IX AMERICA TRIES TO PREVENT THE EUROPEAN WAR

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CHAPTER IX


AMERICA TRIES TO PREVENT THE EUROPEAN WAR



PAGE'S mind, from the day of his arrival in England, had been filled with that portent which was the most outstanding fact in European life. Could nothing be done to prevent the dangers threatened by European militarism? Was there no way of forestalling the war which seemed every day to be approaching nearer? The dates of the following letters, August, 1913, show that this was one of the first ideas which Page presented to the new Administration.



.

To Edward M. House


Aug. 28, 1913.



MY DEAR HOUSE:

. . . Everything is lovely and the goose hangs high. We're having a fine time. Only, only, only---I do wish to do something constructive and lasting. Here are great navies and armies and great withdrawals of men from industry---an enormous waste. Here are kings and courts and gold lace and ceremonies which, without producing anything, require great cost to keep them going. Here are all the privileges and taxes that this state of things implies---every one a hindrance to human progress. We are free from most of these. We have more people and more capable people and many times more territory than both England and Germany; and we have more potential wealth than all Europe. They know that.

They'd like to find a way to escape. The Hague programmes, for the most part, just lead them around a circle in the dark back to the place where they started. Somebody needs to do something. If we could find some friendly use for these navies and armies and kings and things---in the service of humanity---they'd follow us. We ought to find a way to use them in cleaning up the tropics under our leadership and under our code of ethics---that everything must be done for the good of the tropical peoples and that nobody may annex a foot of land. They want a job. Then they'd quit sitting on their haunches, growling at one another.

I wonder if we couldn't serve notice that the land-stealing game is forever ended and that the cleaning up of backward lands is now in order---for the people that live there; and then invite Europe's help to make the tropics as healthful as the Panama Zone?

There's no future in Europe's vision---no long look ahead. They give all their thought to the immediate danger. Consider this Balkan War; all European energy was spent merely to keep the Great Powers at peace. The two wars in the Balkans have simply impoverished the people---left the world that much worse than it was before. Nobody has considered the well-being or the future of those peoples nor of their land. The Great Powers are mere threats to one another, content to check, one the other! There can come no help to the progress of the world from this sort of action---no step forward.

Work on a world-plan. Nothing but blue chips, you know. Is it not possible that Mexico may give an entering wedge for this

kind of thing?



Heartily yours,



WALTER H. PAGE.



In a memorandum, written about the same time, Mr. Page explains his idea in more detail:



Was there ever greater need than there is now of a first-class mind unselfishly, working on world problems? The ablest ruling minds are engaged on domestic tasks. There is no world-girdling intelligence at work in government. On the continent of Europe, the Kaiser is probably the foremost man. Yet he cannot think far beyond the provincial views of the Germans. In England, Sir Edward Grey is the largest-visioned statesman. All the Europeans are spending their thought and money in watching and checkmating one another and in maintaining their armed and balanced status quo.

A way must be found out of this stagnant watching. Else a way will have to be fought out of it; and a great European war would set the Old World, perhaps the whole world, back a long way; and thereafter, the present armed watching would recur; we should have gained nothing. It seems impossible to talk the Great Powers out of their fear of one another or to "Hague" them out of it. They'll never be persuaded to disarm. The only way left seems to be to find some common and useful work for these great armies to do. Then, perhaps, they'll work themselves out of their jealous position. Isn't this sound psychology?

To produce a new situation, the vast energy that now spends itself in maintaining armies and navies must find a new outlet. Something new must be found for them to do, some great unselfish task that they can do together.

Nobody can lead in such a new era but the United States.

May there not come such a chance in Mexico---to clean out bandits, yellow fever, malaria, hookworm---all to make the country healthful, safe for life and investment, and for orderly self-government at last? What we did in Cuba might thus be made the beginning of a new epoch in history----conquest for the sole benefit of the conquered, worked out by a sanitary reformation. The new sanitation will reclaim all tropical lands; but the work must be first done by military power---probably from the outside.

May not the existing military power of Europe conceivably be diverted, gradually, to this use? One step at a time, as political and financial occasions arise? As presently in Mexico?

This present order must change. It holds the Old World still. It keeps all parts of the world apart, in spite of the friendly cohesive forces of trade and travel. It keeps back self-government and the progress of man.

And the tropics cry out for sanitation, which is at first an essentially military task.



A strange idea this may have seemed in August, 1913, a year before the outbreak of the European war; yet the scheme is not dissimilar to the "mandatory" principle, adopted by the Versailles Peace Conference as the only practical method of dealing with backward peoples. In this work, as in everything that would help mankind on its weary way to a more efficient and more democratic civilization, Page regarded the United States, Great Britain, and the British Dominions as inevitable partners.



