Xi’s Costly Obsession With Security
How a Quest for Control Threatens China’s Economic Growth
IT WOULD be hard today to find a German willing to admit that in 1914 Austria deliberately took the initiative in starting hostilities, and that Germany, far from restraining her, upheld, encouraged and seconded her in that most hideous of adventures. Indeed, one of the most striking political phenomena of post-war Europe is the unanimity that German opinion has attained on the subject of Germany's innocence. The German people distrust individualism in politics, as in other spheres of life; in this unanimity, then, there is something peculiarly Germanic. Kiderlen-Wächter, when Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, often told me in Berlin that his country, more than any other on earth, was capable of adopting one common opinion, and that thanks to that trait the press was easily able to direct trends in public thinking.
One should add that growth in democracy tends to develop in nations a conviction that they are not responsible for things that happen. Everywhere the masses set themselves more and more clearly apart from their governments and are wont to blame any mistakes in policy on the latter exclusively. This feeling of irresponsibility, supported by ignorance and incompetence, is natural -- and decidedly dangerous. For the reality is, meantime, that nations, seen from the outside, are not distinguishable from their governments. It is through the agency of their governments that they negotiate, make alliances, quarrel. The ministers who represent them have no other authority than the fact that they do represent them. As the democratic spirit grows, the conduct of affairs of state comes to depend more and more upon popular behavior; between peoples and their ministers prevails a sort of constant collaboration; and in that lies the real source of the strength that statesmen have. Bismarck himself, whose violent struggles with assemblies will not be forgotten, succeeded in mastering the opposition which he affected to despise only because at heart he was at one with the instinctive feelings of the German nation. That was why, after throwing his own party overboard, he was able to realize that unity which had all along been the very thing his adversaries had unconsciously been aiming at.
Again, German opinion enjoys playing with complicated notions, and in passing judgment on the events leading up to the Great War it is careful to mix historic epochs: it insists, as we say, on "going back to the Flood." Quite deliberately it ignores the period during which (in the face of all efforts of the French and British Governments) the catastrophe of 1914 was being brewed and was being rushed to a climax. Those Governments unceasingly proposed measures, conferences, conversations which would have found some peaceful issue from the dangerous situation. But they brought up short on the resolve of the Austrian Government, which was bent on war, and on the obstinate refusal of the German Government to make Vienna see reason. Like Bismarck when in 1870 he declared that he was making war on Louis XIV and avenging Conradin of Hohenstaufen who had died in Naples in the thirteenth century, public opinion in Germany today loves to invoke the past -- where it helps confuse the issue. It harks back to those troublous and uncertain years when, frightened by the military provisions of her redoubtable adversary, France was seeking friendships among the nations about her and was increasing her own means of defense. It thus manages to create a fog in which it is no longer possible to distinguish the truth.
I was, in my time, Ambassador to Germany. I remember the day when the Imperial Government, eager to increase the strength of its army, decided to call upon private fortunes, and by a lump tax required certain rich individuals to contribute to the development of the military machine. France was worried, and M. Barthou, our Premier at the time, tried to offset this new danger by establishing the three-year term of military service. Berlin was scandalized and regarded as an overt provocation what was only a rejoinder.
It is at bottom a similar -- and rather naïve -- sense of not being responsible which is leading German opinion today to fall back on the remote past to escape reproach for the events in 1914. To pass judgment on those events one need only to remember the threats which William II addressed to the King of the Belgians at the end of 1913; to remember the language in which Maximilian Harden declared, in the Zukunft, that Germany had insisted on war and that victory was justifying her for having done so; or to turn back to the words of Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, who, at a moment when the people of Berlin felt sure of victory, did not hesitate to admit, from the rostrum in the Reichstag, the irregularity of the acts of the Government over which he was presiding.
