The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 16
From the very beginning of the crisis there had been a certain distrust in most Governments, not only of Austria, but also of Germany, in spite of the vigorous assurance of Berlin that they were as surprised as the rest of the world by the Vienna Ultimatum.
The torpedoing of all attempts at intervention by Austria and Germany up to July 29th, which was then continued by Austria, now in opposition to Germany, which, however, did not show openly all this made the Central Powers' love of peace seem more and more doubtful and strengthened in the Entente more and more the fear that they wanted a general conflagration.
On July 30th only a few foreign diplomats still believed that Germany was seriously endeavouring to mediate. Among them was the Belgian Ambassador in St. Petersburg, M. de l'Escaille, who reported on July 30th:
“The only incontestable fact is that Germany has endeavoured, here as well as in Vienna, to find some means to avert a general conflict; that she has encountered, on the one hand, the firm resolution of the Vienna Cabinet not to yield a step, and, on the other, the distrust of the St. Petersburg Cabinet for Austria-Hungary's assurances that she is thinking only of chastising and not of occupying Serbia.”
This dispatch fell into the hands of the German Government on its way through Germany, and they hastened to publish it, because it showed, they said, that Germany had worked with the greatest devotion for peace. The German Government later published numerous other documents of Belgian diplomats from the decade before the war, all of which spoke very favourably of Germany's love of peace. What they prove is one thing, namely, that it was particularly among Belgian diplomats that the trust in German policy was very strong.
It strikes one as all the more remarkable that the German Government published at the same time as these documents, others which were intended to prove that Belgium, long before the war, had entered into a conspiracy with England and France against Germany.
As to the distrust shown by the St. Petersburg Cabinet—mentioned by de l'Escaille—towards Vienna's assurances that she would not harm Serbia's integrity, this mistrust was not limited to St. Petersburg.
On July 29th Bethmann-Hollweg wrote to Tschirschky in Vienna:
“These utterances of Austrian diplomats no longer bear the character of private statements, but must appear as the reflex of wishes and aspirations. I regard the attitude of the Austrian Government and its varying procedure towards the different Governments with increasing misgiving. In St. Petersburg she declares her disinterestedness as regards territory, and leaves us quite in the dark regarding her programme. She feeds Rome with meaningless phrases about the question of compensation; in London Count Mensdorff presents parts of Serbia to Bulgaria and Albania, and contradicts the solemn promises of Vienna in St. Petersburg. From these contradictions I must make the inference that the disavowal of Count Hoyos, given in telegram No. 83, was intended for the gallery. And that the Vienna Government is busy with plans which they consider advisable to conceal from us, in order to secure in all cases German assistance, and not to expose themselves to a possible refusal by open announcement.
“The above remarks are intended in the first place for your Excellency's information. I request you only to point out to Count Berchtold that he should avoid any suspicion being felt towards the declarations made by him to the Powers regarding Serbia's integrity.”
In the meanwhile Bethmann-Hollweg himself had already begun to arouse considerable mistrust. The view became more and more general that Germany wanted war, and thus one reached the fatal stage where everyone prepared for war—preparations which could be made in secret at first, but at a certain stage had to take the form of open mobilization.
The dangers of this stage had been foreseen by the German statesmen themselves. In the much-discussed Report of the Bavarian Embassy of July i8th we read:
“A mobilization of German troops is to be avoided, and we shall work, through our military departments also, to prevent Austria mobilizing her whole army, and especially the troops stationed in Galicia, in order not to cause a counter-mobilization by Russia automatically, which would then force us and France to similar measures, and would thus conjure up a European war.”
Unfortunately Eisner omitted this passage. It is intended to be evidence of Germany's love of peace. It certainly says that Germany did not want a European war at any price, but only the Serbian war; it says something else, however, namely, that if Austria mobilized, this must “automatically” produce Russian mobilization, which would then conjure up a European war.
This “automatically” may be taken to heart by those who say that Russia mobilized quite without reason, and thus showed that she wanted war.
One to whom it was a question of peace in all circumstances ought not, of course, to have allowed a declaration of war on Serbia. Once this fateful step had been taken, an atmosphere of unrest was created which produced general mobilization as a result. If it was desired to avoid this, then at the very least they ought to have kept within the framework of the programme developed in the Bavarian Report: Austria should have been prevented from mobilizing in a way which would disturb Russia.
This they omitted to do. The Austrian mobilization was fairly well concealed, but Bethmann-Hollweg confessed even in his war speeches on August 4th, when he talked of the Russian mobilization, and declared it notto be justified:
“Austria-Hungary had only mobilized its army corps which were immediately directed against Serbia, and in the north only two army corps, and far from the Russian frontier.”