Anything that would bring these two nations into a closer cooperation he looked upon as a step making for human advancement. He believed that any opportunity of sweeping away misconceptions and prejudices and of impressing upon the two peoples their common mission should be eagerly seized by the statesmen of the two countries. And circumstances at this particular moment, Page believed, presented a large opportunity of this kind. It is one of the minor ironies of modern history that the United States and Great Britain should have selected 1914 as a year for a great peace celebration. That year marked the one hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812, and in 1913 comprehensive plans had already been formed for observing this impressive centennial. The plan was to make it more than the mere observance of a hundred years of peaceful intercourse; it was the intention to use the occasion to emphasize the fundamental identity of American and British ideals and to lay the foundation of a permanent understanding and friendship. The erection of a monument to Abraham Lincoln at Westminster---a plan that has since been realized---was one detail of this programme. Another was the restoration of Sulgrave Manor, the English country seat of the Washingtons, and its preservation as a place where the peoples of both countries could share their common traditions. Page now dared to hope that President Wilson might associate himself with this great purpose to the extent of coming to England and accepting this gift in the name of the American nation. Such a Presidential visit, he believed, would exercise a mighty influence in forestalling a threatening European war. The ultimate purpose, that is, was world peace---precisely the same motive that led President Wilson, in 1919, to make a European pilgrimage.



This idea was no passing fancy with Page: it was with him a favourite topic of conversation. Such a presidential visit, he believed, would accomplish more than any other influences in dissipating the clouds that were darkening the European landscape. He would elaborate the idea at length in discussions with his intimates.



"What I want," he would say, "is to have the President of the United States and the King of England stand up side by side and let the world take a good look at them!"



.


To Edward M. House


August 25, 1913.



I wrote him (President Wilson) my plan---a mere outline. He'll only smile now. But when the tariff and the currency and Mexico are off his hands, and when he can be invited to come and deliver an oration on George Washington next year at the presentation of the old Washington homestead here, he may be "pushed over." You do the pushing. Mrs. Page has invited the young White House couple to visit us on their honeymoon.[1] Encourage that and that may encourage the larger plan later. Nothing else would give such a friendly turn to the whole world as the President's coming here. The old Earth would sit up and rub its eyes and take notice to whom it belongs. This visit might prevent an English-German war and an American-Japanese war, by this mere show of friendliness. It would be one of the greatest occasions of our time. Even at my little speeches, they "whoop it up!" What would they

do over the President's!



.



But at that time Washington was too busy with its domestic programme to consider such a proposal seriously. "Your two letters," wrote Colonel House in reply, "have come to me and lifted me out of the rut of things and given me a glimpse of a fair land. What you are thinking of and what you want this Administration to do is beyond the power of accomplishment for the moment. My desk is covered with matters of no lasting importance, but which come to me as a part of the day's work, and which must be done if I am to help lift the load that is pressing upon the President. It tells me better than anything else what he has to bear, and how utterly futile it is for him to attempt such problems as you present."



.


From the President


MY DEAR PAGE:



. . . As for your suggestion that I should myself visit England during my term of office, I must say that I agree with all your arguments for it, and yet the case against the President's leaving the country, particularly now that he is expected to exercise a constant leadership in all parts of the business of the government, is very strong and I am afraid overwhelming. It might be the beginning of a practice of visiting foreign countries which would lead Presidents rather far afield.

It is a most attractive idea, I can assure you, and I turn away from it with the greatest reluctance.

We hear golden opinions of the impression you are making in England, and I have only to say that it is just what I had expected.



Cordially and faithfully yours,



WOODROW WILSON.



HON. WALTER H. PAGE,
American Embassy,
London, England.

.



In December, however, evidently Colonel House's mind had turned to the general subject that had so engaged that of the Ambassador.



.


From Edward M. House


145 East 35th Street,

New York City.
December 13th, 1913.

DEAR PAGE:

In my budget of yesterday I did not tell you of the suggestion which I made to Sir William Tyrrell when he was here, and which I also made to the President.

It occurred to me that between us all we might bring about the naval holiday which Winston Churchill has proposed. My plan is that I should go to Germany in the spring and see the Kaiser, and try to win him over to the thought that is uppermost in our mind and that of the British Government.

Sir William thought there was a good sporting chance of success. He offered to let me have all the correspondence that had passed between the British and German governments upon this question so that I might be thoroughly informed as to the position of them both. He thought I should go directly to Germany without stopping in England, and that Gerard should prepare the Kaiser for my coming, telling him of my relations with the President. He thought this would be sufficient without any further credentials.

In other words, he would do with the Kaiser what you did with Sir Edward Grey last summer.

I spoke to the President about the matter and he seemed pleased with the suggestion; in fact, I might say, he was enthusiastic. He said, just as Sir William did, that it would be too late for this year's budget; but he made a suggestion that he get the Appropriations Committee to incorporate a clause, permitting him to eliminate certain parts of the battleship budget in the event that other nations declared for a naval holiday. So this will be done and will further the plan.

Now I want to get you into the game. If you think it advisable, take the matter up with Sir William Tyrrell and then with Sir Edward Grey, or directly with Sir Edward, if you prefer, and give me the benefit of your advice and conclusions.

