MEMOIRS OF PRINCE VON BÜLOW, Vol. III, 1909-1919. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1932.
Reviewed by Commander Holloway H. Frost, U. S. Navy
This volume of von Bülow’s Memoirs is one of the most important contributions to the history of the World War. Prince von Bülow was one of the most astute and successful of German statesmen. He was an ardent patriot. He was an enthusiastic admirer of Bismarck. Despite this and the fact that he was a member of the Junker class, he had strong liberal tendencies. He was a farseeing leader whose ideas were abreast, and sometimes ahead, of his time. Throughout his book, we find a loyal patriotism both to Germany and the House of Hohenzollern. Having been dismissed from the office of chancellor in an abrupt and rude manner, we can imagine that he was not favorably disposed toward the Kaiser. As his successor, Bethmann-Hollweg, reversed his policies, one need expect in his book no eulogies of that statesman. Nevertheless, during the critical period covered by this volume von Bülow exercised a noble and loyal restraint in his relations with the Kaiser and his right-hand man. However, when the war ended Bülow prepared his memoirs for publication after his death. These are principally a severe and measured indictment of William II and Bethmann-Hollweg and show von Bülow’s long-repressed prejudice against them. Possibly this prejudice detracts somewhat from the value of von Bülow’s book, but we believe that the impartial reader will find in his oft-repeated criticisms more of a noble concern for the fortunes of Germany than a personal antagonism for individuals. And, finally, we think the reader will agree with von Bülow in his whole-hearted condemnation of William II, Bethmann, and their satellites.
The primary theme of von Bülow’s book is the magnificent devotion and efficiency of the Germans and the utter failure of their leadership during the period in question. This is remarkable, because during the last two centuries just the opposite has been the case under the Hohenzollerns. Beginning with King Frederick William I, Prussia had received a leadership from this royal house far above the average. Frederick the Great had made Prussia the most efficient country in Europe. Then, it is true, a period of weak leadership had precipitated the Jena disaster. But this had only brought to the fore those wonderful leaders—Stein, Blucher, Yorck, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau—who had brought to Prussia a new greatness. Then had come the great triumvirate of Bismarck, Moltke, and Roon, under the inspiring leadership of William I, “The Old Kaiser.” Bismarck, with these facts in mind, had consolidated the power of the crown until the Reichstag had become merely a debating society. But, as Bülow says, “in laying the foundations of his Empire he had not foreseen a William II.” And that was Bismarck’s fatal, if excusable, mistake.
When William II came to the throne, Germany was probably the most powerful nation in the world. Bülow’s story is how William II wrecked this great country. It was not so much that the Kaiser was weak and ineffectual, as that these traits were exaggerated by a colossal egotism. Bülow says,
The young Emperor cherished the illusion that he was fitted to be his own chancellor, and play, before the world, such a part as Bismarck had sustained for eight and twenty years with magnificent genius.
Not content with becoming his own chancellor, the Kaiser worked systematically to become his own chief of the general staff and to gain absolute control over the Navy. Let us see how he gained these ends.
For nine years Bülow had served as chancellor and with admitted skill and success. Despite his admiration of Bismarck, he gradually diverged from the fundamental policy of the Great Chancellor of keeping the crown supreme. Bülow says that Bismarck had never really grasped the Kaiser’s somewhat complex mentality. “He would not have believed such immaturity possible.” Also, Bülow sensed the liberal trend of the times which Bismarck, “the greatest of all junkers,” had been too prejudiced to see. So, for both these reasons, Bülow, after 1907, decided to prepare, “little by little, but progressively, and without once halting or looking back, a system of parliamentary government.” In 1909 the Kaiser dismissed Bülow because of this policy and appointed a man he could control—Bethmann-Hollweg. Thus, according to Bülow the Kaiser became his own chancellor.
Bülow quotes numerous instances of Bethmann’s weakness and ineffectiveness. Let one instance serve for many. When Bethmann was appointed to succeed Bülow, the Princess called on Frau von Bethmann. Bülow says:
When my wife arrived in Frau von Bethmann’s drawing-room, the latter exclaimed, with tears in her eyes, “This is simply a misfortune for my poor husband. I love my husband, and because I love him I wish he could have been spared this test. In spite of all his devotion to duty, his conscientiousness and scrupulousness, and so many other brilliant gifts—he isn’t the man for such a position. He’s always so undecided, so hesitating, so given to worrying over trifles, till, really at times, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Why, it’s become quite a family joke. We often say, Father has changed his mind today three times, or, for three days now Father has been trying to make up his mind.”
