"I have spoken upon these great matters without reserve and with the utmost explicitness because it has seemed to me to be necessary if the world's yearning desire for peace was anywhere to find free voice and utterance. Perhaps I am the only person in high authority amongst all the peoples of the world who is at liberty to speak and hold nothing back. I am speaking as an individual, and yet I am speaking also, of course, as the responsible head of a great government, and I feel confident that I have said what the people of the United States would wish me to say. May I not add, that I hope and believe that I am in effect speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation and of every programme of liberty? I would fain believe that I am speaking for the silent mass of mankind everywhere who have as yet had no place or opportunity to speak their real hearts out concerning the death and ruin they see to have come already upon the persons and the homes they hold most dear.
"And in holding out the expectation that the people and Government of the United States will join the other civilized nations of the world in guaranteeing the permanence of peace upon such terms as I have named I speak with the greater boldness and confidence because it is clear to every man who can think that there is in this promise no breach in either our traditions or our policy as a nation, but a fulfilment, rather, of all that we have professed or striven for.
"I am proposing, as it were, that the nations should with one accord adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world: that no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation or people, but that every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the great and powerful.
"I am proposing that all nations henceforth avoid entangling alliances which would draw them into competitions of power, catch them in a net of intrigue and selfish rivalry, and disturb their own affairs with influences intruded from without. There is no entangling alliance in a concert of power. When all unite to act in the same sense and with the same purpose all act in the common interest and are free to live their own lives under a common protection.
"I am proposing government by the consent of the governed; that freedom of the seas which in international conference after conference representatives of the United States have urged with the eloquence of those who are the convinced disciples of liberty; and that moderation of armaments which makes of armies and navies a power for order merely, not an instrument of aggression or of selfish violence.
"These are American principles, American policies. We could stand for no others. And they are also the principles and policies of forward looking men and women everywhere, of every modern nation, of every enlightened community. They are the principles of mankind and must prevail."
In Helfferich's account of these matters, the author charges this appeal of Mr. Wilson's with having favored the Entente side, because in it the conditions laid down are regarded as an acceptable basis for peace. When I returned to Germany the Imperial Chancellor advanced the same argument in my presence; I have heard it repeated again and again at home, and among other places, before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly. It seems to me that this view is rather a Berlin fable convenue. There is no word in the document which would justify one in drawing such a conclusion. The President stated simply that he had invited both belligerent parties to define the conditions under which they would make peace, and that the Entente had replied fully to the invitation, whereas the Central Powers had not submitted their terms. He then proceeded to say that in so far as the conditions insisted upon by one side had become known, we had advanced a step nearer to the discussion of peace. If we read the wording of the document without prejudice, and in connection with the views expressed by American statesmen, it becomes abundantly clear that the President regarded the terms laid down by our enemies as maximum conditions, and further, that he believed that we also would submit our maximum terms, and finally come to an agreement by adopting a middle course.
Herr Helfferich makes a similar charge against Wilson's Note of the 18th December, owing to the threats that it contained. But this charge strikes me as being just as gratuitous as the first. The threats were uttered in London quite as plainly as they were in Berlin. The charge of partiality would have been justified only if the threats had been contained simply in the version of the Note which was sent to Berlin.
Besides, in all Entente countries, it was maintained that both the Note of the 18th December and the appeal of the 22nd January revealed partiality for the Central Powers. The diplomats of the Entente in Washington were quite beside themselves with anger, and plainly revealed their displeasure to Mr. Wilson. I am not concerned now with criticizing the President's efforts for peace in retrospect. The fact that Mr. Wilson became our personal enemy after the 31st January, 1917, and that he consented to the Peace of Versailles, is no proof of the contention that, before the 31st January, 1917, he would have proved a similar failure as a peacemaker. The President's spiteful censure and treatment of us, both during the war and at Versailles, may be explained psychologically, by the fact that we rejected his efforts as a mediator, and declared the U-boat war.
Mr. Wilson's personal sensitiveness and egocentric nature played an essential part in all the negotiations. When the French and English Press derided the President, in November, 1916, after the first cables had announced the election of Mr. Hughes, Mr. Wilson was deeply mortified. A further improvement in his attitude towards us followed, when we showed that we were favorably disposed to his mediation for peace. The fact that Germany relied on him, stimulated his self-esteem to such an extent that he became, to a certain degree, interested in bringing about a peace that would be satisfactory to Germany. Nor should the interest he showed in this matter be underrated. I openly confess that it was also my ambition to assist in restoring peace, in order to save our country from the catastrophe that threatened to overtake it, and to spare the world any further suffering. To this day I am still convinced that, had the Germans skilfully conducted their share in these peace negotiations, we should have achieved all we wanted to achieve. The happy personal relations which, in that case, would have prevailed between Mr. Wilson and the German representatives at the Peace Conference, would, in view of the element of chance, which is so conspicuous at such congresses, have turned the scales in our favor to a surprising extent. On the other hand, I was, and am still, of the opinion that the peace which would have been settled at that time, would not have satisfied the public opinion of the moment in Germany. But I attached no importance whatever to this consideration. He who practises politics in the interests of his native country, must be ready at any moment to plunge like Curtius into the abyss, in order to save his nation. This, however, is what made Curtius immortal. Besides, in a few years, if not sooner, the German people would surely have realized that "Peace without Victory" constituted a victory for Germany.
After the 31st January, 1917, Mr. Wilson was incapable of an impartial attitude towards Germany. He saw red whenever he thought of the Imperial Government, and his repugnance against it knew no bounds. Even to-day the bitter feeling still rankles within him, that the German Government deprived him of the glory of being the premier political personage on the world's stage. It goes without saying, that at Versailles the Entente exploited with a vengeance both this attitude on the part of the President, and his peculiar idiosyncrasies. Intercepted wireless messages from Paris had made us aware of the fact that the original American interpretation of the fourteen points entirely agreed with our own; and thus we in Berlin were filled, not without reason, with certain hopes of America's help. But Mr. Wilson, who would have acted more wisely had he never gone to Versailles, sat there alone, facing three European statesmen, for whom he was no match. They played upon his weakest point, by suggesting to him the view that, in addition to the German Government, the German people, who were guilty, too, should also be punished, and that the obligation to punish the guilty took precedence of the fourteen points. Had Mr. Wilson, after January, 1917, really come to the definite conclusion that he held the proofs of Germany's war guilt and lust of world empire? Whereas, theretofore he had considered the question of war guilt impartially, he now agreed that the Germans would have been able to obtain a reasonable peace through his mediation, but had rejected it and chosen to declare the U-boat war instead, in order to achieve a complete victory. Consequently, the Germans had not been concerned all this time with bringing about a reasonable peace, but with gaining the empire of the world, a conclusion from which their war guilt was also to be inferred. It was as the result of these ideas that Mr. Wilson preached the crusade against militaristic and autocratic Germany, who wanted to achieve the mastery of the world. Only by means of the belief in a crusade could the peace-loving American people be prevailed upon to wage war.
Regarding the effect upon the Senate of the President's appeal, I sent the following telegram to the Foreign Office:
"Washington, January 23rd, 1917.
"Wilson's appeal has met with general approval in Senate, and is regarded as a further energetic step in peace movement. Only our wildest opponents have again attacked President as a pro-German. Almost throughout views expressed about appeal contain the wish that Central Powers will also state their peace terms now. House also begged me urgently that this might be done, either publicly or secretly. Then Wilson would immediately propose Peace Conference; President also seems inclined to conclude the Bryan Treaty with us. Time is now, alas, too short, otherwise treaty might perhaps have helped us to avert war.
"As result of proposed unrestricted U-boat war, peace movement will presumably come to an end. Nevertheless, it is possible on the other hand that Wilson will make redoubled efforts for peace, if a time-limit be allowed. I should like to leave no stone unturned in order to avert war with United States. As I understand the situation, our refusal to submit our peace terms arises out of the fear that they may appear too moderate to public opinion in Germany. Would it perhaps be possible, before opening the unrestricted U-boat war, to state the peace terms, which we should have submitted at the Peace Conference we proposed, and to add, that, in view of our enemies' insolent rejection of our scheme, we could no longer abide by these moderate terms? And then we might hint that, as victors, we should demand an independent Ireland. A declaration of this sort would win over public opinion on this side, as far as this is possible, and might perhaps also satisfy public opinion in Germany."
