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In the World War

In the World War
Title: In the World War
Release Date: 2006-04-12
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 25 March 2019
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Transcriber's Note:

A number of obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text.
For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.






London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

Copyright in Great Britain.


It is impossible in a small volume to write the history of the WorldWar in even a partially exhaustive manner. Nor is that the object ofthis book.

Rather than to deal with generalities, its purpose is to describeseparate events of which I had intimate knowledge, and individualswith whom I came into close contact and could, therefore, observeclosely; in fact, to furnish a series of snapshots of the great drama.

By this means the following pages may possibly present a conception ofthe war as a whole, which may, nevertheless, differ in many respectsfrom the hitherto recorded, and possibly faulty, history of the war.

Everyone regards people and events from his own point of view; it isinevitable. In my book, I speak of men with whom I was in close touch;of others who crossed my path without leaving any personal impressionon me; and finally, of men with whom I was often in grave dispute. Iendeavour to judge of them all in objective fashion, but I have todescribe people and things as I saw them. Wherever the descriptionappears to be at fault, the reason will not be due to a prematurelyformed opinion, but rather, probably, to a prevailing lack of thecapacity for judging.

Not everything could be revealed. Much was not explained, although itcould have been. Too short a period still separates us from thoseevents to justify the lifting of the veil from all that happened.

But what remains unspoken can in no way change the whole picture,which I describe exactly as imprinted on my mind.

Ottokar Czernin.


1. Introductory Reflections 1
2. Konopischt 34
3. William II 52
4. Roumania 77
5. The U-boat Warfare 114
6. Attempts at Peace 134
7. Wilson 188
8. Impressions and Reflections 195
9. Poland 200
10. Brest-Litovsk 211
11. The Peace of Bucharest 258
12. Final Reflections 271
  Appendix 275


[Pg 1]





The bursting of a thunderstorm is preceded by certain definitephenomena in the atmosphere. The electric currents separate, and thestorm is the result of atmospheric tension which can no longer berepressed. Whether or no we become aware of these happenings throughoutward signs, whether the clouds appear to us more or lessthreatening, nothing can alter the fact that the electric tension isbound to make itself felt before the storm bursts.

For years the political barometer of the European Ministries ofForeign Affairs had stood at "storm." It rose periodically, to fallagain; it varied—naturally; but for years everything had pointed tothe fact that the peace of the world was in danger.

The obvious beginnings of this European tension date back severalyears: to the time of Edward VII. On the one hand England's dread ofthe gigantic growth of Germany; on the other hand Berlin's politics,which had become a terror to the dwellers by the Thames; the beliefthat the idea of acquiring the dominion of the world had taken root inBerlin. These fears, partly due merely to envy and jealousy, butpartly due also to a positive anxiety concerning existence; thesefears led to the encircling policy of Edward VII., and thus wasstarted the great drive against Germany. It is well known that EdwardVII. made an attempt to exercise a direct influence on the Emperor[Pg 2]Francis Joseph to induce him to secede from the Alliance and join thePowers encircling Germany. It is likewise known that the EmperorFrancis Joseph rejected the proposal, and that this decided the fateof Austria-Hungary. From that day we were no longer the independentmasters of our destiny. Our fate was linked to that of Germany;without being conscious of it, we were carried away by Germany throughthe Alliance.

I do not mean absolutely to deny that, during the years preceding war,it would still have been possible for Germany to avert it if she haderadicated from European public opinion all suspicion respecting herdream of world dominion, for far be it from me to assert that theWestern Powers were eager for war. On the contrary, it is my firmconviction that the leading statesmen of the Western Powers viewed thesituation as such, that if they did not succeed in defeating Germany,the unavoidable result would be a German world domination. I mentionthe Western Powers, for I believe that a strong military party inRussia, which had as chief the Grand Duke Nicholas, thought otherwise,and began this war with satisfaction. The terrible tragedy of this,the greatest misfortune of all time—and such is this war—lies in thefact that nobody responsible willed it; it arose out of a situationcreated first by a Serbian assassin and then by some Russian generalskeen on war, while the events that ensued took the monarchs andstatesmen completely by surprise. The Entente group of Powers is asmuch to blame as we are. As regards this, however, a very considerabledifference must be made between the enemy states. In 1914 neitherFrance nor England desired war. France had always cherished thethought of revenge, but, judging from all indications, she had nointention of fighting in 1914; but, on the contrary—as she did fiftyyears ago—left the decisive moment for entering into war to thefuture. The war came quite as a surprise to France. England, in spiteof her anti-German policy, wished to remain neutral and only changedher mind owing to the invasion of Belgium. In Russia the Tsar did notknow what he wanted, and the military party [Pg 3]urged unceasingly forwar. As a matter of fact, Russia began military operations without adeclaration of war.

