Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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appointment to the head of the ministry. To this position he succeeded
September 23, 1862. The purpose to which he now addressed his most
earnest efforts, and which he finally attained, was the unification of the
German states, with Prussia at the head and Austria counted out. Bis-
marck retained office as chancellor through the brief reign of Frederick,
and entered upon that of William II., but came into conflict with him
over the question of the treatment of the laboring classes; and after the
defeat of the government in the elections of February, 1890, he resigned
and retired to his estate at Varzin. He returned for a brief period to
public life as a member of the Reichstag, but he soon retired, and died
at Friedrichsruhe, July 30, 1898. The eloquent and patriotic speech that
follows was made in the German Reichstag in 1888, and embodies the
national love for the Fatherland.]

IF I rise to speak to-day it is not to urge on your accept-
ance the measure the president has mentioned [the
army appropriation]. I do not feel anxious about its adop-
tion, and I do not believe that I can do anything to increase
the majority by which it will be adopted by which it is
all-important at home and abroad that it should be adopted.
Gentlemen of all parties have made up their minds how
they will vote, and I have the fullest confidence in the Ger-
man Reichstag that it will restore our armament to the
height from which we reduced it in the period between 1867


and 1882 ; and this not with respect to the conditions of the
moment, nor with regard to the apprehensions which may
excite the stock exchanges and the mind of the public;
but with a considerate regard for the general condition of
Europe. In speaking, I will have more to say of this than
of the immediate question.

I do not speak willingly, for under existing conditions a
word unfortunately spoken may be ruinous, and the multi-
plication of words can do little to explain the situation,
either to our own people or to foreigners. I speak unwill-
ingly, but I fear that if I kept silent there would be an in-
crease rather than a diminution of the expectations which
have attached themselves to this debate, of unrest in the
public mind, of the disposition to nervousness at home and
abroad. The public might believe the question to be so
difficult and critical that a minister for foreign affairs would
not dare to touch upon it. I speak, therefore, but I can
say truly that I speak with reluctance. I might limit my-
self to recalling expressions to which I gave utterance from
this same place a year and a day ago. Little change has
taken place in the situation since then. I chanced to-day
on a clipping from the "Liberal Gazette," a paper which
I believe stands nearer to my friend, Representative Rich-
ter, than it does to me. It pictures one difficult situation
to elucidate another, but I can take only general notice of
the main points there touched on, with the explanation that
if the situation has since altered, it is for the better rather
than for the worse.

We had then our chief apprehension because of a war
which might come to us from France. Since then, one
peace-loving president has retired from administration in
France, and another peace-loving president has succeeded
him. It is certainly a favorable symptom that in choosing
its new chief executive France has not put its hand into
Pandora's box, but that we have assurance of a continuation
under President Carnot of the peaceful policy represented
by President GreVy. We have, moreover, other changes
in the French administration whose peaceful significance is
even stronger than that of the change in the presidency an
event which involved other causes. Such members of the
ministry as were disposed to subordinate the peace of France


and of Europe to their personal interests have been shoved
out, and others, of whom we have not this to fear, have
taken their places. I think I can state, also and I do it
with pleasure, because I do not wish to excite, but to calm,
the public mind that our relations with France are more
peaceful, much less explosive, than a year ago.

