SOCIAL AND DIPLOMATIC MEMORIES, 1902-1919
BY THE RIGHT HON. SIR JAMES RENNELL RODD, G.C.B.
Antecedents of the Great War. Retrospect over relations between Great Britain and Germany from 1889. The part played by the Emperor. Estimate of the measure of his responsibility.
As the record of these memories approaches the outbreak of the war it seems opportune to review the evolution of our relations with the German Empire in the light of the appreciations formed during my diplomatic career from personal observation and acquaintance with many of those directly concerned in their shaping.
I have mentioned elsewhere the advice given by Bismarck to his successor, Count Caprivi, to play with political combinations as a juggler plays with balls and always to keep the game going. Such advice could only be successfully followed by a manipulator as skilful and experienced as himself. The successors of Bismarck were less adroit jugglers and the trick became more easy to detect. But it continued for awhile to take in others as well as ourselves. Sir Edward Malet's letters to me from the Embassy at Berlin, after I had left, indicated that during the first few years of the reign of William II there was a real endeavour to keep well with us. The negotiation of the Agreement of 1890, which entailed the cession of Heligoland but revindicated and obtained recognition for our claims to an heritage in East Africa which had almost been allowed to lapse, should have cleared the horizon. Officially at any rate friendly relations subsisted while a Conservative Government at home remained in office. And yet that growing sentiment of antagonism towards Great Britain, to which I have referred in earlier chapters as obsessing public opinion in Germany, was not diminished, and soon after Bismarck's fall the Ambassador was aware of an appreciable change in the atmosphere. After having to all appearances enjoyed complete confidence in the highest quarters over a number of years he himself became conscious of some occult influence working against him. The Emperor appeared more disposed to make confidences to the military attaché. There was growing reason to suspect a deliberate attempt to embroil us with France, any renewal of cordiality with whom on our part would have been most unwelcome to ambitions which could not be realized until the French danger had been eliminated. So long as we remained completely independent of any European grouping there was a doubt which way our influence might gravitate at a critical moment. The object of German policy appeared at that time to be to draw us into the Triple Alliance by action calculated to remind us unpleasantly that isolation was disadvantageous to our interests and might even become dangerous. German psychology was then, as not infrequently since, at fault. Its failure to achieve the desired result increased irritation, and a critical situation arose in our relations in 1895 when the Jameson Raid offered the Emperor and his advisers an unanticipated opportunity to display what they regarded as the strength of their hand.
Apart from the immediate object in view there were other ulterior designs already occupying the minds of the more ambitious among the moving spirits in Germany. The comparative ease with which the empire had been enabled to acquire an extensive overseas dominion and experience in handling colonial questions with us had no doubt suggested that we offered the line of least resistance to their expansionist ideals. It was found remunerative to represent Great Britain as unaccommodating and to protest a grievance. We undoubtedly controlled a large proportion of the world's markets, and advantage might be taken of our self-complacent lack of vigilance. A systematic investigation of the weak points in our armour in the East by agents whose activities could readily be disavowed was in process. I came across evidence of the existence of such an organization during my residence in Egypt. Far-reaching schemes of world-wide extension cherished aims which were not for immediate realization, and gave veiled encouragement to instruments which might become useful hereafter. In due course our monopolies would be challenged, and our commercial establishment would be undermined. There was, however, I feel convinced, in those early days little anticipation of possible hostilities with Great Britain. Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, very soon after he became Minister for Foreign Affairs, genially observed to a member of our Embassy at Berlin---I do not claim to quote the exact words he used---" The nails in the coffin of British commercial supremacy have already been hammered by your Trade Unions. They will not allow the people to work for more than a limited time, and that means the end of your trade. We shall study everything that you make and that you require, and by supplying it on cheaper terms we shall ruin you. We can get all we want without fighting, thanks to your Trade Unions."
In the first volume of these recollections I traced the initial stages and earlier phases of the process which led to the alienation of British goodwill from Germany after a series of ungracious proceedings on her part which in course of time almost assumed the character of unfriendly acts. This attitude, originally no doubt adopted in order to convince us of the errors of our isolation, and the necessity of drawing closer to Germany, became an unfortunate habit. In the meantime publicists and lecturers like Treitschke continued to impress upon their audiences that Great Britain was a piratical State, unjustly enjoying by past violence and permanent cunning a place of vantage to which superior merit entitled the German race.
How successfully the process of suggestion had worked is confirmed by a passage in a secret memorandum written by Bülow in November 1899, during his visit to England with the Emperor. He says that it is certain that opinion in England is far less anti-German than opinion in Germany is anti-British, and he indicated the dangerous character of such correspondents of The Times as Chirol and Saunders, who knew from observation the depth and bitterness of German antipathy. [Third series of official documents from archives of German Foreign Office published after the war.]
