Harry Alverson Franck.

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elements. They would have considered it unseemly to
make a business of thinking for themselves in political
matters, something akin to accepting a position for which



they had no previous training. There was that to arouse
pity in the success with which the governing class had
made use of this simple, unquestioning attitude for its own
ends. One felt certain that these honest, straightforward
victims of premeditated official lies would never have lent
a helping hand had they known that the Fatherland was
engaged in a war of conquest and not a war of defense.

Here again it was the mother who was most outspoken
toward what she called "the wicked wrecking of poor,
innocent Germany." The father and the children expressed
themselves more calmly, if at all, though it was evident
that their convictions were the same. Apparently they
had reached the point where further defense of what they
regarded as the plain facts of the situation seemed a waste
of words.

"I cried when the armistice was signed," the mother
confided to me one day, "for it meant that our enemies
had done what they set out to do many years ago. They
deliberately planned to destroy us, and they succeeded.
But they were never able to defeat our wonderful armies
in the field. England starved us, otherwise she would
never have won. Then she fostered this Bolshevismus and
Spartakismus and the wicked revolution that imdermined
us at the rear. But our brave soldiers at the front never
gave way : they would never have retreated a yard but for
the breakdown at home."

She was a veritable mine of stories of atrocities by the
English, the French, and especially the Russians, but she
insisted there had never been one committed by the Germans.

"Our courageous soldiers were never like that," she pro-
tested. "They did not make war that way, like our
heartless enemies."

Yet in the same breath she rambled on into anecdotes
of what any one of less prejudiced viewpoint would have
called atrocities, but which she advanced as examples of



the fighting quahties of the German troops. There again
came in that curious German psychology, or mentaHty, or
insanity, or whatever you choose to call it, which has always
astounded the world at large. "Heinie" had seen the
hungry soldiers recoup themselves by taking food away
from the wicked Rumanians; he had often told how they
entered the houses and carried away everything portable
to sell to the Jews at a song, that the next battle should
not find them unprepared. The officers had just pretended
they did not see the men, for they could not let them go
unfed. They had taken things themselves, too, especially
the reserve officers. But then, war is war. If only . I
could get "Heinie" to tell some of the things he had seen
and heard ; how, for instance, the dastardly Russians had
screamed when they were pushed back into the marshes,
whole armies of them.

I found more interest in "Heinle's" stories of the insuper-
able difficulties he had overcome as a Feldwebel in keeping
up the discipline of his men after the failure of the last great
German offensive, but I did not press that point in her

"No," she went on, in answer to another question, "the
Germans never did anything against women. Those are all
English lies! Heinie never told me of a single case" —
"Heinie" was, of course, no more apt to tell mother such
details than would one of the well-bred boys of our own
Puritan society, but I kept the mental comment to myself.
"Of course there were those shameless Polish girls, and
French and Belgian hussies, who gave themselves freely
to the soldiers, but. . .

* * Certainly the Kaiser will come back, ' ' she insisted. * * We
need our Kaiser; we need princes, to govern the Empire.
What are Ebert and all that crowd? Handarbeiter, hand
workers, and nothing more. It is absurd to think that they
can do the work of rulers. We need our princes, who have



had generations of training in governing. Siehst du, I will
give you an example. We have been Handelsgartner for
generations. Hermann knows all about the business of
gardening, because he was trained to it as a boy, nicht wahr?
Do you think a man who had never planted a cabbage
could come and do Hermann's work? Ausgeschlossen!
Well, it is just as foolish for a Handarbeiter like Ebert to
attempt to become a ruler as it would be for one of our
princes to try to run Hermann's garden.