The fears which have been excited during the year have
been occasioned more by Russia than by France, or I may
say that the occasion was rather the exchange of mutual
threats, excitements, reproaches, and provocations which
have taken place during the summer between the Russian
and the French press. But I do not believe that the situ-
ation in Russia is materially different now from what it was
a year ago. The "Liberal Gazette" has printed in display
type what I said then: "Our friendship with Russia sus-
tained no interruption during our war, and it is elevated
above all doubt to-day. We expect neither assault nor
attack nor unfriendliness from Russia." Perhaps this was
printed in large letters to make it easier to attack it ; per-
haps, also, with the hope that I had reached a different con-
clusion in the meantime, and had become convinced that
my confidence in the Russian policy of last year was erro-
neous. This is not the case. The grounds which gave
occasion for it lie partly in the Russian press and partly in
the mobilization of Russian troops. I cannot attach decided
importance to the attitude of the press. They say that it
means more in Russia than it does in France. I am of the
contrary opinion. In France the press is a power which
influences the conclusions of the administration. It is not
such a power in Russia, nor can it be; but in both cases the
press is only spots of printer's ink on paper, against which
we have no war to wage. There can be no ground of prov-
ocation for us in it. Behind each article is only one man
the man who has guided the pen to send the article into the
world. Even in a Russian paper, we may say in an indepen-
dent Russian paper, secretly supported by French subsidies,
the case is not altered. The pen which has written in such
a paper an article hostile to Germany has no one behind it
but the man whose hand held the pen, the man who in his
cabinet produced the lucubration and the protector which
every Russian newspaper is wont to have that is to say,


the official more or less important in Russian party politics
who gives such a paper his protection. But both of them
do not weigh a feather against the authority of his majesty,
the Czar of Russia.

Since the great war of 1870 was concluded, has there
been any year, I ask you, without its alarm of war? Just
as we were returning, at the beginning of the seventies,
they said: When will we have the next war? When will
the "revanche" be fought? In five years at latest. They
said to us then: "The question of whether we will have
war, and of the success with which we shall have it (it was
a representative of the center who upbraided me with it in
the Reichstag), depends to-day only on Russia. Russia
alone has the decision in her hands."

Perhaps I will return to this question later. In the
meantime, I will continue the pictures of these forty years,
and recall that in 1876 a war cloud gathered in the south;
that in 1877 the Balkan war was only prevented by the
Berlin congress from putting the whole of Europe in a
blaze, and that quite suddenly after the congress a new
vision of danger was disclosed to us in the East because
Russia was offended by our action at the conference. Per-
haps, later on, I will recur to this also if my strength will

Then followed a certain reaction in the intimate rela-
tions of the three emperors which allowed us to look for
some time into the future with more assurance ; yet on the
first signs of uncertainty in their relations, or because of the
lapsing of the agreements they had made with each other,
our public opinion showed the same nervous and, I think,
exaggerated excitement with which we had to contend last
year which, at the present time, I hold to be specially un-
called for. But because I think this nervousness uncalled
for now, I am far from concluding that we do not need an
increase of our war footing. On the contrary. Therefore
I have unrolled before you this tableau of forty years per-
haps not to your amusement. If not, I beg your pardon,
but had I omitted a year from that which you yourselves
had experienced with shuddering, the impression might
have been lost that the state of anxiety before wars, before
continually extending complications, the entanglements of


which no one can anticipate that this condition is perma-
nent with us; that we must reckon upon it as a permanency;
and that independently of the circumstances of the moment,
with the self-confidence of a great nation which is strong
enough under any circumstances to take its fate into its own
hands against any coalition; with the confidence in itself
and in God which its own power and the righteousness of its
cause, a righteousness which the care of the government
will always keep with Germany that we shall be able to
foresee every possibility, and, doing so, to look forward to

The long and the short of it is that in these days we
must be as strong as we can ; and if we will, we can be
stronger than any other country of equal resources in the
world. I will return to that. And it would be a crime not
to use our resources. If we do not need an army prepared
for war, we do not need to call for it. It depends merely
on the not very important question of the cost and it is
not very important, though I mention it incidentally. I
have no mind to go into figures, financial or military, but
France during the last few years has spent in improving
her forces three thousand millions, while we have spent
hardly fifteen hundred millions, including that we are now
asking for. But I leave the ministers of war and of finance
to deal with that. When I say that we must strive contin-
ually to be ready for all emergencies, I advance the propo-
sition that, on account of our geographical position, we
must make greater efforts than other powers would be
obliged to make in view of the same ends. We lie in the
middle of Europe. We have at least three fronts on which
we can be attacked. France has only an eastern boundary;
Russia only its western, exposed to assault. We are, more-
over, more exposed than any other people to the danger
of hostile coalition because of our geographical position,
and because, perhaps, of the feeble power of cohesion
which, until now, the German people has exhibited when
compared with others. At any rate, God has placed us in
a position where our neighbors will prevent us from falling
into a condition of sloth of wallowing in the mire of mere
existence. On one side of us He has set the French, a
most warlike and restless nation ; and He has allowed to