So confirmed had this vicious habit of mind become in the early years of this century that I was hardly surprised, shortly after Bülow became Chancellor, to find that one of the oldest members of the Reichstag, who still believed in the advantage to Germany of good relations with ourselves, could express himself in the following terms : "Ich fürchte dass Bülow wird nur regieren können, wenn er immer von Zeit zu Zeit ein Tröpfchen Gift gegen England ausschenkt." (" I am afraid Bülow will only be able to govern if he continues from time to time to distil a little drop of poison against England.") It was the progressive intensification of this attitude, confirmed by other indications of growing antagonism, together with the repudiation of advances made by us in a spirit of conciliation ---one of the drops of poison which the Chancellor had occasion to distil---combined with a naval programme obviously directed against ourselves, which had for their inevitable consequence the abandonment of our position of isolation in Europe, not in the direction to which Germany had hoped at one time to force us, but in favour of an entente with France and eventually also of an understanding with Russia.
This modification of the European situation for which the statesmanship of the German Empire, supported by the dominant classes and emphasized by an organized Press, was directly responsible, had then to be explained to a public to whom the new grouping of Powers was most unwelcome, and for this purpose the charge of an Einkreisungs-Politik (Policy of encirclement) by Great Britain was invented. As Treitschke had employed the instrument of suggestion to establish that Great Britain was the essential enemy, a contention which gradually obtained a strong hold upon opinion in Germany, so now a similar process of suggestion was used to convince the nation that there had been a deliberate and successful effort, in which King Edward was indicated as the prime mover, promoted by the British Government and seconded by the British people, to encircle Germany and thwart her legitimate expansion.
Now what were the real facts? Germany was, it is true, more or less ringed round by hostile elements. But such a situation had existed long before any suggestion of action on our part was mooted, and while Great Britain and the Empire were on the best of terms. Already while I was still posted at Berlin, and before the year 1888, Bismarck had lamented in conversation with Malet that Germany should be surrounded by enemies and doubtful friends, and that her geographical and moral position made it therefore necessary for her to maintain an iron system of caste. But who was to blame for her unfortunate position ? Of her immediate neighbours Denmark had been ruthlessly despoiled by Prussia. France had been rendered irreconcilable by the terms imposed after the war of 1870. Dismembered Poland---and Prussia had very materially contributed to that dismemberment---was kept chronically discontented by the administrative measures enforced in the Prussian provinces. And Russia, which it had been Bismarck's policy for so many years to conciliate, was thrown over when he had to choose between her and Austria-Hungary, and decided that close alliance with the dual monarchy was the more important interest to Germany. [The breach was emphasized when in 1890 Caprivi, acting under the Emperor's instructions, failed to renew Bismarck's reinsurance treaty with Russia.] It is hardly necessary to seek to identify the doubtful friends, among whom Belgium may have been included by those whose plan for the invasion of France contemplated the violation of a neutrality which they had guaranteed. As the occupation of the Netherlands had also figured in Schlieffen's plan of campaign, it is possible that by an inversion of ideas, which finds its analogy in the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb, the friendship of Holland might also be regarded as precarious. When finally the goodwill of Great Britain, with whom the states which became the German Empire had been at peace for a century, was gratuitously alienated, it was found necessary to hypnotize the German people into believing that the unaccountable hostility of almost every neighbour must be some one else's fault, and "England" was made responsible. It must, however, be obvious to all who did not lend themselves to a process of suggestion which assisted the passage of the Navy Bill, that this encircling of Germany was an established fact for a quarter of a century before Great Britain, driven thereto by an aggressive spirit of unfriendliness on her part, abandoned her position of isolation in Europe.
That the deliberate policy of Great Britain had brought about the hostile encirclement of Germany was no doubt honestly believed by the majority of the German people, and the prevalence of that conviction may to some extent account for the violent demonstrations of feeling against our country which took concrete form in hymns of hate and other popular manifestations on the outbreak of war. The average German of the masses as I have known him is generally a good-hearted fellow, law-abiding, methodical and contented with his lot, but rather lacking in initiative, and therefore readily amenable to suggestion from those whose judgment he has been trained to respect. If, as I believe, an encirclement of Germany, so far as it really existed, was due to circumstances with which we had nothing to do, responsibility for the general acceptance of this historic fiction must lie with those who saw their advantage in inspiring it.
