England—Traitor to the White Race

By Bernhard Dernburg

[The New York Times/Current History, March 1916]

Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, late German Colonial Minister, who became so well known to Americans by his activities in this country in the interests of Germany after the outbreak of the war, made the statements printed below in a lecture on Dec. 10 before a huge audience at Vienna. This was the first public speech made by Dr. Dernburg after his departure from the United States.

You will not deem it strange if I feel a certain inclination to talk about the colonial domain in which I worked so long, and about international relationships across the seas, with which I have become familiar in my extensive travels. Just as the belligerents in Europe are divided by nationality, so people are divided by race in the colonies; and, just as closer ties bind nationalities and nations, so there is also a community of races. Just as in European politics every member of a nation is answerable to every other for the maintenance of his rights, (a relationship which we call the State,) so, in the colonial domain, every member of the white race is answerable to every other for the maintenance of his purity, culture, and prestige of this greater community.

The object of successful colonization among savage natives, wherever the climate does not allow white men to live, is to exploit the soil for its treasures, to make lakes, streams, and, above all, human beings, useful to the colonizing race. The essential thing is to raise such articles as do not thrive in northerly climates and are suitable for rounding out the economic life of the inhabitants of northern lands. This can be done successfully only when the hostility of the natives toward order and regular labor is overcome and their interest aroused in the activities of the colonist. To achieve this, the colonist must realize that the only thing which will justify the imposition of his will by force if necessary on these savage natives is that he give them, in exchange, better methods, zealously introduce a higher culture among them, seek ways and means toward the careful maintenance and increase of the subject race. In short, he must consider colonization as much an ethical as a mercantile task.

This is possible only when no unnecessary attack is made on the peculiar character, organization, and usages of law which exist even in the most savage States of Central Africa. Instead, these must be left alone in so far as this can be done without jeopardizing the objects of colonization and the relationship of motherland and colony.

But as, in the colonies, it is a question of dealing with great masses of undeveloped beings, far superior to the whites in number and not united among themselves, this task of the colonizer can be accomplished only if he succeeds in maintaining the prestige of the white race morally and culturally. If the white man is looked upon as mentally superior, on a higher plane economically, superior in weapons and power, the natives will decide that to render obedience to him is not only necessary, but wise. That is what is called the prestige of the white race. It is based on the native's belief that the will of the white man is good, unshakable, unconquerable.

The above applies to the power of the white race in general, not merely to that of whatever white nation may happen to be known to natives in short, it applies to all colonizing nations. This is true because, among the nations of the dark continent, there is a constant movement to and fro, a whispering and murmuring; bits of news that trickle into Kamerun travel the most incredible distances, are drummed from place to place by the village drummers. One catches the sounds from the other, and thus, within a few hours, news travels over regions in the French and Belgian Congo which it takes whole days for a man to cross. On the way, the news becomes either better or worse, according to the amazingly active but illogical whim of the negro. What is big becomes little, what is little big, and the chatter about some deed or plan of the whites is nowhere livelier than in the native villages of Africa.

For this reason what concerns the German concerns the Belgian, the Frenchman, the Englishman, and the Portuguese quite as much. It is, therefore, an axiom that there must be solidarity of all whites as opposed to blacks at least it was until now. When Cortez, with a handful of Spaniards, captured the City of Mexico, the Mexicans thought that the Spaniards were immortal and their horses sprung from the gods. But when the first horse had fallen in battle and the first Spaniard had been sacrificed on the altars of the Mexicans' god, it was all over with this belief, and the Spaniards were driven to a bloody and terrible retreat.

One can agree with the English when they say that they have carried out their mission of culture in the colonies intelligently and efficiently, after a number of mistakes though it must be added that they hit upon the right method comparatively late in the day. They have succeeded in dominating and developing under their flag a family of nations which has justified high hopes for the future development of the human race. They have sought successfully to bear in mind the idiosyncrasies of their vassals, to respect their wishes and aims, to allow them as much freedom as was compatible with progress and the accomplishment of the national purpose. In this country of yours, this Austria-Hungary of many races, where the same methods have been applied successfully for centuries, under the leadership of the Hapsburgs, and are still being applied, this may not seem especially noteworthy; it is to be assumed that the Austrians would have made good colonizers, had their destiny led them toward colonization.

