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When Germany Lost The War






No man knows exactly when and where the three and twenty allies will
win the war, but all men know when and where Germany lost it. It was
four years ago this morning, at a point near Gemmenich, a village
southwest of Aix-la-Chapelle. It was then and there that the first gray
uniform crossed the frontier from Germany into Belgium.

An hour before and it was not too late for Germany to win the war, or
at least to lose it with honor. An hour afterward, and Germany was
doomed. What has befallen her since that 4th of August, what will
befall her in the future, were predetermined from the fatal instant of
that summer morning when the first German soldier trod where Prussia
had promised he should never go. There is not a German killed to-day in
the flight to the Vesle whose fate was not written at Gemmenich.

It was not merely that the invasion of a land guaranteed perpetual
neutrality brought Great Britain into the fight and turned into a world
war what Germany had hoped would be a small, swift, and easy campaign.
It was the exposure of Germany herself. Know of her what we may to-day,
we thought of her otherwise four years ago yesterday. She had thrown
about herself a mantle which hid the sword and the thick, studded
boots. She worked at science and played at art. She sang and thumped
the piano. She cleaned her streets and washed her children's faces.
Many persons in America and England believed that she was efficient and
that her very verboten signs were guides to the ideal life. Even as
the Kaiser reviewed his armies he babbled of peace; peace, to believe
him, was the first object of his life.

We do not know of any writer who has condensed the proof of Germany's
falsehood and cowardice into so few words as Von Bethmann-Hollweg, who,
as Chancellor of the Empire, spoke as follows to the Reichstag four
years ago this afternoon:

Gentlemen, we are now acting in self-defence. Necessity knows no
law. Our troops have occupied Luxemburg and have possibly
already entered on Belgian soil. [The speaker knew that the
invasion had begun.]

Gentlemen, that is a breach of international law.

The French Government has notified Brussels that it would
respect Belgian neutrality as long as the adversary respected
it. But we know that France stood ready for an invasion. France
could wait, we could not. A French invasion on our flank and the
lower Rhine might have been disastrous. Thus we were forced to
ignore the rightful protests of the Governments of Luxemburg
and Belgium. The injustice--I speak openly--the injustice we
thereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military
aims have been attained. He who is menaced as we are and is
fighting for his all, can only consider the one and best way to
strike.

There stood the German Empire, intensively trained in the arts of war
for forty years, pleading cowardice in extenuation of her broken word.
"France could wait, we could not!" A brave man, Bethmann-Hollweg,
unless he knew before he spoke that the whole nation had sunk to the
immoral level of the cowards who invaded Belgium because they feared
that on a fair field France would have beaten them! It is curious that
in the whole record of German state-craft in the war, the Chancellor's
confession of his empire's degradations stands out almost like a clean
thing.

The Chancellor did not deceive the people except in his implication
that France would have struck through Belgium if Germany had not. He
did not deceive himself, either. He knew the cowardice of Germany. It
is probable that he believed, as the Junkers believed, that England,
too, was a coward. Prince Lichnowsky had told them the truth about
England, but they had not believed. In the years of Kultur, they had
forgotten what honor was like. They chose to credit the stories that
England was torn with dissensions, threatened with rebellion in
Ireland and India, nervous from labor troubles, and not only physically
unprepared for war but mentally and morally unfit for war. Even the
telegram of Sir Edward Grey, communicated on the day of Belgium's
invasion, to the German Government by the British Ambassador at Berlin,
did not dispel the illusion about Great Britain:

In view of the fact that Germany declined to give the same
assurance respecting Belgium as France gave last week in reply
to our request made simultaneously at Berlin and Paris, we must
repeat that request and ask that a satisfactory reply to it and
to my telegram of this morning be received here by 12 o'clock
to-night. If not, you are instructed to ask for your passports
and to say that His Majesty's Government feels bound to take all
steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium and the
observance of a treaty to which Germany is as much a party as
ourselves.