It has not, furthermore, been generally enough observed that Italy's attitude on the eve of the war and during the early stages of hostilities would be unexplainable if responsibility for the conflict did not fall upon the two principal Powers in Central Europe. Italy parted company with her allies because they had taken the initiative in war without consulting her, as the terms of the Triple Alliance required of them, and without paying any attention to her legitimate criticisms; and because that initiative in itself put the two Powers in question in the position of aggressors. In August 1914 Italy proclaimed that Germany and Austria had thereby broken the terms of the Alliance which had bound them to her, and had thus freed her from all obligations toward them. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, and after my return to France from Berlin, I went to Rome. I had known the Marquis di San Giuliano, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, for many years. I called on him in his room where he lay sick -- as the event proved, sick unto death. I remember his words. Nothing could equal the severity with which, at that solemn moment, he characterized the conduct of Italy's former allies and described the uprising of Italian national sentiment against them.
In view of all this it is easy to understand the unfavorable reception which has greeted the recently published memoirs of Prince von Bülow in Germany,[i] for they are in absolute contradiction with the state of German sentiment to which I alluded at the beginning of this article. Consider, for example, the harshness which the author evinces toward his successor as Chancellor, the rebuke which he administers to him for having admitted the illegality of the entry of German troops into Belgium and, having once made the admission, for not having at once retracted it. These memoirs, of course, as is the case with other memoirs, sometimes slightly alter the truth for the greater glory of their author; but they do not falsify the truth altogether; and it would be as serious an error to disregard them as it would be to trust their every detail. Since their publication, moreover, we have been given the secret correspondence[ii] between William II and von Bülow while the latter was Chancellor, and those letters throw light upon the memoirs and show by just what sentiments those two powerful and interesting personages were inspired.
Bernhard von Bülow was quite as much a prince of the mind as he was a Prussian nobleman. He was an irresistible person. His conversation was charming, his culture vast and profound, and I have never known a man with a mind more open.
His father had been for many years in the service of Denmark; thence he had moved on, first to the service of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and thereafter to the service of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Finally Bismarck, who had a high regard for his talents, offered him a post, and so he came to be Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the German Empire. He was a man of distinction; but his successive changes of nationality cannot fail to strike one as surprising; for the interests of Denmark, the Mecklenburgs, and the Empire were after all very different interests. Chancellor von Bülow, it would seem, inherited from his father a certain detachment toward the powers whom he served. He had what one might call independence of mind and perhaps of heart. He was none the less zealous in service on that account, but he preserved an unbiased mind -- which explains many things, notably elements that may seem contradictory in the devotion which he professed for the Emperor William II so long as he was Chancellor, and in the manner in which he really judged him and in which he treats him in his memoirs.
In the sphere of politics, Prince von Bülow was merciless, as he proved in connection with Poland. He persecuted Poland, and one of the grievances he has against his successor is that the latter should have allowed himself even to consider a possible reëstablishment of Poland. He prided himself on following the example of Bismarck; yet there were many differences between him and his supposed model. Bismarck, in the first place, was a man of uncompromising temperament and was devoted to his own handiwork. He had made Germany, and he had sacrificed to that cause not only his personal comfort but even his personal feelings. He had changed parties in the interests of his cause. He had begun his career in the party of reaction; then he had, as it seemed, deserted his friends of the first hour to achieve German unity with the National Liberals. Toward the end of his life he seemed to swing back toward the Right again. Really he was unwilling to merge himself in any party. In the course of all his fluctuations of allegiance he had a single purpose in mind: the consolidation of the Empire which he had built. Looking abroad, it was his idea to forge among the three northern Empires--Austria, Germany and Russia--a union similar to the Holy Alliance of former days which had been ostensibly designed to uphold the monarchical principle. He formed a close association with the government at Vienna; but he was careful to sign a reassuring agreement with the cabinet at Saint Petersburg. His great complaint against Emperor William II and his own successor, Chancellor von Caprivi, was for their having allowed the guaranty of security for Germany, embodied in that agreement, to lapse. He hated France. He had conquered that country; but she was not dead, and he viewed with uneasiness the element of risk that might lurk in another war. His hatred, furthermore, was a chivalrous thing, taking due account of the feelings of his adversary. Thus, far from opposing the colonial development of France, he promoted it, trying to find an outlet for French activity in that direction. Utter realist that he was, he favored the occupation of Tunis by France and was willing to open Morocco to her also.