The day after the President had read his appeal to the Senate, I received a telegram inviting me to visit Mr. House in New York. During the interview the Colonel read me a memorandum of Mr. Wilson's, in which the President formally offered us to act as mediator, in order to bring about a peace by arrangement. The memorandum left me in no doubt whatever that Mr. Wilson was certain of being able to achieve this end. With the utmost possible speed I sent the following telegrams about my interview with Mr. House, by three different routes to Berlin, on the assumption that it was impossible for us to abide by our former resolve:
(1) CIPHER WIRELESS TELEGRAM
"Washington, 27th January, 1917.
"After having had very important conference request most urgently postponement till my next two messages received. Suggest reply by wireless."
(2) CIPHER TELEGRAM
"Washington, 26th January, 1917.
"Wilson offered officially, but in first place privately, to mediate for peace, on basis of his appeal to Senate, that means without interference with territorial terms of peace. Wilson's simultaneous request for communication of our peace terms not to be regarded as private.
"I am wiring with full particulars through State Department. To begin U-boat war without previous negotiations regarding above proposals would among other things put us seriously in the wrong, and owing to Wilson's personal sensitiveness, would make prevention of rupture quite impossible."
(3) CIPHER TELEGRAM
"Washington, 27th January, 1917.
"House suddenly invited me to visit him on behalf of Wilson, and told me the following as an official message from President:
"First of all, Wilson offers privately to mediate for peace on basis of his appeal to Senate, i.e., therefore without interference in territorial terms of peace. Wilson's simultaneous request to us to submit our terms of peace is not to be regarded as private. House revealed to me following thoughts of the President. Our enemies had openly expressed their impossible peace terms. Thereupon President had, as a direct contrast to these, developed his programme. Now we are also morally bound to make our peace terms known, because our desire for peace would otherwise appear insincere. After Your Excellency had informed Mr. Wilson that our peace terms were moderate, and that we agreed to second Peace Conference, President thought he had given expression to our wishes in his appeal to the Senate.
"Wilson hopes that we shall communicate our peace terms to him, which might be published both in Germany and over here, so that they could become known immediately all over the world. If only we had confidence in him, President was convinced that he would be able to bring about both Peace Conferences. He would be particularly pleased if Your Excellency were at the same time to declare that we are prepared to enter the second Peace Conference on the basis of his appeal. Our declaration might be shown to have been actuated by Wilson's having sent us a direct request for our peace terms. President is of opinion that Note sent to him by the Entente was a piece of bluff which need not be taken seriously. He hopes definitely to bring about Peace Conferences, and quickly too, so that the unnecessary bloodshed of the Spring Offensive may be averted.
"To what extent Your Excellency will and can meet Wilson, it is impossible to tell from this side. Meanwhile I urgently beg leave, to submit the following remarks for your consideration. If the U-boat campaign is opened now without any further ado, the President will regard this as a smack in the face, and war with the United States will be inevitable. The war party here will gain the upper hand, and the end of the war will be quite out of sight, as, whatever people may say to the contrary, the resources of the United States are enormous. On the other hand, if we acquiesce in Wilson's proposal, but the scheme nevertheless comes to grief owing to the stubbornness of our enemies, it would be very hard for the President to come into the war against us, even if by that time we began our unrestricted U-boat war. At present, therefore it is only a matter of postponing the declaration for a little while so that we may improve our diplomatic position. For my own part, I confess that I am of opinion that we shall obtain a better peace now by means of conferences, than we should if the United States joined the ranks of our enemies.
"As cables always take several days, please send instructions by wireless, in case telegraphic privileges 157 cannot be used on February 1st."
I had hoped that the communication of the President's appeal through Mr. Gerard, would have led to a postponement of the unrestricted U-boat war. This, however, was not the case. I can pass over all that happened in Berlin at that time, and all the deliberations which led to the ultimate decision, for not only did I not take part in them, but they have also become general knowledge since the taking of the evidence before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly. I need only mention here that I received the following reply to my proposals, from the Imperial Chancellor:
"Berlin, 29th January, 1917.
"Please thank President on behalf of Imperial Government for his communication. We trust him completely, and beg him to trust us likewise. Germany is ready to accept his secret offer of mediation for the purpose of bringing about a direct Conference of the belligerents, and will recommend similar course to her Allies. We wish our acceptance of offer, as well as offer itself, to be treated as quite secret.
"A public announcement of our peace terms is at present impossible, now that Entente has published their peace terms which aim at the degradation and annihilation of Germany and her Allies, and have been characterized by President himself as impossible. We cannot regard them as bluff, as they entirely agree with professed opinions of enemy Powers expressed not only before, but afterwards. They also correspond exactly with the objects for which Italy and Rumania entered the war, and as regards Turkey, with the assurances made on behalf of Russia by both England and France. So long as these war aims of our enemies are publicly maintained, it would be impossible to interpret public announcement of our own peace terms, as anything else than a sign of weakness which at present does not exist, and would only lead to a prolongation of the war. In order to give President Wilson a proof of our confidence, however, tell him just for his own private information the terms on which we should have been prepared to take part in peace negotiations, if the Entente had accepted our offer of peace on the 12th December, 1916.
"The restitution to France of that part of Upper Alsace occupied by her. The acquisition of a strategical and economic safety-frontier-zone, separating Germany and Poland from Russia.
"Colonial restitution in the form of an understanding which would secure Germany colonial possessions compatible with the size of her population and the importance of her economic interests.
"Restoration of those parts of France occupied by Germany, on condition that certain strategic and economic modifications of the frontier be allowed, as also financial compensation.
"Restitution of Belgium under definite guarantees for the safety of Germany, which would have to be determined by means of negotiations with the Belgian Government.
"Economic and financial settlement, on the basis of exchange, of the territory invaded by both sides, and to be restituted by the conclusion of peace.
"Compensation for German undertakings and private persons who have suffered damage through the war.
"Renunciation of all economic arrangements and measures, which after the peace would constitute an obstacle in the way of normal commerce and trade, with the conclusion of corresponding commercial treaties.
"The Freedom of the Seas to be placed on a secure basis.
"The peace terms of our Allies coincide with our own views, and observe the same limits.
"We are, moreover, prepared to enter the International Conference which he wishes to invoke after the war on the basis of his communication to the Senate.
"Your Excellency will give President these details at the same time as you hand him Note relating unrestricted U-boat war, and will inform him as follows:
"If his offer had only reached us a few days earlier, we should have been able to postpone opening of the new U-boat war. Now, however, in spite of best will in the world, it is, owing to technical reasons, unfortunately too late, as far-reaching military preparations have already been made which cannot be undone, and U-boats have already sailed with new instructions. Form and content of enemy's reply to our offer of peace, and the Note of the President, were so abrupt and harsh, that, in view of the life and death struggle which has once again been proclaimed against us, we cannot any longer delay the use of those means which appear to us best calculated to end the war quickly, and for the relinquishment of which we could not have taken the responsibility in the face of our whole nation.
"As the order regarding the unrestricted U-boat war shows, we are prepared, at any moment, to make every possible allowances for America's needs. We would beg the President to prosecute—that is to say, pursue, his plan notwithstanding, and declare ourselves ready to discontinue the unrestricted U-boat war the moment we are completely assured that the President's efforts will lead to a peace that would be acceptable to us.
I immediately communicated the peace terms contained in this telegram to Mr. House, and I still cherished a small hope that he would, after all, perhaps, be able to exercise a favorable influence over the President. Truth to tell, he actually went to Washington in order to take part in the deliberations which were to decide the attitude which America was henceforth to adopt towards us. Apart from the fact that the secrecy covering the communication of our peace terms deprived them of all diplomatic value, the simultaneous declaration of the unrestricted U-boat war gave the death-blow to all hope of maintaining peace. As Herr von Betmann-Hollweg declared before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly: "It was perfectly clear to the authorities in Germany, that the decision to prosecute the unrestricted U-boat war would destroy all chance of further efforts on the part of the President to bring about peace. The U-boat war meant rupture, and ultimately war with America. The discussions between General Head Quarters and the Political Leaders had turned upon this question for years. That which led to the decisive step being taken was, that General Headquarters was firmly resolved to face even the risk of America's entry into the war, and that it wished to use the circumstances as a trial of strength with the political leaders."
On January 31st, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, I handed Mr. Lansing the official communication about the U-boat war. This was my last political interview in America. We both knew that the end had come, but we did not admit the fact to each other. The Secretary of State contented himself with replying that he would submit my communication to the President. I cherished no illusions regarding the expected outcome of this interview, for the Ultimatum of April 18th, 1916, no longer allowed of any chance of preventing the rupture of diplomatic relations. Consequently on the morning of the 31st January, I had already given the order that the engines of all ships lying in American harbors were to be destroyed. I had already been given instructions to this effect at the time of the Sussex crisis, and these instructions had now been repeated from Berlin. As a matter of fact it was, dangerous to allow of any delay, for on the evening of January 31st our ships were already seized by the American police. As far as I know, however, all of them without exception were made unfit for use before this occurred.
