IN 1913-1914 occurred a series of events known as the “Zabern Affair,” which to my mind decided the “system” the military autocracy for a speedy war. In this affair the German people appeared at last to be opening their eyes, to recover in some degree from the panic fear of their neighbours which had made them submit to the arrogance and exactions of the military caste and to be almost ready to demilitarise themselves, a thing abhorrent to the upholders of caste, the system, the army and the Hohenzollerns.
This writing on the wall these letters forming the word “Zabern” the actions of the Social Democrats and their growing boldness, all were warnings to the autocracy of its waning power, and impelled that autocracy towards war as a bloodletting cure for popular discontent.
Prussia, which has imposed its will, as well as its methods of thought and life on all the rest of Germany, is undoubtedly a military nation.
More than one hundred and twenty-five years ago Mirabeau, the great French orator at the commencement of the Revolution, said, “War is the national industry of Prussia.” Later, Napoleon remarked that Prussia “was hatched from a cannon ball,” and shortly before the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 the French military attache, in reporting to his government, wrote that “other countries possessed an army, but in Prussia the army possessed the country.”
In practice the class of nobles in Prussia owns the army. Officers may enter the army in two ways, either by enlisting in the regiment, first as private and then being rapidly promoted to the position of non-commissioned officer, and then. probationary ensign, or avantageur; or the young aspirant may come directly from a two years’ course in one of the cadet schools and enter the regiment as probationary ensign. In both cases the young officer is observed by the officers during a period of probation and can become an officer of that regiment only by the consent of the regimental officers. In other words, each regiment is like a club, the officers having the right of black-ball.
This system has practically confined the professional officers to a class of nobles. It is not at all unusual to find in a regiment officers whose ancestors were officers of the same regiment two hundred years or more ago.
In addition to these officers who make the army their career, a certain number of Germans, after undergoing an enlistment in the army of one year and two periods of training thereafter, are made reserve officers. These reserve officers are called to the colours for manoeuvres and also, of course, when the whole nation is arrayed in war. These reserve officers seldom attain a rank higher than that of captain. They may, however, while exercising civil functions, be promoted, and in this manner the Chancellor, while occupying civil positions, has gradually been promoted to the rank of General and von Jagow, during the war, to the rank of Major. As a rule reserve officers are the one-yearers, or Einjahriger, who, because they have attained a certain standard of education, serve only one year with the army instead of the two required from others. The Bavarian army is in a sense independent of Prussia, but is modelled on the same system.
For years officers of the army, both in the discharge of their duties and outside, have behaved in a very arrogant way toward the civil population. Time and again, while I was in Germany waiting in line at some ticket office, an officer has shoved himself ahead of all others without even a protest from those waiting. On one occasion, I went to the races in Berlin with my brother-in-law and bought a box. While we were out looking at the horses between the races, a Prussian officer and his wife seated themselves in our box. I called the attention of one of the ushers to this, but the usher said that he did not dare ask a Prussian officer to leave, and it was only after sending for the head usher and showing him my Jockey Club badge and my pass as Ambassador, that I was able to secure possession of my own box.
There have been many instances in Germany where officers having a slight dispute with civilians have in stantly cut the civilian down. Instances of this kind and the harsh treatment of the Germans by officers and under officers, while serving in the army, undoubtedly created in Germany a spirit of antagonism not only to the army itself but to the whole military system of Prussia. Affairs were brought to a head by the so-called Zabern Affair. In this affair the internal antagonism between the civil population and professional soldiers, which had assumed great proportions in a period of long peace, seemed to reach its climax. Of course this antagonism had increased with the increase in 1913-14 of the effective strength of the standing army, bringing a material increase in the numbers of officers and non-commissioned officers who represent military professionalism.
The Imperial Provinces or Reichsland, as Alsace and Lorraine are called, had been in a peculiar position within the body politic of Germany since their annexation in 187o. The Reichsland, as indicated by its name, was to be considered as common property of the German Empire and was not annexed to any one German State.