Prince von Bülow did not have any such breadth of vision nor any such creative intelligence. He had a mind of great suppleness and strove to model his conduct to suit events -- in particular, to the changing caprices of William II. He sought, courtier that he was, to give continuity and coherence to the Emperor's views, and in that direction he went to extremes. He remained imperturbably the ally of Austria, but without conserving his freedom of action therewith, as Bismarck had done. In his hands the Austrian alliance became a strictly interdependent relationship which eventually brought the two Empires to ruin. He stated in print that France was a decadent nation, and he despised her. He dealt with France frivolously and entirely without caution. Whereas Bismarck realized that France had to live, and found a place for her colonial policy in his outlook, Prince von Bülow bluntly crossed her path and disputed her expansion in Northern Africa.
In his memoirs Prince von Bülow has two objects in view. He seeks to prove that while he was in power his conduct and his policy were at all times pacific, and he seeks to prove that if the Emperor had kept him at the head of the government he would have avoided war.
Two very debatable contentions! It is easy enough for Prince von Bülow to argue the harmlessness of his policy on the ground that so long as he was in office no war occurred; but the question is rather whether, by the quest for prestige which he pursued for his personal satisfaction, he did not bring Europe to such a state of nervous tension that, after smoldering underground for a long time, the flames finally burst out in 1914. The Chancellor always kept in close touch with that curious individual, Baron von Holstein. Von Holstein had personal predilections of a most passionate sort and his influence at Wilhelmstrasse was great. He had drawn aloof from Bismarck, and whatever his ideas chanced to be, he preferred to keep them secret. The ambassadors of other countries did not know him, for he preferred not to be known, considering mysteriousness better adapted to shrewd policy. He even avoided the Emperor: at one time he was thought to have fallen from favor, and it was the general impression that he was altogether out of touch with affairs. That was a misapprehension. Von Bülow was taking him into his confidence all along, even consulting him on the wording of telegrams. On one occasion a friend of King Edward VII, Sir Ernest Cassel, passing by chance through Berlin, paid a visit to the Chancellor; and since he had met von Holstein he inquired after him. "Would you like to see him?" von Bülow answered. "He is here." And he directed Cassel to an adjoining office. Such an intimacy was significant; it also was replete with dangers, for von Holstein lived too far apart from the world to have impartial views on things. Nor did he have any perception of moral forces. That is why he felt free to disdain any consideration of French aspirations, and thereby overstimulated them, giving France a singular power of attraction for all peoples over whose feelings Germany was riding roughshod.
The attitude of Prince von Bülow toward the policy of the French Foreign Office was in harmony with the views of von Holstein. That was why he wrote, in 1905, that Germany had embarked on the Morocco venture out of considerations of prestige, pure and simple; and that confession illuminates, along with von Bülow's policy, his personal temperament. In fact, one is surprised in reading the von Bülow memoirs at the rôle which the author's vanity plays in them. They are an apology designed to justify whatever he did and, more than that, to increase his personal stature. Manifestly, and diplomacy quite aside, he is what one might call in the vernacular a man "on the make." In his fourth volume he speaks of his marriage to Donna Laura Minghetti and complacently underlines, meantime, his successes with the fair sex. In a man of his great intellectual distinction such indiscreet presumption leaps to the eye. At bottom the same self-satisfaction expresses itself in all his conduct and explains many things.
