First Days Of The War : Political And Diplomatic

AT the commencement of the war for some days I was cut off from communication with the United States; but we soon established a chain of communication, at first through Italy and later by way of Denmark. At all times cables from Washington to Berlin, or vice versa, took, on the average, two days in transmission.

After the fall of Liège, von Jagow sent for me and asked me if I would transmit through the American Legation a proposition offering Belgium peace and indemnity if no further opposition were made to the passage of German troops through Belgium. As the proposition was a proposition for peace, I took the responsibility of forwarding it and sent the note of the German Government to our Minister at the Hague for transmission to our Minister in Belgium.

Dr. Van Dyke, our Minister at the Hague, refused to have anything to do with the transmission of this proposition and turned the German note over to the Holland Minister for Foreign Affairs, and through this channel the proposition reached the Belgian Government.

The State Department cabled me a message from the President to the Emperor which stated that the United States stood ready at any time to mediate between the warring powers, and directed me to present this proposition direct to the Emperor.

I, therefore, asked for an audience with the Emperor and received word from the chief Court Marshal that the Emperor would receive me at the palace in Berlin on the morning of August tenth. I drove in a motor into the courtyard of the palace and was there escorted to the door which opened on a flight of steps leading to a little garden about fifty yards square, directly on the embankment of the River Spree, which flows past the Royal Palace. As I went down the steps, the Empress and her only daughter, the Duchess of Brunswick, came up. Both stopped and shook hands with me, speaking a few words. I found the Emperor seated at a green iron table under a large canvas garden umbrella. Telegraph forms were scattered on the table in front of him and basking in the gravel were two small dachshunds. I explained to the Emperor the object of my visit and we had a general conversation about the war and the state of affairs. The Emperor took some of the large telegraph blanks and wrote out in pencil his reply to the President’s offer.* This reply, of course, I cabled immediately to the State Department.

For the President of the United States personally:

1. H. R. H. Prince Henry was received by his Majesty King George V in London, who empowered him to transmit to me verbally, that England would remain neutral if war broke out on the Continent involving Germany and France, Austria and Russia. This message was telegraphed to me by my brother from London after his conversation with H. M. the King, and repeated verbally on the twenty-ninth of July.

2. My Ambassador in London transmitted a message from Sir E. Grey to Berlin saying that only in case France was likely to be crushed England would interfere.

3. On the thirtieth my Ambassador in London reported that Sir Edward Grey in course of a “private” conversation told him that if the conflict remained localized between Russia not Serbia and Austria, England would not move, but if we “mixed” in the fray she would take quick decisions and grave measures; i. e., if I left my ally Austria in the lurch to fight alone England would not touch me.

4. This communication being directly counter to the King’s message to me, I telegraphed to H. M. on the twenty-ninth or thirtieth, thanking him for kind messages through my brother and begging him to use all his power to keep France and Russia his Allies from making any war-like preparations calculated to disturb my work of mediation, stating that I was in constant communication with H. M. the Czar. In the evening the King kindly answered that he had ordered his Government to use every possible influence with his Allies to refrain from taking any provocative military measures. At the same time H. M. asked me if I would transmit to Vienna the British proposal that Austria was to take Belgrade and a few other Serbian towns and a strip of country as a “main-mise” to make sure that the Serbian promises on paper should be fulfilled in reality. This proposal was in the same moment telegraphed to me from Vienna for London, quite in conjunction with the British proposal; besides, I had telegraphed to H. M. the Czar the same as an idea of mine, before I received the two communications from Vienna and London, as both were of the same oponion.

5. I immediately transmitted the telegrams vice versa to Vienna and London. I felt that I was able to tide the question over and was happy at the peaceful outlook.

6. While I was preparing a note to H. M. the Czar the next morning, to inform him that Vienna, London and Berlin were agreed about the treatment of affairs, I received the telephones from H. E. the Chancellor that in the night before the Czar had given the order to mobilize the whole of the Russian army, which was, of course, also meant against Germany; whereas up till then the southern armies had been mobilized against Austria.

7. In a telegram from London my Ambassador informed me he understood the British Government would guarantee neutrality of France and wished to know whether Germany would refrain from attack. I telegraphed to H. M. the King personally that mobilization being already carried out could not be stopped, but if H. M. could guarantee with his armed forces the neutrality of France I would refrain from attacking her, leave her alone and employ my troops elsewhere. H. M. answered that he thought my offer was based on a misunderstanding; and, as far as I can make out, Sir E. Grey never took my offer into serious consideration. He never answered it. Instead, he declared England had to de-fend Belgian neutrality, which had to be violated by Germany on strategical grounds, news having been received that France was already preparing to enter Belgium, and the King of Belgians having refused my petition for a free passage under guarantee of his country’s freedom. I am most grateful for the President’s message.

