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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Bethmann-Hollweg: Germany And The War

On August 4, 1914, Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg [1856-1921], Chancellor of Germany, made a vigorous address before the Reichstag, in which he attempted to justify the loosing of the great war on the world. This historic address follows.

A tremendous crisis threatens Europe. Since we won for ourselves the German Empire and earned the respect of the world for forty-four years we have lived in peace and have protected the peace of Europe. By peaceful labor we waxed strong and mighty and consequently aroused envy. With firm endurance we have seen how, under the pretext that Germany was eager for war, enmity was fostered in the East and West and chains were forged against us. The wind thus sown now rises in storm. We wished to live on in peaceful labor and from the Kaiser to the youngest soldier went the unexpressed vow: Only in defense of a just cause shall our sword fly from its scabbard. [Applause.] The day when we must draw it has come upon us against our will, against our honest efforts. Russia has set the torch to the house. [Stormy shouts of “Quite right!”] We are forced to war against Russia and France.

Gentlemen, a series of documents put together in the stress of events which are crowding upon one another, has been placed before you. Allow me to bring out the facts which characterize our attitude.

From the first moment of the Austro-Serbian crisis we declared that this affair must be restricted to Austria-Hungary and Serbia and we worked to that end. All the cabinets, especially that of England, represent the same point of view. Russia alone declared that she must have a word in the settlement of this dispute. With this the danger of European entanglements raised its threatening head. [“Very true!”] As soon as the first definite reports of military preparations in Russia were received, we stated to St. Petersburg in a friendly but emphatic way that warlike measures against Austria would find us on the side of our ally [Stormy applause] and that military preparations against ourselves would compel us to take counter measures [Renewed applause]; but mobilization is very near wan Russia gave us solemn assurances of her desire for peace. [Stormy cries Hear, hear! ] And that she was making no military prepa­rations against us. [Excitement.] In the meantime England sought to mediate between St. Petersburg and Vienna, in which she was warmly supported by us. [ Hear, hear!] On July 28th the Kaiser besought the Czar by telegram to bear in mind that it was the right and duty of Austria- Hungary to defend herself against the Pan-Serbian agitation, which threatened to undermine Austria-Hungary’s existence. [Hearty assent.] The Kaiser drew the attention of the Czar to the fact that the solidarity of monarchical interests was threatened by the crime of Sarajevo. [“Hear, hear!”] He begged him to give his personal support in clearing away the differences. At about the same time, and before the receipt of this telegram, the Czar on his side begged the Kaiser for his help, and asked him to advise moderation in Vienna. The Kaiser undertook the rôle of mediator. But scarcely had the action ordered by him been started, when Russia mobilized all her forces directed against Austria-Hungary. [“Hear, hear!”] Austria-Hungary, however, had only mobilized those army corps which were directly aimed at Serbia [“Hear, hear!”]; only two army corps toward the North, far away from the Russian frontier. [Renewed cries of “Hear! Hear!”]

The Kaiser immediately called the Czar’s attention to the fact that by reason of this mobilization of the Russian forces against Austria, his rôle of mediator, undertaken at the Czar’s request, was rendered more difficult if not impossible. Nevertheless, we continued our work of mediation in Vienna, going to the utmost bounds—permitted by our treaty relations. [“Hear! Hear!”] During this time Russia, of her own accord, renewed her assurances that she was not taking any military measures against us. [Great excitement.]

July 31st arrived. In Vienna the decision was to be made. By our efforts up to that time we had succeeded in bringing it about that Vienna again took up the discussion with St. Petersburg through direct conversations which had ceased for some time. [“Hear, hear!”] But even before the final decision had been reached in Vienna, came the news that Russia had mobilized her entire military force against us as well. [“Hear, hear!”] The Russian government, which knew from our repeated representations what mobilization on our frontier meant, did not notify us of this mobilization, nor did it give us any explanation of it. [“Hear, hear!”] Not before the afternoon of the 31st did a telegram come from the Czar to the Kaiser, in which he guaranteed that his army would take up no provocative attitude against us. [“Hear, hear!” and laughter.] But mobilization on our frontier had been in full progress since the night between July 30th and 31st. [“Hear, hear!”] While we, at the request of Russia, were meditating in Vienna, the Russian forces drew up along our long and almost entirely open frontier; and France while not yet mobilizing nevertheless admits that she was taking military measures.