To be sure, Prince von Bülow had to deal with Emperor William II, and that was by no means the least delicate aspect of his task. The Emperor was a man ever doing the unexpected thing, often following the lead of a lively imagination, and at times "seeing straighter" than the Chancellor himself. He was more or less uncertain as to what he really wanted, and at times abruptly changed his views. He was not without talent as a speaker; but his eloquences sometimes carried him too far -- for he loved to talk. The speeches he made at Bremen and Döberitz became known to the general public and filled reasonable people with alarm. He was sensitive and high-strung. Nowhere does his temperament appear more clearly than in the extraordinary letter which he wrote on August 11, 1905, to Prince von Bülow. Von Bülow had offered his resignation in consequence of a disagreement with his sovereign, and the Emperor was trying to retain him. He reminded him that he, the Emperor, would never survive such a misfortune, and besought him to think of his poor wife, the Empress, and their children! The letter was afterwards published, and in spite of everything it still gives ground for astonishment. Yet, for all of such bubblings of sentiment, the Emperor is careful to remind von Bülow that he is just a tool in the imperial hands, and that at the instance of von Bülow and against his own inclinations he had landed at Tangier in order to enable von Bülow to win a point in his policy. So this enthusiastic friendship overlooked nothing; and we get an insight into the underlying realities of these two men's relationship. Both of them seemed to surrender utterly to the sentiments which they professed to have for each other; at the same time they viewed each other without mercy; and when finally they parted company, each showed clearly how he really felt. The Prince is implacable toward the Emperor in his memoirs, and he forgets all the protestations of devotion with which he was once so lavish.
The Chancellor regarded the landing at Tangier as a triumph. In reality, it was a defeat for the Berlin Government. Von Schoen, who accompanied William II on his voyage, declared that in this whole business his Sovereign saw more clearly than did the Chancellor. The Emperor was against the landing. He thought it a risky step to take. It could only arouse uneasiness in France; and since the Moroccan Government had made preparations to receive him, he might be placed in the position of slighting it. In spite of his great delicacy of perception, the Chancellor was not aware that there was a deal of personal vanity in that whole demonstration -- which in itself amounted to nothing.
It was the same with the Algeciras Conference, into which von Bülow drove France by bringing all the weight of his prestige to bear upon her, and which occasioned the fall of M. Delcassé. Before the Reichstag von Bülow represented it as a success for Germany, and he takes the same attitude in his memoirs; in reality, it arrayed against Germany the Powers which at that time sided with France.
On another occasion -- the one, in fact, which brought about von Bülow's resignation -- one may ask whether he had really measured the consequences of his acts, and whether, in order to justify his conduct, he does not alter the truth in his memoirs. I am referring to the publication in 1908 in the Daily Telegraph of the Emperor's famous interview. At that time Zimmermann was Under Secretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and he has stated in an article in the Süddeutsche Monatshefte for March 1931 that the Emperor had communicated the interview in question to Prince von Bülow, then at Norderney, with express orders to examine it personally and not to send it to the Ministry. The publication of the interview scandalized and exasperated English opinion, and, to a still greater extent, public opinion in Germany. Things went so far that, if we are to believe the Prince's memoirs, certain members of the Bundesrat were reported as wondering whether the Emperor ought not to abdicate. In that extraordinary interview, William II came out as a friend of England, not sharing the feeling of the majority of people in Germany. He claimed, in the same fantastic document, that he had sent to his grandmother, Queen Victoria, a plan of campaign to be followed against the Boers, a plan that coincided, in large part, with the one carried out by General French. He also maintained that in 1899 he had refused to have anything to do with proposals which France and Russia had made to him against England. Finally he declared that he had suggested to the British Government that the English and German fleets in the Pacific should combine against China and Japan.
Prince von Bülow declares in his memoirs that, being overcrowded with work at the time, he did not read the draft of the proposed interview, but sent it on to the Ministry in Berlin to have the necessary corrections made in it. This involved a double disobedience of the Emperor's orders. The case would be all the more serious since, according to Count von Wedel, Herr Jenisch (who was a relative of Prince von Bülow and represented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Emperor's suite) had written to the Prince personally to advise him of the Emperor's understanding that the draft of the interview was submitted to him privately and should not be taken as addressed to the Ministry. Herr Zimmermann, furthermore--his veracity cannot be doubted -- observes that in his final report the Chancellor had made changes in the text as corrected by the office staff, which would indicate that he had read the document. In reality, therefore, instead of asserting that he had no knowledge of the interview, Prince von Bülow would have done better to confess that he altogether misjudged the significance of the declarations which it contained.
