How the Kaiser Was Forced to Begin the World War
By Paul Albert Helmer
Directing Editor of Nouvelles de France
[The New York Times/Current History, September 1916]
This study of "The Responsibility of the Pan-Germanist League for the War of the Nations" is the work of one of the most brilliant intellects of France. It was originally delivered by the author as a lecture in the Grand Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne, Paris, and has been specially translated for CURRENT HISTORY, In its originality of thought and its massing of evidence it must rank with the most important essays that have yet appeared on the European war.
Some months ago the German journals reported to us an impressive scene. Before a hillock which covered the bodies of German soldiers fallen in the terrible combats in Flanders, William II had halted—the prey of a lively emotion—and, after a moment of silent meditation, he had cried out: "I call God to witness, I swear it: I have not wished that!" ("Ich habe das nicht gewollt!")
What did this cry which the German gazettes have spread throughout the entire world, which German propaganda has exploited by reproducing it on illustrated cards, distributed with profusion, even in the prisoners' camps, signify?
Our enemies saw in it a loyal protestation of the innocence of the German Empire, cornered and driven to war by the malevolence of its enemies; among us and among our friends, many have seen in it the supreme hypocrisy of a man whose frivolous caprice had unchained on the entire world the most formidable catastrophe which history has recorded. The Kaiser would have repeated once more the legend of the concerted attack of the Allies, jealous of the greatness of Germany, against an empire strong and enterprising to which the future reserved a destiny of power, of triumph, of glory. Recollecting the factitious and theatrical character of the anterior manifestations of William II, many saw in his attitude only a new melodramatic scene played by the imperial Lohengrin.
In my opinion the sense of these words is quite different. Give me your confidence for a few moments, I pray, even though you shall hear me say that I believe in the sincerity of the Kaiser, that I take literally his words, "Ich habe das nicht gewollt!" that, in a word, I believe truly that the Emperor of Germany, William of Hohenzollern, second and last of that name, is not the principal responsible author of this war.
And if today I dare to tell you my sentiment, the opportuneness of which may appear doubtful at first sight, it is because it is necessary that on the morrow of victory, on the sacred day for the settlement of accounts, we should know how to find and chastise the truly guilty; that in place of the wolf which we wish to exterminate we should not be satisfied with an expiatory sheep, which, perhaps, might easily be abandoned to us.
Let us search then in the place where our principal enemies are; let us weigh the guilt of each and establish in a precise manner the responsibilities. Seen closely and in detail events often take on a different aspect; battles which have been able to escape the distant or inattentive observer give the means of distinguishing between those who have prepared, decided, and unchained the war, and others who, after having made long efforts to resist belligerent tendencies, have resigned themselves to it through impotence or want of character.
GERMANY'S WORLD POLICY
It was on the 18th of January, 1896, that, with a theatrical ceremony in the throne room of the castle of Berlin, with his hand on the flag of the First Regiment of the Guard, William II proclaimed his "Weltpolitik," the worldwide policy of the empire. Henceforth Germany wished to be present everywhere, In all countries, no matter on what point of the globe, no conflict was to be adjusted unless German interests were made productive, unless the empire gave its assent and obtained advantages or compensations.
But at this moment William II had already held the helm of the empire for almost six years, and the policy which he had followed up to then was not that which suddenly he proclaimed on the day of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the empire. The tendencies which the empire had pursued in the epoch of Chancellor Caprivi, and which the adversaries had attacked under the name of "Caprivism," because they dared not yet attack the person of the Emperor, had been a policy of conciliation and of peace, a policy of politeness, of concessions, and of good understanding; of good customs relations with the States of Central Europe bordering on Germany; a policy of colonial concessions as regards Russia and England, which are practical countries; a policy of simple telegrams, of felicitations, or of condolences with regard to France, which was satisfied with its disinterestedness. This effort of international appeasement had its day of triumph when William II inaugurated the Kiel Canal in 1895, and traversed it at the head of the representatives of the navy of the entire world, even of the French fleet.
In fact, no power had been able to resist the graciousness of the Kaiser. From what quarter, then, could have come a serious opposition to his designs, since even in France great journals were already publishing inquiries upon the reception they would tender him in Paris if the fancy struck him to visit the exposition of 1900? I cast neither eulogy nor reproach at any one; I state a fact which is not contestable: The policy of concessions and of advances, the policy of amiability, and—let us say the word—of dupery inaugurated by William II met no resistance in foreign countries. Had it continued, little by little, Europe and the entire world would have passed under German hegemony. In order to obtain universal domination, Germany had no need of a war.
