“What Does Germany Want?”
WHEN you see a man loitering around premises which do not belong to him; when, furthermore, you detect him looking through the windows, trying their fastenings and those of the door, it is safe to assume that it bodes no good to the owners of the property, says J. H. Manners Howe in London.
In precisely the same way, as soon as a nation adopts methods of political activity which are not consistent with its settled
geographical limits; when—for example —you see her building roads and railways of no appreciable commercial utility right up to all the weak spots on a neighbour’s frontier, she creates a natural feeling of insecurity and alarm. This feeling habitually gives rise to counter measures and, should these fail to check the aggressor, hostilities are the inevitable result. Thus war comes.
Now Germany at the present moment, in police-court phraseology, is “loitering with intent.” She is tampering with doors and windows belonging to those quiet little peoples the Belgians and the Dutch, who being themselves helpless, may very conceivably find it necessary to call on the police to deal with the intruder. This disquieting state of affairs has been continued for some time and the position is getting sufficiently serious for us to inquire precisely what it is that Germany wants. For at the present moment she seems to be hesitating between an act of political burglary and a confidence trick.
In most cases of criminal investigation, whether the delinquent be a whole nation or a single sinner, the question of motive is a material consideration, and is often of equal value in the prevention of crime. In the case before us we shall find ample evidence of motive and a proportionate reason for preventive measures. But as we are not now dealing with a police case, but with an attempt upon the integrity of the map of Europe, we must take a larger canvas and broaden our simile.
Now look again. In the middle of Europe the German Empire hangs like a big cauldron over a fire. The cauldron is beginning to boil, and its neighbors are apprehensive lest it should boil over and burn them. Especially anxious are three little nations round the western rim of the cauldron, for it is tilted in their direction, and they are likely to feel the first withering effects of the overflow.
It is a fair argument, on the analogy, that nations, like individuals, have to keep their pots boiling. But the fire beneath the German pot is of peculiar intensity. It is no mere crackling of thorns, but a fervent heat drawn from the special nature of the fuel employed ; and the vigour of the stoking would seem to suggest an intention to cause the pot to boil furiously and ultimately to boil over.
Now the meaning of the parable is as old as the world itself, and in the fuel beneath the pot we shall find the interpretation of the whole matter, the motive for which we inquired at the outset.
We may constrain or veneer Nature as much as we like, but her impulses are eternal and barbaric. And so the fuel which is dangerously heating the furnace
beneath the German cauldron is that which has inspired every young and growing nation—and politically Germany i? very young—with an irrestible impulse for more elbow room.
In other words, Germany desires more room and is resolved to have it no matter at whose expense.
For forty years, ever since the days of Bismarck, when she first began to feel her new strength, she has been yielding to a great and ever-growing temptation on her western borders. W ith eyes of increasing desire she has looked upon the little States of Holland and Belgium, the Naboth’s vineyards which she regards as essential to the rounding off of a new and greater Germany.
The German Ahab differs no whit from him of Samaria who “spake unto Naboth saying: ‘Give me thy vineyard that I may have it for a garden of herbs for it is near unto my house.’ ” And the coveted States reply like Naboth of old: “The
Lord forbid it me that I should give thee the inheritance of my fathers.” It is well for us to realize the immutability of human nature. It will help us better to understand the rest of the story.
Now it happens to be just as clear why Germany covets the territory of the two small States upon her western frontier as to understand the reason for Ahab’s desire to possess himself of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite. She is in fact prompted solely by commercial and political expediency, and although her pretexts can be readily appreciated, they do nothing to justify her acts of aggression. Let us try to see the question from the German standpoint. It begins rather like the fable of the wolf and'the lamb.
# Germans complain that Holland lies right across their most important trade route—the Rhine, the main artery of that busy and thriving region in which Germany’s greatest industrial activity is centred. Here in Westphalia and the Rhenish Provinces are hived more than a fourth of her total population, more than a fourth of her industrials; here are produced half of her coal output, half of her chemical products, nearly all her iron and all but a fraction of her wine. The whole of this titanic industrial region is traversed by a magnificent waterway bearing an en-
ormous commerce to and from the sea within two-and-a-half to three and a half days.
But the ports at which this rich and growing stream of trade is shipped and unshipped are not German ports, but two foreign cities which have grown wealthy and prosperous by the toll they levy on German trade, and almost by that alone. The opulence of Amsterdam and Rotterdam—which has reduced to comparative insignifance the two German ports of Hamburg and Bremen — is in effect the creation of Germany’s energy and commercial activity, her wonderful prosperity and the mighty growth of her manufacturing industries.
German wealth, lavished upon the improvement of the Rhine navigation has also gone to increase the prosperity of the two Dutch cities, and Germans consider it intolerable that anyone but themselves should profit by German outlay and German industry.
