The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 17
THE DECLARATION OF WAR ON RUSSIA
THE PREPARATION FOR THE DECLARATION OF WAR
The general perplexity was clearly seen in the declaration of war on Russia. The latter had ordered general mobilization at the same time as Austria, on the morning of July 3ist. Both had stated it was only a measure of precaution and did not yet mean war. Negotiations were not thereby to be broken off.
For example, the Russian Ambassador in Vienna reported to St. Petersburg on July 3ist:
"In spite of the general mobilization, I am continuing the exchange of views with Count Berchtold and his assistants."
That Germany should mobilize in her turn after the Russian mobilization was quite intelligible. Every one was then mobilizing—even Holland. If Germany had regarded mobilization simply as a precautionary measure, as did all other nations—even France—there would be nothing to condemn in this step.
Schön, the German Ambassador in Paris, reported to Berlin on August 1st:
"The Premier told me that the mobilization just ordered here does not at all imply aggressive intentions, and this is emphasized in the proclamations. There is, he said, still room to continue the negotiations on the basis of Sir E. Grey's proposal, to which France had agreed, and which it is warmly championing.
"Care has been taken to prevent encounters on the frontier by leaving a zone of ten kilometres between the French troops and the border. He could not give up hope of peace."
If Germany had accompanied her mobilization with similar assurances, negotiations could have really gone on and finally ended peacefully. Had not Russia and Austria mobilized in 1913 without coming to blows? We have seen that one of the reasons for William considering the war against Serbia necessary, although the Serbian answer had removed every ground for it, lay in the fact that Austria was now mobilizing for the third time. If this happened again without the "army"—i.e., the officers —seeing their "military honour" satisfied it would have evil consequences.
On August 1st Tirpitz considered the declaration of war an error. Moltke placed "no value" on it that day, as Tirpitz observes.
Mobilization therefore did not necessarily mean war. Demobilization could still follow it at the last moment without this bloody result, if people came to an understanding meanwhile.
In the message to St. Petersburg of July 31st, in which Bethmann held out the prospect of Germany's mobilizing, he complained that Russia was mobilizing, although negotiations were still going on. Austria, however, in spite of the negotiations, had not only mobilized, but declared war on Serbia and bombarded Belgrade. If this did not make negotiations impossible, mere mobilization by Russia need not have been taken so much to heart.
But this was not the only point in which the Imperial Chancellor saw only the mote in the eye of Russia, and not the beam in the eye of Austria. He demanded that Russia should at once cease any military measures, not only against Germany, but also against Austria, without proposing the same for Austria. If he wanted Russia to refuse his demand, this was exactly the way to formulate it.
The message of the Chancellor appears no less peculiar, however, if it is compared with the one sent off at the same time to Schön for the French Government. We give the two in parallel columns:
Note to Russia.
In spite of the fact that negotiations are still going on, and although we ourselves have taken no steps of any kind to mobilize up to the present hour, Russia has mobilized her whole army and fleet, that is against us also. By these Russian measures we have been forced for the security of the Empire to announce a state of threatening "danger" (or imminence) of war (Kriegsgefahr), which does not yet mean mobilization. Mobilization,
Note to France.
In spite of the fact that our negotiations are still going on, and although we ourselves have taken no steps of any kind to mobilize, Russia has ordered the mobilization of her whole army and fleet, that is against us also. We have therefore announced a state of threatening "danger of war," which must be followed by mobilization, if Russia does not within twelve hours cease all war measures against us and Austria. Mobilization,
however, must follow if Russia does not within twelve hours cease every war measure against us and Austria, and give a definite declaration on the point,Please communicate this at once to M. Sasonow and wire the hour of communication.
inevitably means war. Please ask the French Government if they will remain neutral in a Russo-German war. Answer must be given within eighteen hours. Telegraph at once the hour of asking the question. Greatest speed most necessary,
We see the two messages agree almost word for word, apart from the special conclusion for France, except for one sentence: France is informed that mobilization inevitably means war. In the text intended for Russia, this decisive sentence, which makes the communication an Ultimatum, is wanting.
Why was this? The omission can be explained in two very different ways: first, from the desire of the General Staff not to arouse Russia prematurely, to keep her still in the belief that in spite of the mobilization, negotiations could be continued, and thus prevent her hastening mobilization unduly. The omission might, however, have arisen from the desire of the Chancellor not to break down all bridges, in spite of mobilization.
As a matter of fact, the communication of the German Government was not yet regarded in St. Petersburg as an Ultimatum.