RISE OF OPPOSITION
But a people cannot change its state of soul. The Germany of Bismarck could not disown its origins. Created by iron and blood, it could not live in peace. Prussia, which was liberated by the war of 1813, which had imposed itself on Germany by the wars of 1864 and of 1S66, and on all Europe by the war of 1870; Germany, which had realized its unity by violence, which had appropriated the wealth of others by force, which maintained its conquests under the yoke and threatened every moment to defend them by arms, Prussia and Germany could not accommodate themselves to a policy of condescension and concession. Before William II rose the partisans of Bismarck dismissed. They proclaimed themselves the holders of the national traditions, the continuers of the work of the great epoch, the trustees of the last wills of the founders of the empire.
One day, among his numerous pacific manifestations, William II had affirmed that his "Christian conscience" would not permit him to assume the responsibility of a war. Those who rose against him were opposed to this mystic conception and formed the Pan-Germanist League, which, in contradiction with this "Christian conscience," assumed to personify the "national conscience of the German people," ("das Gewissen des deutschen Volkes.")
Then, on the day when William II proclaimed his worldwide policy, he had, for the first time, abdicated his "Christian conscience" before that which was imposed on him as the "national conscience of the German people."
TRADITIONS OF BISMARCK
The Pan-Germanist League, when it directed the German Empire toward worldwide imperialism, availed itself of the traditions of Bismarck. But among these it had recognized only the principle of force, the employment of threats, the reign by fear. It had not seen the limits which Bismarck himself had imposed. The Iron Chancellor had brought successes almost unhoped for; but, without letting himself be carried away by the most brilliant victories, he had known how to be moderate, and, if he had wiped out some, he had adroitly managed others. Very harsh toward Denmark in 1864, inexorable toward the little German States in 1866, he had been very liberal after the conclusion of peace with Austria. He was preparing for his decisive effort against France, which he laid low in 1870.
And then he reserved all his strength for us, he followed with rancor and implacable hatred our country, which he wished to prevent from retrieving itself. Voluntarily limiting himself in his international action, measuring his means, coldly weighing the possibilities, refusing to play once more on a map the gain of three successful wars, he believed he had done enough for Germany, in the last years of his life, if he defended the empire created by him against the chastisement which his last abuse of victory deserved. France, even though conquered and mutilated, was still in herself alone a sufficient object of Bismarck's fear and resentment. This willing moderation, in his opinion, committed Germany to a disinterested policy in all other conflicts. On the subject of the Carolines he willingly accepted arbitration with Spain, and for the Balkans, for which Germany today is putting all Europe to fire and blood, he had had this scornful saying, that "they were not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier."
Nothing, therefore, was further from the idea of Bismarck than the worldwide policy imposed by the Pan-Germanist League, which nevertheless made use of his name.
As soon as the Pan-Germanist League had imposed on William II the official proclamation of German imperialism it began to develop its program in all its details. It established, continent by continent and country by country, the German interests.
It demanded all the countries where the population speaks the German tongue; the Swiss cantons, the Baltic provinces, the German countries of Austria. But it went further: linguistic and ethnographical theories gave it a pretext to identify with the Germans all the peoples whose idiom is of Germanic origin the Hollanders of the Low Countries and the Boers of South Africa, the Flemings of Belgium, and all the Scandinavian peoples.
In foreign countries where German colonists had established themselves, whether they preserved the German nationality, whether they repudiated it in appearance, their interests justified a continuous surveillance of the policy of these countries by the German Empire. Thus Germany reserved to herself the right to intervene in the United States, in Brazil, in Argentina, in Southern Russia. And the mere possibility of creating German interests, in a future more or less near, called the attention of the Pan-Germanists to Turkey, and then to Morocco.
Never in history, since powerful States aspired to the domination of the world, had an imperialistic program been developed with as much precision and method, with as much arrogance and impudence, as in the Pan-Germanist pamphlets at the end of the nineteenth century. But why has it been necessary to await in France almost twenty years to take cognizance of this appeal to universal battle for Germanism-Kampf ums Deutschtum? Why were we not interested in the danger which the meddling of Germany in the affairs of all countries caused to circulate in the entire world?
THE SEEDS OF CONFLICT
The Pan-Germanists did not confine themselves to the domain of theory. They imposed their demands on the Government and demanded the immediate realization of them. The Pan-Germanists called for a ringing manifesto in favor of the Boers; William II telegraphed to President Kruger and caused misfortune to England.
The Pan-Germanists demanded intervention in Samoa and the Caroline Islands; Germany intervened against the United States and acquired these Islands.
The Pan-Germanists demanded a port in the Far East; Germany occupied Kiao-Chau.
