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The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: The German military mind

16 August 2014

8:00 AM

16 August 2014

8:00 AM

From ‘The German military mind’, The Spectator, 15 August 1914:

All Englishmen are now agreed that Germany made the war, and that the moving force within the German nation was and is German militarism. The astonishing thing is in looking back is that any one here should have doubted what would happen if we either weakened our Navy below the safety points, or hesitated in the support of France and Russia. Our Navy, we admit, was not “let down,” but Germany thought she had enough evidence that Britain would remain neutral if France was attacked. For the German military mind this was good enough. Before Germany had discovered her mistake she had committed herself to war. Liberals, who never believed in what we have been saying for years was bound to happen if their extreme policy were adopted, are at least convinced that Germany has been playing a cynical and unscrupulous part. Mr. Massingham, who has worked perhaps harder than any Liberal writer for cutting down the Navy and denying all obligations to France and Russia, made a public retraction of his confidence in Germany in the Daily News of Monday: –

“I think that those of us to whom the idea of a European war, and of our country taking part in it, has brought a measure of personal distress which exceeds even our private griefs, must say with frankness what is in their minds. I confess that Sir Edward Grey’s speech left me unconvinced and hostile on the subject of our individual intervention, and that my ultimate reserves as to policy remain. But I must say, too, and publicly, that the reading of the White Paper produced a tremendous revulsion. Things being what they were, engagements standing as they stood the character of the ruling power in Germany being revealed for what it was, nations being subjected to their engagements and line of action which do actually influence and control them, I could not resist the evidence that they were being forced into war…. The die has been cast. Who cast it? Apparently one of the least intelligent and moral groups in the world. With what result? To give over Europe to the temporary control of such influences. A grievous, a terrible conclusion. Religion, science, art, literature, all voiceless and powerless. Ruthless, senseless force – tearing up treaties, disregarding neighbourliness, and every decency and every nobility of life – in supreme control.”

Mr. Massingham, not for the first time, has had the courage to say that the facts are against him. Mr. Bernard Shaw, also, having ridiculed every kind of preparation for war, now urges his country on in a letter to the Daily News without apparently suffering from any embarrassment or any sense of incongruity: –

“Prussian militarism,” he says, “has bullied us for forty years; and a month ago neither Germany nor France believde that we would fight when it came to the point. That is why there was such a wild explosion of delighted surprise when the French Chambers learnt that we were game after all. That is why the Kaiser, though reckless of every other interest concerned, offered us the best excuse he could invent for our neutrality, believing that we were only too ready to snatch at it. And that is also why we had to take off our coats and sail in… Our immediate business is therefore to fight as hard as we can; for our weights when the settlement comes will depend on the parts we shall have played in the conflict.”

Blindness is now at an end, though the cure of it has indeed been such a risky one that, but for a series of fortunate accidents, it might have endangered the life of the patient. There has never really been any secret as to how the German military mind works and as to what it aimed at. In 1904 German military preparations took a new and deeply significant turn. In that year the German General Staff came to the conclusion that, as France must be virtually crushed before Russia could bring her weight to bear, Germany must deliberately ignore the neutrality of Belgium, Luxembourg and, if necessary, Switzerland. Strategic railways were built up to the front tiers of Belgium and Switzerland and along those frontiers.  Great camps were constructed on the same frontiers. It was impossible to hide these preparations, and the Germans did not attempt to do so. The strategy of envelopment required the use of neutral territories, and the law of necessity was openly preached as sufficient excuse for violating treaties. The doctrine was explained by the Emperor himself. On January 1st, 1908, he read to the highest Army officer a document which had been drawn up by Field-Marshal von Schlieffen, and which expounded and justified the necessity of going round the French defences through neutral territory. This document was published. It was no secret…

This war will be fought in vain and all the blood and money wasted if the result is not to free Europe from the terrible influence and dictation of the German military mind. That is the whole subject of the war.

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