Germany and the War

By The Imperial German Ambassador (Count J. H. Von Bernstorff)

[The Independent, September 7, 1914]

In order that the American people may have an opportunity of hearing the German side of the ease from an official source, The Independent has asked Count J. H. von Bernstorff to reply to certain questions which have been much discussed in the press, and he has kindly consented to do so. The public will appreciate the frankness and definiteness with which he answers our queries.—THE EDITOR.

Did Germany approve in advance the Austrian ultimatum to Servia?

Yes. Germany's reasons for doing so are the following. For six years Servia has been the outpost of Pan-Slavism against Austria. The principle of Pan-Slavism is the assumption that Russia is the protector of the Slav nations. This makes it clear to everybody who looks into the question that Pan-Slavism means the destruction of Austria, which is half Slav. Austria bore patiently for years the undermining campaign of the Pan-Slavic party, which was carried on in Austria. But the assassination of the Grown Prince brought her patience to a sudden end. It is believed by many people in the United States that Servia accepted all, or nearly all, of Austria's demands. In reality she did not accept the most important one, namely, that of issuing to the officers of the Servian army an official condemnation of Pan-Slavic propaganda and of the assassination of the Grown Prince. Now it has been proved that the assassination of the Crown Prince was prepared and arranged by Servian officers. He was shot with a Servian army revolver.

Could not Germany after the Austrian ultimatum was delivered have prevented Austria from precipitating the war?

If the Servian war is meant, the answer is that Austria could not possibly be kept back from going to war with Servia after her patience had been so overtaxed. I ask any American whether he thinks the American people would not have started war with Mexico immediately if during the Mexican troubles Huerta had hired assassins to kill the Vice-President of the United States? How would the reader answer this question? All European governments, with the exception of Russia, tried to localize the war between Servia and Austria. But then Russia, on Pan-Slavic principles, said that she had to defend Servia. Germany did its utmost to prevent a universal war. When asked by Russia to induce Austria to make concessions, she prest Austria as far as she possibly could within the bounds of her friendship and alliance. Thereupon Austria made the greatest possible concessions and promised absolutely to regard and uphold the integrity of the Servian kingdom. This concession was transmitted by the German Government to the Russian Government. No other answer was sent except the mobilization of the whole Russian army against Germany and Austria. Thereupon the German Government asked the Russian Government why they were mobilizing their whole army against Germany and Austria. Germany has not received the answer to this question to this day. Instead of an answer Russian troops crost the German frontier. The first Russian prisoners of war were taken before any declaration of war was made. After this act the German Government informed the Russian Government that they considered themselves in a state of war with Russia, and the rest followed as a consequence of the existing alliances in Europe.

What is the justification for the violation of the Belgian neutrality to which Germany was a party?

The violation of Belgian neutrality is an action which is universally regretted in Germany. But it was considered an absolute military strategical necessity. If Germany had entered France by the routes of Metz and Strassbourg, the French army would have entered Belgium and fallen on our right flank. We had absolutely reliable information that this intention existed in the French army. We were absolutely sure that Belgium would not be able to defend her neutrality against France, and would probably not even be willing to do so, as her fortresses had all been built against Germany and not against France. Furthermore, on the first day of the war French motor cars with French officers past thru Belgium to reconnoiter in Germany without being stopt by Belgian authorities. Equally French aeroplanes flew over Belgium without being stopt and bombarded German cities. Our information about the French army was furthermore corroborated by the fact that English generals visited Brussels in the spring at the time when the coalition was preparing for war against us. The governments of the coalition cannot suppose that we do not know, that during the visit of King George to Paris the military negotiations were going on between England, France and Russia for the purpose of a joint attack against Germany.

Is not the dropping of shells without warning from an airship upon cities like Antwerp and Paris a violation of civilized warfare?'

I am rather surprized at the words "without warning" in this question, because I do not see how a fortress, which is prepared for an attack in a country which is at war, should be without warning if it was attacked at any minute. The warning for every fortress in the country is the beginning of the war. I can only say that in our fortresses on the frontier women and children were sent away on the very first outbreak of the war. As long as there has been war in the world fortresses have always been bombarded. Whether they are born barded from the air or from cannon on land is simply a technical detail.

Is not the destruction of the historic edifices and library at Louvain an act of vandalism?

To begin with I doubt whether the historic edifices and library at Louvain have been destroyed. But if they should have been, the responsibility rests solely with the population of Louvain, and the act of vandalism, if there has been one, has been perpetrated also solely by that population. The facts of the case are the following: One battalion of German troops was left in charge of the city, and of the communications of the army. They were not in line, but dispersed in the city. The priests of the city, thinking that the German army had retired, distributed arms among the civilian population and our soldiers were shot unawares. The principle of civilized warfare is based on the assumption that only the soldiers of a country shall fight against the soldiers of the other country, but that civilians, women and children shall never join in the combat. To maintain these principles severe punishment has always been inflicted upon any population that joins in the fight, and I do not refrain for one moment from saying that they deserve it In this special case, however, the German soldiers who were attacked by the people of Louvain were mutilated, and treated with acts of bestial cruelty. If the returning troops with these facts before their eyes burnt down many houses of the city, I do not see how they can be blamed.

What is the Slavic peril? And why should, Germany fear it more than England or France?

Germany does not fear the Slavic peril at all. However the existence of Austria as a great power has always been considered of vital interest to Germany because it keeps our flank covered. Furthermore it must not be forgotten that the alliance between Germany and Austria is quite a different kind of alliance than any of those among the powers who have formed a coalition against us. Austria and Germany have belonged together for a thousand years, and every fight between them has been regarded by both nations as a civil war. Historic developments since 1866 have changed the aspect of Austria and have formed a dual monarchy between Austria and Hungary. Austria is now half a Slav state and as such cannot permit the pretensions of Russia to be the protector of the Slavs. England and France are now fighting for Russia's purposed. Why they do so they win have to answer for themselves.

Would the purchase by the United States of the German merchant ships of New York harbor be a violation of neutrality?

According to my opinion, No. Because our shipping companies are absolutely private business undertakings without any interference of the Government. If, furthermore, these companies are, as the American Government has stated, not to receive payment until after the war I cannot see how the purchase of these ships can in any way help Germany. The opposition to these plans seems to me to come simply from the wish to prevent the United States from having a mercantile marine. England has joined our enemies for the chief purpose of getting our trade. It would naturally gain nothing even if England did win the war if their trade were taken by the United States.

What do you think of the employment of African and Asia troops in a European war?

I condemn it unconditionally.

In conclusion I may Say that it is one of the fundamental errors of American newspapers that this is a war of kings. Most emphatically is it a war of the German people. Do not be deceived about it. Every man who doubts this is fundamentally at error. I read all sorts of things about "the kings' war," but God knows it is the people's war. The absolute feeling of the German people was that the Emperor waited as long as possible, if anything that he waited at least two days too long. If any proof is needed for this statement look at the attitude of the leaders of the German Social Democrats, who are loyally supporting the Emperor. See how different it is in Russia where the Poles are in revolution; in England where the leader of the Labor group said that it was not a people's war and the government had not done enough to prevent it. The leader of the Social Democrats in Germany said: "We hate war, but since the German nation has been attacked we will stand up like one man against the autocrat who attacked us."

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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