The Guilt of William Hohenzollern/Chapter 6
THE SITUATION BEFORE THE WAR
The defenders of the old régime urge that in the investigation of the question of guilt we must not have regard merely to the few weeks before the war broke out, but also consider the years which preceded them. We have seen that their position is in no way improved by this consideration.
Already, for years before the war, the policy pursued by the Central Powers was such that peace was preserved, not by them but in spite of them. This policy first took definite shape under Prince Bülow. It was continued by Bethmann-Hollweg, under whom it led to the catastrophe. We need not inquire how far these men were themselves springs of action, or how far they were mere agents of their master, who himself was set in motion by those around him, however he flattered himself with the idea that the whole huge mass of the Empire was moved by his hand.
This definite connection is not to be invalidated by pointing to the general imperialistic tendencies then shared by all States. On the other hand, we must not enlarge this definite connection into a generalized statement that to strain after world-dominion, and to seek its goal by brute force, are natural characteristics inherent in the German people.
Imperialistic tendencies are to be found in all the capitalistic governments of the Great Powers. Whether they cause one or other of these Powers to go to war or not depends on the occasion, the international situation, the resources available (its own and those of its allies), and, not least, on the internal situation; above all, the political force and independence of the working-classes.
It was not always Austria and Germany which imperilled the peace of the world. In the year 1902 I published a work on “The Social Revolution.” In this I said:
“The only guarantee for 'peace lies at present in the dread of the revolutionary proletariat. It remains to be seen how long this can hold out against the continual heaping up of causes of conflict. And there are a number of Powers which have as yet no independent revolutionary proletariat to fear, and many of them are completely dominated by a brutal and unscrupulous clique of the High Finance. These Powers, formerly insignificant or peace-loving in regard to international politics, are now coming out more and more as international disturbers of the peace. Chief among these are the United States, and after them England and Japan. Formerly, Russia used to figure as head of the list of peace-disturbers, but her heroic proletariat has for the moment brought her down from this position. But just as war can be enkindled by the arrogance of a régime that knows no restraint from within, and fears no revolutionary class at its back, so can it also come to pass through the despair of a régime which is falling, as was the case with Napoleon III. in 1870, and as it will perhaps be the case with Nicolas II. It is by these Powers and their opposing views, not by, let us say, the differences between Germany and France or Austria and Italy, that the peace of the world is to-day most deeply endangered. (I. p. 53.)
This was written under the impression made by the war of Japan against China (1894), of America against Spain (1898), and of England against the Boers (1899–1902). And the war between Russia and Japan was already in preparation. The new German policy had then, indeed, been introduced, but its danger had not become clear. Yet in the later editions of my book I struck out the passage which I have just quoted, for the consequences had then begun to ripen, and the more these, came into full light, the more the former peace-disturbers ceased to work as such, while the Central Powers stepped into their place.
If we regard imperialistic tendencies as immoral, and believe that in settling the question of guilt we are passing a moral judgment, then we can indeed affirm with justice that Monk and Rabbi, Central Powers and Entente, are all tarred with the same brush. But it is another matter when we are inquiring into the origin of the war as a question not of morality but of causality, and when we ask what particular policy has brought about this particular war. On these lines we shall arrive, not perhaps at a moral but certainly at a political judgment, on particular persons and institutions. But only, let me add, on them; not on the whole people which was ruled by them, and which, after shaking them off, must naturally develop quite different tendencies.
The “German Professor” made the German people hated in the days of its military supremacy and ridiculous in the days of its defeat. He represented it as a race of ideal heroes, far superior to the English, whom he treated with scorn as a race of dirty shopkeepers. In point of fact, however, the Germans are no more heroes than any other people; nor, on the other hand, are they more quarrelsome bullies than their enemies in the world-war.
One thing, at any rate, must be admitted: If the opponents of Germany have showed at times the same imperialistic tendencies, the same bent towards war and conquest, then they were not morally superior to Germany—a country so intellectual after all, in spite of the German Professor!
One thing they well understood, especially the English and the Americans—they knew very well how to calculate the results of their actions. In the age of Imperialism they only prosecuted a war-policy when that policy did not endanger their own country. They had too much business capacity to conjure up a war when war might mean their own ruin. They were solid capitalists, not reckless adventurers who set all on a single throw. We see, therefore, that it is false to assert that capitalism necessarily means the lust for war with all its perils. It only means that under certain definite conditions.
German capitalism alone grew up under conditions which bound it closely to the most powerful and selfconfident militarism in the world. Up to the outbreak of the world-war there was no militarism in the Anglo-Saxon world. France and Russia, indeed, had plenty of it; but neither of these felt confident of victory—the one remembered the crushing defeat of 1870–71, and the other that of 1904–5.
Its connection with the strongest and most arrogant militarism in the world made German capitalism neglect all sober calculation. That was the sole reason why it not only connived at but urged on with all its might a policy which completely isolated Germany, and at the same time gave the deepest provocation to her neighbours. It lost all sense of what was economically possible, and impelled its Don Quixote, militarism, into a fight against the windmills of the Entente, in which not only the pugnacious knight, but his confiding Sancho Panza too, were left shattered and bleeding on the field.