MY THREE YEARS
IN AMERICA

BY

COUNT BERNSTORFF

NEW YORK
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

1920

 

               Contents
  Introduction

I
Germany and the United States before the War

II
German Propaganda in the United States

III
Political Events Preceding the "Lusitania" Incident

IV
Economic Questions

V
The So-Called German Conspiracies

VI
The "Lusitania" Incident

VII
The "Arabic" Incident

VIII
The Second "Lusitania" Crisis

IX
The "Sussex" Incident

X
American Mediation

XI
The Rupture of Diplomatic Relations

XII
The Return Home

 

INTRODUCTION

MY FUNDAMENTAL POLITICAL VIEWS BEFORE
AND
DURING THE WAR

IT was in my own home, the German Embassy in London, where the atmosphere was entirely political, that I learned my first steps in politics. My father did not belong to that class of diplomats, so prevalent to-day, who treat politics as an occupation to be pursued only in their spare time. His whole life was consecrated to the cause of the German nation, and from my earliest childhood my mind was filled with the same idea, to the exclusion of all others.

Owing to my father's share in the negotiations which brought about the marriage of the Emperor Frederick with the Princess Royal of England, the Imperial couple became closely connected with my parents, and, as Crown Prince and Princess, frequently resided at the Embassy in London. It was the entourage of the Emperor Frederick that first inspired in me those political views, which, during a long diplomatic career, gradually crystallized into the deep-rooted convictions of my political outlook. I believed Germany's salvation to lie in the direction of a liberal development of Unification and Parliamentary Government, as also in an attitude of consistent friendliness towards England and the United States of America. Thus, to use a modern phrase, I was an avowed supporter of the Western Policy. At the present moment, while we are standing as mourners at the grave of our national hopes, I am more than ever convinced, that had this policy been steadily pursued, we should have been spared the catastrophe that has overtaken us.

On the other hand, I will not deny, that even the Oriental Policy would have proved a feasible political scheme, if only we had decided to pursue it in good time. Albeit, I am of opinion that even Bismarck had already started us in the direction of the Western Policy, when in 1879 he decided in favor of Austria-Hungary and not Russia. Despite all that the careworn recluse of Friedrichsruhe may have written against Caprivi's policy, which was decidedly Western in tendency, he was himself the founder of the Triple Alliance, which, without the good-will of England, could not have come into existence. Had we pursued an Eastern Policy, though it would ultimately have led to the .sacrifice and partition of Austria-Hungary, it would not have secured us those advantages in the Orient of which Marschall speaks. Nevertheless, I have always regretted that we sent such a first-rate man to Constantinople, for him ultimately to become the able director of the false policy which we pursued there. There is an Oriental proverb which says: "Never lay your load on a dead camel's back."

If, as I always used to hope, we had resolved to adopt the Western Policy, we should in any case have had to be prepared, in certain circumstances, to venture with England's help upon a war against Russia. And the experiences of the Five-Years War have taught us that we should have won such a conflict with ease. I never wanted a war with Russia, and was never an enemy of that country; but I believed that our position among the nations of the world would compel us to decide one way or the other, and I felt, just as Caprivi did, that we should not very well be able to avoid war. Even if, in the event of a war between the Triple Alliance and Russia and France, England had only maintained an attitude of friendly neutrality, this would have proved very much more favorable for us than the situation which developed out of the Encirclement Policy (Einkreisungspolitik). Furthermore, had we pursued the Western Policy, we should have had to reckon with the possibility of England's wishing to moderate, even in a perfectly friendly manner, our somewhat explosive economic development. I should not, however, have regarded this altogether as a disadvantage. For, truth to tell, we grew a little too rapidly. We ought, as "junior partners" in Britain's world-empire, to have gathered our strength more slowly. As an example of what I mean, take the policy which France and Japan have pursued since the beginning of the present century. If we had done the same, we should, at all events, have been saved from so seriously overheating the boilers of our industrial development, we should not have outstripped England as quickly as we undoubtedly could have done if we had been left to develop freely, but we should also have escaped the mortal danger which we drew upon ourselves by provoking universal hostility.

