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LORD HALDANE'S DIARY OF NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN GERMANY AND
ENGLAND IN 1912
A distinguished English lawyer and judge once happily said that a little truth would leak out even from the most carefully prepared affidavit. Not a little, but a very great deal of truth is appearing in the carefully prepared documents which have recently seen the light, such as Lichnowsky's Memorandum and documents of a similar nature.
Viscount Haldane has wisely followed the lead of the late Imperial German Ambassador to London by issuing an account of his mission to Berlin in 1912; or rather the British Government, unlike Lichnowsky's master, has itself issued the report of its minister of peace, instead of confiscating Lord Haldane's diary, or exposing its illustrious author to charges of unpatriotic conduct and to fear of criminal prosecution.
Without attributing to the British Government impeccability or intimating that its servants are not of the race of Adam, the reason for the publication of Lord Haldane's diary, as yet only in part, is evident from the most casual inspection; for his mission was one conceived and executed in the desire for peace, and the very failure of the mission to accomplish its purpose is a tribute to the statesman who undertook it and redounds to the credit of the government permitting it, of which Lord Haldane was then a member.
For reasons which have become or are becoming common property, the relations between Great Britain and Germany were very strained for some years past, especially so since the dismissal of Bismarck in 1890 by his youthful Imperial and imperious master, William II, and the death of Queen Victoria, and they were felt to be grave not merely by the inner circle of the government, but by the well-informed public as well. Indeed, the settlement of outstanding questions with France and with Russia was not due solely to the desire of the British Government to be on good terms with its neighbor across the Channel, and with its neighbor in the Far East, but to the presentiment that some day Great
Britain might find itself at war with Germany, which was more than a possibility, in view of the unfriendly disposition, to put it mildly, shown by the German people at Britain's conduct in the Transvaal, to mention but a single instance. In international conferences the opposing policies of the two countries caused not a little friction, and at the Second Hague Peace Conference of 1907 the smoldering distrust by each of the motives of the other leaped into flame on more than one occasion. Indeed, in a certain sense, and on vital questions, as they have turned out to be, that Conference was little more than a struggle of each for position in the conflict which the delegates of participating Powers felt to be impending between the two countries.
To recall but a single incident. In the eighth plenary session of the Conference, held on October 9, 1907, Sir Ernest Satow, on behalf of Great Britain, said, in speaking of the proposed convention relating to the use of mines, that adequate consideration had not been given to the "right of neutrals to protection, or of humanitarian sentiments which can not be neglected"; and after calling attention to the defects of the project adopted by the Conference, he declared on behalf of his government that "it will not be permissible to presume the legitimacy of an action for the mere reason that this convention has not prohibited it. This is a principle which we desire to affirm, and which it will be impossible for any state to ignore, whatever its power.” Immediately Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, feeling that the shaft was directed toward him, arose, and repeating views which he had already expressed in the commission, said: “Conscience, good sense, and the sentiment of duty imposed by principles of humanity will be the surest guides for the conduct of sailors and will constitute the most effective guaranty against abuses.” Amid a distressing and breathless silence on the part of his auditors, and in a voice choked with passion, and his huge frame trembling with emotion he continued: “The officers of the German navy, I loudly proclaim it, will always fulfill in the strictest fashion the duties which emanate from the unwritten law of humanity and civilization."
Still the situation, although dangerous, was not hopeless, and responsible statesmen of Great Britain sought to postpone, if they could not wholly avert, the storm which had already become much larger than a man's hand. The diplomacy of Sir Edward Grey was successful for the time in preventing the wars of the Balkan states from spreading to and involving the larger European states, and on the eve of
the great war of 1914 he negotiated an agreement with Prince Lichnowsky conceding the rights that Germany claimed in Mesopotamia and in connection with the Bagdad Railway. During the course of the negotiations preceding the war, and indeed the very day before the fatal first of August, Sir Edward Grey, speaking in the first person to the British Ambassador at Berlin, wrote:
I said to German Ambassador this morning that if Germany could get any reasonable proposal put forward which made it clear that Germany and Austria were striving to preserve European peace, and that Russia and France would be unreasonable if they rejected it, I would support it at St. Petersburg and Paris, and go the length of saying that if Russia and France would not accept it, His Majesty's Government would have nothing more to do with the consequences.?
And the day previous to this, Sir Edward Grey had sent this remarkable instruction to the British Ambassador at Berlin:
You should speak to the Chancellor in the above sense, and add most earnestly that the one way of maintaining the good relations between England and Germany is that they should continue to work together to preserve the peace of Europe. ...
And I will say this: If the peace of Europe can be preserved, and the present crisis safely passed, my own endeavor will be to promote some arrangement to which Germany could be a party, by which she could be assured that no aggressive or hostile policy would be pursued against her or her allies by France, Russia, and ourselves, jointly or separately.?
