Introduction: Willy-Nicky Letters between the Kaiser and the Czar
Upon the execution of Nicholas Romanoff, the former Czar of Russia, and his wife and children in Ekaterinburg in July, I9I8, a case containing his private correspondence was found among his personal effects. Among its contents was a batch of seventy-three letters from Kaiser Wilhelm to the Czar and a much more voluminous batch of letters from the Czarina to the Czar. The letters were transmitted by the local Ekaterinburg authorities to the central government in Moscow, where they are kept in the state archives.
There have been so many absurd stories in circulation in Europe in connection with the Kaiser-Czar letters that the circumstances of their publication in Europe and America should be made clear here. In Great Britain Winston Churchill eulogized The Morning Post for obtaining the letters, although that journal had nothing to do with the bringing of the letters out of Russia. The London Naval and Military Record commented editorially on the same subject as follows: "It has been left to the enterprise of British journalism to publish the last and by far the most damaging exposure of Germany's ex-Kaiser." In Paris a prominent newspaper, describing how I obtained the letters, declared that I was enabled to do so through my influence with Lenin. In Amsterdam a newspaper printed a despatch from its Berlin correspondent announcing that the letters had once been published in I9I7 in a Petrograd monthly periodical. Now the facts are quite different from the foregoing allegations, which circulated in the European press for weeks. It was not the enterprise of British but of American journalism which gave the world the Kaiser's and Czarina's letters to the Czar. In April, I9I9, the writer left the United States to go to Soviet Russia in the capacity of correspondent for The Chicago Daily News, and made two trips there from Scandinavia, one in May and the other in September, I9I9.
During my second visit to Soviet Russia I was enabled to gain access to the archives of the government where I discovered, among other things, the Kaiser's letters to the Czar, and immediately realized their enormous historical value. The original letters are of course the property of the Russian state and there was no question of obtaining them. The task consisted of receiving the permission of the proper authorities to take copies of the letters. I did not need Lenin's influence for this. As a matter of fact, I never even met Lenin while in Soviet Russia.
I carried out with me only one copy from the original letters of the Kaiser to the Czar. This copy is in my possession and is the one reproduced in this volume. The copies of the letters used by The Morning Post in London, the Vossische Zeitung in Berlin, the Journal in Paris and the other European publishers were made from the copy in my possession. Being second and third copies, they were not free from errors. The present edition is therefore the only absolutely authoritative one and must be treated as the original edition by students of international affairs.
The letters from the Kaiser to the Czar were written in English, the language of the Russian and German courts, and were usually addressed to "Nicky" and signed "Willy." None of these letters, covering a period of twenty years, I894-I9I4, has ever been published before 1920. The correspondence between the Kaiser and the Czar, which was published in a Russian periodical in I9I7 and reprinted in a New York newspaper several months later, consisted of a number of telegrams exchanged between Willy and Nicky in the years I904-I907. It appeared as "The Willy-Nicky Correspondence," and the Amsterdam newspaper previously referred to confused it with the letters here presented.
Without questioning the genuineness of the Willy-Nicky telegrams, it should nevertheless be emphasized that it is scarcely possible that no errors should have been committed in the transmission of a large number of telegrams. In the case of the letters contained in this volume we have really a set of irrefutable and unquestionable documents. The Kaiser himself confirmed their genuineness, although criticizing their publication. In a letter written in January, 1920, from Amerongen, Holland, to Prince Fürstenberg, and reprinted in The London Times, on January 28th, the Kaiser wrote regarding these letters:
"What do you think about the unlawful publication of the correspondence with Nicholas? These people have not the least sympathy in them, and I shall be glad if everything is published without alterations. I have given orders to Loewenfeldt to protest against the publication of these private letters, but as this is being done in hostile countries he will have less success than in the case of Bismarck. After the treatment I have received and still receive from the German people I am not surprised that the German newspapers participate in these dirty practices." The Kaiser's letters are of course published without alterations. There was never any intention to do otherwise. Not a word in them is omitted. Although the Kaiser's English is far from perfect, it is left unchanged here. The only change made in this edition is the substitution of the word "and" for the character "&" which abounds in the original letters. The numerous errors in spelling are retained. The most confusing of these errors is "were" in place of "where." Once the Kaiser has "keys" in stead of "quays," and "boyes" for "buoys." The other mistakes are understandable. "Beeing" for "being," "wether" for "whether," "takle" for "tackle," are common misspellings. Even more common are "already," "allways," "wellfare," "openess," "assisstance." The Kaiser writes "courtesey," "existent" and "thruthfulness." Instead of "Turkey" he writes "Turky," and instead of "Dardanelles" he spells "Dardanels." His letters are replete with faulty constructions and contain many misspellings in addition to those here mentioned.