On the 3rd February, at twelve midday, Mr. Wilson announced to a joint meeting of both Houses of Congress, the rupture of all diplomatic relations with Germany, and at the same time my pass was brought to me by a higher official of the Department of State.
Thus war was decided upon, even if it was not immediately declared. Everything that followed amounted only to preparation for war or war propaganda. Nothing except the abandonment of the U-boat campaign could have prevented war.
It has frequently been asserted that the notorious Mexico telegram led to the war with the United States. I do not believe this is correct. The telegram was used with great success as propaganda against us; but the rupture of diplomatic relations—as I have already pointed out—was, in view of the situation, equivalent in all circumstances to war. I had nothing to do with the Mexico telegram, which took me completely by surprise. It was addressed, in the usual way, direct to the legation in Mexico, and passed through the Embassy at Washington on the same day on which I received the notification that the unrestricted U-boat war was to be declared. I had neither the right, nor was it my duty, to hold up the telegram, although I disapproved of its contents. But even if I had held it up, I should have served no useful purpose. As I afterwards heard from a certain Englishman, there was an office in England which deciphered all the telegrams which we sent over the English cable and this office placed all their intercepts at the disposal of the American Government after the rupture of diplomatic relations. There is nothing surprising in this, for we also deciphered all enemy telegrams which we were able to intercept. Nowadays there is no cipher which is absolutely safe, if it has been in use for some time. At that time, however, I did not know that all our cipher telegrams were being read by the English. If, therefore, I had held up the Mexico telegram in Washington, its contents would have been revealed to the American Government by the English, notwithstanding, and no one would have believed that the message had not been forwarded in some way to Mexico. Moreover the telegram, as is well-known, was only conditional; the instructions it contained were only to hold good if the United States came into the war. I strained every nerve, at that moment, to prevent this from taking place. If I had been successful, the Mexico telegram would have served no purpose. I am therefore able to say, with a clean conscience, that I did everything that stood in my power, to remedy the error committed in the dispatch of the telegram.
In Helfferich's account of these events, the author says:
"If Count Bernstorff was, and apparently is still, of the opinion, that Wilson was actually engaged in trying to bring about a peace which would have been acceptable and tolerable to us, and with a promise of success, this can only be explained as the result of the enduring effect of suggestion, which, acting upon him for two years, had had no really adequate knowledge of home opinion to counteract it. As the communication between Berlin and the German Embassy in Washington was completely cut off, it is not surprising that our representatives on the other side of the vast ocean should have lost touch with their fellow-countrymen struggling for their lives, and should have failed to retain the proper standpoint in regard to what was either necessary or tolerable."
To this I should like to reply, in the first place, that the unrestricted U-boat war did not in the least bring the German people either what was necessary or tolerable. Furthermore, not only I myself, but almost all those gentlemen who returned with me to Germany, had the feeling, on reaching home, that we in America had formed a much clearer notion of the true state of Germany, than those of our fellow-countrymen who had been living at home; for they had been completely cut off from the world by the Blockade. After we had seen the conditions prevailing in Germany, we could understand even less than we had before, why the Imperial Government had not snatched with joy at the chance of making peace.
As to the question whether we should have obtained an acceptable and tolerable peace through Mr. Wilson's efforts, I am still firmly convinced to-day, that this would have been the case. The President would not have offered to mediate if he had not been able to reckon with certainty upon success, and he was better situated than any German, to know the attitude of the Entente. In his farewell letter to me, Mr. House wrote:
"It is too sad that your Government should have declared the unrestricted U-boat war at a moment when we were so near to peace. The day will come when people in Germany will see how much you have done for your country in America."
Moreover, later on, Mr. Bonar Law publicly admitted in the English Parliament that Great Britain would have collapsed financially, if American help had not saved her. The war-spirit in France, during the year 1917 was simply upheld by the hope of American help, and finally, in March, the Russian Revolution broke out. If we had accepted Wilson's mediation, the whole of American influence in Russia would have been exercised in favor of peace, and not, as events ultimately proved, against ourselves. Out of Wilson's and Kerensky's Peace programme, we might, by means of diplomatic negotiations, easily have achieved all that we regarded as necessary. My conviction that we could in the year 1917 have obtained a peace which would have been acceptable to ourselves, is based not so much on Wilson's good will, as upon the fact that, without American help, the Entente could not possibly have achieved a victory.
Against this view, the argument is advanced that the United States would in any case have entered the war, in order to avoid a German victory. I have already pointed out, that according to my view, no "German Peace" was any longer possible after the first battle of the Marne. Besides, it was precisely the object of the policy which was directed at American mediation, to prevent the United States from entering the war.
At the present time, even Mr. Wilson himself is produced as crown-witness in support of the view that America would have entered the war against us whatever might have happened. In the discussions about the Peace Treaty, which the President held in the White House on the 19th August, 1919, much stress is laid upon a certain passage in particular, which gives the impression that Mr. Wilson would have wished America to enter the war, even if Germany had not declared the unrestricted U-boat campaign. Almost without exception, all the German national newspapers interpreted the short dialogue in question between the President and Senator McCumber in this way, and the Deutsche Tageszeitung even went so far as to regard it as a striking proof of what they called Wilson's "a priori resolve to have war with Germany."
I must most emphatically reject this interpretation of the passage under discussion, which was turned to account by some papers in America in the political fight.
In the first place I should like to point out that it is obviously inadmissible to take the above-mentioned passage out of the context, and to regard it in itself as an interchange of views between Mr. Wilson and Mr. McCumber. It ought, on the contrary, to be judged in conjunction with the passage that precedes it.
The proposition for discussion was the President's motion that the League of Nations made it obligatory upon all States united, under it, to take common action against any country guilty of a breach of international law. Senator Harding, one of the keenest opponents of the League of Nations, suggested the idea in the debate that it was impossible for a sovereign State like the United States of America to have her moral obligation in any international conflict dictated to her by an external body consisting of the Council of the League of Nations. Driven into a corner, Mr. Wilson had to acknowledge this fact; but he emphasized the point that in spite of this the value of the League of Nations was in no way impaired. He said:
"The American Republic is not in need of any advice from any quarter, in order to fulfil her moral duty; but she stabilizes the whole world by promising in advance that she will stand by other nations who regard matters in the same light as herself, in order to uphold Justice in the world."
Following upon this, Senator McCumber then tried to confute the President's theory, by applying it practically to the most recent events in the world's history. He referred to the last war, at the outbreak of which there was no League of Nations in existence, and the following discussion took place:
McCumber: Would our moral conviction of the injustice of the German war have drawn us into this war, if Germany had been guilty of no aggressive acts, and, what is more, without the League of Nations, for of course we had no League of Nations then?
Wilson: As things turned out, I hope that it would finally have done so, Mr. Senator.
McCumber: Do you believe that, if Germany had been guilty of no act of injustice against our own citizens, we should have come into this war?
Wilson: I believe it.
McCumber: You believe that we should have come in whatever happened?
It is abundantly clear that with his first answer, "as things turned out, I hope that it"—that is to say, America's moral conviction of the injustice of the German war—"would finally have drawn us into the war"—the President lays the emphasis on the words "as things turned out." There can be no doubt that he meant to say: "As things turned out in regard to his efforts for peace," the first ready concurrence of the Imperial Government, notwithstanding, was thwarted at the decisive moment. With such a Government, Mr. Wilson seems to imply, it was impossible in the long run for America to remain on terms of peace. From that time henceforward—there can be no question of any earlier period, because up to that moment he had been in constant negotiation with us—he regarded the Imperial Government as morally condemned. Then, however, he calls to mind very clearly the feeble war-spirit of the American people in the spring of 1917, which, as is well known, had to be whipped into the war by propaganda on a prodigious scale. That is why the President says he "hopes," that the moral conviction of the American people regarding the injustice of Germany's cause would finally have triumphed over his readiness for peace expressed so brilliantly as late as November, 1916. His words are, therefore, to be regarded as a reflection in retrospect, not as a proof of an a priori intention to urge the United States into the war in any circumstances.