It is impossible now for me to demonstrate retrospectively that we should have been able to conclude an alliance with England. Prince Bülow denies that this was ever the case. Maybe that during his tenure of office this possibility did not offer a sufficient guarantee of future security to warrant our incurring the hostility of Russia. I am convinced, however, that an alliance with England would have been within our power, if we had pursued Caprivi's policy consistently, and the Kruger telegram had never been dispatched. Unfortunately we have always had statesmen at the helm in Germany,---Bismarck not excepted,---the bulk of whose views and knowledge were essentially continental, and who never felt quite at home with English ways of thinking. I feel perfectly satisfied on this point, however, that English commercial jealousy, with which we naturally had to reckon, would not have proved an insuperable obstacle to a good understanding with England, provided that we had declared ourselves ready, if necessary, to fight Russia.

The policy of the free hand, which we pursued until the outbreak of war, aimed at the highest possible results. Prince Bülow, who was the inaugurator of this policy, might possibly have known how to steer us through the "Danger-Zone" without provoking war. And then in a few years to come, we should have become so strong and should have left the Danger-Zone so very far behind us, that, as far as human judgment could tell, we should no longer have had any need to fear war. German naval construction from the beginning of the present century certainly made our relationship to England very much worse, while it also materially increased the danger of our position from the standpoint of world-politics. The Bülow-Tirpitz notion of a Risikoflotte,[Note: Literally: a fleet for risks or for taking risks; a fleet to be used at a venture.] may, however, only have been practicable on condition that our diplomacy were sufficiently skilful to avoid war, as long as the "risk" idea in England was not able, of itself, to maintain peace.

German foreign policy had been ably conducted by Bismarck; but, in keeping with the times, it had been almost exclusively Continental and European. At the very moment when Bismarck withdrew from the arena, Germany's era of world-politics began. It was not the free bloom of our statesmen's own creative powers; but a bitter necessity, born of the imperative need of providing Germany's increasing population with sufficient foodstuffs. But it was not our world-politics, as such, that brought about our downfall; but the way we set to work in prosecuting our policy. The Triple Alliance, with its excellent Reinsurance Treaty, did not constitute a sufficiently powerful springboard from which to take our plunge into world-politics. The Reinsurance contract could not be anything but a makeshift, which merely deferred the inevitable choice which had to be made between Russia and Austria-Hungary. In the course of time, we should either have had to decide entirely in favor of Russia, in the manner outlined above, or we should have had to try to come to an understanding with England, upon terms which, at all events, we should not have been at liberty to choose for ourselves. Unfortunately, however, it was an axiom of post-Bismarckian German politics, that the differences between Russia and England were irreconcilable, and that the Triple Alliance would have to constitute the needle-index of the scales between these two hostile Powers. This proposition was incessantly contested both verbally and in writing by Herr von Holstein, who was then the leading spirit at the Foreign Office. He perceived that its chief flaw was the weak point in the Triple Alliance itself,---that is to say, the differences between Austria-Hungary and Italy on the one hand, and Italy's dependence upon England's superior power in the Mediterranean on the other. Furthermore, he recognized the prodigious possibility, which was not beyond the art of English statesmanship, of a compromise between England and Russia. He did not see, however, how the hostility of the French to ourselves would serve as a medium for this universal coalition against us.

In the last Entente Note of the Five-Years War there is the following passage:

"For many years the rulers of Germany, true to the Prussian tradition, strove for a position of dominance in Europe. They required that they should be able to dictate and tyrannize to a subservient Europe, as they dictated and tyrannized over subservient Germany."

We Germans know that this indictment is a lie; but unfortunately all unprejudiced Germans must acknowledge that for years this lie has been believed outside Germany. We, for our part, cherished similar views about our enemies, nor did we make a sufficient effort to dissipate their prejudices. On the contrary we constantly lent color to them by means of the extravagant and high-flown speeches, which formed the accompaniment to our world and naval policy, and by means of our opposition to pacifism, disarmament, and arbitration schemes, etc., etc. The extent to which our attitude at the Hague Conference damaged us in the eyes of the whole world is no longer a secret to anybody. As Heinrich Friedjung rightly observes:

"At the Hague Conference German diplomacy delivered itself up to the vengeance of the pacifists, like a culprit."