And we—up to that moment—we purposely had not called a single re­serve, for the sake of European peace. [Energetic applause.] Were we still to wait patiently until perhaps the powers between whom we are wedged chose the time to strike? [Many cries of “No, no!”] To subject Germany to this danger would have been a crime! [Stormy, long-continued assent.] For that reason, still on the 31st we demanded Russian de­mobilization as the only measure which could still preserve the peace of Europe. [“Quite right!”] The Imperial Ambassador in St. Petersburg was furthermore instructed to declare to the Russian government that, in case of a rejection of our demand, we should have to consider that a state of war existed.

The Imperial Ambassador carried out these instructions. How Russia has replied to our demand for demobilization, we still do not know to-day. [Cries of “Hear, hear!”] No telegraphic communications in regard to this have reached us [“Hear, hear!”] although the telegraph has delivered many less important messages. [Renewed cries of “Hear, hear!”]

Thus, when the time limit expired, the Kaiser saw himself forced on August 1st, at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, to order the mobilization of our forces. [Energetic applause.]

At the same time we had to assure ourselves as to what France’s position would be. To our definite question as to whether she would remain neutral in case of a German-Russian war, France replied that she would do as her interests demanded. [Laughter.] This was an evasive reply to our question, if not a refusal. [“Quite true.”]

The Kaiser nevertheless gave the order to respect the French frontier absolutely. This order was strictly carried out with a single exception. France, who mobilized at the same time that we did, declared that she would respect a zone of 10 kilometres from the frontier. [“Hear, hear!”] And what actually occurred? Aviators throwing bombs, cavalry patrols, French companies breaking into our territory! [“Hear, hear!”] In this manner France, although no state of war had yet been declared, had violated the peace, and actually attacked us. [“Quite true.”]

In regard to the one exception mentioned I have the following report from the Chief of the General Staff: “Of the French complaints in regard to the violation of the frontier from our side, we admit only one. Against express command, a patrol of the 14th Army Corps, apparently led by an officer, crossed the frontier on August 2nd. This patrol was apparently shot down—only one man has returned. But long before this single case of frontier infringement, French aviators penetrated into Southern Germany and threw bombs on our railways and at the ‘Schlucht Pass’ French troops have attacked our frontier patrols. Up to now our troops, according to order, have confined themselves entirely to defensive action.” This is the report of the General Staff.

Gentlemen, we are now in a state of necessity [Energetic assent], and necessity knows no law. [Stormy agreement.] Our troops have occupied Luxemburg [Applause]; perhaps they have already entered Belgian territory. [Renewed applause.] Gentlemen, this violates the rules of international law. The French government declared in Brussels that it was willing to respect the neutrality of Belgium as long as the enemy respected it. But we knew that France stood ready to invade. [“Hear, hear.”] France could wait, we could not. A French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been fatal to us. [Applause.] We were thus forced to ignore the just protests of the Luxemburg and Belgian governments. [“Quite right.”] The wrong—I speak openly—the wrong that we do now, we will try to make good again, as soon as our military ends have been reached. [Applause.] Whoever is threatened as we are, and battles for all that is sacred, dares think only of how he can hack his way out! [Long, stormy applause and clapping from all sides of the house.]

Gentlemen, we stand shoulder to shoulder with Austria-Hungary. As to England’s attitude, the declarations which Sir Edward Grey made yesterday in the House of Commons make clear the standpoint adopted by the English government. We have declared to the English government that, as long as England remains neutral our fleet will not attack the north coast of France and that we will not injure the territorial integrity and independence of Belgium. This declaration I now repeat before the whole world. [“Hear, hear!”] And I may add that as long as England remains neutral we shall be ready, if equal assurances are given, to take no hostile measures against French merchant vessels. [Applause.]

Gentlemen, this is what has happened. I repeat the words of the Kaiser, “Germany enters the fight with a clear conscience!” [Applause.] We battle for the fruits of our peaceful labors, for the inheritance of a great past and for our future. The fifty years have not yet passed in which Moltke said we should have to stand armed, ready to defend our inheritance, and the conquest of 1870. Now the great hour of trial has struck for our people. But we meet it with a clear confidence. [Stormy applause.] Our army stands in the field, our fleet is ready for battle backed by the entire German people. [Long enthusiastic applause. All the members rise.] The entire German people to the last man! [Renewed applause.]

You, gentlemen, know the full extent of your duty. The bills before you need no further explanation. I beg you to pass them speedily. [Stormy applause.]

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