The Ambassador in Austria-Hungary (Penfield) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: Pursuant to your request for frequent confidential and personal letters dealing with the general war situation in Austria-Hungary, not to be made part of the Embassy records, I beg to hand you the following communication dealing with topics that I would hardly feel like discussing in an official capacity. I shall try to send something by each pouch, and you may rest assured that it will be my endeavor only to write you upon matters that in my judgment have an illuminating value:

The return of Dr. Dumba excited little public attention. In one or two unimportant journals there were eulogiums of him as a fine type of devoted servant who had been sacrificed as a sop to an enemy country of Austria. Barring the bald announcement of his arrival in Vienna the influential newspapers said nothing, probably acting under orders of the Government.

It is within my knowledge that Dr. Dumba had a hearty reception at the Foreign Office, and that in a limited circle of Austrian society he is looked upon as a martyr.

It was widely printed in the Continental press as well as in The London Times that the Emperor had conferred upon the returned Ambassador an order carrying with it the dignity of Ritter (knighthood.) This was not the fact. Had the Monarch wished to mark his approval of the Ambassador’s conduct he would probably have conferred a Countship or at least a Barony on him. To be a Ritter has little significance in this land of aristocratic rule, as it is the rank given usually to successful manufacturers and merchants, and to small functionaries. Dr. Dumba had an audience lasting nearly an hour with the Emperor a day or two after his return to the capital.

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Dr. Dumba is not much in Vienna, because of his interest in a small castle thirty miles west of the capital, purchased just before he went to Washington. This he is now furnishing with a view of spending his time in the country.

In a discreet manner I have sounded certain officials of the Foreign Office with reference to Austria-Hungary’s representative at Washington, and informally said that I could see a benefit coming from the early sending of an Austrian or Hungarian of high standing and ability as Dr. Dumba’s successor—in no more effective manner could the proclaimed desire for a continuance of good relations be proven. My judgment seemed to meet approval.

But a day or two since the Secretary of Embassy in conversation with an Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office was given to understand that to send an Ambassador to Washington, so long as private communication with his Minister in Vienna was impossible, would be worse than useless. The Foreign Office believes it has a bona fide grievance against the American Government, preventing the Teutonic representatives from telegraphing by wireless in secret to their Governments, while the Entente representatives have every facility of peace times.

It requires little prescience to see that Turkey in Europe is to be the great theatre of war this winter, eclipsing probably all other “fronts” in dramatic if not in political interest. The entrance of Bulgaria into the conflict it is claimed opens the way to Constantinople for the Austro-German armies. Indeed, I have the opinion of a leading statesman of Serbia, stated with tears in his eyes and brought to Vienna by a Balkan diplomatist of importance, that the tardiness of the Allies in sending assistance to Serbia would have no other outcome than the crushing of his country—and this meant a free road to the Bosporus.

As I write the prediction is freely made that Nish, Serbia’s city of second size and for a time the national capital, will be conquered by the Germanic armies within the next few days. In all human probability Belgrade has been permanently removed from Serbian rule, and will hereafter be administered from Vienna as a city of Austria-Hungary.

Why did Bulgaria, the racial and constitutional enemy of Turkey, enter the lists as the ally of Germany and Austria?

The answer is simple. England announced months ago that an Entente victory meant that Constantinople would be given to Russia. Every Bulgarian with whom I have talked has stoutly maintained that his country preferred to have Turkey in command at the Golden Horn and Dardanelles. Russia was not wanted at any price, not with the practical certainty of the eventual absorption of Bulgaria by [Page 641] Russia once she was established in Constantinople. Besides, in Bulgarian opinion, Russia’s setback was a serious one, from which there was no evidence that she could rally. Germany was victorious. And the King of Bulgaria was a German prince, be it remembered.

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It is common knowledge, further, that a contributing influence in shaping Bulgaria’s decision to join the Central Powers was the pessimistic articles in the London press, and especially in The Times regarding Britain’s real position in the war. German agents gave a wide dissemination to the opinions of The Times and The Daily Mail through influential Bulgarian newspapers. These are the most potent reasons why Bulgaria joined a combination that included the arch enemy of his country, the Ottoman Empire.

Bulgaria is today in the fullest possible prominence and popularity in Vienna as the loyal friend of Austria. The Bulgarian Minister has been sought out in his modest apartment and made to take his place as the visible exponent of the new alliance. He speaks at public gatherings and seems to enjoy his sudden recognition as a diplomatist of importance. Yesterday the Bulgarian Minister of Finance and several colleagues from Sofia, who are visiting Vienna, were entertained at luncheon by the Baron Burian, who for the first time since he has been Minister for Foreign Affairs emerged from his domestic privacy to honor Austria’s new friends. The German Ambassador assisted at the function, but the name of the Turkish Ambassador is not in the list of those breaking bread with the distinguished Bulgarians at the board of the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Emperor Francis Joseph has decorated all the members of the Bulgarian traveling party.

I feel that I should advise you of the understanding in military circles of the significance and potentialities of the Germanic “drive” through Serbia. This I can do most easily by relating the statement of a group of young German officers passing through Vienna a few days since on their way to join their commands in Serbia.

“We are en route to Constantinople,” said one of them, “and in all probability shall be there by the middle of December. A few weeks after we see the Golden Horn it is our programme to go on to Egypt—we shall certainly be in Cairo by Spring. The military railway is practically completed through Palestine to the Suez Canal, and a German-Austrian-Turkish expedition can not be turned back.”

While this statement had the frankness of a holiday-maker announcing his itinerary, it probably is the programme of the Germanic Empires and their Allies, and the Egyptian feature is assumedly the outcome of pourparlers in Berlin between the German [Page 642] general staff and the Ottoman statesmen who made the pilgrimage to the capital of William II a few months since.

It has long been known that the German Kaiser covets control of Palestine and the Holy Land, as a fruitful field for German colonization, an impulse for expansion that is denied to him in the Western Hemisphere by the detested Monroe Doctrine.

If the German Kaiser has the empire-building ambition with which he is credited, it is but reasonable to believe that he could supply a son to rule over the Turks, besides placing another on the throne founded by Mehemet Ali.

But does not King Ferdinand see himself in triumphal progress at the Kaiser’s right hand to Stamboul to wear an imperial diadem? This is the belief of sapient persons in Vienna, and the Bulgarians have no hesitation in saying that this is to be a reward for espousing Austria’s and Germany’s cause at the psychological moment.

But Napoleon, who may be the Kaiser’s model in world-conquering, gave thrones to his own kin before considering the claims of others, be it remembered.

I have [etc.]

Frederic C. Penfield