"Germany is divided into three classes — the rulers, the
middle class (to which we belong), and the proletariat or
hand-workers, which includes Ebert and all these new
upstarts. It is ridiculous to be getting these distinctions
all mixed up. Leave the governing to the princes and
their army officers and the Junkers. We use the nickname
'Junker' for our noble gentlemen, von Bemstorff, for
instance, who is well known in America, and all the others
who have a real right to use the 'von' before their names,
whose ancestors were first highway robbers and then bold
warriors, and who are naturally very proud" — she evidently
thought this pride quite proper and fitting. ' ' Then our army
officers are chosen from the very best families and can
marry only in the gelehrten class, and only then if the girl
has a dowry of at least eight hundred thousand marks.
So they preserve all the nobility of their caste down through
every generation and keep themselves quite free from
middle-class taint — the real officers I am speaking of,
not the Reservisten, who are just ordinary middle-class men,
merchants and doctors and teachers and the like, acting
as officers during the war. Those are the men who are
trained to govern, and the only ones who can govern."

I knew, of course, that the great god of class was still
ruling in Germany, but I confess that this bald statement
of that fact left me somewhat flabbergasted. It is well
to be reminded now and again, however, that the Teuton




regards politics, diplomacy, and government as lifelong
professions and not merely as the fleeting pastimes of
lawyers, automobile-makers, and unsuccessful farmers; it
clarifies our vision and aids us to see his problems more
nearly as he sees them.

Several rambles in and about Schwerin only confirmed the
impressions I had already formed — that the region was
hopelessly conservative and that it had really seriously
suffered from the war and the blockade. On the surface
there was often no great change to be seen; but scratch
beneath it anywhere and a host of social skeletons was sure
to come to light. Even the famous old Schweriner-
schloss, perhaps the most splendid castle in Germany,
showed both this conservatism and the distress of the past
years. The repairs it was undergoing after a recent fire
had ceased abruptly with the flight of the reigning family
of Mechlenburg, but the marks of something more serious
than the conflagration showed in its seedy outward appear-
ance. Yet not a chair had been disturbed within it, for
all the revolution, and guards stationed about it by the
Soldiers' Council protected it as zealously as if they, too,
were waiting for ' ' our princes " to come back again. Almost
the only sign of the new order of things was the sight of a
score or more of discharged soldiers calmly fishing in the
great Schwerinersee about the castle, a crime that would
have met with summary vengeance in the old ducal days.

Rumor having it that the peace terms were to be pub-
lished that afternoon, I hastily took train one morning
back to Berlin, that I might be in the heart of the uproar
they were expected to arouse. At the frontier of Mech-
lenburg soldiers of the late dukedom went carefully through
passengers' baggage in search of food, particularly eggs,
of which a local ordinance forbade the exportation. The
quest seemed to be thorough and I saw no tips passed, but
there was considerable successful smuggling, which came



to light as soon as the train was well under way again.
A well-dressed merchant beside me boastfully displayed a
twenty-mark sausage in the bottom of his innocent-looking
hand-bag, and his neighbors, not to be outdone in proof of
cleverness, showed their caches of edibles laboriously con-
cealed in brief-cases, hat-boxes, and laundry-bags.

"The peasants have grown absolutely shameless," it was
agreed. "They have the audacity to demand a mark or
more for a single egg, and twenty for a chicken" — ^in other
words, the rascals had turned upon the bourgeois some
of his own favorite tricks, taking advantage of conditions
which these same merchants would have considered legiti-
mate sources of profit in their own business. Wrath against
the "conscienceless" countrymen was unhmited, but no
one thought of shaming the smugglers for their cheating.

The contrast between the outward courtesy of these
punctilious examples of the well-to-do class and their total
lack of real, active politeness was provoking. A first-class
compartment had been reserved for a sick soldier who was
plainly on his last journey, with a comrade in attendance.
Travelers visibly able to stand in the corridor crowded
in upon him until the section built for six held thirteen,
and forced the invalid to crouch upright in a corner. Women
were rudely, almost brutally, refused seats, unless they
were pretty, in which case they were overwhelmed with
fawning attentions.