An unreflecting conversational and journalistic habit of language is apt to attribute intentions and activities to rival nations in general terms as if the collectivity of any nation were inspired by a single intelligence, whereas it is very difficult in most countries to form an opinion as to who is really pulling the strings and determining a course of action, how far in fact the governing element is following and how far it is directing public opinion. It was perhaps less difficult in the Germany of thirty years ago, when a current inimical to Great Britain began to manifest itself. The machinery of State was still retained in few hands, and the masses, in spite of a highly developed standard of popular education, still moved on the old traditional lines of disciplined obedience to a dominant class. The Socialist party was indeed gathering strength, and promised to become a formidable political factor. But their Socialism had an essentially German character, admittedly claiming far more than it hoped to achieve, and not insensible, as events proved, to the advantages of "Deutschland über Alles." The learned, scientific and literary classes, from whom independence would in other countries be anticipated, were all associated with the elaborate machine of State, which controlled appointments and promotion. With rare exceptions they therefore readily accepted the general direction given by authority, and saw their own interest in promoting the efficiency of the machine. At the head of the State and of the national forces were men who had been brought up in the Bismarckian tradition, which recognized no other criterion but success, and who realized that, however questionable might have been the means by which success was secured, the memory of these fell quickly into the second plane, when once an accomplished fact had been generally accepted. Bismarck himself disappeared, but the mentality which he had created remained, and the lesser men who took his place, satellites of a very different sun, a group instead of the single dominant personality who had brought about the union of Germany, now conceived a vaster extension of dominion and a welding of the whole nation into an irresistible machine for its accomplishment. The danger to the world became more acute, because once the madness of unrestrained racial aspirations has established itself, men are apt to lose all sense of moral and ethical values.
To such aims the more immediate and obvious obstacles had first to be removed. The more remote, the sea-power of Great Britain, with her widely extended nexus of dominions and dependencies, could wait. Internal disintegration would prepare the way meanwhile. How often had I encountered in conversation with Germans about the world expressions of an ostensibly benevolent but perceptibly ironical regret at the impending wane of British ascendancy, undermined by prosperity and disregard for the proper duties of the citizen! The conviction, however, that the issue with France had not been finally settled in 1871 was established in the mind of every German of the governing class almost immediately after the peace. That France should have remained unreconciled to the loss of Alsace-Lorraine was referred to as constituting a perpetual menace which it was essential to the national welfare to dispose of once and for all. Several times the issue had seemed about to be put to the test. The first attempt, as long ago as 1875, encountered an opposition in other countries which the prudence of the old Chancellor was bound to respect. Then there was the much-discussed Schnaebele incident, insignificant in itself, which almost led to mobilization. The Boulanger manifestations were carefully watched, and there was the closing of the Alsatian frontier in 1887. All these incidents occurred under the Bismarckian régime. The Chancellor, when he had to make his choice in favour of Austria-Hungary and the Triple Alliance, and to renounce a long-established policy of courting Russia, recognized that Germany would one day have to fight simultaneously on her eastern and western frontiers, a task which would become far more formidable if British naval co-operation could not be definitely excluded. There was, however, in any case much to do before such a prospect could be faced with equanimity. Strategic railways had to be completed, and reserves to be accumulated after a new army bill had been forced through a reluctant Reichstag. He was therefore probably speaking the truth when he used the words which I have quoted elsewhere, [vol. I, p. 56.] and said that he himself desired to wage no more wars. For the moment it seemed preferable to encourage France to spend her energies in vast colonial schemes, and by occasional discreet support to divert her ill-will and direct it into a new channel against Great Britain, with whom such enterprises were sure to bring her into conflict. Thus the action which to the older generation meant the security of the Empire, but which the younger regarded as an inevitable prelude to yet vaster schemes of world dominion was deferred, and France was humoured in Egypt and West Africa at our expense. Meanwhile, the antagonism to Great Britain, fostered over a number of years, prepared the German public for increases to a navy which would provide a fleet sufficiently strong to make the Baltic safe, and give a third party reason to reflect before intervening when the moment should arrive to try conclusions with France. There was, however, some lack of consistency in this intermediary period when the hope was still entertained of attracting us towards the Triple Alliance. An attitude often provocative was tempered by an apparent anxiety not to go too far. Events also are apt to anticipate the best-laid plans for controlling them and, notwithstanding that the Minister for Foreign Affairs at Berlin had declared the independence of the South African Republic to be a German interest, and that many other significant hints had been given of the possibility of German intervention, we succeeded, after sacrifices which were certainly not diminished by such encouragement, in consolidating our position on the ocean highroad to the Far East. Germany found compensation in concessions and extension of influence in the Near East. But her attitude during the South African War had been a revelation to many of our countrymen, and it prepared the way for the entente with France.