At twelve midnight Pourtalès handed M. Sasonow the Chancellor's message. The Tsar answered it on the next day, August 1st, at 2 p.m., in a telegram to William:
"I have received your telegram. I understand that you are proceeding to mobilize, but I should like to receive from you the same guarantee as I have given you, namely, that these measures do not mean war and that we shall continue to negotiate for the welfare of both our countries and the general peace which is so dear to our hearts. Our long, tried friendship must succeed with God's help in preventing bloodshed. I anxiously await your answer, full of confidence."
The unsuspecting "Nicky" never dreamed that his long, tried friend "Willy" had by this time already sent the declaration of war to him and thus opened the war.
THE REASON FOR THE DECLARATION OF WAR
William had been in a tremendous hurry about it, almost as quick as the Austrians on July 25th against the Serbians.
At 12 midnight the period ended at the expiry of which, according to the Chancellor's announcement, Germany would mobilize, if Russia did not at once demobilize on all fronts, while Austria went on with her general mobilization and the war against Serbia continued.
And by 1p.m., not only was mobilization ordered, but the declaration of war sent to St. Petersburg.
The German White Book, which gives all documents in German, as a rule, even those originally in foreign languages—e.g., the telegrams interchanged between the Kaiser and the Tsar—publishes the declaration of war on Russia, so momentous for every German, shame-facedly only in French.
Translated it reads:
"From the very beginning of the crisis the Imperial Government had endeavoured to bring about a peaceful solution. Obeying a wish expressed to him by H.M. the Tsar of Russia, H.M. the German Emperor had undertaken, in agreement with England, to act as mediator between the Cabinets of Vienna and St. Petersburg, when Russia, without awaiting the result, proceeded to mobilize all her forces by land and sea.
"In consequence of these threatening measures, justified by no military preparations on the German side, the German Government found itself faced with a great and imminent threatening danger. If the Imperial Government had neglected to meet this danger, it would have endangered the safety and even the existence of Germany. In consequence, the German Government found itself forced to turn to the Government of H.M. the Tsar of all the Russias, with the pressing demand that the above-mentioned military measures should cease. As Russia has refused to meet this demand (has not considered it necessary to answer our demand), and by this refusal (this attitude) has shown that her action is directed against Germany, I have the honour, under instructions from my Government, to inform Your Excellency as follows:
"His Majesty, my illustrious Sovereign, accepts the challenge in name of the Empire, and considers himself in a state of war with Russia."
This declaration of war was accompanied by the following telegram to Pourtalès:
"If the Russian Government does not give a satisfactory reply to our demand, Your Excellency will hand to them the following declaration to-day at 5 p.m. (Central European time)."
In the declaration itself a sentence was given in two different versions, of which the one which was in keeping with Sasonow's answer was to be chosen.
What had been going on in St. Petersburg in the meanwhile?
Pourtalès had communicated in St. Petersburg the Chancellor's announcement that Germany must mobilize if Russia did not demobilize against Germany and Austria. He telegraphed on August 1st, at 1 a.m., from St. Petersburg, regarding this:
"I have just carried out your instructions at midnight. M. Sasonow again pointed to the technical impossibility of stopping military measures, and endeavoured once more to convince me that we were exaggerating the importance of the Russian mobilization, which was not to be compared with ours. He urgently begged me to call Your Excellency's attention to the fact that the pledge given on the Tsar's word of honour in to-day's telegram from H.M. the Emperor Nicholas to H.M. the Emperor and King, ought to satisfy us regarding Russia's intentions, and pointed out that the Tsar did not by any means bind himself in all eventualities to refrain from warlike acts, but only so long as there was still a prospect of settling AustroRussian differences regarding Serbia. I put the question directly to the Minister whether he could guarantee me that, if an agreement with Austria was not reached, Russia would be willing to maintain peace. The Minister could not give me an affirmative answer to this question. In this case, I replied, we could not be blamed if we were not inclined to allow Russia a further advantage in mobilization."
This is all. In the conversation also there is not even the slightest hint of the principle so sharply emphasized to France, that Germany's mobilization would be synonymous to a declaration of war. And now for the deciding telegram, from Pourtales, which never reached its addressee, the Foreign Office in Berlin, dispatched from St. Petersburg on August 1st, at 8 p.m.:
"After deciphering, at seven o'clock Russian time (six Central European), I asked M. Sasonow three times in succession whether he could give me the declaration demanded in telegram No. 153, regarding the cessation of military measures against us and Austria. After he had three times answered in the negative, I handed him the Note as commanded."
Herr von Pourtalès had been in such haste to deliver the Note, that he did not even notice that it contained a two-fold version of Germany's reason for declaring war. Both versions were given to the Russian Government, an incident probably unique in the history of declarations of war.
In the meanwhile, the Chancellor must have become somewhat uneasy about this method of letting loose war. Even the composition of the last sentence of the proclamation of war had caused difficulties.
