John K. Turner
Shall it be Again ?


XXII
OUR MYTH OF THE WAR’S BEGINNING



IN President Wilson’s message to the Pope occurs the following passage :

The object of this war is to deliver the free peoples of the world from the menace and the actual power of a vast military establishment controlled by an irresponsible government, which, having secretly planned to dominate the world, proceeded to carry the plan out without regard either to the sacred obligations of treaty, or the long-established practices and long-cherished principles of international action and honor;  which chose its own time for the war;  delivered its blow fiercely and suddenly;  stopped at no barrier either of law or of mercy;  swept a whole continent within the tide of blood—not the blood of soldiers only, but the blood of innocent women and children also and of the helpless poor;  and now stands balked, but not defeated, the enemy of four-fifths of the world.  This power is not the German people.  It is the ruthless master of the German people.

This is as complete an endorsement of the German-peril theory as can well be expressed in a few words.  It even lends color to the proposition so sedulously disseminated by the Allied war propagandists and our own, that Germany’s “attack” of August, 1914, was timed at a chosen moment and delivered upon unprepared, unsuspecting, and lamblike neighbors.


That Unsuspected and Premeditated Attack.

But every one knows that a war between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, or between members thereof, had been expected for years, and prepared for for years;  that such a war had been expected, talked about, and prepared for no less in France, England, and Russia, than in Germany and Austria;  that several times, within a period of ten years, Europe had trembled on the verge of a general war.

During the forty years in which Germany was accused of preparing for a war of aggression upon “heroic France,” the “revanche” cry—for a war of revenge against Germany—was periodically dinned in the ears of the French people.  In England, from 1905 to 1914, the respectable press carried on an almost constant propaganda of hatred against Germany.  The question of war was repeatedly raised in Parliament.  Cabinet officers presented exaggerated figures as to German naval increases in order to obtain even greater appropriations for the British navy.  It was admittedly in contemplation of war with Germany, that such leaders of the empire as General Lord Roberts devoted themselves to a serious campaign to commit England to peace-time conscription.  Meanwhile, the Czar was spending huge sums in rebuilding his navy, under the direction of British experts;  in perfecting his army, under the direction or French officers;  and in constructing a system of strategic railways to the German border.

Neilson has shown (“How Diplomats Make War,” p. 146), that the German appropriations for new naval construction were lower in 1912 than in 1911, lower in 1913, than in 1912, lower in 1914 than in 1913;  that the British, French, and Russian appropriations for new naval construction were all higher in each of those successive years;  that the 1914 appropriation of each was higher than that of Germany;  that for 1914 the combined appropriations for new naval construction of England, France, and Russia were two and one-half times as large as the combined appropriations of Germany, Austria, and Italy.

Morel, another Englishman, has shown, (“Truth and the War”), that the expenditures for both military and naval purposes of the French-Russian combination were very much larger than the expenditures of the German-Austrian combination;  that the French-Russian expenditures increased much more rapidly in the decade preceding 1914 than the German-Austrian expenditures;  that by 1913 the peace strength of the French-Russian armies was nearly double that of the German-Austrian armies.

During the very period in which the terrible Bernhardi was informing his readers that, for England “to come to terms with Germany, instead of fighting, would be a most desirable course for us”;  and that “we cannot contemplate attacking England, as such an attack would be hopeless,” (“Germany and the Next War,” pp. 98 and 155), General Lord Roberts himself, the greatest military hero of the times, was publicly advocating a surprise attack upon Germany.  Lord Fisher, England’s First Sea Lord in those days, boasts in his “Memories” that he also had recommended such an attack as far back as 1908, as a drastic means to disposing of a trade rival.

In 1912, the secret understanding for French and British cooperation against Germany, for six years a subject of conversation between the general staffs of the two countries, was put into writing.  In the same year the Franco-Russian naval convention was signed, and, as the Bolsheviki have revealed to us through the publication of the secret treaties, the Czar procured a definite pledge from both M. Poincaré and Foreign Secretary Grey of French and British support, in case trouble in the Balkans should involve Germany on the side of Austria.

