Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, Volume VI
Paris Peace Conf. 185.118/85
The President of the German Delegation (Brockdorff-Rantzau) to the President of the Peace Conference (Clemenceau)
Sir: The Allied and Associated Governments have in Your Excellency’s note of May 20th2 refused to communicate to the German Delegates the report of their Commissions appointed to inquire into the question of the responsibility of the authors of the war. Material parts of the report having, however, been published by the press, the German Delegates have appointed a Committee of independent Germans, namely Messrs. Hans Delbrück, Albrecht Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Count Max Montgelas and Max Weber to examine the facts contained in this report and to make a statement thereon, I have the honour to transmit to Your Excellency herewith the observations made by these gentlemen oh the report of the Allied and Associated Governments concerning the responsibility of the authors of the war.
Observations on the Report of the Commission of the Allied and Associated Governments as to the Responsibility of the Authors of the War3
I. Necessity of an Impartial Investigation
The undersigned are of opinion that the question of the responsibility for the outbreak of war cannot be decided by one side which was [Page 782] itself a party to the war, but that only a Commission of Enquiry, recognised by both sides as impartial, to which all records are accessible and before which both parties alike can state their case, can venture to pronounce judgment as to the measure in which each single Government is responsible for the fact that the catastrophe dreaded by all nations has befallen mankind.
Of the many entirely untenable views expressed in the Report of the Commission of the Allied and Associated Governments, the points relating to purely military questions are dealt with in Appendices I-III. The political questions are discussed with all possible brevity in the following pages.
II. Diplomatic Negotiations
It must be remarked, by way of introduction, that in no way can one speak of the overwhelming superiority of the German army. Incontestable statistics prove that, apart from the Landsturm and other equivalent formations, Germany and Austria-Hungary, with a joint population of 116,000,000, could bring not quite 6,000,000 combatants into the field, whereas Russia and France, with a population numbering 210,000,000, had at least 9,000,000 combatants at their disposal. There was an overwhelming superiority, but it was not on the German side.
As regards the statement erroneously attributed to General von Moltke, reference is made to his letter in Appendix IV. Count Montgelas, a co-signatory hereof, who for two years was the immediate subordinate of General von Moltke, can prove by absolutely authentic facts that the sentiments of the General were opposed to any war. His sceptical opinion as to the issue of a world war is established by documentary evidence.
The underlying causes of the Serbo-Austrian conflict—the Greater-Serbian movement, which menaced the integrity of the Austro-Hungarian State on the one hand, and the policy of economic suppression of the Serbian nation on the other—cannot here be exhaustively discussed. The assertion that a secret plot was engineered between Berlin and Vienna for the destruction of Serbia must, however, be denied in the most emphatic manner. In the memorandum laid before the Reichstag on 3rd August 1914, the German Government publicly stated that it agreed with the attitude adopted in Vienna with regard to the Serajevo murder and approved the action which Vienna considered necessary. The objects aimed at by that action were not communicated to Berlin in detail, but were definitely limited and included no thought of annexation; it is known that Count Tisza made his consent to the ultimatum expressly conditional upon the renunciation of any such idea.[Page 783]
The alleged subsequent disclosures of Eisner and others mentioned in the report of the Commission, in so far as they did not contain inaccuracies, added nothing fresh to the facts above stated. The full text of the correspondence exchanged between the two Kaisers and their respective Governments at the beginning of July, 1914, has also since been published. No Crown Council took place on 5th July. The report of the Commission makes mention, in vague terms only, of decisive consultations. Appendix V shows with what questions these consultations actually dealt. The Kaiser’s journey to the northern countries began on the date on which it usually took place every year. The Prussian Minister of War had already applied for leave on 2nd July; it may also be mentioned in passing, that the Bavarian report, of 18th July, mentioned by the Commission, which contains several inaccuracies already publicly corrected, did not emanate from the Minister, Count Lerchenfeld, but from the Counselor of Legation, von Schoen. The absolute lack of foundation for the statement that Bulgaria was at that time incited to make war on Serbia can further be proved by the German State records.