A discussion of America broke out in the compartment
I occupied. It resembled an exchange of opinions on the
character of some dear friend of the gathering who had
inadvertently committed some slight social breach. There
was not a word at which the most chauvinistic of my fellow-
countrymen could have taken offense. When I had listened
for some time to the inexplicable expressions of affection
for the nation that had turned the scales against their
beloved Fatherland, I discarded my incognito. My com-



panions acknowledged themselves surprised, then redoubled
their assertions of friendliness. Was their attitude a mere
pose, assumed on the chance of being heard by some repre-
sentative of the country they hoped to placate? It seemed
unlikely, for they had had no reason to suspect my national-
ity. I decided to overstep the bounds of veracity in the
hope of getting at their real thoughts, if those they were
expressing were merely assumed.

"I said I am an American," I broke in, **but do not mis-
understand me. We Chileans are quite as truly Americans
as those grasping Yankees who have been fighting against

To my astonishment, the entire group sprang instantly
to the defense of my real countrymen as against those I had
falsely adopted. All the silly slanders I had once heard in
Chile they discarded as such, and advanced proofs of
Yankee integrity which even I could not have assembled.

"You Chileans have nothing to fear from American
aggression," the possessor of the twenty-mark sausage
concluded, reassuringly, as the rumble of the train crossing
the Spree set us to gathering our traps together. "The
North Americans are a well-meaning people; but they are
young, and England and France have led them temporarily
astray, though they have not succeeded in corrupting their
simple natures."



LEST he talk all the pleasure out of the rambles ahead^
^ let us get the German's opinion of the war cleared up
before we start, even if we have to reach forward now and
then for some of the things we shall hear on the way. I
propose, therefore, to give him the floor unreservedly for
a half-hour, without interruption, unless it be to throw in a
question now and then to make his position and his some-
times curious mental processes clearer. • The reader who
feels that the prisoner at the bar is not entitled to tell his
side of the story can easily skip this chapter.

Though I did not get it all from any one person — ^no resi-
dent of the Fatherland talked so long in the himgry armistice
days — the German point of view averaged about as follows.
There were plenty of variations from this central line, and I
shall attempt to show the frontier of these deviations as
we go along. We shall probably not find this statement
of his point of view very original; most of his arguments
we have heard before, chiefly while the question of our
coming or not coming into the war was seething. Fifteen
years ago, when I first visited him at home, I did not gather
the impression that every German thought alike. To-day
he seems to reach the same conclusions by the same curious
trains of thought, no matter what his caste, profession,
experience, and to some extent his environment — for even
those who remained far from the scene of conflict during






all the war seem to have worked themselves into much the
same mental attitude as their people at home. But then,
this is also largely true of his enemies, among whom one
hears almost as frequently the tiresome repetition of the
same stereotyped conclusions that have in some cases been
deliberately manufactured for public consumption. One
comes at times to question whether there is really any gain
nowadays in running about the earth gathering men's
opinions, for they so often bear the factory-made label,
the trade-mark of one great central plant, like the material
commodities of our modern industrial world. The press,
the cable, the propagandist, and the printer have made a
thinking-machine, as Edison has made a talking-machine,
and Burroughs a mechanical arithmetic.

The first, of course, if not the burning question of the
controversy was, who started the war, and why? The
German at home showed a certain impatience* at this query,
as a politician might at a question that he had already
repeatedly explained to his constituents. But with care
and perseverance he could usually be drawn into the dis-
cussion, whereupon he outlined the prevailing opinion,
with such minor variations as his slight individuality per-
mitted; almost- always without heat, always without that
stone-blind prejudice that is so frequent among the Allied
man in the street. Then he fell into apathetic silence or
harked back to the ever-present question of food. But
let him tell it in his own way.