The Prince's attitude was still more embarrassing to the Emperor when the matter came up before the Reichstag. He did not defend his Sovereign, and, noting that the words of William II had caused a profound sensation in the country, he declared that thenceforward the Sovereign would observe even in his conversations a restraint indispensable to a consistent public policy and to the prestige of the Crown. I have often wondered how Prince von Bülow could have used such language. It is clear that he thought he could; and, in fact, he enjoyed a great success, that day, with his speech from the rostrum. Shortly before that he had expressed to me his envy of English statesmen for their situation vis-à-vis the Crown; and I am inclined to think he judged that the Emperor was more considerably weakened before public opinion by the interview in the Daily Telegraph than was really the case. With the support of the Reichstag he thought he could deport himself with an independence analogous to that of British ministers. In the course of the next year the Emperor allowed him to sense the extent of the imperial disappointment; and when "dear Bernhard," to use the expression frequent on the Sovereign's lips in the good times, handed in his resignation on the defeat of his tax bill in the Reichstag it was forthwith accepted. The Emperor made no threat of suicide on that occasion. The Chancellor seems never to have been aware of any note of mistrust toward him in the demonstrations of affections with which the Sovereign was always overwhelming him; but, in my judgment, he was mistaken, and especially in connection with matters of foreign policy.
The Chancellor's secret correspondence with William II illuminates the memoirs and enables us to evaluate many of the assertions in them. Though Prince von Bülow professed the greatest caution, he took war, as his Emperor took war, as a sort of game at cards, not reflecting that the essence of gambling is the risks one runs. That explains the injudiciousness of his conduct toward France. If he could gain a point of prestige in the eyes of his countrymen he had no qualms about reopening the wounds left in the vanquished of 1870. He despised those whom he considered weak. That was why, in a letter of July 30, 1905, outlining the course that Germany should follow in the event of a war crisis, he thought that Belgium should be called upon to declare, within six hours, whether she would be with Germany or against her. And he added: "We would at once enter Belgium, whatever her answer." Such a declaration at such a date is alone enough to nullify the claims of those who hold that Germany had no intention of going to war before 1914. For that matter, as far back as 1904, the Emperor had made to the King of the Belgians, Leopold II, then on a visit to Berlin, the same threatening confidences which he made to King Albert I in 1913. The invasion of Belgium was not, accordingly, made on the moment's impulse, and had no relation to any direct threat by the French army. Bethmann's deed had already been Bülow's thought.
As for Italy, von Bülow had no great confidence in his alliance. He used to say, moreover, that in politics one should not be over-conscious of services rendered. In his eyes, Rome's participation in the Triple Alliance was good for peace times, and more as decoration than anything else; and in 1904 he wrote that it would be a good idea to worry Italy as to the consequences of a rupture with Germany, to prevent her from doing anything that might change her flirtation with France into a permanent liaison.
Prince von Bülow was more concerned about Russia. His master, Bismarck, had never forgiven the Emperor, nor his own successor, von Caprivi, for allowing his reinsurance compact with Saint Petersburg to lapse. Italy's presence in the Triple Alliance seemed to give von Bülow a security somewhat similar to what he would have had in that old pact. However, in 1898, the attitude which the Emperor adopted toward Tsar Nicholas II filled him with alarm. At that time the Emperor of Russia proposed an international conference on disarmament (uttering, as Napoleon III had done before him, that word which harbors so much illusion). Emperor William II was aroused by the proposal, and von Bülow's memoirs relate that he drew up for the well-intentioned "Nicky" a telegram holding the notion up to ridicule; for, deep down in his heart, he considered war as a game at which Germany could only win. Emperor William's demeanor toward Nicholas II varied with the whims of his exuberant fancy. So, on the eve of the outbreak between Russia and Japan, he encouraged Russia to go to war. He lived in terror of the Yellow Peril, and went so far as to predict that if the Japanese were victorious they would be turning up in Moscow, and perhaps even in Posen. In point of fact, he was anxious to divert the Russians from the west, and he was certain that they would win.
