The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 15
LAST EFFORTS TO PRESERVE PEACE
Different was the effect on the civilian Chancellor. He endeavoured to save what could still be saved. For this end, however, it was becoming urgently necessary to evolve some other attitude to Austria than that of "Nibelungen-fidelity." The latter 's stupidity and stubbornness had resulted not only in a European war threatening to break out—overnight to this they might have reconciled themselves, as the possibility had been reckoned on from the first—but this stupidity and stubbornness threatened to have the result that the Central Powers would enter the war in the most un-favourable circumstances, without Italy, perhaps against Italy, and against England, and burdened before their own people with the terrible and crippling reproach that they had wantonly provoked this dreadful catastrophe.
The strongest pressure had to be exerted on Vienna to induce her to adopt a more intelligent policy at the eleventh hour.
But this tendency was in contradiction to another, and a militarist tendency, which, once the mobilization had begun, considered war inevitable, and, simply because the number of the enemy was so great, urged striking as quickly as possible, as the only chance of holding their own. It was argued that by a few unexpected and decisive blows military preponderance might be gained, wavering Italy perhaps won over, and England overawed.
Two conflicting tendencies were thus fighting for the decision, which depended on the unstable Kaiser. Hence the contradictory phenomena just before the outbreak of war: On the one hand, the pressure on Austria in the direction of peace, and at the same time the precipitation of mobilization and declarations of war.
Some have seen in these contradictions a deliberate and cunning perfidy. I see in it only a result of the confusion, which entered Germany's governing circles after England's warning, and was still further increased by Austria's attitude. The influence of this precious ally must not be forgotten. A few illustrations may be given here.
The nearer the threat of war, the more important it was to win over Italy. As late as July 29th the Imperial Chancellor was writing to Jagow:
"Is it not necessary to send yet another telegram to Vienna, in which we state in sharp language that we consider the way in which Vienna is handling the question of compensation with Rome absolutely unsatisfactory, and the responsibility for the attitude of Italy in the event of war falls on Austria alone? If, on the eve of a possible European conflagration, Vienna threatens to burst the Triple Alliance in this way, the whole alliance will begin to totter. Vienna's declaration that she will act properly towards Italy in the event of a lasting occupation of Serbian territory, is, moreover, in contradiction to her assurances given in St. Petersburg regarding her territorial disinterestedness. The declarations made in Rome are certainly known in St. Petersburg. We cannot support as allies a policy which is two-faced.
"I regard this as necessary. Otherwise we cannot further mediate in St. Petersburg, and will be simply towed in the wake of Vienna. This I do not desire, even at the risk of being accused of lukewarmness.
"If you have no objections, I ask you to submit a telegram in this sense."
But urgent warnings of this nature had no effect on the obstinate diplomats of Vienna. Berchtold persisted in giving evasive answers, and he was surpassed in this by the fanatical Italophobe, Herr von Merey, whom the political wisdom of Austria had made Ambassador to Rome. On July 29th he wrote to Vienna, saying that the more conciliatory Austria was, the more immoderate and covetous would Italy become, and on July 31st he complained that, contrary to his advice, Count Berchtold had already gone three-quarters of the way to meet Italy on the question of compensation, under pressure from the German Government, which was, of course, an exaggeration, for it had been impossible to drag more than vague hints out of Berchtold. Jagow had rather to complain of Merey that he did not carry out the instructions given him on the question of compensation.
Count Berchtold himself reported in the Ministerial Council of July 3ist, that he had
"Hitherto commissioned the Imperial and Royal Ambassador in Rome to reply on questions of compensation with vague phrases, and at the same time constantly to emphasize that the idea of territorial acquisitions was remote from the Vienna Cabinet. If the Monarchy, however, should be forced to undertake an occupation which was not merely temporary, there would still be time to approach the question of compensation." (Gooss, page 305.)
With this dilatory policy, which was merely be-fooling her, Italy was of course lost to the Central Powers. The escape from the danger of war had, however, become a far more important object than the wooing of allies.