"The war was started by circumstances. War had be-
come a necessity to an over-prosperous world, as bleeding
sometimes becomes necessary to a fat person. Neither side
was wholly and deliberately guilty of beginning it, but
if there is actual personal guilt, it is chiefly that of the
Allies, especially England. We understand the hatred of
France. It came largely from fear, though to a great
extent unnecessary fear. The ruling party in Russia

13 179


wanted war, wanted it as early as 1909, for without it they
would have lost their power. It was a question of interior
politics with them. But with England there was less
excuse. In* her case it was only envy and selfishness ; the
petty motives that sprout in a shopkeeper's soul. We were
making successful concurrenz against her in all the mar-
kets of the world — though by our German word 'con-
current' we mean more than mere commercial com-
petition; she saw herself in danger of losing the hegemony
of Europe, her position as the most important nation on the
globe. She set out deliberately to destroy us, to vernichten,
to bring us to nothing. We hate" — though come to think
of it I do not recall once having heard a German use the
word hate in describing his own feelings, nor did I run
across any reference to the notdrious "Hymn of Hate"
during all my travels through the Empire — "we dislike,
then, we blame England most, for it was she more than
any other one party in the controversy who planned and
nourished it. How? By making an Entente against us
that surrounded us with a steel wall; by bolstering up the
revanche feeling in France; by urging on the ruling class
in Russia; by playing on the dormant brutality of the
Russian masses and catering to the natural fanaticism
of the French, deliberately keeping alive their desire to
recover Alsace-Lorraine. Edward VII set the ball roUing
with his constant visits to Paris."

"I had much intercourse and correspondence with French-
men before the war," said a German professor of European
history, "and I found a willingness among those of my
own generation, those between thirty and fifty, to drop the
matter, to admit that, after all, Alsace-Lorraine was as much
German as French. Then some ten years ago I began to
note a change of tone. The younger generation was being
pumped full of the revanche spirit from the day they started
to school; in foreign countries every French text-book in-



cited crocodile tears over the poor statue of Strassburg,
with its withered flowers. It was this younger generation
that brought France into the war — this and Clemenceau,
who is still living back in 1870."

"But the despatches, the official state papers already pub-
lished, show that England was doing her best to avoid ..."

* ' Oh, you simple Americans ! You do not seem ta realize
that such things are made for foreign consumption, made
to sell, to flash before a gaping world, to publish in the
school-books of the future, not for actual use, not to be
seriously believed by the experienced and the disillusioned.
That has been the story of European politics for centuries,
since long before you dear, n^ive people came into existence.
You are like a new-comer dropping into a poker game that
has been going on since long before you learned to dis-
tinguish one card from another. You do not guess that
the deck is pin-pricked and that every kind of underhand
trick is tacitly allowed, so long as the player can 'get away
with it.' Now if we could get the really secret papers that
passed back and forth, especially if we could get what went
on in private conversation or 'way inside the heads of Grey
and the rest of them ..."

"Yes, but — ^you will pardon my naivete, I am sure —
but if England had long deliberately planned a European
war, why did she have nothing but a contemp — but a very
small arrriy ready when it broke out?"

"Because she expected, as usual, to have some one else
do her fighting for her. And' she succeeded ! When they
were aknost burned beyond recovery she. got America to
puU her chestnuts out of the fire — and now America does
not even get enough out of it to salve her scorched fingers.
But for America we should have won the war, unquestion-
ably. But England has lost it, in a way, too, for she has
been forced to let America assume the most important place
in the world. You will have a war with England your-



selves for that very reason in a few years, as soon as she
catches her breath and discovers you at the head of the
table, in the seat which she has so long arrogated to herself.
You will be her next victim — ^with Japan jumping on your
back the moment it is turned.

"Yes, in one sense Germany did want war. She had to
have it or die, for the steel wall England had been forging
about her for twenty years was crushing our life out and
had to be broken. Then, too, there was one party, the
'Old Germans' — what you call the Junkers — that was not
averse to such a contest. The munition-makers wanted
war, of course; they always do. Some of our generals" —
Ludendorff was the name most frequently heard in this
connection; Hindenburg never — "wanted it. But it is
absurd to accuse the Kaiser of starting it, simply because
he was the figurehead, the most prominent bugaboo, a
catchword for the mob. The HohenzoUerns did us much
damage; but they also brought us much good. The Kaiser
loved peace and did all in his power to keep it. He was the
only emperor — we were the only large nation that had waged
no war or stolen no territory since 1871. But the English-
French-Russian combination drove us into a corner. We
had to have the best army in the world, just as England
has to have the best navy. We had no world-conquering
ambitions; we had no 'Drang nach Osten,' which our enemies
have so often charged against us, except for trade. Our
diplomats were not what they should have been ; Bethmann-
Hollweg has as much guilt as any one in the whole affair,
on our side. We have had no real diplomats, except von
Biilow, since Bismarck. But the Germans as a nation
never wanted war. The Kaiser would not have declared it
even when he did had he not feared that the Social Demo-
crats would desert him in the crisis if it were put off longer.
We had only self -protection as our war aim from the begin-
ning, but we did not dare openly say so for fear the enemy,



which had decided on our annihilation, would take it as an
admission of weakness."

This v/hitewashing of the Kaiser was universal in Ger-
many, as far as my personal experience goes. No one,
whatever his age, sex, caste, place of residence, or political
complexion, accused him of being more than an accessory
before the. fact. The most rabid — pardon, I never heard a
German speak rabidly on any subject, imless it was perhaps
the lack of food and tobacco — the most decidedly monarchi-
cal always softened any criticism of the ex-emperor with the
footnote that he, after all, was not chiefly to blame. His
bad counselors, the force of circumstances over which he
had Httle control . . . and so on. Then there were those,
particularly, though not entirely, in the back-waters of
Prussia, the women especially, who gazed after his retreated
figure pityingly, almost tearfully, as if he had been the
principal sufferer from the catastrophe.

Nor did I ever hear any German, not even a SociaHst of
the extremest left, not even a Bavarian, admit that Ger-
many was wholly in the wrong. Once only did I hear a man
go so far as to assert that Germany had at least half the
guilt of the war. He was a stanch-minded, rather con-
servative Socialist living in the Polish atmosphere of Brom-
berg. On the other hand, citizens of the Allied countries,
who had dwelt in Germany since 1914, were all more or
less firm converts to the England-France-Russia theory.
Such is the power of environment. An English governess,
who had lost a brother in the war and who was returning
home for the first time since it began, expressed the fear
that she would soon be compelled to retiun to Germany
to preserve her peace of mind. A few laid the blame
entirely to Russia; some charged it all to "the Jews,"
implying a rather extraordinary power on the part of the
million or so of that race within the Empire.

Now and then one ran across a simple old countryman



who took his opinions wholly and unreservedly as they had
been delivered to him, without ever having opened the
package. "How did it start? Why, let's see. They
killed somer prince down in . . . somewhere or other, I
never can renlember these foreign names, and his wife, too,
if I remember, and then. Russia ..." and so on. He was
of the same class as those who asserted, "I don't know
when gas was first used, or just where, but it was by the
wicked French — or was it the scoundrelly English?" But
these simple, swallow-it-whole yokels were on the whole
more rare than they would have been in many another
land. However much we may sneer at her Kultur, the
Kaiser regime brought to the most distant corners of the
Empire a certain degree of instruction, even if it was only
of a deliberately Teutonic brand. In the great majority
of cases one was astounded at the clear, comprehensive,
and, within limits, unprejudiced view of all the field of
European politics of many a peasant grubbing out his
existence on a remote hillside. More than one of them
could have exchanged minds with some of our national
officials to the decided advantage of the latter. My memory
still harks back to the tall, ungainly farmer in whose lowly
little inn I spent the last night of my German tramp, a
man who had lived almost incessantly in the trenches
during all the war, and returned home still a "simple soldier,"
who topped off a sharp, clear-cut expose of the politics
of Europe for the past half -century with: "Who started it?

Online LibraryHarry Alverson FranckVagabonding through changing Germany → online text (page 15 of 29)