POLITICAL prophecies are a futile game. They are generally irrelevant, and when, perchance, they turn out to be true, nobody listens to them, and people are only wise after the event.
In the beginning of 1792 William Pitt declared that the relations between Britain and France had never been more cordial. Within a few months Great Britain entered upon a war which was to last for twenty-three years. In the beginning of 187o the Prime Minister of Napoleon III, Emile Ollivier, declared that the peace of Europe had never been more secure. Before three months were over France was dragged into the most disastrous and most humiliating war in her national history.
Even so, at the beginning of 1914 the international horizon was cloudless to the outside observer. The relations between Germany and Great Britain were eminently satisfactory. It is true that the conscientious student of con-temporary history was perhaps less reassured. As recently as December 1912 I had written a book on the Anglo-German Problem of which the very first sentence stated that ” Europe is drifting slowly but steadily towards an awful catastrophe, which, if it does happen, will throw back civilization for the coming generation, as the war of 187o threw back civilization for the generation which followed and which inherited its dire legacy of evil.” I tried in that book to analyse the permanent causes of misunderstanding and friction between the two nations–I tried further to prove that the opposition between the two countries really amounted to a fundamental opposition of principles. I tried to prove that Germany was committed to a militarist policy, which sooner or later must result in a catastrophe. ” Alas ! the misunderstandings between England and Germany are not superficial, but deep-seated. They do not merely involve questions of commercial interests, but they are rooted in a conflict of principles and ideals. If a war between the two countries did break out, it would not be merely an economic war, like the colonial wars between France and England in the eighteenth century ; rather would it partake of the nature of a political and religious crusade, like the French wars of the Revolution and the Empire. The present conflict between England and Germany is the old conflict between Liberalism and despotism, between industrialism and militarism, between progress and reaction, between the masses and the classes. The conflict between England and Germany is a conflict, on the one hand, between a nation which believes in political liberty and national autonomy, where the Press is free and where the rulers are responsible to public opinion, and, on the other hand, a nation where public opinion is still muzzled or powerless and where the masses are still under the heel of an absolute Government, a reactionary party, a military Junkerdum, and a despotic bureaucracy.
” The root of the evil lies in the fact that in Germany the war spirit and the war caste still prevail, and that a military Power like Prussia is the predominant partner in the German Confederation. The mischievous masterpiece of Carlyle on Frederick the Great, and his more mischievous letter to the Times, have misled English opinion as to the true character and traditions and aims of the Prussian monarchy. Prussia has been pre-eminently for two hundred years the military and reactionary State of Central Europe, much more so even than Russia. Prussia owes whatever she is and whatever territory she has to a systematic policy of cunning and deceit, violence and conquest. No doubt she has achieved an admirable work of organization at home, and has fulfilled what was perhaps a necessary historic mission, but in her inter-national_ relations she has been mainly a predatory Power. She has stolen her eastern provinces from Poland. She is largely responsible for the murder of a great civilized nation. She has wrested Silesia from Austria. She has taken Hanover from its legitimate rulers. She has taken Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark, Alsace-Lorraine from France. And to-day the military caste in Prussia trust and hope that a final conflict with England will consummate what previous wars have so successfully accomplished in the past. They are all the more anxious to enter the lists and to run the hazards of war because it becomes more and more difficult to govern a divided Reichstag and a dissatisfied people without uniting them against a foreign enemy, and because they realize that unless they restore their prestige and consolidate their power by a signal victory the days of their predominance are numbered.”
My book was declared a ” mischievous ” production. People were determined that because England was peaceful, therefore Germany must be peaceful also. Nobody listened to my prophecies. My book had only a very moderate measure of success. To-day everybody is reading it when it has failed in its object and when it has become little more than a literary curiosity.
Certainly in 1913 and 1914 events did not seem to indicate the impending calamity against which I was warning my readers. Yet with all the attempts at conciliation of Anglo-German friendship societies, with all the pacific missions of Lord Haldane, the calamity has taken place. The storm has burst out over Europe and has dragged the civilized world into a war compared with which even the wars of Napoleon fade into insignificance.
