Pen and Sword uncovers how a group of revolutionaries from Bohemia transformed the idea of national independence for the Czech and Slovak peoples from a fantasy into a formidable movement that fielded armies, grabbed the attention of governments and contributed decisively to the fall of an ancient monarchy.
Prior to 1914, few Czechs and even fewer Slovaks seriously consider a future for themselves outside the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but the outbreak of World War I forces some Czech leaders to reanalyze the political and military shortcomings of the Habsburg realm. A handful, led by Tomas Masaryk, decide to go abroad to raise the banner of resistance to the empire while generating propaganda in support of its enemies' war efforts. The liberation movement inaugurated by their activities, however, soon becomes divided between Masaryk, an admirer of the democracies of Western Europe, and Josef Durich, Pan-Slav who believes his people's salvation rests with tsarist Russia.
At the very moment the Czecho-Slovak liberation movement is on the verge of an irreconcilable division between the two emigres, the onset of the Russian Revolution and the entry of the United States in the war swing the ideological contest in Masaryk's favor. The liberal government in Russia presents new opportunities for the Bohemian revolutionaries by permitting a unit of armed Czecho-Slovak volunteers to expand their ranks, but soon the Eastern Front lapses into inactivity as Lenin's Bolsheviks seize power and promote a pacifist policy. Meanwhile, back in Bohemia, the once meek Czech politicians become more outspoken in their opposition to Austria-Hungary as the wartime privations become more severe no relief in sight.
The Czecho-Slovak national movement reaches its zenith in 1918. The Allies, while bracing for a crushing German offensive on the Western Front, turn to emigre propagandists to foment unrest in the army of Germany's ally by showering the Italian front with leaflets promising freedom to the subject nationalities of Austria-Hungary. Some Allied leaders also seek to utilize the Czechoslovak Legion in Russia, about 40,000 strong, in their schemes to reconstitute an eastern front in the hope of tying down German forces in Russia. The realization of their dreams seems imminent when tension between the evacuating legionaries and Russia's Bolshevik masters opens a new theater of war along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The valiant feats of the Czecho-Slovak troops in Russia compel Allied leaders to grant the emigres the official announcements of support they had been seeking, which in turn embolden Czech and Slovak leaders inside Austria-Hungary to declare their independence at the very moment the Habsburg army is powerless to quell their revolt.
Along with the successes of the liberation movement come consequences as prewar ethnic struggles, primarily between Czechs and German-Bohemians, remain as bitter as ever while new disputes pitting Czechs against Slovaks arise. The legionaries in Russia also experience disillusionment when they find themselves embroiled in the Russian Civil War and unable to return to their newly independent homeland. As the harmony and cooperation that defined their relations during the world war fades away, the Czechs and Slovaks, and indeed most peoples of East Central Europe, soon find themselves facing threats far more sinister than the Habsburgs.