The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 14
Up to July 29th
The German Government had expected that they would succeed in keeping England neutral if it should come to a conflict with Russia and France. They could rely upon open rebellion appearing imminent in Ireland and on the fact that the pacifist idea was nowhere stronger than in England, not only among the working classes, but also in a considerable section of the bourgeoisie. Even among many middle-class elements, who had no objection to a colonial war, there was a horror of a European war with its destructive economic consequences.
Thus the German Government was justified in expecting that there would be strong opposition in the English Parliament to a war with Germany. But it forgot this was only true of an offensive and unprovoked war. The German naval armaments had filled the whole population of England with increasing anxiety about a German invasion. A war to overthrow France or even the occupation of Belgium by Germany must strongly arouse the English people to defend themselves.
The German Government does not seem to have considered this possibility seriously. Their whole procedure was based upon the presupposition of English neutrality.
In a report by Pourtalès of a conversation with Sasonow (on July 21) it is stated :
"In the course of the conversation the Minister repeatedly pointed out that, according to the information at his disposal, the situation was considered serious in Paris and in London also. He was obviously endeavouring to give me the im- pression that in England also the attitude of Austria-Hungary was very much disapproved."
With great determination, William remarked on this: "He is wrong." If he had read Lichnowsky's reports with greater attention and fewer preconceived ideas, he would have been more cautious.
But it is correct that the English Government, on the outbreak of the conflict between Austria and Serbia, at first endeavoured to take up a neutral attitude in order to negotiate between Austria and Russia.
The English King spoke to the same effect at this time to William's brother, Prince Henry.
The latter wrote on July 28th from Kiel :
"My Dear William,
"Before my departure from London, to be exact on Sunday morning (July 26th), I had, at my own request, a short conversation with Georgie, who was perfectly clear regarding the seriousness of the present situation, and assured me that he and his Government would leave no plan untried to localize the struggle between Austria and Serbia. His Government had therefore made the proposal that Germany, England, France and Italy—as you, of course, already know—should intervene in the endeavour to keep Russia in check. He hoped that Germany would be able, in spite of her alliance with Austria, to join in this plan to prevent a European war, to which, so he said, we were nearer than ever before. He continued in these exact words: 'We shall try all we can to keep out of this and shall remain neutral.' (Wir werden alles aufbieten nicht hineingezogen zu werden und werden neutral bleiben.) That this utterance was meant seriously I am convinced, as I am of the fact that England will remain neutral. Whether she will be able to do so permanently I cannot say, but have my doubts in view of the relationship with France.
"Georgie was in a very serious mood, reasoned logically and was most seriously and honestly endeavouring to avert the possible world conflagration, in which endeavour he relied greatly upon your assistance.
"I communicated the substance of the conversation to Lichnowsky (as early as July 26th—K.) with the request that he would transmit it to the Chancellor.
"Your faithful and obedient brother,
The report of this conversation is not distinguished by superfluous logic. He says the English Government proposes that Germany, England, France and Italy should combine to keep Russia in check, and hopes that her alliance with Austria will not prevent Germany from joining in this plan. It is obvious that the alliance could only come into consideration if it was a question of keeping Austria in check. "Georgie" probably spoke of Russia and Austria. We will, therefore, not at once contest the trustworthiness of the whole letter on account of senility à la Szögyeny. As to the question of neutrality, it is obvious that all that was said was, we shall endeavour to remain neutral so long as we can. Henry himself doubts whether this will be possible permanently. William, however, saw in this a promise binding in all circumstances.
Even before the ultimatum to Serbia he had thus interpreted English neutrality, which he not only expected but to a certain degree demanded as his just right, to mean that England must restrain from any pressure on Austria and allow the latter a free hand.