Already the Kaiser had made himself his own chief of the general staff. When he had relieved Count Waldersee from this duty, the Kaiser told him that he had no need of a chief of staff. “In war he would make his own decisions; would lead his army, as Frederick the Great had done before him.” This incident Waldersee told Bülow. At the beginning of the war von Moltke was chief of staff. Despite the fact that Moltke was a dear friend, Bülow says of the German Army:
There was only one weak point—strategic direction. But this was almost as weak as our diplomacy. Moltke, like Bethmann, showed himself unequal to his task. So too the Emperor, who had never managed to choose the right generals for even the most essential posts.
In 1905 Moltke had discussed with Bülow whether or not he should accept the Kaiser’s invitation to become chief of staff. When Bülow called on the broken general in 1914, after his dismissal, Moltke said: “Can you still remember that day when we trotted our two horses around the watch-tower in the Hippodrome? Wasn’t I right not to want to accept the post they offered me?” Can one imagine such a man as the leader of the German Army? Not content with the appointment of such a figurehead, the Kaiser did not follow his advise on many important points. He was his own chief of staff.
In the Navy the Kaiser had checked the strength of von Tirpitz by a three-fold system of checks and balances. On an equality with the great builder of the German Navy he placed ineffectual admirals in the posts of chief of the naval staff and chief of the naval cabinet. Thus did he “divide and rule.”
Even after the war began the Kaiser in many instances pursued his fatal policy of appointing weak leaders. When finally he had to get rid of Bethmann, he appointed three almost unknown chancellors—all ludicrously weak and ineffectual. Moltke was succeeded by his protégé, Falkenhayn. Bülow calls him an “enigmatic nature.” While Falkenhayn in many respects did well, it was not until the summer of 1916 that the German Army, in Hindenburg and Ludendorff, found the leaders it had a right to expect. The leadership of the Navy was weakened by the dismissal of fine old von Tirpitz. Not until the advent of Scheer in 1916 did it really have a unified command, without imperial leading strings.
The picture that Bülow paints of German statesmanship at the beginning of the war is nothing less than amazing. He shows that Germany gave her weaker ally, Austria, carte blanche in pursuing her private policies—with a blanket guarantee of German support. He says,
I began to realize, with terror, that already we must be bound hand and foot to the policy of Count Leopold Berchtold, whose frivolous incapacity far exceeded even Austrian standards in such matters.
When Delbrück, Minister of Interior, asked permission to purchase the grain supplies of Rotterdam early in the diplomatic crisis, Jagow, the Foreign Secretary, said that such a precaution would be “entirely superfluous.” When Delbrück pressed his demand against the Secretary of Treasury, the latter said, “There isn’t going to be any war.” When credits were at last made available, it was found that all the neutral grain had been bought by the enemy. The Kaiser expressly disapproved the request of Falkenhayn, the War Minister, to make the necessary advance preparations for mobilization. When von Tirpitz, on vacation, asked whether he was wanted at Berlin, he was urgently begged to continue his cure, as his return would only “create a sensation.”
But really these were only the minor blunders of the German government. Says Bülow:
The inconceivable blunder was that Germany should have let Russia force her declaration. This first declaration of war gave the whole world its chance to say of us that Germany had provoked the catastrophe.
A most remarkable point here is that Moltke urged that the declaration of war against Russia be delayed. What then was the reason for Bethmann’s decision? Bülow quotes Ballin’s story of the proceedings. Ballin asked Bethmann: “Why such haste to declare war on Russia?” Bethmann answered: “If I don’t, we shall not get the Socialists to fight.” Now isn’t that diplomacy?
Bülow’s criticism of Germany’s handling of the Italian situation is devastating in its bitterness and severity. Austria’s action against Serbia was deliberately kept secret from Italy. Bülow says,
Any operations begun by Austria without previous understanding with Italy violated both letter and spirit of the Triple Alliance. Moreover, up to the very last minute, we had kept the Italians in the dark.
Furthermore, the fact that Germany had declared war on Russia and France gave Italy a legitimate excuse to avoid her treaty obligations. Bülow admits,
All Bismarck’s treaties had been defensive. To Bismarck it seemed impossible that the chancellor of such a country as Germany, a country whose major interest was peace, could ever be mad enough to declare war on either Russia or France.