become exaggerated in the Russians fighting tendencies
which had not become apparent in them during the earlier
part of the century. So we are spurred forward on both
sides to endeavors which, perhaps, we would not make
otherwise. The pike in the European carp pond will not
allow us to become carp, because they make us feel their
stings in both our sides. They force us to an effort which,
perhaps, we would not make otherwise, and they force us
also to a cohesion among ourselves as Germans which is
opposed to our innermost nature ; otherwise we would pre-
fer to struggle with each other. But when we are enfiladed
by the press of France and Russia, it compels us to stand
together, and through such compression it will so increase
our fitness for cohesion that we may finally come into the
same condition of indivisibility which is natural to other
people which thus far we have lacked. We must respond
to this dispensation of Providence, however, by making our-
selves so strong that the pike can do nothing more than
encourage us to exert ourselves. We had, years ago, in
the times of the Holy Alliance (I recall an old American
song which I learned from my dead friend, Motley:

"In good old colonial times,
When we lived under a king) "

we had then patriarchal times, and with them plenty of
stakes wherewith to make a palisade, and plenty of dikes
to keep out the wild European floods. That was the Ger-
man Confederation, and the true beginning, and continu-
ance, and conclusion of the German Confederation was the
Holy Alliance, for whose service it was made. We de-
pended on Russia and Austria, and, above everything, we
relied on our own modesty, which did not allow us to speak
before the rest of the company had spoken. We have lost
all that, and we must help ourselves. The Holy Alliance
was shipwrecked in the Crimean war through no fault of
ours. The German Confederation has been destroyed by
us because our existence under it was neither tolerable for
us nor for the German people. Both have ceased to exist.
After the dissolution of the German Confederation, after
the war of 1866, we would have been obliged to reckon on


isolation for Prussia or north Germany, had we been obliged
to stop at reckoning with the fact that on no side would
they forgive us the new and great successes which we had
obtained. Never do other powers look with pleasure on
the triumphs of a neighbor.

Our connection with Russia was not disturbed, however,
by the events of 1866. In 1866 the memory of the politics
of Count von Buol and of Austrian politics during the
Crimean war was too fresh in Russia to allow them to
think of supporting the Austrian against the Prussian mon-
archy, or of renewing the campaign which Czar Nicholas
had conducted for Austria in 1849. For us, therefore, there
remained a natural inclination toward Russia, which, fore-
seen in the last century, had in this its recognized origin in
the politics of Czar Alexander I. To him Prussia owes
thanks indeed. In 1813 he could easily have turned on the
Polish frontiers and concluded peace. Later he could have
brought about the fall of Prussia. We have then, as a fact,
to thank, for the restoration of the old footing, the good-
will of Czar Alexander I. ; or, if you are inclined to be
skeptical, say, to the need felt in Russian politics for Prussia.
This feeling of gratitude has controlled the administration
of Frederick William the Third.