WILLIAM, H. R.

When the German Emperor in my presence indited his letter to President Wilson of August tenth, 1914, he asked that I cable it immediately to the State Department and that I simultaneously give it to the press. As I have already stated, I cabled the document immediately to the State Department at Washington, but I withheld it from publication.

My interview with the Emperor was in the morning. That afternoon a man holding a high position in Germany sent for me. I do not give his name because I do not wish to involve him in any way with the Emperor, so I shall not even indicate whether he is a royalty or an official. He said:

“You had an interview today with the Emperor. What happened?”

I told of the message given me for the President which was intended for publication by the Emperor. He said:

“I think you ought to show that message to me; you know the Emperor is a constitutional Emperor and there was once a great row about such a message.”

I showed him the message, and when he had read it he said: “I think it would be inadvisable for us to have this message published, and in the interest of good feeling between Germany and America. If you cable it ask that publication be withheld.”

I complied with his request and it is characteristic of the President’s desire to preserve good relations that publication was withheld. Now, when the two countries are at war; when the whole world, and especially our own country, has an interest in knowing how this great calamity of universal war came to the earth, the time has come when this message should be given out and I have published it by permission.

This most interesting document in the first place clears up one issue never really obscure in the eyes of the world the deliberate violation of the neutrality of Belgium, whose territory “had to be violated by Germany on strategical grounds.” The very weak excuse is added that “news had been received that France was already preparing to enter Belgium,” not even a pretense that there had ever been any actual violation of Belgium’s frontier by the French prior to the German invasion of that unfortunate country. Of course the second excuse that the King of the Belgians had refused entrance to the Emperor’s troops under guarantee of his country’s freedom is even weaker than the first. It would indeed inaugurate a new era in the intercourse of nations if a small nation could only preserve its freedom by at all times, on request, granting free passage to the troops of a powerful neighbour on the march to attack an adjoining country.

And aside from the violation of Belgian neutrality, what would have become of Great Britain and of the world if the Prussian autocracy had been left free to defeat one by one the nations of the earth? First, the defeat of Russia and Serbia by Austria and Germany, the incorporation of a large part of Russia in the German Empire, German influence predominant in Russia and all the vast resources of that great Empire at the command of Germany. All the fleets in the world could uselessly blockade the German coasts if Germany possessed the limitless riches of the Empire of the Romanoffs.

The German army drawing for reserves on the teeming populations of Russia and Serbia would never know defeat. And this is not idle conjecture, mere dreaming in the realm of possibilities, because the Russian revolution has shown us how weak and tottering in reality was the dreaded power of the Czar.

Russia, beaten and half digested, France would have been an easy prey, and Great Britain, even if then joining France in war, would have a far different problem to face if the U-boats were now sailing from Cherbourg and Calais and Brest and Bordeaux on the mission of piracy and murder, and then would come our turn and that of Latin America. The first attack would come not on us, but on South of Central America at some point to which it would be as difficult for us to send troops to help our neighbor as it would be for Germany to attack.

Remember that in Southern Brazil nearly four hundred thousand Germans are sustained, as I found out, in their devotion to the Fatherland by annual grants of money for educational purposes from the Imperial treasury in Berlin.

It was not without reason that at this interview, when the Kaiser wrote this message to the President, he said that the coming in of Great Britain had changed the whole situation and would make the war a long one. The Kaiser talked rather despondently about the war. I tried to cheer him up by saying the German troops would soon enter Paris, but he answered, “The British change the whole situation an obstinate nation they will keep up the war. It cannot end soon.”

It was the entry of Great Britain into the war, in de-fence of the rights of small nations, in defence of the guaranteed neutrality of Belgium, which saved the world from the harsh dominion of the conquest-hungry Prussians and therefore saved as well the two Americas and their protecting doctrine of President Monroe.

The document, which is dated August tenth, 1914, supersedes the statement made by the German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in his speech before the Reichstag on August fourth, 1914, in which he gave the then official account of the entrance into the war of the Central Empires. It will be noted that von Bethmann-Hollweg insisted that France began the war in the sentence reading: “There were bomb-throwing fliers, cavalry patrols, invading companies in the Reichsland (Alsace-Lorraine) . Thereby France, although the condition of war had not yet been declared, had attacked our territory.” But the Emperor makes no mention of this fact, of supreme importance if true, in his writing to President Wilson six days later.

Quite curiously, at this time there was a belief on the part of the Germans that japan would declare war on the Allies and range herself on the side of the Central Powers. In fact on one night there was a friendly demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy, but these hopes were soon dispelled by the ultimatum of Japan sent on the sixteenth of August, and, finally, by the declaration of war on August twenty-third.