Truth to tell, if Mr. Wilson had really been striving to declare war against us, he would, of course, only have needed to nod in order to induce his whole country to fight after the Lusitania incident, so great was the war feeling at that critical time. Later on, the President concentrated all his efforts upon the idea of being the Peacemaker of the world, and even made such prominent use of the motto, "He kept us out of the war," in the campaign for his re-election, that it is quite unthinkable that all this time he should have secretly cherished the intention, ultimately, to enter the war against Germany. In this matter, the fact that after the rupture of diplomatic relations between America and Germany, Mr. Wilson really did urge on the war by every means in his power, proves nothing. For, after January 31st, 1917, Wilson himself was a different man. Our rejection of his proposal to mediate, by our announcement of the unrestricted U-boat war, which was to him utterly incomprehensible, turned him into an embittered enemy of the Imperial Government. But this is by no means a proof of the contention that, before the date named, he was secretly watching for an opportunity to make war upon Germany. Neither does it excuse the President for having allowed himself at Versailles to be convinced of the alleged complicity of the German people in the general war-guilt. Theretofore he had certainly always differentiated between the autocracy, as also Militarism, on the one hand, and the German people on the other. At Versailles he suddenly advanced the theory that the Germans must be punished for their crimes, and not only those among them who were responsible, but also the innocent German people, who neither desired the breach of Belgium's neutrality, nor understood the moral consequences of the U-boat war, nor were aware of Mr. Wilson's mediation for peace.
The above dialogue is also interesting from the standpoint that the President is most clearly convinced that the Entente could not have conquered without American help. If to-day he concludes therefrom that America would have been obliged ultimately to join in the war, in order to punish Germany, in former days he concluded that his duty was to bring about a Peace without victory. If he had succeeded in doing this, all of us, friend and foe alike, would now be living in a better world than the present one. It would be the world as we had been shown it in a vision of the future on the 22nd January, 1917, and not the world of the Peace of Versailles, blooming with starvation, Bolshevism and nationalistic hatred.
In his Memoirs, Herr von Tirpitz says that of all the practical advantages which I declared would follow from a compliant attitude on our part, not one had fallen to our lot. But I must confess, I was not aware that the U-boat war had brought us any advantages either. Its results have been a heavy moral debt and a huge bill of costs that the German people must pay. And how could the policy which I recommended have yielded practical results, seeing that I was never able, or even allowed, to carry it through? Never at any time was the U-boat war really given up. Every time a diplomatic success was in view, an incident occurred which made it necessary to start one's labors all over again.
Other people have said that as I was not in agreement with the policy of the Imperial Government, I ought to have resigned my office. This view does not take into account all the facts of the case. As long as Herr von Jagow was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I worked in complete harmony with him. We both worked together in trying to avert war with the United States. I knew as little as Herr von Jagow himself did, whether we should succeed in scoring every point in the policy we pursued, for the Secretary of State was in perpetual conflict with the Military and Naval Authorities. If I had heard in time that Herr von Jagow's resignation had occurred in connection with the question of the U-boat war, and was the result of it, I should have resigned at the same time as he did; because my name was identified with the idea of American mediation for peace. Moreover, up to the 9th, or rather the 19th, January, 1917, I was completely in accord with the Imperial Chancellor; for Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg declared before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly:
"The whole of my work in connection with Wilson's efforts for peace was, indeed, directed towards rendering the threat of a U-boat war unnecessary, by bringing about a peace movement which would, of course, have some promise of proving successful."
These words amount to a complete approval of the policy which I pursued in Washington. When, therefore, on the 19th January, I received the Note informing me of the intended opening of the unrestricted U-boat campaign, I could not tender my resignation, for I regarded it as my duty to the German people, to resist until the last the unrestricted U-boat war, and, if possible, to avert a breach with the United States. When, on the 31st January, 1917, the U-boat policy had definitely triumphed, I had no further chance of resigning my office, seeing that owing to the immediate rupture of diplomatic relations it was lost to me.
The various reasons, for and against Mr. Wilson's mediation, were all thrashed out in great detail in this country, before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly, in the winter of 1916-17. And, according to the evidence given, the decisive cause of the failure of the scheme was the distrust which the most influential statesmen felt towards the President. If any confidence had been felt in Mr. Wilson, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg would have opposed the adoption of the U-boat war, and would have allowed the President's efforts for mediation to pursue their course. As a witness before the Committee, he himself said:
"There can be no doubt, now that we can look back upon events, that we should have done better had we placed our fate in President Wilson's hands, and had accepted his offers of mediation."
As I have already pointed out, the factor which in my opinion was largely responsible for determining the course we ultimately adopted was the under-estimation and ignorance of America which was so widespread in Germany. From the very first moment the problem was not properly understood by the German nation. The fact was overlooked that the most important battle of the war was taking place in Washington, and when the tragedy reached its climax, no one believed that, with all her political, military and economic power, the United States of America would ever enter into the War.
Finally, it has been pointed out as an objection to my view, that, after all, the Entente would have rejected Wilson's efforts at mediation. I am no longer in a position to prove the contrary to-day, and it is, of course, just possible, that the President and Mr. House were mistaken in assuming as much as they did. If at that time, however, we expected the Entente to reject Mr. Wilson's offer of mediation, we should at all events have postponed the U-boat war, and accepted American intervention, in order to improve our diplomatic position in Washington, before having recourse to the ultima ratio. It seems to have been our destiny that all our most important decisions of the war were the outcome of military and not of political considerations. On the Entente side, the converse was always true, and that is why, though it suffered many military reverses, the Entente won the war.
In pursuing the policy I advocated, I was influenced by considerations, which now, in conclusion, I should like to sum up as follows:
(1) It was no longer possible to achieve a decisive German victory after the first Battle of the Marne, that is why German policy should have been directed towards obtaining "Peace without Victory"; and, as things turned out, such a victory was only to be obtained by means of American mediation.
(2) The personality of Mr. Wilson played no decisive part in determining my attitude. I never once reckoned upon his personal friendliness towards ourselves; for I knew him too well to suppose him capable of pro-German tendencies. I expected nothing more from him than that he would play America's game—America's and no other country's—supported by the public opinion of the United States. American policy, however, pursued the object of a "Peace without Victory," from the standpoint of practical politics, in order that, neither Germany nor England should attain to a superlatively powerful position. A "Peace without Victory" of this sort, under American patronage, would have left the United States in the undisputed position of the first political power in the world. To this, there was added certain other reasons of an ideal political nature, owing to the fact that both Mr. Wilson and the great majority of the American people wished to put an end to all the bloodshed and misery.
(3) The beginning of the unrestricted U-boat war was bound, as things had developed, to lead automatically to the rupture of diplomatic relations with the United States.
(4) As matters stood in America, the rupture of diplomatic relations was equally bound automatically to bring about war with the United States.
(5) War with the United States had to be averted at all costs, because America's help meant giving our enemy such an overwhelming preponderance of power, that a German defeat became an absolute certainty.
(6) The political situation was such that, the acceptance of the American offer of mediation was the only means of preventing the United States from entering the war.
(7) If America did not enter the war, the Entente were not in a position to beat us.
(8) If Mr. Wilson had succeeded in bringing both belligerent parties to the conference table, a sort of Hubertsburg Peace[*] would have been concluded. In view of the situation, a peace unfavorable to ourselves was unthinkable. Who, at that time, could have compelled us to accept terms which we regarded as incompatible with Germany's position in the world? Herr Helfferich before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly, expressed the view that in the end Mr. Wilson would have forced peace upon us with the butt-end of a rifle. But whence would he have obtained this butt-end? He had not one, and it took him a year to create an army. No one who is familiar with the United States can believe that it would ever have been possible to drive the Americans into the war, once a Peace Conference had assembled. For then it would only have been a matter of deciding the fate of one or two pieces of territory or colonies, in which the Americans would not have felt the slightest interest. Naturally, we should have had to restore Belgium and accept the disarmament programme, etc. But we had already declared ourselves ready to take these measures, and, as regards disarmament, etc., this reform was inevitable, in view of the economic position of all the countries concerned. If America had not entered the war, no one could have forced us to accept less advantageous terms than the status quo ante, with possibly some mutual compensation.
[Footnote *: This refers to the Treaty of Hubertsburg, which was one of the treaties that put an end to the Seven Years War on the 15th February, 1763. It was concluded between the States of Prussia, Austria and Saxony. Nobody seems to have derived any advantage from the treaty, except perhaps Frederick II., on whose province of Silesia Marie-Therese renounced all further claim.]
THE RETURN HOME
After the rupture of diplomatic relations, I entrusted the care of our interests to the Swiss Legation, and from that time I did not speak a word to any American official except to the Assistant Secretary of State, Breckenridge Long, who accompanied us as far as the boat at New York. From the majority of those gentlemen with whom I had official relations, however, I received very friendly letters of farewell.