Should you question the justice of this view they will argue that your attitude would be at one with theirs supposing the industrial wealth of Lancashire were tapped by a foreign Power holding Liverpool and the Manchester Ship Canal.
As resentment against this handicap has grown, so has the feeling that it might for ever be removed and the door opened at once to a gigantic evolution of Teuton world power and wealth if Germany can but possess herself of her neighbor’s vineyard. In the view of political and commercial Germany, the separate existence of the Netherlands has become an anachronism.
Arguing, moreover, on these lines, Germans claim that as heirs of the old German Empire they possess the same historical right to the Netherlands as to Alsace and Lorraine. And as Professor Treitschke declares in his much-read book : “It is the imperative duty of German politics to regain the mouths of the Rhine. The inclusion of Holland in the German Customs Union is as necessary as daily bread.”
HOWT elastic is the lust evolved by conscious povver may be gauged by the assertion made in Germany to-day that as the Danube, like the Rhine, rises in Germany, it is therefore a German river, whose mouth, likewise, should be wrested from
the Slav. It is merely an extension of the same principle. But to-day the Rhine comes first, and the Danube can wait its turn.
Meantime, of course, their commercial ambitions have not blinded Germans to the grandeur of the political prospect opened by the addition to the Empire of several millions of industrious people, rich and populous colonies, both in tue East and West Indies, where Curacoa and Surinam would enable them to claim a vested interest in the coming Panama Canal, and lastly a strategical position of such tremendous strength that it has been well said, “the sceptre of Europe lies buried at the mouths of the Rhine and the Scheldt.”
Perhaps, measured by an ethical standard, it may be questioned whether this glittering future would justify Germany in removing her neighbor’s landmark. But Germany has not scrupled to avow that her political morality is measured by expediency alone, and it would scarcely ue worth questioning her action on this score were it not that Kaiser Wilhelm’s persistent invocations of Heaven would aoparentlv have us believe that the Wilhelmstrasse is a short cut for the dispensations of the Almighty, and Potsdam an ante-chamber to Paradise.
Even Ahab could be a devout man on occasion, but he coveted the heritage of Naboth and—well, Naboth died.
Our investigation thus far of the case of Naboth’s vineyard has revealed the motives actuating the Teuton Ahab. We will now see what steps he has taken to gain his ends, and lastly the preparations lie has made against interruption by the police. !
Germany is still hoping to induce Holland to hand over her independence by means of peaceful penetration and gradually increasing economic pressure from without. German merchants have been filtering into the Netherlands and acquiring a dominant voice on the Exchanges of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp. Trading banks, shipping companies, factories, mercantile houses are being got into German hands. And, as in the Low Countries political and commercial influence are practically synonymous, Belgium and Holland
are being led towards the lethal chamber of Germanisation without the world being much the wiser.
But the great German bogie is the fine Dortmund-Ems Canal, which the great and good Kaiser Wilhelm has built to terrify the little Dutch nation into surrender by a show of drawing away their German transit trade from the Rhine mouth to the German port of Emden. True the latter place is 200 miles further from the English and Western markets, and the transit through some twenty-eight locks require five days. But the canal is first and foremost a political weapon, though decorated with an economic label, and is run at an extravagantly dead loss and low rates in order to achieve its end —the strangulation of Dutch prosperity.
“See what you’ll save by becoming one of us,” says Jhe German confidence trickster. “And see what you’ll gain, for union with us will be an insurance premium against any outside attack such as that which England made upon your relations in South Africa, and may make any day upon your colonies.”
Now, although Germany has successfully inspired Holland with no little alarm for her transit trade, and although the moneymaking classes — never the most patriotic—have to some extent yielded to the seductions and menaces incessantly dangled before their eyes, there are still patriotic Dutchmen as sturdy as Naboth of old. These fail to see any advantage to be gained by entering the stomach of the wolf in order to escape the problematical attack of some other hungry foe.
One of these, General Den Beer Portugal, says: “Holland is asked to secure her independence by sacrificing it to Germany, and in order to avoid imaginary dangers from outside to march into very real ones.” •
In fact, Dutchmen are well enough aware that Germany wants to make such exceptional and strenuous use of their territory that their separate national existence, in the gastric juices of a German Zollverein, would soon be at an end for ever.
Thus at the present time the party favoring a union with Germany, including certain subsidised writers and pamphleteers, are in a small minority. The great
mass of the people remain firmly opposed to the slightest sacrifice of their independence—commençai or political—in order that their territory may be harnessed for war and their ports turned into huge naval bases.
“Better,” said a Dutch patriot, “that we should be robbed of our Rhine trade than of our independence. We could still live, even if more modestly, on our agriculture, our colonial trade, our foreign investments, and our stock-breeding, in which we can beat Germany herself.”