The states that followed after—Italy and Roumania—entered into thewar for purposes of conquest, Roumania in particular. Italy also, ofcourse, but owing to her geographical position, and being exposed topressure from England, she was less able to remain neutral thanRoumania.

But the war would never have broken out had it not been that thegrowing suspicion of the Entente as to Germany's plans had alreadybrought the situation to boiling point. The spirit and demeanour ofGermany, the speeches of the Emperor William, the behaviour of thePrussians throughout the world—whether in the case of a general atPotsdam or a commis voyageur out in East Africa—these Prussianmanners inflicting themselves upon the world, the ceaseless boastingof their own power and the clattering of swords, roused throughout thewhole world a feeling of antipathy and alarm and effected that moralcoalition against Germany which in this war has found such terriblypractical expression. On the other hand, I am fairly convinced thatGerman, or rather Prussian tendencies have been misunderstood by theworld, and that the leading German statesmen never had any intentionof acquiring world dominion. They wished to retain Germany's place inthe sun, her rank among the first Powers of the world; it wasundoubtedly her right, but the real and alleged continuous Germanprovocation and the ever-growing fears of the Entente in consequencecreated just that fatal competition in armaments and that coalitionpolicy which burst like a terrible thunderstorm into war.

It was only on the basis of these European fears that the French plansof revenge developed into action. England would never have drawn thesword merely for the conquest of Alsace-Lorraine; but the French planof revenge was admirably adapted to suit the policy inaugurated byKing Edward, which was derived not from French but from Englishmotives.

Out of this dread of attack and defence arose that mad fever forarmaments which was characteristic of pre-war times. The [Pg 4]race topossess more soldiers and more guns than one's neighbour was carriedto an absurd extreme. The armaments which the nations had to bear hadbecome so cumbersome as to be unbearable, and for long it had beenobvious to everyone that the course entered upon could no longer bepursued, and that two possibilities alone remained—either a voluntaryand general disarmament, or war.

A slight attempt at the first alternative was made in 1912 throughnegotiations between Germany and England respecting naval disarmament,but never got beyond the first stage. England was no readier forpeace, and no more disposed to make advances than was Germany, but shewas cleverer and succeeded in conveying to the world that she was thePower endangered by Germany's plans for expansion.

I recollect a very telling illustration of the German and Britishpoints of view, given to me by a prominent politician from a neutralstate. This gentleman was crossing the Atlantic on an Americansteamer, and among the other travellers were a well-known Germanindustrial magnate and an Englishman. The German was a great talkerand preferred addressing as large an audience as possible, expatiatingon the "uprising" of Germany, on the irrepressible desire forexpansion to be found in the German people, on the necessity ofimpregnating the world with German culture, and on the progress madein all these endeavours. He discoursed on the rising prosperity ofGerman trade in different parts of the world; he enumerated the townswhere the German flag was flying; he pointed out with emphasis how"Made in Germany" was the term that must and would conquer the world,and did not fail to assert that all these grand projects were built onsolid foundations upheld by military support. Such was the German.When my informant turned to the silent, quietly smiling Englishman andasked what he had to say to it, he simply answered: "There is no needfor me to say anything, for I know that the world belongs to us." Suchwas the Englishman. This merely illustrates a certain frame of mind.It is a snapshot, showing how the German and the English mentality wasreflected in the brain [Pg 5]of a neutral statesman; but it is symptomatic,because thousands have felt the same, and because this impression ofthe German spirit contributed so largely to the catastrophe.

The Aehrenthal policy, contrary to what we were accustomed to on theBallplatz, pursued ambitious plans for expansion with the greateststrength and energy, thereby adding to the suspicions of the worldregarding us. For the belief gained credence that the Vienna policywas an offshoot of that of Berlin, and that the same line of actionwould be adopted in Vienna as in Berlin, and the general feeling ofanxiety rose higher. Blacker and blacker grew the clouds; closer andcloser the meshes of the net; misfortune was on

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