In view of the mobilizations, this danger had become so great that the quickest way to escape it ought to have been chosen first. The Imperial Chancellor could not decide on this, presumably in face of the disinclination of his master for any mediation à quatre and the Hague Tribunal.
On the evening of July 29th that celebrated telegram from the Tsar arrived, which later aroused so much stir, as in the German White Book, issued at the beginning of the war, which contained all the Tsar's telegrams, this particular one was "forgotten." It reads:
"Thanks for your conciliatory and friendly telegram. In contrast to it, the official communication made to-day by your Ambassador to my Minister was couched in quite a different tone. I beg you to explain the difference. [Now then!! W.] It would be well to submit the Austro-Serbian problem to the Hague Conference. [!—W.] I rely on your wisdom and friendship.
[Thanks likewise. W.]
Thereupon Bethmann-Hollweg at once telegraphed to the Ambassador in St. Petersburg :
"I beg your Excellency to explain the alleged discrepancy between your language and His Majesty's telegrams at once in a conversation with M. Sasonow. The idea of the Hague Conference will of course be quite out of the question in this case."
In view of this aversion from the direct way to peace, there remained only the indirect way, that of pressure on the heavy-handed and narrow-minded Austrians, in whom war had already let loose all their military instincts. In the night of July 29th-3oth Berlin was no longer endeavouring so anxiously, as on the 28th, to avoid the impression "as if we wished to hold back Austria" (Cf. page 257).
On July 30th, at 3 a.m., the Ambassador in Vienna was given Lichnowsky's telegram with Grey's warning and the following amplifications:
"If Austria refuses any intervention, we are thus faced with a conflagration, in which England would go against us, and, according to all indications, Italy and Rumania not with us, and we two would have to face four Great Powers. The heavy end of the fighting would, through England's hostility, fall to Germany. Austria's political prestige, the honour of her arms as well as her legitimate demands on Serbia, could be amply preserved by the occupation of Belgrade or other places. By the humiliation of Serbia, she would, as against Russia, strengthen her position in the Balkans. Under these circumstances we must urgently and earnestly submit to the consideration of the Vienna Cabinet that it should accept mediation under the honourable conditions specified. The responsibility for the consequences which will otherwise result would be uncommonly serious for Austria and for ourselves."
In still stronger language is the conclusion of the telegram sent by the Imperial Chancellor to the Ambassador in Vienna at the same hour—2.55 a.m. on July 30th—communicating a report from St. Petersburg:
" We cannot demand that Austria should negotiate with Serbia, with whom she is in a state of war. But the refusal of any interchange of opinion with St. Petersburg would be a grave error, as it would simply provoke the military intervention of foreign countries, to avoid which is Austria's first interest."
The telegram continued:
"We are, it is true, ready to fulfil the obligations of our alliance, but we must decline to allow Vienna to drag us wantonly, and in disregard of our counsels, into a world-conflagration. In the Italian question also, Vienna seems to pay no attention to our advice.
"Please speak plainly to Count Berchtold at once with all emphasis and great seriousness."
To this German pressure Austria offered a passive resistance. This at last brought Bethmann-Hollweg to desperation. On July 30th, at 9 p.m., he sent a telegram (No. 200) to Tschirschky:
"If Vienna, as is to be assumed from the telephone conversation of your Excellency with Herr von Stumm, refuses any intervention, in particular Grey's proposals, it is hardly possible any longer to shift the guilt of the European conflagration, which is breaking out, on to Russia. His Majesty has, at the Tsar's request, undertaken intervention in Vienna, because he could not refuse to do so without arousing the irrefutable suspicion that we want the war. The success of this intervention is, however, rendered difficult by the fact that Russia has mobilized against Austria. We have mentioned this to-day to England, adding that we have already raised in a friendly way in St. Petersburg and Paris the question of stopping Russian and French military measures, and could only take a new step in this direction through an Ultimatum, which would mean war. We have therefore suggested to Sir Edward Grey that he should, for his part, work earnestly in Paris and St. Petersburg in this sense, and have just received his assurance to that effect through Lichnowsky. If England's efforts succeed while Vienna refuses everything, Vienna will show that she wants a war at all costs, in which we will be involved, while Russia remains free from blame. The result is a quite untenable situation for us as regards our own nation. We can therefore only urgently recommend Austria to accept Grey's proposal, which guarantees her position in every respect.