Please tell Sir William. that I lunched at the Embassy with the Spring Rices yesterday, and had a satisfactory talk with

both Lady Spring Rice and Sir Cecil.



Faithfully yours,



E. M. HOUSE.




.



It is apparent from Page's letters that the suggestion now contained in Colonel House's communication would receive a friendly hearing. The idea that Colonel House suggested was merely the initial stage of a plan which soon took on more ambitious proportions. At the time of Sir William. Tyrrell's American visit, the Winston Churchill proposal for a naval holiday was being actively discussed by the British and the American press. In one form or another it had been figuring in the news for nearly two years. Viscount Haldane, in the course of his famous visit to Berlin in February, 1912, had attempted to reach some understanding with the German Government on the limitation of the German and the British fleets. The Agadir crisis of the year before had left Europe with a bad state of nerves, and there was a general belief that only some agreement on shipbuilding could prevent a European war. Lord Haldane and von Tirpitz spent many hours discussing the relative sizes of the two navies, but the discussions led to no definite understanding. In March, 1913, Mr. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, took up the same subject in a different form. In this speech he first used the words "naval holiday," and proposed that Germany and Great Britain should cease building first-class battleships for one year, thus giving the two nations a breathing space, during which time they might discuss their future plans in the hope of reaching a permanent agreement. The matter lagged again until October 18, 1913, when, in a speech at Manchester, Mr. Churchill placed his proposal in this form: "Now, we say to our great neighbour, Germany, 'If you will put off beginning your two ships for twelve months from the ordinary date when you would have begun them, we will put off beginning our four ships, in absolute good faith, for exactly the same period.'" About the same time Premier Asquith made it clear that the Ministry was back of the suggested programme. In Germany, however, the "naval holiday " soon became an object of derision. The official answer was that Germany had a definite naval law and that the Government could not entertain any suggestion of departing from it. Great Britain then answered that, for every keel Germany laid down, the Admiralty would lay down two. The outcome, therefore, of this attempt at friendship was that the two nations had been placed farther apart than ever.



The dates of this discussion, it will be observed, almost corresponded with the period covered by the Tyrrell visit to America. This fact, and Page's letters of this period, had apparently implanted in Colonel House's mind an ambition for definite action. He now proposed that President Wilson should take up the broken threads of the rapprochement and attempt to bring them together again. From this, as will be made plain, the plan developed into something more comprehensive. Page's ideas on the treatment of backward nations had strongly impressed both the President and Colonel House. The discussion on Mexico which had just taken place between the American and the British Governments seemed to have developed ideas that could have a much wider application. The fundamental difficulties in Mexico were not peculiar to that country nor indeed to Latin-America. Perhaps the most prolific cause of war among the more enlightened countries was that produced by the jealousies and antagonisms which were developed by their contacts with unprogressive peoples---in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, Asia, and the Far East. The method of dealing with such peoples, which the United States had found so successful in Cuba and the Philippines, had proved that there was just one honourable way of dealing with the less fortunate and more primitive races in all parts of the world. Was it not possible to bring the greatest nations, especially the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, to some agreement on this question, as well as on the question of disarmament? This once accomplished, the way could be prepared for joint action on the numerous other problems which were then threatening the peace of the world. The League of Nations was then not even a phrase, but the plan that was forming in Colonel House's mind was at least some scheme for permanent international cooperation. For several years Germany had been the nation which had proved the greatest obstacle to such international friendliness and arbitration. The Kaiser had destroyed both Hague Conferences as influential forces in the remaking of the world; and in the autumn of 1913 he had taken on a more belligerent attitude than ever. If this attempt to establish a better condition of things was to succeed, Germany's cooperation would be indispensable. This is the reason why Colonel House proposed first of all to visit Berlin.



.


From Edward M. House


145 East 35th Street,

New York City.
January 4th, 1914.

DEAR PAGE:

. . . Benj. Ide Wheeler[2] took lunch with me the other day. He is just back from Germany and he is on the most intimate terms with the Kaiser. He tells me he often takes dinner with the family alone, and spends the evening with them.

I know, now, the different Cabinet officials who have the Kaiser's confidence and I know his attitude toward England, naval armaments, war, and world politics in general.

Wheeler spoke to me very frankly and the information he gave me will be invaluable in the event that my plans carry. The general idea is to bring about a sympathetic understanding between England, Germany, and America, not only upon the question of disarmament, but upon other matters of equal importance to themselves, and to the world at large.

It seems to me that Japan should come into this pact, but Wheeler tells me that the Kaiser feels very strongly upon the question of Asiatics. He thinks the contest of the future will

be between the Eastern and Western civilizations. . . .



Your friend always,



E. M. HOUSE.




.