Germany turned to colonizing because, both industrially and agriculturally, she was suffering from too great an increase in population; because she is essentially a manufacturing country which cannot forego a certain control of the raw materials; because she was obliged to forestall schemes to hem her in artificially, and make her suffer from increased prices; because, in order to support her people at home, she had to extend her foreign trade and seek new fields of activity and education for her overflow of young men. I need not point out to you the differences between the Dual Monarchy and the German Empire. A glance at the statistics shows how much larger Austria-Hungary is than Germany and how much less thickly populated, how much less the agricultural yield per capita is in Austria-Hungary than in Germany, how a smaller volume of manufactures suffices to satisfy the population and maintain equilibrium. The war has wrought many changes, so that the development of Austria-Hungary will be more closely akin to that of Germany. The large emigration from Austria-Hungary, contrasted with the almost complete cessation of emigration from Germany to lands not under the German flag, gives a hint as to the consequences of German economic development. As is well known here, Germany has been for many years a country attracting a large stream of immigration.

I have remarked that England has, in general and at times in an exemplary manner, conformed to one of the essential requirements of colonization. But in so far as another is concerned viz., the maintenance of the prestige of the white race she has sinned grievously. This was true, first, in the Boer war, when she loosed black Bantu tribesmen against white men. It is true again now, when England is leading all sorts of uncultured colored men against whites, and fighting by the side of such savages. In order to make clear to you what I mean allow me to give you an example:

When I was journeying through Central Africa in 1907 at the head of my caravan of from 500 to 600 blacks, captured by a small band of whites, our only protection was about 20 Sudanese Ascaris, marching ahead of us, beneath the folds of the great black, white, and red German flag. All the rest were bearers carrying our tents, stools, tables, beds, and luggage, our provisions, even our drinking water, the provisions for the bearers themselves, for our escort, for the muleteers driving our few mules. Behind these came the procession of soldiers' wives, with their little boy servants, for every one of us had one or two black servants or "boys," and the latter, in their turn, would have deemed themselves degraded had they not some little chap to carry their bundles these little fellows were called by the camp wit "boy-boys." In this way we traveled, hundreds of miles from railway and telegraph, through regions which until a few years ago were absolutely wild, protected only by our national flag, yet feeling ourselves perfectly safe. At night we lay in our tents, pitched in a great circle around a camp fire, behind which glowed the countless little fires at which our bearers warmed themselves, and we slept as securely as in our beds in the Fatherland. Yet there was nothing to protect us but the big flag which waved and fluttered in the middle of the camp, guarded by a lone sentinel. And that flag seemed to say: "Here is law and order, behind me lies the full power of the great German Empire, against which as yet no foe of the black race has prevailed."

I recall likewise a visit to the Sultan Kahigi of Kisenyi on the western shore of Lake Victoria Nyanza, where we walked for hours between rows of white-clad negroes holding palm branches, where the women sprinkled luck-bringing rice over us, until at last we reached the Sultan's residence, where, in an enormous courtyard, many thousand blacks welcomed us with shouts of joy. On the terrace of the Sultan's stone house we witnessed the barbaric spectacle of a wild war dance, played by musicians decked with fantastic headgear and tiger skins, which the Sultan called his "concert."

We whites were in a hopeless minority. The Sultan had a large bodyguard, armed with muskets. There we were, in the heart of Africa, cut off from the rest of the world. And the thought of the German Government was not exactly pleasant to that Sultan: he had to pay taxes and kotow to it. But he had been made a German subject by the prestige of the white race.

On the big flooring behind his veranda he had a museum consisting of several battered coffee cans and pots, a gramophone long ago put out of commission, a half dozen alarm clocks, none of which worked, lanterns, candlesticks, epaulets. But what he prized above all else was a German sabre, the knightly gift of a representative of Germany. And nothing gave this potentate greater pleasure than the big school in which hundreds of children recited their lessons aloud, as do all children of nature, and learned Swahili and Arabic letters, and pointed proudly to the place on the map where the great Sultan of Germany lived, whose most august representatives were now their guests. It was not belief in our friendliness but the absolute belief in the power behind this friendliness, a power guaranteeing them unhindered development, that underlay the rejoicing of the populace.

