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America Fallen!/Chapter 2

 
 

II


THE COUNCIL CHAMBER AT POTSDAM


On the morning of the day following the signing of the Peace of Geneva, Germany's plenipotentiary, Count Von Buelow, entered the Council Chamber at Potsdam punctually at the hour appointed. There was gloom upon his face and weariness, too; for throughout the night journey to Berlin, the burden of that fifteen-billion-dollar indemnity, which the Kaiser had authorized him to impose upon stricken Germany, had lain heavily upon his mind. Heavy gloom sat also upon the faces of the distinguished company around the council board. Von Hollweg, the Imperial Chancellor was there, and the foreign secretary, Von Jagow; Falkenhayn, also, the Chief of the Great General Staff, and next to him, Von Tirpitz, creator and controlling mind of the German Navy. Present also was the chief of the German Secret Service, and last, but not least, the Chief of the German Official Press Bureau.

Von Buelow had scarcely taken his seat when the murmur of desultory conversation suddenly ceased, and every man stiffened to the habitual pose of military and state decorum, as the Kaiser entered and strode to the head of the table.

Was he changed by the tragic happenings of the last twenty months? Yes, and no. The hair had whitened, and the stupendous burden of responsibility had bowed somewhat, as well it might, the shoulders upon which it had borne so heavily. But there was something in that flashing blue eye, in the set of the lips, and in the whole atmosphere of that ever-to-be-remembered face, which showed that he was still a Prussian of the Prussians, and that the indomitable spirit of the latest, if not the last of the Hohenzollerns, burned unquenched and unquenchable in the soul of the man.

Obeying the scarcely perceptible wave of his hand, the distinguished company seated themselves with their Kaiser for a council which, as subsequent events proved with lightning-like rapidity, was to be big with the fate, not this time of Europe, but of the great Western Hemisphere.

And thus he spoke:

"The Day has come and gone and Germany has lost! What may have been and what yet may be the purposes of an inscrutable Providence neither you nor I can tell. This much I do know, that if the sword was thrust into our hands by the Almighty for our own chastisement, it is for us to bow our heads in submission. That God sent us into battle for our own permanent undoing, I do not believe. Our beloved Fatherland has set up before the eyes of the world a kultur too broad and beneficent, and the influence of that kultur upon the great world outside of Germany has been too profound and will prove too lasting, for God ever to contemplate the fall and passing away of the great German Empire. As surely as gold is purified by fire, so surely shall Germany emerge, freed of all dross and with more splendid potentialities for the future, out of this seven-times heated furnace of the war.

"I ask you to consider that Germany has passed through this supreme ordeal with her vitality unimpaired and her military prestige enhanced. I will even say that she is the stronger for her territorial losses. Alsace and Lorraine have ever been a thorn in the side of Germany—the one impassable barrier to cordial relations with our great French neighbor, whose good will, as you well know, it has been my earnest endeavor to win. And as for our lost colonial possessions, I, as well as you, have long recognized that they were too widely scattered, too little coordinated, to carry much military value; moreover, as outlets for our expanding population, they have failed of their purpose.

"Of the crime of Kiao-Chou I will say no more than that Germany never forgets!

"Has Germany, then, no future beyond the seas? She has, most assuredly, and it lies (would that we had recognized the fact, and recognizing, acted upon it long ago) in the Western Hemisphere, in the southern half of the great American continent. South America beckons the German colonist and calls to us for the further exploitation of its abundant natural resources by that combination of German science, capital, and organization, with which our competitors have found it impossible sucessfully to compete.

"But if, by purchase or by such means as the time and circumstance may demand, we are to found a colony or colonies in South America, it will be necessary to clear the air by disposing, once and for all, of that curious fiction which has come to be known as the 'Monroe Doctrine.' The peculiar claims set forth therein by the United States have been described as 'the most magnificent bluff in all history and, so far, the most successful.' But you and I know, and it is known in all the chancellories of Europe, that the bravado has been successful only by our sufferance, and because the great problems of Europe, for which the late war has been fought, called for more pressing solution.

"I have spoken of the 'Monroe Doctrine' as a fiction—perhaps I had better have described it as composed of many fictions, not the least among which has been the belief that back of this policy lay the strength of the British fleet. I know not with certainty how much of truth there has been in that assumption; but, thanks to the work of our plenipotentiary at Geneva, an understanding, secret and supplementary to the general treaty, was reached with the British representative, by which, in consideration of our withdrawal from the Euphrates Valley (which the collapse of the Turkish Empire has rendered less attractive to German enterprise than it was), Great Britain pledges herself to a neutral attitude on the 'Monroe Doctrine,' except so far as it affects her own North American possessions.

"With the fleet of Great Britain eliminated as an element in the problem, it becomes possible for Germany, as I shall show you later, to achieve, through the instrumentality of her fleet, a feat of arms which, in a swift series of operations, shall restore our naval and military prestige in the eyes of the German people, demolish for all time the 'Monroe Doctrine,' and transfer from the shoulders of Germany to those of the United States of America the burden of the fifteen-billion-dollar indemnity, imposed upon us by the Treaty to which, only yesterday, we appended our signature.

