Primary Documents - German Chancellor's Speech to the Reichstag, 1914
Reproduced below is the text of the speech given by German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to the Reichstag in 1914.
In his speech Bethmann-Hollweg castigated Britain as the chief culprit for the onset of war during the summer of that year. Without Britain's support for France, he reasoned, the French would have pressured Russia to step back from fully supporting Serbia in her conflict with Austria-Hungary.
Speech of German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg to the Reichstag, 1914
Where the responsibility in this greatest of all wars lies is quite evident to us.
Outwardly responsible are the men in Russia who planned and carried into effect the general mobilization of the Russian army.
But in reality and truth the British Government is responsible.
The London Cabinet could have made war impossible if they had unequivocally told Petersburg that England was not willing to let a continental war of the Great Powers result from the Austro-Hungarian conflict with Serbia.
Such words would have compelled France to use all her energy to keep Russia away from every warlike measure.
Then our good offices and mediation between Vienna and Petersburg would have been successful, and there would have been no war!
But England has chosen to act otherwise. She knew that the clique of powerful and partly irresponsible men surrounding the Czar were spoiling for war and intriguing to bring it about.
England saw that the wheel was set a-rolling, but she did not think of stopping it. While openly professing sentiments of peace, London secretly gave St. Petersburg to understand that England stood by France and therefore by Russia too.
This has been clearly and irrefutably shown by the official publications which in the meantime have come out, more particularly by the Blue Book edited by the British Government.
Then St. Petersburg could no longer be restrained. In proof of this we possess the testimony of the Belgian Charge d'Affaires at St. Petersburg, a witness who is surely beyond every suspicion.
He reported (you know his words, but I will repeat them now), he reported to his Government on July 30th that:
England commenced by making it understood that she would not let herself be drawn into a conflict. Sir George Buchanan said this openly. To-day, however, everybody in St. Petersburg is quite convinced - one has actually received the assurance - that England will stand by France.
This support is of enormous weight and has contributed largely toward giving the war-party the upper hand.
Up to this summer English statesmen have assured their Parliament that no treaty or agreement existed influencing England's independence of action, should a war break out, England was free to decide whether she would participate in a European war or not.
Hence, there was no treaty obligation, no compulsion, no menace of the homeland which induced the English statesmen to originate the war and then at once to take part in it.
The only conclusion left is that the London Cabinet allowed this European war, this monstrous world war, because they thought it was an opportune moment with the aid of England's political confederates, to destroy the vital nerve of her greatest European competitors in the markets of the world.
Therefore, England, together with Russia (I have spoken about Russia on the 4th of August), is answerable before God and man for this catastrophe which has come over Europe and over mankind.
The Belgian neutrality which England pretended she was bound to shield, is but a mask.
On the 2nd of August, 7 p.m., we informed Brussels that France's plan of campaign was known to us and that it compelled us, for reasons of self-preservation, to march through Belgium, but as early as the afternoon of the same day, August 2nd, that is to say, before anything was known and could be known of this step, the British Government promised unconditional aid to France in case the German navy attacked the French coastline.
Not a word was said of Belgian neutrality. This fact is established by the declaration made by Sir Edward Grey in the House of Commons on the 3rd of August.
The declaration was communicated to me on August 4th, but not in full, because of the difficulties experienced at that time in the transmission of telegrams. Besides the very Blue Book issued by the British Government confirms that fact.
How, then, can England allege that she drew the sword because we violated Belgian neutrality? How could British statesmen, who accurately knew the past, talk at all of Belgian neutrality?
When on the 4th of August I referred to the wrong which we were doing in marching through Belgium, it was not yet known for certain whether the Brussels Government in the hour of need would not decide after all to spare the country and to retire to Antwerp under protest.
You remember that, after the occupation of Liege, at the request of our army leaders, I repeated the offer to the Belgian Government.
For military reasons it was absolutely imperative that at the time, about the 4th of August, the possibility for such a development was being kept open. Even then the guilt of the Belgian Government was apparent from many a sign, although I had not yet any positive documentary proofs at my disposal.
But the English statesmen were perfectly familiar with these proofs. The documents which in the meantime have been found in Brussels, and which have been given publicity by me, prove and establish in what way and to what degree Belgium has surrendered her neutrality to England.
The whole world is now acquainted with two outstanding facts:
(1) In the night from the 3rd to the 4th of August, when our troops entered Belgian territory, they were not on neutral soil, but on the soil of a state that had long abandoned its neutrality.
(2) England has declared war on us, not for the sake of Belgian neutrality, which she herself had helped to undermine, but because she believed that she could overcome and master us with the help of two great military powers on the Continent.
Ever since the 2nd of August when England promised to back up the French in this war, she was no longer neutral, but actually in a state of war with us. On the 4th of August she declared war, the alleged reason being our violation of Belgian neutrality.
But that was only a sham motive and a spectacular scene intended to conceal the true war motive and thus to mislead both the English people and foreign neutral countries.