The principal passage in the letter from Lansing, the Secretary of State, was as follows:
"I shall bear in mind all your earnest efforts in the cause of peace, and will gladly recall our personal relations, which, in spite of the difficulties of the situation, were always a pleasure to me."
In view of the conditions prevailing at the time, the preparations for our departure took a long time. It was only with difficulty that we were able to obtain the necessary accommodation for the large number of German officials and their families on the Danish ship Friedrich VIII. The business of getting the necessary paper—such, for instance, as the Entente's safe conduct—also necessitated lengthy negotiations, which were conducted by the Swiss Legation with the assistance of Prince Hatzfeldt, the Secretary of the Embassy. Our departure could only take place on the 14th February.
It was not pleasant to be obliged to remain eleven days longer in Washington. The moment the rupture of diplomatic relations occurred, the secret police took possession of the Embassy, and shadowed every one of my movements. These precautionary measures were supposed to guarantee my personal safety; but I should have been quite safe without them, for all Americans behaved towards me with perfect propriety and courtesy. Our personal friends did not allow the rupture of diplomatic relations to make any difference in their attitude towards us. Until the very day of our departure, my wife and I were the daily guests of American friends. Even the Press, with but a few exceptions, maintained a friendly attitude; for all the journalists knew that I had worked hard to maintain peace. As an example of this, I reproduce below an article from the New York Tribune, which is one of the leading anti-German papers in America. I give the article, somewhat abbreviated, in the original, in order to preserve its American character:
"Diplomacy and Friendship twin arts of Bernstorff.
"Departing German Envoy, target of critics here and at home, quits post with brilliant record and many personal friends.
"The sailing of Friedrich VIII. invites the cordial obituary style, though diplomatic deaths are supposed to warrant no sadness. And yet, curiously enough, Count Bernstorff probably finds himself leaving when more people are personally for him and fewer against him than at any time in the last two years. A less distinguished diplomat would not have had the art to stay so long.
"A letter from Washington, dated June, 1915, is in my desk. It tells incidentally about the visit of a friend to the Ambassador shortly after his interview with the President. 'It's coming out all right,' the Count said cheerfully, his melancholy eyes lighting up, and the anxious lines etched in his face during the months past lightening. 'No, they're not going to get rid of me yet for a while,' referring to the Press clamor for his dismissal.
"'I'm glad of that,' answered the friend. 'Then you'll stay and get some more degrees.' (Eight American universities had honored him.) 'Oh,' he answered with a gesture, 'I may leave by degrees.' It is winning to catch an Excellency at puns.
"At his departure many persons—close friends of the last eight years and newspaper correspondents—are going to miss his amazing charm and the easy candor of his talk. He has had an intimate directness in his dealings with all sorts and conditions of people, that only a personage of magnetic personality can adopt.
"Sheer charm alone can forget caste consciousness. Count Bernstorff has had none of the patent heavy regard for himself that makes three-quarters of official Germany a chore to meet. 'I'll put you through' the little telephone girl, at his favorite New York hotel used to say promptly, when his Excellency was asked for, and knew that she was safe.
"Reporters will miss seeing him teeter informally by the Embassy fireplace as he interviewed them, or gave out a significant something from behind a hastily-raised newspaper.
"The insistent friends of Germany, heavily friendly and advisory, will miss his English, very soft with an attractive ghost, now and then, of a lisp. He learned it in London, his first language, for he was born there fifty-five years ago. His father, Count Albrecht was on service as Ambassador to the Court of St. James.
"Count Bernstorff came to America from his post as Consul-General in Cairo. He was stationed there in the trying diplomatic period of Anglo-French rapprochement and the rise of naval competition between the English and the German empires. By many, Count Bernstorff is credited with saving Turkish Egypt and most of the Moslem world to the German balance. They say he did it over coffee with Khedive Abbas Hilmy, who never, never was bored by his wit, nor failed to appreciate the graces bred down from thirteenth-century Mecklenburg of the tall Herr Consul-General. And in return from the Moslem Count Bernstorff may have caught some of his comforting regard for kismet.
"The man is more than a little fatalist. 'What happens must happen,' he was wont to say, as he sorted the threatening letters from his morning correspondence. And again: 'What difference does it make? They've killed so many that one more can make no difference.'
"He goes back to Berlin now, there as here different things to different people. A rank Social Democrat I have heard him called in drawing-rooms, where news of his earnest plea to his Government for a liberal Lusitania Note had leaked out.
"It has not been easy for him to construe and weigh the American situation for his Government, and have his judgment taken, any more than it has been easy for Mr. Gerard to convince the German Foreign Office that the American Notes were really meant. Often the same agent knocked both men and got in ahead of either as the authority on what America would do.
"A certain American Baroness, Egeria to the American journalists in Berlin, who has no use for Bernstorff or Gerard or Zimmermann, has been one of his many cockle burrs. Most of the German-Americans who chose to protest about the shipment of munitions and all of pro-submarine Germany plus an aspirant or two for his post—all of these have been busy against him. And the Americans are legion who have seconded the hate. He himself has been silent, with an occasional wry smile over it all. He has never excused himself when attacks on him, personally, followed German actions against which he had counselled.
"He has tried over and over again to explain to the German Foreign Office the temper of the American people, whose sentimentality is so different from that which prevails in the Hanover-Bremen-Leipzig breast. The Hamburger-Nachrichten has reviled him. It has been hard to see with Hamburg eyes what Count Bernstorff must know—that hardly a diplomat alive could have stayed so long on friendly terms with Washington, through these two years, or reaped so heavy a harvest of understanding from his study of poker and baseball as well as American commerce and institutions. People like to write—I, too—of his melancholy eyes, his gently cynical estimates of most dreamers' hopes. Over one circumstance he has been always hopeful. He has clung always to the hope that America neutral would be a leader in the erection of peace machinery, eager that every diplomatic transaction should perhaps have the possibility of an instrument. His real object in leaving, I am sure, is that not again will he turn over a communication from the American State Department to read a faint hope of peace between lines."
Apart from the measures taken for our security, our departure from Washington and New York was not very different from what it would have been in ordinary times, had I been moving to take up my duties in another country. Many friends came to the railway station at Washington, and on the boat at New York. Telegrams and letters of farewell came in hundreds, and our cabins were full of presents, consisting of baskets of fruit, flowers, cigars, books, beverages of all kinds, which are the custom at leavetakings in America. In these circumstances, and after all that I have described in the foregoing pages, I was nota little astonished when, about a year later, the American War-Propaganda Department began to hold me responsible for proceedings which were partly simply fiction, and for the rest of a kind that had occurred without any assistance from me whatever. I can understand perfectly the wish of the American Propaganda Department to create a war spirit, just as the same department in all belligerent countries strove to do; nevertheless, it was not necessary to adorn the war propaganda with unjustifiable personal attacks. Nothing happened after my departure from America to prompt such attacks. A few of my telegrams were, to be sure, deciphered and published in order to prove that I had hatched a conspiracy. When the Military and Naval Attaches were compelled to leave the United States, I could not very well avoid discharging the whole of the naval and military business myself. But this does not prove that I had previously had any dealings with these matters, even admitting that the Naval and Military Attaches had been guilty of illegal practices, which, despite all the uproar created by enemy propaganda, I do not believe to have been proved. Once the fever of war has died down, no one, presumably, will feel any interest in devoting any attention to such questions. If, however, later on, anyone should feel inclined to investigate the "German conspiracies," and "German propaganda," in the United States, in an impartial spirit, he will be astonished to find how many fantastic fictions were brought to the notice of the Investigation Committee of the Senate, and what small justification lay at the bottom of the charges made against the German Embassy.
When, on the afternoon of the 14th of February, we took to sea, we had no idea that we were to enjoy the hospitality of the gallant steamer Friedrich VIII., and its amiable captain, for four long weeks. Ever since the establishment of regular lines of passenger steamers between America and Europe, we must certainly have broken all records in regard to the length of time we took to complete the journey. There were on board the Friedrich VIII., in addition to the whole of the staff of the Embassy, together with their wives and children, the complete personnel of the consulates, as also a few native Germans, who for some reason or other, happened to be in America and had not yet had an opportunity of returning home. A few Scandinavians completed the list of the passengers. The total number of Germans was approximately two hundred. According to the wording of the Safe Conduct which we had been granted, we were allowed to take with us our personal belongings and "a reasonable amount of money." We were expressly forbidden to carry any papers.