The Pan-Germanists demanded an action in Turkey; William II visited the Orient, proclaimed himself at Damascus the friend of the Sultan and of all the Mohammedans and caused trouble for France.
The Pan-Germanists protested against the Badeai ordinances in Austria; Germany increased its army corps on the frontiers of Bohemia and obtained the abrogation of these ordinances.
That was a good deal to do in five years, but in the eyes of the Pan-Germanists it was not enough. What was Europe waiting for?
When, at the end of the Middle Ages, the countries revolted in Germany, they naively inscribed on their standard: "We wish to be the enemies of the whole world." Since the war of the Rustauds, Germany had learned nothing. On the threshold of the twentieth century, the Pan-Germanists still wished to be the enemies of all the world.
But in face of this menace openly proclaimed, before the challenges thrown in turn in the face of England, of the United States, France, China, and Austria, should the powers friendly to peace not have combined? Was it not necessary from the beginning to resist this turbulent and invading spirit which threatened the whole world? Now, far from understanding one another and organizing against the day when a war should be precipitated by Germany, the powers knit themselves still closer with the German Empire, and it was at the head of an army composed of all the civilized nations that Field Marshal Waldersee made his triumphal entry into Peking. On that day, by its carelessness and unskillfulness, Europe blinded, had committed the fault which we cruelly expiate today.
IMPERIALISM OF KULTUR
It was not Europe which arrested Germany, following the war with China. It was William II, who, having seen blood flow, cried out for the first time: "Ich habe das nicht gewollt." He repudiated the clamorous and aggressive policy and disowned Pan-Germanism. Henceforth no longer by diplomatic competitions, by threatening interventions, by affirmations of imaginary interests or by coveting of new territories was the supremacy of Germany to be manifested. German imperialism in the future was to be limited to the things of the mind. He formulated in one of his discourses a new principle:
"Very far beyond the seas our language is spread," said he, "very far is stretched the flight of our science and of our learned investigations; there is no work in the domain of modern studies which is not printed in our language, science produces no idea which is not utilized by us to be copied afterward by the other nations. There is the worldwide empire of which the Germanic mind is ambitious."
These words resound like a blasphemy in the temple of French science, where I have the honor to repeat them to you. In this new program which William II established at the beginning of the century he abandoned the worldwide policy which had engaged the empire in diplomatic conflicts, in violent press campaigns, and in a distant warlike expedition. The new imperialism which he proclaimed may appear to us today as a bloody irony, a pretention which excites our most violent indignation; William II claimed for Germany a civilizing mission; he proclaimed the imperialism of Kultur.
THE CHALLENGE TO FRANCE
The Pan-Germanists were not the men to allow themselves to be driven from German political life. From the year 1902 the Kaiser again saw in front of him the spectre of the "national conscience of the German people." Through the mouth of its President, the Professor of Medicine Hasse, the league complained of being neglected by the representatives of the official policy. "They disown us when they can," said he. "And that is natural, since we always demand an active policy."
During the Summer of 1903, M. Class, a lawyer in Mayence, who was then brought to the attention of the Pan-Germanists, and who, today, is the President of the league, established at the Congress of Plauen the "Schedule of the New Course."
In order to investigate the mistakes committed in the foreign policy of the empire and to fix precisely the responsibilities, he studied the changes that had befallen the worldwide position of Germany since the fall of the Great Chancellor. The German policy, for a dozen of years, had been exhibited only by oratorical manifestations and half-finished doings. "As soon as they had run up against opposition," said M. Class, "they had recoiled so as not to quarrel or in order not to disown the pacific declarations so often repeated." This love of peace at any price, this seeking of the friendship of foreign powers, had robbed the empire of the universal prestige with which it was surrounded in the time of Bismarck.
Formerly, in order to impose the "worldwide policy," the Pan-Germanist League had directed its criticisms against the Chancellor and what it called Caprivism. In 1903, M. Class no longer deigned to attack the Chancellors who for twelve years had succeeded one another. These brave officials had merely executed the orders of their master. It was William II himself whom he declared openly responsible for the downfall of Germany. Between the Emperor and the league, hostilities had opened.
The campaign directed against the pacifism of William II was pursued during the whole year of 1903. In February, 1904, once more, the committee of the league declared: "The policy of realities is not the policy that seeks to attain its object without hurting any one. What is necessary for the normal and continuous development of the empire must, if essential, be found and imposed at the price of a conflict." And just then the league believed that it could realize much on condition of not fearing a conflict.