It is the spirit which animated the old defenders of Leyden, and the same spirit that was displayed by a Dutch diplomatist who in more recent times was attending a review at Potsdam under the wing of the German Chancellor, who was anxious to impress his guest with the military might of his neighbor’s empire.
But the son of Holland was quite able to appreciate the wily intention of his host. So as regiment after regiment of Germany’s finest infantry swept by in magnificent array, the Chancellor, listening for expressions of wonder and admiration from his guest was surprised to hear a single phrase constantly repeated: “Not tall enough, not tall enough.” At last a regiment of Imperial Guards swept past. They were the tallest men in the army and of particularly fine physique. But once more the Dutchman was heard to observe: “Not tall enough, not tall enough.”
The Chancellor was a little nettled, and asked his guest with some vexation how he could possibly expect to see finer men anywhere than tnese last. “Oh, yes,” replied the Dutchman, “they are fine enough, but when we open our dykes in Holland we can flood the country ten feet deep. So you see they would not be tall enough.”
But in view of this spirit in the little people who own the coveted coast-line of the North Sea. and their possible refusal to be controlled by the confidence business or ternffied by threats of commercial garrotipg by means of the Kaiser’s canals, there is another card up the German sleeve. Naboth’s inheritence was seized by force, and the Teuton whose god is Political Expediency, will not be a whit behind the King of Samaria if the chance offers.
The blessed word “Arbitration” will then no more afford a pleasing excuse for flirting with theories of ploughshares and pruning-hooks. For the Teuton will have swallowed The Hague and its peaceful principles at one gulp.
Indeed the intention already possesses concrete form in railways and roads of mysterious vacancy which have been directed towards useful points on the coveted frontier. It may also be suspected by those who are aware that a force of powerful motors is held in readiness to rush the Dutch sluices at Muiden before the Hollanders could turn the country round Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague into an impregnable fortress by flooding it.
It is here that the question broadens from its narrower aspect to a panoramic view of international significance. For Germany pushed westward to the coastlines of Holland and Belgium would be in a position to assume a dictatorship of Europe. In the past such a contingency has always produced conflict and Great Britain has acted in the cause of freedom as the policeman of Europe.
But in the threatened era of blood and iron to which we are being driven by the inflamed ambitions of Teuton Imperialism, the established interests of France are menaced no less than our own. The two are in fact interdependent, and must stand or fall together.
Now Germany is well aware that her seizure of Holland and Belgium would tend to depress the national vitality of Britain and France in the same way that a tightened cord interferes with the circulation of blood in a limb. In this case the cord would be represented by an unending nightmare of political anxiety. Therefore, unless we are tamely to submit to the setting in of our political and economic anæmia, the only alternative is resistance to such a contingency with all the force and resolution of which we are capable.
It is because Germany herself would fight in such a cause that to-day she is quivering with the
energy which she is throwing into her tremendous prepartions for conflict. Though it is costing her millions she does not flinch, largely because she trusts that a display of overwhelming strength at the psychological moment may
save her the risks of a European struggle.
Let us glance swiftly at the prospect— and in passing I would add that in what follows I am supported by the opinions of many military and naval friends as well as relatives in both the German and British Services.
The mouths of the Rhine and the Scheldt are the best Continental sally-ports for an attack on Great Britain. In German hands they would be transformed into the mightiest naval bases in Europe, impregnable under the covering protection of their numerous islands. In fact the Dutch maritime zone would be even more heavily fortified than the eighty miles of German coast-line from Borkum.
Emden and Wilhelmshafen would become merely subsidiary bases. An enormous German fleet backed by an immense army would be concentrated within a few hours of our shores, a perpetual menace to our security and peace of mind, and automatically dwarfing our independence of action and initiative. Forced to make gigantic counter-efforts we should be compelled to maintain a huge naval strength constantly tied to the Channel, while every man fit to bear arms would have to become a trained soldier. For the shadow of a mighty nation of seventy millions would have fallen upon our island home.
The entente cordiale could not survive so definite an acceptance of inferiority as would be involved by a surrender to German overlordship at the mouths of the Rhine and the Scheldt. For France, the prospect would be one of graduated tutelage. For Britain, ultimately—the fate of Carthage.
Now it will be evident to any student of political strategy that German’s movement on Belgium is essentially aggressive and designed for the purpose of reducing France to a position of fighting inferiority. It is part of Germany’s great scheme to neutralise interference, and to meet check with counter-check.
At the present moment France’s open frontier between Belgium and Switzerland is well provided with safeguards. But with Germany in Belgium France’s entire north-eastern line of defences would be turned.