During the first days of the war the warring powers indulged in mutual recriminations as to the use of dum-dum bullets and I was given several packages of cartridges containing bullets bored out at the top which the Germans said had been found in the French fortress of Longwy, with a request that I send an account of them to President Wilson and ask for his intervention in the matter. Very wisely President Wilson refused to do anything of the kind, as otherwise he would have been deluged with constant complaints from both sides as to the violations of the rules of war.

The cartridges given to me were in packages marked on the outside “Cartouches de Stand” and from this I took it that possibly these cartridges had been used on some shooting range near the fort and the bullets bored out in order that they might not go too far, if carelessly fired over the targets.

On August fifth, with our Naval Attaché, Commander Walter Gherardi, I called upon von Tirpitz, to learn from him which ports be considered safest for the ships to be sent from America with gold for stranded Americans. He recommended Rotterdam.

I also had a conversation on this day with Geheimrat Letze of the Foreign Office with reference to the proposition that British and German ships respectively should have a delay of until the fourteenth of August in which to leave the British or German ports in which they chanced to be.

The second week in August, my wife’s sister and her husband, Count Sigray, arrived in Berlin. Count Sigray is a reserve officer of the Hungarian Hussars and was in Montana when the first rumours of war came. He and his wife immediately started for New York and sailed on the fourth of August. They landed in England, and as Great Britain had not yet declared war on Austria, they were able to proceed on their journey. With them were Count George Festetics and Count Cziraki, the former from the Austrian Embassy in London and the latter from that in Washington. They were all naturally very much excited about war and the events of their trip.

The Hungarians as a people are quite like Americans: They have agreeable manners and are able to laugh in a natural way, something which seems to be a lost art in Prussia. Nearly all the members of Hungarian noble families speak English perfectly and model their clothes, sports and country life, as far as possible, after the British.

The thirteenth saw the departure of our first special train containing Americans bound for Holland. I saw the Americans off at the Charlottenburg station. They all departed in great spirits and very glad of an opportunity to leave Germany.

I had some negotiations about the purchase by America or Americans of the ships of the North German Lloyd, but nothing came of these negotiations. Trainloads of Americans continued to leave, but there seemed to be no end to the Americans coming into Berlin from all directions.

On August twenty-ninth, Count Szoegyeny, the Austrian Ambassador, left Berlin. He had been Ambassador there for twenty-two years and I suppose because of his advancing years the Austrian Government thought that he had outlived his usefulness. Quite a crowd of Germans and diplomats were at the station to witness the rather sad farewell. His successor was Prince Hohenlohe, married to a daughter of Archduke Frederick. She expressly waived her right to precedence as a royal highness, and agreed to take only the precedence given to her as the wife of the Ambassador, in order not to cause feeling in Berlin. Prince Hohenlohe, a rather easy-going man, who had been most popular in Russia and Austria, immediately made a favourable impression in Berlin and successfully occupied the difficult position of mediator between the governments of Berlin and Vienna.

On September fourth von Bethmann-Hollweg gave me a statement to give to the reporters in which he attacked Great Britain, claiming that Great Britain did not desire the friendship of Germany but was moved by commercial jealousy and a desire to crush her; that the efforts made for peace had failed because Russia, under all circumstances, was resolved upon war; and that Germany had entered Belgium in order to forestall the planned French advance. He also claimed that Great Britain, regardless of consequences to the white race, had excited Japan to a pillaging expedition, and claimed that Belgian girls and women had gouged out the eyes of the wounded; that officers had been invited to dinner and shot across the table; and that Belgian women had cut the throats of soldiers quartered in their houses while they were asleep. The Chancellor concluded by saying, in this statement, that every one knows that the German people is not capable of unnecessary cruelty or of any brutality.

We were fully occupied with taking care of the British prisoners and interests, the Americans, and negotiations relating to commercial questions, and to getting goods required in the United States out of Germany, when, on October seventh, a most unpleasant incident, and one which for some time caused the members of our Embassy to feel rather bitterly toward the German Foreign office, took place.

A great number of British civilians, men and women, were stranded in Berlin. To many of these were paid sums of money in the form of small allowances on behalf of the British Government. In order to facilitate this work, we placed the clerks employed in this distribution in the building formerly occupied, by the British Consul in Berlin. Of course, the great crowds of Americans resorting to our Embassy, when combined with the crowds of British, made it almost impossible even to enter the Embassy, and establishment of this outlying relief station materially helped this situation. I occupied it, and employed British men and British women in this relief work by the express permission of the Imperial Foreign Office, which I thought it wise to obtain in view of the fact that the Germans seemed daily to become more irritable and suspicious, especially after the Battle of the Marne.

