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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Otto von Bismarck: War And Armaments In Europe

War and armaments were the main weapons of the “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck [1815-1898], in his energetic and successful efforts to unify the German states and to make Prussia dominant in Europe. It is part of an address on war and armaments made by Bismarck before the German Reichstag in 1888 that we reproduce here.

I do not speak willingly, for under existing conditions a word unfortunately spoken may be ruinous, and the multiplication of words can do little to explain the situation, either to our own people or to foreigners. I speak unwillingly, but I fear that if I kept silent there would be an increase rather than a diminution of the expectations which have attached themselves to this debate, of unrest in the public mind, of the disposition to nervousness at home and abroad. The public might believe the question to be so difficult and critical that a minister for foreign affairs would not dare to touch upon it. I speak, therefore, but I can say truly that I speak with reluctance. I might limit myself to recalling expressions to which I gave utterance from this same place a year and a day ago. Little change has taken place in the situation since then.

The fears which have been excited during the year have been occasioned more by Russia than by France, or I may say that the occasion was rather the exchange of mutual threats, excitements, reproaches, and provocations which have taken place during the summer between the Russian and the French press. But I do not believe that the situation in Russia is materially different now from what it was a year ago.

Since the great war of 1870 was concluded, has there been any year, I ask you, without its alarm of war? Just as we were returning, at the beginning of the seventies, they said: When will we have the next war? When will the “revanche” be fought? In five years at latest. They said to us then: “The question of whether we will have war, and of the success with which we shall have it (it was a representative of the center who upbraided me with it in the Reichstag), depends today only on Russia. Russia alone has the decision in her hands.”

In these days we must be as strong as we can; and if we will, we can be stronger than any other country of equal resources in the world. And it would be a crime not to use our resources. If we do not need an army prepared for war, we do not need to call for it. It depends merely on the not very important question of the cost—and it is not very important, though I mention it incidentally. When I say that we must strive continually to be ready for all emergencies, I advance the proposition that, on account of our geographical position, we must make greater efforts than other powers would be obliged to make in view of the same ends. We lie in the middle of Europe. We have at least three fronts on which we can be attacked. France has only an eastern boundary; Russia only its west­ern, exposed to assault. We are, moreover, more exposed than any other people to the danger of hostile coalition because of our geographical posiion, and because, perhaps, of the feeble power of cohesion which, until now, the German people has exhibited when compared with others. At any rate, God has placed us in a position where our neighbors will prevent us from falling into a condition of sloth—of wallowing in the mire of mere existence.

The bill will bring us an increase of troops capable of bearing arms—a possible increase, which, if we do not need it, we need not call out, but can leave the men at home. But we will have it ready for service if we have arms for it. And that is a matter of primary importance. I remember the carbine which was furnished by England to our landwehr in 1813, and with which I had some practise as a hunter—that was no weapon for a soldier. We can get arms suddenly for an emergency, but if we have them ready for it, then this bill will count for a strengthening of our peace forces and a reenforcement of the peace league as great as if a fourth great power had joined the alliance with an army of seven hundred thousand men—the greatest yet put in the field.

^ think, too, that this powerful reenforcement of the army will have a quieting effect on our own people, and will in some measure relieve the nervousness of our exchanges, of our press, and of our public opinion. I hope they all will be comforted if they make it clear to themselves that after this reenforcement, and from the moment of the signature and publication of the bill, the soldiers are there. But arms are necessary, and we must provide better ones if we wish to have an army of triarians—of the best manhood that we have among our people; of fathers of family over thirty years old. And we must give them the best arms that can be had.

I am never for an offensive war, and if war can come only through our initiative, it will not begin. Fire must be kindled by some one before it can burn, and we will not kindle it. Neither the consciousness of our strength, as I have just represented it, nor the trust in our alliances, will prevent us from continuing with our accustomed zeal our accustomed efforts to keep the peace. We will not allow ourselves to be led by bad temper; we will not yield to prejudice. It is undoubtedly true that the threats, the insults, the provocations which have been directed against us have aroused great and natural animosities on our side. And it is hard to rouse such feelings in the Germans, for they are less sensitive to the dislike of others toward them than any other nation. We are taking pains, however, to soften these animosities, and in the future, as in the past, we will strive to keep the peace with our neighbors—especially with Russia. When I say “especially with Russia,” I mean that France offers us no security for the success of our efforts, though I will not say that it does not help. We will never seek occasion to quarrel. We will never attack France. I do not believe that a disturbance of the peace is imminent, and I beg that you will consider the pending measure without regard to that thought or that apprehension, looking on it rather as a full restoration of the mighty power which God has created in the German people—a power to be used if we need it. If we do not need it we will not use it, and we will seek to avoid the necessity for its use. This attempt is made somewhat more difficult by threatening articles in foreign newspapers, and I may give special admonition to the outside world against the continuance of such articles. They lead to nothing. The threats made against us—not by the government, but in the newspapers—are incredibly stupid, when it is remembered that they assume that a great and proud power such as the German empire is capable of being intimidated by an array of black spots made by a printer on paper, a mere marshaling of words. If they would give up that idea, we could reach a better understanding with both our neighbors. Every country is finally answerable for the wanton mischief done by its newspapers, and the reckoning is liable to be presented some day in the shape of a final decision from some other country. We can be bribed very easily—perhaps too easily—with love and good-will. But with threats, never!

We Germans fear God, and nothing else in the world.

It is the fear of God which makes us love peace and keep it. He who breaks it against us ruthlessly will learn the meaning of the warlike love of the Fatherland which in 1813 rallied to the standard the entire popula­tion of the then small and weak kingdom of Prussia; he will learn, too, that this patriotism is now the common property of the entire German nation, so that whoever attacks Germany will find it unified in arms, every warrior having in his heart the steadfast faith that God will be with us.

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