As the year 1914 drew on, it became generally known that the British fleet was concentrated in the North Sea, the French in the Mediterranean.  As Neilson points out, if there was no understanding that the French coasts were under the protection of England, and British Mediterranean interests under the protection of France, then the general staffs of the two countries, under military law, ought to have been shot.  (“How Diplomats Make War,” p. 305.)  At about this time, our own Admiral Mahan called attention to the fact, in an article in the Scientific American, that “Eighty-eight per cent. of England’s guns are pointed at Germany.”  March 10, 1914, the British Minister of War told the House of Commons :  “We stand well for the purpose of immediate war on any basis you may consider,” while the First Lord of the Admiralty announced the arming of forty merchant ships.  (“How Diplomats Make War,” p. 228.)  In our own White Book (vol. III, p. 169), appears a reference to a notification from the British Admiralty, dated May 26, 1913, of the arming of British merchant vessels at the expense of the British government.

Finally, the opening of the diplomatic confab of the last week of July, 1914, found the British fleet completely mobilized and the German navy all but bottled up.

Even Belgium was not surprised.  Whether the Belgian understanding with France and England was—or was not—definite enough to vitiate her position as a neutral, Neilson recalls the fact that, in November, 1912, a month full of preparation in the Entente countries, the Belgian Parliament, after a secret sitting, increased the war strength of its army from 180,000 to 340,000 men—so constructing a stupendous military machine for a country the size of Belgium, and especially for one which professed to depend upon ancient neutrality guarantees.

The German “attack” was not unsuspected in any quarter, not unprepared for in any quarter.  The comparative tables upon preparedness prove that, in sheer weight of arms, the lambs were stronger than the wolves, and were relatively in a better position to be “attacked” than they had ever been before.  They were also better prepared diplomatically;  for they had made sure of at least the neutrality of Italy.

If not unsuspected or unprepared for, was the German “attack,” nevertheless, premeditated ?  Did the German government plan and plot beforehand to precipitate the long expected war at a given moment, namely, the first days of August, 1914 ?

Any such hypothesis would have to show that Germany not only had made the same military preparations that her enemies had made, but that she had made other far-reaching preparations which any country would make with war certain in a given period, but which otherwise would be impracticable.

The German lack of such preparations was notorious.  The crisis of the summer of 1914 found German shipping in all parts of the world, including the harbors of her enemies.  On July 28, the North German Lloyd steamship “Kronprinzessin Cecile” sailed from New York with $10,000,000 gold on board, consigned one-half to London and one-half to Paris.  Halted by a wireless in mid-ocean, she made a sensational race back to port to avoid capture by British cruisers.  Had the Kaiser’s irresponsible government, even as late as July 28, “chosen its own time for the war,” had it determined to deliver its “sudden blow” within half a week, the great German liner would hardly have been permitted to sail out of a safe port.

The more one examines the circumstances of the German “attack” the more clearly it appears that, for the Triple Entente, it could not have been better timed had the Entente chosen the date itself.  Leading Britons have, on occasion, gleefully proclaimed this very fact.

Morel points out-although not, in his case, gleefully—that had the Kaiser long plotted to “subjugate Europe,” and had he bided his time for the most favorable moment to do so, he would have chosen any other moment than the summer of 1914 :

How comes it that Germany did not wage war upon her neighbors when she could have done so with every guarantee of military success ?  She could have smashed France easily in 1887, and our official classes, judging from statements in such papers as the Standard and the Spectator, would have been rather pleased than otherwise. ... Germany could have smashed France with equal ease when Russia, exhausted by the Japanese war, was incapable of stirring a finger against her.  Germany could have smashed France with equal ease when we were engaged in annexing the South African republics. ... Why, if Germany desired to ‘subjugate Europe,’ did she wait until August, 1914, when her military supremacy, as I shall show later on, was less assured than at any period during the previous thirty years ? (“Truth and the War,” p. 64)

Morel also points out that even before the adoption of the Three Years Military Service Law in 1913, France had become more militarized than Germany or any of the other great powers.  (“Truth and the War,” p. 148.)  He also adduces evidence to prove that the adoption of that law forced the French government to make an early choice between foreign war and revolution at home.

In a speech at New York, February 12, 1920, our Admiral Sims said :

In December, 1910, I submitted a report to the admiral commanding my division, which stated that, having discussed the subject with military men of Great Britain and France, the consensus of opinion was that war would come within four years.

By whose choice ?  French jingoistic glee over coming events is typified in the following from the Nouvelle Revue, in 1912, and reproduced in Neilson’s book (p. 206):

We intend to have war.  After forty years of a heavily armed peace, we can at last utter this opinion. ... France is ready to strike and to conquer, as she was not ready forty years ago, and as she will not be in four or five years, owing to the annual divergent numbers of the birth rate in each country. ... We, the attacking party, will have arranged with England that their fleet ... will have followed ... the remains of the whole German navy into German waters.

