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The United States and Germany


By Carl Schurz


“THE effect of Prince Henry's visit to the United States,” on which The Independent invites me to say a word, should be judged according to the purpose for the accomplishment of which that visit was intended. Certain newspapers have attributed to the German Emperor a secret design to negotiate under the cover of Prince Henry's visit for some territorial acquisition in South America or some commercial arrangement advantageous to Germany. It was no doubt with reference to those insinuations that Prince Henry, in the little speech he delivered in Philadelphia, disclaimed such intentions with evident candor and with especial energy of expression. The absolute sincerity of that utterance is above question, and I do not think that any sensible person does question it. The visit of the Prince must, therefore, be regarded as a mere demonstration of good will and friendship on the part of Germany; and the response with which this demonstration has been met by our national Government, as well as by the American people, has amply proved that the friendly sentiments manifested by Germany are heartily reciprocated here. The constantly growing warmth of the welcomes given to Prince Henry was no doubt partly owing to his winning personality — and it must be said that the German Emperor could not have selected a fitter messenger of friendly feeling — but on the whole, this international love feast bore all the marks of a meeting of two old friends who had been troubled by some little irritation of susceptibility, but who were heartily glad of having an opportunity for showing once more their mutual esteem and confidence and for resuming the old cordiality of tone between them. And this opportunity was seized on both sides with an alacrity and zest that could not have been more gratifying. In this respect, then, Prince Henry's visit was completely successful.

It may, indeed, truthfully be said that the policies of nations are not controlled by mere sentiment, but by their interests, and that, if those interests clash, mere sentiment will not suffice to prevent serious disagreements. But sentiment, friendly or unfriendly, may do very much to diminish or to increase what difficulties there may be in adjusting such disagreements. There is a vast difference between an international transaction carried on under the influence of a distrustful, punctilious, touchy state of mind, prone to quarrel about trifles, and one inspired by an amiable disposition that is sincerely anxious to overcome whatever obstacles there may be in the way of an agreeable understanding. This is especially important as to countries in which, as it is in ours, the conduct of foreign relations is apt to be largely affected by the temper of public opinion. In the case before us it can hardly be doubted that to-day the two nations concerned are far less inclined than they may have been before, to be made suspicious of one another's motives or designs. Such tales, for instance, as the one the utter groundlessness of which has recently been exposed — that at the beginning of our Spanish war the German Government had been trying to instigate a coalition of European Powers against the United States — would now find no believers among us. And, vice versa, no story attributing to the American Government or people any intention to injure or humiliate Germany would have any sort of credit there. In other words, each nation will be gladly inclined to put the friendliest interpretation upon what the other may say or do.

This disposition will also be apt greatly to diminish the chance of dangerous accidents. American and German ships of war will be likely, as they have repeatedly done before, to meet in foreign parts where they are sent to look after the interests of their respective countries. Naval officers are, of course, always patriotic and usually high-spirited men, jealous of the prestige of their flag. Their zeal in maintaining that prestige may easily lead them to take offense at things done by the warships of other nations — things done without any evil intent, although perhaps liable to be misunderstood or unfavorably interpreted. It may happen that under such circumstances an excited sense of duty or the pride of a naval officer on one side or the other runs away with his discretion, especially if the feeling between the two navies happen to be not as friendly as it should be; and that a hot impulse or an inconsiderate act produces a conflict apt to bring on very grave consequences. Such untoward accidents have been threatening more than once within our memory — fortunately stopping short of actual collision. But such accidents will surely not happen between American and German warships while that spirit of hearty comradeship is maintained which was so happily illustrated by the words of our Admiral Evans addressed to Prince Henry at leave taking:

“Speaking for the American Navy, I have only to say to Prince Henry and to my brother officers of the German service, that we are glad you came and sorry you are going, and we hope you will come again. It gives me pleasure as a representative of the Navy to see the friendly hand you have extended across the Atlantic.”

But one of the most essential services tendered by Prince Henry's visit consists in the fact that it has made all thinking men on this side as well as the other more clearly to see that there is really no matter of difference between the United States and Germany threatening to bring forth dangerous disagreement. As to an infraction of our Monroe Doctrine, nobody abroad seriously thinks of it. German statesmen are much too enlightened not to know that the cordial friendship of this Republic is worth much more to their country than any territorial possession on American soil possibly could be. This matter may, therefore, safely be dismissed from our contemplation.

On the subject of industrial and commercial competition between the two countries, Ex-Secretary Olney said at the Boston banquet:

“We hear much in these days, in the press, and even in official quarters, of America's capture of the world's markets. But no thoughtful American is under any delusion in the matter. We have, indeed, surprised our competitors by invading what they have been regarding as their exclusive commercial preserves, and by a show of strength and resources for which they have not been prepared. But the surprise is over; what we have done simply amounts to a challenge to all other nationalities, and we are now entering upon a contest for industrial supremacy, the most intense and arduous the world has ever seen. Fortunate will it be if this contest does not, like so many others, degenerate into ‘grim-visaged” war with all its unutterable brutalities and horrors! The errand here of your Royal Highness, with the hearty welcome tendered, and the favorable impression produced, should do much to preclude so dire a result. Under its influence the two countries are recovering each other as generous and worthy rivals — are joining in a sort of hand-shake as a courteous but significant preliminary to the combat before them — and are thus in a way pledging themselves that, whatever the stress of the contest, it shall not transgress the rightful rules of the game nor overstep the limits which Christianized and civilized peoples ought to observe under whatever provocation. If the pledge shall in truth be kept and the corresponding consequences follow, the visit to the United States of Prince Henry of Prussia will deserve to go on record as one of the most memorable episodes in the history of international intercourse.”

I confess that, while agreeing with all Mr. Olney says about the tendency of Prince Henry's visit, I cannot share his apprehensions as to the “contest for industrial supremacy degenerating into grim-visaged war,” at least, so far as Germany and the United States are concerned. It is difficult to see how such a war between them could possibly come about, or what specific object it would serve, or how the cost of such a war — for it would be costly beyond computation — could in any manner or degree be compensated for by any advantage to be gained. The worst that could happen might be some sort of a peaceful “tariff war,” which would soon convince both parties that in seeking to punish the other each really punished itself. And as to the “contest for industrial supremacy,” it is so ordered in the economy of the universe that this industrial supremacy must not and cannot be carried beyond a certain point. It has its natural limits. Our strongest competitors in some things are at the same time among our best customers in others. And we cannot carry our industrial supremacy so far as to ruin our customers without in the same measure ruining also our own business. Neither are we likely to come into conflict with Germany in our Asiatic trade. Germany has already proclaimed that the Chinese port controlled by her is as open to the trade of the world as is Hong Kong, and that other nations are welcome as to participation in the development of the contiguous country.

From whatever point of view we may look at them, the relations between the United States and Germany are naturally those of peace, with nothing in sight to disturb that peace. And that the sentiment evoked by Prince Henry's visit has warmed them into a cordial friendship, is an event of very high value to both nations and a cause for general congratulation.

New York City

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.