Its government is by an Imperial Viceroy, with a kind of cabinet consisting of one Secretary of State, Civil and Under Secretaries and Department heads, assisted by a legislative body of two chambers, one elected by popular vote and the other consisting of members partly elected by municipal bodies, universities, churches and so forth, and partly appointed by the Imperial Government. The Viceroy and his cabinet are appointed by the Emperor in his capacity of the sovereign of the Reichsland. Until the thirty-first of May, 1911, the Reichsland had no constitution of its own, the form of its government being regulated by the Reichstag and Federal Council (Bundesrat) in about the same way as the territories of the United States are ruled by Congress and the President. In 191 I, Alsace-Lorraine received a constitution which gave it representation in the Federal Council, representation in the Reichstag having already been granted as early as 1871. The sympathy of Alsace-Lorraine for France had been increased by the policy of several of the German viceroys, von Manteuffel, Prince Hohenlohe, Prince Munster and Count Wedel, who had, in their ad-ministrations, alternated severe measures with great leniency and had not improved conditions, so that the population, essentially South German, was undoubtedly irritated by the tone and manner of the North German officials.
Great industries had been developed by the Imperial Government, especially textile and coal mining, and the industrial population centering in Mülhausen was hotly and thoroughly Social Democratic. The upper or well-to-do classes were tied to France by family connections and by religion. The bourgeois remained mildly anti-German, more properly speaking, anti-government, for similar reasons, and the working men were opposed to the government on social and economic grounds. The farming population, not troubling much about the politics, but being affected by the campaign of the nationalistic press, were in sympathy with France; so the atmosphere was well prepared for the coming storm.
Zabern, or in French, Saverne, is a little town of between eight and nine thousand inhabitants, beautifully situated at the foot of the Vosges Mountains on the banks of the Rhine-Marne Canal. Its garrison comprised the staff and two battalions of Infantry Regiment, Number Ninety-nine, commanded by von Reuter, and among its officers was a Lieutenant von Forstner, a young man only twenty years old, whose boyish appearance had excited the school children and boys working in nearby iron factories to ridicule him. It became known that this young officer, while instructing his men, had insulted the French flag and had called the Alsatian recruits Wackes, a nick-name meaning “square-head,” and frequently used by the people of Alsace-Lorraine in a jocular way, but hotly resented by them if used towards them by others. It was further reported that he had promised his men a reward of ten marks if one of them, in case of trouble, should bring down a Social Democrat. Forstner had told his men to beware, and warned them against listening to French foreign agents, whom the Germans claimed were inducing French soldiers to desert in order to join the French legion. It is probable that Forstner, in talking to his men of the French Foreign Legion, used language offensive to French ears. He admitted that he had used the word Wackes in defiance of an order of the commanding general, and for this he had been punished with several days’ confinement in a military prison. Lieutenant von Forstner, who was ordered to instruct his squad about the regulations in case of trouble with the civil population, claimed that he had only added to the usual instructions a statement that every true soldier should do his best to suppress any disturbances and that he, Forstner, would give a special reward to any of his men who would arrest one of “those damned Social Democrats.”
Reports of the acts of Forstner and other officers were rapidly spread among the population. The two news-papers of Zabern published articles. The excitement grew, and there were demonstrations against the officials and especially against Forstner. Finally, conditions became so bad that Colonel von Reuter requested the head of the local civil administration, Director Mahler, to restore order, stating that he would take the matter into his own hands if order was not restored. The director, a native of a small village near Zabern, replied coolly that he saw no necessity for interfering with peace loving and law abiding people. On November twenty-ninth, 1913, a large crowd assembled in front of the barracks. Colonel von Reuter ordered Lieutenant Schad, commanding the Guard as officer of the day, to disperse the crowd. Accordingly Lieutenant Schad called the Guard to arms and three times summoned the crowd to disperse and go home. The soldiers charged and drove the multitude across the Square and into a side street and arrested about fifteen persons, among them the President, two Judges and the State Attorney of the Zabern Supreme Court, who had just come out from the court building and who were caught in the crowd. They were subsequently released. The rest of the persons arrested were kept in the cellar of the barracks over night.
The report of these occurrences caused immense excitement throughout Germany. A great outcry went up against militarism, even in quarters where no socialistic tendencies existed. This feeling was not helped by the fact that the General commanding the fifteenth army to which the Zabern regiment belonged was an exponent of extreme militaristic ideas; a man, who several years before, as Colonel of the Colonial troops, representing the war ministry before the Reichstag and debating there the question of the number of troops to be kept in German South West Africa, had most clearly shown his contempt for the Reichstag.
