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What is it about nice people that attract total idiots?Nice people are martyrs. Idiots are evangelists.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

This week in WWI

As I have continued to research this topic, it strikes me that a ton of historians sell books on "Who started the war."  I don't know that it was so much any individual who.  There was fear, for sure.  The Russian fear of looking weak in front of an increasingly revolutionary population.  The Austrian fear of looking weak before their many nationalities, and the unraveling that would bring.  The French fear of the Germans, before whom they were outnumbered- and growing more outnumbered every year.  From 1871 (Franco-Prussian War) to 1911 (prior to Balkan Wars), Germany's already greater-than-France population grew 60%;  France's not even 9%.  The British feared isolation on their islands- and banked everything on having the best navy by a wide margin, a margin the Germans were attempting mightily to eat into.  And what did Germany fear?  In 1908, during the first Bosnian crisis, a Germanophile noble in England interviewed the Kaiser on the subject of England's fears of German Naval power- and German Naval intentions.  Here is part of that:

. . . "You English," he said, "are mad, mad, mad as March hares. What has come over you that you are so completely given over to suspicions quite unworthy of a great nation? What more can I do than I have done? I declared with all the emphasis at my command, in my speech at Guildhall, that my heart is set upon peace, and that it is one of my dearest wishes to live on the best of terms with England. Have I ever been false to my word ? Falsehood and prevarication are alien to my nature. My actions ought to speak for themselves, but you listen not to them but to those who misinterpret and distort them. That is a personal insult which I feel and resent. To be forever misjudged, to have my repeated offers of friendship weighed and scrutinized with jealous, mistrustful eyes, taxes my patience severely. I have said time after time that I am a friend of England, and your press --, at least, a considerable section of it -- bids the people of England refuse my proffered hand and insinuates that the other holds a dagger. How can I convince a nation against its will ? 


 
"...The prevailing sentiment among large sections of the middle and lower classes of my own people is not friendly to England. I am, therefore so to speak, in a minority in my own land, but it is a minority of the best elements as it is in England with respect to Germany. That is another reason why I resent your refusal to accept my pledged word that I am the friend of England. I strive without ceasing to improve relations, and you retort that I am your archenemy. You make it hard for me. Why is it?" . . .

.... It is commonly believed in England that throughout the South African War Germany was hostile to her. German opinion undoubtedly was hostile -- bitterly hostile. But what of official Germany? Let my critics ask themselves what brought to a sudden stop, and, indeed, to absolute collapse, the European tour of the Boer delegates, who were striving to obtain European intervention? They were feted in Holland, France gave them a rapturous welcome. They wished to come to Berlin, where the German people would have crowned them with flowers. But when they asked me to receive them -- I refused. The agitation immediately died away, and the delegation returned empty-handed. Was that, I ask, the action of a secret enemy ?

"Again, when the struggle was at its height, the German government was invited by the governments of France and Russia to join with them in calling upon England to put an end to the war. The moment had come, they said, not only to save the Boer Republics, but also to humiliate England to the dust. What was my reply? I said that so far from Germany joining in any concerted European action to put pressure upon England and bring about her downfall, Germany would always keep aloof from politics that could bring her into complications with a sea power like England. Posterity will one day read the exact terms of the telegram -- now in the archives of Windsor Castle\emdash in which I informed the sovereign of England of the answer I had returned to the Powers which then sought to compass her fall. Englishmen who now insult me by doubting my word should know what were my actions in the hour of their adversity.



"But, you will say, what of the German navy? Surely, that is a menace to England ! Against whom but England are my squadrons being prepared? If England is not in the minds of those Germans who are bent on creating a powerful fleet, why is Germany asked to consent to such new and heavy burdens of taxation? My answer is clear. Germany is a young and growing empire. She has a worldwide commerce which is rapidly expanding, and to which the legitimate ambition of patriotic Germans refuses to assign any bounds. Germany must have a powerful fleet to protect that commerce and her manifold interests in even the most distant seas. She expects those interests to go on growing, and she must be able to champion them manfully in any quarter of the globe. Her horizons stretch far away." . . .