Every time that we halted in the course of our long marches under some mango or bread fruit tree, some Sultan or other, great or small, appeared, bringing cattle as gifts. He received a generous present in exchange, and discussed whatever grievance was on his mind usually it dated back to a long time before the German occupation. And late in the night, after we had retired, we could hear the monotonous shuffling of naked feet, the outcries, the songs in minor keys sung for hours by the women, dancing in a small circle with their unfortunate babes bound on their backs, in token of their joy and satisfaction, before the admiring eyes of the black members of our caravan.

It was the same everywhere—now under the stars, in the idleness and pleasure of the camp; now in the German courtroom, almost a temple, where the German district chief, with a black interpreter on his right and the Arabic elders on his left, recited much learned lore, while hundreds of squatting black figures confidently argued their cases, backed up worthily and with moderation by the representatives of their chieftains. Yes, everywhere there was the same relationship, everywhere the same sense of order, introduced by the white man and recognized by the blacks thousands of miles from the coast, on the Equator, in Darkest Africa.

Upon this foundation rests nearly the whole colonial structure. Yet the greatest colonial power of all, England, is guilty of overthrowing this foundation. For it is England who, in co-operation with France, is leading men of the black and yellow races against the Central Powers; England it is who is transplanting them to Europe, making them familiar with even the last word in modern weapons. Probably they argue in England that this step can have no dire consequences for England if she wins. But suppose England does not win? And even if she does? All who know the minds of the subject races know that those who return to their native land, the men who know how to use the best of the white man's weapons, will tell their fellow-countrymen that they and their brothers saved great England from destruction, that England was forced to summon the black man to save her; that henceforth they must behave differently, make demands, remember that the future must belong to the colored man—Africa to the African, India to the Indian.

Because of this it is that the colored troops in Europe are put in the most exposed positions, in the thickest of the melee, for every Englishman shudders at the thought of letting these men return to their homes. For this reason it is that he is waging his war against Germany's colonies and that he cries out, tortured by a guilty conscience, that England is fighting for civilization against the barbarians. In this way he seeks to forget that he is not only waging war against barbarians, but by their side, by means of them.

The consequence will be that a tremendous restlessness will take possession of the entire colored world, that dominion over the colonies must be erected on an entirely different foundation, that what was conquered peacefully must be retained by force, and that much progress and development of the subject peoples must be lost.

Never has a world power so criminally played with great ethical values for its own ends as has England, and never has England so seriously undermined her own existence as when she forgot that 80,000,000 whites must rule over 400,000,000 colored human beings.

Whereas the world power of England is founded, in the eyes of the uncivilized world—or perhaps we should say of the non-Christian world—on the prestige possessed up to now by the English as members of the white race, and now betrayed by them, it is founded, so far as our civilization is concerned, on the strongholds with which England has encircled the seas in the course of the centuries and in pursuance of a policy unhampered by party vicissitudes. For it is not the possession of the most powerful fleet which is the decisive factor in the control of the seas and the blockading of other countries, but far more the possession of naval bases and coaling stations. During the last few months we have seen how Mudros and Saloniki became English naval stations, whether their owners wished it or not, exactly as did Calais and Boulogne. The salient trait of English friendship is that it demands the doorkey from its hosts.

In the United States geography lessons in the public schools have been suspended for the present, on account of the changes which the present war will probably work in the map. But this branch of instruction was not even before the war the strong point of the curriculum in these schools. When I lectured before American Chambers of Commerce and learned societies, armed with a big map, I aroused great astonishment when I showed to what extent the United States also lay under the fire of British naval stations. After my lectures were over, this map of mine was surrounded entire hours by numerous persons who kept up a lively discussion of my remarks.

That map showed them that five English naval stations were nearer to the Panama Canal than the nearest American naval station; that the Eastern coast of the United States, between Halifax and Bermuda, is dominated by England; that the route to the Pacific Ocean is barred by the English Falkland Islands; that the entire Pacific is menaced and dominated by countless groups of islands as is the west coast of America by British Columbia; that the Northern part of the Indian Ocean is controlled by Wei-hai-Wei, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, and Koweit, the western portion by Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Durban; that the west coast of Africa is controlled by Cape Colony, St. Helena, and Lagos. Especially did these people understand the situation of Germany and her allies, the closing of the North Sea by the Orkney Islands and the Channel, the cutting off of Austria and Turkey by means of Gibraltar, Malta, and Cyprus, the violation of the neutrality of the Suez Canal by the occupation of Egypt, the Island of Perm and Aden. This map helped more than anything else to make these Americans see the justice of our cause and the necessity for our victory.

