A POST-MORTEM examination of the patient often reveals the cause, or causes, — before that only imperfectly understood, — of the fatal illness. Of course, sometimes it does not. The case of the collapse of militaristic Germanism is one that urgently calls for examination after the event. We need to find out, for the sake of knowing what not to do or be, as much as we can of what Imperial Germany did, or was, that brought her to a timely end.
There may be some who will remonstrate that this end has not come yet, and that a present post-mortem examination of Germany is premature. In all truth, Imperial Germany is not wholly dead. But sometimes, for that matter, neither is the more usual subject of a post-mortem wholly dead at the time of the examination. The human body does not all die at one moment: it dies by parts, by organs, by tissues, one after another. For example, the amœboid white blood corpuscles, the most independent parts of the body, go on moving and functioning long after the heart has stopped beating. The army was the heart of ante-mortem Germany. It has stopped beating. And it is revealing some curious phenomena during its decomposition.
The happenings in Brussels in ‘Revolution Week,’November 10 to 17, are interesting and suggestive in this connection. I did not get to Brussels until several days after its evacuation by the Germans; but my wife was there before the last crazy caravan of mixed German soldiers seized Belgian cattle, and looted Belgian household belongings, piled high on gun-carriages, munitions-wagons, passenger hacks, and hucksters’ carts, went out; and she has described to me some of the extraordinary performances of the disintegrating German army in Belgium. Also, many friends in Brussels have told me many things that happened in those last amazing days of German occupancy. I need to refer to a few of these happenings in order to add to the post-mortem which I have been able to make personally, since the armistice, in Belgium, North France, Poland, Austria, and Germany.
Hauptmann Graf W—— had been my escort, officer at German Great Headquarters in Charleville, in 1915 and 1916. It was he who, as described in an earlier article in the Atlantic,1 broke in on my attempt to explain one night while dining, at his invitation, with a group of Headquarters officers, just what it is that America understands by democracy. I had proceeded but a little way in my explanation, when he interrupted, rather violently, with the exclamation, ‘Democracy — bah! — license, lawlessness, anarchy!’ On his hurried way from Charleville to Germany after the armistice, he passed through Brussels and talked with one of our C.R.B. men.
He was still boasting, — entirely characteristic of him, — but it was a strange, new boast that he uttered. Always, at Headquarters, he had upheld against me the great advantage — nay, the absolute necessity, if a people was to be well governed and successful — of a military autocracy. If America wished to be great, or if she had for the moment the seeming of greatness but wished to assure its continuance, she should acquire as soon as possible a Kaiser and a General Staff. Germany was the greatest nation in the world, because she enjoyed these particular blessings; of course, incidentally, her people, her Kultur, and all the rest were the best, and so forth, ad nauseam.
But Graf W— had learned, surprisingly quickly, a new boast. Germany was now really going to be the greatest nation, because she had a splendid new government, a real democratic government; not a pseudo-democracy like America’s, where the President was more of an autocrat than any monarch in Europe, but the most real thing in democracies conceivable.
My astonished C.R.B. friend stammered out a question. ‘Do all the officers at Great Headquarters and all the other officers say this, too? Do they all think as you do?’
‘No, not all; some are fools. But sixty per cent of them do; and the other forty per cent — well, they don’t count.’
This may seem hard to understand. But I know Hauptmann Graf W—— very well, and many others like him. It was the acceptance of authority, the cringing to power. The Kaiser had run away; so had some of the General Staff; the others were rapidly changing their uniforms for mufti. The ‘ real democracy’ was in power — therefore, knuckle down to it. This is not to say that there are no Germans who believe in democracy and want it. Only Hauptmann Graf W——is not one of them. He accepts the real democracy — if it can give the orders.
Some of the leading German officers and officials in Belgium, men of the Governor-General’s staff, gave an edifying exhibition in Brussels shortly before scurrying away. The German soldiers, at the suggestion, and with the moral support, of a group of SoldierCouncil emissaries from Hamburg and Berlin, took control of the army in most of Belgium on the day before the armistice. The insignia of rank were stripped from the officers’ uniforms, or the officers were ordered to strip themselves of their insignia, which they did, and a Soldaten-Rath was established in Brussels, under the leadership of Private Einstein. This council requested the attendance at one of its meetings of half a dozen of the highest German officers and officials in the city, men who had been the rulers of Belgium for four years, whose word had meant life or death to German soldiers and Belgian civilians up to this very moment. They came to the meeting — early. They were there before Einstein. When he came in, they rose from their chairs and stood respectfully until he was seated.
Amazing? It was beyond words. I can hardly write this. It is too good to be true. Yet it is the truth. These were the men who had shot Miss Cavell and scores of the fearless Belgians; the men who had brutalized thousands of German soldiers; the men who had insulted, times unnumbered, the Americans of the Relief Commission. How many times, for the sake of the work, we had accepted from them, unanswered, with faces burning from anger and shame, a brutal or insulting remark! How we had almost come to fear them! They could do anything. Even now something — is it fear? — keeps me from writing their names.
Private Einstein had learned the language of command, not by using it, but by hearing it, by having it growled or barked at him. He used it now. The others knew it, too. And they knew the proper response. Each knew how to lift impassive face to it, hands down on trouser-seams. Private Einstein gave each the opportunity to practise a little all that he had so long practised.
Then he told them what to do and what not to do. He said that he was informed that the jails in Namur had not yet been opened. Would Governor H——, Governor of all Walloon Belgium, see to it that the prisoners — British, French, Italian, Russian — were all released by night? Governor H—— would see to it. Would Graf R——, who had lived in the same house with Governor-General von Bissing, and used this familiar intercourse to rise to great power in Belgium, do this other particular thing that Private Einstein wished done? And would Baron von der L——, chief political adviser of the successive governors-general of Belgium, and a widely known figure in German diplomacy and official intrigue, do that other thing? The humble servants of Private Einstein assured him that they would.
Is this credible? It happened.
In the few days after that meeting these men disappeared from Belgium. They slunk away in concealing civilian clothes to Holland or Germany. Haughty Rupprecht, Crown Prince of Bavaria, escaping the bullets shot into his house, took refuge in the Spanish Legation, whence he was taken, under the Spanish flag, to the Dutch frontier.
A few officers not so high in rank and not so easily convinced of the advantage of the new democracy — some of the foolish forty per cent, perhaps — resisted feebly. They continued to wear their uniforms and insignia, and tried to give orders to their men. Some of them were shot, and others shot at. From the Palace Hotel, former convivial headquarters of German officers back from the front on leave in Brussels, and now taken possession of by the soldiers, a machine-gun spat bullets across the square into the windows of the Cosmopolite, last hold-out of the recalcitrant officers. The soldiers, the Soldier-Councils, were giving the rulers of Germany their first lesson in the ‘splendid new democracy.'
It is apparently not necessary to observe — which, nevertheless, I do here, parenthetically — that this is not exactly our idea of democracy, for the officers had no representation in it. It was dictatorship, just as the former autocracy was. The rule of the proletariat alone is no more democratic than is the rule of the nobles alone. Bolshevism is not democracy. It is the exchange of the tyranny of kings and nobles and general staffs for that of the bottom rung in the political and social ladder. Russia illustrates this now; Germany will illustrate it to-morrow if the Spartacists have their way.
But to return from the parenthesis. One other Brussels happening must be recorded. It is the departure of the German occupying troops.
On ‘Liberation Sunday’ (November 17) my wife watched for three hours, from a curtained window on the Boulevard du Regent, that strange procession of beaten conquerors passing by. The significant thing to me about this procession — in special connection with the point I am laboring — is that, despite the uprising of the soldiers and degradation of the officers during the last, week before the evacuation, when the troops moved away, — with their final loot, — they were led and kept in line by officers! It was the effect of long tradition and ingrained habit reasserting itself. In taking up familiar performance again, the soldiers needed, or thought they did, or just accepted without need or thought, some kind of control. They wanted somebody over them, somebody to rely on, someone to order them; they wanted to be reassured by the familiar bark. Which has its significance to be considered in any attempts to estimate just how far democracy will really come to its own in new Germany.
At the time of this writing Noske, Minister of National Defense, is the strong man of the Majority Socialist administration of Germany, and the man on whom chiefly depends the hope of a continuing orderly or semi-orderly government. By the time this is published, he may not be; before then he may be assassinated; he almost certainly will be, if the Spartacists can get to him. But now he is the strength of the government. Why? Because, although he is a Socialist and a man risen from the ranks, he uses the control methods of the old régime. He wields the Big Stick; he controls by force. The Germans understand his ways. He orders them, and sends troops to enforce his orders. The Ebert-Scheidemann bloc has a large majority in the National Assembly, and the Majority Socialists have a larger number of voters than any other German party, but this alone is not sufficient to give them control. They must have a Noske, and the Noske method of prevailing upon the people to accept their decrees. The splendid new democracy will do very well, and Hauptmann Graf W——and his kind will see its reasonableness and advantage — as long as it can give, and enforce, its orders.
The way to control Germans and Germany, to make decrees valid, to make promises and agreements binding, to make treaties sacred, is by force. This the French know very well, and this is why France goes panicky to-day when she sees, or thinks she sees, any signs of any releasing of the grip that the world has on Germany. The attainment of the present moment has cost her such sacrifice, and so weakened her, — despite her great success, — that any surrender of control spells danger and horror to her. The Great Menace is removed; it must never, never return. That is the dictating note in all the international politics of France to-day.
But Germany is more broken than France seems to realize. Perhaps I can even say, she is more changed. Anyway, for a strong nation to be broken is to be changed. When our first foodmission to Poland reached the SwissAustrian frontier on New Year’s Day, we looked for possible trouble from the Austrian border officials with regard to our passports and papers, and the numerous bags and boxes which contained our food and special traveling conveniences. But no Austrian officials appeared to look at our papers or examine our baggage. When, made bolder by this, we demanded that somebody stamp our passports as seen, so that any later inspection by the police in Vienna, or in passing out through the northern Austrian frontier, might not lead to trouble for lack of these visés, we were told by representatives of a SoldatenRath, ‘ We are a republic now; anybody can come and go; any goods can come and go; you don’t need any papers; we don’t want to look at anything.’
To be sure, this was in Austria, not Germany; but it was in a land of German ways. And it was a great change from other days.
I cannot, put into words the profound impression of brokenness that Vienna and the Viennese made on me. I had already, in Berne, on a trip some weeks earlier, gained at long distance the beginnings of this impression. For Dr. Taylor and I (representing the United States Food Administration) had met there certain official and unofficial representatives of Austria and Germany, who had come to Berne to put the facts of their pressing need of food before whomever of neutrals and enemies they could reach. These men were pitiful in their despair. And yet there were flashes now and then of their old insolence, especially on the part of the Germans. Muehlon, the famous ex-director of Krupp’s, who had been compelled to flee to Switzerland for daring to try to tell the German people some unpalatable truths during war-time, said, —
‘You must be careful; you cannot push Germany too far; you must not treat her people too hard. The world must reckon with Germany’s intrinsic greatness; it must not overlook the importance of her Kultur; the world will always need Germany.’
And with the characteristic national naïveté and utter lack of comprehension of the realities external to himself and Germany, he asked if we did not think it an auspicious time to institute a propaganda among the children of America, to collect funds for the feeding of the children of Germany, as we of the C.R.B. had done so successfully in earlier days for Belgium!
Vienna itself — die lustige, schöne Stadt Wien — is the most depressed and depressing great city of Europe that I have seen. Its people show a fatal apathy; broken, with no initiative to help themselves, waiting for someone to come to their aid, and apparently hopeless of that. It is really horrible. Such, at least, is my impression of Vienna in January and February last.
Brussels in the darkest days of her four years’ isolation and martyrdom was never like this. Warsaw in November, 1915, when I saw her soon after the iron hand of Von Beseler had closed on her, nor in January of this year when I saw her again after she had been released for two months and was struggling all unaided to find herself, with her country without food or clothing, without work for her workmen, without stable government, without recognition, and trying to fight on three fronts against Bolshevists, Ruthenians, and Germans — Warsaw was not like this.
And, finally, a great difference is apparent in Germany herself. Perhaps we cannot say that Germany is broken, as we can certainly say of Austria; but if the French could see more of the interior of Germany, — see Munich, Leipzig, and Berlin, as I have recently seen them; see the kind and quantity and quality of the food the Germans have to live on; see the clothing and shoes they have to wear; see the type of men at her head whom she has to depend on for guidance and control; see the extraordinary difference between the small, almost unrelated, groups of voluntary soldiers under officer adventurers whom she has to depend on as an army to quell her food and labor riots and preserve her from Spartacist uprisings, as compared with that terrible machine of precision and power which swept through Belgium and into France in 1914, and held those ravaged lands through all the long years until the débâcle came, — if the French could see more of all this, they would not be so panic-stricken in their fear of a possible swift recuperation of Imperial Germany and an overpowering German army.
From my window in the Adlon I used to watch almost each day, during my two weeks of February in Berlin, the march past of the guard, down Wilhelmstrasse, at noon, on its way to relieve the morning squad at the Chancellor’s palace. The band played well, but the soldiers marched poorly. People of the street walked along beside them and chatted with them; urchins ran through the column; the leaders and side guides were men from the ranks. Few officers’ uniforms were seen on the streets; they were not healthful clothes to wear. We saw a good deal of a Major von S——, attached to the Foreign Office. He arranged for us most of our food conferences with the government officials. When we saw him in his own rooms, he wore his uniform, with the broad red Staff stripe down the trousers; when we saw him in other offices, or on the street, he was in mufti. The insolent Prussian officer no longer lords it down Unter den Linden; his uniform and sabre are tabu; he, himself, in mufti, is unrecognizable — and glad, for his health’s sake, to be so.
All over Berlin are placards signed by Major X or Oberst Z, calling on men who wish to be soldiers to enroll themselves ‘with me, to join my crowd. You will be lodged, fed and paid by the Government, and commanded by me. There is something in it for all of us.’
These are the freiwillige bands that compose the German army to-day: almost independent groups, loosely disciplined, with the German counterparts of the old Italian condottiere to lead them; these are the ‘Regiment Gerstenberg,’ ‘Regiment Reinhardt,’ ‘Regiment Oefen,’ that one reads of in the newspapers as appearing here and there, where trouble rises, to machinegun the illegal food-sellers, the ‘WildHaendler,’ of the Moabit, or the Spartacist rioters in Hamburg, Halle, or Leipzig. They do not compose an overpowering German army, nor are they likely to. To be sure, one of these condottier e may turn out to be a man of magnetism and ambition; he might possibly gather round him many of these groups and tie them together; he might, possibly, become a military dictator. It is a contingency to reckon with. But it is a remote contingency.
Under-Secretary of State von Braun once made a notable little speech during the war, in which he presented to the Reichstag — and, incidentally, to the German people and the world — the irrefutable facts which proved that Germany could not be starved into a breakdown; that, if the Allies were counting on the blockade and the food and raw-material shortage to win the war, they were doomed to bitter disappointment; and, finally, that, if the Allies did not make an early peace with Germany, something awful would soon happen to them.
The second official interview that Dr. Taylor and I had in Berlin, in February, was with Under-Secretary of State von Braun. On this occasion he made us a notable little speech, in which he presented the irrefutable facts which proved that Germany’s breakdown was due, practically, entirely to her shortage in food and raw materials, and that unless something were done quickly to relieve the existing terrible situation, she would simply explode into revolution and Bolshevist anarchy, and the Allies would have to face the awful something that such a catastrophe in mid-Europe would entail.
This illustrates one of the difficulties which faced those who attempted to learn anything about Germany’s condition before the débâcle by listening to German declarations about it, and which faces those to-day who would try to know something of Germany’s present condition by taking a German official’s word for it. Official lying seems to be the great German national sport. Under-Secretary of State von Braun lied to the German people and the world when he made his Reichstag speech. But that has little importance for us now. What does have importance is, how much are he and the others lying now, when they pretend to reveal in all candor the German situation which must largely determine the attitude and action that the Allies and America have to take toward Germany now and for some time to come.
With regard to this, I may say at once that I think Under-Secretary von Braun lied less to us in Berlin in February than he lied to the German people and the world during the war. We have certain extrinsic proofs of this.
There is no doubt in my mind that the blockade did effective things to Germany, especially from the early part of 1917 on, that is, after America came into the war. By our action toward the neutral states contiguous to Germany, we helped tighten the blockade to the real pinching point.
Some of these effective things are revealed by our post-mortem: they can be expressed in figures; to begin with, certain German official figures. This, of course, puts the presumption strongly against them. But, strangely, they are confirmed by certain German figures which we have been able to get unofficially. In addition, the American WarTrade Board, the American military and naval intelligence services, and our diplomatic representatives in those neutral countries nearest to Germany and most actively in commercial relations with her during the war, were able to obtain information which was not only of important use during the war, but is now very serviceable in checking up the figures that the German Government is presenting, to make out its case of present need and its plea for practical pity. With these figures of our own in our hands, we were able to ask pertinent questions of the Berlin officials, and to check effectively these officials whenever they seemed inclined to dash off into the national official sport which I have referred to by the ugly word.
Also, certain testimony for the figures is apparent to the eye in Germany to-day. These things seen on the streets are less amenable to expression in figures, but they have a real value in connection with any statistical considerations. They reveal something of the likelihood or unlikelihood of that which the figures purport to prove.
For example, one sees fewer strongly convex Germans now than in the old days. This is an obvious fact that helps to give reality to the otherwise bald and unillustrated statistical statements concerning shortages in meat and fats and bread and beer. Wooden collars and cuffs, paper shirts and skirts, and shoes with wooden soles and cloth or paper uppers, are not articles that one chooses to wear when textiles and leather are plentiful. But Germans wear them. Nor do the principal hotels of Berlin, Munich, and Leipzig use paper tablecloths and napkins by predilection, or for economy’s sake alone. The other kinds are simply too scarce.
But, after all, we must have recourse to figures to make our post-mortem revelations really informing. Let us begin with meat and fats, which the blockade, according to Von Braun’s Reichstag speech, was not hitting very hard, and anyway, if it was, was not doing much harm to, because of the sufficiency of home production. What is the story today of the facts of yesterday?
The Germans are willing, nay, anxious, to admit that, while the pre-war importation of meats and animal fats and the concentrated feedstuffs for producing them amounted to more than 900,000 tons annually, the 1917 importations were only 5000 tons, and the 1918 (first ten months) only 2000 tons! And as a consequence of this effect of the blockade, and of other meat-limiting conditions, the German meat-ration during the months just preceding the armistice was on the average only 135 grams (4.75 oz.) per head per week for the city populations, which is just about one eighth of the average pre-war consumption. Also, this meat was much inferior to the pre-war meat, and the protein-supplying eggs and fish were not available to take its place. The meathungry people raided the game preserves of the Kaiser, and even ate the familiar and famous Berlin swans which used to paddle so pridefully and Prussianly on the Spree and Havel.
While the pre-war average annual German consumption of eggs amounted to 425,000 tons, of which 40 per cent was imported, the war-time use of eggs was reduced to an amazing degree. In
1917 the imports of eggs amounted to but 40,000 tons (instead of the pre-war annual average of 170,000 tons), and in 1918 (first ten months) to but 17,250 tons. Also, because many hens were killed on account of the shortage of meat, and there was little grain available to feed those left alive, the native production of eggs was much reduced. In Berlin, for several months before the armistice, but one egg a month was available per head of the population.
As to fish, the figures tell a similarly sad story. While of the pre-war average annual fish consumption of 577,000 tons, importations were relied on to the extent of about 361,000 tons, these imports were cut in 1917 to 161,000 tons, and 1918 (first ten months) to 97,830 tons. Also, the native fish-catch was greatly lessened.
Coupled with this shortage in meat, eggs, and fish was the shortage in butter. During the last months before the armistice, the quantity of butter available in Berlin per week was not more than that which had been available per day before the war. And there was but little vegetable oil and fat to make up for the lack in animal fats. There was practically a total stoppage of the importations which before the war had provided over 82 per cent of the 188,500 tons of vegetable oils and fats annually used. Of the 1,600,000 tons of oleaginous fruits and seeds imported in prewar time, but little more than one one-hundredth could be imported in 1917.
Finally, in this group of protein-carrying and fatty foods, milk demands a special paragraph. A shortage of milk works its greatest harm to the growing children, and therefore any country suffering from food-shortage makes its greatest effort (or should make it) to maintain its milk-supply. But Germany was in the unfortunate position of depending for the production of nearly one half its milk on imported concentrated feedstuffs. The blockade played havoc with these importations. The annual average of 5,180,000 tons in 1912 and 1913 was reduced to 59,000 tons in 1917, and to 41,000 in the first ten months of 1918. The absolute minimum milk requirements for Germany are estimated at one and three fourths million litres; in the last year of the war not more than one and one fourth million litres were available.
All this frightful shortage in meats and animal fats made Germany in wartime, perforce, a land of vegetarians. Rice, after the stocks existing at the beginning of the war were used up, was practically altogether lacking. The importation of dried legumes was cut from an annual pre-war average of 310,800 tons to 1700 tons in 1917. So on bread and potatoes fell the burden of keeping the German people alive through the war. And they had a thankless task.
In the first place, there was not enough of them; in the second place, sometimes the potatoes, and always the bread, were of poor quality. The necessity of ‘stretching’ the grain by milling it at a high percentage — going from the usual 70 per cent, first to 72 per cent, then 75 per cent, then 80 per cent, then 82 per cent, and in the last year of the war to 94 per cent! — and by mixing with this high-extraction wheat and rye flour other meals such as potato, bean, pea, barley, oats, rice, and fine turnip meal, together with finely ground bran, resulted in a bread almost unedible for many. Even starving people will balk at turnip-bread. It was, indeed, the terrible ‘Kohl-Riiben Zeit ’ — epoch of turnips — of late 1916 and early 1917 which did more to unsettle the German confidence in such speeches as Von Braun’s than anything else. It is from that time, when, in the face of a failure in the potato crop of 1916, it was necessary to have recourse to the abundant supply of turnips to replace the lacking potatoes, and when these turnips were also used as substitutes for many other foods, even to the extent of making turnip-marmalade and turnip-coffee, that the marked increase in mortality and morbidity among the German civil population appears. Which introduces us to a new set of figures, — German official figures, it must be confessed, — which we are not in a position at present to check up as effectively as we can the figures of reduced importations. Indeed, we must wish, for humanity’s sake, that they are, as is probable, exaggerated.
In the first place, the malnutrition of the people resulted in a marked reduction in weight. Statistics collected from all towns of over 5000 population reveal an average loss per person of 20 per cent in weight. Losses of even 50 per cent were not rare. The consequences of this ‘emaciation, caused especially by shortage of albuminous foods were,’according to an official report, ‘ (1) reduction of physical and mental capacity of the individual; his will-power and mental balance were gravely affected; (2) the reappearance of suppressed or controlled diseases; (3) rapid increase of other diseases; (4) irregularities in female functions, and a general tendency toward infertility; (5) retarded recovery in all cases of illness; (6) marked increase in mortality and morbidity, especially among the aged and the youth of school age.’
As to the actual mortality in the civil population, it is declared that, while the year 1914 showed no increase over 1913, there was in 1915 an increase of 9,5 per cent over 1913; in 1916, 14 per cent; in 1917, 32 per cent, and in 1918, 37 per cent. The great increase began in December, 1916, in the Kohl-Rüben Zeit. These percentages indicate a total number of deaths in 1915-1918 of nearly 800,000 more civilians — the losses of soldiers are entirely excluded — than would have died if the death-rate of 1913 had remained the annual average for the four war years. The increase was greatest proportionately in the agegroup 5 to 15 years (55 per cent over the 1913 rate), and next in the 1 to 5 years group (49ὑ per cent over 1913). Tabulated by disease causes, the most notable increase was from tuberculosis, which, from a rate of 16 per 10,000 deaths in 1912 and 15 per 10,000 deaths in 1913, jumped to 18 per 10,000 in 1916, 25 in 1917 and 27.5 in 1918, or, in this last year of the war, almost double that of 1913.
Because of lack of disinfectants, rubber bed-spreads and gloves, sufficient bandages, and the like, and, in general, proper cleanliness, the deaths of women in childbirth are declared to have increased from a rate of 22 per 10,000 infants born in 1913 to 30.8 in 1917 and 36.75 in 1918. This matter of the lack of proper rubber appliances, cotton bandages, and certain over-seas drugs, as quinine, cocaine, menthol, camphor, ipecacuanha, etc., as well as the great shortage of soap, is held to have had serious consequences to the ill and injured everywhere in the country. The prewar use of soap was about 10 kilograms of laundry and toilet soap per capita per annum. But early in the war a ration of 250 grams monthly of a washpowder for laundry use, containing only 4 per cent of fat, had to be established; and from January, 1918, only 125 grams of this laundry powder plus one 50gram cake of toilet-soap, containing 75 per cent of clay, could be allowed. ‘Many attempts to replace soap by fatless washing substances were made, but these preparations proved quite unsuitable for bodily use, and of a limited utility only for laundry purposes.’
This last-quoted sentence invites a few further remarks on the subject of Ersdtze, a word which all through the war was a word of boasting, and now has become a special word of confession and whining. The truth is that the substitutes did n’t substitute. The vaunted German science and ingenuity simply could not make the needed bricks without straw. Speaking of the shortage of leather and textiles for clothing, the German authorities admit to-day that, despite all attempts, ’we have not succeeded up to the present time [January, 1919] in supplying the civil population with a single really useful substitute [for leather or textiles]. The paper textures which appeared on the market were, to say nothing of their high prices, a disappointment.’
And the testimony, both official and unofficial expert, is the same with regard to substitutes for the usual foods and metals. The leading scientific men of Germany with whom we talked admitted this with little hesitation; the people in the street admitted it with less hesitation, and in terms of no dubiety. The number of these substitutes ran into the thousands; they turn out to have been practically as many disappointments.
These few post-mortem revelations present to us some of the reasons why Germany broke. We have examined in detail only the food-situation; a detailed examination of the situation as regards metals, oils, rubber, leather, and other necessities for the maintenance of her railways and motor-transport, and her munitions and miscellaneous war-factories, would reveal the same condition of cumulative difficulty leading inevitably to disaster. And all this is apart from the actual military situation on the Western and Southern fronts, where just plain military defeat was coming as certainly as anything in war can be certain.
The only wonder is that Germany was able to go on as long as she did. And Germany herself now wonders how she was able to do it. The explanation is one of psychology, of the official and self-deception of nearly a whole people, and of an almost superhuman endurance of an almost impossible situation, on the basis of the promise — and a blind faith in this promise — of an early cessation of the situation and a complete compensation for the sufferings endured. A few Germans saw, some time before the break, the reality of things and the certain disaster that impended from this reality. But they were few and they had to keep silent. The two or three who did try to speak out either got quickly out of the country, or into prison. If there was freedom of anything in Germany during the war, it was not freedom of speech.
One of the most revealing books concerning the internal situation in Germany during the war-time is Kurt Muehsam’s Wie Wir Belogen Wurden, a fully documented account of ‘the official deception of the German people’ by means of the press-control. The book was published in Munich as soon after the armistice as it could be put through the press. It is a book of damning revelation of German official lying, German official stupidity, and German official culpable ignorance, not merely of facts, but — more important — of the significance of facts known. It helps to reveal the singularly artificial character of the control of the German nation by the rulers of Germany, a control to which, nevertheless, the mass of the people, from ignorant peasants to most erudite of professors, submitted tamely for amazingly long.
Muehsam lays bare, by actual citation and quotation, the whole censor system, absurd in its attempt to controvert all truth, criminal in its success in hiding sufficient truth to wreck the nation. It was a system that went far beyond saying that truth might not be printed, for it included saying what untruth should be told.
For example, to show its attitude toward a single critically important matter, on May 17, 1918, the official news agency gave out for publication in all the newspapers a statement that ‘the number of American fighting troops in France is, according to reliable official information, to be estimated at about ten divisions — only four of these are at the front. The total of ail those behind the lines as well as in them is at most from 150,000 to 200,000 men. Press notices concerning these facts should state therefore that America has not been able to meet its expectations in the way of sending troops, and the earlier estimates of the German General Staff as to what America could do have proved to be true. However, in order not to let the enemy know how well informed we are, the actual figures given above should under no circumstances be mentioned ’!
Now, as a matter of fact, there were, at the time this was given out to the German press, nearly one million American troops in France. Was the General Staff just lying, or was it just ignorant of the facts? The latter supposition is almost inconceivable. In any event, the giving out of this false information to the German people was both stupid and criminal.
In a remarkable Censor Book, issued in March, 1917, general instructions, including explicit prohibitions and recommendations, were given concerning the press treatment of a long series of subjects, arranged alphabetically and running all the way from ‘Aalandfrage’ to ‘ Zensurmassnahmen.’ These presumably permanent instructions were added to a thousandfold by the special instructions issued constantly by a socalled ‘Press Conferenz,’ which, beginning in 1914 with weekly sittings, soon became an almost continuously sitting institution, and, in addition, by other confidential detailed instructions with regard to particular matters of the minute, which were constantly issuted by no less than a score of separate official bureaus and war offices.
The Censor Book, under the head ‘Lebensmittel,’ forbade the publication of any declarations or suppositions that ‘our economic holding out may not be possible.’ It. also forbade the comic papers from making the foodshortage the subject of jests.
Under ‘Zensurmassnahmen,’ it was forbidden to print any news concerning measures taken to enforce (he censorship! In a word, in the face of, and by means of, what was notoriously the most radical and criminal censorship ever instituted, it was attempted to cover up the existence of any censorship at all.
On September 22,1914, just after the first battle of the Marne, the ‘Press Conferenz ’ gave out to the newspapers and the people of Germany the following announcement: —
‘ The general military situation in the West is good. No retreat or backward push has taken place as a result of any tactical advantage of the enemy. Our movements were entirely strategic, for the preparation of new successes, and were not forced by the enemy.’
On the next day this general thesis was repeated, with certain interesting additions, — amazingly absurd additions, as a matter of fact, — one of them being a prohibition to the press to say anything about the backward movement of the German troops, ‘in order that the enemy may be left in his present embarrassing great uncertainty ’ about these movements!
When the Luxburg Versenkt ohne Spur affair was a few days old, the worried Berlin Foreign Office issued a rather petulant special instruction to the press, to the effect that, although the Entente was continuing to publish new telegrams, the Foreign Office desired all references to the Luxburg affair to ‘disappear from the German press once and for all.’ On March 16, 1917, the press was given the statement that the injuries to the German ships in American harbors had been successfully accomplished. ‘For example, the giant steamer Vaterland has been made completely unusable for America.’ On July 27, 1917, the press was notified that it should refer to Russia as still a brave antagonist. ‘ The successes of our troops are much depreciated if our press continues to speak of the Russian Army as without strength or power of resistance’; which was exactly its condition at this time.
On August 29, 1918, a long instruction to the press was issued, announcing the retirement from the Marne, for ten to twelve kilometres, of Boehn’s army, but forbidding any immediate publication of the fact. The news was told the press so that preparation could be made ‘if the Entente should announce this retreat as a great success, as was probable,’ to meet ‘the urgent necessity through the press of creating a proper understanding and of quieting the public.’ It was further stated to the press that the Marne operations had resulted in a failure, both on the German and Entente sides, to carry out the planned movements, but ‘in any discussion of the situation the failure on the German side is not to be mentioned, while that of the Entente is to be strongly brought out and emphasized.’
But we cannot dig further into this mine of decaying ‘blood and iron.’ The odor is too repellent. Let us turn to one other, and, for this paper, final matter for post-mortem consideration. Can we find an answer — and the true answer is of great significance — to the question: Do the Germans now know that their débâcle was a military one as well as an economic and political one?
Returning from Berlin to Paris in February, I found myself alone, in a compartment on the train from Cologne to Spa, with a German locomotive engineer on his way to help advise the German armistice commission about the delivery of railway engines and cars to the Allies. He was an unusually intelligent man, or seemed so, and was very frank in his talk.
We were discussing the German revolution. He agreed that it was a good thing for Germany; it had to come; the old régime had to go; the time had certainly come for it to go.
‘But,’ he added, ‘what a pity they did n’t put off the revolution a little longer.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
’Why, because we should have won the war soon, and then we should have been in so much better shape. You know, we were not beaten in a military way. It was just our breakdown behind the lines.’
And he then, unintentionally, gave some proof of the conditions ‘behind the lines,’ when he paid ten marks to a passing Scots soldier for a cake of Sunlight soap. The occupying troops along the Rhine can pay many bills with a few bars of soap. That is one thing the blockade did.
But the idea that Germany was not beaten by arms is not limited to the man in the street. In a speech before the National Assembly at Weimar, a Minister of the Majority Socialist government was interrupted by clamorous approval when he declared, ‘We were not beaten; we gave up.’
For the sake of stopping further bloodshed in Europe, and to end the privation and suffering of the civil population of Germany, the unbeaten army of Germany ‘ gave up ’!
Now this would be more important in its significance for the future of Europe if the people of Germany were not tired of Germanic militarism; tired of it and, I really believe, finished with it, at least in its aspect as a policy and means of foreign aggression and conquest. It costs too much; it demands too heavy sacrifices. Germany and Germans are too bound to the tradition of control by force, for any government to maintain control in Germany without recourse to force. Germany herself will have to be controlled by force, from inside or outside, for a long time to come. But German force is, to my mind, also for a long time, and, let us hope, forever, no menace to the outside world. German militarism, as we have understood and feared and hated it, is a thing of the past.
German royalism and German militarism are one and the same thing, or at least so tied together, so much a part of each other, as to be inseparable. I asked a German officer, an official in the Foreign Office, what he thought about German royalism. He answered frankly,—
‘I am a royalist. I believe that a royalist government is the best one for Germany. But if a movement were begun to restore the Kaiser, I would not take part in it. It would be hopeless, and only hurtful. The German people will not have a kaiser; they are through with kaisers and kings.’
And it certainly looks so. They have got rid of the whole lot they possessed, — or were possessed by, — and they show no signs of wanting a new lot. And they are not more friendly to the only slightly lesser kaisers and kings of the General Staff and the military hierarchy altogether. And it is not simply because these men lost the war — although winning it would have made them still masters; but because they started it and kept it going; because, in a word, they were, to the people, German militarism.
Now, if the German people wish to hug to themselves the fond delusion that they were not beaten in a military way, but at the same time do not want, and will not have, any more of German militarism, as we understand it, then I do not know that there is much use in our wasting breath or printer’s ink trying to explain to the German people that they really were beaten in a military way. Perhaps, as I hear many people over here say, there would have been some kind of advantage in sacrificing a few more tens of thousands of lives and limbs, and postponing peace a little longer, by having no armistice and going ahead with the horror until most of Germany’s soldiers were killed or captured. But thoroughly as I believe that teaching Germany and punishing Germany and breaking Germany by war was necessary and right, I do not believe that we ought to have killed any more Germans, or any more of our own sons, or France’s or England’s sons, than were actually necessary to be killed to do what has, I believe, really been done, which is the smashing of German militarism, the removal of the Great Menace to European and worldpeace, and the establishment of a concert of the nations, not for a balance of power, but for an end of war.
Hence, as pacifist, or hater of German militarism, or believer in the chastisement of Germany for the unspeakable woe she has worked, whichever I am, or all that I am, I can find some satisfaction with the web the Fates have woven. I have seen the German-made horrors of Belgium and France and Poland, and now I have lived to see the self-made horrors of Germany. I have seen the Belgians and French struggling, almost hopelessly, it seemed, as they were driven back and ever farther back by the field-gray locust swarms; and yet I have seen the King come back to Brussels, and a French general ordering the terms of Germany’s self-conducted humiliation. I have seen destroyed Ypres and wrecked Soissons; but I have seen Vienna dead in life and Berlin begging for bread. I have seen that the mills of the gods do grind. This may sound vicious; it is really only human. And it includes the thought that such justice is needed to help bring the light into the dark places of this world.
- ' A Belgian Wilderness ’ (March, 1916).↩