg and Metz. The persistent though mostly latent opposition was stronger in German Alsace than in French Lorraine, no doubt partly because the French population had been more thoroughly “skimmed” by emigration after the FrancoPrussian war.
Matters of language have assumed importance only through attempts to suppress the use of the French tongue. As before indicated, it is not vital to the unity of a nation that all its people should speak the same language. Stability is secured by equality before the law and the recognition by all that under a common government their individual rights are assured. In the words of Albert Oeri, "A compatriot who thinks our thoughts is nearer to us than one who merely speaks our tongue.”
Most attempts to define nationalities by race lines are bound to fall. Language and race cross every border, sometimes producing inextricable mixtures of blood and tongues. Kinship in spirit is the vital essential. The requirement of a unified nation with one race, one speech and one religion
is the method of oriental despotism. It is the watchword of the infamous "Committee of Union and Progress" at Constantinople. Such a demand is out of place in modern international Europe.
Finally, in any discussion of this particular problem must be weighed the claim of France that a plebiscite at the present epoch would be unwise and unfair, as a large part of the population has been banished and replaced by half a million German immigrants, these mostly located in Strassburg, Metz, and the iron district of Lorraine. Still more emphatically, it is urged that the will of the provinces for all time was indicated in the protest of the retiring Alsatian members of the French National Assembly at Bordeaux,one of the noblest documents in history.
On March 1, 1871, in behalf of the “lost provinces,” M. Grosjean uttered this valedictory:
Delivered in scorn of all justice and by the odious use of force, to foreign domination, we have our last duty to perform. We declare once for all as null and void an agreement which disposes of us without our consent. The vindication of our rights rest forever open to all and to each in the form and in the degree his conscience shall dictate. The moment we leave this hall, the supreme thought we find in the bottom of our hearts is a thought of unalterable attachment to the land from which we are torn. Our brothers of Alsace and of Lorraine, separated at this moment from the common family, will preserve to France, absent from their hearths, an affection faithful to the day when she shall return to take her place again.
In an address to Europe at large the delegates used these prophetic words:
Europe cannot permit or ratify the abandonment of Alsace and Lorraine. The civilized states as guardians of justice and national rights cannot remain indifferent to their neighbors under pain of becoming in their turn victims of the outrages they have tolerated. Modern Europe cannot allow a people to be seized like a herd of cattle. She cannot continue deaf to the repeated protests of threatened nationalities. She owes it to her instinct of self-preservation to forbid such uses of power. Peace concluded as the price of a cession of territory could be nothing but a costly truce, not a final peace. It would be for all a cause of internal unrest, a permanent and legitimate provocation of War.
Finally, on March 24, apostrophizing Germany, Frédéric Hartmann made his historic appeal:
By the fact that you have conquered us, you owe us a status in law, a civil and political constitution in harmony with our traditions and with our customs.
But Germany, enmeshed in the Kultur regimentation of Prussia could not grant to an Eroberung a freedom her own people had never known. “She looked for the reaping of fruit she did not know how to cultivate.” For forty years she granted to “Elsass-Lothringen” no constitution at all, and then one "made in Prussia," bearing no relation to the customs and instincts of Alsace-Lorraine.
There is but one fair basis of settlement.
The land of Alsace-Lorraine belongs to the people of AlsaceLorraine, and to no one else. There should be no question as to this. As "men without a country' for half a century, they have made a country of their own, as characteristic and as freedom-loving as its neighbor, Switzerland. AlsaceLorraine should be set free as an independent state with full right to determine her own future. From an article written by R. M. Bauer of Baden in Aargau favoring the independence of Alsace-Lorraine, now going the rounds of the Swiss papers, I translate the following:
Only an independent, free Alsace-Lorraine brings the guarantee of an epoch of peace in Europe. Both opponents would learn to meet again without hate, to the welfare of common humanity. Alsace-Lorraine would help both to reconciliation. They would themselves be a free people in the future free Europe.
The writer concludes with an appeal to Alsatians in the name of world-peace to work for independence.
But a guaranteed neutral state should remain unfortified. The strong citadels of Strassburg and Metz (France's key to Germany) should be dismantled. A state with guaranteed neutrality should have neither forts nor armies, and these two fortresses have been the main cause of the undoing of the provinces.