Page:The Bohemian Review, vol1, 1917.djvu/127

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opinion in foreign countries as to the state of mind of the Czechs by false information and to conceal the true military and political situation from the population at home. Austria’s first problem at the outbreak of war—a problem which has been worked out to the last detail—was rapidly to move the soldiers of the subjugated races from their native lands. Since the Bosnians, for example, are of the Serbian race, they were mobilized secretly in the middle of July and sent out of Bosnia. I saw 30,000 moved through Trieste several days before war was declared on Serbia. A German acquaintance, with great shipping interests, enthusiastically indiscreet at sight of them, exclaimed to the little group of which I was one: “A wonderful system—a wonderful system! The Bosnians could not be trusted to fight the Serbs. But we Germans can use them if they prove troublesome to Austria,” he continued excitedly. “We can send them against the French. We will tell them that if they do not shoot the French, we will shoot them.” I thought this a rather curious conversation for July 25th, 1914.

Less than a fortnight later I saw two Bohemian regiments arrive at Brasso, Transylvania, the province farthest removed from their homes, to be garrisoned in a region, the population of which is Rumanian, Hungarian and Saxon. I was told later that the Rumanians who had left the garrisons at Brasso had gone to Bohemia. As I observed these, initial steps in the great smooth-running Austro-Hungarian military machine, I was impressed with the impossibility of revolution. With the soldier element scientifically broken up and scattered all over the country, who could revolt—the women and children?

The Slav soldiers of Austria-Hungary desert to Russia at every opportunity. The fact that she now has upwards of 1,200,000 Austro-Hungarian prisoners is sufficient refutation of the sugar-coated propaganda describing how all the peoples who make up Austria-Hungary rushed loyally and enthusiastically to arms to the defence of their Emperor and common country. This is perfectly true of the politically dominant races, the Germans and the Magyars, but the “enthusiasm” I witnessed among the subjugated races consisted chiefly of sad-faced soldiers and weeping women.

The Bohemians have given most trouble. One German officer told me that he didn’t worry over the desertion of Bohemians singly and in small groups. He expected that. But he did take serious exception to the increasingly popular custom of whole battalions with their officers and equipment passing over to the Russian lines intact.

The story of the Bohemian regiment trapped in the Army of Leopold of Bavaria is generally known in Austria. When the staff learned that this regiment planned to cross to the Russians on a certain night, three Bavarian regiments, well equipped with machine-guns, were set to trap it. Contrary to usual procedure, the Bohemians were induced by the men impersonating the Russians to lay down their arms as an evidence of good faith before crossing. The whole regiment was then rounded up and marched to the rear, where a public example was made of it. The officers were shot. Then every tenth man was shot. The Government, in order to circumvent any unfavorable impression which this act might make in Bohemia, caused to be read each day for three days in the schools a decree of the Emperor, condemning the treachery of this regiment, the number of which was ordered forever to be struck from the military rolls of the Empire.

During the terrific fighting at Baranowitchi in the great Russian offensive last summer, at a time when the Russians repeatedly but unsuccessfully stormed that important railway junction, some Prussian units found their right flank unsupported one morning at dawn, because two Bohemian battalions had changed flags during the night. The next Russian attack caused the Prussians to lose 48 per cent of their men.

This was the final straw for the Staff of Leopold’s Army. An Order was issued explaining to the troops that henceforth no more Czechs would have the honor of doing first line duty, since their courage was not of as high a degree as that of the others. I found that the Prussians, despite their depleted state, actually believed this explanation, which filled them with pride in themselves and contempt for the Czechs.

But the German officers in charge of reorganizing the Austro-Hungarian Army were not content to let Bohemians perform safe duties in the rear. Consequently, they diluted them until no regiment contained more than 20 per cent.

The authorities have been no less thorough with the civilian population. From the day of mobilization all political life was suspended. The three parties of the Oppo-