A proposal had been made to say:
"S.M. VEmpereur t mon auguste souverain, au nom de V Empire declare accepter la guerre qui Lui est octroyee" (" H.M. the Kaiser, my illustrious Sovereign, announces, in the name of the Empire, his acceptance of the war which is forced upon him ").
This was bad French, for it is only in German that octroyieren means to "force upon," while in French octroyer means to "grant" or "vouchsafe."
Perhaps for this reason octroyeé was replaced by forcée sur lui, which says "forced upon" in better French.
But the difficulty lay not in the words, but in the substance. It was felt that after all that had happened, it was impossible to describe the war as forced upon Germany. Only later, when the necessary "hurra" atmosphere had been created, the courage was found to do so. The quaint form given above was therefore chosen:
"S.M. VEmpereur, mon auguste souverain, au nom de l' Empire relève de défi et Se considère en état de guerre avec la Russie."
The "forcing of the war upon him" became a simple "challenge to war," which the Kaiser regarded as having broken out. In this feeble and distorted form, the declaration of the most terrible of all wars, which could only have been justified by the most cogent of motives, was couched. But such could not be raised, although since the beginning of the crisis it had been Bethmann's most urgent care to put Russia in the wrong, and shift to her the whole responsibility for the coming war.
When the Tsar's telegram came, which recognized Germany's right to mobilize, but contested the necessity that mobilization should mean war, their declaration of war must have appeared doubly unjustified; otherwise we could not understand why they subsequently made the effort once more to prevent the proclamation of mobilization which had not yet been issued. In this they did not succeed; it was ordered at five o'clock. The "civilian Chancellor" was not yet at ease. We have already quoted "Junius alter" to the effect that "after mobilization had taken place, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg made one last effort to obtain the withdrawal of the order; but it was fortunately too late."
This no doubt refers to the following. Although at 1 p.m. the declaration of war had already been sent to St. Petersburg, the Chancellor, nevertheless, at 9.45 p.m. laid before the Kaiser a telegram to the Tsar, in which a way to negotiations was again opened up, and "Willy," as William still signed himself, said:
"An immediate clear and unmistakable answer from your (Nicky's) Government is the only way to avoid endless misery. I must most earnestly ask you to give your troops without delay the order, under no circumstances to commit even the slightest violation of our frontiers."
This telegram, handed in at the General Telegraph Office at 10.30 p.m., nine hours after the dispatch of the declaration of war, is probably one of the most peculiar episodes in the horrible comedy of errors and confusion on August 1st. It also aroused the liveliest astonishment in St. Petersburg. Pourtalès reported on it, while still there, three hours before his departure for Stockholm:
"M. Sasonow has just asked me over the telephone how the following is to be explained: H.M. the Tsar of Russia a few hours ago received a telegram from our most gracious master, dated 10.45 p.m., and containing in its concluding sentence, the request that the Tsar Nicholas should command his troops in no case to cross the frontier. M. Sasonow asks how I can explain such a request after handing over the Note last night [the declaration of war.—K.]. I replied that I could find no other explanation than that probably the telegram of my Emperor had really been dispatched the day before at 10.45 p.m."
Indeed, the telegram of August 1st at 10.45 p.m. was inexplicable. The only right explanation naturally did not enter the German Ambassador's head, and if it had struck him, he would have been careful not to make it public namely, the explanation: his "most gracious master" and his advisers had all lost their heads.
THE OPENING OF THE WAR BY RUSSIA
As it was no longer possible for William and those around him to undo the misfortune, which they had brought about—for, as the German patriot "Junius alter "triumphantly observes: "It was fortunately too late"—and as the cause they had given themselves for the declaration must, have seemed utterly insufficient, they looked round for a pretext to make Russia the originator of the world-war. This piece of jugglery was performed in the Memorandum laid before the Reichstag on August 3rd. In this document it is only, as it were, incidentally mentioned that Germany had said that if her demand for demobilization were not granted, she would consider herself "in a state of war," and then it proceeds:
"However, before a report regarding the execution of this demand was received, Russian troops crossed our frontiers and advanced on German territory—to be exact, by the afternoon of August 1st that is, the same afternoon as the above-mentioned telegram of the Tsar was dispatched.
Thus Russia began the war against us."
Of all the astounding arguments, produced at that time by the German Foreign Office to justify the war, this is probably the most remarkable. Just think! The German Government commissions their Ambassador in St. Petersburg to declare war on Russia at 5 p.m. On the "afternoon of the same day, August 1st," Russian troops cross the German frontier; therefore, concludes the Government, Russia has begun the war, for—this happened at a time when there was as yet no report in Berlin of the declaration of war in St. Petersburg!
According to this, a declaration of war does not take effect from the moment it is issued, but only from the moment when the party declaring war is informed that the other side has received the declaration.
