The Imperial Government is constantly rousing patriotic sentiment. Every day the Emperor delights to revive memories of 1813. Yesterday evening a military tattoo went through the streets of Berlin, and speeches were delivered in which the present situation was compared to that of a hundred years ago. The trend of public opinion will find an echo in the speeches which will be delivered next month in the Reichstag, and I have reason to fear that the Chancellor himself will be forced to allude in his statements to the relations of France and Germany. It was of course to be expected that national patriotism would be worked up just when fresh sacrifices are being required, but to compare the present time to 1813 is to misuse an historical analogy. If, today, there is anything corresponding to the movement which a hundred years ago roused Germans to fight the man of genius who aspired to universal dominion, it is in France that such a counterpart would have to be sought, since the French nation seeks but to protect itself against the domination of force. Nevertheless, it is true that the state of public opinion in both countries makes tile situation grave.
Report of Lieutenant-Colonel Serret, Military Attaché to the French Embassy at Berlin, to M. Étienne, Minister of War.
Berlin, March 15, 1913.
The patriotic movement which has manifested itself in France has caused real anger in certain circles.
I do not, indeed, mean to say that the virulent article in the Kölnische Zeitung is the expression of prevalent opinion. It has rather the angry outburst of an impulsive journalist, which has been immediately disavowed by the Government
However, in spite of its want of good manners the article in the Kölnische Zeitung cannot be disregarded; several important newspapers have approved of its substance, if not of its form, and it appears to express a real feeling, a latent anger. It is interesting to note this fact, because it throws very vivid light on the meaning of the present armaments.
For some time now it has been quite a common thing to meet people who declare that the military plans of France are extraordinary and unjustified. In a drawing room a member of the Reichstag who is not a fanatic, speaking of the three years’ service in France, went so far as to say, ‘It is a provocation; we will not allow it.’ More moderate persons, military and civil, glibly voice the opinion that France with her forty million inhabitants has no right to compete in this way with Germany.
To sum up, people are angry, and this anger is not eased by the shrieking of certain French papers, to which sober minded people pay little attention. It is a case of vexation. People are angry at reprising that in spite of the enormous effort made last year, continued and even increased this year, it will probably not be possible this time to outrun France completely. To outdistance us, since we neither will nor can be allied with her, is Germany’s real aim. I cannot insist too much on the fact that the impending legislation, which French public opinion is too apt to consider as a spontaneous outburst, is but the inevitable and expected consequence of the law of June, 1912.
This law, while creating two new army corps, had deliberately, according to German fashion, left regiments and other large units incomplete. It was evident that there would be no long delay in filling in the gaps.* The Balkan crisis, coming just at the right moment, furnished a wonderful opportunity for exploiting the centenary of the War of Liberation, and obtaining with greater ease sacrifices through the memory of those made in days gone by, and that too at a time when Germany was opposed to France.
In order to show clearly the genesis of this military programme, I beg to recall what was written by my predecessor Colonel Pell‚ a year ago, when the law of 1912 was published: ‘We are discovering every day how deep and lasting are the feelings of injured pride and revenge provoked against us by the events of last year.’ The Treaty of the 4th November 1911 has proved a complete disillusion. The feeling is the same in all parties. All Germans, even the Socialists, bear us a grudge for having taken away their share in Morocco.
‘It seemed, a year or so ago, as if the Germans had set out to conquer the world. They considered themselves so strong that no one would dare to oppose them. Limitless possibilities were opening out for German manufactures, German trade, German expansion.’
‘Needless to say, these ideas and ambitions have not disappeared to-day. Germany still requires outlets for commercial and colonial expansion. They consider that they are entitled to them, because their population is increasing every day, because the future belongs to them. They consider us, with our forty million inhabitants, as a second rate power.’
‘In the crisis of 1911, however, this second rate power successfully withstood them, and the Emperor and the Government gave way. Public opinion has forgiven neither them nor us. People are determined that such a thing shall never happen again.’ And at the moment when the second and formidable part of the programme is about to he realised, when German military strength is on the point of acquiring that final superiority which, should the occasion arise, would force us to submit to humiliation or destruction, France suddenly refuses to abdicate, and shows, as Renan said, „her eternal power of renaissance and resurrection.” The disgust of Germany can well be understood.
Of course the Government points to the general situation in Europe and speaks of the ‘Slav Peril.’ As far as I can see however, public opinion really seems indifferent to this ‘Peril,’ and yet it has accepted with a good grace, if not with welcome, the enormous burdens of these two successive laws.
On the 10th March last, being the centenary of the levée en masse of Germany against France, in spite of a downpour of rain, a huge crowd surged to the military parade in front of the Schloss, in the middle of the Tiergarten, in front of the statues of Queen Louise and Frederick William III., which were surrounded by heaps of flowers. These anniversaries, recalling as they do the fight with France, will be repeated the whole year through. In 1914 there will be a centenary of the first campaign in France, the first entry of the Prussians into Paris.
