File No. 763.72119/1769

The Minister in the Netherlands ( Garrett) to the Secretary of State


3271. Following text of Hertling’s speech delivered yesterday in Reichstag during debate on foreign policies:

Gentlemen: It was not originally my intention to take part in these proceedings under the present circumstances. The reasons which influenced me in thus holding back are obvious: they are the experience which I have had, with my predecessors, in the successes of our speeches. If we spoke of our pacific sentiment, or our readiness for peace, it was interpreted by some as a symptom of our weakness and of our impending collapse, and by others as a slyly set trap. If on the contrary we spoke of our unshaken determination to defend ourselves in the war of conquest forced upon us, we heard Ludendorff’s saber rattle and it was said: This is the voice of Prussian militarism to which the leading statesmen must willy-nilly yield.

On February 24 [25] of this year I went a step farther.1 I then expressly took a stand with respect to President Wilson’s message. I discussed his well-known four points and theoretically declared my consent to these four points. I said that the four points might possibly constitute the basis for a general world peace. No utterance followed this on the part of President Wilson.

All this is without purpose. (“Very correct!”) The communications which I have received from the hostile nations, particularly America, showed me plainly what was meant by a peace federation, by a federation of the peoples, by an international federation of freedom and justice. (“Very correct!”) Our opponents allowed it plainly to be seen that they would be the nucleus of this proposed international federation, and that there would be no difficulties whatever in connection with the isolation of Germany, which is inconveniently striving to equal them, and no difficulties in extinguishing Germany’s breath of life by means of economic [pressure].

On the contrary I considered it entirely appropriate that the Honorable Secretary of State of the Foreign Office should make statements regarding the details of our political situation in the east, in Finland, [on] the Black Sea, as he was competent for the purpose owing to his acquaintance with the subject, on the basis of the experience he had had during his self-sacrificing and successful participation of several months’ duration in the negotiations. I am of the opinion that the Honorable Secretary of State discharged this mission very efficiently.

However, I have regretted to note that some of his utterances have been received in extensive circles in a more or less unfriendly [Page 266] manner. (“Very correct!” “Very true!”) The Secretary of State spoke of the [guilt] question. We may calmly leave all [guilt] questions to history. Testimonials are already at hand to show that Germany was not to blame for the war and that she did not light the torch of the world-wide conflagration. (“Very true!”)

Nevertheless I deem it my duty to clear away a misunderstanding which appears to me to lie at the bottom of the interpretation given to the second part of the statements of the Secretary of State, The tendency of the statements of the Secretary of State was solely to impute the responsibility for the continuance and incalculable prolongation of the horrible war to the hostile powers, just as I did myself on February 24 [25] of this year.

Gentlemen, there can consequently, of course, be no question of a weakening of my will or of a shaking of our confidence in victory. (Lively applause on left.) Now as before, the Kaiser and the Empire, the princes and the people, stand together closely and full of confidence. They trust to our incomparable troops. They trust in our people, who stand together as a unit and unshaken, and in the magnificent attitude of the people, which we have been forced to admire for years, and we may hope that the Almighty, who has hitherto helped us, and who has led us from victory to victory, will reward this loyalty of the German people. In regard to the details, the Secretary of State himself will take the floor in order to clear up the misunderstandings.

  1. See Hertling’s speech, ante, pp. 135138.