By January 4, 1914, the House-Wilson plan had thus grown into an Anglo-American-German "pact," to deal, not only with "disarmament, but other matters of equal importance to themselves and to the world at large." Page's response to this idea was consistent and characteristic. He had no faith in Germany and believed that the existence of Kaiserism was incompatible with the extension of the democratic ideal. Even at this early time eight months before the outbreak of the World War---he had no enthusiasm for anything in the nature of an alliance, or a "pact," that included Germany as an equal partner. He did, however, have great faith in the cooperation of the English-speaking peoples as a force that would make for permanent peace and international justice. In his reply to Colonel House, therefore, Page fell back at once upon his favourite plan for an understanding between the United States, Great Britain, and the British colonies. That he would completely sympathize with the Washington aspiration for disarmament was to be expected.



.


To Edward M. House


January 2, 1914.



MY DEAR HOUSE:

You have set my imagination going. I've been thinking of this thing for months, and now you've given me a fresh start. It can be worked out somehow---doubtless, not in the form that anybody may at first see; but experiment and frank discussion will find a way.

As I think of it, turning it this way and that, there always comes to me just as I am falling to sleep this reflection: the English-speaking peoples now rule the world in all essential facts. They alone and Switzerland have permanent free government. In France there's freedom---but for how long? In Germany and Austria ---hardly. In the Scandinavian States---yes, but they are small and exposed as are Belgium and Holland. In the big secure South American States---yes, it's coming. In Japan---? Only the British lands and the United States have secure liberty. They also have the most treasure, the best fighters, the most land, the most ships---the future in fact.

Now, because George Washington warned us against alliances, we've gone on as if an alliance were a kind of smallpox. Suppose there were---let us say for argument's sake---the tightest sort of an alliance, offensive and defensive, between all Britain, colonies and all, and the United States---what would happen? Anything we'd say would go, whether we should say, "Come in out of the wet," or, "Disarm." That might be the beginning of a real world-alliance and union to accomplish certain large results---disarmament, for instance, or arbitration ---dozens of good things.

Of course, we'd have to draw and quarter the O'Gormans.[3] But that ought to be done anyhow in the general interest of good sense in the world. We could force any nation into this "trust" that we wanted in it.

Isn't it time we tackled such a job frankly, fighting out the Irish problem once for all, and having done with it?

I'm not proposing a programme. I'm only thinking out loud. I see little hope of doing anything so long as we choose to be

ruled by an obsolete remark made by George Washington.



W. H. P.

.

January 11, 1914.

. . . But this armament flurry is worth serious thought. Lloyd George gave out an interview, seeming to imply the necessity of reducing the navy programme.,

The French allies of the British went up in the air! They raised a great howl. Churchill went to see them, to soothe them. They would not be soothed. Now the Prime Minister is going to Paris--ostensibly to see his daughter off to the Riviera. Nobody believes that reason. They say he's going to smooth out the French. Meantime the Germans are gleeful.

And the British Navy League is receiving money and encouraging letters from British subjects, praying greater activity to keep the navy up. You touch the navy and you touch the quick---that's the lesson. It's an enormous excitement that this small incident has caused.



W. H. P.

.

To Edward M. House



London, February 24, 1914.

MY DEAR HOUSE:

You'll be interested in these pamphlets by Sir Max Waechter, who has opened an office here and is spending much money to "federate" Europe, and to bring a lessening of armaments. I enclose also an article about him from the Daily Telegraph, which tells how he has interviewed most of the Old World monarchs. Get also, immediately, the new two-volume life of Lord Lyons, Minister to the United States during the Civil War, and subsequently Ambassador to France. You will find an interesting account of the campaign of about 1870 to reduce armaments, when old Bismarck dumped the whole basket of apples by marching against France. You know I sometimes fear some sort of repetition of that experience. Some government (probably Germany) will see bankruptcy staring it in the face and the easiest way out will seem a great war. Bankruptcy before a war would be ignominious; after a war, it could be charged to "Glory." It'll take a long time to bankrupt England. It's unspeakably rich; they pay enormous taxes, but they pay them out of their incomes, not out of their principal, except their inheritance tax. That looks to me as if it came out of the principal. . . .

I hope you had a good time in Texas and escaped some cold weather. This deceptive sort of winter here is grippe-laden. I've had the thing, but I'm now getting over it. . . .

This Benton[4]-Mexican

business is causing great excitement here.



Always heartily yours,

W. H. P.

P. S. There's nothing like the President. By George! the passage of the arbitration treaty (renewal) almost right off the bat, and apparently the tolls discrimination coming presently to its repeal! Sir Edward Grey remarked to me ---yesterday: "Things are clearing up! " I came near saying to him: "Have you any miracles in mind that you'd like to see worked?" Wilson stock is at a high premium on this side of the water in

spite of the momentary impatience caused by Benton's death.



W. H. P.

.

From Edward M. House



145 East 35th Street,
New York City.
April 19th, 1914.

DEAR PAGE:

I have had a long talk with Mr. Laughlin.[5] At first he thought I would not have more than one chance in a million to do anything with the Kaiser, but after talking with him further, he concluded that I would have a fairly good sporting chance. I have about concluded to take it.

If I can do anything, I can do it in a few days. I was with the President most of last week. . . .