To sum up, if public opinion does not actually point at France, as does the Kölnische Zeitung, we are in fact, and shall long remain the nation aimed at. Germany considers that for our forty millions of inhabitants our place in the sun is really too large. Germans wish for peace so they keep on proclaiming, and the Emperor more than anyone but they do not understand peace as involving either mutual concessions or a balance of armaments. They want to be feared and they are at present engaged in making the necessary sacrifices. If on some occasion their national vanity is wounded, the confidence which the country will feel in the enormous superiority of its army will be favorable to an explosion of national anger, in the face of which the moderation of the Imperial Government will perhaps be powerless.
It must be emphasized again that the Government is doing everything to increase patriotic sentiment by celebrating with élan all the various anniversaries of 1813. The trend of public opinion would result in giving a war a more or less national character. By whatever pretext Germany should justify the European conflagration, nothing can prevent the first decisive blows being struck at France.
* The problem which is set us today would, therefore, only be set again a few years later, and in a much more acute fashion, since the decrease of our contingents is continually lowering the number of our effectives on a peace footing.
M. de Faramond, Naval Attaché‚ to the French Embassy at Berlin, to M. Baudin, Minister of Marine. Berlin, March 10, 1913.
In reporting on the examination of the Naval budget by the Financial Committee of the Reichstag, I said that no Naval law would be introduced this year having as its object an increase of the fleet, and that the whole of the military effort would be directed against us. Although the new Bill, having for its object the increase of the German effectives, has not yet been presented to the Reichstag, we know that it deals with ‘an increase of military strength of immense scope’ to use the expression of the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
The official newspapers have also referred to the military proposal in terms which enable us to consider the communiqué of the Lokal Anzeiger as accurate. The German effectives reach at the present moment 720,000 men. We are, therefore, entitled to conclude that on the 1st October 1914, the Imperial army will be raised to a figure not far removed from 860,000.
The importance of this figure would not be so great if the provisions of the proposed legislation (as far as one can gather from the official newspapers) did not tend, as, in fact, those of the law of 1912 tend, to place the army corps nearest to our frontier; in a state which most nearly approaches a war footing, in order to be able on the very day of the outbreak of hostilities to attack us suddenly with forces very much stronger than our own. It is absolutely imperative for the Imperial Government to obtain success at the very outset of the operations. The conditions under which the German Emperor would nowadays commence a campaign against France are not those of forty years ago. At the commencement of the war of 1870 the Prussian General Staff had considered the possibility of a victorious French offensive, and Moltke, seeing that we might conceivably get as far as Mayence, remarked to his sovereign, ” There they will come to a stop.” William II cannot allow a retreat to enter into his calculations, although the German soldier is no longer to-day what he was forty years ago, a plain religious man, ready to die at the order of his king. When it is remembered that at the last elections 4,000,000 votes were cast by the Socialists and that the franchise is only obtained in Germany at the age of 25, it may be presumed that the active army, composed of young men from 20 to 25 must contain in its ranks a considerable proportion of Socialists. It would indeed be foolish to think that the German Socialists will throw down their rifles on the day when France and Germany come to blows; but it will be very important that the Imperial Government should persuade them that on the one hand we are the aggressors, and on the other that they can have entire confidence in the direction of the campaign and its final result. On the last occasion when the recruits for the Guard took the oath at Potsdam I was struck to hear the Emperor take as a theme for his address to the young soldiers „the duty of being braver and more disciplined in adversity than in success.” And it is because a German defeat at the outset would have such an incalculable effect on the Empire, that we find in all the plans worked out by the General Staff proposals for a crushing offensive movement against France. In reality the Imperial Government wishes to be in a position to meet all possible eventualities. It is from the direction of France that the danger seems to them greatest. The Kölnische Zeitung has said as much in an article both spiteful and violent, the form rather than the substance of which has been disavowed by the Wilhelmstrasse.
But we must be willing to realise that the opinion expressed by the Kölnische Zeitung is at the present moment that of the immense majority of the German people. In this connection I think it is interesting to quote a conversation which a member of our Embassy; had the other evening with the old Prince Henckel von Donnersmarck, as it may serve to reflect the opinions which dominate Court circles.