Again, the industries of North-east France, which ship all their raw material
and products through Antwerp and the Dutch mouth of the Scheldt, would be destroyed. In fact Germany planted in so overshadowing a position, would gangrene the whole national life and defensive power of the French Republic, and gradually sink it to the level of a second or third-rate Power.
It is with this end in view that Germany has been working with much surreptitious persistence for some years. In that pretty secluded country lying between Aix-laChapelle and Weismes, close up to the Belgian borders, strange things have been happening.
Here live the Walloon people, a quiet stay-at-home folk, not giving to railway travel, and more than content with the little single-line railway upon which an occasional train puffed sleepily through their countryside. Lately, however, they have begun to feel terribly over-weighted by a new and formidable-looking double line, equipped with an interminable number of sidings, which has come and isolated itself in this out of the way spot. For there is nothing in the possible development of this little country-side to suggest any economical reason for this great iron road.
But if the simple Walloons, who have been ordered to exchange their ancient language for the German, feel mystified, the great General Staff in Berlin know all about it. This railway, like some others which are lying about in seeming neglect along the Belgian and Dutch frontiers, will, when wanted, enable a German Army Corps to be concentrated at Weismes in a few hours.
That, however, is not all the story. There is a little Walloon town called Stavelot across the Belgian frontier. It is closely related by sympathy and kinship to the little German Walloon township of Malmedy. A tiny light railway linked them together, but the diligence running twice a day has been the favorite means of travel.
But now, to the disgust of the quietloving country-folk, along come the Germans, insisting on a big double-lined railway between their Walloon town and Stavelot, cynically imposing upon the poor Belgians the onus of paying for the greater part of it. But after all, it is France, and, thróugh her, England, that
will be most affected by the supersession of the Malmedy-Stavelot diligence, and it is from them that protests should have
For in plain language Germany has practically succeeded in grafting her military railway upon the Belgian main line to the Grand Duchy and the undefended French frontier.
Preparations are well advanced then for combating the possibility of French interference. To deal with the other policeman across the water is more difficult. But as long as he does not organize opposition at this stage, or encourage the small holders of the sea coast to expect help in their hour of need, it may be possible to quiet him, too. by a display of naval strength, which will keep him at a distance until the deed is done and cribs are cracked.
So for some years past the Teuton has been hard at work. Circumstances have singularly favored him. He has been building ships for all he is worth against his rival’s stock of newer ones, and already he begins to see a chance of giving the slow, stingy fellow a nasty surprise.
From Emden to Kiel the Teuton’s North Sea territories behind a chain of armored islands nave been transformed into a vast naval base, backed by colossal arsenals and dockyards. Already Wilhelmshafen has become a first-class naval harbor. Emden, under cover of Borkum, will soon be another, while the unfortunate Dutchmen have been compelled to fortify their coastline for the special benefit of the German when he is ready to walk in.
Then the whole of the North Sea region, from Emden to the mouth of the Elbe, is being linked up by an enlarged canal system penetrating the intervening stretches of flat country. And so, when all is ready for “the day,” German ships will actually, at need, be able to move from Kiel on the Baltic to Emden, under the complete cover of their land frontiers; and equally able to gain access from the sea at any point to a splendid array of docks and dockyards prepared beforehand for their succor and support.
But that is not all; and here again I fall back on intimate and irreproachable sources of information. Teuton Ahab has no thought of neglecting offensive opera-
tions. His great harbors are intended to be the sally-ports of his military strength. The termini of a network of military railways, they are equipped with miles of wharves from which enormous bodies of troops can be embarked with a minimum of delay. And, not least significant of all this preparedness, at Emden and Wilhelmshafen are stored, in readiness for employment, hundreds of long light landing-stages adapted for use on a shelving coast-line. They are of the identical pattern which the Japanese found so effective in their record landing at Chemulpo, and have long been used by the German naval and military authorities at their frequent rehearsals.
Nothing in all the great and ambitious programme has been left to chance. The only uncertain factor is the firmness of the opposition it is likely to encounter from Great Britain and France. For Russia there must be a long period of enforced quiescence. Will the policemen do their duty?
A hundred years ago the attempt of a single despot to trample on the liberties of Europe was frustrated by British ships. Now once more when a greater power than that of Bonaparte is threatening the liberties of nations, the sole remaining safeguard of European freedom is the margin of superiority still possessed by Britain’s naval power, and her willingness to use it with the tenacity she displayed of old. True, one may hear in Germany to-day the expression, “England won’t fight,” or “England can’t fight,” but it is a creed full of danger to the world’s peace, and one that has been falsified before now'.
And so to-day, if, before it be too late, we convince Germany, as well as Holland, Belgium and France that the spirit of our fathers is still awake and that we will not permit a wanton destruction of the map of Europe, whether by a confidence trick or open violence, we may yet avoid the final and most calamitous issue of events.