Colonel von Reuter and Lieutenant Schad, when court-martialled for their acts in ordering the troops to move against the civil population, claimed the benefit of a Prussian law of 182o, which provided that in any city, town or village, the highest military officer in command must assume the authority, usually vested in the civil government, whenever for any reason the civil administration neglects to keep order. The Colonel and Lieutenant were subsequently acquitted on the ground that they had acted under the provisions of this law.
The excitement throughout Germany was further in-creased by other circumstances. The Emperor remained during these critical days at Donaueschingen, the princely estate of his friend and favourite, Prince Furstenberg, enjoying himself with fox-hunting, torch-light processions and cabaret performances. Of course, all this had been arranged long before any one dreamed of any trouble in Zabern, and the Emperor could scarcely be expected to realise the gravity of the situation which suddenly arose. But this very fact created a bad impression. It was even rumoured that the Empress, alarmed by the situation, had ordered a train to be made ready in order to go to him and try to convince him of the necessity of returning to Berlin.
The newly appointed minister of war, Falkenhayn, went to Donaueschingen, where he was joined by von Deimling. This action aggravated the situation, because the public concluded that the Emperor would hear the advice and report of military officers only. The sudden death, by heart failure, of the Emperor’s closest friend, von Hulsen, chief of the Emperor’s Military Cabinet, during a banquet at Donaueschingen, gave the rapidly developing events a tragic and mysterious colouring, and these conferences in Donaueschingen resulted in the tendering of their resignations by the Viceroy, von Wedel, and Secretary of State Zorn von Bulach, Viceroy and Secretary of State of Alsace-Lorraine, who felt that the military party had gained an upper hand in the conflict with the civil authorities. The Chancellor then hurried to Donaueschingen, arriving a few hours before the departure of the Emperor, and a subsequent order of the Emperor to General von Deimling to see to it that the military officers did not overstep their authority and directing him to investigate the occurrences and take measures to punish all guilty parties, somewhat quieted the nation and caused the two highest civil officials of Alsace Lorraine to withdraw their resignations.
Zabern, where a brigadier-general had been sent by von Deimling to restore civil government, had begun to quiet down. But the Chancellor had hardly returned to Berlin when another incident stirred Germany. While practising field service in the neighbourhood of Zabern and marching through a village, Lieutenant von Forstner had an altercation with a lame shoemaker and cut him down. This brutal act of militarism caused a new outburst throughout Germany. Forstner was tried by a court martial for hitting and wounding an unarmed civilian, and sentenced by the lower court to one year’s imprisonment, but acquitted by the higher court as having acted in “supposed Self defence.”
No less than three parties, the Centrum, the Progressives and the Social Democrats, addressed interpellations to the Chancellor about this occurrence at Zabern. I was present at the debate in the Reichstag, which took place on the fourth, fifth and sixth of December, 1913. Three South Germans, a member of the Centrum, Hauss, a Progressive named Roser, and the Socialist deputy from Mülhausen in Alsace, Peirotes, commenced by moving and seconding the interpellation and related in vehement language the occurrences at Zabern. The Chancellor replied in defence of the government. Unfortunately he had that morning received family news of a most unpleasant character, which added to his nervousness. He spoke with a low voice and looked like a downhearted and sick man. It was whispered afterwards in the lobbies that he had forgotten the most important part of his speech. The unfavourable impression which he made was increased by von Falkenhayn, appearing for the first time before the Reichstag. If the Reichstag members had been disappointed by the Chancellor, they were stirred to the highest pitch of bitterness by the speech of the War Minister. In a sharp, commanding voice he told them that the military officers had only done their duty, that they would not be swerved from their path by press agents or hysterical individuals, that Forstner was a very young officer who had been severely punished, but that this kind of courageous young officer was the kind that the country needed, etc. Immediately after this speech the Progressive party moved that the attitude of the Chancellor did not meet the approval of the representatives of the people, and it became evident that, for the first time in the history of the German Empire, a vote of censure directed against the government would be debated. The debate was continued all the next day, the Chancellor making another speech and saying what he probably had intended to say the day before. He related what he had achieved at Donaueschingen ; that the Emperor had issued a cabinet order saying that the military authorities should be kept within legal bounds, that all the guilty persons would be punished, that the Regiment, Number Ninety-nine, had been removed from Zabern, that the absolute law of 1820 had been abolished for Alsace-Lorraine, and that no Chancellor should for one moment tolerate disregard of law by any government officials, civil or military, and remain in his position.