For these reasons the demand for the freedom of the seas has found such active support in the United States. After the Americans were taught their theoretical position of vassalage to England the practical realization of it came to them when England proved to all neutrals, including the United States, the existence of this vassalage on the seas. If a big new naval program comes up for discussion in Washington, if the United States Army is to be increased tenfold, it is not, of course, being done avowedly against England, but with the avowed purpose of being prepared against anybody attacking the national and economic interests of the United States. Prussian militarism, with which we have supposedly also inoculated this beautiful land, is achieving its greatest triumph in the United States on account of England's misuse of her power. In the United States they want to build a second largest navy, place a nation under arms. The history of the world is inexorably consistent.

The unthinking way in which a great part of the American people ranged itself against Germany, because, when she was attacked, she was prepared, has caused thinking men to ask themselves how matters stand with the United States and its pacifist President who within the last year coined the phrase that there were nations too proud to fight and earnestly advocated the doctrine of non-resistance. This man today champions one of the most ambitious naval and military programs, not through apprehension of the alliance supposedly representing militarism, but on account of the attacks of that power which has emblazoned the struggle against militarism on her banners and will in the end arrive at universal military service. Might can be overcome by might alone; that is the unfortunate truth in this world of realities. They knew in England that here, too, the British Empire had feet of clay. It is amusing to hear what Lord Lansdowne known to be one of the leaders of the Conservatives and now the guiding spirit in England's foreign policy said recently to an American lawyer, who quotes him thus: "Lord Lansdowne said in a private conversation to his colleagues in the House of Lords that sooner or later the nations must decide to what extent a belligerent power controlling the straits forming great highways of commerce could close these passages in order to facilitate her warlike operations. Touching upon the subject in all its philosophic potentialities, he remarked that, just as public opinion nowhere would tolerate agreements whereby a local dispute about wages might affect the whole industrial life of the land, so also would public opinion in the great nations refuse to allow a local conflict involving only two nations to cause such serious damage and hindrance to the whole commercial world." All neutrals now see that such a situation cannot be tolerated, and they are now ranged with regard to this on the side of the Central Powers, despite the small sympathy which they otherwise have for us and our ways, and despite their powerlessness to cope at present with English encroachments on their rights.

But Sir Edward Grey, who knows better than any one else the weakness of England, has already laid stress on the fact that he will recognize the freedom of the seas after peace is declared as a valuable and proper basis for negotiations. What he means by that he has not vouchsafed to us. But a large part of the strongholds blockading the open seas do not belong beyond dispute to England. Also, she maintains herself in part by means of a power resting on prestige. For this reason English world power is today doubly threatened. One cannot assume that the Spaniards are particularly delighted because Gibraltar is in English hands, and England would just now be comparatively helpless against a determined effort to wrest it from her. Every Italian looks upon Malta as a bit of purloined territory, and recently England wished to get rid of Cyprus cheaply in exchange for Greek aid.

And what of Egypt, always restless and menaced, and the rest of the naval stations lying on the Asiatic side of the universe? And, as for the naval stations on the American coast, they will exist only as long as they are not used for exerting such pressure on America as is now being exerted on Germany and Austria. Englishmen must not deceive themselves: identical interests and similarity of views on life bring American sympathies to England today, and perhaps America will always be better able to tolerate England than military Germany, which strives toward another national ideal. Maybe but that does not mean much. The Englishman, who usually looks down upon the American with a sort of sovereign contempt and always tries to prove to him his superiority in mind and culture, is generally pretty well hated in the United States. America just now wants to keep out of war, because she can derive no benefit from it and wants to uphold her trade and the activities of her people. For these reasons American interests are identical with English. But to base any calculations for the future on this fact is utterly wrong. The United States will invariably pursue only an American policy.

In the Autumn of 1907 I was, for a short time, a guest of the Egyptian Government in Cairo on my return from East Africa. Among all the wonders which I saw the graves of the Caliphs amid the smoke and flame of the bundles of straw lighted in them while overhead the black sky glowed with countless stars; the Pyramids, the extraordinary mixture of peoples on the great canal dotted with the fantastic dahabeeyahs, the tens of centuries into which, so to speak, one can look while going through the great museums among all these, one moment especially remains in my memory.