Another confession of British Sea Lord Fisher, set down in his “Memories,” is that as far back as 1905 he also prophesied war with Germany, in the very month of August, 1914.


Turn to the immediate circumstances of the outbreak.

“The war was begun by the military masters of Germany,” asserted President Wilson, in his Flag Day address.  But eight months previously (at Cincinnati, Oct. 26, 1916) he had said :

Have you ever heard what started the present war ?  If you have, I wish you would publish it, because nobody else has.  So far as I can gather, nothing in particular started it, but everything in general.  There had been growing up in Europe a mutual suspicion, an interchange of conjectures about what this government or that government was going to do, an interlacing of alliances and understandings, a complex web of intrigue and spying, that presently was sure to entangle the whole family of mankind in its meshes.

Some millions of words have been printed to prove that the immediate responsibility for the outbreak of 1914 rests in this or that quarter.  The arguments seem to resolve themselves largely into two questions :  first, the extent to which evidence unfavorable to a given government has been suppressed or mutilated by it;  second, the relative value of the professions of a will to peace, for which all the governments claimed to be working.

If you begin by crediting one side with honesty and the other with dishonesty, it will be easy enough to prove the responsibility as you wish to prove it.  But if you begin with an equal measure of confidence in all—or an equal lack of confidence—then the case assumes a different aspect.  It is not necessary to grapple with the mass of conflicting evidence of the “war guilt” controversialists;  for it happens that, even among the most violent partisans, there is sufficient agreement on questions of fact to make it appear quite plain that not one of the great powers immediately concerned can escape a share of the responsibility.

If you date your survey, say, from July 28, you find that Austria was determined to chastise Serbia;  that Russia was determined to interfere with Austria;  that Germany was determined that Austria should not be interfered with;  that France stood ready to fight Germany if Germany struck Russia;  that England, though involved with France and Russia, was professing to be free, and was playing the role of peaceful, neutral mediator.

All professed to wish to avoid a general war, but all except England were frankly willing to go into such a war under certain circumstances.

For the moment, Austria stood in the position of an aggressor toward Serbia;  Russia as aggressor toward Austria;  Germany as aggressor toward Russia;  France as aggressor toward Germany;  England as an uncertain quantity.

Each of these great countries was in a position to prevent a general war, provided it cared sufficiently to do so.  Austria could have prevented war by backing down on Serbia, Russia by letting Austria go ahead, Germany by abandoning Austria, France by abandoning Russia, England by declaring her solidarity with France and Russia.

Although any of the four countries, Austria, Germany, Russia, or France, could have dispelled the crisis, it would have been at the cost of backing down.  There was just one country that had the power to disperse the war-cloud by not backing down—England.  A preponderance of force was the only thing that would induce any of the others to back down—and England was in a position to wield that force.  One Edward Grey knew where England’s force was going to be exerted.  France and Russia knew.  Germany and Austria did not know.  It is universally admitted that this was a determining factor in the incidents of the summer of 1914.

The German government tried hard to find out whether England would intervene.  The German ambassador asked Grey whether, in the event of war between Germany and Austria and France and Russia, England would remain neutral provided Germany would not violate Belgium.  Grey’s refusal, alone, would be enough to dispose of the self-righteous claim the British government proceeded to make to its people, that the violation of Belgium was the sole cause of British belligerency.

The German ambassador inquired whether England would remain neutral, provided the integrity of both France and her colonies was guaranteed.  Grey refused to tell him.  Grey declined to state the conditions under which England would remain neutral;  declined to state whether or not, in any event, England would remain neutral;  at the same time declining to say that England would stand with France and Russia, but leading Germany on to hope that she would not.  Meanwhile, the war web was spinning fast.  The knowledge that England was bound to them stiffened the backs of France and Russia;  the hope that England would stay out stiffened the backs of Germany and Austria.  When at last Grey did let the German ambassador know the truth, the latter’s government took the first steps toward backing down, forcing Austria to reconsider her decision not to negotiate with Russia over the Serbian dispute.  Too late—the Russian mobilization was already under way, and the Czar refused to halt it.  Germany then sent the twelve-hour ultimatum to Russia.  The Czar paid no heed;  Germany declared war upon Russia and the huge armies of Europe began to move.