He spoke of your letters to him and to me as being classics, and said they were the best letters, as far as he knew, that any one had ever written. Of course you know how heartily I concur in this. He said that sometime they should be published.

The President is now crystallizing his mind in regard to the Federal Reserve Board, and if you are not to remain in London, then he would probably put Houston on the Board and ask you to take the Secretaryship of Agriculture.

You have no idea the feeling that is being aroused by the tolls question. The Hearst papers are screaming at all of us every day. They have at last honoured me with their abuse. . . .



With love and best wishes, I am,



Faithfully yours,



E. M. HOUSE.



.

From Edward M. House


145 East 35th Street,

New York City.
April 20th, 1914.

DEAR PAGE:

. . . It is our purpose to sail on the Imperator, May 16th, and go directly to Germany. I expect to be there a week or more, but Mrs. House will reach London by the 1st or 2nd of June. . . .

Our friend[6] in Washington thinks it is worth while for me to go to Germany, and that determines the matter. The press is shrieking to-day over the Mexican situation, but I hope they will be disappointed. It is not the intention to do anything further for the moment than to blockade the ports, and unless some overt act is made

from the North, our troops will not cross the border.



Your friend always,



E. M. HOUSE.



.

To Edward M. House


London, April 27, 1914.



MY DEAR HOUSE:

Of course you decided wisely to carry out your original Berlin plan, and you ought never to have had a moment's hesitation, if you did have any hesitation. I do not expect you to produce any visible or immediate results. I hope I am mistaken in this. But you know that the German Government has a well-laid progressive plan for shipbuilding for a certain number of years. I believe that the work has, in fact, already been arranged for. But that has nothing to do with the case. You are going to see what effect you can produce on the mind of a man. Perhaps you will never know just what effect you will produce. Yet the fact that you are who you are, that you make this journey for this especial purpose, that you are everlastingly right---these are enough.

Moreover, you can't ever tell results, nor can you afford to make your plans in this sort of high work with the slightest reference to probable results. That's the bigness and the glory of it. Any ordinary man can, on any ordinary day, go and do a task, the favourable results of which may be foreseen. That's easy. The big thing is to go confidently to work on a task, the results of which nobody can possibly foresee---a task so vague and improbable of definite results that small men hesitate. It is in this spirit that very many of the biggest things in history have been done. Wasn't the purchase of Louisiana such a thing? Who'd ever have supposed that that could have been brought about? I applaud your errand and I am eagerly impatient to hear the results. When will you get here? I assume that Mrs. House will not go with you to Berlin. No matter so you both turn up here for a good long stay.

I've taken me a little bit of a house about twenty miles out of town whither we are going in July as soon as we can get away from London. I hope to stay down there till far into October, coming up to London about thrice a week. That's the dull season of the year. It's a charming little country place---big enough

for you to visit us. . . .



.

From Edward M. House


An Bord des Dampfers Imperator

den May 21, 1914.

Hamburg-Amerika Linie

DEAR PAGE:

Here we are again. The Wallaces[7] land at Cherbourg, Friday morning, and we of course go on to Berlin. I wish I might have the benefit of your advice just now, for the chances for success in this great adventure are slender enough at best. The President has done his part in the letter

I have with me, and it is clearly up to me to do mine. . . .



Faithfully yours,



E. M. HOUSE.




.



It will be observed that Colonel House had taken the advice of Sir William. Tyrrell, and had sailed directly to Germany on a German ship---the Imperator. Ambassador Gerard had made preparations for his reception in Berlin, and the American soon had long talks with Admiral von Tirpitz, Falkenhayn, Von Jagow, Solf, and others. Von Bethmann-Hollweg's wife died almost on the day of his arrival in Berlin, so it was impossible for him to see the Chancellor---the man who would have probably been the most receptive to these peace ideas. All the leaders of the government, except Von Tirpitz, gave Colonel House's proposals a respectful if somewhat cynical hearing. Von Tirpitz was openly and demonstratively hostile. The leader of the German Navy simply bristled with antagonism at any suggestion for peace or disarmament or world cooperation. He consumed a large part of the time which Colonel House spent with him denouncing England and all its works. Hatred of the "Island Kingdom" was apparently the consuming passion of his existence. On the whole, Von Tirpitz thus made no attempt to conceal his feeling that the purpose of the House mission was extremely distasteful to him. The other members of the Government, while not so tactlessly hostile, were not particularly encouraging. The usual objections to disarmament were urged---the fear of other Powers, the walled-in state of Germany, the vigilant enemies against which it was necessary constantly to be prepared and watchful. Even more than the unsympathetic politeness of the German Cabinet the general atmosphere of Berlin was depressing to Colonel House. The militaristic oligarchy was absolutely in control. Militarism possessed not only the army, the navy, and the chief officers of state, but the populace as well. One almost trivial circumstance has left a lasting impression on Colonel House's mind. Ambassador Gerard took him out one evening for a little relaxation. Both Mr. Gerard and Colonel House were fond of target shooting and the two men sought one of the numerous rifle galleries of Berlin. They visited gallery after gallery, but could not get into one. Great crowds lined up at every place, waiting their turns at the target; it seemed as though every able-bodied man in Berlin was spending all his time improving his marksmanship. But this was merely a small indication of the atmosphere of militarism which prevailed in the larger aspects of life. Colonel House found himself in a strange place to preach international accord for the ending of war.