On the night of October second, our Second Secretary, Harvey, went to this relief headquarters at about twelve o’clock at night, and was witness to a raid made by the Berlin police on this establishment of ours. The men and women working were arrested, and all books and papers which the police could get at were seized by them. The next morning I went around to the place and on talking with the criminal detectives in charge, was told by them that they had made the raid by the orders of the Foreign Office. When I spoke to the Foreign Office about this, they denied that they had given directions for the raid and made a sort of half apology. The raid was all the more unjustified because only the day before I had had a conversation with the Adjutant of the Berlin Kommandantur and told him that, although I had permission from the Foreign Office, I thought it would be better to dismiss the British employed and employ only Americans or Germans; and I sent round to my friend, Herr von Gwinner, head of the Deutsche Bank, and asked him to recommend some German accountants to me.

The Kommandantur is the direct office of military control. When the Adjutant heard of the raid he was almost as indignant as I was, and on the tenth of October in-formed me that he had learned that the raid had been made on the joint orders of the Foreign Office and von Tirpitz’s department.

The books and papers of an Embassy, including those relating to the affairs of foreign nations temporarily in the Embassy’s care, are universally recognised in inter-national law as not subject to seizure, nor did the fact that I was carrying on this work outside the actual Embassy building have any bearing on this point so long as the building was directly under my control and, especially, as the only work carried on was work properly in my hands in my official capacity. The Foreign Office saw that they had made a mistake, but at Zimmermann’s earnest request I agreed, as it were, to forget the incident. Later on, this precedent might have been used by our government had they desired to press the matter of the seizure of von Igel’s papers. Von Igel, it will be remembered, was carrying on business of a private nature in a private office hired by him. Nevertheless, as he had been employed in some capacity in the German Embassy at Washington, Count von BernStorff claimed immunity from seizure for the papers found in that office.

On August sixteenth the Kaiser left Berlin for the front. I wrote to his master of the household, saying that I should like an opportunity to be at the railway station to say good-bye to the Emperor, but was put off on various excuses. Thereafter the Emperor practically abandoned. Berlin and lived either in Silesia, at Pless, or at some place near the Western front.

At first, following the precedent of the war of 1870, the more important members of the government followed the Kaiser to the front, even the Chancellor and the Minister of Foreign Affairs abandoning their offices in Berlin. Not long afterwards, when it was apparent that the war must be carried on on several fronts and that it was not going to be the matter of a few weeks which the Germans had first supposed, these officials returned to their offices in Berlin. In the meantime, however, much confusion had been caused by this rather ridiculous effort to follow the customs of the war of 1870.

When von Jagow, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was absent at the Great General Headquarters, the diplomats remaining behind conducted their negotiations with Zimmermann, who in turn had to transmit everything to the Great General Headquarters.

In August, there were apparently rumours afloat in countries outside of Germany that prominent Socialists at the outbreak of the war had been shot. The State Department cabled me to find out whether there was any truth in these rumours, with particular reference to Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.

Liebknecht is a lawyer practicing in Berlin and so I telephoned him, asking him to come and see me. He did so, and, of course, by his presence verified the fact that he had not been executed. He told me that the rumours as to the treatment of the Socialists were entirely unfounded and said that he had no objection to my cabling a statement that the Socialists were opposed to Czarismus and that he personally had confidence in the German army and the cause of the German people.

Many people confuse Liebknecht with his father, now dead. Liebknecht, the son, is a man of perhaps forty-three years, with dark bushy hair and moustache and wearing eye-glasses, a man of medium height and not at all of strong build. In the numerous interruptions made by him during the debates in the Reichstag, during the first year of the war, his voice sounded high and shrill. Of course, any one who defies the heavy hand of autocracy must suffer from nervousness. We all knew that sooner of later autocracy would “get” Liebknecht, and its opportunity came when he appeared in citizen’s clothes at an attempted mass-meeting at the Potsdamerplatz. For the offence of appearing out of uniform after being called and mobolized, and for alleged incitement of the people, he was condemned for a long term of imprisonment. One can but admire his courage. I believe that he earns his living by the practice of law before one of the minor courts. It is hard to say just what rôle he will play in the future. It is probable that when the Socialists settle down after the war and think things over, they will consider that the leadership of Scheidemann has been too conservative; that he submitted too readily to the powers of autocracy and too easily abandoned the program of the Socialists. In this case, Liebknecht perhaps will be made leader of the Socialists, and it is within the bounds of probability that Scheidemann and certain of his party may become Liberals rather than Socialists.