The desire of Great Britain, however, to preserve friendly relations with Germany, although it found decided expression in times of storm and stress, was not limited to them, but was evident in all its dealings with Germany and especially so after a crisis had been passed, as in the Moroccan dispute of 1911, in order to prevent a recurrence in the future. Of this desire no more striking example can be given than that of Lord Haldane's mission, undertaken, as stated, after the Moroccan incident, before the first of the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, and two years in advance of the European catastrophe.
The choice of Lord Haldane for this peaceful mission was as flattering to Germany as it was appropriate on the part of the Ministry, inasmuch as in position he was Secretary of War, by training, a student of Göttingen, and by predilection a philosopher in the German sense of the term, having to his credit, as joint translator, Schopenhauer's "World as Will and Idea" (3 volumes, 1883-1886). He was, there
1 British Blue Book (No. 1), Doc. No. 111.
fore, in one sense of the word "made in Germany," possessed of a knowledge of its history, of its literature, and of its language, which he spoke with ease, correctness, and elegance.
Lord Haldane proceeded to Berlin in 1912, and on February 8th of that year he states that he had an interview with the Imperial Chancellor, then von Bethmann-Hollweg, lasting an hour and a half, of which his lordship has preserved the following account: “I began by giving him the message of good wishes for the conversations and for the future of Anglo-German relations with which the King had intrusted me at the audience I had before leaving."1 This, of course, was the way of broaching matters in a monarchical country; but as Lord Haldane was intent on business of a really serious nature, he lost no time in stating the object of his mission, which he thereupon did: “I then said that perhaps it would be convenient if I defined the capacity in which I was in Berlin, and there to talk to him; and I defined it as above intimated."'3
In reply to the remark of the Imperial Chancellor that he did not care to make any observations and that he preferred Lord Haldane to continue, his lordship, in accordance with the instructions of Sir Edward Grey, thus proceeded:
I told him that I felt there had been a great deal of drifting away between Germany and England, and that it was important to ask what was the cause. To ascertain this, events of recent history had to be taken into account. Germany had built up, and was building up, magnificent armaments, and with the aid of the Triple Alliance she had become the center of a tremendous group. The natural consequence was that other Powers had tended to approximate. I was not questioning for a moment Germany's policy, but this was the natural and inevitable consequence in the interests of security. We used to have much the same situation with France when she was very powerful on the sea that we had with Germany
While the fact to which I referred created a difficulty, the difficulty was not insuperable; for two groups of Powers might be on very friendly relations if there was only an increasing sense of mutual understanding and confidence. The present seemed to me to be a favorable moment for a new departure. The Morocco question was now out of the way, and we had no agreements with France or Russia except those that were in writing and published to the world."
Naturally, in a country given to secret alliances, the Chancellor was dubious on this point, and, interrupting Lord Haldane, asked if this were really so, to which his lordship replied that “I could give him the assurance that it was so without reserve, and that in the situation which now existed I saw no reason why it should not be possible for us to enter
· New York Times, June 2, 1918, p. 4.
into a new and cordial friendship, carrying the two old ones into it, perhaps to the profit of Russia and France as well as Germany herself.” This is not the policy of dividing in order to conquer, but of uniting in order to preserve peace. To this statement on the part of Lord Haldane, the Imperial Chancellor replied, as reported by his lordship, that “he had no reason to differ from this view."
In reply to an inquiry concerning the military preparations of the year before, in connection with the Morocco incident, Lord Haldane stated to the satisfaction of the Imperial Chancellor that "no preparations had been made which were other than those required to bring the capacity of the British army in point of mobilization to something approaching the standard which Germany had long ago reached”; and Lord Haldane apparently closed this particular part of the interview with the somewhat frank and curt statement that “we could not be caught unprepared.” This explanation seemed to clear up the doubt in the Imperial Chancellor's mind, and he is reported as saying that he understood the position which Lord Haldane had indicated.
Taking advantage of the understanding thus reached, Lord Haldane used language which von Bethmann-Hollweg doubtless recalled, although he apparently disregarded it in the latter days of July and the first days of August, 1914, that "if Germany had really, which I did not at all suppose, intended to crush France and destroy her capacity to defend herself, we in England would have had such a direct interest in the result that we could not have sat by and seen this done.”
Omitting the portions of Lord Haldane's diary dealing with the proposal of the Imperial Chancellor that neither Power should enter into combinations against the other, the gentlemen in conference came to the German fleet, as to which the Imperial Chancellor asked Lord Haldane whether he would like to make observations, to which his lordship, speaking in the first person, said he must.
On this point Lord Haldane spoke with the utmost frankness, saying: "What was the use of entering into a solemn agreement for concord and against attack if Germany at the same moment was going to increase her battle fleet as a precaution against us, and we had consequently to increase our battle fleet as a precaution against her?” To this question thus put, Lord Haldane himself answered that “This was vital from our point of view, because we were an island Power dependent for our food supplies on the power of protecting our commerce, and for this we needed the two-Power standard and a substantial