The same policy of secrecy was used toward Rumania, whose king was not only a Prussian officer, but even a Hohenzollern.
Without ever having been duly warned or given any reasoned line of argument, the old, wise, and dignified King Carol was brusquely required to aid us in a war which looked as though it would spread all over the world—a war made possible by the frivolousness of Austrian diplomacy and the purblind feebleness of our own.
As to England Bethmann, Jagow, Lichnowsky, and the Kaiser alike were ludicrously deceived. All believed that she would remain neutral. As late as August 1, there came an amazing telegram from Lichnowsky in London that England would guarantee French neutrality if Germany would agree not to attack France. Bethmann in glee pointed out that he had been right all along. The Kaiser wired to King George that he accepted the British proposal. Bülow says:
William II sent off at once for Moltke, whom he ordered to hold up the advance to the west and turn back all our forces toward Russia. When Moltke pointed out the confusion, the incalculable results of such a decision, the difficulties entailed in mobilization by it, the Emperor took him gruffly to task and ordered one of his own aides de camp to transmit to the 16th Division, advancing in the direction of Luxemburg, the order to call an instant halt.
Of course, all the Kaiser’s hopes were dashed to the ground by a telegram from King George, stating that he knew nothing of the proposition attributed to him by Lichnowsky.
The Kaiser’s principal contribution to the momentous events which brought on the World War was a refusal to allow Bethmann to resign. “You’ve cooked your broth, now eat it,” the Kaiser said.
Bethmann completed his comedy of errors with his famous speech of August 4, in which he admitted that Germany was in the wrong. Bülow says,
Never, perhaps, has any other statesman at the head of a great and civilized people for whose safety and future he had to answer, pronounced, in an hour of mortal crisis, a clumsier, a more terrible speech.
Bülow’s interpretation of the Kaiser’s feeling toward the Navy is of interest. He says,
Never, since we began to build our fleet, had William II seriously considered that he might have to use it in a war. He had only felt that a strong German Navy was our safest rampart against peace breakers—and that the fleet could also, now and then, be the pretext for magnificent manoeuvres. And that was all. His Majesty knew every battleship. On each he had his own luxurious staterooms, fitted out with special toilet apparatus by his faithful old body servant, Schulz. On the walls of each were portraits of his nearest and dearest. His heart sank at the thought of having to sacrifice even one of these toys that meant so much to him.
Bülow traces the fateful course of German diplomacy during the war. In his opinion there was an excellent chance of keeping Italy neutral by forcing Austria to make territorial concessions. He claims that at one time there were excellent prospects for negotiating a separate peace with Russia. These were ruined by Bethmann’s proposal to create an independent Poland. Bethmann later tried to unload the blame for this disastrous proposal on Hindenburg, who flatly denied the charge. The net gain of the Polish movement was the formation of a Polish legion of three thousand soldiers and some nine thousand others fit for work behind the lines. The loss is painfully evident to every German today.
This volume is filled with amazing disclosures. Bülow quotes the opinion of the Austrian ambassador at Berlin that the assassination of Francis Ferdinand was “a dispensation of providence,” because the violent nature and fierce prejudices of the Archduke might have caused civil war in Austria-Hungary. He says that Emperor Francis Joseph “neglected nothing which might harm the memory of the Archduke,” ordering that his burial should take place at night and in a driving rain. He tells how the Crown Princess came to call upon him at Rome after his dismissal, saying: “My husband had been forbidden to come to see you, but I’m disobedient, so I came.” This was only one of the petty expedients used by the Kaiser to discredit his former chancellor.
But Bülow becomes bitter only when he tells of Foreign Minister Jagow and the miserable Flotow, German ambassador to Rome. The treacherous intrigues of these ineffectual weaklings fill whole chapters. In fact, the real lesson of this book to me is that our American Republic, with all its failings, is not so bad after all. While we have had some very mediocre presidents, we have never had a William II—the man whom Prince Bismarck had never foreseen.
But while Bülow criticizes so heartily the German political leadership, he has only the highest praise for Hindenburg, Ludendorff, and the incomparable German Army. He lauds continually the courage and devotion of the German people. He admires greatly the Kaiserin.
