When Germany Wins

By Dr. Bernhard Dernburg

[The Independent; December 7, 1914]

We have heard a great deal about what England and France are fighting for. We have heard very little—except from English sources—about what Germany is fighting for. Here is a chance to read the other side. Dr. Dernburg stands for what we Americans most admire in modern Germany, its industries, its commerce, its technical schools and its efficient organization. When the Kaiser put him at the head of the Colonial Office in 1907 it was a great shock to the Junkers, who thought that such high positions were the natural monopoly of those of noble lineage and resented the appointment of a business man, and, what was worse, a business man of American training, as successor to Prince Hohenlohe-Langenburg. But the Kaiser was tired of the bureaucratic and military methods of administration in the colonies and wanted to have them developed and made self-supporting instead of remaining a drain on the imperial treasury.

Herr Dernburg made a personal inspection of the African possessions and would probably have made them in time as profitable as the British Colonies if he had been able to carry out his program of reforms. In The Independent of January 17, 1907, will be found an account of what his administration meant to Germany.

Herr Dernburg is the son of an editor of the Berlin "Tageblatt" and was born in Darmstadt fifty years ago. After graduating from the Berlin gymnasium he came to New York City in order to learn American ways and was for some years in the banking house of Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co. After his return to Germany he became a director of the Bank of Darmstadt. He is now in this country on an important mission. As a man thoroly familiar with American history and politics as well as finance he understands our point of view and can interpret to us the point of view of his own country. Those whose enterprise has brought their country into the front rank of commercial nations within a single generation are better representatives of the real Germany than militarists or semi-Slavonic theorists. — THE EDITOR.

WHAT will Germany do if she is entirely victorious?

This question has been addrest to me by a number of American friends, time and again. And when I said that it seemed to me premature to make any such forecast, I was met with the reply that the allies were not so over-cautious, and had very freely said what they intended to do to Germany and Austria if they got the chance.

The most lenient of these programs runs about like this: The crushing of German militarism (Mr. Asquith); the destruction of the German fleet (Winston Churchill); the reduction of Germany to a subordinate power, the breaking up of the Prussian hegemony (Lloyd-George). Of course, Belgium is to be restored and a large slice of German and Dutch territory to be added to it; Alsace-Lorraine is to be returned to France with a big indemnity in land on the left bank of the Rhine; the Polish provinces of Germany to go to Russia; Schleswig-Holstein to. Denmark. And a similar program has been announced as regards the Austrian-Hungarian monarchy." Finally, of course, Russia is to conquer Turkey and to absorb the whole Ottoman Empire. In short, what is intended is to reduce Germany to the position she had in 1806 after the victories of Napoleon I, which would strike her out of the list of the great nations and would make her subordinate to the good will of the victors.

That such a program can never be carried thru, even partially, as long as there remain a hundred thousand Germans capable of bearing arms, need not be emphasized.

But that (in view of these acknowledged demands of the allies) it might be of some interest to Americans to know what Germany would do if she was in the position in which the Allies love to mirror themselves in, I will concede.

I am speaking here as a thinking German, who knows the history of his country and who wishes her to profit from past experience, always keeping in mind that it is now the time to settle the European question for a hundred years to come, and to take care of the probable increase of our population, to secure its livelihood and prosperity. While France has remained practically stationary in her population, the regular annual increase of the German people is about 800,000 souls.

American readers who have followed Germany's development since she became a united empire will very easily be able to check my views by comparing them with the known ambitions of my people, and drawing the necessary inferences from German popular, industrial and commercial development.


While there may be some minor corrections of frontiers for military purposes, by occupying such frontier territory as has proven a weak spot in the German armor, I do not consider it wise, nor, I believe, do the leading people of my country, for Germany to take any European territory. She is now holding practically all the land inhabited by the German-speaking population of the world, with the exception of the Baltic provinces of Russia. Whether these could be added to the German Empire would hinge on the question whether they could be defended. A look at the map will show that this must be very difficult. The lack of homogeneity has been a great source of trouble to all the European nations.

England has had the Irish trouble (which has been a very potent factor in her going to war). The unrest in Lorraine, and that of about thirty thousand Danes in the north of Schleswig, and the now past differences with several millions of Poles, have given my country considerable trouble. Italy is restive because of a few hundred thousand Italians incorporated into Austria. The Polish question is constantly occupying the Russian mind; so is the Jewish question, which has there a more a racial than a religious character. The ardent desire of the Servians to redeem their brethren in Austria has given cause to the present war. So any rearrangement of the European map that would not follow national lines pretty definitely would be only a source of constant friction hereafter. This does not say that every single German is to be returned to Germany, nor every single Frenchman to France. The position of Europe is and will remain such that the various states must look for defensive measures against their neighbors, and such strategic considerations should have a large share in any peace Settlement. But as a general rule, I would not consider it wise for my country to attempt any territorial aggrandizement in Europe.


From the foregoing it would follow that Belgium would not be made a German province. As events have shown, her natural position with respect to France and England—especially as a bulwark for the latter on the continental side of the Channel—has made Belgium a vassal of the two countries. As Sir Edward Grey says, he "expected" Belgium to fight to the last man. And fight she did, practically without help from the Allies. Belgium was so entangled with England by the various military "conversations" or arrangements, such as those evidenced by the plan of Colonel Bernardiston, that she could not accept the German Chancellor's offer of integrity, indemnity and full restoration, tendered twice—both before and after the fall of Liège. By accepting these offers, Belgium could have avoided all the misery that has since befallen her. It is her own doing that has placed her in her present plight.