The first twenty-four hours of the journey were the most pleasant. The sea was calm and the weather was not too cold, and on the following evening we reached Halifax, which was the port at which we were to be examined. It was selected in order that we might not have to enter the war zone. Here we had the first taste of the vexations of the journey. Our captain wanted to enter the port; but he was ordered to anchor outside. On the following morning the authorities allowed us to enter. We were placed under the supervision of the English cruiser Devonshire, and I cannot help admitting that the English naval officers discharged the undignified and distasteful duties imposed upon them with great courtesy. The Canadian officials, on the other hand, behaved with the utmost disrespect and boorishness. They appeared to be accustomed to dealing only with immigrants and stowaways.
I do not know to this day, why, in spite of our Safe Conduct, we were held up twelve days in the Bedford Basin, which, with its encircling snow-clad hills, was completely shut off from the rest of the world. The examination in itself could not adequately account for this strange and uncustomary behavior, particularly towards an Ambassador: for although the ship's coal was ultimately sifted in the search for contraband goods, if any good-will had been shown, the examination could have been finished in three to four days at the outside. I suppose, however, that the delay was intended to serve political ends. The English probably wanted to keep us shut up in Halifax until the United States had entered into the war. They were perfectly well aware of my views, and feared that in Berlin I might after all succeed in effecting an understanding with the American Government. As, however, developments in the United States dragged on very slowly, and at first only an armed neutrality was contemplated, the English were ultimately obliged to allow us to continue our journey, because they could not very well keep us confined for weeks.
Personally, I cannot complain of the treatment to which I was subjected at Halifax, for I was the only one among all my fellow passengers of German nationality who had not to submit to having my person searched, and was only required to sign a declaration that I was carrying no papers. Everybody else—even my wife—had to consent to being searched, an operation which was performed in a humiliating manner, and which led to many an unpleasant scene. Even little Huberta Hatzfeldt, who was only three months old, was stripped of her swaddling clothes. The Canadian authorities assessed the "reasonable sum of money" allowed at ninety dollars a head, and confiscated all moneys above that sum as contraband. In this way, Countess Manfred Matuschka lost 25,000 dollars, which, in ignorance of the regulations, she had brought with her. The sum was to be deposited with a Canadian Bank, but has probably been lost forever by its owner. As I was forbidden to have any communication whatsoever with the outside world, I was not able to carry out my intention of lodging a complaint at Washington regarding this breach of the Safe Conduct that had been granted to us.
At last, however, our imprisonment came to an end, and we were allowed to pursue our journey. Amid the cheers of all on board, including particularly those of our excellent captain, who felt the affront we had received very deeply, we weighed anchor. Judge of the almost panic-stricken disappointment of all the passengers, therefore, when at the end of a few knots, the ship turned back on her course! To the great relief of all concerned, however, it appeared that we had only forgotten to take on board the wireless telegraphy apparatus which had been taken from us at Halifax. From that moment, apart from very bad and cold weather, we continued our journey without further incident. We took a sweeping curve northward, then sailed down the Norwegian coast without meeting either an enemy ship or a German submarine. Some of the neutral passengers were so much terrified of the latter, that they did not retire to their beds for many nights at a stretch.
At ten o'clock in the morning we landed in the snow in Christiania. Meanwhile the Mexico telegram had been published in Washington, and Michaelis, the German Ambassador, in accordance with instructions, came on board, in order to learn from me whether I could offer any explanation of the fact—that is to say, whether I suspected treachery on the part of any of my staff. It is indeed plain from the oft-quoted reports of the Committee of the Senate, that a host of underhand tricks must have been played, particularly in the Post Office; nevertheless, I am of opinion that in this case the explanation which I gave above is the correct one. The telegram in question, like many others, was presumably deciphered by the English. From the experience gained during the war, we have learned that the diplomacy of the future will never be allowed to rely, for important matters, upon the secret of a cipher; for skilful experts are now able to discover the most complicated code, provided that they are able to intercept a sufficient number of telegrams. Over and above this, owing to our isolation in Washington, we were able to alter the cipher but very seldom. As to the suggestion of treachery on the part of any member of my staff—I never believed in this at the time, nor do I believe in it now. In very hard times they all proved themselves to be thoroughly loyal and efficient.
We had to remain in Christiania longer than we expected, because the route across the Sound to Copenhagen was entirely ice-bound. Finally, with the help of ice-breakers, even this obstacle was overcome, and after a day's halt at Copenhagen, we at last reached Berlin via Warnemuende. We had received an extremely hospitable and cordial welcome at Christiania and Copenhagen, at the hands of the Ambassadors, Michaelis and Count Brockdorff-Rantzau—we also had an opportunity of convincing ourselves that the feeling in Denmark and Norway had turned against us just as sharply as in America. The balance of power was, however, different. If our neutral neighbors had not been living in fear of German power, they would at this time have responded to Mr. Wilson's call, and would have broken off all diplomatic relations with us. I believe that the President was hoping that events might take this turn, and that he would thus be spared the need of waging war. If all the countries in the world were to declare war against Germany and her Allies—this is what was assumed in Washington—the economic pressure would alone suffice to compel the Central Powers to yield. The policy proposed was similar to the one which, in the future, the League of Nations would pursue against any refractory member of its body, and which the Entente proposes to adopt to-day against Bolshevist Russia. The great length of time which it took the United States to enter the war is, in my opinion, to be explained in this way. The idea was to wait and see how things would develop. Meanwhile, thanks to the Mexico telegram, war-propaganda in America was being worked with great success, and the military preparations made such steady progress, that even if economic measures did not prove sufficient to end the war, the United States would have obtained the army they had longed for for so many years, as also the fleet of war and merchant ships, for which in times of peace Congress would never have voted the necessary funds.
On the evening of the day after our arrival in Berlin, I was received by the Imperial Chancellor, with whom I had a long interview. It was on this occasion that Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg informed me that he could not help consenting to the U-boat war, as the German people would never have understood it if we had concluded an unsatisfactory peace, without attempting to bring about a happy decision by means of the last and most effective weapon in which the nation felt any confidence. He also said that he would have been unable to go before the Reichstag with an offer of mediation from Mr. Wilson, because such intervention would not have been popular, public opinion would not have liked it, and it would only have been accepted by the Social Democrats. Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg declared that the Reichstag would have "thrown him out." This was the very expression he used. But this did not explain why, a few weeks previously, Mr. Wilson's mediation had seemed desirable, if, as a matter of fact, it was impossible to get the Reichstag to agree to it. Meanwhile, the political situation at that time has been completely elucidated by the evidence which Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg gave before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly. In his account of the interview he had with me, he spoke as follows:
"As regards my interview with Count Bernstorff, on his return from America, I should like to make the following remarks: I cannot recall all the details of the conversation I had with Count Bernstorff. Count Bernstorff has revealed in his evidence what I said to him, and I have no doubt that he has accurately reproduced my actual words. My duty was—and this is an idea I already touched upon earlier in the day—once the policy of an unrestricted U-boat war was resolved upon, never to reveal to anyone any doubts as to the efficacy of the scheme. In this case, too, I had to say, we shall achieve something by means of it. And that is why in my conversation with Count Bernstorff, I did not reveal my inmost feelings on the subject—there was no need for me to do so—but simply referred to the reasons which could be adduced in favor of the U-boat war."
The reception which I was given in Berlin, certainly at first left nothing to be desired. The Imperial Chancellor, on the occasion of our first meeting, had thanked me in a very hearty manner for my work in Washington, and a few days later, proposed that I should go on an extraordinary mission to Stockholm. On principle I was quite prepared to do this, seeing that the recent outbreak of revolution in Russia, and the prospective international Socialist conference in Stockholm, would offer fresh possibilities of peace, and an opportunity for useful work. From various things I had noticed in Berlin, I gathered that—as the evidence before the Examination Committee proved—the Imperial Chancellor would have preferred to give up the idea of the U-boat war, and to accept American intervention in favor of peace, but that he was compelled to give in, owing to the overwhelming advocacy of the U-boat campaign. It was to be hoped, therefore, that with the expected speedy failure of U-boat tactics, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg would snatch at the next opportunity of making peace. As he remained in Office, in spite of the U-boat war, his chief motive for so doing must certainly have been that "after his departure the whole of the power, both of external and internal politics, would have gone over without resistance to the machinery of war-fever." I regarded any policy as the right one, which arrived at a prompt conclusion of peace, provided that we did not make any confession of weakness by ourselves initiating fresh offers of peace. We had already erred once in this way. But in Stockholm it seemed likely that opportunities might occur of winning either the Russians or the foreign Socialists over to a movement in favor of peace.