CONCENTRATING ON FRANCE
Formerly the worldwide policy of the empire had attacked all the powers; Germany had wished to be "the enemy of everybody." This time the Pan-Germanists confined themselves to a single nation, and they had selected it with care so as to have all the trumps against it—a nation, said they, old and fallen, incapable of making war, a nation to which England would not come in aid—for Edward VII was beguiling it with smooth words—a nation which Russia, its ally, would not assist for she was occupied in the Far East—France, finally, which then had an imperative, absolute, unquestionable need of peace. From France, said the Pan-Germanist League, we could at this moment obtain all. Beginning with the second half of 1903, the whole Pan-Germanist action was concentrated against France.
Germany needed colonies, not so much to sell in them the products of her industry as to establish there the surplus of her population. The empire must have a colony for settlement, of vast territories toward which the flow of the German emigrants should be directed. No country would be better adapted to that purpose, according to the sayings of the league, by its climate, by its fertility, by the richness of its subsoil, by its geographical situation, than Morocco. It was in the Shereefian empire that Germany was to follow up the success of 1871 and assure the "normal and continuous" development of the State created by Bismarck.
Now, the French influence was at that time established in Morocco. The moment had come, said the league, to occupy a part of it for Germany and to force France to quit there under the threat of war.
The Pan-Germanists openly discussed this double aim in their meetings and in their press. But this campaign, which lasted more than a year, stirred no one in France. No one noticed it. It was like a thunderbolt when, after a year and a half, in March, 1905, after the fall of Port Arthur, the taking of Mukden and the defeat of Tsoushima, William II landed at Tangier.
THE TANGIER EPISODE
At Tangier, William II had checked the policy of the French Republic in Morocco. France preserved the memory of it as an affront so much the more painful as, in reality—the Pan-Germanists were right—she was then in no state to take up the challenge. But what matters today is not what the French thought of the incident of Tangier. It is, on the contrary, what the Germans said and wrote about it.
The Pan-Germanist campaign, after having persisted for eighteen months, had forced William II to get busy with Morocco. But he was far from having done what the league had demanded of him.
The league had desired to make profit out of the necessities of a single occasion to aggrandize the empire; it wanted realizations, a tangible success. William II did not wish to throw himself on France as a robber leaps upon a traveler in the corner of a wood. Since he would not let himself be tempted by the profit of the booty, it was necessary, in order to make him move, to shake before him the red rag of the "encirclement of Germany." And truly believing that he was defending the empire against a circle of enemies which M. Delcassé and Edward VII were seeking to form around him, the Kaiser neglected the real and practical end which alone counted in the eyes of the Pan-Germanists. He made a speech besides, after so many others, when they had wanted an ultimatum addressed to France under threat of immediate war. Always hesitating, wavering between the interest of Germany and the fear of conflicts, he had taken an attitude odious in the eyes of the French, ridiculous in the eyes of the Germans.
He had treated France roughly, hurt her self-respect, opposed her projects, and yet he wished to conciliate her and had protested his pacific intentions. Before departing he had an interview with the Ambassador of France. Upon embarking at Hamburg he repudiated all the great conquerors of history. In passing before the Coast of Brittany, in order to please the little and the big children of France, he sent a telegram to Mme. Jules Verne. In Lisbon first, and on the morrow at Tangier, on the Balearic Islands and in Italy, he protested his attachment to peace. The Pan-Germanists were right; at the moment of offering an affront to France, all this was ridiculous.
But again he had been awkward. Instead of allowing the Chancellor to act, he had advanced himself and, in his speech, had said what it was not necessary to say. The Pan-Germanists demanded possession of a part of Morocco, the acquisition of a territory under the German dominion. Now, William II had proclaimed the independence of the Sultan and the integrity of the Shereefian empire. The day when Germany wished to occupy the Moroccan coast it would be necessary to begin by disowning the solemn words of the Emperor of Germany.
This is what the Germans thought of the landing at Tangier. Within a few Days—in April 1905—a Hamburg journal used the phrase which will remain the judgment of history. In the midst of reproaches for having allowed a sure prey to escape, it declared it a crime for William II to have awakened France.
"THE SHARPENED SWORD"
The official diplomacy of the empire tried to recover what William II had lost. In the Spring of 1905 there was the resignation of M. Delcassé, in the Summer of 1905 there were laborious pourparlers to establish the program of the Algeciras Conference. France, awakened, knew how to stand firm. But, when the agreement was finally established, William II had the unconscionable hardihood—for this man is not intelligent—to make new advances to France. Through the voice of the Petit Parisien and of the Temps, Chancellor von Bülow had to affirm once more the friendly dispositions of the Emperor. As on the field of battle in Flanders, William II declared: "Ich habe das nicht gewollt."