In reply to the Kaiser's complaint about the publication of his private letters, Maximilian Harden, the noted German publicist, wrote: "The ex-Kaiser stigmatizes as a 'dirty' violation of propriety the publication of his letters to the Czar Nicholas and other monarchs, whereas he considered it to be his right and his duty to purloin documents in Belgium, to falsify them, and to circulate them all over the globe. This, however, is not surprising when the German people, who endured an adept in theatricalism for thirty years, are treated as if they were evilminded, undutiful children."
The comment on the letters all over the world has been as voluminous as it has been many-sided. However, three main viewpoints can be discerned in the very numerous reviews of the Kaiser's correspondence. First, the opinion of the Kaiser held by The Morning Post, Great Britain's leading Tory organ. Second, the comment of The Manchester Guardian, the great Liberal journal. Third, the average German view of Wilhelm as expressed by Professor Walter Goetz.
To The Morning Post the letters reveal the Kaiser as an arch-plotter. Its comment has been expressed in a series of comprehensive and virile editorials bearing such titles as "the arch-conspirator," the "honest Iago," and "Nemesis." Selections from some of the leading articles of The Morning Post * are given below:
Note. Many of the notes following the letters in this volume have been culled from the columns of The London Morning Post.
The publication of the letters of the GERMAN EMPEROR to the EMPEROR of ALL the RUSSIAS has naturally awakened a profound interest both in this country and abroad, in fact throughout the civilised world. Never before, perhaps, has there been made known in the lifetime of the author so complete and so voluminous an exposition of the vast and unscrupulous intrigues and the grandiose ambitions of the powerful and autocratic monarch of a great military nation. Thus the Imperial letters make an historical document of the highest value, providing the key to the complex and hidden machinery of European international policies during the ten years preceding the Great War, which was their inevitable and disastrous consummation. In as far as the GERMAN EMPEROR himself is concerned, there is little scope for conjecture, inasmuch as he condemns himself with his own hand. History as a general rule is largely a matter of piecing together available evidence and filling in the gaps with ingenious and learned hypotheses. The discovery of new evidence not infrequently invalidates the historian's reconstruction, as in the notable instance of the records of the French Revolution, lately so admirably rewritten by M. LENÔTRE. But in the case of the letters of WILLIAM HOHENZOLLERN the documents are complete. The records of the conversation at one end of the telephone, as it were, are precise, and although the written evidence of the replies is not available their nature may be divined with a general accuracy by the student of the affairs of the time. Light is concentrated upon the central figure of the long drama which merged into tragedy at last, and in the shadow beyond may be discerned other Kings and Emperors, their Ministers and Chancelleries, and beyond these again swarming factories founding cannon, and busy dockyards building ships of war, and the hosts of armed men. That single figure so uncontrollably active in the lighted circle, swiftly writing, issuing commands with passionate gesture, continually agitates the dimmer groups beyond, and the tremor speeds across seas and continents until Peking is perturbed, there is a stir in Tokyo, and even the massive tranquillity of Washington is momentarily ruffled. For if there is one aspect which more than another saliently emerges from these letters, it is that the GERMAN EMPEROR was wholly possessed by one master idea, and that idea was war. Sleeping or waking, war colored the very texture of his mind.
Partly as cause and partly as effect, the GERMAN EMPEROR's fixed idea of war was inseparably connected with his dynastic ambitions. Step by step these are revealed in his letters, and shape themselves into the gigantic plan of a vast confederation of States of which Germany should be the head. Thence she could dominate the world. It is the old, fatal dream of world-conquest; the vision of SENNACHERIB, of ALEXANDER, of CÆSAR, of NAPOLEON. The GERMAN EMPEROR has been called a mediaevalist; but in truth his aspirations derive from thousands of years before the Christian era; and when he stood for days rapt in contemplation of the disinterment of ancient inscriptions from the sun-baked soil of the Mediterranean island it is odds but he was thinking of the half-mythical conquerors of vanished civilisations as his progenitors. Like them, the German War Lord was confronted with one formidable obstacle towering in his path. Russia he might weaken and cajole; France he thought to subdue; Austria-Hungary was obedient; Italy might be persuaded; and as for the smaller nations, his foot would be on their necks. But what of the British Empire? Supreme on all seas, owning one-fifth of the habitable globe, peaceable until attacked, but when attacked indomitably stubborn, the English would never consent to an European hegemony. They might be deceived for a time; but ultimately, it seems, they must be vanquished. Now and again, in the course of the letters, that conviction of the GERMAN EMPEROR is vividly revealed. For, broadly regarded, the GERMAN EMPEROR's main purpose became the conquest and the subjugation of the British Empire. The astute suggestion made to the Emperor NICHOLAS that he was threatened in the East had its part in bringing about the Russo-Japanese War, which left Russia weakened and humiliated; and therefore, so reasoned the KAISER, the