He had come to Berlin not merely to talk with the Cabinet heads; his goal was the Kaiser himself. But he perceived at once a persistent opposition to his plan. As he was the President's personal representative, and carried a letter from the President to the Kaiser, an audience could not be refused---indeed, it had already been duly arranged; but there was a quiet opposition to his consorting with the "All Highest" alone. It was not usual, Colonel House was informed, for His Imperial Majesty to discuss such matters except in the presence of a representative of the Foreign Office. Germany had not yet recovered from the shock which the Emperor's conversation with certain foreign correspondents had given the nation. The effects were still felt of the famous interviews of October 28, 1908, which, when published in the London Telegraph, had caused the bitterest resentment in Great Britain. The Kaiser had given his solemn word that he would indulge in no more indiscretions of this sort, and a private interview with Colonel House was regarded by his advisers as a possible infraction of that promise. But the American would not be denied. He knew that an interview with a third person present would be simply time thrown away since his message was intended for the Kaiser's own ears; and ultimately his persistence succeeded. The next Monday would be June 1st---a great day in Germany. It was the occasion of the Schrippenfest, a day which for many years had been set aside for the glorification of the German Army. On that festival, the Kaiser entertained with great pomp representative army officers and representative privates, as well as the diplomatic corps and other distinguished foreigners. Colonel House was invited to attend the Kaiser's luncheon on that occasion, and was informed that, after this function was over, he would have an opportunity of having a private conversation with His Majesty.



The affair took place in the palace at Potsdam. The militarism which Colonel House had felt so oppressively in Berlin society was especially manifest on this occasion. There were two luncheon parties---that of the Kaiser and his officers and guests in the state dining room, and that of the selected private soldiers outside. The Kaiser and the Kaiserin spent a few moments with their humbler subjects, drinking beer with them and passing a few comradely remarks; they then proceeded to the large dining hall and took their places with the gorgeously caparisoned and bemedalled chieftains of the German Army. The whole proceeding has an historic interest, in that it was the last Schrippenfest held. Whether another will ever be held is problematical, for the occasion was an inevitable part of the trappings of Hohenzollernism. Despite the gravity of the occasion, Colonel House's chief memory of this function is slightly tinged with the ludicrous. He had spent the better part of a lifetime attempting to rid himself of his military title, but uselessly. He was now embarrassed because these solemn German officers persisted in regarding him as an important part of the American Army, and in discussing technical and strategical problems. The visitor made several attempts to explain that he was merely a "geographical colonel"---that the title was constantly conferred in an informal sense on Americans, especially Southerners, and that the handle to his name had, therefore, no military significance. But the round-faced Teutons stared at his explanation in blank amazement; they couldn't grasp the point at all, and continued to ask his opinion of matters purely military.



When the lunch was finished, the Kaiser took Colonel House aside, and the two men withdrew to the terrace, out of earshot of the rest of the gathering. However, they were not out of sight. For nearly half an hour the Kaiser and the American stood side by side upon the terrace, the German generals, at a respectful distance, watching the proceeding, resentful, puzzled, curious as to what it was all about. The quiet demeanour of the American "Colonel," his plain citizen's clothes, and his almost impassive face, formed a striking contrast to the Kaiser's dazzling uniform and the general scene of military display. Two or three of the generals and admirals present were in the secret, but only two or three; the mass of officers watching this meeting little guessed that the purpose of House's visit was to persuade the Kaiser to abandon everything for which the Schrippenfest stood; to enter an international compact with the United States and Great Britain for reducing armaments, to reach an agreement about trade and the treatment of backward peoples, and to form something of a permanent association for the preservation of peace. The one thing which was apparent to the watchers was that the American was only now and then saying a brief word, but that the Kaiser was, as usual, doing a vast amount of talking. His speech rattled on with the utmost animation, his arms were constantly gesticulating, he would bring one fist down into his palm to register an emphatic point, and enforce certain ideas with a menacing forefinger. At times Colonel House would show slight signs of impatience and interrupt the flow of talk. But the Kaiser was clearly absorbed in the subject under discussion. His entourage several times attempted to break up the interview. The Court Chamberlain twice gingerly approached and informed His Majesty that the Imperial train was waiting to take the party back to Berlin. Each time the Kaiser, with an angry gesture, waved the interrupter away. Despairing of the usual resources, the Kaiserin was sent with the same message. The Kaiser did not treat her so summarily, but he paid no attention to the request, and continued to discuss the European situation with the American.


Fig. 10. Walter. H. Page, from a photograph taken a few years before he became American Ambassador to Great Britain
Fig. 11. The British Foreign Office, Downing Street




The subject that had mainly aroused the Imperial warmth was the "Yellow Peril." For years this had been an obsession with the Kaiser, and he launched into the subject as soon as Colonel House broached the purpose of his visit. There could be no question of disarmament, the Kaiser vehemently declared, as long as this danger to civilization existed. "We white nations should join hands," he said, "to oppose Japan and the other yellow nations, or some day they will destroy us."



It was with difficulty that Colonel House could get His Majesty away from this subject. Whatever topic he touched upon, the Kaiser would immediately start declaiming on the dangers that faced Europe from the East. His insistence on this accounted partly for the slight signs of impatience which the American showed. He feared that all the time allotted for the interview would be devoted to discussing the Japanese. About another nation, the Kaiser showed almost as much alarm as he did about Japan, and that was Russia. He spoke contemptuously of France and Great Britain as possible enemies, for he apparently had no fear of them. But the size of Russia and the exposed eastern frontier of Germany seemed to appal him. How could Germany join a peace pact, and reduce its army, so long as 175,000,000 Slavs threatened them from this direction?



Another matter that the Kaiser discussed with derision was Mr. Bryan's arbitration treaty. Practically all the great nations had already ratified this treaty except Germany. The Kaiser now laughed at the treaties and pooh-poohed Bryan. Germany, he declared, would never accept such an arbitration plan. Colonel House had particular cause to remember this part of the conversation three years afterward, when the United States declared war on Germany. The outstanding feature of the Bryan treaty was the clause which pledged the high contracting parties not to go to war without taking a breathing spell of one year in which to think the matter over. Had Germany adopted this treaty, the United States, in April, 1917, after Germany had presented a casus belli by resuming unrestricted submarine warfare, could not have gone to war. We should have been obliged to wait a year, or until April, 1918, before engaging in hostilities. That is, an honourable observance of this Bryan treaty by the United States would have meant that Germany would have starved Great Britain into surrender, and crushed Europe with her army. Had the Kaiser, on this June afternoon, not notified Colonel House that Germany would not accept this treaty, but, instead, had notified him that he would accept it, William II might now be sitting on the throne of a victorious Germany, with Europe for a footstool.



Despite the Kaiser's hostile attitude toward these details, his general reception of the President's proposals was not outwardly unfriendly. Perhaps he was sincere, perhaps not; yet the fact is that he manifested more cordiality to this somewhat vague "get-together" proposal than had any of his official advisers. He encouraged Colonel House to visit London, talk the matter over with British statesmen, and then return to Berlin.



"The last thing," he said, "that Germany wants is war. We are getting to be a great commercial country. In a few years Germany will be a rich country, like England and the United States. We don't want a war to interfere with our progress."



Any peace suggestion that was compatible with German safety, he said, would be entertained. Yet his parting words were not reassuring.



"Every nation in Europe," he said, "has its bayonets pointed at Germany. But--- "---and with this he gave a proud and smiling glance at the glistening representatives of his army gathered on this brilliant occasion "we are ready!"



Colonel House left Berlin, not particularly hopeful; the Kaiser impressed him as a man of unstable nervous organization---as one who was just hovering on the borderland of insanity. Certainly, this was no man to be entrusted with such powers as the American had witnessed that day at Potsdam. Dangerous as the Kaiser was, however, he did not seem to Colonel House to be as great a menace to mankind as were his military advisers. The American came away from Berlin with the conviction that the most powerful force in Germany was the militaristic clique, and second, the Hohenzollern dynasty. He has always insisted that this represented the real precedence in power. So long as the Kaiser was obedient to the will of militarism, so long could he maintain his standing. He was confident, however, that the militaristic oligarchy was determined to have its will, and would dethrone the Kaiser the moment he showed indications of taking a course that would lead to peace. Colonel House was also convinced that this militaristic oligarchy was determined on war. The coolness with which it listened to his proposals, the attempts it made to keep him from seeing the Kaiser alone, its repeated efforts to break up the conversation after it had begun, all pointed to the inevitable tragedy. The fact that the Kaiser expressed a wish to discuss the matter again, after Colonel House had sounded London, was the one hopeful feature of an otherwise discouraging experience, and accounts for the tone of faint optimism in his letters describing the visit.



.


From Edward M. House


Embassy of the United States of America,

Berlin,
May 28, 1914.

DEAR PAGE:

I have done something here already---not much, but enough to open negotiations with London. I lunch with the Kaiser on Monday. I was advised to avoid Admiral von Tirpitz as being very unsympathetic. However, I went directly at him and had a most interesting talk. He is a forceful fellow. Von Jagow is pleasant but not forceful. I have had a long talk with him. The Chancellor's wife died last week so I have not got in touch with him. I will write you more fully from Paris. My address there will be Hotel

Ritz.



Hastily,



E. M. H.



.

From Edward M. House


Hotel Ritz, 15, Place Vendôme, Paris.

June 3, 1914.

DEAR PAGE:

I had a satisfactory talk with the Kaiser on Monday. I have now seen everyone worthwhile in Germany except the Chancellor. I am ready now for London. Perhaps you had better prepare the way. The Kaiser knows I am to see them, and I have arranged to keep him in touch with results---if there are any. We must work quickly after I arrive, for it may be advisable for me to return to Germany, and I am counting on sailing for home July 15th or

28th. . . . I am eager to see you and tell you what I know.



Yours,



E. M. H.




.



Colonel House left that night for Paris, but there the situation was a hopeless one. France was not thinking of a foreign war; it was engrossed with its domestic troubles. There had been three French ministries in two weeks; and the trial of Madame Caillaux for the murder of Gaston Calmette, editor of the Paris Figaro, was monopolizing all the nation's capacity for emotion. Colonel House saw that it would be a waste of energy to take up his mission at Paris---there was no government stable enough to make a discussion worth while. He therefore immediately left for London.



The political situation in Great Britain was almost as confused as that in Paris. The country was in a state approaching civil war on the question of Home Rule for Ireland; the suffragettes were threatening to dynamite the Houses of Parliament; and the eternal struggle between the Liberal and the Conservative elements was raging with unprecedented virulence. A European war was far from everybody's mind. It was this utter inability to grasp the realities of the European situation which proved the main impediment to Colonel House's work in England. He met all the important people---Mr. Asquith, Mr. Lloyd George, Sir Edward Grey, and others. With them he discussed his "pact" proposal in great detail.



Naturally, ideas of this sort were listened to sympathetically by statesmen of the stamp of Asquith, Grey, and Lloyd George. The difficulty, however, was that none of these men apprehended an immediate war. They saw no necessity of hurrying about the matter. They had the utmost confidence in Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London, and Von Bethmann-Hollweg, the German Chancellor. Both these men were regarded by the Foreign Office as guarantees against a German attack; their continuance in their office was looked upon as an assurance that Germany entertained no immediately aggressive plans. Though the British statesmen did not say so definitely, the impression was conveyed that the mission on which Colonel House was engaged was an unnecessary one---a preparation against a danger that did not exist. Colonel House attempted to persuade Sir Edward Grey to visit the Kiel regatta, which was to take place in a few days, see the Kaiser, and discuss the plan with him. But the Government feared that such a visit would be very disturbing to France and Russia. Already Mr. Churchill's proposal for a "naval holiday" had so wrought up the French that a hurried trip to France by Mr. Asquith had been necessary to quiet them; the consternation that would have been caused in Paris by the presence of Sir Edward Grey at Kiel can only be imagined. The fact that the British statesmen entertained so little apprehension of a German attack may possibly be a reflection on their judgment; yet Colonel House's visit has great historical value, for the experience afterward convinced him that Great Britain had had no part in bringing on the European war, and that Germany was solely responsible. It certainly should have put the Wilson Administration right on this all-important point, when the great storm broke.



The most vivid recollection which the British statesmen whom Colonel House met retain of his visit, was his consternation at the spirit that had confronted him everywhere in Germany. The four men most interested---Sir Edward Grey, Sir William Tyrrell, Mr. Page, and Colonel House---met at luncheon in the American Embassy a few days after President Wilson's emissary had returned from Berlin. Colonel House could talk of little except the preparations for war which were manifest on every hand.



"I feel as though I had been living near a mighty electric dynamo," Colonel House told his friends. "The whole of Germany is charged with electricity. Everybody's nerves are tense. It needs only a spark to set the whole thing off."



The "spark" came two weeks afterward with the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand.



"It is all a bad business," Colonel House wrote to Page when war broke out, "and just think how near we came to making such a catastrophe impossible! If England had moved a little faster and had let me go back to Germany, the thing, perhaps, could have been done."



To which Page at once replied:



"No, no, no---no power on earth could have prevented it. The German militarism, which is the crime of the last fifty years, has been working for this for twenty-five years. It is the logical result of their spirit and enterprise and doctrine. It had to come. But, of course, they chose the wrong time and the wrong issue. Militarism has no judgment. Don't let your conscience be worried. You did all that any mortal man could do. But nobody could have done anything effective.



"We've got to see to it that this system doesn't grow up again. That's all."


  1. Mr. and Mrs. Francis B. Sayre, son-in-law and daughter of President Wilson.
  2. Ex-President of the University of California, Roosevelt Professor at the University of Berlin, 1909-10.
  3. James A. O'Gorman was the anti-British Senator from New York State at this time working hard against the repeal of the Panama tolls discrimination.
  4. In February, 1915, William S. Benton, an English subject who had spent the larger part of his life in Mexico, was murdered in the presence of Francisco Villa.
  5. Mr. Irwin Laughlin, first secretary of the American Embassy in London; at this time spending a few weeks in the United States.
  6. Obviously President Wilson.
  7. Mr. Hugh C. Wallace, afterward Ambassador to France, and Mrs. Wallace. Mr. and Mrs. Wallace accompanied Mr. and Mrs. House on this journey.

WWI Document Archive > Diaries, Memorials, Personal Reminiscences > Walter H. Page > Chapter IX