LETTERS ON POLISH AFFAIRS INTRODUCTION By G. K. CHESTERTON
THESE lines, hasty as they are and unworthy of so great a subject, appear in this place because I feel that no one should lose the chance of saying a word for the disputed but vital cause of the Polish nation. Though I cannot claim, and indeed very few can claim, the detailed historical knowledge of the author of this book, I can certainly claim to have been from the first a partisan of the Polish ideal, even when my sympathy was mainly an instinct. The instinct was never a prejudice, or even what is commonly called a sentiment. It was not one-sided ; for I had heard next to nothing on the Polish side. It was not founded in praises of Poland ; for, as Professor Sarolea points out, praises of Poland in this country are unnaturally rare. It was almost entirely founded on the denunciations of Poland, which were by no means rare. I judged the Poles by their enemies. And I found it was an almost unfailing-truth that their enemies were the enemies of magnanimity and manhood. If a man loved slavery, if he loved usury, if he loved terrorism and all the trampled mire of materialistic politics, I have always found that he added to these affections the passion of a hatred of Poland. She could be judged in the light of that hatred ; and the judgment has proved to be right.
Every one of the facts that have since appeared has proved it to be right. Every action of the Poles has confirmed the sympathy and confounded the prejudice, a prejudice once unfortunately very widespread in our own Press and public opinion. The internationalists represented the Poles as wildly wrong in their claims against Prussia in Silesia. The Poles were adjudged to be almost entirely right by that very international tribunal which the internationalists set up as their ideal. The Poles were described as „hysterical children,” incapable of discipline or practicality or of anything except anarchy. The hysterical children answered by inflicting the only practical defeats that have fallen upon Bolshevism, and breaking it on the field of battle, while we could only rail against it in the newspapers and surrender to it in the mart.
Amid so much that is interesting, therefore, the greatest interest of this book will be found in the Letter on the Conspiracy against Poland. There are, of course, dupes as well as conspirators, and what is hatred in the few is only ignorance in the many. But if we ask to what the tradition can really be traced, it is certain that its origin is simply and solely in something that we knew for five years under the name of ” Kultur.”
Middle Europe is a sinister phrase in more senses than one. Middle Europe has played the part of a middleman. It has done so in the most customary sense of cheating both parties. The German, as he would express it, has been the interpreter between the Western Europe of French and English and the Eastern Europe of Poles and Russians. In any case, the interpreter is a translator, and certainly in this case the translator is a traitor. Most Russian ideas of Western civilisation were simply German ideas of German civilisation. But it is equally true of most Western ideas of Eastern barbarism, even of the whole idea that all Eastern things were barbaric. Above all, this was the cause of the inconceivable delusion that the high civilisation of Poland is barbaric. It is one of the thousand cross-purposes created by this mystification of Mittel-Europa. Somebody said that Petrograd, significantly called Petersburg, was a window looking to the West. It is almost equally true that Berlin was the one window really looking to the East. In short, the Western nations, and especially the commercial nations of England and America, always saw Eastern Europe’ through a German professor’s spectacles. And those goblin goggles, if they sometimes magnified Russia, always diminished Poland.
Now the deepest delusions of Teutonism, even when they are stricken, die very slowly. The patriotic Englishman is still largely unconscious that about three-quarters of his native prejudices were taught to him by a German spy. Indeed I suppose it is the definition of a prejudice that it is an opinion held by somebody who has forgotten where it came from. Somebody told the Englishman that the Poles are an anarchical sort of people. The Englishman feels as if he knew it for a fact, though as a fact he has forgotten who told him, or who professed to know it at all. As a matter of fact, the authority which told him was the same authority which told him that Germany was bound by a law of nature to expand at the expense of Belgium and Denmark. It was the same that told him the Ems forgery was a mere formality, enabling the simple piety of Prussia to defend itself against the immoral militarism of France. It was the same authority which asked for the freedom of the seas, and then murdered Captain Fryatt for defending himself against pirates. There never was any other authority, except one which happened to be in close alliance with it the German Jew, who was in this matter working with the German. The Jew had indeed his own national quarrel with the Polish peasant, and even with the Polish squire. Since the Jew has become a Bolshevist, he may possibly state that quarrel in a manlier fashion as befits a nation. In this sense it is all to the good when the Jew becomes a Bolshevist, as when he becomes a Zionist. He is attacking Europe frankly and courageously along a line of his own. But until the birth of Bolshevism, though the German Jew might be Jewish in his motive, he was German in his theory. It was Teutonism that he invoked from the first against the Poles, as he invoked it at the last against the Belgians. It was in his capacity of golden-haired Nordic giant, that Herr Moses Mendoza** trampled on the Catholic relics and the broken Polish sword.
But the chief source of the prejudice was Prussia ; and that low type of imperialism which she spread in Europe. In a world of many remaining evils and bewilderments, we may safely say that this imperialism will pollute it no more. The virtues that thrive with Poland are pushing their way to the surface the virtues of the peasant and the patriot. By all the instincts of historical imagination we know when those virtues are set free, and a fresh hope has come into the world. Poland can now grow to the great in something more than tragedy. And it is probable that the eyes of her children’s children, looking across that very Eastern battlefield where the crowned vultures are as dead as their carrion, will follow higher and higher into the sky the flight of the silver eagle.
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