This is clear from his notes on a report by Lichnowsky on July 22nd. We reproduce this in full, with William's comments in brackets:
"Sir Edward Grey will, as I learn confidentially, to-morrow tell Count Mensdorff that the British Government will exert its influence to get the Austrian demands accepted by the Serbian Government, if they are modified, and made reconcilable with the independence of the Serbian kingdom. [It is not his duty to judge these demands, that is the affair of His Majesty Franz Josef. W.] He also thinks that Sasonow will use his influence in Belgrade in the same direction. But it is, he thinks, a necessary premise to this attitude that no unproven accusations a la Friedjung be preferred from Vienna, and that the Austro-Hungarian Government should be in a position to establish absolutely the connexion between the murder at Serajevo and political circles in Belgrade. [That is their own affair.—W.] Everything depends on the way the Note is composed in Vienna, and on the results of the investigation so far made. It is impossible to make representations in Belgrade on the basis of wanton statements. [What is wanton? How can Grey use such a word about the venerable old gentleman?—W.]
"I am working in the meanwhile in the endeavour to get them to intercede for an unconditional acceptance of the Austrian demands, considering the legitimate demand of Austria for satisfaction and a final cessation of the constant troubles, even if it should not take fully into account the national dignity of Serbia. [There is none. W.]
"In doing this, I meet with the expectation that our influence in Vienna has succeeded in suppressing demands which cannot be fulfilled. [How would that come within my province? It does not concern me at all! What is the meaning of 'cannot be fulfilled?' The scoundrels have carried on their agitation with murder and must be humbled! This is a monstrous piece of British impudence. It is not my duty to prescribe à la Grey to His Majesty the Emperor regarding the preservation of his honour.—W.] They reckon definitely that we would not identify ourselves with demands which obviously aim at bringing about a war and that we will not support a policy which only uses the Serajevo murder as a pretext for furthering Austrian desires in the Balkans, and for the destruction of the Peace of Bucharest. Moreover, Sir Edward Grey has again informed me to-day that he is endeavouring to exert influence in St. Petersburg from the Austrian point of view. But it has not made a pleasant impression here that Count Berchtold has so far quite markedly avoided speaking about the Serbian question with Sir Maurice de Bunsen."
Jagow adds to this report of Lichnowsky's:
"Your Majesty's Ambassador in London is receiving instructions to be careful in his language, and that we did not know the Austrian demands, but considered them Austria-Hungary's internal affairs, regarding which it would not be proper for us to intervene."
On this William observes:
In this fashion did William think to gain English neutrality. Of course his diplomats poured water in his fermenting wine, but the material difficulty remained: the antagonism between the Austrian and English point of view was too great for England to have been able to continue, as she intended, to intervene for Austria and place a check exclusively on Russia.
"Right! This ought, however, to be told very seriously and clearly to Grey so that he may see that I stand no trifling. Grey is making the mistake of placing Serbia on the same level as Austria and other great Powers. This is unheard of! Serbia is a band of robbers, which must be laid hold of for their crimes. I shall interfere in nothing which the Emperor alone is entitled to decide. I have been expecting this dispatch and it does not surprise me. Regular British way of thinking, and condescendingly commanding tone, which I will not have."
This became clear at once after the publication of the Austrian ultimatum. By the 24th July Lichnowsky reports:
"Sir Edward Grey has just requested me to come to him. The Minister was obviously deeply affected by the Austrian Note, which, in his view, surpassed anything he had ever seen of this kind. He said he had so far no news from St. Petersburg, and therefore did not know how the matter was being regarded there. He doubted very much, however, whether it would be possible for the Russian Government to recommend the Serbian Government to accept unconditionally the Austrian demands. A state which accepted such proposals would really cease to count as an independent state. [This would be very desirable. It is not a state in the European sense, but a band of robbers.—W.] It was difficult for him, Sir E. Grey, also to give any advice in St. Petersburg at this moment. He could only hope that a mild [!!—W.] and calm interpretation of the situation would hold the field there. So long as it was a question of a ... localized struggle between Austria and Serbia, the matter did not concern him (Sir E. Grey) [Right!—W.]; but the situation would at once be different if public opinion in Russia forced the Government to proceed against Austria.
"To my observation that one cannot judge the Balkan States by the same standard as the more advanced European nations [Right, that they are certainly not.—W.] and that, therefore, a different kind of language must be used towards them—the barbaric style of their warfare had already shown that—than towards Britons or Germans, for example [Right.—W.], the Minister replied that, although he might share this view, he did not believe that it would be shared in Russia. [But then the Russians are no better.—W.]