"Your Excellency will at once communicate most emphatically with Count Berchtold in this sense, and, if possible, also with Count Tisza."
Even with this telegram it is possible to be in doubt whether Bethmann-Hollweg was more concerned with maintaining peace or shifting the responsibility for the war on to Russia. But the pressure on Vienna was there, and it ought in the end to have worked for peace.
Austria, however, met this pressure with a resistance as stubborn as it was treacherous, for she did not hesitate to deceive her German ally, as she did the rest of the world, by giving way in appearance while in reality she did nothing serious.
In the Vienna Ministerial Council of July 3ist, Count Berchtold reported:
"His Majesty has approved the proposal that the Vienna Cabinet, while carefully avoiding the meritorious acceptance of the English proposal, should, however, show complaisance in the form of its reply, and in this way meet the desire of the German Chancellor, not to offend the (English) Government."
The Count added:
"If the matter now ended with a gain of prestige only, it would, in the opinion of the President (Berchtold), have been undertaken quite in vain. The Monarchy would gain nothing from a mere occupation of Belgrade, even if Russia were to give her consent to it."
Berchtold gave his opinion, which was to reply to the English proposal in a very courteous form, but to lay down conditions, the refusal of which he could foresee, and to avoid going into the " merits " (i.e., the matter itself, if we translate the barbarous Austrian Parliamentary jargon into German).
Tisza agreed completely with Berchtold. He was likewise of the opinion
"That it would be fatal to go into the 'merits' (i.e., the substance) of the English proposal. The military operations against Serbia had in any case to take their course. It was doubtful, however, whether it was necessary to make the new demands on Serbia known to the Powers so early as this, and he would propose to answer the English suggestion by saying that the Monarchy was ready to meet it in principle, but only on condition that the operations against Serbia were continued and the Russian mobilization stopped."
This practical mockery of the peace proposal met with the unanimous approval of this precious Ministerial Council.
That the German Government has been also held responsible for this perfidious policy of Austria, which caused the breakdown of all attempts at mediation, need not surprise us, in view of their close co-operation with their ally, and their initial support of the sabotage of peace. They are, however, guiltless of this final sin, which made war inevitable. Their debit account is heavy enough without that.
After the 29th they sought to preserve peace. The first obstacle that they found was, we have seen, the Austrian Government.
But they found another, more powerful and nearer at hand.
The last message of the Chancellor to Tschirschky, the demand that Austria should be pressed to yield, of which we have already spoken, was not delivered. On July 3oth, at 9 p.m., the message was sent off, and at 11.20 a second was hurried after it, saying:
"Please do not carry out instructions No. 200 for the present."
What had happened in the meanwhile? The answer is given in the following telegram of the Chancellor to the Ambassador in Vienna:
"I have suspended the execution of instructions No. 200, because the General Staff has just informed me that military preparations by our neighbours in the East force us to a more rapid decision if we are not to expose ourselves to be taken by surprise. The General Staff urgently wishes to be definitely informed with as little delay as possible regarding decisions in Vienna, especially of a military nature. Please make inquiries at once, so that we may receive an answer to-morrow."
This telegram also was not sent, but replaced by another, in which the suspension of the instructions was explained by the arrival of a telegram from the King of England. But it is not to be doubted that the first explanation was the true one. They were probably afraid to acknowledge such an interference of the General Staff with foreign policy. With it a new factor comes into the foreground, a factor which is decisive for the outbreak of the war.