Sacrificing His Core Supporters in a Race Against Defeat
YOU must not expect from me a balanced, critical account of Stresemann. I was too close to the man, too intimate with him, too attached to him. For six years we were in almost daily intercourse, either in personal interview or by intermediaries, and I believe that no two men in similar positions were ever more frank with one another or more free in interchange of suggestion and criticism.
My real acquaintance with Stresemann began in 1921. I had met him before but we had only exchanged commonplace civilities. In one of the numerous crises which occurred between Berlin and the western capitals during the years following Versailles, Stresemann (as representing an important parliamentary group) came to the British Embassy with four questions which he wanted answered. These questions were so pungent and precise that I was totally unable to answer them myself, and, indeed, when I promised to telegraph to London to ascertain the views of the British Government I anticipated receiving from official sources either an evasive reply or a reminder that it was hardly consistent with diplomatic usage to put definite points of such a searching nature. However, it so happened that Curzon, who was then at the head of the Foreign Office, was no less ready with pen and tongue than Stresemann, and was not more inclined than he to seek safety in silence or evasion. So the answer came to these four questions, and from that date Stresemann and I became close friends. Once he was reassured of the essential good faith of the English attitude, once he felt convinced that we were not seeking to hold Germany down in a subordinate position but to procure peace in Europe on an endurable basis, his whole attitude towards our policy became one of cordial coöperation. It was part of his frank, buoyant nature to put his whole case forward, to explain his own difficulties and to relate, without reticence, what caused him doubts and hesitation -- when, indeed, these crossed his mind, for the occasions were few when he doubted or hesitated about anything, and no man had a clearer view or a more rapid power of decision.
It is impossible to review the years from 1920 to 1926 -- that is to say, the years which led from post-war animosity to the peaceful haven of Locarno -- without endeavoring to ascertain which of the statesmen of Europe deserves the highest meed of praise for what was achieved. As readers of my diary know, I have the highest opinion of Briand and his services to the cause of peace, but if one estimates the value of service by the amount of difference it would have made had that person's services not been rendered, Stresemann is perhaps entitled to an even higher place. He assumed bigger risks in carrying out his policy and he was more peculiarly fitted to influence public opinion in his own country than was either Briand in France or Chamberlain in England. And this for a simple reason: by temperament and by historical antecedents he belonged to the other side. If he was for peace, there must be reasons of exceptional force.
Stresemann began life as a militant and aggressive Nationalist, a pugnacious student of the full-blooded type. During the war he was an advocate of the strongest and most bellicose measures; an opponent to any pledge to restore Belgium, an advocate of submarine warfare and a bitter critic of all negotiations which would, in his opinion, lead to premature peace. This past gave him a position with the Nationalists (the party from whom opposition to the peace policy was most to be feared) of an exceptional character. They might detest the measures he proposed; they might consider his concessions dishonorable and dangerous, but they could not attack him with the same vehemence with which they would have attacked similar measures introduced by a Socialist or Catholic minister. His general orientation had been similar to theirs; he had not recanted in principle; he must have adopted measures of conciliation from imperative motives of expediency.
Stresemann's relations with his former friends of the Right and Right Centre were peculiar and fluctuating. At times he coöperated with them; at times they were his bitterest opponents. While fundamentally in sympathy with them in being a partisan of the Hohenzollerns, he diverged fundamentally from them in readiness to adopt measures he considered politically necessary. Stresemann, in pursuit of his policy, was prepared to coöperate with any party, either with the Nationalists on the one side or the Socialists on the other; he found no consistent support from either; he did not find support even in his own party -- the Volkspartei -- itself divided into several sections and sub-sections. So, to gain the necessary majorities for carrying measures that he considered essential, he had to get together casual -- almost fortuitous -- majorities, enlisted from wherever he could find them.
What was his essential policy? To bring about such an appeasement of the relations between France and Germany as would permit European pacification. So long as the acute fear of German attack existed in France, so long as Germany was under the menace of armed invasion by France and threatened by a repetition of the Ruhr invasion, any broad policy of European pacification was impossible. Once public opinion in Germany and France was reassured as to the particular danger arising from the other side of the Rhine, everything became easier. There was no more definite objective in Stresemann's mind than the above. The first step was all that he visualized clearly; once that step was achieved, international politics would settle down and many other things might become possible.
It is called the triumph of Stresemann's career that he achieved not only Locarno but the revision of the Dawes Plan at the Hague. I have always thought Locarno incomparably the more important of the two. Indeed, I have doubted the wisdom of bringing about the revision of the Dawes Plan at so early a date, and my doubt has not been removed by the fact that the negotiations consequent upon the Young Agreement undoubtedly precipitated the death of Stresemann. What financial benefit can be compared with the loss to Germany and to Europe of such a man? As to the merit of Locarno, that appears to me incontestable. In a few weeks the European barometer passed from "Storm" to "Fair," and while it has since fluctuated at times, it has never receded to the phase of "Storm" and "Tempest" which was normal in the years before 1925.
Comparing Stresemann with other German statesmen of the last half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, one must clearly remember that Bismarck and von Bülow had at their disposal military force and military prestige. These conditions were completely lacking in Stresemann's case. When we measure his achievement, this fundamental difference in basic conditions must be kept in mind. Stresemann can claim to have raised Germany from the position of a stricken and disarmed foe into that of a diplomatic equal entitled to full consideration as a Great Power and enjoying international guarantees for the protection of its frontiers. To have achieved this in a few years of power without the support of armed force is an achievement worthy of those who have written their names most memorably on the scroll of pacific fame. Stresemann has left Germany infinitely stronger than when he took the helm in 1923, and Europe incomparably more peaceful. The accomplishment of this result is the more remarkable in that Stresemann was not, by temperament, a pacifist; it might indeed be said that no more aggressive champion of pacification ever achieved pacific results.
The last years of Stresemann's life were marred by ill health, largely brought about by overwork in the interest of his country and in the interest of peace. He would, indeed, have broken down many months before the final catastrophe but for his indomitable will and intense nervous vitality. He was, moreover, unusually fortunate in his family life; two sons in the early twenties, both of them good-looking, intelligent and artistic -- one of them something of a musical genius; his wife, one of the most charming members of Berlin society, looking as young as her children and maintaining in the family circle an atmosphere of cheerfulness which made the home stimulating and refreshing.
If Stresemann looked older than the other three members of the family group, he enjoyed life as much as the youngest of them. He relished his own talents, his incisive resonance, his unique capacity for clear thought and clear expression; he was proud to be German, prouder still to be the compatriot of Goethe. Admirably versed in German literature, he could quote with verbal accuracy long passages both of poetry and prose. Indeed, he went beyond the limits of German, for he could quote long passages of Shakespeare, both in German and in English. In addition to literature, he had an intense appreciation of the good things of life; good wine, good music, were appreciated to the full; his capacity for enjoyment was not marred by any pangs of doubt as to whether the course he happened to be pursuing was right. It was always right -- always inevitable. He once said that he never regretted anything he had done -- his only regret was for the opportunities for enjoyment which he had foregone or missed. Above all, he enjoyed the success of his own policy and was rightly proud of the services he had rendered to his country and the great personal position he had achieved.