File No. 763.72119/1385
The Minister in the Netherlands ( Garrett) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 26, 4.46 p.m.]
2066. Following substance Hertling’s speech delivered today in Reichstag:
The House has just claim to being informed here and in committee regarding foreign political situation and policy of Government thereon, although doubts have been expressed as to value of conversations in public between ministers and statesmen of belligerent powers. A Liberal member of English Lower House admitted recently that it would bring us far nearer to peace if instead of discussions in Parliament negotiations might take place in limited circles between responsible plenipotentiaries of belligerent powers. I can only express my agreement with this suggestion and conversations would undoubtedly force our adversaries to interpret our words as they are meant and to bring forward their own views freely. The advantages of discussion in a limited circle would be that agreement could be reached concerning all details which are bound to come up in the settlement of great conflicts as well as concerning all the various issues.
I am mindful particularly of Belgium. Our position towards Belgium has repeatedly been discussed in this House and it has repeatedly been declared from this position that we have no idea of keeping Belgium, but that we must be protected against the danger of the state with which we desire to live in peace and friendship after the war being made the breeding place of enemy intrigue. The ways and means leading [thereto] could undoubtedly best be discussed in such a limited community. If a suggestion of this sort should come from the other side we should not assume an attitude rejecting it from the beginning. Naturally discussion of this nature could only have an informal character for the present but at this time it does not seem as if this suggestion would become a tangible one and thus I am forced to continue for the present the method of dialogue.
Turning to the message of President of the United States of 11th instant I concede that a small degree of rapprochement can perhaps be found in this message. Assuming this I shall immediately apply myself to four clauses with which the President’s remarks close and which he thinks might form basis of general peace. The first of these principles says that every part of a final agreement must rest materially on justice in such a manner that it is most probable it can bring permanent peace. Who wants to contradict this? The second principle—that nations and provinces shall not be bartered as mere objects from one ruler to another—is a principle to which one might agree. Wilson’s third principle—[Page 136]that every solution of territorial questions brought up by this war must be settled in interest of and in favor of populations residing in such territories, and not as part of mere compromise of claims of rival states—can also be included without further ado in expression of assent. In fourth principle he demands that all clearly defined national aspirations shall be accorded greatest possible gratification without bringing in new elements or perpetuating old elements of discord and antagonism which would probably be likely in time to break peace of Europe and consequently of the world. In principle I agree to this also. I thus declare that I agree with President Wilson that these principles set up by him may be basis of agreement for world peace.
One reservation only must be made. These four principles must not only be proposed by President of United States but must actually be proposed by all states and nations. Such a wish of sincerity for preservation of peace must be based on unselfish mutual recognition. That would be an object earnestly to be desired but unfortunately we are still remote from that object, and objective tribunal of arbitration established by all nations which might judge impartially does not yet exist. Yet I would naturally rejoice if such an objective tribunal of arbitration recognized by all states and nations existed.
Of course I would be happy to be able to contribute to the establishment of such ideal conditions but I still fail to find any trace of similar feelings among representatives of the Entente. England’s war aims such as have appeared in the latest speeches of Lloyd George are still of purely imperialistic nature. They still demand that peace in Europe must be formed according to England’s will and when England speaks of right of self-determination of nations she has not thought of applying this principle to Ireland or Egypt, etc.
As is well known, our war aims are defense of the Fatherland, the maintenance of its territorial integrity, the preservation of freedom of our economic development in all directions. These were our objects from the very beginning and our conduct of warfare even when it was forced to have aggressive character was really of defensive nature in ultimate analysis.
I particularly emphasize this at this time in order to remove any apprehensions regarding our military operations in the east.