During my tenure of office in Washington I succeeded on three occasions in coming to an agreement with the Government there regarding the terms of an arbitration treaty. All three treaties were, however, rejected in Berlin, and consequently in America I never ceased from being questioned reproachfully as to the reason why the United States had been able to conclude arbitration treaties with every other State in the world, but not with Germany.

The Entente Note, already quoted above, contained this further statement:

"As soon as their preparations were complete, they encouraged a subservient ally to declare war against Serbia at forty-eight hours' notice, knowing full well that a conflict involving the control of the Balkans could not be localized and almost certainly meant a general war. In order to make doubly sure, they refused every attempt at conciliation and conference until it was too late, and the world war was inevitable for which they had plotted, and for which alone among the nations they were fully equipped and prepared."

The leaders of the Entente Powers would like to exalt this distortion of history into a dogma, in order that their various peoples may not bring any unpleasant charges against them. And yet the historical truth is already pretty clear to all who look for it honestly and without prejudice. The German Government believed that the Serbian propaganda would annihilate Austria-Hungary, and hoped, moreover, that her last faithful ally would experience a political renaissance as the result of her chastisement of Serbia. That is why they gave Count Berchtold a free hand, in the belief that Count Bülow's success over the Bosnian crisis could be repeated. Meanwhile, however, the situation had changed. Russia and France, relying upon England's help, wanted to risk a war. When the German Government saw this they tried, like a driver of a car about to collide with another vehicle, to jam on all breaks, and to drive backwards. But it was then too late. The mistake our Government made was to consent to Austria-Hungary's making so daring an experiment, at a moment of such critical tension.

It is not true either that we were thoroughly equipped and prepared for war. We had neither sufficient supplies of munitions, foodstuffs and raw materials, nor any plan of campaign for a war with England. Be this as it may, we should not have been defeated if we had abided firmly by our defensive policy. The heroic spirit displayed by the German people surpassed all bounds, and they believed quite honestly that they were fighting a war of defence. If our policy had been conducted with corresponding consistency we should have saved our position in the world. We ought always to have borne in mind the analogy of the Seven Years War, in order to have been ready at any moment to extricate ourselves from the hopeless business with the least possible amount of loss.

After the first battle of the Marne, President Wilson consistently maintained that a decision was no longer possible by force of arms. This view, which I also shared, gave us some common ground, upon which, despite our other differences, we were able to some extent to work together.

Regarding Dr. Wilson's personality certain doubts have been and are still entertained by many people. He is the most brilliant and most eloquent exponent of the American point of view. But he does not devote the same energy and consistency to the execution of his various programmes as he does to their formation. There can be no question that, as a result both of his origin and his training, the President is very much under the sway of English thought and ideals. Nevertheless, his ambition to be a Peacemaker and an Arbiter Mundi certainly suggested the chance of our winning him over to our side, in the event of our being unable to achieve a decisive victory with the forces at our disposal. In this case, Wilson, as the democratic leader of the strongest neutral Power, was the most suitable person to propose and to bring about a Peace by arrangement.

After the opening of the U-boat campaign, two alternatives remained open to us, one of which we were compelled to choose. If the prospects of a U-boat war promised to secure a victory, it was naturally incumbent upon us to prosecute it with all possible speed and energy. If, as I personally believed, the U-boat war did not guarantee a victory, it ought, owing to the enormous amount of friction to which it could not help giving rise, under all circumstances to have been abandoned; for, by creating American hostility, it did us more harm than good.

I, as the German Ambassador, in the greatest neutral State, with the evidences of American power all about me, could not help feeling it my duty to maintain our diplomatic relations with the United States. I was convinced that we should most certainly lose the war if America stepped in against us. And thus I realized ever more and more the supreme importance of preventing this from taking place.