France was dignified. The Matin replied by revelations touching the resignation of M. Delcassé. Germany's acts had never corresponded with her protestations of friendship. William II no longer inspired confidence. If France had not at first understood the emptiness of his politeness, the vanity of his advances, the childishness of his telegrams on the day when she felt herself treated roughly, and was conscious of the greatest humiliation suffered since 1870, she no longer allowed herself to be decoyed with words.
William II saw the policy of cajolery and of stupid civilities which he had so assiduously pursued with regard to the French definitely miscarry. This disillusion inspired the famous speech in which, full of rage, he appealed to "dry powder and the sharpened sword." And these words resound as a homage rendered to the pride of France.GERMANY'S "ISOLATION"
At Algeciras, where the Pan-Germanists had wished to overwhelm France, Germany found herself, following the hesitations of the Emperor, confronted by a union of all the great powers. But it was not France which had caused Germany's isolation. The encirclement, the idea of which haunted the brain of William II, was the natural reply of all honest and loyal peoples to the dilatory and quibbling proceedings of Germany.
There remained a last awkwardness to commit, and William II did not fail to commit it. He noisily averred the isolation of Germany in a resounding telegram.
Again Germany was the "enemy of everybody." So true is it that she will always bring against her a union of all the nations that have hearts. It is a case of the imminent justice of history.
THE KAISER UNPOPULAR
Dissatisfaction with William's acts was universal. The criticisms which he continually heard, the reproaches which the best patriots were offering him, at length decided the Kaiser to reply directly to the Pan-Germanists. In a discourse on Dec. 8, 1906, he made an appeal to the unity of the nation and asked the people to have faith in the future, not to give way to criticism, and not to doubt those who govern. "I do not want pessimists," said he. "He who is not suitable for the work, let him go away and let him seek elsewhere, if he wishes, a better Fatherland."
The Pan-Germanists took up the challenge. The word "pessimist"—"Schwarzscher"—became a mark of glory. The more ardent one's patriotic sentiments, the more one enjoyed having the name of the Kaiser's disapproval applied to one's self. Besides the entire press, which replied to William II and justified the discontent of the nation, resounding pamphlets openly attacked the Emperor. Count Reventlow, whose name in the German press of today still represents the most jingoistic spirit, summed up all the bad temper of the Pan-Germanists in his book, "William II and the Byzantines."
From year to year the criticisms had become more fiery. Between the Emperor and his people there was an abyss. A conflict was inevitable; it came in the Autumn of 1908. Germany had just yielded in the Casablanca affair. Again it was the Emperor whom the German Nation reproached for not having dared to resist the calm and decided attitude of M. Clemenceau. But suddenly these criticisms were eclipsed by new invectives more violent than ever. The Daily Telegraph had just published the famous interview with the Kaiser.
DEFEAT OF THE EMPEROR
In face of the English people's mistrust of Germany, William II had believed it to be his duty to address England by the voice of a journal. He affirmed his profound sympathy for his mother's native land, he recalled that he had never hesitated to translate her ideas into deeds; but he added that his friendship for England was shared in Germany by only a minority of his compatriots.
Indeed, the Pan-Germanist League had always denounced England as the great adversary of the future, against whom it was necessary to be prepared for a life-and-death struggle. She was the competitor with whom German commerce was clashing everywhere; it was against her that Germany was preparing a formidable fleet. Now it was to this enemy of tomorrow that the Emperor had made his protestations of amity, and he had denounced the underhand animosity of his compatriots by declaring that his sentiments were only those of a minority.
Following these facts, five interpellations were addressed to the Chancellor. Violent reproaches of the Kaiser were uttered. A Deputy declared in the open Reichstag that if, instead of William II, another had done this he would have been condemned to penal servitude for high treason, and no one protested. Nothing could induce the Chancellor to undertake the defense of his sovereign. Before all Germany in fury, attacked by all parties, William II found himself abandoned by all his Ministers and blamed by his Chancellor, Prince von Bülow.
William II had humbly to submit; the "Monitor of the Empire" published a note declaring that the Chancellor had transmitted to him the remonstrances of Parliament, and that the Emperor had promised to correct his ways in the future.
There are people who believe—I read it quite recently in a great French journal—that William II was, or is still, the idol of the German people.
Never in France has a statesman in office suffered what William II was heard to relate in November, 1908. Never in France have our statesmen been abandoned by all their partisans; at the moment of their resignation, the day of their abdication, or of their downfall to the very foot of the ladder, they have always found in France intrepid, generous defenders.