Did the Russians really cross the frontier before 6 p.m.—i.e., the time at which the declaration of war was actually made in St. Petersburg? The German Memorandum wants this to be believed when it says that the violation of the frontier took place " by the afternoon."
To decide whether Russia really began the war, it would be of the utmost importance to know exactly the details of the violation of the frontier. If somewhere or other two or three Cossacks crossed the frontier of their own accord, this was not yet an incident which justified talk of a beginning of the war "by Russia." Such incidents happen in peace time.
How such incidents are treated is shown, for example, by a Note sent to Berlin by Viviani on August 2nd, protesting against violation of the frontier, said to have been committed by German troops at different parts of the French borders. The villages and troops concerned were given exactly. It did not strike Viviani to do more than offer a protest, nor to say " Germany has begun the war against France." But it seems that on August 1st, on the Russian side there was not the slightest violation of the frontier—at least, not before the declaration of war.
The German Memorandum speaks of "afternoon," and lays special stress on this indication of time, which is in striking contrast to its indefiniteness. In view of the importance of the matter, it surely would have been advisable to give the exact hour of the violation of the frontier.
That if the German frontier really was crossed by Russian troops on August 1st, this could not really have taken place in the early afternoon, is clear from the simple fact that in the evening, at 9.45, the Chancellor placed before the Kaiser another telegram to the Tsar, in which the latter was requested to command his troops to avoid any violation of the frontier. This dispatch, as shown above, was sent off from the Foreign Office after 10 p.m. At this hour, therefore, there cannot yet have been any news of a crossing of the frontier; otherwise the telegram would have been even more superfluous than it was in any case, owing to the delivery of the declaration of war.
In reality, William received the first news of the crossing of the frontier by Russians on the morning of August 2nd, when Bethmann informed him:
"According to a report of the General Staff (at 4 a.m. to-day), there has been an attempt to destroy the railway and an advance by two squadrons of Cossacks on Johannisburg. Thereby we are actually in a state of war."
Here at last a time and place are mentioned. And then we find that the " afternoon of August 1st," in reality, was the " morning of August 2nd." Russian hostilities began about ten hours after the delivery of the German declaration of war in St. Petersburg. This is the way " Russia began the war against us."
If, nevertheless, the German Government attributes to these warlike operations the decisive part in the outbreak of war, it only shows how little founded their declaration of war seemed to German statesmen themselves.
In the Memorandum of the German Government of August 3rd, several times already mentioned, it is thrust as much as possible into the background. Its account is a model of misleading reporting.
"The Imperial Ambassador in St. Petersburg delivered the message to M. Sasonow entrusted to him on July 3ist, at 12 midnight.
"An answer to it from the Russian Government has never reached us. Two hours after the expiry of the time-limit mentioned in this communication the Tsar telegraphed to H.M. the Kaiser. ..."
Then comes the telegram already quoted. A complete historical narrative ought of course to have mentioned that the declaration of war was sent to St. Petersburg before the Tsar's telegram and an hour after the expiry of the prescribed time-limit. But there is not a word said about it in this passage. Such an unimportant trifle obviously can be easily overlooked. It is really a wonder that it is copied as No. 25 in the attached papers. It could unfortunately not be completely disposed of.
After the copy of the telegram to the Tsar, which arrived after two o'clock, the Memorandum goes on:
"To this His Majesty replied."
And next William's telegram is given. But while in all the telegrams from the Kaiser to the Tsar in the Memorandum the exact hour of dispatch is given, it is lacking in this one. No reader suspects that the "To this" does not mean at once, but eight hours later 10 p.m. Everyone must believe the telegram was sent off before five o'clock. For after copying it, the document goes on:
"As the time-limit allowed to Russia had expired, without a reply having been received to our question, His Majesty the Kaiser and King, on August 1st, at 5 p.m., ordered the mobilization of the whole German Army and of the Imperial Navy. The Imperial Ambassador in St. Petersburg had in the meanwhile [!!—K.] received instructions in case the Russian Government did not give a satisfactory reply within the prescribed period, to announce that we should consider ourselves as in a state of war after the refusal of our demand."
What next follows in the text of the Memorandum we have already given above.
The "in the meanwhile" in this account is really priceless—a model of precise statement of time. It is worthy of the order in which the events are presented. We have :
THE REAL SEQUENCE
1—p.m. Dispatch of the declaration of war.
THE SEQUENCE IN THE MEMORANDUM
2 p.m.—The Tsar's telegram.
The chronological confusion of the Memorandum was absolutely essential if it was to bring the reader to the conclusion which prevailed in public life in Germany till the White Book of June, 1919, namely:
Russia began the war against us. In reality, it was otherwise. Germany began the war against Russia. The account of the beginning of the war given by the German Government turns things upside down.