As I heard nothing, either about the Stockholm Mission, or about an audience with the Kaiser, which I was led to expect in connection with it, I went at the end of a few days to find out what had happened, and I was told that the Kaiser had declined to sanction my mission to Stockholm. Although I had a second interview with the Imperial Chancellor, I was never able to ascertain definitely the reason of the Kaiser's anger against me. Since, however, General Ludendorff, simply on the grounds of my particular views, made his "impassioned" attack on me before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly, I have no longer been in any doubt whatsoever as to the nature of the influence that was at work at General Headquarters. At the time, I only suspected the prevalence of some such feelings in that quarter, because I had heard it whispered that the Monarch did not like my "democratic views." The reasons for the Kaiser's anger, which were given me officially, were of too trivial a nature to be even plausible.
I must next refer to the dispatch box of the Swedish Legation in Washington. At New York Herr Ekengren had put on board the steamer Friedrich VIII. a box containing Swedish telegrams, which was to be forwarded to its destination.
This box, the very existence of which we Germans knew nothing about, was taken possession of by the British authorities in Halifax, and dispatched to England. The London newspapers then reported that a dispatch box, belonging to Count Bernstorff, and containing documents of the German Embassy, had been opened there. Although the mistake, whether intentional or the reverse, was very soon elucidated, someone had laid the matter before the Kaiser in a distorted light. Apparently the Kaiser was allowed to form the suspicion that the opening of the box had betrayed the secret of the Mexico telegram.
A further reason for his displeasure, at the time, was told me subsequently at Constantinople by the Kaiser himself. He said that I had "let him down most dreadfully," when I had recommended Mr. Gerard as American Ambassador to Berlin. I ought never to have supported the nomination of such a "Tammany Hall" creature. If he—the Kaiser—had only known at the time who Gerard was, and what Tammany Hall could be, he would never have accepted this Ambassador. In Constantinople I was able to reply to the Kaiser pretty fully, as the interview took place during a somewhat long journey on the Bosphorus. I certainly did recommend Mr. Gerard in due course, but only after he had already been selected as Ambassador by Mr. Wilson. Before he had been chosen I was not asked. If at that time—in the year 1913—I had advised the rejection of Mr. Gerard, it would only have created a lot of unnecessary ill-feeling, as was the case at the nomination of Mr. Hill. It is the custom in America to select the Ambassadors from politically influential circles of the triumphant party; irrespective of whether Tammany Hall or any other organization is concerned.
Moreover, in 1903 I believed that Mr. Gerard would be welcome in Berlin, for social reasons alone. Everybody knew that the Kaiser liked to have Ambassadors who entertained on a lavish scale. Mr. Gerard was the only man, among all the candidates of that day, who seemed fitted for this and in a position to live up to it, while his rich and amiable wife was admirably suited to help him in his task. Before the war, an American Ambassador in Berlin really never had any political business to transact, for it was the tradition with the United States Government to conduct all negotiations almost exclusively with the diplomatic corps in Washington. In 1913, therefore, I had no reason to advocate the rejection of Mr. Gerard in Berlin. Unfortunately, it was precisely in the social sphere that he had, before the war, experienced certain disappointments in Berlin, which, as far as we were concerned, might have been avoided, and it is possible that Mr. Gerard may have been influenced by these regrettable incidents. In any case, the Ambassador did not like Berlin, and he took too little pains to conceal the fact. Mr. Gerard was not the sort of man to be able to swim against the tide of anti-German feeling, once it had become the proper thing in America to be pro-Ally. As to whether any other United States Ambassador would have shown less hostility to us, however, may be reasonably doubted. I have already singled out the Adlon dinner as a proof of the fact that Mr. Gerard could behave differently.
Be all this as it may, the reasons which were alleged genuinely to justify the hostile attitude of General Headquarters towards myself, struck me as not being sufficiently weighty. I say "General Headquarters" intentionally, for the Kaiser was manifestly only prejudiced against me by the usual whisperings that characterized the Wilhelminian epoch.
Nevertheless, I had conducted the most important negotiations of the war, and the Monarch must, in any case, have had the wish to hear the report of it all from the person chiefly concerned. Besides, the Kaiser knew as well as I did, that in Washington I had pursued the policy of which he and the Chancellor were actually in favor. Otherwise, the Imperial Memorandum, which was sent to me about the U-boat war, and to which I have already referred, would be inexplicable. Meanwhile, however, this policy had not been able to prevail against the preponderating influence of the military party, who demanded the U-boat campaign. Now, of course, I have no longer any doubt that the views which General Ludendorff expressed against me before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly, simply as his personal opinion and without proof, constituted more or less what was suggested to the Kaiser at this time. Briefly, they wished to make me the scapegoat for the United States' entry into the war, and this, despite the fact that all that I had prophesied in regard to American policy had proved correct, and all that my opponents had prophesied had proved wrong. In their efforts to accomplish this end, they found that a poisonous mixture could be brewed out of my efforts for peace, and my well-known democratic views, which the Kaiser was not able to resist.
The unhappy Monarch unfortunately never once realized that the "Democrats" were his best friends. The Imperial power could, in the long run, only be upheld, if it found both its support and its counter-weight in a strong democracy. Like Friedrich Wilhelm IV., William II. was also unable to adapt himself to the changing circumstances of his time. The one-sided composition of his entourage, which was always recruited from among people who held his own views, was, at all events, chiefly to blame for this.
Although the Imperial Chancellor had told me that he would overcome the Kaiser's displeasure in regard to myself, almost two months elapsed before I was received at General Headquarters, and even then, it was only because a question had been asked about the matter in the Reichstag. When I saw the Kaiser, towards the beginning of May, in Kreuznach, the American question was of interest merely to historians, and no longer to politicians. Consequently, my interview with the Monarch, which took place on a walk, was not of very great moment. With his customary skill, the Kaiser steered clear of any attempt to enter deeply into the political problems of the hour, and behaved towards me, for the rest, just as affably as he had been wont to do in the past.
I had made the journey to Kreuznach in the company of my late friend, Ballin, whom I was never to see again. Whereas I was invited to lunch at the Imperial board, Herr Ballin was only asked to dinner.
Among the many and various charges which were brought against me in my Washington days, was the allegation that I was principally an agent of Ballin's. I had, in cordial agreement with Herr Ballin, always energetically supported the interests of German Shipping Companies; but even my most bitter enemies can only justify their charge against me for the period preceding the war. For, during the war, Herr Ballin had no influence at all, either in America or at home. He was, for instance, kept aloof from the Kaiser, because he was regarded as an "interested party" and as a pessimist. On the occasion in question, a high official of the Court said to me at the Imperial table that if I was seeing Ballin again before I left Kreuznach, would I please tell him that he was not to speak so pessimistically to the Emperor as he was wont to do. The Emperor ought not to be allowed to hear such stuff, otherwise he would lose nerve. This little passage of conversation is a proof of the carefully "insulated" position in which, as everyone knows, the Kaiser was kept.
After lunch I paid a visit to both of our great Army Commanders, whose acquaintance I made for the first time on this occasion.
"Bowing to necessity rather than to my own personal tastes," I must now, unfortunately, enter into personal matters, which hitherto I have diligently avoided in this book. I cannot, however, help referring here to the utterly unwarranted attacks made upon me by General Ludendorff, in his evidence before the Examination Committee of the National Assembly, with the view of refuting my own account of the interview which we had at G. H. Q. At all events, the General so completely lost control of himself before the Examination Committee, that this possibly explains his false interpretation of my evidence.
To deal first with the reason which actuated me in visiting General Ludendorff, I reproduce below the dialogue which took place thereanent before the Examination Committee:
Delegate Dr. Cohn: Was your interview with Field-Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff brought about by any particular person or persons—either by yourself, by the Imperial Chancellor, or by the Foreign Office; or was it purely accidental?
Witness Count von Bernstorff: It was the outcome of the circumstances. I received a telegram which informed me, through the Foreign Office, that I was to report to the Kaiser at Kreuznach on the 4th of May. Now, Field-Marshal Hindenburg and General Ludendorff were also present at the lunch table, and I felt that I was bound in courtesy to pay a visit to the two gentlemen after the meal.
Delegate Dr. Cohn: Good. If I understand you correctly, my lord, G. H. Q. did not even feel the need of speaking with the Ambassador just recently returned from America?
Witness Count von Bernstorff: No. I never received any summons for that purpose.