"The danger of a European war if Austria entered Serbian soil [This will certainly happen.—W.] would become immediate. The results of such a war of four belligerents he expressly emphasized four, and meant Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany and France [He forgets Italy.—W.] it was quite impossible to foresee. Whatever course the situation took, one thing was certain: that there would be complete exhaustion and impoverishment; industry and commerce would be ruined, and the power of capital destroyed. Revolutionary movements, as in 1848, would be the result in consequence of the ruin of industry. [!—W.]
"What Sir Edward Grey most lamented, besides the tone of the Note, was the short time-limit; which made war almost inevitable. He said to me that he would be ready to make representations with us in Vienna for a prolongation of the period '[Useless.—W.], as then a way out might perhaps be found. [?!!—W.] He asked me to transmit this proposal to your Excellency.
"He further suggested that in case of a dangerous tension, the four Powers not immediately concerned—England, Germany, France and Italy—should undertake negotiation between Russia and Austria. [This is superfluous, as Austria has already made matters clear to Russia, and Grey can propose nothing else. I am not intervening only if Austria expressly asks me to, which is not probable. One does not consult others in matters of honour and vital questions.—W.]
"The Minister is clearly trying to do everything to prevent European complications, and could not conceal his great regret at the challenging tone of the Austrian Note and the short time-limit.
"From another source I was informed in the Foreign Office that there was reason to assume that Austria considerably underestimated Serbia's power of resistance. In any case, it would be a long and desperate struggle, which would greatly weaken Austria and cause her to bleed to death. [Nonsense! it may bring England Persia.—W.] They also claim to know that Rumania's attitude is more than uncertain, and that it had been stated in Bucharest that they would be against the party who attacked."
Three points are particularly noteworthy in this document:
Firstly, the serenity with which William still contemplated war on July 26th. That Austria may bleed to death in it he declares to be nonsense. The fear that it will bring economic ruin and revolution to all belligerents seems to him so ludicrous that he marks the passage with an exclamation point.
Secondly, we see that William, on July 26th, when he read Lichnowsky's report, still reckoned on Italy's entry into the war—of course, on Germany's side.
Finally, however, it is to be noted that Grey describes the war which he fears as one of four participants only; he says nothing of England. He is, therefore, endeavouring to remain neutral—and he had to if he was to appear as an intermediary.
But for the success of this intervention it was necessary that Germany should also be honourably neutral. This appeared doubtful from the very first, and in the course of the negotiations the suspicion became stronger and stronger that she was only using her neutral attitude as a pretext to be able unostentatiously to assist Austria, who allowed nothing to lead her from her policy of war.
England had to reckon with the possibility that Germany, with Austria, was pressing for a war against Russia and France, in which, in alliance with Italy, she could be certain of victory. If this view was correct, then it was to be feared that Germany would be strengthened in her bellicose tendencies by the prospect of England's neutrality. It was therefore necessary to warn Germany that she must not count on this neutrality. This warning might still save peace, which was dangerously threatened. It was given on July 29th.
The warning fell on prepared soil. We have already given an account of the revulsion of feeling in Berlin, which began on July 28th, produced by the Socialist demonstrations against war in Berlin. Then by Lichnowsky's representations and Italy's perverseness, which caused the possibility to arise that out of the joyful war of two against two there might develop a very disagreeable one of two against four.
Bethmann now endeavoured to win England by promises.
In a conversation with Sir Edward Goschen on July 29th he observes:
"We can assure the English Cabinet—provided its attitude were neutral—that we, even in the event of a war, do not aim at territorial acquisitions at the expense of France in Europe. We can further assure them that we shall respect the neutrality and integrity of Holland, so long as it is respected by our opponents."
At the same time, he even then prepares the way for the invasion of Belgium:
"As regards Belgium, we do not know to what counter-measures the action of France in any war that might arise might force us. But assuming that Belgium does not take sides against us, we would be ready, even in this case, to give an assur- ance by which Belgium's integrity would remain intact after the conclusion of the war.
"These conditional assurances seemed to us suitable foundations for a further understanding with England, for which our policy has hitherto been continually working. The assurance of a neutral attitude by England in the present conflict would enable me to make a general neutrality agreement in the future, of which it would be premature to discuss the details in the present moment."