more pliant to his will. He succeeded, indeed, in fastening upon Russia a commercial treaty which ensured German trade predominance, and a diplomatic treaty which was accepted by the Russian EMPEROR, conferring upon Germany political predominance. Up to this point it seems that NICHOLAS was deceived, or partly deceived. But what actually happened was that the GERMAN EMPEROR'S cunning overreached itself. The terms of both treaties were of a nature so monstrous that no nation would ultimately accept them. By this time, too, the German policy had necessarily aroused alarm throughout Europe, and awakened antagonistic forces. Broadly speaking, the answer to the menace of a hostile European confederation, to which the GERMAN EMPEROR once thought of adding Japan, and, again, the United States, was to divide the elements of the combination and so attain a balance of power. In this connection the world owes very much to the sagacity and diplomatic skill of King EDWARD VII., who was, of course, supported by his Ministers. The Triple Alliance secured by the KAISER was balanced by the Triple Entente; and the GERMAN EMPEROR'S design was for the time being frustrated; a failure he never forgot nor forgave. The Great War was a tremendous attempt to redeem that defeat. How craftily planned, how skilfully manoeuvred, was the original design, are revealed in the letters. And here we may note that clever as the GERMAN EMPEROR was, he was not clever enough. Of a swift and a penetrating intellect, possessed of immense ingenuity, the KAISER lacked what alone makes these gifts effective. He lacked judgment. He lacked common sense. Common sense would have told him that world conquest is no longer practicable. Common sense would have warned him that to extort too much from a neighbor would annul the very purpose of the extortion. And a reasoned judgment would have enabled the KAISER to perceive that even if it were possible to furfil his dream, the cost would be so frightful that none could gain by it, that the fulfilment could be no more than the affair of a moment, and that the rest would be war, unending war. As matters stand, after the event, the war has brought no profit even to the victors, but a wide calamity and a profound disease which cannot be healed in this generation. And he who before all others is most guilty, deprived of his glory, stripped of his possessions, discrowned and abject, dwells in a dishonorable exile, the pensioner of a small nation which once he despised....
There can be no doubt that the ex-German Emperor was a great letter writer; the letters which he sent to the Czar prove it conclusively.
It is clear that in this correspondence the Emperor set out to make himself interesting, and it is equally clear that he fully succeeded. Whatever may be the subject on which he is expatiating the French mentality, the modern newspaper, the British Navy, the way to manage the people, the diplomacy of King Edward, the "Yellow Peril," the famous visit to Jerusalem, and so on he is always entertaining. He was, of course, tremendously interested in a vast number of subjects and he knew just enough about them never to be grotesque and not enough ever to be dull. And in this correspondence, he was at his very best, for he was playing a great game. Indeed, to break the Franco-Russian Alliance, to make the CZAR an enemy of England, to place Europe under German hegemony was an ambition strong enough to make even a dull man lively and to speed a clumsy and halting pen. It was only when the writer realised the game was up that the letters became shorter and less exuberant. But during those historic days when Great Britain, Russia, and France were drawing together under the impulse of a common danger, the Imperial scribe used every art to cajole, to flatter, to amuse, and to threaten the Emperor Nicholas. Indeed, it is the variety of method employed that is one source of special attraction in these letters. Suddenly, amidst the flatteries, the sage counsels, the tender solicitude, the deep sympathy, the mailed fist appears, and a threat and almost a command are launched forth. Then he changes his tune again. But the aim is always the same, and though it failed perhaps because it failed the letters are of extraordinary interest, not only for their "human" side, but because they are the prelude to the great storm which broke on the world in 1914....
These intimate epistles, addressed to the late Emperor of RUSSIA, alone suffice to prove that from first to last the GERMAN EMPEROR, in the prosecution of his vast and sinister designs, was so far from acting as a despot, ignoring the sentiments and predilections of his people, that he never entertained the smallest doubt of their absolute and enthusiastic support. To what extent their allegiance had been secured by that method of "mass-suggestion," of which a good deal has been written, is another question. It is enough to know that the German nation was welded together as a single instrument to accomplish the triumphant destiny of the Great German race....
It was one of the essential elements in the schemes of the GERMAN EMPEROR so to weaken Russia that she should become subservient to the German hegemony; and the readiest means to that end was to embroil Russia with Japan. Thus, in these crafty suggestions we trace the origin of the Russo-Japanese War. As the series proceeds the GERMAN EMPEROR'S hatred of England and his dislike and jealousy of King EDWARD VII. become manifest. But in KING EDWARD the GERMAN MONARCH was dealing with an intelligence superior to his own, and a talent for diplomacy to which this country owes much more than has yet been revealed. But if the GERMAN EMPEROR hated England, he held France in a stupid contempt, for which he subsequently paid a devastating price.