The balance which Russia had on its account with
Prussia was used up through the friendship, I may say
through the serviceability, of Prussia during the entire reign
of Czar Nicholas, and, I may add, settled at Olmultz. At
Olmutz Czar Nicholas did not take the part of Prussia, did
not shield us from adverse experience, did not guard us
against humiliation; for, on the whole, he leaned toward
Austria more than toward Prussia. The idea that during
his administration he owed thanks to Russia results from
a historical legend. But while Czar Nicholas lived, we, on
our side, did not violate the tradition with Russia. During
the Crimean War, as I have already told you, we stood by
Russia in spite of threats and of some hazard. His maj-
esty, the late king, had no desire to play a decided part in
the war with a strong army, as I think he could easily have
done. We had concluded treaties by which we were bound
to put a hundred thousand men in the field by a set time.
I advised his majesty that we should put, not a hundred


thousand, but two hundred thousand in the field, and to
put them there a cheval, so that we could use them right
and left ; so that his majesty would have been the final
arbiter of the fortunes of the Crimean War. But his late
majesty was not inclined to warlike undertakings, and the
people ought to be grateful to him for it. I was younger
and less experienced then than I am now. We bore no
malice for Olmutz, however, during the Crimean War. We
came out of the Crimean War as a friend of Russia, and
while I was ambassador to Russia I enjoyed the fruit of this
friendship in a very favorable reception at court and in Rus-
sian society. Our attitude toward Austria in the Italian
war was not to the taste of the Russian cabinet, but it had
no unfavorable consequences. Our Austrian war of 1866
was looked upon with a certain satisfaction. No one in
Russia then grudged Austria what she got. In the year
1870 we had, in taking our stand and making our defense,
the satisfaction of coincidently rendering a service to our
Russian friends in the Black Sea. The opening of the
Black Sea by the contracting powers would never have been
probable if the Germans had not been victorious in the
neighborhood of Paris. Had we been defeated, for exam-
ple, I think the conclusion of the London agreement would
not have been so easily in Russia's favor. So the war of
1870 left no ill humor between us and Russia.

The bill will bring us an increase of troops capable of
bearing arms a possible increase, which, if we do not need
it, we need not call out, but can leave the men at home.
But we will have it ready for service if we have arms for it.
And that is a matter of primary importance. I remember
the carbine which was furnished by England to our land-
wehr in 1813, and with which I had some practise as a
hunter that was no weapon for a soldier. We can get
arms suddenly for an emergency, but if we have them ready
for it, then this bill will count for a strengthening of our
peace forces and a reenforcement of the peace league as
great as if a fourth great power had joined the alliance with
an army of seven hundred thousand men the greatest yet
put in the field.

I think, too, that this powerful reenforcement of the
army will have a quieting effect on our own people, and will


in some measure relieve the nervousness of our exchanges,
of our press, and of our public opinion. I hope they all will
be comforted if they make it clear to themselves that after
this reenforcement, and from the moment of the signature
and publication of the bill, the soldiers are there. But
arms are necessary, and we must provide better ones if we
wish to have an army of triarians of the best manhood
that we have among our people ; of fathers of family over
thirty years old. And we must give them the best arms
that can be had We must not send them into battle with
what we have not thought good enough for our young troops
of the line. But our steadfast men, our fathers of family,
our Samsons, such as we remember seeing hold the bridge
at Versailles, must have the best arms on their shoulders,
and the best clothing to protect them against the weather
which can be had from anywhere. We must not be nig-
gardly in this. And I hope it will reassure our countrymen
if they think now it will be the case as I do not believe
that we are likely to be attacked on both sides at once.
There is a possibility of it, for, as I have explained to you
in the history of the Forty Years' War, all manner of coali-
tions may occur. But if it should occur we could hold the
defensive on our borders with a million good soldiers. At
the same time we could hold in reserve a half million or
more almost a million, indeed and send them forward as
they were needed. Some one has said to me: "The only
result of that will be that the others will increase their forces
also." But they cannot. They have long ago reached the
maximum. We lowered it in 1867 because we thought
that, having the North-German Confederation, we could
make ourselves easier and exempt men over thirty-two. In
consequence our neighbors have adopted a longer term of
service many of them a twenty-year term. They have a
maximum as high as ours, but they cannot touch us in
quality. Courage is equal in all civilized nations. The
Russians or the French acquit themselves as bravely as the
Germans. But our people, our seven hundred thousand
men, are veterans trained in service, tried soldiers who have
not yet forgotten their training. And no people in the
world can touch us in this, that we have the material for
officers and under officers to command this army. That is