LESSON OF THE "BLACK WEEK"
William II had wished to warn the English. He had affirmed to them his sympathy, but at the same time he had cared to put them on guard against the hostile spirit of the German people. It was not only some few exalted persons who saw in England the great enemy of the future. The Emperor himself had been willing to give the alarm, and had denounced the evil disposition of the great majority of the German people.
And if England could be mistaken about the warning of the Kaiser, must not the reception given the interview throughout the empire been edifying to the English? What were they waiting to understand? Why did they need six years more and the violation of Belgium to stand up before an enemy who did not even conceal himself from them?
In a matter of foreign policy, in order to defend the chauvinistic attitude of the majority of the nation, all the Germans united against the Kaiser. The Conservatives had denied their reactionary principles and their monarchical faith in order to discuss in Parliament some statements of the sovereign, the responsibility of which the Chancellor declined. The Social Democrats, who cultivated as a product for exportation a fallacious internationalism, were the most violent in branding the Emperor and his friendship for Great Britain with a hot iron.
Was not this unanimity of the Reichstag in November, 1908, a sign of the true spirit of the German Nation? Should we not have been forewarned of that other unanimity, which was displayed on the day of aggression and which astonished the world on the 4th of August, 1914?
But if we could not count on the people and Parliament, on whom, then, could we count to defend in Germany the idea of peace, and to oppose the jingoistic pretensions of the Pan-Germanists? Could it be on William II himself? What could his power and authority still be?
DIVINE RIGHT ABANDONED
Royalty by the grace of God, that Divine right which he loved to invoke so much in mystical discourses, he himself had renounced when he had not accepted the resignation of his recreant Chancellor, when he had bowed to the censure of the Reichstag and piteously promised to be more reserved in the future, renouncing all personal policy. Before the threat of battle with the German chauvinists he had recoiled. He wanted no conflict: "Ich habe das nicht gewollt." On that day his spirit of conciliation was surely what was probably always his attachment to peace—cowardice.
I pass over Agadir and the questions raised by the Balkan wars. I do so with regret; for I do not like to pass in silence an epoch in which the Post of Berlin openly addressed the Emperor as a "valorous poltroon."
THE YEAR OF SACRIFICES
For five years William II had endured violence, and had remained in humble and modest retirement. The year 1913 appeared propitious to him for a reconciliation with the German people. The centennial celebrations of 1813 would permit him, he believed, to communicate with the nation in the memories of history. His own jubilee, after twenty-five years of reign, and the marriage of his only daughter, should they not be, in a monarchical country, an occasion for rejoicing by the entire people?
In March, 1813, the King of Prussia, Frederick William III, had signed the manifesto of Breslau, calling the Prussian people to arms against Napoleon. William II had a coin minted in commemoration of this act. The King was seen on it surrounded by men of the people, and around the edge ran this inscription:
The Pan-Germanists immediately denounced this attempt to forestall, for the house of Hohenzollern, the merit of the rising against Napoleon. The German press told the Kaiser that history affirmed the contrary. Frederick William III had to be forced to sign the manifesto; all, all had called, and the King, far from running to them, had yielded only hesitatingly. The jubilee of 1913 was to be therefore a festival of the German people, and not of Kings and Princes.
They will speak more clearly yet during the course of the year. William II did not yet understand that he must continue to be silent. In a discourse in which he had recalled the sacrifices which the Prussian people had made in 1813, he thought that he could risk an allusion to the sacrifices which the German people were about to undertake again in consequence of the new military law and of the famous war tax.
Misfortune followed from this. Whose fault was it if the year 1913 was a year of sacrifices? they demanded, and M. Paul Liman, who is considered in Germany the best biographer of William II, answered this question by an act of accusation against the Kaiser:
"We may trace the history of the last quarter of a century on a Byzantine groundwork of gold," said he. "We may quite glorify what has been done since the resignation of Bismarck; the fact remains that the year of the jubilee has become a year of sacrifices. The appeal of the Emperor has asked of the nation what only the hardest misery and the extreme necessity which existed a hundred years ago could justify. He has, therefore, again destroyed the legend which attributes to the living sovereign all the wisdom and an uninterrupted series of successes, until the day when history imposes on future generations the duty of engraving the truth, No, we have not gone from success to success, we have not daily climbed new heights; we have remained epigenesists, and, compared with our fathers, a generation of small people." The Germans, if they decorate for the jubilee, are honoring the tomb of their most beautiful hopes. Also "we must examine the mistakes of the last twenty-five years and try to find the answer to this question: Have we truly suffered a second Jena or an Austerlitz, since it is necessary again to demand sacrifices which formerly only the victories of Napoleon had imposed on the German people? Now, we all know it; under the reign of William II we have made no war; the arms have remained suspended in the temple of peace. It is, therefore, his policy," said the Emperor's accuser, "which has lost what today the sword should recover."
