The Fourth of August—Europe at War

By H. G. Wells

[The New York Times/Current History, December 12, 1914]

At last the intolerable tension is over. Europe is at war. The monstrous vanity that was begotten by the easy victories of 1870-71 has challenged the world. Germany prepares to reap the harvest Bismarck sowed. That trampling, drilling foolery in the heart of Europe, that has arrested civilization and darkened the hopes of mankind for forty years--German imperialism and German militarism—has struck its inevitable blow.

The victory of Germany will mean the permanent enthronement of the War God over all human affairs. The defeat of Germany may open the way to disarmament and peace throughout the earth. To those who love peace there can be no other hope in the present conflict than the defeat, the utter discrediting of the German legend—ending it for good and all—of blood and iron, the superstition of Krupp, flag-wagging Teutonic Kiplingism, and all that criminal, sham efficiency that centres in Berlin.

Never was war so righteous as war against Germany now; never any State in the world so clamored for punishment; but be it remembered that Europe's quarrel is with the German State, not with the German people; with a system, and not with a race.

The older tradition of Germany is a pacific and civilizing tradition. The temperament of the mass of German people is kindly, sane, and amiable. Disaster to the German Army, if it is unaccompanied by such memorable wrong as dismemberment or intolerable indignity, will mean the restoration of the greatest people in Europe to the fellowship of Western nations.

The role of England in this huge struggle is plain as daylight. We have to fight if only on account of the Luxemburg outrage. We have to fight. If we do not fight, England will cease to be a country to be proud of; it will be a dirt-bath to escape from.

But it is inconceivable that we should not fight, and having fought, then in the hour of victory it will be for us to save the liberated Germans from vindictive treatment, to secure for this great people their right to a place in the sun as one united German-speaking State.

First we have to save ourselves and Europe, and then we have to stand between German on the one hand and Cossack revenge on the other.

Sure Germany Will Be Defeated

For my own part, I do not doubt that Germany and Austria are doomed to defeat in this war. It may not be catastrophic defeat, though even that is possible, but it will be a defeat. There is no destiny in the stars and every sign is false if this is not so.

They have provoked an overwhelming combination of enemies. They have underrated France. They are hampered by a bad social and military tradition. The German is not naturally a good soldier; he is orderly and obedient, but not nimble nor quick-witted. Hence his sole considerable military achievement is his not very lengthy march to Paris in 1870.

The conditions of modern warfare have been almost completely revolutionized and in a direction that subordinates massed fighting and unintelligent men to the rapid initiative of individualized soldiers.

On the other hand, since those years of disaster, the Frenchman has learned the lesson of humility. He is prepared now sombrely for a similar struggle. His is the gravity that precedes astonishing victories. In the air, in the open field, with guns and machines, it is doubtful if any one fully realizes the superiority of his quality to the German.

This sudden attack may take him aback for a week or so, though I doubt even that; but in the end I think he will hold his own even without, and with us I venture to prophesy that within three months from now his tricolor will be over the Rhine, and even suppose his line gets broken by the first rush, even then I do not see how the Germans are to get to Paris or anywhere near Paris.

I do not see how, against the strength of modern offensive and the stinging power of an intelligent enemy in retreat, of which we had a little foretaste in South Africa, the exploit of Sedan can be repeated.

A retiring German army, on the other hand, will be far less formidable than a retiring French army, because it has less devil in it, because it is made up of men taught to obey in masses, because its intelligence is concentrated in old, aristocratic officers; because it is dismayed when it breaks ranks.

The German Army is everything the conscriptionists dreamed of making our people. It is, in fact, an army about twenty years behind the requirements of contemporary conditions.

Issue with Russia More Doubtful

On the eastern frontier the issue is more doubtful because of the uncertainty of Russian things. The peculiar military strength of Russia, a strength it was never able to display in Manchuria, lies in her vast resources of mounted men.

A set invasion of Prussia may be a matter of many weeks, but the raiding possibilities in Eastern Germany are enormous.

It is difficult to guess how far a Russian attack will be directed by intelligence, how far Russia will have to blunder, but Russia will have to blunder very disastrously, indeed, before she can be put upon the defensive.

A Russian raid is far more likely to threaten Berlin than a German to reach Paris.

Meanwhile there is the struggle on the sea. In that I am prepared for some rude shocks. The Germans have devoted an amount of energy to the creation of an aggressive navy that would have been spent more wisely in consolidating their European position. It is probably a thoroughly good navy, and ship for ship the equal of our own. But the same lack of invention, the same relative uncreativeness that has kept the German behind the Frenchman in things aerial made him, regardless of his shallow seas, made him follow our lead in naval matters, and if we erred, and I believe we have erred, in overrating the importance of big battleships, the German has at least very obligingly fallen in with our error.

The safest, most effective place for the German fleet at the present time is the Baltic Canal. Unless I overrate the powers of the waterplane there is no safe harbor for it. If it goes into port anywhere that port can be ruined, and the bottled-up. Ships can be destroyed at leisure by aerial bombs, so that if they are on this side of the Kiel Canal they must keep at sea and fight, if we let them, before their coal runs short, a battle in the open sea.

Naval Fight Against Odds

In that case is their only chance will be to fight against odds, with every prospect of a smashing, albeit we shall certainly have to pay for that victory in ships and men. In the Baltic we shall, notably, get at them without the participation of Denmark, and their ships may have a considerable use against Russia, but in the end even there mine, aeroplane and destroyer should do their work.

So I reckon that Germany will be held east and that the west will get her fleet practically destroyed.

We ought also to be able to sweep her shipping off the seas, and lower her flag forever in Africa and Asia and the Pacific. All the probabilities, it seems to me, point to that.

There is no reason why Italy should not stick to her present neutrality, and there is considerable inducement at hand for both Denmark and Japan to join in, directly [if] they are convinced of the failure of the first big rush on the part of Germany.

All these issues will be more or less definitely decided within the next two or three months. By that time I believe German imperialism will be shattered, and it may be possible to anticipate the end of the armaments phase of European history.

France, Italy, England, and all the smaller powers of Europe are now pacific countries; Russia, after this huge war, will be too exhausted for further adventure. Shattered Germany will be revolutionary. Germany, as sick of the uniforms and [the] imperialism idea as France was in 1871, as disillusioned about predominance as Bulgaria is today.

The way will be open at last for all these western powers to organize peace.

That is why I, with my declared horror of war, have not signed any of these "stop the war" appeals.

Declarations that have appeared in the last few days are that every sword is drawn against Germany. Now is a sword drawn for peace.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

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