The composition of this sentence in English (would ... moment) gave Bethmann great difficulty. He had first written (in German):
"And we would be able to reply to the suggestion of a general treaty of neutrality with a naval understanding."
He then struck out the sentence, and wrote:
"Would create for us the possibility of looking forward to a general treaty of neutrality in the future. I cannot to-day go into the details and basis of such a treaty, as England would give her views on the whole question."
But this version also did not please him, and so he chose the English given above.
This searching for the right expression is very characteristic. Immediately before the war Bethmann-Hollweg was endeavouring to induce England to abandon France and Belgium to the superior strength of Germany. He would have only had a prospect of attaining this, if he gave England the most satisfactory assurances regarding German world and naval policy. Even then the prospect was not great, for, in contrast to the promises, there was the reality of the German fleet. Nevertheless, success might have been considered possible. Yet even then, when Germany was advancing towards that terrible crisis, Bethmann-Hollweg could not decide even to mention a naval agreement as a bait; he could produce nothing but a vague phrase about a " general treaty of neutrality for the future," which, of course, offered not the slightest guarantee that a victorious Germany would not turn its then irresistible superiority against England.
The offer was then very vigorously rejected by Grey as a scandalous suggestion for the conclusion of a bargain with Germany at the expense of France, whose colonies were to be surrendered to Germany. But even before the English Government received the news of the proposal, it had already warned Germany seriously, and informed her that England was ready to mediate between Austria and Serbia, as well as Russia, but that she could not promise her neutrality in a war between Germany and France.
This communication, which was really a matter of course, came upon William like a thunderbolt. Rage and fear strove within him, and, as we shall see immediately, caused him completely to lose his head. On July 29th Lichnowsky sent two dispatches to Berlin. In the one he said, among other things, that Sir Edward Grey regarded the situation as exceedingly grave:
"A telegram yesterday from Sir Maurice de Bunsen [British Ambassador in Vienna.—K.] made an unpleasant impression upon him; according to it, Count Berchtold had absolutely rejected Sasonow's proposal to empower Count Szapary [Austrian Ambassador in St. Petersburg.—K.] to enter with him into a discussion of the dispute between Serbia and Austria."
The Minister then further discussed the possibilities of mediation and an understanding to prevent the world-war.
More important is the next dispatch:
"Sir Edward Grey has just sent for me again. The Minister was absolutely calm, but very grave, and received me with the words—that the situation was coming more and more to a head. [The greatest and most scandalous piece of English Pharisaism that I have ever seen! I shall never make a naval agreement with such rascals.—W.] Sasonow has declared that after the declaration of war [Against Serbia.—K.] he will no longer be in a position to negotiate with Austria direct, and has made a request here to resume intervention. [In spite of the Tsar's appeal to me! I am thus shoved aside.—W.] The Russian Government regards the cessation of hostilities for the present as a necessary preliminary to this mediation.
"Sir Edward Grey repeated his suggestion, already reported, that we should take part in a mediation à quatre, which we had already accepted in principle. He personally thought that a suitable foundation for mediation would be that Austria should announce her terms—for example, after occupying Belgrade or other places. [Good! We have been endeavouring to attain this for days past. In vain!—W.] If your Excellency would, however, undertake mediation, a prospect of which I held out this morning, this would, of course, suit him equally well. But mediation appeared to him to be urgently required if a European catastrophe were not to result. [Instead of mediation, a serious word in St. Petersburg and Paris, to the effect that England is not assisting them, would at once restore the situation.—W.]
"Sir E. Grey then said to me that he had a friendly and private communication to make, namely, that he did not wish our personal relations, which had been so friendly, and our intimate exchange of ideas on all political questions to mislead me, and he wished himself to be spared the reproach [It remains.—W.] of insincerity afterwards. [Aha! the low swindler!—W.]
