R. John Rath
The signing of the state treaty between Austria and Russia, the United States, Great Britain, and France on May 15, 1955, ushered in a new chapter in the history of the Austrian Republic. After seventeen years of foreign occupation the Austrian people were again free. On July 27, 1955, the Allied Council, which had exercised supervisory control over Austrian affairs since September 11, 1945, held its final session. The last French occupation soldiers left Austrian soil on September 9. The Russians departed on September 19. The British completed their troop withdrawals on October 13, and the Americans on the 15th. To symbolize Austria's age-old cultural tradition, the gala reopening of the Viennese State Opera, which had been badly damaged during the war, was turned into a semiofficial celebration of Austria's newly granted freedom. With a delicate Austrian touch, the management chose Beethoven's Fidelio for the opening performance. No other spectacle could have been more fitting for the occasion.
After the departure of the Allied occupation forces the government was faced with providing for national defense. At the outset the only available military forces consisted of a few border guards and some gendarme battalions that had previously been trained and equipped by the Americans. Early in September 1955, Parliament passed a law subjecting all able-bodied men between eighteen and fifty to nine months of service in the army. In the summer of 1956 a ministry of defense was created. In the fall the first contingent of draftees reported for duty. By September 1957, 38,000 men were on active duty. Since 1958 the army has regularly maintained its full allotted strength of 45,000 soldiers.
No one believes that this army can stop the Russians, but people hope that it may prevent little incidents from turning into big ones. Furthermore, at the time they signed the state treaty, the Austrians promised to be perpetually neutral and also pledged the defense of