At this time the sinister personality of Baron Holstein had begun to make itself strongly felt in the German Foreign Office, though his attempt to force our hands after the Jameson Raid by a continental coalition against Great Britain had met with no encouragement in France. Some twenty years earlier he had himself told me that in the State service he had ceased to be a human being. Certainly in his case increasing age which generally brings tolerance---he was over seventy---had in no way softened the violence of his prejudices and antipathies. The creature of Bismarck, who had employed him to watch and report upon his rival, Arnim, it was perhaps not surprising that he should have been credited with encouraging a system of espionage, and with receiving communications regarding their chiefs from subordinates in missions abroad. He deserted the old Chancellor in the crisis of his difference with the Emperor, and, having established a claim to consideration under the new order, began to spin webs of his own. The failure of Russia in the Japanese War, the exhaustion of material, and the practical destruction of her navy, followed by revolutionary movements in the country, no doubt suggested to him that the moment was ripe for the resumption of a more aggressive attitude towards France. In any case under his pressure the Moroccan bombshell was launched. The action of Germany on this occasion could not appear other than provocative, inasmuch as M. Rouvier had already offered her all that she could reasonably claim for the advancement of her interests. It is curious that a man so out of touch with the world as Holstein, whose horizon was confined to his desk, should have acquired such a dominant position. But his influence, expressed in words quoted to me for which I cannot of course vouch, "Wir müssen Frankreich erst demüthigen " (we must first humiliate France), was allowed to prevail with the Chancellor. The Algeciras Conference, which was the result of her insistence, was however rather a humiliation for Germany, who had to retreat from the position she had truculently assumed. An old friend who had spent most of his life at the Prussian Court told me that William II did not enter very willingly into the Morocco adventure, and this was probably true, as at that time the German artillery was in process of modification, and the military authorities would hardly have chosen such a moment for war. In any case he realized that the action taken had completely isolated Germany. This is clearly demonstrated by the diary of his aide-de-camp, Count von Dohna Schlobitten, who was afterwards military attaché at St. Petersburg, where his papers passed during the war into the hands of the Secret Police and were discovered after the revolution by the provisional Government. The observations which the Emperor made to him on the unfortunate Morocco incident are fully recorded. It was especially the attitude of Italy at Algeciras which roused his ire, and he is reported to have said that it was only then, in 1906, that he had knowledge of the understanding by which Italy had some years before given France a free hand in Morocco in return for her recognition of Italy's reversionary claims in Tripoli. I have too sincere a regard for the King of Italy to permit myself to quote the extraordinarily offensive language which the Emperor is textually reported in the diary to have used in speaking of His Majesty. If this understanding was not suspected and reported on by German representatives in 1902, it is the more interesting to myself to learn that Prinetti should at that time have allowed me to extract Information from him which was withheld from Italy's ally.
North-west Africa was destined once more to reveal the miscalculations of German diplomacy in inexperienced hands in 1911, when the cruiser Panther was suddenly ordered to Agadir with the results, so far as our relations were concerned, referred to in a previous chapter.
A meeting of King Edward with M. Delcassé at Paris, after the first German demonstration in Morocco, had also occasioned considerable preoccupation at Berlin, and for the moment, to the disgust of Holstein, a retreat all along the line was inevitable. In the instance under review the Emperor seems to have applied the drag to his Ministers, foreseeing the danger of being forced to take action when the isolation of Germany was manifest. The first step towards the realization of her ambitions was once more postponed. Meanwhile, the preparatory process of peaceful penetration by a controlling influence over the financial and economic systems of other countries was adroitly prosecuted by agencies ostensibly independent, but subsidiary in various degrees to the vast machine of State, for which the whole nation, trained to confidence in its destiny and infatuated with the dream of world dominion, worked with one heart and mind. It was not until we were involved in the Great War that we fully realized the disadvantages of having allowed the control of the world's market in wolfram and zinc concentrates, mostly derived from British dominions, to pass almost entirely into the hands of far-seeing Germans.
At this stage, after the British rapprochement with France and Russia, the failure of the Morocco policy and the clear indication that Italy, though a member of the Triple Alliance, would maintain her own liberty of judgment and action in questions not contemplated by its terms, Germany saw her advantage in standing aside for a time and watching events, while Austria-Hungary was allowed to take the lead in a policy which inevitably compromised her relations with Russia. A certain number of years would still have to pass before the latter could construct the contemplated strategic railways which would enable her to utilize her vast military potentiality to dangerous advantage in a European conflict, and the administrative defects in her military organization were no secret to a vigilant neighbour. On the other hand, internal conditions in the Austrian Empire, a maturing national conscience among the various elements of which it was composed and the growing menace of disintegration had reached a danger point for which the men at the head of affairs saw no remedy but war. The Austro-Hungarian Ambassador in Rome, discussing these matters about a year before war broke out with a friend of mine belonging to a nation which the central Empires then regarded practically as an ally, had observed: "If we can have a war within two years I think we may still save the Empire." We were to read later in the German Crown Prince's memoirs that when the moment for decision came Germany was dragged at the heels of Austria. It was no doubt convenient that circumstances should give colour to such a contention. But Germany was never in recent years "dragged" where she was not prepared to go. Even those who are disposed to take the most indulgent view of the German attitude on the eve of the Great War admit that she allowed the decrepit Empire of the Habsburgs to gamble with her vast resources. The historical antecedents of Prussia make it obvious that she would never have done so if those who controlled the situation had not been convinced that the result would turn out to their ultimate advantage. If the moment seemed opportune for the realization of long-cherished aims, as it did when circumstances pointed to the elimination of Great Britain from the struggle, it was all to the good that the initiative should appear to the rest of the world to have been taken by Austria.