It is true that the attitude adopted by Austria, in view of previous failures of Serbia to redeem her promises, was that she could not be satisfied with merely diplomatic results, but was bound to rely on the effect produced by a military expedition. Germany approved of this attitude and thereby encouraged Austria.
The world is now longing for a League of Nations, in which military measures shall no longer be admissible and all nations, whether large or small, strong or weak, shall enjoy equal political and economic rights. But the measures taken against Serbia were not in conflict with the procedure employed at that time by other States, as well, and they were conceived in good faith as a means of removing inflammable material which for a long time had constituted a danger to the peace of the world. Nevertheless, the German Government itself considered the ultimatum in 1914 as going too far (Blue Book No. 18). In the opinion of the undersigned an especially harsh feature consisted in the short time limit of 48 hours, which was not extended in spite of subsequent representations.
Further, the German Government recognised, in its Note of the 28th July which is discussed below (Wolff’s telegram of 12th October, 1917), the conciliatory character of the Serbian reply. A settlement by mediation of the differences of opinion still existing after that reply would have been more in accordance with that spirit of trust referred to by Sir Edward Grey on the 30th July (Blue Book No. 101), a spirit in which it is hoped relations between nations and Governments will be conducted in future. A necessary pre-condition for that, as for any other decisive confidence, would, of course, have been the belief that [Page 784] the English Foreign Secretary had not only the will (unconnected with any considerations of the moment) but also the power to hold in check the indisputably warlike intentions of Russia. This is no longer doubted by any of the undersigned, so far as the good-will of Sir Edward Grey is concerned. The only question is, whether that good-will was expressed in such a manner and, in view of the manner in which the behaviour of Russia compromised the whole situation, whether it could have been expressed in time to inspire the German Government with that confidence. How far Imperial Russia was from sharing those modern views is shown by the attached Russo-Serbian State documents, which have not yet been published in their entirety (Appendix VI).
The Berlin Government, in its endeavour to localise the dispute between Serbia and Austria by diplomatic means, adopted at the outset a negative attitude towards the proposal of mediation made by England; it thought that the imminent danger threatening the peace of the world could not be averted in this way. Yet in the Report of the Commission, extraordinary to say, no mention is made of the fact that the direct exchange of opinion between Vienna and Petrograd was proposed by Germany and that Sir Edward Grey himself acknowledged this to be “the most preferable method of all” (Blue Book No. 67). Further, it is difficult to understand the mistake made in Blue Book No. 43, which attributes to Germany the refusal to accept mediation by the Four Powers, since this telegram did not refer to that proposal, but to one for a Conference. Germany was always prepared to intervene between Austria-Hungary and Russia (Blue Book Nos. 18 and 46). Finally, it is especially remarkable that no mention is made in the Report of the Commission of the three well-known German notes, which prove what strong pressure the Berlin Government brought to bear from 28th July onwards on the Cabinet at Vienna. The undersigned therefore venture to quote certain extracts from these important documents:
On the 28th July the conciliatory nature of the Serbian reply was pointed out in Vienna and it was requested that the former reserve should no longer be maintained towards German and other proposals for mediation (published in a Wolff telegram, 12th October, 1917).
On the 29th (despatched on the night of 29/30th), the refusal to exchange views with Petersburg was characterised as a grave error, with the additional statement: “We are indeed prepared to fulfil our duty as Allies, but must refuse to allow Vienna to draw us into a world conflagration lightly and regardless of our advice.” (Already published in the Westminster Gazette of 1st August 1914, and also communicated to the German Reichstag on 19th August, 1915.)
On the same night the following telegram was sent to Vienna [Page 785] in support of Sir Edward Grey’s proposal as contained in Blue Book No. 88: “If Austria refuses all intervention, we are faced by a conflagration in which England would be against us and, judging by all appearances, Italy and Roumania would not be with us, so that we two would be opposed to four Great Powers. With England as an enemy, the brunt of the fighting would fall on Germany. Austria’s political prestige, the honour of her arms and her justifiable claims against Serbia, could be fully ensured by the occupation of Belgrade or other places. The humiliation of Serbia would re-establish Austria’s position in the Balkans, and in relation to Russia. In these circumstances we must emphatically urge the Cabinet at Vienna to consider seriously the possibility of accepting the mediation offered under such honourable conditions. Otherwise the responsibility for the consequences will be exceedingly heavy for Austria and for us.” (Communicated to the Main Committee of the German Reichstag on November 9th, 1916.)