"The British Government wished, as before, to continue our previous friendly relations, and so long as the dispute was confined to Austria and Russia, would stand aside. [This means, we are to leave Austria in the lurch. Most mean and Mephistophelean But genuinely English.—W.] But if we and France became involved, the situation would at once be altered, and in certain circumstances the British Government might find itself forced to take rapid decisions. [Taken already.—W.] In this case, it would not do to stand aside and wait long. [i.e., they will fall upon us.—W.] If war broke out, it would be the greatest catastrophe which the world had ever seen. He was far from wishing to use any kind of threat, he only wished to protect me from disappointments and himself from the reproach of insincerity [Failed completely. He has been insincere all these years down to his latest speech.—W.], and therefore chose (to communicate this to me in) the form of a private conversation.
"Sir Edward Grey added, however, that the Government [We also!—W.] must take account of public [Newly created!—W.] opinion. [If they wish it, they can turn and direct public opinion, as the Press absolutely obeys them.—W.] So far, this had been, on the whole, favourable to Austria, as the justice of a certain degree of satisfaction was recognized, but now it was beginning to swing round completely as a result of Austrian stubbornness. [With the help of the Jingo Press!—W.]"To my Italian colleague, who has just left me, Sir Edward Grey said he believed if mediation were undertaken Austria would be able to procure every possible satisfaction; there would be no question of a humiliating retreat by Austria, as the Serbs would, in any case, be chastised, and with Russia's approval forced to subordinate themselves to Austria's wishes. Austria could thus obtain guarantees for the future without a war which would put the peace of Europe in danger.
To this William adds the following Note :
"England is coming out in her true colours at the moment when she thinks that we are hemmed in like a hunted animal, and, so to speak, disposed of. The vulgar mob of shopkeepers tried to deceive us with dinners and speeches. The grossest deceit is the message the King sent me by Henry, ' We shall remain neutral, and try to keep out of this as long as possible.' Grey gives the King the lie, and these words to Lichnowsky are the outcome of an evil conscience, because he feels he has deceived us. Besides, it is really a threat, combined with bluff, to break us from Austria and prevent mobilization, and shift the guilt of the war. He knows quite well that if he only speaks a single sharp, serious word in Paris and St. Petersburg, and warns them to remain neutral, both will at once be still. But he refrains from uttering the word, and threatens us instead! The low cur! England alone bears the responsibility for war and peace, not we any longer! This must be made clear to the world."
The immoderation of his language shows clearly the high degree of disappointment felt by William at Grey's hint, which every trained politician with any degree of judgment must have foreseen, which Prince Henry also had expected when King George told him he would endeavour to remain neutral as long as possible. Already in the report of July 18th of the Bavarian Councillor of Legation, Schön, which has been published by Eisner, it had been stated:
"A war between the Dual Alliance and Triple Entente would be little welcome to England at the present moment, if only on account of the situation in Ireland. If it comes to that, however, according to the opinion held here, we would, nevertheless, find our English cousins on the enemy's side, as England fears that France, in the event of defeat, would sink to the level of a second-rate power, and thus the 'balance of power' would be destroyed, the maintenance of which England considers imperative in her own interest."
William had quite forgotten this in his political calculations, and he had interpreted the striving after neutrality as far as possible at the stage of mediation, which Grey held in prospect, as a binding promise of neutrality in all circumstances, even in the event of a war against France; nay, he went so far as to regard neutrality as an obligation on England's part blindly to support German policy in St. Petersburg and Paris.
A more senseless policy can hardly be imagined.
The next day William expressed himself in even greater detail on the English warning, in connection with a report from Herr von Pourtalès in St. Petersburg, of a conversation with Sasonow.
The Russian Minister endeavoured to persuade the German Ambassador to recommend to the German Government the eagerly desired "participation in a conversation à quatre, to find a way of inducing Austria by friendly means [Is the Russian mobilization a friendly means?—W.] to drop the demands which infringe the sovereignty of Serbia."
This sensible proposal, which made the maintenance of peace probable, and of which "in principle" the German Foreign Office had expressed approval to England, met with the opposition of the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg, who waived it aside with the intelligent remark:
"Russia is demanding that we should do to Austria what Austria is being reproached for doing to Serbia."
On this ludicrous view, William promptly remarks,
Herr Pourtales then tries to persuade Sasonow to allow Austria a free hand in Serbia :
"At the conclusion of peace there will still be time enough to come back to the question of Serbian sovereignty." [Good.—W.]