As regards the United States, Bülow characterizes Zimmermann’s attempt to have Mexico invade the United States as ridiculous and grotesque. And he says that the “last decision was given by American reinforcements to Europe.”
Of course, as we said before, this book is hardly an impartial statement of German statesmanship. Bülow makes no attempt to disguise his prejudice, and often contempt, of the Kaiser and his principal advisers. But to me his case is very convincing—especially against the Kaiser. Certainly no impartial reader of this volume will ever again pretend to a belief in the efficient leadership of William II. That myth has been dissipated forever.
THE SHIP BOOK. By Jean H. Dukelow and Hanson Hart Webster. Cambridge: The Riverside Press. 1931. $2.00.
A fascinating and illuminating peep into the world of things afloat. This “ship book,” intended primarily for children, captures the interest of many an adult reader who has not much knowledge, but with strong leanings toward things nautical. It tells of all the ships you ever heard of and many that you haven’t. And one of the charming features of this 300-page book is the large number of colored drawings of all kinds of ships that go gaily cruising through the pages.
It tells of all the ships you ever heard of and many you haven’t, definitely describing the various types of craft, and relating their history, without once becoming too involved or technical for the youngest layman to grasp.
The extreme simplicity of style enables the writers of this book to give a really surprising amount of information in a short space, and not only do the great ships of history become personalities to you, but a whole world of aquatic knowledge opens to the lucky reader.
Think how delightful at any age, but especially about ten, to be able to speak with authority upon the origin, type, peculiarities or characteristics of any craft that happens to come in view. A world of knowledge and interest so easily within, one’s grasp should certainly be acquired.
TUNNARD’S TANKER TABLES. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, Ltd. 1932. 7s. 6d.
Seamen the world over are interested in anything that the above firm publishes, for the book is sure to have real merit. This contribution on fuel oil metrology is no exception to the rule. About half the book, and the primary reason for its publication, are tables for speedy conversion of volume into weight. When alongside tanker or fuel dock, the navy engineer eagerly watches meters and soundings and fusses over gallons; but, in the last analysis it is tons that count. These tables use both A.P.I. and Beaumé as arguments, and give quantities per ton or per metric ton in cubic feet, imperial gallons, American gallons, litres, and barrels (American barrels of 42 American gallons). There is also a table that gives the weight in pounds or kilos for each of the usual units of volume mentioned above; the argument being the specific gravity. Due cognizance has been taken of the difference in English and American practice of using respectively 62° and 60°F. as standard temperatures.
The discussion on ullages, hydrometers temperatures, measuring standards, methods of calculating a cargo, etc., as well as the comments on the handling and carriage of oil cargoes, is interesting and informative.
10,000 LEAGUES OVER THE SEA. By William Albert Robinson. New York: Brewer, Warren & Putnam. 1932. $3.50. The author sailed from New York in a cruising boat, passed through the Panama Canal, stopped at the Galapagos Islands, crossed to the South Pacific and returned through the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic. The whole cruise took three years and five months because the author was fortunate enough to have plenty of time to stop off at places that interested him. The cruise itself was no small feat for it was made in a 32-foot, ketch-rigged cruising boat, with a small gasoline engine to help along during calm spells.
This book recounts the story of this cruise. His first stops were at places which have already been much written up, such as the Galapagos Islands and Tahiti. He got away from the beaten paths when he visited New Guinea and was able to go far into the interior and see the primative tribes that live there. This part of the book and the photographs that accompany it are very interesting. The author makes the usual observations on missionaries and colonial systems. He has also some very good notes on the experience gained on his cruise, together with hints for anyone wishing to attempt a similar venture.
BROWN’S NAUTICAL ALMANAC, 1933. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, Ltd. 3s.
This annual publication, although of greatest use to the British mariner, is a valuable publication for any captain or navigator whether of the navy or the merchant service. In a pasteboard covered book of nearly 800 pages, but still not too bulky, is all the information generally to be expected in a nautical almanac. But in addition to this it has a compendium of up-to-date, useful information for seafaring people. The “Contents” alone requires three double-column pages. The list of subjects treated includes such matter as Port Information; Nautical Meteorology; legal matter for mariners, nautical instruments, tide tables, innumerable miscellaneous tables, etc. Much of the information is particularly applicable to the British Isles, but much more concerns the world at large. It might not be amiss to add that many will enjoy scanning the hundreds of advertisements that the book contains.