As early as July 25th Austria had begun the mobilization of eight army corps, which must “automatically” produce the Russian mobilization, as the German Government well knew.
And it must also have known that the partial mobilization, with which they began equally automatically, would produce a general mobilization. It took place in Austria and Russia almost at the same time—on July 31st. The Russians asserted that Austria preceded them in this step. The French Ambassador in St. Petersburg, Paléologue, reported on July 31st:
“In consequence of the general mobilization by Austria and the measures for mobilization which have been taken by Germany for the past six days secretly but uninterruptedly, the order for the general mobilization of the Russian Army has been issued.”
On August 1st England and France then mobilized, exactly as the Bavarian Report had foretold.
Even in German Government circles the Russian mobilization was explained as not due to bellicose intentions on the part of the Russian Government. On July 30th the German military plenipotentiary in St. Petersburg telegraphed:
“I have an impression that they have mobilized here out of anxiety for coming events, without aggressive intentions.”
Even after the general Russian mobilization of July 31st Bethmann wrote to Lichnowsky in London:
“I do not consider it impossible that the Russian mobilization may be traced to the fact that rumours current here yesterday to the effect that we have mobilized absolutely false and at once officially denied—were reported as fact to St. Petersburg.”
But even though mobilizations had been for defensive purposes only, they enormously increased the general tension.
The danger of the situation thus grew tremendously. Besides the diplomats, the General Staff officers now had a word to say, at the very time that the “civilian” Chancellor completed his swing round towards peace. To the General Staff officer the task was not to prevent the war, which he already considered inevitable, but rather to win the war. The prospects of victory, however, were all the greater the more rapidly one struck and the less time allowed the enemy to gather strength. Thus the attempts of the Chancellor to keep the peace only began at a point where his earlier war policy had already brought to the forefront the greatest driving force towards war.
By July 29th we have proofs of the intervention of the German General Staff in politics. On this day they sent to the Foreign Office a Memorandum, not on the military but on the political situation, which it was not their office to elucidate for the Imperial Chancellor.
The Report began with the following observations:
“It is beyond question that no State in Europe would regard the conflict between Austria and Serbia as other than a subject of general human interest if there were not involved in it the danger of a universal political complication, which now already threatens to unchain a world-war. For over five years Serbia has been the cause of a tension in Europe which weighs upon the political and economic life of the nations with a pressure which is really becoming unbearable. With a forbearance almost amounting to weakness, Austria has hitherto endured the constant provocations and the political agitation directed against its constitution by a people who have gone from the murder of a king in their own country to the murder of a prince in a neighbouring land. Only after the last ghastly crime has she resorted to extreme means to burn out with glowing iron a cancer which continually threatened to poison the body of Europe. One would have thought that the whole of Europe ought to have been grateful to her. The whole of Europe would have breathed freely if its mischief-maker had been suitably chastised, and peace and order thus restored in the Balkans. But Russia placed herself on the side of the criminal country. It was only then that the Austro-Serbian affair became the thunder-cloud which threatened at any moment to break over Europe.”
And so on. Such were the political lessons given by the General Staff to the Imperial Chancellor, and received by him most submissively. We need not waste words on the General Staff's conception of history. Let us only point out that the German General Staff made the murder of the Serbian king an act of the Serbian people. They had already forgotten that it was their colleagues (the military) who applied this process.
The Memorandum then points out that Russia had declared she wished to mobilize. Austria would thus be forced to mobilize, not only against Serbia but also against Russia. An encounter between the two thus became inevitable.
“This, however, is the casus fœderis for Germany. Only a miracle can now prevent war.
“Germany does not wish to bring about this terrible war. But the German Government knows that it would be fatally violating the deep-rooted feelings of fidelity to the alliance, one of the finest traits of German sentiment, and placing itself in opposition to all the feelings of its people, if it were not willing to come to the help of their ally at a moment which might be decisive for the latter's existence.”
Germany, therefore, does not want to “bring about this terrible war,” but “one of the finest traits of German sentiment,” which the General Staff so brilliantly represented, forces it to do so namely, fidelity to the conspiracy of July 5th, which is also “one of the finest traits of German sentiment.”
After this appeal to German sentiment, however, the General Staff becomes quite unsentimental:
“According to the reports to hand, France also appears to be taking preparatory measures for eventual mobilization. It is obvious that Russia and France are going hand in hand with their measures.