After peace negotiations at Brest were broken off on 10th instant, as you know, by Trotzky, we had free hands towards Russia. Our advance into Ukraine was destined to insure us the fruits of peace with Ukrainia which was imperilled by machinations by Bolsheviks, and that advance was further supported by calls for help addressed to us from the Ukraine to aid them in ordering and securing the new country against the hostile acts of Bolsheviks. Although military operations have been initiated in other districts also they are quite remote from any intentions of conquest. I emphasize that we have no thought of establishing ourselves in Livonia or Esthonia. All that we wish is to live in peace and friendship with the independent states which are forming there. But the military operations which we started with peaceable intentions have produced a success far beyond the object originally aimed at. You already know from [Page 137] Kühlmann’s notification of Trotzky’s wireless, which was confirmed in writing and stated that Russian delegates wished to resume interrupted peace negotiations. Our reply was that we were ready to do so. We sent our peace terms to Russia in form of ultimatum. The Russian delegates have already left. Our peace terms have been accepted in principle by Russian Government. Our delegates left yesterday evening for Brest-Litovsk. This is the new and happy communication which I am able to make to you.
Peace negotiations with Roumania commenced on 23d. Negotiations are difficult because we do not stand alone but are obliged to assert just interests of our loyal allies, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey, but I resign myself to the hope that with good will on our side these difficulties may lead to satisfactory result.
Regarding Poland I would say a few words because Entente and Wilson also appear lately to have particular interest in Poland. In addition to already existing difficulties particularly of economic nature the collapse of old Russia has brought new difficulty, the question of delimitation of the new Polish state and neighboring Russian territory. I may perhaps express hope that after thorough discussion of the various interests and equitable consideration of Polish conditions a compromise can be found if good will is manifested on all sides, and the very expression of serious intention [in this direction has been] effective to some extent in Poland, as we can see with satisfaction.
In contrast to our war aims which as I have repeatedly brought out with emphasis were purely defensive, the war aims of the Entente are still aggressive and directed towards conquest. The Entente is fighting for return of Alsace-Lorraine to France. I need add nothing to what has already been said. There is no Alsace-Lorraine question. If there were an Alsace-Lorraine question it would be a purely German question. The Entente is fighting for acquisition of territory of Austria-Hungary in favor of Italy. In Italy the fine name of “sacred egoism” has been found for this, but this fine name cannot conceal annexationist intentions. The Entente is fighting for cession of Turkish territory, for detachment of Syria and Arabia from Turkish Empire, and English statesmen have repeatedly stated themselves that England’s colonial aims are directed towards expansion, although called consolidation of England’s already enormous possessions in Africa.
In the face of this thoroughly aggressive policy aiming at conquest Entente statesmen have nevertheless continually spoken of imperialistic, militaristic, and autocratic Germany which was trouble maker in Europe and must be confined as closely as possible, if not destroyed. Lately a novel line has been taken in the system of agitation, mendacity and calumny already conducted against Germany. A picture is painted of our intended imminent violation of neutrality of neutral countries. In reply to intrigues of this sort recently started again in Switzerland we take occasion to declare with all possible emphasis that we never have thought and never shall think for a moment of violating Switzerland’s neutrality. We are closely tied to Switzerland not only by principles of international law but also by century-long friendly relations. We owe our thanks to Switzerland and the other neutral countries, Holland, the [Page 138]Scandinavian countries, Spain which is exposed to peculiar difficulties owing to her geographical situation, and also to non-European neutral countries not yet driven into the war. We pay tribute of esteem and gratitude for manifold energy with which they have adhered to neutrality thus far despite all challenges and enticements.
The world yearns for peace but it does not seem as if this deep longing met with any response in the Entente which is still able to drive its people to the furies of war and to enforce war to the end. I have heard other voices from England, it is true. Runciman’s speech was recently followed by Lord Milner’s speech which was perhaps still more conciliatory. Now we can only hope that these voices multiply, but it is high time that they did, for the world is confronted at every moment with momentous decisions. Either [our] enemies decide to listen to the voice of mankind and reason and to make peace—and they know under what conditions we would be ready for understanding—or they believe that they must persist in the criminal madness of war of conquest. Therefore our splendid troops shall continue to fight under their masterly leaders. Our enemies know well enough that and to what extent we are equipped for this, and our sturdy people will continue to hold out, but the blood of the fallen, the wounds of the maimed, and the sufferings of the nations will fall upon the heads of those who resisted the voice of mankind until the very last.