File No. 763.72119/1184

The Chargé in Switzerland ( Wilson) to the Secretary of State


2513. German press comment on Chancellor’s speech.

Berliner Tageblatt, 25th: Despite emphatic warning of Pan-Germans, Chancellor discussed Wilson’s peace programme in detail. Extremely doubtful, however, whether this discussion will lead to general peace. His statement that Belgium not to be annexed is highly welcome, but regrettable that he modified it by declaring details of question can only be arranged at peace negotiations. His attitude on this question still too hesitating and not sufficiently unequivocal. Czernin’s speech1 undoubtedly great event which perhaps may lead to still more important events. Declarations of Czernin that no opposition of interests between Austria and America and his belief that peace between Vienna and Washington is easiest, lead to conviction that these statements have been made in conjunction with Berlin. Many signs show that especially in the last weeks the desire for war in America has abated; want of coal has caused large retrenchments and prevented equipment of army. Czernin speech [will] strengthen opponents of warlike policy and increase atmosphere of peace. Hertling’s speech alone will scarcely conjure up peace, but possible that Czernin may yet lead Hertling thereto.

Vorwärts, January 25: Speech of Chancellor might have been world-freeing act if it had clearly stated that behind German expressions of peace desires there lay concealed no egotistic ambitions for power. It has not done this and unfortunately in parts was calculated to increase the enemies’ distrust in sincerity of German peace declaration. This is especially true of statements regarding treatment of Poland and Belgium. Right of Russia to have a voice regarding Poland actually recognized in Brest Litovsk negotiations. Lasting Wilson peace can only come if the whole situation is taken as basis and any changes based on general sanction. Regarding Belgium, Chancellor does not even meet desires radical English peace advocates who demand unconditional return. The conditions under which evacuation of occupied French territory is granted will awaken suspicion in enemy; he might at least have declared that no aspirations to annex Longwy and Briey existed. Speech of Chancellor masterwork in finding elastic formulas in which journalists can read what they want, but of such we have had enough. Scheidemann criticism pointed out our mistakes and weakness of speech and millions of the people support him. [Page 48] When enemies are ready for true democratic peace, a permanent peace neither shameful for us or for them, they can count on immense majority of German people which, though it will continue to fight for its rights, wants nothing save peace and what was theirs before war. The existing current must become strong enough to make resistance to it on the part of those in power impossible.

Frankfurter Zeitung, 25th: Speeches of Hertling and Czernin leave impression that way to peace is open. However, speech of Chancellor has not brought clarity necessary to thwart reports of annexionistic politicians. We greatly regret this because attempts to force Government into policy of senseless annexations rob us of internal quiet for necessary reorganization at home and support doubts of enemies as to good faith of our peace desires. Hertling preserves hope that it is possible to lead as one all parties of German people and to postpone moment of separation. This is a fatal illusion as he will soon learn. The fact that the German Chancellor and his German [Austrian] colleague in Vienna have discussed and found acceptable part of Wilson’s programme and have invited a reconsideration of terms will alienate Military Party. Therefore it would have been better to have taken the inevitable step and clearly broken away from this party. Chancellor summarized in three words what Germany expects to gain from the war as a basis of a lasting peace: integrity of the German Empire, security for our vital interests and the honor of our Fatherland. We would have wished that he had spoken more clearly relative to Belgium and occupied portion of France and still more categorically closed door to possibility of annexations. However, our opponents have it in their power to settle once and for all Belgian problem by guaranteeing integrity of territory of Central Powers.

We hope that what Chancellor has said relative Germany’s aims will be still more clearly defined in following speeches. The fact remains, however, that the Chancellor holds to a peace of reconciliation. What statesman would have the courage to be responsible for the continuation of the war for possible military success who can obtain a good peace through negotiation? Such a peace we believe to be possible. The two speeches of Thursday strengthen us in this conviction and we believe that after some delay same conviction will be reached in Washington and London.

Volksstimme, Mannheim, 25th: Chancellor failed absolutely in two main objects required: first, to counteract excellent impression left on neutrals, English and Entente peoples by speeches of Lloyd George; second, to make that clear declaration regarding Central Powers’ war aims absolutely essential for successful defense. Wilson against Entente’s propaganda [programme?], and necessary to remove [Page 49] hindrances to early reconciliation. While speech neither Pan-German nor annexationists, nor destructive all bridges for possible reconciliation, it is generally weak, and although will scarcely cause muck damage it will hardly prove beneficial. Hertling should have briefly and emphatically declared Germany still holds to Reichstag war objects resolution and, while unable accept all of Lloyd George’s and Wilson’s proposals, finds them sufficient basis for immediate peace negotiations. Such declaration would have forced Entente to peace and caused excellent impression upon German and Austrian people. Such impression not created by Hertling’s speech and therefore Social Democrats cannot support Chancellor’s policy.

Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, 25th, states full clarity and precision so necessary after late occurrences Berlin sadly missing in speech. It omits all mention of two opposite camps Germany and gives only idea of official peace policy but all indications point to existence unofficial peace policy with unknown aims. Wilson’s speech gives better handle for serious discussion than Lloyd George’s, and Chancellor has not closed door for reconciliation if honest desire therefor really exists other side of ocean. Same paper, 26th: Wilson’s message showed desire to discover basis for agreement. Chancellor should have formulated answer clearly and promptly. This he has not actually succeeded in accomplishing. The indefiniteness in many of the most important parts of the speech is understandable in view of its antecedents which forced upon it character of compromise as in case of so many earlier official declarations of Chancellors concerning non-annexation Belgium and France. [Omission] Wilson encouraging and we welcome it especially as it will infuriate Pan-German press. However, speech contains no positive statement of war aims or regarding Belgium’s future and relations to Germany. Any statesman who would allow such indefiniteness regarding Belgium to shatter peace prospects would undertake more serious responsibility, assuming that Germany’s other vital interests are secured.

  1. Post, p. 54.