A Reply to Rolland

By Gerhart Hauptmann

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

You address me, Herr Rolland, in public words which breathe the pain over this war, (forced by England, Russia and France), pain over the endangering of European culture and the destruction of hallowed memorials of ancient art. I share in this general sorrow, but that to which I cannot consent is to give an answer whose spirit you have already prescribed and concerning which you wrongly assert that it is awaited by all Europe. I know that you are of German blood. Your beautiful novel, "Jean-Christophe," will remain immortal among us Germans together with "Wilhelm Meister," and " der grüne Heinrich."

But France became your adopted fatherland; therefore your heart must now be torn and your judgment confused. You have labored zealously for the reconciliation of both peoples. In spite of all this when the present bloody conflict destroys your fair concept of peace, as it has done for so many others, you see our nation and our people through French eyes, and every attempt to make you see clearly and as a German is absolutely sure to be in vain.

Naturally everything which you say of our Government, of our army and our people, is distorted, everything is false, so false that in this respect your open letter to me appears as an empty black surface.

War is war. You may lament war, but you should not wonder at the things that are inseparable from the elementary fact itself. Assuredly it is deplorable that in the conflict an irreplaceable Rubens is destroyed, but—with all honor to Rubens!—I am among those in whom the shattered breast of his fellow-man compels far deeper pain.

And, Herr Rolland, it is not exactly fitting that you should adopt a tone implying that the people of your land, the French, are coming out to meet us with palm branches, when in reality they are plentifully equipped with cannon, with cartridges, yes, even with dumdum bullets. It is apparent that you have grown pretty fearful of our brave troops! That is to the glory of a power which is invincible through the justice of its cause. The German soldier has nothing whatsoever in common with the loathsome and puerile were-wolf tales which your lying French press so zealously publishes abroad, that press which the French and the Belgian people have to thank for their misfortune.

Let the idle Englishmen call us Huns; you may, for all I care, characterize the warriors of our splendid Landwehr as sons of Attila; it is enough for us if this Landwehr can shatter into a thousand pieces the ring of our merciless enemies. Far better that you should call us sons of Attila, cross yourselves in fear and remain outside our borders, than that you should indict tender inscriptions upon the tomb of our German name, calling us the beloved descendants of Goethe. The epithet Huns is coined by people who, themselves Huns, are experiencing disappointment in their criminal attacks on the life of a sound and valorous race, because it knows the trick of parrying a fearful blow with still more fearful force. In their impotence, they take refuge in curses.

I say nothing against the Belgian people. The peaceful passage of German troops, a question of life for Germany, was refused by Belgium because the Government had made itself a tool of England and France. This same Government then organized an unparalleled guerrilla warfare in order to support a lost cause, and by that act—Herr Rolland, you are a musician!—struck the horrible keynote of conflict. If you are at all in a position to break your way through the giant's wall of anti-German lies, read the message to America, by our Imperial Chancellor, of Sept. 7; read further the telegram which on Sept. 8 the Kaiser himself addressed to President Wilson. You will then discover things which it is necessary to know in order to understand the calamity of Louvain.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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The Headlong Fury