A THREAT AGAINST PRINCES
It was in 1913 when these lines appeared in which M. Paul Liman announced that the sword would have to repair the failures of the twenty-five years of the reign of William II. Only a war could remedy the restlessness which was felt throughout Germany. Discontent had become general. An enterprising nation, full of energy, proud, and aspiring to the domination of the entire world, had found in past years no sufficient satisfaction, responsive to the program which, for fifteen years, Pan-Germanism had mirrored before their eyes.
They caused the responsibility for this situation to be traced up to William II, to his desire to live in good relations with all the world, and to conciliate antagonisms, even at the price of concessions and capitulations. But all these attacks did not correct the Kaiser.
In the course of the same year, 1913, he married his daughter to the son of the Duke of Cumberland. What other end might this marriage pursue if it was not reconciliation with the fallen dynasty of the Guelphs? The question of Hanover had been settled since 1866. The Guelph family, excluded from Germany, was no longer a political power. And it was in order to reconcile himself with a pretender without importance that William II renounced the influence of reigning houses through his daughter's marriage. He might have been able by a more useful alliance to attach to Germany a new foreign Court like those that we see today, among the neutrals, pursuing a Germanophile policy contrary to the wishes of their peoples.
William II had seen in this marriage only the personal and dynastic advantage, not the national utility; he had remembered a little German State, for a long time destroyed and suppressed; he had neglected the needs of the nation and the empire's prestige in the world. A new campaign was begun against him. At its opening the Gazette of the Rhine and Westphalia put the question clearly. This is what it wrote:
"We are intoxicated with grandiloquent phrases and are praising Germany with much extravagance at the very moment when we have fallen back into the system of the little States. But one day a part of the Bismarckian spirit might awaken, the desire of greatness and of unity might again thrill the German people, and if on that day we see that the Princes have known in their policy only the right of the Princes, the little States, the princely alliances, the life of the little Courts, then the national torrent might again become democratic as in 1848, because there would be no longer any other safety than to wipe out all the Princes. And then perhaps the Princes will tremble because of the mistakes which their ancestors commit today."
To threaten that the national movement might become democratic and "wipe out all the Princes " was truly a singular manner to feast William II at the period of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his advent to the throne. But that proves how deep was the dissension between him and those who were directing the chauvinistic drive in the German Nation.
THE PAN-GERMANISTS DEMAND A WAR LEADER
William II had at length understood that he would have to efface himself. He preserved silence after the dedication of the monument of Leipsic, and when we recall the exuberance of his eloquence at the beginning of his reign, we can divine the mortification to which he had to submit.
But his effacement was not sufficient for the leaders of Pan-Germanism. They openly demanded another man at the head of the empire, and they could pee growing from day to day the manifest opposition between the Emperor and the Crown Prince, whom the chauvinists were then pushing forward without believing very much in his talents.
"Every people wishes to be led," declared M. Class to the gathering which the Pan-Germanist League organized at the time of the Leipsic festivals. "It makes its greatest efforts only when the leaders pursue their ideal with a strong soul and a firm will. This leadership thinks in default of us…. With all our vows we call for a chief who should make us forget the miseries of the present time…. It is men of character who make history; give a leader to the present generation of Germans, and it will show itself worthy of its fathers. Millions of Germans await this chief, and with him they would go forward to internal reforms and exterior expansion, even if the world were full of devils."
Let us have no illusions. Even on the day of its defeat it is not in order to have peace that the German people "will wipe out its Princes." It is in order to have the war which it has threatened them with.
HUNGER FOR NEW TERRITORY
In his discourse, M. Class had precisely stated the ideal which for long years the Pan-Germanist League had implanted in the German soul with systematic insistence and unwearying urgency.
"Here is our program," said he: "The journey to Versailles is not the end of the development of the German Empire, it is merely a resting place; to tell the truth, it is but the commencement of a larger grouping of all the Germans of Central Europe in a unity which may permit them to resist all the tempests of the future."
But in order to realize this program, it was necessary to have the courage to recognize the needs of the hour and to face even war. The Emperor dares not; he speaks of sacrifices, of concessions, of renunciations.
"At the price of renunciations," declared the President of the Pan-Germanist League, "we could enjoy the friendship of the entire world. But we are not willing to and must not renounce."
