Brazil's Interest in the War

[The North American Review, March 1918]

Brazil's entry into the war is abundantly explicable and justifiable on several grounds. We are not inclined so greatly to vaunt ourselves as to attribute it chiefly to Brazil's friendship for the United States and her desire to follow our example and to give us support, though we have good reason for believing that those motives were by no means without force. Another powerful reason is found in Brazil's prompt and comprehensive recognition of Germany's violation of international law and of the obligation incumbent upon every law-abiding State to resent such action and to suppress it if need be with force and arms.

A third reason, from the purely selfish point of view the strongest of all, was supplied by Germany's scarcely dissembled intention some day to dismember Brazil and to plant upon some of its fragments a German colonial empire. It was with that end in view that German settlers flocked by thousands into those five southern States of Brazil, the climate and other conditions of which were most favorable for their residence. It was for that purpose that those settlers remained German in language and customs, and saw to it that their children and children's children did the same. Years ago a German traveler and publicist, Dr. Leyser, writing in THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW, blurted out the truth:

"Nowhere are our colonies, those loyal offshoots from the mother root, so promising as here. To-day in these provinces over thirty per cent. of the inhabitants are Germans or of German descent, and the ratio of their natural increase far exceeds that of the Portuguese. Surely to us belongs this part of the world, and the key to it all is Santa Catharina, stretching from the harbor of San Francisco far into the interior, with its hitherto undeveloped, hardly suspected wealth. Here, indeed, in Southern Brazil, is a rich and healthy land, where the German immigrant may retain his nationality, where for all that is comprised in the word 'Germanismus' a glorious future smiles."

That and some other utterances of the same tenor were regarded as indiscreet, and the Wilhelmstrasse hastened to counteract them with camouflage. Under instructions from his Imperial Master the German Ambassador at Washington, Speck von Sternburg, wrote to THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW denying that Germany had any thought of seizing a part of South America, and arguing that there was no ulterior significance whatever in the German colonization of Southern Brazil.

The speciousness and insincerity of his representations and arguments were, however, readily recognizable, and they were recognized by all well informed and thoughtful men, both here and in Brazil. It was doubtless true, as the Wilhelmstrasse represented, that many, perhaps most, of the German settlers in Brazil became naturalized Brazilian citizens. But that meant nothing, seeing that Germany, alone of all nations, maintained a system of dual allegiance, under which a German subject could swear allegiance to a foreign country and become a citizen of it without forfeiting his German nationality and allegiance; his explicit renunciation of all allegiance to Germany in his naturalization oath being regarded as merely so much camouflage, uttered with a convenient "mental reservation."

Moreover, it was actually to Germany's interest, it was a part of the plot, to have these colonists become Brazilian citizens. That was the means by which a German conquest of Brazil, perhaps of all South America, was to be effected without violating the Monroe Doctrine or giving the United States cause for intervention. It was recognized that this country would not for a moment permit aliens to overthrow the Brazilian Government or to seize Brazilian territory. But it was also perceived that the United States was strongly committed to the principle of self-determination, and to that, also, of non-intervention in civil strife or even in intra-American conflicts. It did not intervene when a revolution overthrew one government and set up another; when a part of a South American republic revolted and seceded, or when one South American State went to war with another and annexed some of its territory as spoils of victory.

It was upon the basis of these principles that Germany looked for conquest in Brazil. Said a distinguished German diplomat to the writer of these lines: "You concede the right of people to determine their own form of government, do you not; and, therefore, the right of revolution? Yes; because your own government was founded upon that principle. Then if the citizens—the citizens, mind you—of some of the Brazilian States become dissatisfied with the government of that country, and decided to set up an independent government of their own, you could not object; no? Very well. You also concede the right of independent American States to go to war with each other, and even to annex each other's land by way of indemnity or otherwise; do you not? Yes; I remember that you did not intervene when Chili went to war with Bolivia and Peru, and when she annexed as spoils of war some of their most valuable territory, depriving Bolivia altogether of her frontage upon the sea. So; I assume that if the new States formed of former States of Brazil were in time to find cause for war with the remnant of Brazil, you would not forbid it, nor would you intervene if as a result of that war the new States took some more Brazilian territory. Or, if in time this new State became involved in war with some other South American republic, and whipped it, and took some of its territory, would you consider that a violation of the Doctrine of Monroe? I think not, and so I think that you will some day find it difficult, at least on the ground of Monroeism, to check the development of Germanismus in the Western Hemisphere."

So Albrecht Wirth, in his Volkstum und Weltmacht in der Geschichte, ten years before the war, declared: "If we do not soon acquire new territory, a frightful catastrophe is inevitable. It signifies little whether it be in Brazil, in Siberia, in Anatolia or in South Africa."

These German designs upon Brazil, and through her upon all South America, have been perfectly well known in that country. It was realized there, long before our own shortsighted and happy-go-lucky pacifists perceived it, that America would have in the near future to defend itself against a hostile Germany, just as a century ago it had to defend itself against the menace of the German-inspired Holy Alliance. At Rio de Janeiro no secret was made of the fact, no matter how much it may have been ignored or pooh-poohed here, that it was for protection against Germany that the two great dreadnoughts, Minas Geraes and Sao Paulo, were built ten years ago, and that at the same time a universal military service law was enacted.

The apprehensions of that time are now realized, and Brazil is not as unready as we to meet them. That is why she has entered the war so promptly and with so much potential efficiency. It is a war for which she has been preparing, and which she recognizes to be a war for the preservation of her own integrity as well as for the vindication of international law and the safeguarding of democracy throughout the world.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury