A School History of the Great War - Chapter 2
Why Germany Wanted War
It would be impossible to make a list of all the causes which led Germany from time to time to take such action as would tend to force war on one or another of the nations of Europe. For besides questions of national honor or of national rights there were the writings of German philosophers, historians, and scientists, a great majority of whom maintained that war was a necessity if men were to continue to live in large groups or societies. These writers were chiefly Prussian, but Prussia, including more than half of Germany, dominated the rest of the empire through the organization of its government. The following paragraphs present what seem to be the chief reasons why Germany, and especially Prussia, wanted war.
War as a Profitable Business. - According to those German writers there are two results from a successful war. First, the victors take more or less territory from the vanquished; second, the victors may demand a large sum of money, called an indemnity, from the defeated people, who thus have to pay their conquerors for having taken the trouble to defeat them.
In both of these instances the result is advantageous to the winner of the war, and particularly to the governing clasp of that nation. Through the taxes from the new territory more money flows into the national treasury, and a great many new officials must be appointed. These, of course, for many years are appointed by the rulers of the victorious nation. Besides this not only do we find new markets opened up for the manufacturers and merchants, but the conquered territory frequently contains great stores of raw materials. In both cases the goods can now pass to and fro without the drawbacks of possible embargoes or import taxes which interfere with the freedom of trade. This is well illustrated by the results of the seizure of part of Lorraine by Germany from France in 1870. Lorraine contains great stores of coal and iron ore. These Germany wanted. So that part of Lorraine was demanded which would give to Germany rich mines of coal and iron. Some other ore deposits, which could not be easily utilized, she left to France. Not long afterwards a new process for making iron was discovered which made the French deposits more valuable than those Germany had taken. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for the present war was that Germany wished to increase her national wealth by seizing the iron mines that had become so valuable.
Many times before 1870 the Prussians had made large gains, in the way of increased territory and prestige, by means of war. It was the boast of many Prussian kings that each one of them had added to the lands over which he ruled. In almost every instance this increase was due to a successful war, enabling the king of Prussia to seize territory which did not belong to him.
The indemnity which may be collected from a conquered nation is also a source of profit to the conqueror. The money is deposited by the government in banks, I which thus have large sums ready to lend to manufacturers and merchants who wish to increase their business. The result of this is a great stimulation of manufactures and commerce. In the case of Germany, the effect on industry of the $1,ooo,ooo,ooo of indemnity which she received from France following the Franco- -Prussian war was so great that Germany was soon manufacturing more than her people could consume, and German commercial agents spread all over the globe seeking to find profitable customers for the surplus.
On the other hand, the German leaders have failed to realize that the destruction of men and materials in war is always a great national loss. In the case of a long war, the losses from these causes may, even for -the victors, overbalance any advantage which may be secured in the way of territory or money from the vanquished nation.
Germany Wanted Land from her Neighbors. The present war was largely the result of Germany’s desire to secure territory. The territory that was particularly wanted was in a number of different places.
In the first place, Germany coveted the rest of the iron mines which she had made the mistake (from her point of view) of letting France keep in 1870. These are located along the northeast frontier of France, about half a dozen miles~ from the boundary. Germany wanted also the greater part of Belgium, because it has valuable iron ore deposits, and especially because it has great deposits of coal. It has been said that without these mines of Belgian coal and of French iron, which Germany seized at the very beginning of the war, she would soon have had to give up the fight.
In the second place, Germany’s only ports are on the shallow north coast, and the channels are intricate and difficult of navigation. These ports are inconveniently situated for exports from Germany’s chief manufacturing region, the lower Rhine valley. The best ports for western Germany are Antwerp, in Belgium, and Rotterdam, in Holland. Germany wanted a port toward the west through which she could more conveniently reach her customers in North and South America and elsewhere. It is interesting to notice that the river Scheldt (skelt), on which Antwerp is situated, passes through Holland on its way to the sea. Even if Germany secured Belgium this would not give her control of the Antwerp outlet nor would it give her Rotterdam. It is certain that eventual domination of Holland was part of Germany’s plan.
Germany wanted that part of Russia which was along the Baltic Sea. The part of Germany adjoining this, called East Prussia, is the stronghold of the Prussian Junkers, or landed nobility. These people already owned great estates in the Baltic provinces of Russia.
Germany wished to govern this German-owned land and provide a place to which her surplus population could emigrate and still be in German territory. The Junkers were especially anxious for this to come about as it would greatly increase their power in Germany.
“Pan-Germanists” is the name given to a group of German leaders who aimed especially to bring all German-speaking peoples into the German Empire. In general, however, the same leaders aimed to bring under German control all the districts that have been mentioned above, together with the Balkan states and other lands.
Germany Wanted More Colonies. - Germany’s commercial expansion came after most of the world had been divided among the other nations. She thought she must have more colonies to provide her with raw materials and to give her markets for some of her surplus manufactures. Other reasons why Germany wanted colonies were that she might obtain more food, and that she might establish coaling stations for her navy, so that it could protect her commerce, especially her food-carrying ships. As the war has shown, Germany can hardly produce a full supply of food for her own people.
The easiest way to get colonies seemed to be by making war against some nation that already possessed them, in the hope that a victorious Germany could seize the colonies she desired. On the other hand, without war, she had gained some large colonies and was assured of others in Africa, and she had secured a prevailing influence over the immense domains of Turkey in Asia. By 1914 the Germans had more than half completed a railroad through Turkey to the Persian Gulf, and expected soon to dominate the eastern trade by the Berlin-Bagdad route.
Germany Wanted “a Place the Sun.” Germany was acknowledged to be the strongest nation in continental Europe. Her position as a world power, however, was disputed by Great Britain, both by reason of the latter’s control of the sea through her enormous fleet, and by reason of Great Britain’s numerous colonies all over the world. It was galling to German pride to have to coal her ships at
English coaling stations. She wanted stations of her own. By bringing on a war that would humble France to the dust and make Belgium a part of Germany, thus giving her a chance to seize the colonies of France and Belgium, Germany would at once attain a position in the world’s affairs which would enable her to challenge the power of any nation on earth.
The Survival of the Fittest. - German thinkers car-fled to an~ extreme the theory of the survival of the fittest. This doctrine teaches that all living things have Reached their present forms through a gradual development of those qualities which best fit them to live in their present surroundings. Those that are best adapted live on, and produce a new generation that are also well fitted to survive. Those that are not fitted to their surroundings soon give up the struggle and die. The Germans applied this same belief to nations, and claimed that only those nations survived that could successfully meet world conditions. They believed that war was an inevitable world condition, and that that nation would survive that was best able to fight. They believed in war, because they believed that just as nature removes the weak animal or plant by an early death, so the weak nation should pay the penalty of its weakness by being defeated in war and absorbed by the stronger one. War would prove which nation was the most nearly perfect. The Germans had no doubt that this nation was Germany. Acceptance of this belief by the German people had much to do with bringing on the present war.
Germany Wanted to Germanize the World. - As a result of the reasoning outlined in the last paragraph, German writers taught that those things which were German - their speech, their literature, their religion, their armies, in short the manners, customs, and thoughts of the Germans - were the best possible manners, and customs, and thoughts. These things all taken together are what is meant by Kultur (kool-toor’), - not merely “culture” as the latter word is generally used.
Since the Germans believed that their Kultur was the highest stage of human progress, the next step, according to the view of their leaders, would be to Germanize all the rest of the nations of the earth by ha-posing German Kultur upon them. If possible, this was to be brought about with the consent of the other nations; if not, then it was to be imposed by force.
Suggestions for Study. - i. Locate Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Bremen, East Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine. 2. Show on an outline map the regions which Germany desired to control. Who would have suffered? ~. If all countries adopted the German idea of war what would be the condition of the world? 4. Has any nation the right to impose its rule upon another people because it believes its own ideals are the only true ones?
References. - See page 26; also Conquest and Kultur (C. P. I.); War Cyclopedia (C. P. I.), under the headings “German Milltary Autocracy” and “Pan-Germanism.”