Although we have not the replies of the Emperor of Russia to complete the correspondence, the internal evidence of the GERMAN EMPEROR's letters shows that the CZAR by no means allowed his policy to be dominated by the German guile. When the decisive moment arrived the Emperor of Russia chose the Triple Entente, and the GERMAN EMPEROR'S long and elaborate combinations were completely foiled....
In the course of his letters it will be remarked that his IMPERIAL MAJESTY stooped to the basest devices without a thought. It was perhaps this singular moral obtuseness which ultimately vitiated his diplomacy. He had a blind spot in his mind. At the same time the amiable duplicity of the GERMAN EMPEROR'scorrespondence is so admirably done as to become an effect in art; and the letters of WILLIAM HOHENZOLLERN will assuredly rank as a classic in that form of literature. . .
One of two things invariably occurred to rulers or statesmen who tried to deal with the GERMAN EMPEROR. Either they were compelled, like Austria and the Ottoman Empire, to accept a subordinate, even a servile, position, or, like certain British Ministers, they fell into the snares so carefully designed by the arch-conspirator. The Marquess of SALISBURY, the greatest statesman of his time, entertained no illusions concerning the GERMAN EMPEROR, whose extraordinary instability of character had by 1898 become notorious. The inconsistency of the letter of May 30, 1898, must have been evident to the Emperor of Russia, for if tentative offers of alliance were made by Great Britain, they were, on the Imperial writer's own showing, conceived in the interests of peace, and yet in the same letter and in the next the GERMAN EMPEROR plainly insinuates that Great Britain is inspired by some sinister design against the peace of Europe. We two, writes the GERMAN EMPEROR to the CZAR, "have the same opinions: we want peace, and we have sustained and upheld it till now . . . they (the British) are trying hard, as far as I can make out, to find a Continental army to fight for their interests."
At that time the feeling of France towards England was far from amicable; and that circumstance apparently moved the GERMAN EMPEROR to tell the CZAR that the newest move" of the British "is the wish to gain France over from you, and they in consequence have suddenly decided to send the DUKE OF CONNAUGHT to the French Army Manouvres, a nice little plan of COURCELLES, I think, who is ardently at work between Paris and London. I already once warned your people of him!" The intention of these suggestions is to make as much mischief as possible between Russia, France, and England. The RUSSIAN EMPEROR is asked to suspect Great Britain of ulterior purposes inimical to Russia. Nothing that England can do is right; nor is anything more remarkable in the GERMAN EMPEROR'S correspondence than his intense hatred and jealousy of Great Britain. In this alone is he consistent. One of the chief reasons why the Cretan affair, which threatened about this time to embroil all Europe, was so difficult to settle is now revealed. While Germany was ostensibly helping the other Powers to restore order in Crete, where the Turks were slaying the Christians in their familiar light-hearted way, the GERMAN EMPEROR was secretly inciting the CZAR to side with the Ottoman Empire and to prevent the expulsion of the Turks from the island. Diplomacy, in fact, was at a stand, and we now know why. The difficulty was solved by Rear-Admiral NOEL (afterwards Admiral of the Fleet, Sir GERARD NOEL), who definitely ordered the Turks to leave Crete, who saw to it that his orders were obeyed, and who was afterwards publicly complimented by Lord SALISBURY upon his action.
It is at this period, too, that the GERMAN EMPEROR's vast dream of Eastern conquest begins to emerge. He desires for the time being to secure the support of Russia, as an Oriental Power, and her recommendation to the Mohammedan world in general. The vision of a Mohammedan Empire inspires his memorable voyage to the Holy Land....
The progress of the correspondence between the Ex-EMPEROR and the late CZAR brings us to a very remarkable little drama in which the HOHENZOLLERN reveals in a sudden and baleful flash the treachery of himself and of his race. He had been egging on the CZAR to his disastrous Manchurian adventure. He had described himself and the Emperor NICHOLAs as the two crusaders of Christendom against the Yellow Peril. With the pen and even with the brush he had done his best to rouse the Emperor of RUSSIA to a fanatical fervour, and his letters were full not indeed of explicit pledges but of hints and implications that he might be trusted as a brilliant second, or at least as a benevolent neutral in any such enterprise. Thus urged, and not, we may be certain, only by WILLIAM, but by all the agents of persuasion at the German command, Russia went to war. The Emperor NICHOLAS, as we see from the letter of the 6th of June, 1904, regarded his Correspondent as a "real friend," and this "real friend" overflows with sympathy at the Russian naval losses and military embarrassments. The "real friend" also is ready to help with any information which will widen the quarrel, as, for example, that Japan has supplied China with arms made of French steel, and that France has been induced by a perfidious England not to help her Ally in the field or on the sea: 'II va sans dire that if France had been under the obligation of helping you I would, of course, not have budged a finger to harm her, for that would have been most illogical on the part of the author of the Picture 'Yellow Peril.'