A serious circumstance put the Chancellor at odds with his Sovereign. On July 24, 1905, William II had a meeting with Nicholas II aboard the latter's yacht at Björkoe; and after a tearful conversation he managed to obtain from the tenderhearted Russian the signing of an agreement whereby Russia and Germany mutually undertook to support each other by arms in Europe, should one of them chance to be attacked. The Russian Emperor was even expected to bring France into the combine; for William II was always fondling the notion that France, weakened as she was, would some day end like Austria by abdicating into his hands. The Russian accord was directed exclusively against England. Now von Bülow nourished for England the same sentiments of hostility that Bismarck had felt in his day; but the proviso in the Björkoe agreement, whereby the eventual assistance which Russia would be called upon to lend to Germany was limited to Europe, impressed him most annoyingly as precluding the assumption of any attack on his part on British domination in India. He therefore begged the Emperor to cancel from the compact the two words "in Europe," and wrote to the Tsar in that connection a very interesting letter which is not published in the memoirs. In it he again revealed his contempt for humane sentiments. He said that if France stood by England the regiments of Russia would doubtless be interested in the prospect of plunder in "beautiful France," and that, to prevent France from joining England, one ought to consider whether it would not be possible to find some territorial compensation for her in the direction of Belgium. The whole scheme fell overboard. On returning to Saint Petersburg, Nicholas II found that his minister, Lamsdorf, flatly refused to sign the treaty of Björkoe; and the Tsar, finally enlightened as to his undertakings toward the Paris Government, which William II was fond of alluding to as "those bandits," wrote "those bandits" that it was his intention to honor the signature of his father. That was the end of the fantastic entente of which the Emperor of Germany had dreamed. Von Bülow found in the fiasco a justification of his own attitude. Not that he was not nourishing his own illusions: for he insisted that Russia would never make common cause with France against Germany.
In reality, in the eyes of von Bülow as in the eyes of his Sovereign, the enemy against whom precautions had to be taken was England. On this point they were both in accord with the opinion prevailing generally in their country. King Edward noted the fact as far back as 1901. In the course of a visit which he paid to Germany at that time he was impressed with the hostility of the population toward England; and Prince von Bülow has stated in print that Miss Charlotte Knollys, at the time lady-in-waiting to Princess Alexandra, remarked to him that expressions of friendship between the two sovereigns and governments would do no good, because the two peoples stood glaring at each other like two china dogs. Underlying this animosity was surely the naval question. Prince von Bülow was convinced that since England imported virtually all her necessaries from abroad -- even food -- a maritime blockade might in a few weeks bring her to terms. That conviction doubtless impelled Germany, during the war, to her submarine outrages. Admiral von Tirpitz was bent on endowing his country with a strong navy, and Chancellor von Bülow lent him his support. He was forgetting that in 1900 the London Government had offered to strike a naval bargain with him and that he had declined the offer. Mr. Chamberlain, who had made overtures for an understanding with Germany, declared in 1902 that in view of the uselessness of his efforts he would have no further dealings with von Bülow; and I was an eyewitness to the fruitless efforts of Lord Haldane, who was sent in behalf of the British Government to try to effect an understanding with Berlin. In October 1908 von Bülow was beginning to see that the antagonism between the two Powers was becoming more marked. He would have liked to reverse engines; but it was too late for that, and his policy was destined to end in the catastrophe of 1914.
In my judgment, however, what contributed to the disasters of the Empire to an even greater extent than did the Chancellor's blindness in connection with England, was his policy regarding Austria. In 1909 he declared that the basic principle of German policy was to support Austria in all her aims. A devotion so Nibelungenesque could imply nothing less than an abdication into the hands of Austria, since it deprived Germany of the freedom of action which Bismarck had always made a point of retaining. I have often pointed out that Prince von Bülow made a grave mistake when in 1908 he refused to submit to international ratification, as a mere matter of form, Austria's annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the Congress of Berlin had entrusted to her administration. And I have reiterated that by his conduct on that occasion he inspired the Vienna Government with the notion that with Germany's support it could go to any lengths; and that if, in 1908, Austria had been made to feel that she was going too far and had to reckon with others, later on, in 1914, she would doubtless not have issued that extraordinary ultimatum which let loose the monster of war. Prince von Bülow thought that a European concert, designed to pass on events growing out of Austrian policy, would be as little profitable to the interests of Germany as to those of Austria; and he often said that those two Powers formed a block against which no tempest could prevail. That was what he wrote in 1909, and the words contain the whole genesis of the war of 1914.