This second speech of the Chancellor made a better imppression and somewhat affected the more extreme members of the Reichstag, but it came too late to prevent the passage of the vote of censure by the remarkable majority of two hundred and ninety-three to fifty-four. Only the Conservatives voted against it. A few days later, when the Social Democrats demanded that the Chancellor take the consequence of the vote of distrust and resign, the attitude of the members of all the other par-ties, who had been favourably impressed by the second speech of the Chancellor, showed that they were not yet prepared to go the length of holding that a vote of distrust in the Reichstag must necessarily mean the resignation of the Chancellor.
Public excitement gradually calmed down, and a complete change of the officials at Zabern helped to bring about a normal condition of affairs. The Viceroy, Count Wedel, and Secretary of State Zorn von Bulach, resigned and were replaced by von Dallwitz and Count Rödern.
However, the everlasting question came up again a little later during the regular budget debate of the Reichstag. The Chancellor made his speech, giving a review of the political international situation. He was followed by Herr Scheidemann, leader of the Social Democrats, who mercilessly attacked the Chancellor and stated that if the Chancellor still thought that he was the right man at the helm, he, Scheidemann, would show that the contrary was the case. He then enumerated what he called the many political failures of the Chancellor, the failure of the bill to amend the Prussian franchise law, and stated that the few bills which had been passed, such as the bill giving Alsace-Lorraine a real constitution, had been carried only with the help of the Social Democratic party. The speaker then once more rehashed the incidents of the Zabern matter, referred, to the attitude of the Emperor, who, he said, had evidently been too busy with hunting and festivities to devote time to such trivial matters as the Zabern Affair, and also said that, if the Chancellor had refused to withdraw, the only possible conclusion from the vote of the two hundred and ninety-three Reichstag members, who were certainly not influenced by personal feelings against the Chancellor,, was that the Chancellor must be sticking to his post only be-cause of the mistaken idea of the Emperor’s authority and because he must believe in the fetish of personal government. Scheidemann begged that the same majority which had passed the vote of censure should now follow it up by voting down the Chancellor’s salary and thus force him out of office.
The Chancellor immediately replied, saying that he needed no advice from Herr Scheidemann, and that when the government had consented to change the rules of the Reichstag he had expressly reserved the authority either to regard or disregard any resolution passed after an interpellation, and that formerly, after discussing an interpellation and the answer of the government, no vote could be taken to approve or reject a resolution expressing its opinion of such course of action. Such resolutions might be considered as valuable material, but it had been agreed that they could have no binding effect either upon the government or any member of it, and that no-body had ever dreamed that by a mere change of business rules the whole constitution of the Empire was being changed and authority given to the Reichstag to dismiss ministers at will; that in France and Great Britain conditions were different, but that parliamentary government did not exist in Germany; that it was the constitutional privilege of the Emperor to appoint the Chancellor with-out any assistance or advice from the Reichstag; that he, the Chancellor, would resist with all his might every attempt to change this system; and that he, therefore, refused to resign because the resolution had no other effect than to make it evident that a difference of opinion existed between the Reichstag and the government.
This debate took place on December ninth, 1913, and, with the exception of the Social Democrats and the Polish deputies, the leaders of all parties supported the view of the Chancellor. The motion to strike out the Chancellor’s salary was voted down, only the Social Democrats and Poles voting in favour of it.
It is unquestioned, however, that this Zabern Affair and the consequent attitude of the whole nation, as well as the extraordinary vote in the Reichstag, greatly alarmed the military party.
It was perhaps the final factor which decided the advocates of the old military system of Germany in favour of a European war. Usually in past years when the Reichstag in adjournments had risen and cheered the name of the Emperor, the Social Democrats absented themselves from the Chamber, but when the Reichstag adjourned on May twentieth, 1914, these members remained in the Chamber and refused either to rise or to cheer the Emperor. The President of the Reichstag immediately called attention to this breach of respect to the Emperor, upon which the Socialists shouted, “That is our affair,” and tried to drown the cheers with hoots and hisses at which the other parties applauded tumultuously.
This occurrence I know greatly incensed the Emperor and did much, I believe, to win his consent to the war.