Geographically, Belgium does certainly belong to the German Empire. She commands the mouth of the biggest German stream. Antwerp is most essentially a German port and the main outlet of the trade of western Germany. That Antwerp should not belong to Germany is as much an anomaly as if New Orleans and the Mississippi delta had been excluded from the Louisiana Purchase, or as if New York had remained English after the War of Independence.

These considerations will probably determine the German attitude. While no attempt is likely to be made to place Belgium within the German Empire alongside of the Kingdoms of Bavaria, of Würtemberg, and Saxony, because of her non-German population, the connection between Germany and Belgium must be strengthened by including her into the German customs union, as has been the case with Luxemburg ever since 1867; and, furthermore, the harbors of Belgium must be secured by some practical means against British or French invasion. That Belgian neutrality has been an impossibility in the past has shown, and so her state of neutrality will probably be lost for all times. On the other hand, such an arrangement would give Germany an opportunity to build up Belgium again industrially, agriculturally and commercially, and Germany would probably have to engage to provide the necessary financial aid.


England has now bottled up the North Sea by its command of the British Channel. It will be necessary in future to reestablish a mare liberum (a free sea). There are various means by which this could be accomplished. The English theory, that the sea is her boundary, and that all the sea is her territory down to the three-mile limit of the other powers, cannot be tolerated. The neutralization of all the Channel coasts—English, Dutch, Belgian and French—even in times of war, must be necessarily secured, and the American and German doctrine that private property on the high seas should enjoy the same freedom from seizure as private property does on land, should be guaranteed by all the nations. The importance of such a stipulation will be readily recognized at a time like the present, when England makes commercial war upon the United States on the pretense of protecting her interests against the nations with which she is engaged in a struggle. It would become equally necessary to neutralize all cables; their cutting has hurt the United States even more than Germany.


It must be demanded, as a matter of course, that all of the colonial possessions, without exception, should be returned. But her growing population makes it absolutely imperative that Germany should also get some territory that could be populated by whites. At the present time she has no such colonies. In all the German possessions over the sea, in spite of efforts that have lasted for over thirty years, less than thirty thousand white people, including military, have been settled. So she must endeavor to get some such territory with a climate fit for her people. The Monroe Doctrine (which Germany has always recognized in letter as well as in spirit) forbids our seeking expansion on this side of the water, either in North or in South America. So we will have to turn to some such place like Morocco—if it is really fit for the purpose, which I am unable to say at this present time.


Germany has been for about thirty-five years the associate of Turkey in developing Turkish territory, commerce and industry. She has acquired the Oriental railways and built the Anatolian and Bagdad lines. She has established harbors and shipping companies, and engaged in mining and very extensive irrigation works. She must demand to be left with a free hand 'to go on with this commercial development as far as she can arrange with the sovereign power of the Porte and without outside interference. This would mean a recognized sphere of influence from the Persian Gulf to the Dardanelles.


Germany stands, and has always stood, for the "open door and equal opportunity" policy, as to China and to other countries as well as to the British colonies, and it must be strictly maintained. All such underhanded proceedings as, for instance, the Japanese have resorted to, attempting to throttle foreign commerce by the possession of the railways in Manchuria, must be done away with, and all the powers must see to it that no more parts of the earth are closed, to the exclusive advantage of any one nation. While every nation must have an undisputed right to treat foreign goods and foreign immigrants as she sees fit in her own interests, every nation must treat all other nations in a spirit of equality and without discrimination.


Of course, it is incumbent upon Germany to see that such as have helped her in her struggle shall not be left to the mercy of her antagonists. The right of the peoples to frame their own destinies must be fully recognized. If the Finnish nation, which is of non-Slavic descent, choose to join their Swedish brethren, we will have to stand up for them. If Poland has the necessary vitality, she should have a chance to show it. If the Boers want to be independent they should have that right. And if Egypt wants to return to Turkey she must be permitted to do so. All this must be done in such a way that no new dangers can arise to the dual alliance.

There is nothing in this program that would seriously change the aspect of Europe. There is no wish for world-dominion, or any unduly predominant power in western Europe incommensurate with the mass of 122,000,000 of Germans and Austrians, and there is no danger to the peace of Europe. It is simply the carrying out of the peaceful aims that Germany has had for the last forty-four years—the only nation of Europe that, even in the face of intense provocation, has never let herself be dragged into any war, or has taken by force a foot of territory against 'the will of the owner.

In conclusion, I will say that while I am speaking as a private person and cannot voice in any way official sentiment, I feel sure that I am at one with the best German element, and that my opinions are shared by almost everybody in my country. My country did not wish this war, has done its utmost to ward it off, and is not like England, which, on her own testimony, stands convicted of an effort to destroy an unwelcome competitor and a people whose chief sins are diligence and thrift, and who have never harmed the rest of the world. The only thing Germany stands committed to is to hold and maintain its "place in the sun."

New York City.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
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