It follows that I cannot accept the thesis sustained by the Prince in his memoirs, the thesis, namely, that he is absolutely innocent of anything that happened after his retirement from office, and that Bethmann-Hollweg, his successor, is alone responsible for the war. Bülow did not fight the war; but he piled up in Europe all the reasons and all the resentments that made war inevitable. He did so to gain prestige for his own policy: he slighted France systematically; he irritated England; he gave Austria a license to do what she pleased. He has no occasion, therefore, to be surprised that all the animosities which his policy aroused should have combined against Germany.
That much suffices to show that Bethmann-Hollweg does not carry the whole burden of responsibility which his predecessor would lay upon his shoulders. Prince von Bülow has his share of the responsibility. Bethmann-Hollweg has noted that von Bülow left him a desperate inheritance; that England, France and Russia had already come together; that Japan had joined them by virtue of her treaty with England; that Italy was drawing closer to them. The man of the ultimatum to Serbia and of the invasion of Belgium was, to use a characterization in the memoirs, evidently not a diplomat. His knowledge of Europe was, perhaps, inadequate; but he had assured his predecessor that he intended to follow the same policy that he had followed; and that is what he did. When in July 1914 Austria hurled her ultimatum at Serbia, Lord Grey made four separate efforts to get the Austro-Serbian conflict submitted to a discussion by the European Powers. The German Government rebuffed those proposals. As Prince von Bülow had done in 1908 in connection with the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it proclaimed that the matter concerned Austria only and that Germany would do her duty as an ally. In reality the fault one may find with Bethmann-Hollweg is that of having imitated von Bülow too scrupulously. At that time, alarmed by the repeated refusals that issued from the Berlin Cabinet, I inquired of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether Germany had undertaken to follow Austria to any length with closed eyes. Von Jagow replied that it would have been offensive to Austrian dignity to set up the nations of Europe as a sort of arbitration court -- and in so saying he was only repeating words that Prince von Bülow had himself uttered. What would Prince von Bülow have done, had he been Chancellor? He would perhaps have yielded to the same sentiment; but when he wrote his memoirs the catastrophe had occurred; and naturally, after the event, he prophesied that he would have avoided it.
As a matter of fact, von Bülow was perfectly aware of the exaggeration and the danger involved in Austria's ultimatum. Everyone in Germany, in all sincerity, lamented it; but no one was willing to confess to such a feeling. The Emperor was resolved to follow his "brilliant second." Bethmann-Hollweg said that it was merely a question of helping Austria to execute her wishes, and that if in the end war could not be avoided it was a question of ameliorating the conditions under which it would have to be fought.
At bottom it was Germany's overconfidence that led her astray. She plunged into the terrible adventure because she felt certain of success. She relied implicitly on that wonderful machine, the German army. Everybody -- the Emperor, von Bülow, Bethmann-Hollweg, the lowliest German in the streets -- was convinced that the war could end only in triumph.
People in France have learned not to prophesy. My memory goes back to 1866. I heard it said at that time that Austria would win. And in Paris, in 1870, people hoped in the strength of the French army. And yet in 1866 and in 1870 the losers were Austria and France. People in Berlin were mistaken in 1914. Whatever the might of German arms, the outcome proved that it is rash to expect too much of might alone; and I do not believe that if he had been in power in 1914 Prince von Bülow would have foreseen the future.
[i] "Fürst von Bülow: Denkwürdigkeiten." Berlin: Ullstein, 1931, 4 volumes. The American edition is published by Little, Brown (Boston), the British edition by Putnam (London), the French edition by Plon (Paris). In the American and British editions only two volumes have so far appeared.
[ii] "Correspondance secrète de Bülow et de Guillaume II." Paris: Grasset, 1931, 265 pp.