The last phase as I saw it develop will be dealt with in an ensuing chapter. Here I have only endeavoured to recapitulate from my notes and diaries the premonitory symptoms as they manifested themselves to an observer with some experience in watching foreign affairs, whose diagnosis of them may or may not be the correct one which history will eventually sanction. It is only by the correlation of a number of such opinions recorded in good faith by contemporaries that future historians, seeing the proportion of things more justly from a certain distance, will pronounce the final verdict. Those in Germany itself who adhered to moderate views and aims will regard my summary as overdrawn. I have carefully considered all that I have written in these pages, and conclude like Luther, "God help me, I can no other."
How far the acute danger of the situation prevailing in Europe during the last decade before the war was appreciated by my countrymen I was less well able to judge in my position abroad, from which I only returned for relatively brief periods of leave. Among those of whom I saw most I did not detect any exceptional preoccupation, and the optimism or indifference prevailing among our own people was an additional source of anxiety. My wife, who has always been interested in investigating special lines of activity open to women, had discussed with me the idea of a woman's movement for promoting local and village granaries, which would enable the population of the British Isles to be ensured of a grain supply for at least six months. The difficulties were obvious, and if I refer to the question here it is only to illustrate what we had in our minds. She also put forward, in a letter to the Spectator, a suggestion for the maintenance on our common lands of pigs, which would contribute to the local food supply in case of shortage at a critical time. We were the objects of a little genial banter from our friends on account of our alarmist apprehensions, and the majority appeared to consider that any restriction of the food supply of the nation was a proposition too fantastic to be seriously considered.
There should, however, have been no illusions on the part of responsible statesmen who had had access to reports from our representatives and the military and naval attachés abroad over a number of years. Though it became the fashion when war broke out to attack our diplomatists, I do not doubt that their correspondence which, with perhaps one exception, rarely erred on the side of optimism with regard to relations with Germany, will. be found to be illuminating when examined by future historians. The capital levy of fifty million pounds for military purposes passed by the Reichstag in 1913 was a warning danger signal. In view of the attempts which were made to discover whether some modus vivendi might not be possible, it would seem that the approaching menace was better appreciated than the occasional reassuring utterances of politicians appeared to admit. With such inquiries, however, I had nothing to do, and I have therefore no comments to make upon them.
Since the war a number of the principal actors on the stage have published records of their experiences and activities. Hindenburg, Ludendorff and Tirpitz have told their story from the German point of view, and Bethmann Hollweg's career as Chancellor has been illustrated by the pen of a successor in that office. Count Zedlitz-Trützschler has given a grim picture of the inner life of the imperial court. Baron von Eckhardstein has dealt with the period antecedent to the war. Documents of considerable interest to the student and never meant for publication, such as the Diary of Count Dohna referred to above and the ex-Emperor's marginal notes on telegrams and despatches have become public property. The memoirs of Count Tchernin and the confessions of Conrad von Hoetzendorff have thrown light on the attitude of Austria-Hungary. There is, moreover, no lack of first-hand evidence available regarding the situation in Russia. Future historians, who will have only a superabundance of evidence from which to assign responsibilities, will probably attach relatively little importance to the apologia of William II, which betrays a singular incapacity for seeing things in their true light, and a power of self-deception so remarkable as to deprive the volume of importance as an historic document.