what they cannot imitate. The whole tendency of popular
education leads to that in Germany as it does in no other
country. The measure of education necessary to fit an
officer or under officer to meet the demands which the
soldier makes on him exists with us to a much greater
extent than with any other people. We have more mate-
rial for officers and under officers than any other country,
and we have a corps of officers that no other country can
approach. In this and in the excellence of our corps of
under officers, who are really the pupils of our officers'
corps, lies our superiority. The course of education which
fits an officer to meet the strong demands made on his
position for self-denial, for the duty of comradeship, and
for fulfilling the extraordinarily difficult social duties whose
fulfilment is made necessary among us by the comradeship
which, thank God ! exists in the highest degree among
officers and men without the least detriment to discipline
they cannot imitate us in that that relationship between
officers and men which, with a few unfortunate exceptions,
exists in the German army. But the exceptions confirm
the rule, and so we can say that no German officer leaves
his soldiers under fire, but brings them out even at the risk
of his own life ; while, on the other hand, no German sol-
dier, as we know by experience, forsakes his officer.

If other armies intend to supply with officers and sub-
officers as many troops as we intend to have at once, then
they must educate the officers; for no untaught fool is fit to
command a company, and much less is he fit to fulfil the
difficult duties which an officer owes to his men if he is to
keep their love and respect. The measure of education
which is demanded for that, and the qualities which, among
us especially, are expressed in comradeship and sympathy
by the officer that no rule and no regulation in the world
can impress on the officers of other countries. In that we
are superior to all, and in that they cannot imitate us. On
that point I have no fear.

But there is still another advantage to be derived from
the adoption of this bill : The very strength for which we
strive shows our peaceful disposition. That sounds para-
doxical, but still it is true.

No man would attack us when we have such a powerful


war machine as we wish to make the German army. If I
were to come before you to-day and say to you supposing
me to be convinced that the conditions are different from
what they are if I were to say to you: "We are strongly
threatened by France and Russia; it is evident that we will
be attacked ; my conviction as a diplomat, considering the
military necessities of the case, is that it is expedient for us
to take the defensive by striking the first blow, as we are
now in a position to do ; an aggressive war is to our advan-
tage, and I beg the Reichstag for a milliard or half a mil-
liard to begin it at once against both our neighbors"
indeed, gentlemen, I do not know that you would have
sufficient confidence in me to consent. I hope you would

But if you were to do it, it would not satisfy me. If
we, in Germany, should wish to wage war with the full ex-
ertion of our national strength, it must be a war with which
all who engage in it, all who offer themselves as sacrifices
in it in short the whole nation, takes part as one man ; it
must be a people's war; it must be a war carried on with
the enthusiasm of 1870, when we were ruthlessly attacked.
I well remember the ear-splitting, joyful shouts at the
Cologne railway station ; it was the same from Berlin to
Cologne; and it was the same here in Berlin. The waves
of public feeling in favor of war swept us in to it whether
we wished or not. It must always be so if the power of a
people such as ours is to be exerted to the full. It will
be very difficult, however, to make it clear to the provinces
and states of the confederation and to their peoples that
war is now unavoidably necessary. They would ask: "Are
you sure of that? Who knows? " In short, when we came
to actual hostilities, the weight of such imponderable con-
siderations would be much heavier against us than the mate-
rial opposition we would meet from our enemies. "Holy
Russia" would be irritated; France would bristle with bay-
onets as far as the Pyrenees. It would be the same every-
where. A war which was not decreed by the popular will
could be carried on if once the constituted authorities had
finally decided on it as a necessity; it would be carried on

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 25 of 43)