The means of maintaining peace was found in the above-mentioned proposal for mediation made in the afternoon of July 29th (Blue Book No. 88). Berlin accepted it willingly and urged its acceptance on Vienna in such curt terms as probably no ally ever used before in addressing another ally in a solemn hour. It is indeed no fault of the German Government if the diplomatic negotiations, which came so near to success, were rudely interrupted by military measures taken by the other side.
As regards the documents published by the Serbian Minister in Paris, Wiesner’s Report of 13th July 1914 was never brought to the notice of Berlin. The telegram of 25th July 1914 from the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador, Count Szögyeny, which urges that military operations should be begun quickly in the event of a declaration of war, corresponds to the idea already mentioned that the localisation and speedy settlement of the conflict would be the best means of preventing the conflagration from spreading. As regards Count Szögyeny’s telegram of July 27th concerning the rejection of possible English proposals for mediation, the Commission referred to the then Imperial Chancellor, von Bethmann Hollweg, and to von Jagow, the Secretary of State, and was informed by both with one voice that this report could not possibly be true. We consider the statements of both men trustworthy; especially in consideration of the fact that the Austro-Hungarian Ambassador was old even beyond his years. In reality—and this is the point—the German Government did not act in that way, but from 28th July onwards did everything possible to induce Austria to accept proposals for mediation. With respect to the resumption of direct conversations, there was a certain measure of success (Red Book No. 50). The Ambassador’s assertion is, however, [Page 786] one of the numerous individual points which prove the urgent necessity for investigation by a neutral Commission.
Finally we must touch upon the fact that the Tsar’s proposal of 29th July to submit the Austro-Serbian question to a Court of Arbitration at the Hague found no support. Official documents disclose nothing as to the reason, which is doubtless to be found in the fact that the mobilisation of the Russian 13th Army Corps, ordered on that day, gave cause to fear that Russia would make use of the period of the Hague negotiations to extend her preparations for war. However one may regard this reason in the light of present day ideas, the undersigned believe that the Tsar’s proposal would only have had a chance of success if it had been accompanied by the cessation of Russian mobilisation. As a matter of fact, however, on the very day on which the Tsar proposed reference to the Court of Arbitration, his military and diplomatic advisers decided to enlarge the Russian partial mobilisation into a general mobilisation (Appendix I).
III. The Catastrophe
This general mobilisation by Russia had the effect of completely preventing any possibility of that happy solution of the crisis which was initiated by Blue Book No. 88 and most emphatically supported by Germany.
During recent years (as is shown in detail in Appendix I), preparations for Russian mobilisation had been considerably increased and improved. The period of preparation for war throughout European Russia, and therefore as against Germany, had already begun on 26th July. The partial Russian mobilisation decided on in principle on 25th July and ordered on 29th July, had already secured a preponderance of Russian and Serbian troops over the Austro-Hungarian army. The general Russian mobilisation determined upon on the 29th, and ordered on the 30th, was in no way justified by any military measure on the part of Germany or Austria-Hungary.
None of these facts are even cursorily touched upon in the Report of the Commission. The silence concerning the general Russian mobilisation is all the more remarkable in as much as no difference of opinion existed in 1914 with regard to the significance of this measure. It is known what urgent warnings were made by the British Ambassador in Petrograd against this fatal step (Blue Book No. 17). In the Times of 30th July, Colonel Repington voiced the general impression in the following words: “and in a very short time after Russian mobilisation is announced, it will be a miracle if all Europe is not aflame.”