But the time comes when Russia is so deeply engaged that she must either draw troops from her Western frontier or submit to defeat. And then the "real friend" reveals himself. He will guarantee that Western frontier; in plain language, he will not attack Russia when she can no longer defend herself but at a price, and that price is a Commercial Treaty. Now there are treaties and treaties, but this particular Treaty was, in fact, a Treaty of Exploitation -- of such exploitation, indeed, that no country -- at least no country not a Free Trade country -- would have submitted to it unless under compulsion. Russia was greatly dependent upon the German market for the sale of her corn, and in 1902 Germany had raised the duty on Russian corn from 43 to 78 per cent. WITTE had replied by raising the Russian duty on German manufactures. Germany now demanded that the Russian excess duty on her manufactures should be abolished, but refused to make any concession in the German excess duty on Russian corn. Russia protested, but was forced to grant a practically open market to German manufactures and preferential railway terms without any reciprocal benefit....
There is naturally some delay in signing such a document, and the Emperor WILLIAM writes -- from the Mediterranean -- a letter which in one lurid flash reveals that sinister character of which we have spoken. He speaks with illconcealed irritation of the delay, and adds:
"What a lark it would be if you suddenly were to thump your imperial fist on the 'Table of green cloth,' and give the lazy ones a jump! After all, one cannot wait for ever, considering the many months that have already been wasted. A promise of a nice picnic in Siberia will, I am sure, do wonders." The EMPEROR, in fact, is to threaten his Ministers with Siberia if they do not sign a treaty disastrous to Russia! And the KAISER thinks that the CZAR will be amused by such a proposal! We are left wondering what CZAR replied to his "real friend," but we may imagine that the reply was tinged with sarcasm.
To the Liberal Manchester Guardian the letters show the Kaiser as a contemptible figure, "a mediavalist fanatic on a modern throne." He is characterized as an "anti-Liberal," an. "arch-Tory," a most irresponsible person in one of the most responsible offices in the world. The Guardian writes:
It is appalling to think that the brain behind them (the letters) was for many years the most self-assertively active in the international affairs of the world, and that a nation with the immense capacity and energy of the Germans should not have shaken itself free of such captaincy before the catastrophe came.
At bottom the KAISER had only one subject -- the indefeasible excellence of monarchy by divine right. Whatever else he might mention, the KAISER was always asserting by implication the infallibility of anointed sovereigns. "We Christian Kings and Emperors," he writes, "have one holy duty imposed on us by Heaven, that is, to uphold the principle von Gottes Gnaden [by the Grace of God]." He evidently believed it. As one reads on through the letters one becomes steadily more and more thankful that in England we dealt with such stuff, once for all, in the seventeenth century. KING CHARLES'S head keeps on coming in, all over the manuscript....
These letters from the KAISER to the CZAR suggest obliquely a sinister sketch of the last unhappy autocrat of Russia. For many of the KAISER's letters are such as it was a baseness in the CZAR to receive without sending such a stinging reply as would have stopped the whole ignoble campaign of back-biting and disloyalty. While these letters in which the KAISER bespattered the whole French nation with contemptuous abuse were going apparently unrebuked, at any rate unprevented to the CZAR, the CZAR was posing in public as the loyal and chivalrous friend of France. While the CZAR was an honoured guest of the people of France he was accepting at any rate a passive part in a correspondence in which his hosts, and especially their army, were accused of dishonour and lying, corruption and cowardice. We knew already that before the Russian Revolution no military secret of ours or France's was safe at the Russian Court. And now we see why. If these letters were what the CZAR would read from the KAISER during the honeymoon of the Franco-Russian Alliance, there was no bar of honour left to keep "Willy" and "Nicky" from sending and receiving abuse of France and England during the war.
