The Czech Legions

19 Aug 1995 17:19

To begin with, you know, don't you, that the First World War ended in 1920, when the Allies, including the Americans and the Japanese, withdrew from Russia and Siberia? Right. What I recently learned, from the Karel Capek reader, Toward the Radical Center, was the Czech part in this.

When the Great War began, of course, the Czechs were part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and consequently got drafted to fight the Russians. In an unusually shrewd move, the Russians realized that many Czechs didn't like being Austro-Hungarian, so they organized their Czech prisoners of war into a unit, called the Czech legion, to fight Austria-Hungary, with promises of securing independence when they won. (I've not been able to find out if Slovaks were included in this.) It started out with about 600 men: and then there was the Revolution, and the peace of Brest-Litovsk, and no way to head west. So the Czech legion (by now a few thousand strong) decided to go east. By the time they reached Siberia and the Allies, there were sixty thousand of them. The Whites weren't too happy about them, but the Americans --- especially the American Press --- loved them, and their reputation helped make sure that Czechoslovakia did get independence after all. They eventually made it to Vladivostok, at the time in the hands of the Japanese, and thence back to Europe --- a story which deserves to be much better known than it is.

Looking for books on this in the library catalog has completely destroyed my faith in keyword searches. The library has the perfectly good categories Soviet Union--History--Revolution,1917-1921--Czech participation, Russia--History--Revolution,1917-1921--Czech participation and World War, 1914-1918--Participation, Czech, which show up when you search for books with the subject ``Czech'': none of them contain any books in English. ``Czech'' does not turn up any subjects with the word ``Czechoslovakia'' in them, so that you don't see the category World War, 1914-1918--Czechoslovakia, and there are no books in above categories which are also listed under that, or Soviet Union--History--Allied intervention, 1918-1920, though it's pretty obvious that some of the Czech books in those categories would fit. This, mind you, is at a research library, with professional librarians. I refuse to consider how bad the indexing must be at something like Yahoo.