Still less could the far-reaching effects of the Russian mobilisation fail to be understood in France. On 18th August 1892, the day following [Page 787] the conclusion of the Franco-Russian Military Convention, General Boisdeffre had in fact made the following statement to the Tsar: “Mobilisation is equivalent to a declaration of War.” (Je lui ai fait remarquer que la mobilisation c’ était la declaration de guerre. 3rd French Yellow Book No. 71.) It was no doubt their realisation of the gravity of this step which caused the French Government to conceal for as long as possible the fact that Russia had mobilised. As late as 31st July at 7 p.m. (9 p.m. Petersburg time) the French Minister of Foreign Affairs assured the German Ambassador that “He had no information whatever of a general mobilisation of the Russian Army and Fleet” (Yellow Book No. 117). Now it is absolutely impossible that a single member of the Diplomatic Corps then in Petersburg should not have been aware of the Order published there early that morning, and in any case, according to a secret telegram from Iswolsky, published in the Pravda of 9th March 1919, a telegram from the French Ambassador in Petersburg announcing “The general and complete mobilisation of the Russian Army” had been received in Paris the morning of the 31st.
No person acquainted with the subject could have the slightest doubt as to what the Russian mobilisation meant to Germany. War on two fronts stared her in the face and was to be carried on against a crushing superiority of numbers. In the West there stood an Army prepared in the highest degree to begin operations at once. Defensive tactics on both fronts meant certain disaster. In the opinion not only of the military authorities in Berlin, but probably of military authorities throughout the world, it was imperative that action should be taken with the greatest possible rapidity on the western front, that is to say, against the enemy who was best prepared and most ready to strike; so that every week, and indeed every day gained became of vital importance. It is no doubt to be regretted that, in the German Declaration of War on France, careless reference was made to alleged attacks by French aircraft, without the truth of these allegations being first duly ascertained; but it in no wise alters the fact that as soon as the Russian mobilisation was known, French mobilisation had to be reckoned with, i. e., a war on two fronts. This view has subsequently been confirmed by the publication of Clauses of the Franco-Russian Military Convention of 17th August 1892, which stipulated that in case of the mobilisation of only one of the States composing the Triple Alliance, the entire French and Russian forces should be mobilised immediately and simultaneously and should engage a decisive battle with all speed (ces forces s’engageront à fond en toute diligence). In the event of a general Russian mobilisation, any German Government which waited on the pretext of an offer of negotiations until that mobilisation had been completed would have [Page 788] taken upon itself vis-à-vis its own people a fearful responsibility which nobody could bear. The documents delivered to the enemy Governments prove that so long as Tsarism lasted, its plans were such as to render the assumption of such a responsibility unjustifiable. In any circumstances, such responsibility could have been borne only if a sufficiently powerful super-national coercive authority undertook to guarantee unconditionally that the negotiations would not in any case be utilised as a means of developing that vast preponderance of strength, and subsequently broken off, thus involving Germany in a war to which there could be only one issue. No such super-national force capable of guaranteeing this existed, however, at that time.
Germany approved Austria’s purpose to suppress the Greater Serbian agitation, by action to be supported if necessary by force of arms. It would have been of decisive importance if, immediately after the receipt of the Serbian reply on the 27th the Cabinet of Vienna had been restrained from taking irrevocable measures, and if the Berlin Government had already received by that day the impression that Serbia had gone a long way to meet Austria. On the 28th, after thorough examination of the Note, every effort was made to induce the Cabinet of Vienna to alter their intentions. Berlin in particular supported by the strongest means imaginable the proposal made by Sir E. Grey on the afternoon of July 29th; these proposals guaranteed to Austria-Hungary the satisfaction which all the Great Powers agreed in regarding as her due. The reason for the delay in the reply of the Cabinet of Vienna to this last proposal is not known to the undersigned. This is one of the most vital points which still requires elucidation. As regards Berlin, the documents indisputably show that a change of opinion took place between the 26th and 28th, and the undersigned are convinced that it is merely to be ascribed to lack of power to reach a decision that the extreme consequences did not follow as soon as the 27th.