The luckless CZAR cannot answer now for his passive complicity in this breach of decency. In a sense, we cannot even accuse him of personal failure. Fate set him up for an autocrat, and whatever may have been true in some simpler age of the world, if there ever was any, it is clear now that a man cannot be brought up as an autocrat without such damage to judgment and character as makes him unfit to exercise any determining infuence on public affairs. The KAISER's letters are those of a lost mind not, apparently, a mind organically deficient, but a mind deprived of all sense of the relative values of things by the lifelong nursing of the illusion that some 78,000,000 men and women are "his," as the deer in a park are his, and that God has made it his, the KAISER's, job to go up and down the world scheming and bluffing and grabbing and pulling wires and setting other peoples by the ears in order to get "his" people on in the world and show "his" Reichstag how little it can do as compared with a modern FREDERICK THE GREAT or HENRY THE FIFTH. The wires pulled in these letters were seldom very nice. Sometimes they were disreputable with a vengeance. The setting-on of Russia to wear herself out in fighting Japan, for the honour of CHRIST and the confusion of BUDDHA, was pretty bad. But the letters written in the prosecution of that piece of policy are run close by one written a little before Christmas, 1898, from Palestine, in which fervour about Holy Places is oddly jumbled with almost incoherent rage at the failure of France and England to go to war about Fashoda. This passionate cultivation of ill-will between neighbours is the most repulsive ingredient in the diplomatic method of the KAISER. SHAKESPEARE's Bolingbroke, another typical Old Diplomatist, gave it as a precept of statecraft to his son to "busy giddy minds in foreign quarrels." The KAISER tried to improve on this by busying foreign minds in giddy quarrels. In these letters he tries to embroil Russia with Japan, with France, and, apropos of Crete in 1898, with England, whom he accuses of an intention to grab Crete or Suda Bay, just as he had accused us of plotting to violate the Dardanelles when we tried, somewhat feebly, to dissuade ABDUL HAMID from murdering Armenians. The Old Diplomacy is seen, again, in its full panoply of cynicism where Mr. CHAMBERLAIN made his famous overture to Germany for an alliance at a time when our relations with France were at their worst and our yellow press was genially proposing to "roll France in mud and blood," contrary to the advice of slow-coaches like ourselves. On getting the offer, the KAISER at once wrote a glowing account of its handsomeness to the CZAR, pointedly indicating that the suggested league would include England, Germany, Austria, Italy, the United States, and Japan, and exclude Russia and France, and then went on: "Now, as my old and trusted friend, I beg you to tell me what you can offer me and will do if I refuse." Simply the auction idea. All the balm on this anointed King did not prompt him to anything nobler than that.
Professor Walter Goetz's comment on the Kaiser's letters may be said to be a fair expression of Germany's view of the Kaiser after the publication of his correspondence with the Czar. This view is that although Wilhelm was an irresponsible person, although his mistakes were numerous, he nevertheless sincerely worked for peace and the war was not of his making. Upon the publication of the Kaiser's letters in Germany, the Nationalists, the strongest group of monarchists in the country, at their convention in Cologne, adopted a resolution repudiating their former emperor. In part, this resolution read: "The Kaiser's letters give a true picture of his haphazard, irresponsible policy which vacillated constantly. The effect of these letters has been revolting. Although we are still convinced monarchists, we have the right to criticize. Therefore, we announce that the person who was our former Kaiser is no longer representative of our monarchistic principles." Professor Goetz sees in the Kaiser a poor diplomatist primarily, a man who chased after wild schemes without tending to the vital interests of Germany. The Kaiser is represented as having had good intentions, but as blundering in his efforts to accomplish them. Profesor Goetz's article, in part, follows:
These letters need not shun the light of publicity. They do, it is true, exhibit all the foibles which detract from the picture that WILHELM II. presents to the observer; still on the other hand they all bear witness to his good intentions and, above everything else, to his honest desire for peace. This positive statement may well be made, before any opponents, filled with prejudice, will exploit them for their purposes.
The letters are written in English, the language which both rulers always used, in conversation as well as in writing to each other. The CZAR'S answers are missing; here and there some traces as to how they ran can be found in the letters of WILHELM II. For us, however, those answers would be secondary in interest, compared with the KAISER'S expressions. Hardly any evidence will be needed to establish the fact that WILHELM II. was the personality with far more strength and initiative. As the letters show, the active political aims are on his side. He wants to produce an impression on the CZAR; he wants to cement Russia's policy with that of Germany, in accordance with the needs of the German interests and the peace of Europe. It would surely be desirable to have the CZAR'S answers; they would settle beyond any doubt the historical events. Still, at this moment the world is concerned with WILHELM II., with his alleged responsibility for the world war, with his entire personality, and for this purpose the share borne by him in this correspondence will suffice for us. The contents of the letters are ample enough to give us an insight into the KAISER'S political realm of thought, although high politics is the very subject about which we are being informed only in a fragmentary way, and some important questions are not discussed. Moreover, in order to form a final judgment, the reader would have to be placed in a position to follow through a similar series of confidential letters the simultaneous relations towards Queen VICTORIA of England and King EDWARD VII.; for however close and unquestionably evident the friendship towards NICHOLAS II. was, and however pointed some expressions he uses about England may sound, still friendship and tactics were undoubtedly closely in touch with each other on all these occasions of political intercourse, and the urgent desire again and again shown by the KAISER for new possibilities of intercourse can be taken only as indicating his apprehension that influences brought by others to bear upon NICHOLAs II. might interfere with the direction that his German friend was attempting to give to matters.