It may, however, be of interest, and it seems just, in view of the universal and at a certain moment almost hysterical denunciations of this unhappy man in allied countries, to endeavour to estimate retrospectively the real influence which he may have exercised in bringing about the cataclysm for which he has been made responsible. For this purpose it is necessary to consider such antecedents and indications of character as were available to an observer endeavouring to estimate them without prejudice and with due allowance for the disabilities as well as the opportunities of an exceptional position. I have in the first volume of these memories recorded certain experiences of early personal relations which illustrated a want of consistency in a very minor matter, though one of considerable importance to myself. A personal letter from the Emperor Frederick to Bismarck, which the latter unscrupulously and vindictively made public in the third volume of his memoirs, suggesting that his son had an overweening estimate of himself, was there referred to. Such testimony from one who would naturally be disposed to indulgence is significant, and indicates that the relations between parents and son were not always harmonious. Indeed, as the heir-presumptive when I knew him in Berlin, Prince Wilhelm always betrayed constraint in their presence. Their standards were perhaps exacting. They certainly differed very materially from those which he found in fashion at the university, and in the regiment to which he was appointed, where the Bismarckian spirit was rampant. Opposition probably accentuated his early disposition for ascendancy. Prince Wilhelm and his mother were temperamentally too much alike ever to get on. She was an idealist, and lacking in a certain worldly wisdom. He was also an idealist, but his idealism moved on other lines, and was vitiated by a self-assurance which seldom allowed him to question the soundness of his own conclusions. He was, however, in certain respects naive, not lacking the quality which the French attribute to the bon enfant, and he could show much kindliness of heart towards those to whom he was attached. Malet, who saw him very frequently after his accession, believed him to be honest in principle regarding what he felt to be right and wrong. At the same time he considered him very impetuous and inordinately vain of his position. He was versatile and clever, which is a very different thing from being wise, and his undisputed charm of address was enhanced by his position of ascendancy. He appeared to be fully conscious of this influence, and he exercised it with an assumption of frankness which did not prevent him from using quite contradictory language to different persons of different nationalities. He had the misfortune to succeed to the throne prematurely. He was only twenty-eight, and the circumstances of his youth, combined with a very early marriage, had not afforded him much opportunity for the independent schooling which forms a cautious man of the world. The life of a courtier at Berlin was a profession rather than an honorary service, and with rare exceptions he was after his accession surrounded only by sycophants competing for royal favour and dependent on himself for place and promotion. Once he had dropped the old pilot it is probable that for many years there was no one at hand who ventured to tell him home truths, and while an obsequious deference from men of proved experience conduced to the growth of absolutism, an universal atmosphere of flattery stimulated the Emperor's unhealthy vanity to a belief in his own infallibility.
William II had a religious strain in his constitution. Looking back to the days when I used to meet him and heard much at first hand of the opinions which he expressed to his intimates, I can believe that through many years of his reign he felt very gravely the responsibility which must rest on those who draw the sword, and that he had personally resolved if possible to avoid war and satisfy his vast ambition for the supremacy of his country by its economic and industrial development. He was, however, persuaded that peace, under which these aims might be realized, would be best secured by military supremacy. It is interesting to remember that for a certain time he was considerably influenced by General von Waldersee, who presented a typical example of the not uncommon association of the military spirit with strong evangelical convictions. When he succeeded after his father's brief and tragic reign, Germany had by far the strongest military organization in Europe. He lost no opportunity of further advancing her military strength and readiness for any eventuality. He was thoroughly infected with the martial spirit and acquainted with every detail of his army. Experienced soldiers resented his incompetent intervention at manoeuvres, to which they nevertheless submitted without protest. His self-conceit betrayed itself in the obvious enjoyment with which he referred to himself as the Supreme War Lord and the Admiral of the Atlantic. The histrionic quality of his flamboyant speeches gave them a provocative character, the effect of which he may not perhaps himself have measured. He never appreciated the value of understatement. There were always Tirpitzes and Ludendorffs at hand to exploit his megalomania. Thus, while it may not have been impossible for him to deceive himself into believing that the arbiter of war could be the guarantor of peace, he was all the time playing into the hands of those in Germany who desired war and ensued it, who were growing ever more impatient of postponement as the strength of the socialist vote increased. He thus administered a potent stimulant to a mentality, for the predisposition to which others were responsible, which made it inevitable that Germany would at last overstep the brink, on the edge of which the menacing tramp of her efficient legions had long disturbed the quiet sleep of her neighbours.
As regards his attitude towards our country and his relations with its Royal House, he had a great veneration for Queen Victoria, and respected her fifty years' experience of statecraft. But there was little sympathy between uncle and nephew even before the accession of King Edward. He had had ample opportunities to observe, and seemed to appreciate characteristics then rarely displayed by his own people, the impeccability of external appearance and the quiet self-restraint, which are second nature to the Englishman, trained to a certain uniformity of social standards and informed by the spirit of his games. But he also shared with his countrymen some scepticism as to the vital qualities of a race whose habits of comfort, engendered by long prosperity, made them, in the eyes of the new Germany, less fit to compete with the strenuous effort and keen specialization of their rivals. In the years when I knew him he seemed to be genuinely fond of our country, though in certain respects critical, and by no means disposed to regard our institutions as desirable for adoption in his own. For these reasons I can believe that there was some truth in the explanation offered by a German friend who knew him well, that the Emperor's earlier occasional outbursts against Great Britain were due to dépit amoureux.