"I have said that the war has added to our military prestige—I will go further and say that, in the eyes of all the world, and particularly among those who follow the profession of arms, our military prestige has been immeasurably increased. We set out to fight the two greatest military powers, next to ourselves; and alone we would have crushed them utterly. As the event has proved, Germany and Austria found themselves confronted by the embattled hosts of no less than ten nations. Nevertheless, we carried the war into the enemy's territory, and, so far as Germany is concerned, we presented an impregnable wall, which was finally pierced, only by overwhelming numbers, and, thanks largely to our American friends, by a preponderance of artillery against which even the indomitable soldiers of Germany could not prevail.

"It is only by the mass of the German people that these things are not well understood. We, of the ruling class, you will remember, told the people, brought up as they were to believe in the absolute invincibility of the German army, that within a month of the declaration of war we should be in Paris and within two months in St. Petersburg. Instead, they have seen that army arrested, held fast, and finally thrown back in defeat upon its own borders. The Socialists of Germany, working upon the minds of a defeated and discouraged people, are laying the blame for this disaster upon the shoulders of the very class which has made Germany what it is. We, it is, who have made the German Empire and given to it the only system of government which, bearing in mind the century-long training and peculiar temperament of its people, can maintain it intact amid the powerful and jealous nations of Europe, and carry it forward to the greater future that awaits it.

"The prestige of the army and navy and the confidence of the people in its ruling class can be restored only by some swift and brilliant feat of arms—and in view of the rapidly augmenting strength of the Socialistic upheaval, that feat of arms cannot be performed too soon.

"The United States, as you are well aware, has recently reaffirmed the 'Monroe Doctrine' by definite Congressional action, forbidding the acquisition by any alien power of harbors or coaling stations which are located within striking distance of the Panama Canal, and which might serve as a base for hostile operations in the Caribbean.

"That, gentlemen, is a clear and bold—I had almost said defiant—expression of one of the most important among the great foreign policies which the United States, since the period of the Spanish War, has adopted and proclaimed to the world in no unmeasured terms. In addition to the 'Monroe Doctrine' I have but to refer to their championship of the 'Open Door' in China, to the matter of the exclusion of the Asiatics, and to the construction and fortification of the Panama Canal; which great work and the Caribbean, as I foresee it, in the future naval wars of the New World, will be what Gibraltar and the Mediterranean were to the contending navies of the eighteenth century. The ultimate entry of the great republic of the Western Hemisphere into the field of world politics was, of course, inevitable; but that this entrance would be marked by the adoption of a line of policies so bold as these, involving the possibility, nay the certainty, of conflict sooner or later with the great naval and military powers of the world, I, for one, was not prepared to believe.

"Had there been in the United States that intimate and well-balanced relationship and co-operation between the diplomatic and the naval and military services which obtains in Germany, the growth of these ambitious policies would have been marked by a commensurate growth of the military and naval forces of the country. This co-operation, as you are well aware, has been conspicuously absent. The United States Congress, always fearful and jealous of what it is pleased to term 'militarism,' has failed to listen to the warnings of its military advisers; with the result, to-day, that it is endeavoring to support a line of first-class international policies with a third-class navy, and with military forces which are so insignificant that, in the eyes of a first-class military nation, they may be regarded as practically negligible. The burden of responsibility for these conditions lies not upon the naval and military advisers of Congress, but upon Congress itself; which, as our ambassadors have from time to time informed us, does not hesitate to play politics with matters which involve the very life and death of the nation itself.

"Should the blow which Germany, in the hour of her dire need, is about to strike against the United States lead that great country to a realization of the necessity at all times for proper naval and military preparedness, the regret which I and Germany feel at having to break our friendly relations with a country with which we have always lived in perfect amity, will be tempered by the thought that, out of her temporary loss she will reap a future gain of inestimable benefit.

"It is noteworthy that our swift descent upon that great country could not be carried out with any reasonable hope of success, had the United States Congress but given heed to the words of its first soldier-president which were spoken, if my memory serves me well, in his first annual address. 'To be prepared for war,' said Washington, 'is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace. A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite.'"

The Kaiser ceased speaking and, turning to the Foreign Secretary, he said: "Von Jagow, have you had the necessary conversations with the Danish minister, and have you requested him to be present?"

"The conversations were eminently satisfactory, your Majesty. The Danish minister is in the anteroom and awaits your commands."

"Send for him," said the Kaiser.

The Danish minister entered, and he was no sooner seated than the Kaiser, without any preliminaries, abruptly asked, "What sum do you name as the purchase price of the island of St. Thomas in the West Indies?"

"Twenty-five million dollars, your Majesty," said the minister.

"We will give you that sum for the island," said the Kaiser. "The only stipulation is that you shall pledge yourself to secrecy, leaving it to Germany to announce, at such time as may seem best, the transfer of the island. Here are the necessary papers, and if you will affix your signature the transfer can be consummated here and now."

The Danish minister smiled, took the pen, signed the documents, and, after the customary felicitations, withdrew.