Referring to the new German military proposals Prince Donnersmarck spoke as follows: „French people are quite wrong in thinking that we harbour evil designs and want war. But we cannot forget that in 1870 popular opinion forced the French Government to make a foolish attack on us before they were ready. Who can assure us that public opinion, which in France is so easily inflamed, will not force the Government to declare war? It is against this danger that we wish to protect ourselves.” And the Prince added: „I have even been considered in France as one of those responsible for the war of 1870. That is quite false. Even if I took part in the war after it had begun, I did my utmost to prevent its outbreak. A short time before the war, happening to be at a dinner where there were some of the most important personages of the Imperial Government, I expressed my regret at the hostile sentiments which were already becoming manifest between France and Prussia. The answer was that, if I spoke like that, it was because I was afraid of a struggle in which the issue would certainly be unfavourable to Prussia. I replied, ‘No, it is not because I am afraid, that I repudiate the idea of war between France and Russia, but rather because I think that it is in the interest of both countries to avoid war. And since you have referred to the possible result of such a struggle I will give you my opinion. I am convinced that you will be beaten and for this reason. In spite of the brilliant qualities which I recognize are possessed by the French and which I admire, you are not sufficiently accurate; by accuracy I do not mean arriving in time at a meeting, bolt I mean punctuality in the whole sense of the word. Frenchmen, who have a great facility for work, are not as punctual as Germans in the fulfillment of their duty. In the coming war that nation will be victorious whose servants from the top of the ladder to the bottom will do their duty with absolute exactitude, however important or small it may be” And Prince Donnersmarck added: „An exactitude which played so great a role forty years ago in moving an army of 500,000 men will have a far greater importance in the next war, when it will be a question of moving masses far more numerous.”
In this way the old Prince gave expression to the confidence shared by all Germans in the superiority of their military organization. When I spoke above of the new German proposal I only alluded to increased effectives. But the proposal will include also an increase of material and of defense works, the details of which are not known, but some idea of which may be gained by the figure estimated to be necessary to meet the expenses, viz., 1,250,000,000 francs. The carrying into effect of the law of the quinquennium of 1911 did not necessitate any special financial measures. The military and naval law of 1912 had been provisionally covered by the Budget surplus of the years 1910 and 1911, by the reform of the law with regard to alcohol and by delaying the reduction of the tax on sugar. (These last two resources only represent together the sum of 60,000,000 francs.) It must also be remembered that large loans have recently been raised by the Empire and Prussia: 500,000,000 marks on the 29th January 1912, and 350,000,000 marks on the 7th March 1913. Quite an important part of these loans must have been applied to military expenses. The military law of 1913 will require quite exceptional financial measures. According to the indications given by the semi-official press, the ‘non-recurring’ expenditure will amount to a milliard marks, while the ‘permanent’ annual expenditure resulting from the increase of effectives will exceed 200,000,000 marks. It seems certain that the ‘non-recurring’ expenditure will lie covered by a war contribution levied on capital. Small fortunes would be exempted and those above 20,000 marks would be subject to a progressive tax. Presented in this guise the war tax would not be objected to by the Socialists, who will be able, in accordance with their usual tactics, to reject the principle of the military law and at the same time to pass the votes which assure its being carried into effect. The Government are afraid that among the rich and bourgeois classes this extraordinary tax of a milliard levied exclusively on acquired capital will cause permanent discontent. Accordingly they are doing everything in their power to persuade those on whom so heavy an exaction is to the levied that the security of the Empire is threatened, establishing for the purpose an analogy between the warlike times of 1813 and the present day. By noisy celebrations of the centenary of the War of Independence it is desired to convince people of the necessity of sacrifice, and to remind them that France is to-day, as 100 years ago, their hereditary enemy.
If it is established that the German Government are doing their utmost to secure that the payment of this enormous tax should be made in full, and not by way of installment, and if, as some of the newspapers say, the whole payment is to be complete before 1st July 1914, these facts have a formidable significance for us, for nothing can explain such haste on the part of the military authorities to obtain war treasure in cash to the amount of a milliard. With regard to the manner in which the permanent expenditure resulting from the application of the laws of 1912 to 1913 is to be met, nothing has yet been said. Further legislation will certainly be necessary in order that the required annual amounts may be forthcoming. To sum up: In Germany the execution of military reforms always follows very closely the decision to carry them out. All the provisions made by the law of the quinquennium of 1911 and by the law of l9l2 have already been put into operation. It is quite possible that part of the material, the purchase of which will be authorized by the new law, is already in course of manufacture. Military secrets are so well kept here that it is extremely difficult to follow the changes in personnel and materiel. With 700,000 men under arms (without counting the very large number of reservists who are at the present time in training), a perfect military organization and a public opinion which can be swayed by the warlike appeals of the Military and Naval Leagues, the German people is at the present moment a very dangerous neighbour. If the three years’ service is adopted and immediately applied in France, the conditions will be less unequal next year. The German effectives will still be considerably more numerous than ours, but the call to the Colours of all available contingents will no longer allow any selection, and will bring into the ranks of the German army elements of inferior quality and even some undesirable individuals. The morale of the active army will deteriorate. Germany has wished to upset the equilibrium of the two camps which divide Europe by a supreme effort beyond which they can do little more. They did not think that France was capable of a great sacrifice. Our adoption of the three years’ service will upset their calculations.