The military plans which England and Belgium had worked out to the minutest details now being unveiled, the policy of English statesmen is branded for all times of history to come. But English diplomacy still added to this. At its call, Japan snatched from us Kiautschau, so bravely defended, and thus violated Chinese neutrality.
Has England interfered with that breach of neutrality? Has she shown in this instance her scrupulous anxiety about the neutral states?
When, in 1910, I became Chancellor, the Triple Alliance had to reckon with a solid counter-combination of Powers. England had created the Triple Entente and knitted it firmly for the purpose of maintaining the "balance of power."
For centuries it had been a fundamental tenet of British policy to turn against that Continental Power which was strongest, and this principle was to find its most efficient instrument in the Triple Entente.
Thus, whilst the Triple Alliance was of a strictly defensive character, the nature of the Triple Entente was offensive from the beginning. In this lay all the elements of a terrific explosion.
A nation as great and efficient as the Germans are does not allow its free and pacific development to be thwarted. In the face of this aggressive combination the course of German policy was clear. We had to try to come to a separate understanding with each member of the Triple Entente in order to dispel the clouds of war, and at the same time we had to increase our armaments so as to be ready if war actually broke out.
Gentlemen, you know that we have done both. In France we encountered, again and again, sentiments of revenge. These sentiments being fed and fostered by ambitious politicians proved stronger than the wish, undoubtedly cherished by a part of the French people, to live with us, as neighbours should, on friendly terms.
We made, indeed, some specific agreements with Russia, but her close alliance with France, her opposition to our Austro-Hungarian ally and an anti-German feeling, born and bred of the Panslavistic craving for power, made agreements impossible which would have averted all dangers of war in the case of a political crisis.
Freer than France and Russia was England. I have already reminded you how British statesmen in parliament, again and again, proudly affirmed Great Britain's absolutely unrestricted right to steer her own course. The attempt to come to an understanding, which would have safeguarded the peace of the world, was easiest to make with England.
On these lines I had to act and I did act. I well knew that it was a narrow road, not easy to tread. In the course of centuries, the English insular way of thinking had evolved the political maxim that England had a right to an "arbitrium mundi," which she could only uphold by an unrivalled supremacy on sea and by the maintenance of the balance of power on the Continent. I never had any hopes that my persuasion could break that old English maxim.
What I did hope and thought possible was that the growth of German power and the increase of the risks of a war might open England's eyes to the fact that her old-fashioned maxim had become untenable and impracticable, and that an amicable settlement with Germany was preferable.
But that old doctrine of hers more than once stood in the way of a peaceful understanding. The crisis of 1911 gave a new impetus to the negotiations. The English people suddenly realized that they had stood at the brink of a European war.
Popular sentiment forced the British Government to a rapprochement with Germany. After long and arduous negotiations we finally arrived at an understanding on various disputed questions of an economic character, regarding Africa and Asia Minor. This understanding was to lessen every possible political friction. The world is wide. There is room enough for both nations to measure their strength in peaceful rivalry as long as our national strength is allowed free scope for development.
German policy always stood up for that principle. But during the negotiations England was indefatigable in her endeavours to enter into ever closer relations with France and Russia. The decisive point was that beyond the political sphere of action one military agreement after the other was made in view of a possible continental war.
England kept these negotiations as secret as possible. When something about them would percolate, it was declared, both in the press and in Parliament, to be perfectly harmless. But things could not be concealed, as you know from the official papers that were published by me.
The general situation was this: England was indeed ready to come to an understanding on single items, but the first and foremost principle of her policy was the "balance of power" as a means of checking German strength in its free development.
This forms the border-line of England's amicable relations with Germany; and the purpose was the utmost strengthening of the Triple Entente. When the Allies demanded military assurances in return, England was at once ready to give them. The circle was closed. The English were sure of the following of France and hence of Russia.
But they, too, had to abandon their free-will. As the jingoes of France and Russia found their strongest support in the military accommodation promised by her, England, as soon as either of the two Allies began the war, was morally bound to support them.
And all this was done to what purpose? Because Germany was to be kept down. We have not been remiss in warning the British Government. As late as the beginning of last July I gave them to understand that their secret negotiations with Russia about a naval agreement were well known to me. I called their attention to the grave danger which such policy implied for the peace of the world. As soon as a fortnight afterward my predictions came true.
We have taken the consequences of the general situation. In quick succession I have laid before you the hugest war bill which history ever recorded, and you, gentlemen, fully recognizing the country's danger, have gladly made the sacrifice and have granted what was necessary for our national self-defence.
And when war broke out, England dropped the mask of hypocrisy. Loudly and openly she declares her determination to fight until Germany is laid prostrate both in an economic and military sense. Anti-German Panslavism joins its jubilant notes, France with the full strength of an old warlike nation hopes to redeem the humiliation inflicted on her in 1870.
Our only answer to our enemies is Germany does not allow herself to be crushed!
Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. I, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "conchie" was slang used to refer to a conscientious objector.
- Did you know?