"Already we hear among all classes of our people, but especially among the informed bourgeoisie, this question: Why are we making immense sacrifices for our fleet and our army if we do not demand and do not obtain anything? The Government cannot be mistaken on the meaning of this question. Our fleet is powerful enough to make England fear it; our army is again at the height of its mission. And under these conditions should we practice a policy of renunciation?... The hunger for new territories is characteristic of our period; it must be satiated. The necessity of satisfying it gives to our people a task which will lead them to a high flight. The Government will have to thank Providence for it. The task consists in working so that this instinctive hunger for territory, such as exists among the masses, shall become a conscious and energetic will, a violent and irresistible decision to procure for our people what it needs, for its existence, for its health."
UNANIMITY OF THE PEOPLE
Such was the spirit of the Pan-Germanist League in the year which preceded the war. Foreign countries were mistaken regarding the influence which the Pan-Germanists could have on the German people and on the decisions of the Government. Nevertheless, incidents were repeated from month to month and were exploited by the chauvinistic press to excite all the passions of the masses. Merely with regard to France I could recall, in the space of twenty months, the squabbles at Nancy, the tour of France by the Zeppelin which had to land at Lunéville, the incessant campaign of lies against the Foreign Legion, the preparation of numerous papers on the tribulations of the Germans in Morocco, the affair of Saverne, with the insult, not taken up, to the French flag—and I omit the rest.
The vote on the military law of 1913 made manifest the complete harmony which existed between the people and the Generals: "The nation," stated the Pan-Germanist organs, "has proved by a crushing majority that it did not wish to know anything of the debilitating idea of an eternal peace."
Indeed, everybody in Germany wanted war.
The Generals and the Admirals, who did not wish to have worked for nothing, dreamed of easy victories and laurels. They had shared in the direction of the associations which caused the agitation in the country; the Pan-Germanist League, the Navy League, the Army League, the Association for the Defense of Germanism in Foreign Countries, and all the others which, under different denominations or pretexts, spread among all the classes the same arrogant and aggressive spirit. The professors of the universities and of the gymnasiums had not ceased for a century to inculcate ferocious hatred and contempt for the foreigner. To the execration of France, hereditary enemy, they had joined jealousy and hatred against England, disdain for Russia. The bad faith of the official teaching—I can speak of it since I have made all my studies in the German schools—this bad faith should not have needed the manifesto of the '93s to awaken the entire world.
A WAR OF COVETOUSNESS
The army and navy purveyors saw only advantages in a war which would procure for them immense profits. It was in the country of the Krupps that we found the most violent Pan-Germanist journals, the most exacting and the most influential. The manufacturers and the merchants, intoxicated with an economic flight unequaled in history, counted on victories and conquests to assure them raw materials and open to them new markets. The financiers, rashly engaged in too vast operations of credit, discounted, after a conflict which would be short, the rain of gold from new indemnities of war. The proletariat classes themselves saw only the economic prosperity of Germany, which would procure for them higher salaries after a military triumph of which no one was in doubt.
All parties, all professions, and all classes of the nation had let themselves be carried away by the Pan-Germanist propaganda. How could the Emperor alone resist it? The conflict existed for almost twenty-five years and had only been aggravated; had not monarchial journals appealed against him, even to the spectre of a democratic movement?
Carried beyond his intentions by the worldwide policy of 1896, he had in vain sought to calm the chauvinistic craze. Forced to intervene in Morocco, he had been blamed for the awkwardness of his journey to Tangier. Attacked in consequence with the utmost violence, he had seen his authority exhausted in face of the reproaches of the "pessimists." Villified by all parties for having dared to express his sympathy to England, he had to accept the remonstrances of the Reichstag and had cowardly submitted to a traitor Chancellor. Now, after a reign of twenty-five years, they reproached him with having dug "the grave of the most beautiful hopes" of Germany, they demanded another leader than he, they spoke of "wiping out the Princes." William II, who does not like contests, preferred war. M. Jules Cambon stated the fact after a visit of the King of the Belgians to Berlin. On the 22d of November, 1913, the Ambassador of France telegraphed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: "The Emperor has ceased to be a partisan of peace."
This conclusion, therefore, forces itself upon us: On the day for the settlement of accounts, we do not stop at the Emperor. William II is not interesting. It is the entire German Nation which has wished the war; the whole nation must be chastised. The entire nation has agreed to the worship of force and has approved the abuse which has been made of it. The entire nation has shared in the contempt of right and constantly coveted her neighbor's goods. An end must be put to her arrogance, to her invading spirit, to the encroachments of her policy.
We must finish it with Germany.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
If you appreciate the articles, read the e-novel informed by them —
THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald