Extract from the Speech of Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in the German Reichstag, December 12, 1916
WWI Document Archive > 1916 Documents > Official Communications and Speeches Relating to Peace Proposals 1916-1917 > Extract from the Speech of Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg in the German Reichstag, December 12, 19161
The Reichstag had been adjourned for a long period, but fortunately
it was left to the discretion of the President as to the day of the next
meeting. This discretion was caused by the hope that soon happy events
in the field would be recorded, a hope fulfilled quicker, almost, than ex-
pected. I shall be brief, for actions speak for themselves.
[Here the Chancellor referred to the entrance of Roumania into the
war, and its intended effect on the western front.]
The situation was serious. But with God's help our troops shaped
conditions so as to give us security which not only is complete but still
more so than ever before. The western front stands. Not only does it
stand, but in spite of the Roumanian campaign it is fitted out with larger
reserves of men and material than it had been formerly. The most
effective precautions have been taken against all Italian diversions.
And while on the Somme and on the Carso the drum-fire resounded,
while the Russians launched troops against the eastern frontier of
Transylvania, Field Marshal von Hindenburg captured the whole of
western Wallachia and the hostile capital of Bucharest, leading with
unparalleled genius the troops that in competition with all the allies
made possible what hitherto was considered impossible.
And Hindenburg does not rest. Military operations progress. By
strokes of the sword at the same time firm foundations for our
economic needs have been laid. Great stocks of grain, victuals, oil,
and other goods fell into our hands in Roumania. Their transport has
begun. In spite of scarcity, we could have lived on our own supplies,
but now our safety is beyond question.
To these great events on land, heroic deeds of equal importance are
added by our submarines. The spectre of famine, which our enemies
intended to appear before us, now pursues them without mercy. When,
after the termination of the first year of the war, the Emperor ad-
dressed the nation in a public appeal, he said : "Having witnessed such
great events, my heart was filled with awe and determination." Neither
our Emperor nor our nation ever changed their minds in this respect.
Neither have they now. The genius and heroic acts of our leaders
have fashioned these facts as firm as iron. If the enemy counted upon
the weariness of his enemy, then he was deceived.
The Reichstag, by means of the national auxiliary war service law,
helped to build a new offensive and defensive bulwark in the midst of
the great struggle. Behind the fighting army stands the nation at
work—the gigantic horse of the nation, working for the common aim.
The empire is not a besieged fortress, as our adversaries imagined,
but one gigantic and firmly disciplined camp with inexhaustible re-
sources. That is the German Empire, which is firmly and faithfully
united with its brothers in arms, who have been tested in battle under
the Austro-Hungarian, Turkish, and Bulgarian flags.
Our enemies now ascribed to us a plan to conquer the whole world,
and then desperate cries of anguish for peace. But not confused by
these asseverations, we progressed with firm decision, and we thus
continue our progress, always ready to defend ourselves and fight
for our nation's existence, for its free future, and always ready for
this price to stretch out our hand for peace.
Our strength has not made our ears deaf to our responsibility before
God, before our own nation, and before humanity. The declarations
formerly made by us concerning our readiness for peace were evaded
by our adversaries. Now we have advanced one step further in this
direction. On August 1, 1914, the Emperor had personally to take
the gravest decision which ever fell to the lot of a German — the order
for mobilization — which he was compelled to give as a result of the
Russian mobilization. During these long and earnest years of the
-war the Emperor has been moved by a single thought: how peace could
be restored to safeguard Germany after the struggle in which she has
Nobody can testify better to this than I who bear the responsibility
for all actions of the Government. In a deep moral and religious sense
of duty toward his nation and, beyond it, toward humanity, the Em-
peror now considers that the moment has come for official action
toward peace. His Majesty, therefore, in complete harmony and in
common with our allies, decided to propose to the hostile powers to
enter peace negotiations. This morning I transmitted a note to this
effect to all the hostile powers through the representatives of those
powers which are watching over our interests and rights in the hostile
States. I asked the representatives of Spain, the United States, and
Switzerland to forward that note.
The same procedure has been adopted to-day in Vienna, Constanti-
nople, and Sofia. Other neutral States and his Holiness the Pope have
been similarly informed.
[The Chancellor then read the note.2]
Gentlemen, in August, 1914, our enemies challenged the superiority
of power in the world war. To-day we raise the question of peace,
which is a question of humanity. We await the answer of our enemies
with that sereneness of mind which is guaranteed to us by our exterior
and interior strength, and by our clear conscience. If our enemies de-
cline to end the war, if they wish to take upon themselves the world's
heavy burden of all these terrors which hereafter will follow, then even
in the least and smallest homes every German heart will burn in sacred
wrath against our enemies, who are unwilling to stop human slaughter
in order that their plans of conquest and annihilation may continue.
In the fateful hour we took a fateful decision. It has been saturated
with the blood of hundreds of thousands of our sons and brothers who
gave their lives for the safety of their home. Human wits and human
understanding are unable to reach to the extreme and last questions
in this struggle of nations, which has unveiled all the terrors of earthly
life, but also the grandeur of human courage and human will in ways
never seen before. God will be the judge. We can proceed upon our
1The New York Times, December 13, 1916. 2See infra. (1)