But at the time of his accession a wave of ill-will towards Great Britain was gathering strength in Germany, and though he seems for a time to have resisted it, the failure of all his efforts to lure us away from our detachment and to draw us into the Triple Alliance, so as to enable him to control the European situation, ended in his being also carried along with the stream. If, after phases of exaggerated and, as it seemed, wilful misunderstanding, he yet remained subject to occasional reactions, his personal vanity chafed at his ill-success and resented any effort on his part failing to secure immediate and cordial recognition. There were moments when his hostility was deliberately accentuated in a manner consistent with Bülow's admission [see page 134] that the threat of war might be usefully employed to secure certain ends, and would therefore continue to play an important part in international affairs. The attitude, so aggressive as to become actually menacing, which he adopted in regard to South Africa, stereotyped the antagonism between Great Britain and Germany. Subsequent disclosures have revealed that the famous Kruger telegram was only an alternative adopted in order to restrain the Emperor from taking much more drastic measures, which must almost inevitably have led to a state of war with England. Correspondence which has since come to light has amply confirmed the suspicion which existed at the time that while the Emperor was writing the friendliest letters to his relatives in England he was concurrently sounding Russia and France as to the advantages of a combined attack on Great Britain. His advances only met with a humiliating rebuff. When later William II endeavoured in some measure to retrieve the lost ground, his particular mental constitution no doubt enabled him to believe that he had made the fullest amends. But by that time the British people who, self-centred and slow to suspect the motives of others, had taken many years to realize the progressive hostility of the German nation, were not to be induced to modify their judgment by a transient appearance of friendliness on the part of a monarch in whose consistency they had no confidence.
It was this lack of consistency and his capacity for saying and even for feeling one thing and doing another, which made the ex-Emperor such an incalculable quantity. Perhaps no example can better illustrate this want of consequence than the position which he took up in regard to the Armenian massacres and their author. The published records of the German Foreign Office show that at the end of 1895 he expressed himself as ashamed of the callousness of Europe, and he could find no word too strong to condemn so "disgusting a personage" as the Sultan Abdul Hamid. He could even agree that Lord Salisbury was not wrong in desiring to make an end of the existing Government in Turkey. Almost simultaneously he could affirm that the massacres, which he described as a matter of indifference to Germany officially, were traceable to English agitation. British interest in Armenia was merely a device for involving Russia in a conflict with the Ottoman Empire and an excuse for distracting attention from Egypt. And three years later the sovereign who denounced the callousness of Europe was himself paying a second personal visit to the disgusting personage at Constantinople, and grasping his bloodstained hand in the interests of German economic penetration into Turkey.
To myself as an observer, watching the scene from points of vantage, it has always seemed that at a particular period a distinct change took place in the Emperor himself. It began when the ungracious and aggressive policy of Berlin had at last compelled Great Britain to renounce isolation and to terminate the long period of tension with France, to which Germany had not been alien, by a frank examination and discussion of outstanding issues which resulted in friendly agreement. Not long after this important modification in the European equilibrium, followed by the revision of our relations with Russia, the world was startled by certain deplorable revelations at Berlin, which implicated some of the Emperor's intimate friends and necessitated the rupture of his relations with a group whose reputation he had been too naive and too little a man of the world to suspect. Its most prominent members had for a number of years almost monopolized his society and constituted themselves a kind of social camarilla within the Court. The result was not only that he lost status in his country, but that his faith in his own judgment was shaken. About a year later followed the communication to the Daily Telegraph published with his consent and encouragement, which escaped the vigilance of the functionaries of State to whom it had been submitted. It seemed to be in the nature of a last bid for reconciliation with Great Britain, and its effect in Germany was disastrous. From that period my diagnosis as an observer was that his influence waned, and that his self-confidence failed him. He was in the position of a man who has to retrieve the, ground lost in his own country by an error of judgment and, if indeed it could be regained, this would only be by marching with or in advance of public opinion. In a country then still so traditionally monarchical as Germany, there were individuals who criticized the Chancellor's methods of dealing with Imperial indiscretions and independence, and to the masses accustomed to salute authority the Kaiser was still the Kaiser. But with the majority of those whose opinion could influence events the man who had seemed to other countries to control the machine of State had probably ceased to count greatly as a personal force. The hands of the war party were strengthened, and the Crown Prince took the opportunity to assume publicly the traditional attitude of an heir apparent in the House of Hohenzollern and identify himself with the more aggressive manifestations of Junkerdom. The resignation of a chancellor, who was never forgiven for having had to admonish his sovereign, followed in due course. But the Emperor seems after this episode to have played a less conspicuous part in public affairs.