IT has been said that this appalling tragedy has been the result of a mere accident. Had it not been for the shot fired by a fanatic Serbian student there would have been no war. It would almost be as true to say that if in 1870 Prince Napoleon had not fired at Victor Noir there would have been no Franco-German War. Alas ! the Bosnian murder was only a pretext. Any other pretext would have done equally well. The war was inevitable. Only one Power could have averted it, and that Power was deter-mined to have it. She did everything to bring war about. Austria could have been held back by Germany even as Russia was kept back by France and England. Neither France nor Great Britain wanted to be dragged in. Serbia, which had only just recovered from a bloody struggle, made every concession to an impossible ultimatum. She submitted to every Austrian demand, even the most humiliating, except to the one demand which was incompatible with her existence as an independent State. In the words of Luther, Serbia ” could do no other.” Austria, egged on by Germany, refused to with-draw her monstrous demands and declared war on the little Balkan State. Russia could not leave Serbia in the lurch. But, even at the eleventh hour, Russia would have welcomed any pressure from without, any offer of mediation. Germany, which all the time had been directing Austrian policy, refused to allow such mediation. Whereas France and Britain stood behind Russia only to moderate her, Germany stood behind Austria to excite her.
THE Serbian tragedy then was only the thinnest pretext. From a hundred convergent proofs it is now abundantly clear that Germany had been preparing for years. The feverish haste of her warlike preparations, the new military law, the constant rattling of the sword, the countless incidents which she was persistently raising, are evidence that Germany meant to strike a blow at the earliest moment, and that she was determined to strike that blow through Belgium. The Belgian invasion had been decided upon years ago. The building of German strategic railways on the Belgian frontier would in itself be sufficient proof. Those railways were not justified by any traffic on the southern frontier of the province of Liége. Their only raison d’être was a prospective invasion of Belgium. Their only purpose was to throw, at the shortest notice, hundreds of thousands of German troops into Belgium.
Through the Treaty of Bucharest Germany and Austria had sustained a vital blow in the Balkan Peninsula. For twenty-five years they had obeyed the Drang nach Osten the attraction to the East. Now the way to the East was blocked. Austria and Germany had to divert their ambition to the West. Their line of advance had to be shifted from Salonica to Antwerp and Rotterdam.
On the other hand, whereas there was an imperative necessity for an aggressive move, the opportunity for such a move seemed highly favourable. France was in the throes of an internal convulsion. The Caillaux drama had revealed profound divisions in the Government. The revelations of Senator Humbert had revealed lamentable deficiencies in the military organization. Russia was only slowly recovering from the war of 1905 and was also shaken by civil strife. But, most important of all, Great Britain was paralysed by the Irish controversy and, even more than France or Russia, was threatened by civil war.
Germany thought her day had come. If she waited any longer to strike, the French Army and the Belgian Army might be reorganized by the New Military Law. Russia might have time to recover, and the Slav powers in the Balkans might strengthen their position against Austria. And finally, the Irish question might be settled. Not a moment was to be lost. War had to be forced upon the Dual Alliance. To use the cynical expression of von Bernhardi, the “cards had to be shuffled” to precipitate the war.
THE cards were shuffled, but they were shuffled so clumsily that before Germany and Austria had sent their first army corps into the field they had lost all their trump cards. Germany may have retained the efficiency of her military machine. In diplomacy she had muddled hopelessly, and the reason is not far to seek. It is the penalty of a State which only believes in force that its diplomacy is doomed to impotence. For the essence of diplomacy is the substitution of persuasion for force. Unfortunately, when you believe in brute force you do not think it necessary to resort to persuasion. From the beginning of the negotiations Germany did appeal to force, proved intractable, and whenever she did not have her way she rattled her sword as she had done for forty years.
A few weeks before the war I had the privilege of a memorable interview with M. Paul Cambon, French Ambassador to England which I published in Everyman, and in which I examined the reasons of the diplomatic failure of Germany. Little did I anticipate how completely, after a few days, events would bear out M. Paul Cambon’s analysis and proclaim to the whole world the tragic isolation of Germany. I repeated in my interview the words of Maximilian Harden, Uns lebt kein Freund auf der weiten Erde. In the most decisive crisis of their national history Germany and Austria found themselves without a friend without a single ally except the unspeakable Turk.
But not only did Germany in her foreign policy fail in securing a single ally, she failed also in miscalculating all the forces opposed to her. She left out of account the incalculable and imponderable forces of the spirit.
The Germans assumed that Great Britain would not help France. Great Britain did help France.
They assumed that Great Britain would be paralysed by the Irish question. At the first menace of war all British parties forgot their differences.
They assumed that India and South Africa would be disloyal. India and South Africa rallied round the Throne.
They assumed that Great Britain would only send a negligible Expeditionary Force. Before the end of the war Great Britain will have sent two million soldiers.
They assumed that small nationalities like Serbia and Belgium did not count. From those small nationalities Germany and Austria received their most formidable checks.
They assumed that Austria could walk over Serbia. It was Serbia which invaded Austria.
They assumed that Germany would overcome Belgian opposition in twenty-four hours. Belgium resisted the onslaught. After two months her opposition is not overcome.