The Czar, it is true, assured the Kaiser that mobilization did not necessarily mean war, but the post-war revelations of the Bolsheviki show this to have been a falsehood.  Even had Russian mobilization not meant war, it would have meant Russian dictation of the matter in hand.  For Russia had the numbers, and for Germany to have waited would have been for Germany to invite humiliation.  Under the circumstances, the dates of the various declarations of war tell nothing.  Nor do actual troop movements.  Since France was bound to fight the Czar’s battles, no matter on which front the fighting began, it was only a question of speed as to whether German armies would first reach French soil or French armies would first reach German soil.

If the peruser of white, orange, and yellow books starts with July 30, Russia is seen as the original aggressor.  But if he starts a week earlier he decides that Austria was the original aggressor.  But were hostility, intrigue, and aggression born into the world as late as July 23, 1914 ?  Why was Austria determined to chastise Serbia ?  Was Serbia entirely blameless ?  Why was the Czar determined that Serbia should not be chastised ?  Was it because he felt himself appointed by God to defend democracy throughout the world ?

Why, above all, did Foreign Secretary Grey conceal his intentions from Germany ?  Was Germany “lured to attack,” as Bernard Shaw declared ?

Even Britons, who approved of the action of their government, have cheerfully held, with Shaw, that it was Grey—none other—that chose the fatal hour.  President Wilson repeatedly expressed what is, in effect, the same opinion.  For example, in his Columbus speech (Sept. 4, 1919), he said : “I did not meet a single public man who did not admit these things, that Germany would not have gone into this war if she had thought Great Britain was going into it.”

This amounts to an abandonment of the theory that Germany “chose its own time” for the war, and is a virtual admission that England chose its own time.

If Grey could have prevented war by letting Germany know that England would intervene, why did he not let Germany know ?

The action of Grey, indeed, was openly excused on the theory that the war was bound to come anyhow some day, by the choice of the Kaiser, that Britain chose the time righteously, since the wicked mad-dog of Europe had run amuck long enough, and the hour had struck for the “free peoples” of the world to unite and scotch it.

Why, then, mention the incidents of July and August ?  Why continue to picture Germany leaping upon its adversaries from behind ?

Where, also, had the Kaiser run amuck ?

If the view expressed at Columbus be correct—and few will now dispute it—it is sufficient answer to the millions of words that have been printed to prove the “war guilt” of the Central Powers in the diplomatic correspondence and incidents of the summer of 1914.

Hang the plot theory on the ultimatum to Serbia, if you will, and the answer still is that England was always in a position to frustrate such a plot by the simple act of speaking out.

The “German plot” of 1914, so far as it was a reality, was simply a determination of Austria, with the knowledge and approval of Germany, to chastise Serbia, even at the risk of war with Russia and her allies.  The motive for this determination, far from insane dreams of world conquest, is easily discernible in the previous relations between Serbia and Austria.

The assassination of the Austrian archduke, stated as baldly as it usually is, would not seem to excuse a humiliation of Serbia.  But supposing that this assassination, whether perpetrated with or without the knowledge of responsible Serbian officials, was the logical outcome of an agitation, encouraged and assisted by the Serbian government, to acquire new territory for the kingdom of Serbia through the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by means of revolution within that empire ?

We were once informed by President Wilson—just at a time when we were all being adjured to stand behind him—that it was the duty of every government to see to it “that all influences proceeding from its own citizens meant to encourage or assist revolution in other states should be sternly and effectually suppressed and prevented.”  (Inaugural address, 1917.)  According to this view, Austria had a bona fide grievance against Serbia.  If you begin looking for the original aggressor of the world war any time within a twelve-month before June, 1914, you are as likely to lay your finger upon “poor little Serbia” as any other.[1]

Go back several years, and Serbia and Austria are found to be on friendly terms.  That situation obtained until the Serbian king and queen were murdered in their palace, at the instigation—so it was generally believed—of the Russian legation at the Serbian capital.  Anyhow, the king who acquired the Serbian throne, as a result of the murder, proved to be pro-Czar and anti-Josef.  From that time, the friction between Serbia and Austria began.  Start with the murder of the Serbian king and queen, and perhaps you will decide that Russia was the original aggressor.

Very early, after gaining her independence from Turkey, the reactionary little kingdom of Serbia had developed “legitimate ambitions” to acquire the territory of her neighbors.  While under the influence of Austria, she had signed a secret treaty agreeing not to plot to acquire Austrian territory, or even Bosnia or Herzegovina, nominally Turkish but under the control of Austria since 1878.  But immediately Serbia fell under the influence of the Czar, this treaty became a “scrap of paper”;  the “manifest destiny” of Serbia was directed, in a large measure, toward Bosnia and Herzegovina.  When, in 1908, Francis Josef annexed these provinces, to prevent their recovery by Turkey, the Serbian king was peeved, but only because he wanted them for himself.  He appealed to the Czar, and one of the periodical European crises resulted.