My amiable guide took me toward sunset to the citadel, beneath which Cairo, the only city of a million inhabitants in Africa, stretches out right and left. All lay silent, almost dead. Crowning the citadel is a building famous in the entire Mohammedan world, the alabaster mosque, grave of a great Sultan, wonderfully fantastic in construction, color, and form, and, by its side, is a lone guard post, a cannon protruding over the parapet, and an English redcoat, with bayonet fixed on his gun.

It was the day of the Ramazan festival. Throughout that day the Moslem stays at home fasting, observing religious usages. But, after sunset, there is revelry and feasting and celebrating, then the savings of the year are squandered.

And, as I stood there, the upper tip of the sun dropped to the horizon, and the lone English soldier placed a charge in the cannon. And just as the last gold-red glow vanished behind clouds, the shot rang out which told the people of Cairo that the hour of revelry had come.

From where there was before a stillness almost of death, there came a buzzing as of an enormous swarm of bees. The streets became black with throngs of people, and finally there arose a mighty murmur as of a city in revolt.

Ever since I have thought of that solitary English soldier who fired the cannon informing 1,000,000 Moslems that the hour for their religious festival had arrived, as the symbol of how England has up to now exercised world dominion; of how, to a certain extent, she has deserved to exercise world dominion.

I know most of those naval strongholds of England Zanzibar, the isle of spices, separated from the east African hinterland; the sunbaked rock of Hong Kong, prescribing to millions of Chinamen in the southern provinces the routes of trade; English Shanghai, under an international flag, by means of which England is now probably trying in vain to defend her dominion over the entire Yang-tse Valley against the yellow races.

Everywhere we have the small minority of the whites against the mighty mass of other peoples; and it is the heritage of the whites which is being uselessly squandered in this war. For now England defends her world empire, not only against her European foes, but also against the natives. She will be ruined sooner or later by her betrayal of both in her present method of waging war, and thus will she pay the penalty of centuries.

This war will put an end to English arbitrary control of the sea, not only because, as we all hope, the European Central Powers will be victorious, but because they have in this struggle the support of all the neutral foreign nations yes, even the support of England's present allies.

Already English dominion over the sea is crumbling. A year ago the German-Austrian march to the Dardanelles would have been looked upon as a mad dream; today it is a reality. For us Central Europeans the sea route is unnecessary, in abnormal times, as a way to the frontiers of India.

But the immense advantage of the sea is that enormous quantities of goods can be transported at extraordinarily low rates and railways cannot compete with it. Therefore, if I am to tell from my experience how the new constellation of power rising over the world is to develop, I must lay down as an essential preliminary that it must make itself as independent as possible from the sea route, not only in war but in peace. The development of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy will probably be due to the harmonizing of manufactures and agriculture. For this, extensive means of transportation will be necessary, which, if possible, should not be railways. This leads to the thought of the completion of the Central European network of canals, and the deepening of rivers not now navigable, whereby the advantages of the sea route will be attained, to a considerable extent, although, of course, not by any means entirely. I am here touching upon one of the most interesting of community problems.

And this brings me to something else: This is the first time since my return from the United States that I have spoken in public. I was there as a delegate of the German Red Cross, and I wish to bear witness here to the admirable manner in which Americans of German and Austro-Hungarian extraction remembered their old country and its troubles. Do not forget the difficult position in which these friends of ours found themselves; nor how they had solemnly sworn allegiance to their new country, an oath which they neither wished then nor will wish in future to break. They must make up their minds as to what they, as Americans, think is for the advantage of America. They will decide as one should decide in a land of many nationalities like America, viz., "to be a good friend to all and allow no partisan taking of sides."

But from the beginning many of them were not equal to the situation. Many had to be told of the incredible slanders heaped upon Germany and Austria-Hungary by our enemies. Then their sentiments were expressed all the more strongly. * * *

So the German world across the sea has at least remained morally a great human community, a community that has deserved to have other peoples and nations group themselves around it, a community which will prove its own worth by what it does for other nations. By human and Divine right we are justified in believing that glorious success awaits our unswerving will to win.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

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