Germany did not desire the world war, even though she may have considered the danger of such a war as a possible contingency. For more than forty years, the German Government, to use the very words of the Report of the Commission, was considered “the Champion of Peace” (Yellow Book No. 6). Plans of conquest were worlds removed from the thoughts of the leading German Statesmen.
It was otherwise in Russia. The realisation of the purposes of leading Pan-Slavist circles was unattainable without war. These elements hostile to peace made their will prevail during the decisive days, for just at the moment when peace appeared to be assured, Russia took the measures which made it impossible. The undersigned cannot [Page 789] refrain from expressing the opinion that if the pressure brought to bear on Petrograd by London and Paris had been as powerful as that exercised by Berlin on Vienna, the fatal step which the military, in their lust for war, were able to take against the will of the Tsar, might have been averted.
V. Violation of the Neutrality of Belgium and Luxemburg
As regards the violation of the neutrality of Belgium and Luxemburg, the undersigned fully share the view expressed by the German Imperial Chancellor on 4th August 1914, amid the applause of the Reichstag, that it was “a wrong to be made good”. They regret that during the war this conception was temporarily abandoned and that a subsequent justification of the German irruption should have been attempted.
VI. Retrospective Considerations
Finally, the undersigned are constrained to make the following general observations, viz:
In our opinion, the question of the origin of the war can never be settled in principle by the method adopted in the Report of the enemy Commission,—that is by the enumeration of actual occurrences which transformed a chronic state of high political tension into a war. In addition to the absolute and astonishing inaccuracy in the presentation of single facts, that is where the fundamental mistake of the entire proceeding lies. It is rather a case in which the following questions should be put:
- Which Governments had in the past done most to promote that state of constant menace of war from which Europe suffered for years before the war? Further, and in connection therewith:
- Which Governments pursued political and economic aims which could only be realised through a war?
As regards the main point of the second question, we cannot refrain from observing that evidence on which to base an answer will also be found in the conditions of peace now under discussion—especially such conditions as have a politico-economic and territorial character—if they are to be insisted on.
However, as regards both the points which are of decisive importance in forming a judgment on the problem, the following must be said:
The former German Government, in our view, committed serious errors, but they are to be found in quite a different quarter from that in which a certain section of public opinion among our enemies seeks them. Above all they certainly do not lie in the direction of “premeditation” of war with any of the enemy Powers on the part of any politically responsible German statesman. Such a policy would [Page 790] moreover have received no support among the German people. It is one of the most lamentable mistakes of a section of foreign public opinion that the reprehensible and irresponsible utterances of a small group of Chauvinist writers should be mistaken for the expression of the mental attitude of the German nation, whilst, unfortunately, much larger groups in other countries pandered in at least as great a degree to Chauvinism by their utterances.
The real mistakes of German policy lay much further back. The German Chancellor who was in office in 1914 had taken over a political inheritance which either condemned as hopeless, from the very start, his unreservedly honest attempt to relieve the tension of the international situation, or else demanded therefor a degree of statesmanship and above all a strength of decision which on the one hand he did not sufficiently possess, and on the other could not make effective in the then existing conditions of German polity. It is a capital error to seek to place moral blame in quarters where in reality nervousness, weakness in face of the noisy demeanour of the above-mentioned small but unscrupulous group, and lack of ability to make quick unequivocal decisions in difficult situations brought about disaster. As regards the period of German diplomacy immediately prior to the outbreak of war, an exhaustive account will be given in a publication filling several volumes, which it has taken many months to prepare. Any one however who reads the instructions of the Imperial Chancellor during the time immediately preceding the outbreak of war must confirm the above judgment. On the strength of statements received from the Cabinet in Vienna, the German Government considered an Austrian military expedition against Serbia essential for the preservation of peace. The German Government considered itself obliged to take the risk of Russian intervention with the resultant casus foederis. She gave her Ally Austria a completely free hand as to the nature of the demands to be made by her on Serbia. When the ultimatum was followed by an answer which appeared to Germany herself sufficient to justify the abandonment of the expedition after all, she communicated this view to Vienna. But she clearly had too great confidence in the conduct of foreign affairs at that time in Vienna, and so did not act at once but only on the next day; then indeed she acted with the greatest possible energy, threatening to take the most extreme step—namely, to refuse the help due to her Ally. It is however uncertain whether a world war could have been averted even if she had acted more promptly.
