File No. 763.72119/1167, 1168

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


1932, 1933. Hertling addressed Reichstag Committee today as follows:2 [Page 39]

When I last appeared before the Committee on January 3, we were confronted, it seemed, with an incident which had happened at Brest. I then expressed the opinion that we should await the settlement of this incident quietly. The facts have borne me out—the Russian delegation has again arrived at Brest, negotiations have been resumed and are proceeding slowly. They are extraordinarily difficult. I pointed out the last time the particular circumstances causing these difficulties. In fact there was often room for doubt whether the Russian delegation was serious with peace negotiations, and various wireless messages sent forth with most remarkable contents only strengthened these doubts. Nevertheless, I hold to the hope that we shall soon arrive at a favorable result with the Russian delegation at Brest. Our negotiations with the Ukrainian representatives are proceeding favorably, but there still remain difficulties to be overcome. The prospects, however, are good. We hope soon to reach a conclusion with Ukrainia which will suit the interest of both sides and will be advantageous in an economic direction. A result was reached January 4.

As you all know, the Russian delegation proposed in December to issue an invitation to all belligerents to participate in negotiations as a basis for which the Russian delegation made certain proposals of an abstract nature. We then agreed to invite all belligerents to negotiations on condition that a time limit for the validity of the invitation was set. That time limit expired January 4 without any reply being received. The result is that we are no longer bound in any way as regards the Entente, that we have a free hand for separate negotiations with Russia, and that as a matter of course we are no longer bound, as far as the Entente is concerned, to those general peace proposals submitted to us by the Russian delegation.

Instead of the reply then expected but not forthcoming, two manifestations by enemy statesmen have been made meanwhile as you all know: the speech of the English Minister, Lloyd George, of January 5,1 and President Wilson’s message next day.2 I gladly acknowledge that Lloyd George has changed his tone, but I cannot admit, as many other voices from neutral countries, that a serious will for peace or even a friendly feeling can be read in this speech of Lloyd George. He no longer scolds and seems to wish to prove his qualifications as a negotiator which I formerly questioned. It is true he declares he doesn’t wish to destroy Germany. He even finds respectful words for our political, economic and cultural position, but between all of this the view asserts itself that judgment must be passed on Germany as guilty of all kinds of crimes. In feelings of this sort we are unable to find any serious will for peace.

This prompts me to review briefly the conditions and events preceding the war. The establishment of the German Empire in 1871 put an end to the old disunity, by consolidating its races. The German Empire acquired that position in Europe which corresponds to its economic and cultural achievements and the aspirations founded thereon. Bismarck crowned his work by the alliance with Austria. This was a purely defensive alliance; in the course of a decade, not even the slightest idea of its abuse for aggressive purposes ever appeared, but often danger threatened the unity of the Central [Page 40] Powers from enemy coalitions. The dream of coalitions became a reality through King Edward’s encirclement policy. The rising and [growing] German Empire stands in the way of English imperialism and this British imperialism found great assistance in the French idea of revenge and in Russian expansion efforts, and thus conditions dangerous to us were prepared.

The geographical situation of [Germany] has always presented us with the danger of war on two fronts. Now that danger grew ever more clearly. An alliance was formed between Russia and France and the two partners to this alliance had a combined population double those of the German Empire and Austria-Hungary together. Republican France lent Czarist Russia thousands of millions for the development of strategic railways in the Kingdom of Poland, and these railways were intended to facilitate the assembly of force against us. The French Republic summoned every last man to three years’ service with the colors. Thus side by side with Russia, France organized for herself an armament which reached the very limit of her capacity. Both countries were pursuing objectives which our opponents would now describe as imperialist. It would have been neglect of duty had Germany quietly looked on at this game; if we had not also endeavored to build up armaments to protect ourselves against future enemies. Perhaps I may recall to your attention that as a member of the Reichstag I frequently spoke of these matters and pointed out at the time of new appropriations for armament that the German people in voting these appropriations merely wished to carry on a policy of peace.

And now as to Alsace-Lorraine. Lloyd George speaks again of the wrong done by Germany to France in 1871. As is well known, Alsace-Lorraine includes for the most part purely German territory detached from the German Empire by violence continued through centuries until in 1789 the French Revolution swallowed the last remnants. When we demanded in the war of 1870 the return of the strips of land torn from us, that was no conquest of foreign territory, but really what is today called disannexation, and this disannexation was expressly recognized by the French National Assembly, March 29, 1871, by a large majority. In England also the language used at that time was quite different from that of today. I can refer to a classical witness, Thomas Carlyle, who wrote in a letter to the Times in December 1870: “No nation has such a bad neighbor as Germany had in France during the past forty years. Germany would be crazy should she not think of erecting a frontier wall between herself and her French neighbor.” Recognized English papers spoke in the same sense.