Austria succeeded in retaining Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the “manifest destiny” of Serbia continued to find its outlet in the so-called Pan-Serb propaganda, the chief aim of which was to break up the Austrian Empire for the benefit of a greater Serbia.  Trace the quarrels of Austria and Serbia through two Balkan wars, down to 1914, and you will have to agree that the July ultimatum, peremptory and violent though it be, was only the logical and almost certain result of what had gone on in the years before.

To hold that Austria should not have resisted the Serbian-Russian conspiracy would be to hold that the United States should not resist a conspiracy of Canada to acquire New York with the assistance of Japan.  The Serbian excuse was that the peoples of the territories which it coveted were of the same race and spoke a similar language, but Serbia went after territory to which this consideration did not apply.  Moreover, the blood of the Balkan peoples is bewilderingly mixed.  To hold it desirable that all peoples closely akin in race and language should be under a single flag is one thing;  to determine under what flag they shall be, and how they shall arrive there, is another thing.  The principle which Serbia pretended to be guided by, if applied equally by Russia, would perhaps have resulted in the gobbling up of Serbia by Russia.  If applied equally by all countries, it would at once set the whole world at war.  It would do so to-day.

There was no clear-cut issue of purity versus depravity in the relations between Serbia and Austria, nor any issue that would justify America in taking sides.  The folly of going to war for another country’s irredentism was thrice demonstrated by the world war;  it was plain enough before that.  Nor is the verdict different if the Serbian-Austrian struggle be viewed as a Russian-German struggle.  The Czar, for the time being, played the role of protector of Serbia, prompted by the same motive that had been the motive of Russian czars for generations—to push southward, and ultimately acquire Constantinople and the Straits, and to extend their hegemony over the entire Balkan peninsula.  Credit Austria and Germany with the same ambition.  It becomes a conflict between “manifest destinies”—Pan-Slavism versus Pan-Germanism.  Which was more inimical to the interests of civilization ?  Until 1907, when the British bread was buttered on the Pan-Slav side, there was no doubt about the answer among our British cousins.  “Before the Entente of 1907,” says Bullard, “the British newspapers were horrified at the Russian intrigues in the Balkans.  Since that date they have denounced the activity of the Austrians.”  (“Diplomacy of the Great War,” p. 138.)

If you are still looking for the original responsibility for the great war in or near the Balkan peninsula, you will find it, not in any one country, but in the general situation in the Balkans.  If you would name as the original aggressor the government most responsible for the general situation in the Balkans, you would perhaps again lay your finger upon England.  For generations, the keynote of British foreign policy was to protect the Turk from Russia.  For this purpose England fought the Crimean War, and for this purpose England, backed by Austria, intervened in the Russo-Turkish war of ’77, and through the Congress of Berlin, established that general situation in the Balkans;  that status quo, which all swore to uphold;  which not one, probably, intended to uphold;  which, in fact, took so scantily into consideration any principle of international equity that it was not worthy of upholding;  which nearly all proceeded to try to change in their favor;  which carried the seeds of a great war—out of which grew the particular dispute which occasioned the firing of the first gun of 1914.

It happens that there is no clear-cut issue of purity versus depravity anywhere in that quarter of the world.  It is dear that our allies and our enemies were equally engaged in a despicable, cowardly, selfish business;  that the official Allied and American version of the origin of the world war is a myth;  that whoever goes to the official white, yellow, and orange books, expecting there to find the real responsibility, knows nothing of what was going on in the world previously to 1914;  that these government books merely tell the story of the feinting before the final grapple;  that if one government or group is more responsible than another, the fact is to be found, not in the perpetration of any one act, but in many acts perpetrated in pursuance of a policy;  that if the German world peril was a reality, its reality will have to be established by a general record of conduct, policy, and motive, on the part of the Kaiser’s government, distinctly and radically different from the record of the governments which took up the sword against Germany.

So we pass to the question of relative depravity as revealed by such international outlawry as treaty-breaking, atrocities, aggressions upon weaker peoples, and general imperialistic activities.


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1 It now appears, according to information published in the London Nation, June 21, 1919, that the Sarajevo murderers have been acknowledged as Serbian officers.


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