The Eastern phases of the war are by far the most confusing and uncertain - a book explaining the political or military situations in Russia, the Balkans, and Turkey, however sound at the time of acceptance for publication, would probably be utterly misleading when it came from the press. But while physical circumstances change, human nature never does; and it was chiefly with humanity that John Reed and Boardman Robinson were concerned when they travelled through these countries for the Metropolitan Magazine. Just as the novelist or the biographer presents the personality of a character so do they present the personality of a nation.
'As I look back on it all,' says Mr Reed, 'it seems to me that the most important thing to know about the war is how the different peoples live; their environment, tradition, and the revealing things they do and say. In time of peace, many human qualities are covered up which come to the surface in a sharp crisis; but on the other hand, much of personal and racial quality is submerged in time of great public stress. And in this book Robinson and I have simply tried to give our impressions of human beings as we found them in the countries of Eastern Europe, from April to October, 1915.'
So it is that though physical circumstances have in a number of instances changed in the fluctuations of political and military strife since this journey, the value of this account has not changed, but is now indeed enhanced by the increased importance of understanding what all these nations are and why and how they are fighting.
The book opens with a trip into Serbia, 'then devastated,' to quote the author, 'by typhus and slowly recovering from the frightful consequences of the last Austrian invasion.' This was just about the time of the great Russian Retreat. After that had begun, Mr Reed obtained, from the American Minister at Bucharest, a list of American citizens to look up and, with this as an excuse, he and Mr Robinson crossed the river Pruth at night in a small boat and landed at the Russian front. 'It was unprecedented. The orders were very strict that no correspondents should be allowed in these regions, but the orders specified correspondents coming from the north. We came from the south, and so, not knowing what to do with us, they sent us north. We travelled behind the Russian front through Bucovina, Galicia, and Poland.'
Naturally there were difficulties with the authorities and as a result of these after being arrested and released, Mr Reed and Mr Robinson journeyed to Petrograd; and the description of this journey across a landscape vast and grand in company with soldiers and officers will leave a permanent impression on the reader's mind - whenever he thinks of Russia he will be likely to envisage it accordingly.
'Once more in Bucharest,' says Mr Reed, 'I determined to see Constantinople, which seemed calmer and safer than ever. Robinson could not go because he had a British passport. Enver Pasha first promised me that I should go to the Gallipoli front; but after two weeks' waiting he said that no more Americans would be allowed with the army, because one correspondent had gone back to Paris and there published a description of the Turkish forts. About this same time I was unofficially notified that I had better leave Turkey, because the police had seen me talking with too many Armenians.'
Returning again to Bucharest, Mr Reed met Mr Robinson and then together they travelled through Bulgaria, then on the brink of war, and once more through Serbia, and after a few days' stay in Salonika they sailed for home.
The military operations they saw, except in the case of the Russian retreat, were not on the grand scale, 'and for that very reason, perhaps,' says Mr Reed, 'we were better able to observe the more normal life of the Eastern nations, under the steady strain of long-drawn-out warfare. In the excitement of sudden invasion, desperate resistance, capture and destruction of cities, men seem to lose their distinctive personal or racial flavour, and become alike in the mad democracy of battle. As we saw them, they had settled down to war as a business, had begun to adjust themselves to this new way of life and to talk and think of other things.'
Portions of the war of Eastern Europe, as originally published in book form related to personal adventures, such as the arrest of Mr Reed and Mr Robinson in Poland, their experiences with the Cossacks, and their entanglement in diplomatic red tape at Petrograd. These and certain chapters of a general nature, though in themselves highly interesting, have been omitted for the sake of compression and in view of the single purpose of the series - to enable the reader to realize the character of the countries represented and of their peoples and purposes in the war.