Even that memorable document, we say, did not convince Germany that
common honor still lived across the Channel. The Foreign Secretary, Von
Jagow, a mere tool of the Kaiser, took it mechanically; but Von
Bethmann-Hollweg added to the sum of German cowardice. Brave as he had
been in the Reichstag, he whimpered to Sir Edward Goschen when he saw
that "12 o'clock to-night" on paper. This account of the conversation
is Goschen's, but the German Chancellor later confirmed the
Englishman's version:

I found the Chancellor very agitated. His Excellency at once
began a harangue which lasted for about twenty minutes. He said
that the step taken by His Majesty's Government was terrible to
a degree; just for a word--"neutrality," a word which in war
time had so often been disregarded--just for a scrap of paper,
Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who
desired nothing better than to be friends with her.

When he added that it was a matter of "life and death" to Germany to
advance through Belgium, the British Ambassador replied that it was "a
matter of life and death for the honor of Great Britain that she should
keep her solid engagement to do her utmost to defend Belgium's
neutrality if attacked." Her utmost! Aye, she has done it!

A last gasp from the German Chancellor: "But at what price will that
compact have been kept? Has the British Government thought of that?"
Sir Edward Goschen replied that "fear of consequences could hardly be
regarded as an excuse for breaking solemn engagements," but these words
were lost. The German Chancellor had abandoned himself to the
contemplation of the truth: that morning Germany had been beaten when a
soldier stepped across a line. How long the decision might be in
dispute Bethmann-Hollweg could not know, but he must have known that,
cheating, Germany had loaded the dice at the wrong side. If she had
struck fairly at France, England would have had to stand by, neutral.
The seas would be open to Germany. If France had violated Belgium's
neutrality--as Germany professed to believe she intended to do--England
would have attacked France, keeping the pledge made in the Treaty of
London. But now, because England weighed a promise and not the price of
keeping it, there could be no swift stroke at lone France, no dash
eastward to subdue Russia. To-day, when Germany sees how ripe Russia
was then for revolution, the remembrance of that 4th of August must be
the bitterest drop in the deep cup of her regret.

The items at which we have glanced were not all or even the most
important acts of Germany's dawning tragedy. It was not merely that she
revealed herself to the world, but that she revealed herself to
herself. The moving picture of Kultur, of fake idealism, of humaneness,
which she had unreeled before our charitable eyes was stopped, and
stopped forever. The film, exposed momentarily to the flame of truth,
exploded and left on the screen the hideous picture of Germany as she
was. No more sham for a naked nation. In went the unmasked Prussian to
outrage and murder, to bind and burn. When a Government violated its
word to the world, why should the individual check his passions? All
the world, at first unbelieving, watched the procession of horror, and
then, against its wishes, against all the ingrained faith that the long
years had stored within the human breast, the world saw that it was
dealing with nothing less than a monster.

England's day, this? Yes, and a glorious anniversary for her. She has
indeed kept her "solid engagement to do her utmost." In a million
graves are men of the British Empire who did not consider the price at
which the compact would be kept. Their lives for a scrap of paper--and
welcome! When we think that we are winning the war--and nobody denies
that it is American men and food and ships and guns that are winning it
now--let us look back to the 4th of August, 1914, and remember what
nation it was that stood between the beast and his prey, scorning all
his false offers of kindness to Belgium, his promises not to rob
France, and his hypocritical cry of "kindred nation" to the England he
really hated.

But it is not alone England's day. It is the day of the opening of the
world's eyes to the criminality of Prussia. It is the anniversary of
Germany's loss of the war. We--America, France, England, Italy, and the
rest of us--will win it, but Germany lost it herself with the one
stroke at Gemmenich. She believed it a masterpiece of cunning. It was
the foul thrust of a coward and the deliberate mistake of a fool.

The New York Sun, August 4, 1918.

FOOTNOTES:

[4] COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK SUN





Next: Carry On!

Previous: The Beast In Man



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