The German Point of View

By Edwin D. Mead
Chief Director of the World's Peace Foundation
(By Cable from London, September 7)

[Everybody's Magazine, October 1914]

Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, said the other day to a group of American journalists in London, that the motive of Germany in this war is lust of conquest and world dominance. It is, he said, the conflict of democracy with aristocracy—Russia here figuring, curiously, as the champion of democracy.

I wanted to know at first hand what Germany believes to be her motive in this war. And because I thought it impossible really to understand in London the best German public opinion—just as it would be impossible in Berlin to understand the best English public opinion-—I went to Germany in the end of August, to talk frankly with men whom I trust and honor, to get the opinions of all sorts of men, in trains and hotels, and to read newspapers of every stripe.

Among the men with whom I conferred in Berlin and Leipsic were:

Professor Wilhelm Foerster, eminent astronomer and head of the German group of the International Conciliation Association, whom I have known intimately for many years—a most judicial and cosmopolitan man, with almost as many friends in London and Paris as in Berlin; Professor Wilhelm Wundt, one of my own professors in my Leipsic days, perhaps the most distinguished living German philosopher; Professor Karl Lamprecht, a historian peculiarly loved by English and American students, and a close personal friend during his whole lifetime of Bethmann Hollweg, the present German Chancellor; Dr. Caspar Réné Gregory, the eminent American New Testament scholar, who has been a professor at Leipsic for thirty years, and is now a naturalized German citizen; Doctor Drechsler, secretary of the Amerika Institut at Berlin, an Oxford scholar, with larger knowledge of American thought than almost any other person in Berlin; Edward Bernstein, Socialist leader, whose books are well known to all students of social movements and political economy—perhaps the most scholarly man in the Socialist Democratic party, and certainly one of the wisest and most impartial.

At the Hague I met Professor Ludwig Quidde, well known to all international workers as one of their foremost German colleagues, a man with a singularly objective mind, and an untiring worker for a good understanding between France and Germany.

In Berlin I met three of the religious leaders who intended to be present at the International Church Peace Conference at Constance, which was so startlingly interrupted by the outbreak of war. These men, Director Spiecker, Director Schreiber, and Professor Julius Richter, were among the thirty signers—all important men—of an address to evangelical Christians abroad, issued by the German churches at the end of August, stating the German case from the religious point of view.

Professors Eucken and Harnack were among the other signers; and Eucken, Harnack, Haeckel, Gerhart Hauptmann, and other intellectual leaders published defenses of Germany's position while I was in Berlin.

I go thus into particulars of these personalities because I wish your readers clearly to understand the grounds upon which I am offering the opinions of these men as expressions of the best German opinion.

Every one of them believed Germany's cause absolutely just and right, and the war an imperative one forced upon them by surrounding jealous enemies for the defense and the very life of their country.

I do not agree with them. But there can be no doubt of their sincerity and their conviction.

Toward England their feeling was most bitter. For France there were expressions of real pity. All regard the campaign in France as only a necessary part of the war with Russia. For the Russians, among some there was a certain contempt as barbarous people who menaced their civilization. Officers returning to Berlin from the eastern border spoke of the Russian forces as "masses," not as armies, although at that very hour these Russian "masses" were punishing Austria severely in Galicia.

The idea that Germany had prompted Austria in her movement against Servia as a means of bringing a general European war was a thought repugnant to every German with whom I spoke, and repudiated by all. The most emphatic in this repudiation was Professor Quidde, on the whole the most impartial of those with whom I talked. Such a theory he declared "Ganz ausgeschlossen," and he had cogent arguments for his conviction. Professor Gregory was even more intense in his feelings than most native Germans. Though advanced in years, he had enlisted and was going into the ranks.

Professor Wundt earnestly hoped that the war might develop Germany as a liberator—that Russian Poland might be taken by Germany, and that Austria and United Poland might be given real autonomy. He trusted that Germany would insist, in any peace with Russia, upon the restoration and enlargement of Finland's liberties.

There was no one whose words were more illuminating than Bernstein's. Social Democrats regard this as a life-and-death struggle for the Fatherland; but in pledging the loyalty of their party to the government they registered a solemn protest against the imperialism and militarism which are now deluging Europe with blood. And I believe when the war is over they will enter, reinforced by other liberal bodies, upon a tremendous campaign against the European military system.

Alfred Fried, the distinguished Austrian pacifist who recently received the Nobel prize, came from Vienna for a day with me at Leipsic, and he held that the military classes of Austria, Russia, and Germany were alike guilty.

In my own opinion, every nation save rhetoric and suffering Belgium is culpable, the German military class frightfully culpable. It is to be hoped that the whole existing military system of the European powers will, as the result of this awful collision, be superseded by just, rational, and popular institutions.

Meantime, let us strive for fair-mindedness, minimizing prejudice and antagonisms.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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