So in these paragraphs, the Kaiser manages to insult all of Europe, call England, basically, paranoid and "mad", adds in that German patriotism would not allow an end to German expansionism, and posits that the German Navy is not meant to be a threat to England, but by implication, to Japan.  So how does this tie in to the fear that drove Germany?

In a 1897 Reichstag debate, Chancellor at the time von Bulow said, "[i]n one word: We wish to throw no one into the shade, but we demand our own place in the sun." But in the hands of Wilhelm II, that "place in the sun" began to be looked at as something EVERYONE was out to take from Germany.  In a nutshell, Germany was afraid that everyone was out to get them- and unwilling to believe that everyone didn't have the same motivations as they did.  Thus, England MEANT to crush Germany's Navy; Japan MEANT to steal her colonial possessions (which you have to give them the benefit on that one), France MEANT to turn everyone against them (That one, too), and Russia?  The fear of Russia was that in a few years- 1916 or 1917, 1918 at the latest- they would be modernized enough to be next to invincible.  By 1914, many in German government looked at war with Russia as a "now or never" scenario.  Looked at war with France as inevitable.  Looked at war with England, with Japan, with the US of A, as inevitable.  Surrounded on all sides, "shackled to a corpse" in Austria, as the German officers said amongst themselves.

Fear and paranoia started WWI.  But it was the fear and paranoia of NATIONS, not individuals, that caused it.  As the Kaiser pointed out in 1908, the leaders of the nations have the ability and responsibility to head that off.  But that required leaders that could rise ABOVE the fears of the day to steer a right course... and, as we shall see, the conference rooms and war rooms of Europe were dangerously low on those.

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On the 14th, the vacationing Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, along with Foreign Minister Sazonov, dropped in on the king and queen of Romania.  As I mentioned last week, Hungarian attitudes had been preventing Franz Ferdinand's alliance overtures to the Romanians;  And Bulgaria, complaining to Germany about the cozying relations between Russia and one of the five nations who'd just whupped them in the Second Balkan War, began to get that fear of being surrounded as well- a fear that would lead them into Germany's camp before all was said and done.

In the meantime, the Turks, smarting over the escape of many survivors of the Phocea massacre to the now-Greek isle of Lesbos with French help, called disingenuously for a conference of the Powers to discuss the Greek-Turk issues in the Aegean and Anatolia- in other words trying to get diplomatic approval for forced dislocation of her minorities.  The fact that I could find no more than a passing reference to the request makes me think that the attempt fell apart... forcing Turkey ever closer to the German camp.

6 comments:

  1. As with most wars I think it's difficult to pinpoint blame on any one nation or person, but it's primarily a matter of economy and territorialism (which is essentially related to economic reach of power). Pre-WWII times were bad all over and everybody wanted more or were trying to hang on to what they already had.

    There's plenty of blame to pass around and probably more behind the curtain stuff going on than we'll ever totally know. I think we're pretty well heading to an even bigger more horrific war with technology being the trump cards in the hands of the "winners" if there are any winners. This is in reference to a war between men and nations and not even thinking of the war where God command the army with a final victory.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. I've been reading a lot of the "behind the curtain stuff" as I research the topic, and it's every bit as bizzare if not more so than what you get taught in school. An awful lot of converging and diverging dynamics.

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  2. It all makes me want to (re)claim my Canadian lineage. Or perhaps call myself Swiss. I can envision the hare from Alice in Wonderland who's late, late, late singing about mad march hares. And yet millions are killed from what starts as this inane weirdness and ego issues.

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    1. And the weirdness is just beginning....

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  3. Chris:
    That's a good call you make as to the start of WW1...is surely was not any ":who", but rather a WHAT...and that "what" was FEAR.
    Kaiser Willie must have been hearing footsteps over his should every moment...sure seemed that way from his "rant".
    Stepped on a lot of toes with that speech.

    Very well done.
    Look forward to the next installment.

    Stay safe up there.

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    1. And not only hearing footsteps, but often retracing his own... a trait he shared with "Cousin Nicky".

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