As regards responsibility in the sense attached to the word in this present discussion, we must make the following point: Among the great European Powers, there existed at least one, whose policy, pursued systematically for many years before the war, could only be [Page 791] realised by an offensive war, and which therefore worked deliberately towards that end: that power was Russian Tsarism, in conjunction with the highly influential Russian circles, which had been drawn into the orbit of its policy. The documents quoted above (of which part have not yet been published) and more especially Sazonoff’s letter to Hartwig, the Minister at Belgrade, prove that the Russian Government was deliberately luring Serbia, by instructions to its representatives in Belgrade and by other means, along the path of conquest at the expense of the territorial possessions of Austria-Hungary, within which lay Serbia’s “promised land”, and had in view joint military action with this aggressive object. According to the conviction of the undersigned it is fully evident that Russia did not act thus out of disinterested friendship for Serbia, but because she was persistently pursuing the disruption of Austria-Hungary as a political aim in her own interest. Moreover, Russia’s main motive was to remove every obstacle to the extension of her power in the Balkans, and especially to the conquest of the Straits. The documents given in Appendix VI prove that she systematically pursued and prepared the forcible annexation of both the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. In so doing, she was perfectly aware that there was no one in Germany, either in the Government or among the people, who would have desired a war with Russia, for the prospects of such a war were notoriously regarded by all the military authorities with extreme scepticism, and even in the event of success no one expected any tangible advantage. On the other hand, Russia also knew that Germany was closely bound to the Danubian monarchy by historical ties, by alliance and by kinship with a large portion of the Austrian population, and that therefore in case of an attack on the possessions of the monarchy, she would have to reckon with military resistance on the part of Germany. For her purposes she therefore utilised her military alliance with France (concluded in 1892, and extended in 1912 by a naval Convention) and further alliances in order to set in action the “machinery of the Entente” and drag her friends into the long-premeditated war. The real cause of the World War lies in these facts.
We consider it to be Germany’s great misfortune, due partly to fate, partly to faults in our political leadership, that our inevitable opposition to Tsarism brought us also into opposition, and finally into warlike complications, with countries to which we were bound by strong community of intellectual interests and with which we are convinced that an understanding was possible. It should, however, be emphasised that, before the war, the French Government had never unreservedly relinquished its intention to regain possession of Alsace-Lorraine, that this purpose could be realised only by means of war, [Page 792] and that no certain means can be pointed to by which an understanding on this question with the last French Government could have been brought about before the war. On the other hand, before the war> the views of the French parties under the leadership of Jaurès, and those of the German socialists and democratic bourgeoisie were extraordinarily near akin. The possibility of the influence of these parties bringing about a peaceful compromise with Germany was, however, prevented by the fact that France was bound by her close alliance to the policy of Russian Tsarism. Official documents prove that, on occasions which might have caused a conflict between Russia and Germany, the French Government gave no advice of a nature to dissuade Russia in principle from her warlike attitude, but rather often offered counsels calculated to encourage her in maintaining it. Thus the Ambassador Iswolsky informed the Minister Sazonoff in his telegram No. 369 of 17th/18th November 1912, which had previously been read to Mr. Poincaré, that, the French President of the Council would regard as a casus foederis any support given to Austria by Germany in the Balkan war. On the 25th February, 1913. the Ambassador, Count Benckendorff, informed his government that, of all the Powers France was in his opinion the only one which would contemplate war without regret. As early as the 24th July 1914, that is to say before the rupture of relations between Austria and Serbia, the French Ambassador declared to the Russian Government that, apart from vigorous diplomatic support, France would, in case of necessity, fulfil all obligations entailed by her alliance with Russia.
In such a state of affairs it is quite impossible to deduce from the circumstance that the war against France had from a military point of view to take the form of an offensive operation, that it should also be regarded from a political point of view as a war of aggression by Germany on France. France was bound hand and foot to Tsarism.