My communications to the Central Government were framed with a view to inducing them also to adopt this attitude; but they, of course, had to form their conclusions, not from one source, but from all the sources of information they possessed. At all events, isolated as I was at Washington, I could not confine myself merely to the task of furnishing my Government with information; but was compelled on occasion to act on my own initiative, in order to prevent any premature development in the diplomatic situation from becoming utterly hopeless.

The policy for which I stood not only promised the negative success of keeping America out of the war, but it also offered the only prospect there was of obtaining, with neutral help, a Peace by arrangement. My belief that such a peace could have been obtained through Dr. Wilson is, of course, no longer susceptible of proof to-day. It may perhaps sound improbable in view of the President's behavior at Versailles. It is my opinion, however, that, previous to the 31st of January, 1917, Dr. Wilson's attitude towards us was radically different. I base my assumption that Wilson might in those days have assisted us in obtaining a Peace by negotiation upon the following points:

(1) A Peace by mediation was the only way in which the United States could avoid becoming involved in the war, and this is what the American public opinion of the day wished above all to prevent.

(2) It is true that even if he had wished to do so, Wilson could not have declared war on England, neither could he by any exercise of force have prevented the delivery of munitions to the Allies, or have compelled England to observe the rights of nations. He could, however, have obliged England to conclude a Peace by arrangement with us; not only because in so doing he would have had the support of American public opinion, but also because such a policy was in keeping with the best political interests of the United States.

I therefore pursued the policy of Peace with undeviating consistency, and to this day I still believe it to have been the only right policy. A thorough prosecution of the U-boat campaign was also a feasible scheme. But the worst thing that we could possibly do, was to steer the zigzag course; for by so doing we were certain not only to cause constant vexations to America, but, by our half measures and partial pliancy, also to drive Mr. Wilson even further and further into the inflexible attitude of a policy of prestige. Unfortunately, however, it was precisely this zigzag course that we adopted; and thus, in addition to destroying the prospects which my policy had offered, according to the view of the Naval people, we also crippled the effects of the U-boat campaign.

My policy might best be described as that of "a silent resolve to obtain Peace." It was utterly wrong to publish our readiness for Peace broadcast. We should have presented a strong front to the outside world, and we should have increased the powers of resistance which we actually, possessed by emphasizing our strength both to our people at home and to other States. According to my view, we ought, after the first battle of the Marne, to have recognized in our heart of hearts that victory was out of the question, and consequently we should have striven to conclude a Peace, the relatively unfavorable terms of which might perhaps have temporarily staggered public opinion in Germany and created some indignation, it was not right, however, to allow deference to public opinion to outweigh other considerations, as it did in our case. The political leaders of the Empire ought to have kept the High Military Command, which from its point of view naturally demanded firmer "assurances" than the general situation warranted, more thoroughly within bounds, just as Bismarck did. Presumably the High Military Command would have been able to perform its duties quite as efficiently if it had been prevented from exercising too much influence on the policy which aimed at a conclusion of peace.

As a politician I consider that the ultimate cause of our misfortune was our lack of a uniform policy both before and during the war. If, at the time of Bismarck's retirement, we had made a timely and resolute decision either in favor of the Western Policy that he advocated, or in favor of the Eastern Policy, we should have prevented the development of a situation in the politics of the world which ultimately led to our own undoing. If, during the war, however, we had completely abandoned the U-boat campaign, and had made every possible effort to come to an understanding with America, we should, in my opinion, have been able to extricate ourselves from it satisfactorily. Be this as it may, it is also possible that if, the U-boat campaign had been prosecuted resolutely, and without any shilly-shallying---a thing I never wished---we should not have suffered so complete a collapse from the military, economic, political and moral point of view, as we must otherwise have done. According to my view it is the hesitating zigzag course that we pursued which is chiefly to blame for the fact that of all possible results of the epoch of German world-politics, the unhappiest for ourselves has come to pass. The Wilhelminian Age perished owing to the fact that no definite objects were either selected or pursued in good time, and, above all, because both before and during the war, two systems in the Government of the country were constantly at variance with each other and mutually corroding.


Chapter One