German Scholars Explain Their Manifesto

By Dr. Max Planck

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

Speaking for the ninety-three German scholars and artists who signed the famous appeal to the "World of Culture" at the beginning of the war, Professor Planck addressed this letter to Professor H. A. Lorentz of the University of Leyden, who in turn forwarded it to Sir Oliver Lodge:

Berlin, March, 1916.

Honored colleague: The well-known appeal to the "World of Culture," which was signed by ninety-three German scholars and artists and published in August, 1914, has, owing to the terms in which it was drawn up, led to mistaken conceptions as to the attitude of the signatories, as I have repeatedly discovered to my regret. According to my personal view, which, as I know, is in all essentials shared by many of my colleagues, (for example, by Adolf von Harnack, Walter Nernst, Wilhelm Waldeyer, Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff), that appeal, which reflects in its composition the patriotic excitement of the first weeks of war, was intended to signify and could signify nothing but an act of defense—above all of protection of the German Army against the bitter accusations brought against it, and an explicit declaration that the scholars and artists of Germany refuse to separate their cause from the cause of the German Army. For the German Army is nothing but the German people in arms, and the scholars and artists are, like all other classes, inseparably bound up with it.

That we cannot, of course, be responsible for every single action of every German, whether in war or in peace, I am glad to assert again with emphasis, although I regard this as no less obvious than that we are not as yet in a position to pass a final judgment in any scientific sense of the term on the great questions of the history of the present day. Only a subsequent, many-sided, and objective examination can decide in which quarters will be finally fixed the primary responsibility for the failure of the efforts for peace and for all the human suffering which has been caused an examination whose results we await with a quiet conscience.

For the moment we Germans have only one task, so long as the war lasts—to serve our country with all our powers. But what I specially desire to insist on to you in particular is the firm conviction, which even the occurrences of the present war can never shake, that there are regions of the intellectual and moral world which lie outside the struggles of nations, and that an honorable cooperation in the maintenance of these international cultural values, and also no less a personal respect for members of an enemy State, are not inconsistent with glowing love and energetic work for one's own country. Your always devoted,

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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