So far as England is concerned, we cannot now exhaustively examine what steps her Governments ought, or ought not to have taken in the past to dispel the state of mutual distrust fraught with disastrous consequences which undoubtedly existed on both sides. The English Government has often declared that its attitude was dependent on the public opinion of the country. There was, however, a very strong tendency in the public opinion of that country to frustrate any understanding between Germany and France. We would recall Mr. Lloyd George’s well-known words in 1908, in which he deprecated this tendency. It was solely on account of this mutual mistrust that the Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg, and Mr. Haldane were unable to find a basis of agreement in 1912, and therein likewise lay the final reason for which the German Government found it impossible, in 1914, to accept the Conference suggested by the English Minister for [Page 793] Foreign Affairs. We admit forthwith for cur part that the ultimate extent and the spirit of German naval construction in recent years—not the fact of its accomplishment—might have aroused mistrust in England. As this mistrust was undoubtedly one of the principal causes of the strained situation in Europe, we think it regrettable that no means of removing it was found. We should have wished for a different attitude on the part of Germany on the occasion of the Hague Peace Conference and of the statement of German plans for naval construction. On the other hand, we regret that deep mistrust was fostered in Germany by well-known and frequently quoted articles in English newspapers, by the incitement and influence of the North-cliffe Press, by acts such as the refusal to codify maritime law in the English House of Lords. It is also a pity that a theory current in certain circles of all countries (in our opinion completely erroneous) regarding the alleged natural necessity for a commercial war, should have received powerful support from the work of a very capable American writer (Veblen, Theory of Business Enterprise, 1914). Thus nationalistic incitements in various countries bid each other up. In view of all this, it is especially regrettable that the opinion combated by us, to wit, that the war was prepared and waged on the part of England as a means of overthrowing a troublesome competitor, will probably be established for all time in German public opinion by the conditions of peace at present laid before us.
Germany’s position in the decade preceding the war was determined by the fact that, in a century which knew no means of avoiding war, the country could not honourably avoid the ordeal of arms with an apparently unshakable Tsarism without sacrificing not only its pledged faith, but its own national independence. The only remedy in those circumstances would have been a firm and binding alliance with England, which would have inspired both parties with confidence and protected Germany and France from any war of aggression. It has yet to be proved that such an agreement could have been concluded by an English Minister, in the face of English public opinion during the years immediately preceding the war and despite the tendencies which we have had to record above. We repeat that we would recognise the every demonstrable step taken by an English Government towards this end as a merit, and failure of a German Government to seize such an opportunity as a blunder.
Tsarism, with which any real understanding was completely impossible, constituted—until the Peace Treaty now before us—the most fearful system of individual and national slavery ever conceived. The German nation (as the whole of Social Democracy then rightly declared) only agreed to fight wholeheartedly and resolutely in 1914 in a war of defence against Tsarism. Even now, when Germany’s [Page 794] military power is destroyed forever, we consider that this war of defence was unavoidable. The moment the object of overthrowing the power of Tsarism was attained, the war lost its meaning. We should stigmatize its continuation as a criminal insanity on the part of the former Government from the moment of any clear proof that our opponents were ready to conclude with us a peace without victors or vanquished, on the basis of mutual respect of honour. So far, there is no such proof. The peace conditions presented in contradiction of solemn promises to the people of a Germany re-created on a democratic basis are so sadly eloquent in a contrary sense that if they are retained there will be no means of ever making such a proof convincing.
- Hans Delbrück
- Max Graf Montgelas
- Max Weber
- Albrecht Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
- The file translation here printed is one prepared at the Peace Conference, with some minor corrections. The German text contained in the White Book published by the German Foreign Office, June 1919, pp. 35 ff., is filed under Paris Peace Conf. 185.118/84.↩
- Appendix II (B) to CF–20, vol. v, p. 742.↩
- The documents enclosed as appendices to these observations are not printed here. They are printed as supplements in the translation of the German White Book Concerning the Responsibility of the Authors of the War published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (1924), pp. 44 ff.↩