Peace without annexations or requisitions" was echoed around the world, reflecting a statement made by President Wilson to the U.S. Senate on January 22, 1917, when he said: "We must reach a peace without victory. Peace must be based on the right of each nation to decide its own destiny without the intervention of a more powerful external enemy."
Consciousness of the roots of war was clearly on the surface and in the minds of many at the time. In May 1917, Leon Dominian wrote in his preface to THE FRONTIERS OF LANGUAGE AND NATIONALITY IN EUROPE, "Never has it been realized better than at the present time that an ill-adjusted boundary is a hatching-oven for war. A scientific boundary, on the other hand, prepares the way for permanent goodwill between peoples."
Then on January 8, 1918, Woodrow Wilson published his famous Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points was a visionary document in which Wilson sought to base a resolution to territorial disputes at the end of World War I on the moral prerogatives deeply embedded in notions of self-determination rather than self-serving nationalistic and mercantile objectives, on which a just and lasting peace could be found through the will of the people.
These Fourteen Points were widely publicized and became the basis for Germany's agreement to end hostilities. Wilson had assured Germany, which was losing the First World War,
"We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and the other peace-loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law and fair dealing.
"We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples of the world â€“ the new world in which we now live â€“ instead of a place of mastery."
These Fourteen Points further proposed a policy of free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination, along with a proposal for the formation of an international body that was to become the League of Nations.
In respect to the secret Treaty of London and South Tyrol, Wilson, who was very much aware of the poison involved in this recipe, had declared: "A rectification of Italian borders must be effected in accordance with the principle of nationality."
Germany surrendered on condition that the promise of the Fourteen Points would be applied to the Fatherland. But that promise, made in the Treaty of Paris, was immediately and subsequently broken with the Treaty of Versailles, which severed the Austrian and German Reich into many small pieces. The failure to honor that agreement and the harsh conditions that were imposed upon Germany and Austria became the very cause of bitterness which resulted in World War II.
In international affairs, the notion of self-determination and the rights inherent was still a dim candle in a world that was accustomed to empires built and ruled for centuries by a narrow elite in their own self-interest. Even today, those rights seem to be only noticed when the flame of resistance is long enough and hot enough to force world leaders to seek solutions that in some small measure make compromises with the demands to put out the fire. However, the old view that a king or emperor owned everything in sight seems now to have been co-opted by the state.
"The First World War was above all an imperialist war," wrote Leon Degrelle in his historical review. "The objectives were strictly material and territorial. No one was fighting, as in 1940, for ideals or a new concept of world order, but to quench a thirst for more trade, more people and more land. This greed for gain would soon submerge Wilson in Versailles, where his hopes for a better world would be forever dashed. He may have realized then that politics is the graveyard of good intentions."
Wilson, who had unilaterally advanced his vision without consulting France or Britain beforehand, did not have their enthusiastic backing, and in order to secure support from them for the League of Nations, he caved in to France's anger over its broken and devastated economy which gained the upper hand, and its will to impose harsh punishment on Germany characterized the settlement.
France and Britain had both wanted to completely crush Germany in the war from the very beginning and were completely ill-disposed to any peace settlements that didn't serve this purpose. In France it became even treasonable to talk of peace.
Had the spirit of the Fourteen Points prevailed instead, things might have turned out differently for South Tyrol as well. Despite the desires of both Austria and South Tyrol to remain united, despite the revelations of the secret treaty and the glimmer of hope they saw in Wilson's vision of overcoming it, they were also again ignored.
This transfer of territory from Austria to Italy was then fulfilled after the war ended through the Treaty of St. Germain, the primary purpose of which was to break up the Austro-Hungarian empire, isolate Austria from Germany, and break up large chunks of Austrian territory into separate states, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
The County of Tyrol, however, was a different matter -- not a question of drawing new ethnic borders but one of imperialistic desires, national security and perhaps greed. As lush and breathtaking as this land was, the mountains also served as a natural buffer between Austria to the north and Italy to the south, there being strategic advantages from Italy's point of view.
To the south of this newly declared border lay a territory now called "Alto Adige," the Italian name for "South Tyrol," a land about the size of Kashmir's district of Kishtwar, or the U.S. State of Delaware, which had been up until then an integral part of the County of Tyrol, a province of German Austria. It had been for many centuries. South Tyrol was physically separated from the old County by Brenner Pass situated in the Alps, which was considered a strategic passageway between north and south to the defense of Italy in the language of turn-of-the-century warfare technology, although historically it had never represented or served such a function. The border between Italy and Austria in the past had always been further south at the Gorge of Salorno. The Gorge of Salorno was the natural border, because it was also the dividing line between Italian and German speaking peoples.
The County of Tyrol has some of the same attractiveness to Italy that Kashmir has to India and Pakistan. It is somewhat magical historical region with tall steep mountain peaks and deep valleys with its own traditions in what was once a portion of Austria from 1140 up to 1919, when sovereign control of the south was turned over to Italy. The Italians had always coveted the South Tyrol region and made possession of it a part of their demands in agreeing with the Allies to join their fight against Germany. Likewise, Kashmir has second highest peak in the world, K2. It has a strategic location, which connects China with Pakistan and India with Central Asia. The major rivers of India and Pakistan originate from Kashmir, like Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi.
However, Austria and South Tyrol were like neighboring households of the same Nordic, or Aryan, clan. They were all German-speaking and had been under the royal domain of the Hapsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, whose emperors had all been German except for one.
However, within three years of Italy taking title, in 1922, Mussolini seized power and embarked on a mission to Italianize South Tyrol, committing a form of cultural genocide that would never be forgotten or forgiven. "We shall Italianize this territory," he declared," because it is Italian, geographically and historically. The frontier of the Brenner has been traced out by Our Lord. The Germans in the Alto-Adige are not a national minority, but an ethnographical relic."
Looking back, in the April 1927 issue of Foreign Affairs, Josef L. Kunz wrote: After having lost their provincial and parish autonomy and the use of their language in all public services, after the barring of German teaching either in schools or in private lessons, after the prohibition of the use of the words "Tyrol" and "South-Tyrol," after the Italianization of all geographical names, the Germans of German South-Tyrol are now deprived of their last German heirloom, their family names.
Such conditions prevailed until a renewed evaluation by the Allies at the end of World War II again left it in the hands of Italy, again gave autonomy to South Tyrol with the right to reclaim their cultural and linguistic heritage, but disingenuously attached the neighboring Italian-speaking province of Trento just to the south, creating a new larger autonomous region, which gave the Italians a majority in deciding the character of local politics and control of commerce. Although German culture was now legally theirs to reclaim, the German-speaking people of South Tyrol were still hampered by the unsympathetic ears of those in power.
To be continued...
(Dr. Fai is the Secretary General, World Kashmir Awareness Forum. He can be reached at: 1-202-607-6435 or email@example.com)