I now come to Wilson. I acknowledge here also that the tone has completely changed, at any rate there is no longer any talk of oppression of the German people by an autocratic Government, and earlier attacks on the Hohenzollern are not repeated. I shall not dwell upon the statements regarding German policy but discuss one by one the points submitted by Wilson.

He formulates his peace program in no less than fourteen points. The first point demands there shall be no secret international agreements. History teaches that we can be the first to declare our readiness for wide publicity of diplomatic agreements. [Our] defensive agreements with Austria-Hungary have been known to the world [Page 41] since 1888, whereas the aggressive agreements between the enemy countries did not see the light of publicity until [they were revealed] by the Russian Revolutionists. The fully public negotiations at Brest prove further that we can quite easily declare our readiness to accept this proposal.

In point 2 Wilson demands freedom of the seas. The complete freedom of navigation on the seas in war and peace is made one of the first and most important demands of the future by Germany. Although there are thus no differences of opinion on this point, the limitation inserted by Wilson at the end is not fully intelligible and in part is superfluous and could best be dropped. It would be highly important for freedom of navigation in the future to have the strongly fortified naval bases at the most important international highways of the seas, as England [has at] Gibraltar, Malta, Hongkong, Aden, the Falklands and many other places, done away with.

Point 3, abolition of all economic barriers. We also fully agree to removal of all economic barriers unnecessarily restricting trade. We condemn economic war which would with certainty form the cause of future warlike complications. Point 4, the idea of limitation of armaments, too, is quite discussable, as declared by us at an earlier date. The financial situation of all European countries after the war should effectively aid a satisfactory solution.

It can be seen, therefore, that an understanding could be reached without difficulty on the first four points of the program.

I now take up the fifth point, adjustment of all colonial claims and disputes. The practical application in the world of reality of the principle here set up by Wilson will encounter some difficulties. I believe at any rate that it might be left to England, the greatest colonial Empire, to discuss first of all this proposal of her ally. We shall then see what might be obtained by us in peace negotiations, judging from such agreements between England and America, since we shall certainly advocate a readjustment of the colonial possessions of the world.

Point 6. Now that the Entente has refused to join in negotiations between Russia and the Quadruple Alliance during the time limit, I am bound to reject in the name of the latter any subsequent interference in the matter of evacuation of Russian territory. These are questions which concern Russia and the four Allied Powers alone.

Point 7 relates to the Belgian question. It has been repeatedly declared by my predecessors that at no time during the war has the forcible attachment of Belgium to Germany formed a point of the program of German policy. The Belgian question belongs to a complex of questions the details of which will have to be arranged by peace negotiations. As long as our adversaries do not unreservedly take the ground that the integrity of the territory of the Allies can alone form the basis of peace negotiations, I must adhere to the standpoint regularly adopted heretofore and reject the idea of taking up the Belgian matter before the general discussion.

Point 8, liberation of French territory. The occupied parts of France are a valuable object of exchange. Their annexation does not form part of a logical German policy. The conditions and formality of evacuation, which must take into consideration Germany’s vital interests, are to be arranged between Germany and [Page 42] France. I can only emphasize again that there can never be any talk of cession of Imperial territory.

Points 9, 10 and 11 affect the interests of Austria, to whom we must yield preference in reply. As regards point 12, the integrity of Turkey is a vital question of the German Empire. The Turkish reply should not be anticipated. Point 13. The Entente never took up the cause of Poland. The settlement of these questions must be left to Austria, Germany and Poland. [Point 14.] We have sympathy with the idea of a league of nations. If proposals are based on the spirit of humanity we shall be ready to study the question.

We have heard the speeches of Lloyd George and Wilson. They contain certain principles for general world peace to which we also can agree, but where concert [concrete] questions come up which are of decisive importance for us and our allies there are fewer signs of a will for peace. Only a victor speaks to the vanquished in such language. Our military situation was never so favorable as at present. Let the Entente bring new proposals. We shall then seriously study them. Lasting peace is impossible unless the integrity of the German Empire is recognized.

Chancellor closed with reference to heroic patience shown by people in enduring privation and with admonition to set aside all differences of opinion. …

  1. For readability the necessary articles and connectives have been inserted in the telegraphic text.
  2. Ante, p. 4.
  3. Message of Jan. 8, ante, p. 12.