“If the conflict between Russia and Austria is inevitable, Germany will therefore mobilize, and be prepared to enter into a war on two fronts. “For the military measures intended by us, if the case arises, it is of the greatest importance to receive definite information as speedily as possible, whether Russia and France intend to let matters go as far as a war with Germany. The further the progress made by the preparations of our neighbours, the more quickly they will be able to complete their mobilization. The military situation is thus becoming daily more unfavourable, and may, if our prospective opponents continue to prepare in all quietness, lead to fatal consequences for us.”
Look at this language! The General Staff does not, for example, inform the Government that it has made all preparations to mobilize, as soon as it is ordered to do so, but commands without more ado: Germany will mobilize as soon as the conflict between Austria and Russia is inevitable. At the same time, it states with equal definiteness that this conflict is only now to be prevented by a miracle.
But according to the principles of the German General Staff, mobilization means war. The General Staff thus already announces a “war on two fronts,” and demands to be let slip as quickly as possible, as the “military situation is daily becoming more unfavourable.”
This is the meaning of this proclamation of the General Staff to the Imperial Chancellor. With it the central military organization raises the claim to take the decision of questions of foreign policy into its own hands, and to hasten on a warlike solution, even at the very moment when the civil authority is preparing to yield so far as to take a step, although a small one, towards peace.
The Imperial Chancellor, it is true, did not abdicate without a struggle.
While the war was still on we were told of this, among other things, by a pamphlet, whose author concealed himself under the pseudonym, “Junius alter,” and who held the views of the war-party. There it is said:
“Regarding the general activity of the Chancellor immediately before the outbreak of war, one gets, as a general impression, the fact that his endeavour up to the last hour—regardless of the military consequences—was directed towards preventing at any price the outbreak of this war, which had long become inevitable. In vain did Chiefs of the General Staff, War Ministers and Admiralty authorities, press for the order to mobilize: they succeeded, it is true, in half convincing the Kaiser on Thursday (July 30th) of the irrefutable necessity of this measure, so that in the afternoon Berlin police organs and the Lokal-Anzeiger already announced mobilization. But the intervention of Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg succeeded in withdrawing the decisive and saving [!—K.] order. Still he held fast and unwavering to his hope that with English help he must succeed in bringing about an agreement between Vienna and St. Petersburg, and again two precious days were lost, which have cost us not only a part of Alsace, but also rivers of blood. In the same way, August 1st would have passed unused, if the highest military authorities had not on that day finally declared that if the order to mobilize were further delayed, they would be no longer able to bear the heavy responsibility resting on them.... Even after mobilization had taken place, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg made a last attempt to get the order cancelled, but it was fortunately too late; the military authorities, who had more political insight in their little fingers, had prevailed at the twelfth hour.”
The accusations (!) of Herr “Junius alter” confirm the report of July 30th of the French Ambassador in Berlin. M. Cambon says:
“One of the Ambassadors with whom I am on the most intimate terms saw Herr Zimmermann at two o'clock. According to the Under-Secretary, the military authorities were very eager for mobilization to be ordered, as every delay by Germany lost her some of her advantages. But so far the pressure of the General Staff, who see war in mobilization, has been successfully resisted.... I have, moreover, the best reasons for assuming that all the measures for mobilization, which can be carried out before the general order for mobilization is published, have been taken here, where they would like us to proclaim mobilization first, in order to shift the responsibility on to us.”
Bethmann-Hollweg did not fight alone against the premature proclamation of mobilization, that is, according to German ideas, of war. By his side fought other members of the Foreign Office, who knew very well under what unfavourable international conditions Germany was entering the war, and who did not want to see the thin thread of peace, which had only been spun at the last minute, prematurely broken.
Thus the Belgian Baron Beyens reported to Brussels from Berlin on August 1st:
“About 6 p.m. [should rather be 5.—K.] no answer had arrived from St. Petersburg to the Ultimatum of the Imperial Government. Herren von Jagow and Zimmermann went to the Chancellor and to the Kaiser to get the order for general mobilization held back to-day. But they met the unswerving resistance of the War Minister and the heads of the Army, who laid before the Kaiser the ruinous consequences of a delay of twenty-four hours. The order was at once given.”
In striking contrast to these reports is the version given by Tirpitz in his “Memoirs.” According to him, Bethmann-Hollweg, on the last day, had appealed most vigorously for mobilization and, in opposition to Moltke, had insisted that a declaration of war at once take place on the mobilization.
These contradictions still require explanation. But one thing is certain: the perplexity in Government circles, which began on July 29th, rapidly increased from day to day. And so did the antagonisms among themselves! Bethmann was no longer master of the spirits he had summoned. He did not himself know how right he was when he said in the Prussian Ministerial Council of July 30th: “Control is lost and the stone is set rolling.”