I abide by these utterances to this day, because I actually remained seven weeks without being summoned to an interview with General Ludendorff, and then only visited him of my own free will, on the occasion when I reported to the Kaiser. In these circumstances, therefore, I was entirely justified in describing my visit as simply an act of courtesy. In view of the circumstances, I might perhaps say: an act of super-courtesy.
I do not dispute General Ludendorff's statement that I had expressed the wish to see him; for if I had not had the wish, I should have left Kreuznach without paying him a visit. As, however, General Ludendorff, in his evidence before the Examination Committee, allowed it to be plainly understood that, owing to the difference of our views, he did not like to have anything to do with me, I will at once emphasize the fact, that my wish to see him was actuated by purely official motives. In politics I have at all times laid all personal feelings entirely aside, and, have thought only of the business and the interests of my country. While I was kicking my heels in Berlin for all those weeks, waiting upon a summons to the Emperor, I was urged by many people to try and obtain an interview with General Ludendorff, in order to enlighten him regarding American affairs, as in this respect he was very badly informed. The latter fact, has, at all events, been substantiated by General Ludendorff himself, in his evidence before the Committee. The gentlemen who urged me to obtain this interview, themselves made efforts to bring it about. But these efforts were of no avail, and I therefore regarded them as too insignificant to be mentioned in my own evidence. In all my utterances before the Committee, I refrained from all allusion to personal and subjective matters.
General Ludendorff has further maintained that I impugned his honor by declaring that, generally speaking, he did not wish to conclude peace. I naturally never made such a nonsensical statement. Immediately after my visit to General Ludendorff at G. H. Q., I made notes of the essential passages of our interview; because I suspected, what in my opinion has since become a certainty, to wit, that the General wished to heap all the blame of the war with America upon my shoulders. Every impartial reader who examines the Notes given below, will be forced to admit, that they contain nothing whatsoever except assertions, which have been confirmed by all the evidence given before the Committee of the National Assembly; that is to say:
(1) That I wished to accept Mr. Wilson's offer of mediation.
(2) That the Imperial Government—that is to say, G. H. Q. or whoever was responsible for taking the final decision—did not wish to accept Mr. Wilson's offer of mediation, in order to declare the unrestricted U-boat war instead.
(3) That the Naval Authorities had declared themselves in a position to bring about a desire for peace in England in five months from the 1st of February.
My notes about the interview I had with General Ludendorff ran as follows:
General Ludendorff received me with the following words:
"In America you wanted to make peace. You evidently thought we were at the end of our tether."
"No, I did not think that; but I wanted to make peace before we came to the end of our tether."
Whereupon the General said:
"We, however, did not want to. Besides, it would not have been surprising if you had thought that we had come to the end of our resources. The communications you received, which I read from time to time, certainly led to that conclusion."
Later on in the conversation, General Ludendorff asked me when, in my opinion, the Americans would participate in the war with great force. I replied that in twelve months a large American army was to be expected in France, and that this army would be organized with comparative ease. To this the General rejoined that in that case we had ample time to end the war meanwhile; for the U-boats would force England to a peace in three months. He had received absolutely certain information on this point. When I was on the point of leaving, General Ludendorff repeated this remark very positively.
Though the sense was the same, the actual wording of my evidence before the Examination Committee differs somewhat from that of the notes given above. This is explained, however, by the fact that I spoke quite freely, and therefore prefaced my remarks with the words: "So far as I can remember, and so far as I am able to say, under oath, the conversation was more or less as follows," etc.
I did not enter into the personal views which General Ludendorff thought fit to express in his evidence before the Examination Committee; for I am of the opinion that the duty of the Committee was simply to establish the real truth by an inquiry into the facts. It is open to the Committee to put to me any questions they like concerning my activities in Washington, and I will answer them frankly; but I think that a quarrel between witnesses about their own personal opinions would have been an undignified spectacle, in which I distinctly refused to participate. I gladly leave it to the reader of the present volume to form his own ideas regarding my work in America.
In May, 1917, I left G. H. Q., feeling quite convinced that for the moment there was no room for me in German diplomacy; for the only policy which I regarded as right, had no prospect of being realized. After my return from America, I was placed on half-pay. I was therefore at liberty to return home, however unwilling I may have felt, at that moment of great tribulation for my country, to give myself up to a life of ease and idleness. During my period of rest, a Reichstag resolution was passed, and there was a change of Chancellors.
When Herr von Kuehlmann, who is a friend of mine, took over the Foreign Office, he summoned me by telegram to Berlin, and told me that the Imperial Chancellor, Michaelis, was going to offer me the post of Ambassador in Constantinople. Some years previously Herr von Kuehlmann and I had worked together in London. We had been on very good terms, and since then I had never lost touch with him. As he assured me very positively that he had taken over the Foreign Office in order to conclude peace, I felt no qualms about returning once more to diplomatic duties. I did not, however, conceal from Herr von Kuehlmann, that I expected that there would be very strong opposition at G. H. Q. to my being employed again on Foreign Service. The Secretary of State was of the opinion that we might confidently leave this side of the question to the Imperial Chancellor, who at that moment was on his honeymoon, and was therefore admirably situated to carry things through. My interview with Herr Michaelis only made me more eager than ever to undertake the Mission to Constantinople. He said to me that he was offering me a very difficult and unpleasant billet, for I should have to wring concessions from the Turks with the object of bringing about peace. This view of the situation corresponded entirely with my own. Contrary to my expectations, the Imperial ratification of my appointment arrived; but the Monarch also seized the opportunity of making certain remarks about my democratic views, without, however, withholding his signature from my credentials.
In September I set out for Constantinople, where thirty years previously I had started my diplomatic career, and where I was now to end it.
Albert, Privy Councillor, appointment of; financial affairs of; office of; propaganda work of; moving picture work of; shipping activities of; hindrance of; marine insurance and; "conspiracies" and; duties of; robbing of
America, see United States
American Criminal Court Embassy in London Institute in Berlin Law Department Peace League Peace Note Press Press Bureau Secret Service War Propaganda Department
Amsinck and Company, 261
Ancona, sinking of; Lansing and sinking of
Arabic, sinking of; effect of sinking of; negotiations concerning; defense of sinking of; settlement of
Armenian sinking of
Austria-Hungary, Germany allied with; Serbian threat to; battle front of; desire for peace in
Beecher, Henry Ward
Belgium, invasion of; atrocities in; atrocities of; American aid to; proposed restoration of; deportations from
Bern Freie Zeitung
Bernstorff, Count, in London; pre-war policy of; arbitration efforts of; American relations with; peace efforts of; appointment of; Roosevelt and; newspapermen and; Bryan and; munition traffic and; Col. House and; forged passports and; "conspiracies" and; submarine warfare and; Lusitania affair and; Lusitania reports of; Lansing and; Arabic affair and; Arabic reports of; German telegram on Arabic affair to; Archibald affair and; Boy-Ed, report of; Sussex reports of; Bolo affair and; Polish relief report of; mediation reports of; 1916 election and; Commission of National Assembly and; "American opinion" described by; Wilson's speech reported by; departure of; article on; arrival in Germany of; German examination of
Bethlehem Steel Works
Bielaski, Commissioner Bruce
Bosch Magneto Company
Boston Evening Transcript
Boy-Ed, Captain, office of; recall of; conspiracies of; Rintelen and; attacks on
Bridgeport Projectile Company
British Royal Mail Steam Packet Company
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bryan, William Jennings; character of; pacifism of; submarine warfare and; peace efforts of; resignation of
"Bureau for Employment of German Workers"
Canadian Pacific Railway
"Central Office for Foreign Service"
"Central Purchasing Company"
"Citizen's Committee for Food Shipments"
Claussen, M. B.
Collector of the Port of New York
Commission of Inquiry
Commission of National Assembly
Declaration of London
Department of Justice
Dernburg, Dr., appointment of; duties of; failure of mission of; propaganda of; funds of; unpopularity of; submarine warfare and; Lusitania affair defended by; withdrawal of; Bernstorff supported by
De Wiart, Carton
Dumba, Dr.; peace efforts of; Archibald affair and; recall of
East Asiatic Squadron
England; German relations with; Venezuela affair and; cables cut by; international law violated by; propaganda expenses of; American press and; American relations with; blockade by; Wilson and; American notes to: February 22, 1915; January 18, 1916; July 21, 1915; October 21, 1915; Lansing's note to; debt of; merchantmen armed by; Polish relief and; mediation and; resources of; submarine warfare and; peace feeling in; wheat embargo against; peace terms of; American financial aid of