After the German Ambassador, with the lively approval of his Imperial master, had worked in this admirable fashion to mediate between Russia and Austria, he began to speak of the Russian partial mobilization, which followed the Austrian, and uttered, "No threat but only a friendly warning."
"Sasonow declared that the cancelling of the order for mobilization was no longer possible, and that the Austrian mobilization was to blame for this."
On this William writes a long essay:
"If the mobilization can no longer be cancelled—which is not true why, then, did the Tsar appeal for my intervention three days later, without mentioning the issue of the order for mobilization? Surely this shows clearly that even to him the mobilization appeared premature, and he afterwards took this step toward us pro forma to calm his awakened conscience, although he knew that it was no longer of any avail, as he did not feel himself strong enough to stop the mobilization. For this leaves me without the slightest doubt any longer: England, Russia and France have agreed taking as a basis our casus fœderis with Austria—using the Austro-Serbian conflict as a pretext, to wage a war of destruction against us. Hence Grey's cynical observation to Lichnowsky: that so long as the war remained confined to Austria and Russia, England would stand aside, but only if we and France became involved he would be forced to become active against us, i.e., either we are basely to betray our Ally and abandon her to Russia and thus break up the Triple Alliance, or, remaining faithful to our Ally, are to be set upon by the Triple Entente together and chastised, by which their envy will finally have the satisfaction of completely ruining all of us. This, in a nutshell, is the true, naked situation, which, slowly and surely set in motion and continued by Edward VII., has been systematically developed by disclaimed conversations of England with Paris and St. Petersburg, and finally brought to its culmination and set in motion by George V. At the same time, the stupidity and clumsiness of our Ally is made a trap for us. The celebrated 'encircling' of Germany thus finally became an accomplished fact, in spite of all the endeavours of our politicians and diplomats to prevent it. The net is suddenly drawn over our heads, and with a mocking laugh England reaps the most brilliant success of her assiduously conducted, purely anti-German world-policy. Against this we have proved powerless, while, as a result of our fidelity to our ally, Austria, she has us isolated, wriggling in the net, and draws the noose for our political and economic destruction. A splendid achievement, which compels admiration even from one who is ruined by it! Edward VII-after his death is stronger than I who am alive! And there were people who thought we could win over or satisfy England by this or that trifling measure!!! She unceasingly and relentlessly pursued her aim with notes (armament), holiday proposals, scares, Haldane, etc., until she had reached it. And we ran into the noose, and even introduced the ship for ship ratio in naval building in the touching hope that this would pacify England!!! All warnings, all requests on my part were without avail. Now we get what the English call thanks for it. From the dilemma of fidelity to our alliance with the venerable old Emperor is created the situation which gives England the desired pretext to destroy us, with the hypocritical semblance of right, namely, of helping France to maintain the notorious balance of power, that is to say, the playing of all European states in England's favour against us! Now the whole scheme must be ruthlessly exposed, the mask of Christian readiness for peace which England has shown to the world must be rudely torn off, and her Pharisaic protestation of peace pilloried! And our Consuls in Turkey and India, our agents, etc., must rouse the whole Mohammedan world to a wild rebellion against this hated, deceitful, unscrupulous nation of shop-keepers. For if we are to bleed to death, England shall at least lose India."
This philippic stamps the character of William. After his conspiracy with Austria had brought Germany into so fearful a position, he does not think of how to get her out of it again, but only of the theatrical effect of how he will ruthlessly expose the whole scheming of his enemies, roughly tearing the mask of Christian readiness for peace, and pilloring the Pharisaical protestations of peace.
He has completely forgotten his own scheming, which does not bear exposure at all, with its corresponding "Christian readiness for peace," and "Pharisaical protestations of peace."
But at the same time the war seemed to him already certain. The only thing which it occurs to him to do, after his pompous nourishes, is not to attempt to save peace, but only to appeal for a rebellion of the whole Mohammedan world. He is already reconciled to the idea of Germany bleeding to death in the coming war if only England suffers also from it. But at bottom this whole confused note only shows that he had completely lost his head. Italy's refusal and England's warning knocked the Kaiser on the head, and deprived him of the remnants of his judgment.