WILHELM II., who overrated himself and his words to such a marked extent, was evidently unable to realize that it was just he, almost more than anybody else, who jarred upon the feelings of others and provoked unpleasant opinions; he believed in his charming amiability, in his persuasive talents and in the deeply rooted right of his convictions. He was not conscious of the want of tact which not infrequently went hand in hand with affability and estranged from him persons of importance. Appearances pointed to it that the meetings with the CZAR were successful -- that political results sprung from them; and this is why this expedient was resorted to over and over again. Undoubtedly the CZAR was loyally devoted to the KAISER and inclined to heed the influence of his friend, who was about as much ahead of him in age as in length of reign, and whom he this is said with hesitation and uncertainty -- may have admired for his brilliant qualities.
Such were the natural dispositions and limitations which engendered in WILHELM II. the first great deception in which he was living: namely the belief that a general policy could be built up on the personal relations of the rulers. The very personality of the CZAR would hardly suffice to offer the securities required for such an assumption. For however the descriptions of the CZAR that have so far appeared, may vary in detail, still all critics agree as to the lack of a strong and clearly expressed will on his part. It is true that the CZARINA, with her German inclinations, is likely to have exercised considerable influence over her husband; still the letters published in this book furnish the proof that all brotherly friendship could not divert the Russian policy from its ultimate fatal aims. The KAISER had, so it seems, tried everything to adapt himself to the CZAR'S personality and to retain his confidence. He had shown to him and the Russian naval office secret German ship-building plans, while giving utterance to the thought that the fleets of both countries were to be considered as one great organization; he offered a suggestion that the German Bagdad railway might serve to transport Russian troops in a trice from Odessa to Koweit on the Gulf of Persia, so as to halt the British there; he informed the CZAR at once of the English alliance offered in 1898; yet, after all, neither friendship nor confidence was the decisive factor in high politics.
In the same way as the KAISER was relying on erroneous premises when judging of the formal elements of politics, he was unable to place himself in the midst of the conditions that existed in the world. However modern the KAISER has often appeared to be when handling questions concerning the future of Germany, when showing an interest in technical problems and conferring with economical experts whatever their creed might be, a fundamental contrast still existed between him and the world of today. Devoted as he was to the duties imposed on him by his vocation as a ruler, he could not help viewing that vocation as a divine mission and this led him to a blind overestimation of the princely system and of princely persons, and to an underestimation, no less blind, of other forms of government, and other persons. The letters published in this volume are rich in examples of this disastrous imagination. It was this mistaken idea which, notwithstanding all plainly visible notes of warning, led to the belief that Germany and Russia had to represent common monarchical interests, in opposition to an inferior world. An understanding of real facts, while found here and there, is yet on the whole lacking to a surprising extent. Roughly speaking, the letters start with the time when Germany entered into world politics. It might be assumed therefore that the occasion existed for discussing and settling the relations of Germany with the great world powers. But the KAISER is hardly ever seen to handle such concrete questions as would adjust contrary views, establish a community of interests and safeguard the course of the policy of Germany. Always the "traditional friendship" between the HOHENZOLLERNS and the CZARS, and next to that also the community of monarchical interests, are the proposed link to connect Russia and Germany. Republican institutions, the parliamentary system, anarchy, nihilism and revolution are pushed forward by the KAISER and presented as possessing a dangerous inner relationship; this perspective is opened before the ally of the French Republic, to frighten him. In the common interest the cry is raised to beware of English intrigues (nor, of course, can there be any doubt that they existed); but in vain will the reader look for political ideas that could have established a Russian-German community of interests on a solid basis. Instead of this, the "Yellow Peril" dominates the KAISER; in the Far East he sees looming a menace to the white race, to western civilization. This thought is reiterated like a monomaniac's idea -- the difficulty of German world politics had never in any way entered the mind of the KAISER when he imagined the warding off of "Buddhism, heathenism and barbarism" as common tasks which were to bind together the European powers. Or did he bring forward here views that were to occupy only the Russian mind, and was it his intention to divert Russia with all means towards eastern Asia?
German statesmen surely were pleased to see Russia draw herself back from her old favorite field of troublemaking activity, the Balkans, and map out aims in the east which were likely to occupy her for decades to come. However, it is not Germany who has pointed out to Russia this new field, but the successes of the Japanese in the war against China gave the impulse to Russia to proceed in that direction. Her intention was to secure the eastern sea coast and an influence on China, before Japan could become an annoying competitor. Russian public opinion had for weeks been aroused against Japan, and in favor of having free play in the east, before the KAISER expressed himself to the CZAR in this matter. Russia was the leading power in the common action of Germany, France and Russia against Japan; no instigation from Germany was needed to make Russia discover her interests in eastern Asia and stand up for them with increasing obstinacy. If the KAISER, in language rich with enthusiasm, extolled the CZAR as the author of these new political tendencies, we might well find in this fact a hope for deliverance from the nightmare which Russia had constituted for Europe, as well as a hope for common advantages, as is clearly shown by the wish expressed for a German coaling station in the orient.