That in the last years before its outbreak he regarded war as inevitable, and made no secret of his opinion, is revealed by two conversations which came to my knowledge. In June 1915, I met, while dining with M. de Giers, the Russian banker Davidoff, who came to Rome after a visit to England and France. He had been many years an official and Kokovtseff's right-hand man, and was spoken of as the future Minister of Finance. He told me that in November 1913 he was in Berlin with Kokovtseff on their way back from Paris to St. Petersburg. They were invited to lunch with the Emperor, and Davidoff sat on his left. The abrupt question was put to him : "Well, did you get your loan?" Davidoff assented. They had been successful in obtaining what they needed. "And now," said the Emperor, "you will build your strategic railways." He replied that all railways were in a sense strategic. In Russia communications were very deficient. They intended laying a line to Bokhara, and that of course might be described as strategic. "I mean," the Emperor insisted, "railways directed against us---you are going to build railways against Germany. That means Slavism against Germanism and inevitable war." Davidoff protested: "Rather say Germanism against Slavism, for nothing is further from our intentions than war." "Oh," rejoined the Emperor, "if you mean by turning it that way to question which will declare war on the other, that is absolutely immaterial. How many Russians are there ?---one hundred and sixty-seven millions ?---you grow so fast that Slavism is a menace to Germany." All this was said in so loud a voice that it could not fail to be heard by at least three people on either side of the speaker. Davidoff said that such a war could not be confined to Germany and Russia, but must become a world's war which in the end would prove fatal to Germany. "That may be," the Emperor answered, but it is inevitable."
The other and briefer conversation took place in 1913 during a visit of the sovereign of one of the smaller European states to Berlin. He was asked by the Emperor what his country would do when the great war broke out. He replied that if such a war broke out, his country, which was happily not involved in European rivalries, would studiously maintain its neutrality. The Emperor then said: "I do not mean to have any neutrals in the great war, so you had better consider your position." These words so impressed the sovereign in question that on his return to his country he informed his Government of their substance. Steps were taken not long afterwards by that Government unofficially and indirectly to inquire at the German Foreign Office whether any importance should be attached to them. The answer was that when the great war came there could be no more frontiers in Europe. This, however, would only apply to countries limitrophe with Germany, such as Belgium, Holland, and perhaps Denmark.
The question of whether or not he "willed" the great war will no doubt for long continue to be discussed. He has himself strenuously repudiated the charge. My own belief is that after 1908 the controlling power had passed more and more into the hands of the military and the head-quarters staff, whose recommendations superseded the counsels of Chancellor or Foreign Minister. Thus it was that although Kiderlin-Waechter, according to his published correspondence, and after him Jagow, not to mention Bethmann-Hollweg, were advocates of a better understanding with Great Britain, all their efforts were neutralized. Once the military party dominated a rather disconcerted Emperor they certainly would not hesitate to bring on the conflict for which they had been preparing nearly forty years, so soon as they believed the opportune moment had arrived. Nevertheless, the ruler himself, if he had ceased to be the really decisive factor, had played all his life too eagerly with fire to be acquitted of responsibility for the conflagration. [NOTE: Maximilian Harden, the strongest and boldest journalist of the day in Germany, who had certainly no brief to shield the Emperor, wrote in the Zukunft in November 1914: "Let us drop our wretched attempts to excuse the action of Germany. Not against our will and as a nation did we hurl ourselves into the gigantic enterprise. We willed it; we had to will it.... The object is to hoist the storm-flag of the Empire on the narrow channel that opens and closes the way to the Atlantic." This outburst fairly represents the prevailing spirit in the dominant class, which the Emperor, even if he had desired to do so, would have been powerless to exorcise.]
The realization that it was the unexpected entry of Great Britain into the war which had baffled the far-reaching German design of world dominion seems to have suggested to the inconsequent mind of the Emperor in the last phase the hopeless expedient of an eventual reconciliation with France with a view to concerted action against the country which he held responsible for his failure. The ex-Chancellor, Herr von Payer, in his volume, From Bethmann to Ebert, has related that in 1917, while German resistance and even aggressive power still appeared formidable, the Emperor explained to a group of deputies the possible advantage of a compromise peace. When the war was over he would come to terms with France with a view to later on making war against ourselves. The disclosure of von Payer, the accuracy of which there seems no reason to doubt, has a curious parallel in the attitude of Napoleon III during the war of 1870 when, as we know from the evidence of the Emperor Frederick's diary, he proposed to Germany to make peace and combine against Great Britain.[See Vol. 1, pp. 156-7].
I have endeavoured in this chapter to sum up the conclusions formed from my observation and study of Germany over many years. To resume, there were in the closing decade of the last century two forces at work, both tending to bring about the alienation of Great Britain. The Emperor and his Government, displaying little scruple as to the means adopted, spared no effort to separate Great Britain and France, and to drive the former into some binding obligation towards the Triple Alliance by continually aggravating our difficulties so long as we retained our full liberty of action. Simultaneously a covetous envy of Great Britain's long-established position in the world and a conviction that it was their destiny to replace us took possession of the German people, and gave definite direction to their activities. When, owing to maladroit and reckless manoeuvres, the former plan not only miscarried but led to the precisely opposite result, administrative Irritation and popular sentiment joined forces and added momentum to the current of antagonism to Great Britain.
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