German politics, of course, had to take into consideration one more point: to divert Russia from joint action with France against Germany. Surely, the KAISER cannot be blamed in this case for harboring such a wish. In attempting to realize his desire, he chose the means of stirring up the CZAR'S monarchical instinct against the French Republic. This could, however, have but little effect, after Czar ALEXANDER III. had once overcome this inborn dislike and closed with the republic an unprejudiced alliance. Later, in 1904 and 1905, came the exceedingly strange attempt to draw France into a Russian-German alliance. This may well be considered as the culminating point of the entire correspondence.
Undoubtedly it would have been a full triumph for the KAISER'S policy had he been able now to effect new and clearly defined arrangements with Russia. Not only would this have disposed of the charges based on his non-renewal of BISMARCK'S "reinsurance" treaty, which had guaranteed to Germany the friendly neutrality of Russia in case of an attack of France, and there would thus have been inaugurated a better and more honest form of cooperation with Russia; but the policy of EDWARD VII. would also have met with a serious obstacle, and the French hope for revenge would have been ultimately doomed. The refusal of the English alliance offer of 1898 and 1901, which meant the critical turning-point for the entire position of Germany, would have been counterbalanced; she would have won new safety. All this makes it easy to understand the exulting satisfaction which beams forth from the letters written by the KAISER at that time.
But very soon it was to become plain that the weavers of-this loom had been working entirely without BISMARCK'S masterly hand. The very first intimations contained in the KAISER'S letter of July 27th about the secret treaty are surprising: so this alliance, which would indeed have taken a foremost rank in the annals of history, had been closed by the two emperors in a personal conference of one day's duration, without the cooperation of the authoritative ministers? The chancellor of the German Empire received confidential information only after the KAISER'S return from his journey, and the same thing happened with the Russian minister of the exterior.
But if there still existed a remnant of political sagacity, now was the time for it when the seriousness of the matter forced itself on the understanding; when a way had to be found to escape this desperate situation. It sounds like the statement of a man either totally blind or clearly strained in his utterances, when on January 29th, 1906, the KAISER resorts to a coarse jest about the "woodcutter Fallieres" (meaning the president of the French Republic) in attempting to get rid of the significant fact that the CZAR wants to receive a French aide-de-camp in his suite; so funny does this arrangement look to the KAISER that he can hardly check his mirth. Was he really unable to see how France was beginning to eclipse him even in the CZAR'S personal surroundings? And furthermore: in June, 1906, the KAISER learned, from what the CZAR told him, that England was trying to come to an understanding with Russia about Asia. Not even this fact prompts the KAISER to take up the concrete questions that are to be solved; it merely causes him to become worked up again and again about the "Yellow Peril," which he believes to have discovered, and which according to him is to help bridge over the conflicting interests in Europe and the near east. It would appear that he fails to recognize, while thus reasoning, that the differences between Japan and America, Japan and Russia are of a political and economic nature, and that the alliance of England with Japan satisfied the immediate interests of both countries more satisfactorily than a crusade of the white against the yellow -race would have done.
Thus the political accomplishments of these letters are not especially encouraging. In fact, they allow the reader to look only into details, but not into the whole of the German-Russian relations. Several of the most important questions, for instance the Russian suggestion to interfere in the Boer War, are not referred to in the letters as we have them. But they do show how a policy went to grief which had attempted to solve the gravest problems with insufficient means. They show the KAISER not as the nation's political leader, but filled with untenable ideas as to the vocation of a sovereign and international politics, and they show us the difficulties under which the responsible functionaries of the imperial government had to work the entire time. Yet, one thing these letters disclose without any doubt: never has the KAISER occupied himself with schemes of attack, with preparations for the world war. The dominating thought in every instance is how to assure peace. That he wanted to see Germany and Russia as the center of the league which was to guarantee peace, needs no defense. For he had to transact German, not French or English politics. In making efforts to free Russia from the French and English embrace, he acted within his rights (however inadequate were his means); the very course of events has proven that this embrace ultimately meant the world war. That the KAISER wanted to avoid this war, is demonstrated by these letters, and this is what makes them historical documents which will bear testimony against our enemies as long as an impartial science of history will exist.
Valuable as the contemporary comment on the Kaiser's letters is, the final judgment on them and their author must be left to the future when passions and prejudices will have given way to calm investigation and impartial analysis. History will announce its own sentence on the Kaiser only when the letters of his correspondents, Czar Nicholas of Russia, King Edward of England, Francis Joseph of Austria-Hungary, the Sultan of Turkey and the Balkan kings are revealed to the world. So far only the archives of the Romanoffs have been made public by the Russian Government. What a boon to humanity it would be if the enormous volume of truth lying buried in the archives of a dozen European courts, existing and extinct, were suddenly to be disclosed to humanity!
ISAAC DON LEVINE.
'Willy-Nicky' Letters: Introduction, and Letters I-V (8 November 1894-10 July 1895)