Proofs of Germany’s Warlike Intentions

Observations of an American Journalist in Germany Before War Broke Out

ROY NORTON February 1 1915

Proofs of Germany’s Warlike Intentions

Observations of an American Journalist in Germany Before War Broke Out

ROY NORTON February 1 1915

Proofs of Germany’s Warlike Intentions

Observations of an American Journalist in Germany Before War Broke Out


"IS Germany to blame for the great war?” I was asked on my return from the Continent but a few days ago, and in reply I asked of my questioner, “Why do you value my opinion?” “Because,” explained this editor, “you are an American, and therefore nationally neutral. You make your living by writing, and appreciate the responsibility and value of words. You have passed the greater part of ten years actually living in every country involved, you speak the languages of most of these countries, you have friends in all of them, and for the past year you have lived in Germany, presumably because you like it best. You ought to have drawn some conclusion that would be interesting at a time when people really want to know who did bring this condition about.”

Ordinarily, when one is asked to express an opinion, one can answer with readiness; but there are times when likings, friendships, associations, memories, all incline one to prejudice, also to reticence. And all of these, in my own case, were favorable to Germany; but I am compelled to admit, after some deliberation, that, as far as I have been able to observe, the evidence against Germany’s intention, participation, and final action

will necessitate some more convincing proof than she has yet offered to persuade the world of her guiltlessness.

As far back as 1908 Germany was expending four millions of dollars, annually, on her espionage system. There were, I was told by a French official, more than thirty thousand men in France alone, stationed as workmen, shop and hotelkeepers and realty agents, ready to act on signal. Among the duties of these men would be the destruction of bridges, to hamper French mobilization, and to blow up the main arsenal. This same official told me that, some five months ago, the French secret service discovered the key to these preparations, and was appalled by their thoroughness. It held a consultation, and made a counter-move by setting a spy to watch each of the German spies, but permitted the latter to continue operations, on the principle that it was easier to observe a known enemy than to discover a new one. A week before war was declared, the Germans who were to perform destructive tasks were tapped on the shoulders at midnight, and arrested, and the

mining beneath the great arsenal was removed and destroyed.

Antwerp, Brussels, and London have since discovered that Germany had nests of agents organized along the same lines. One German church in London has been found, since war broke out, to have been for a long time a considerable arsenal for German rifles. These are some of the points to be regarded when it is asserted that Germany confined herself only to measures of self-protection and desired only peace. Straws blown by the wind, some forgotten sage has said, indicate which way it blows, and here are some of the straws that I have personally observed flying, although, with remarkable stupidity, I did not at the time observe their trend, until the violence of their flight would have shocked a blind man.

It did not dawn on me at the time that usually, when a man’s preparations to do something have been perfected, he finds a way to go ahead and do that thing of which he has dreamed and for which he has prepared. I did observe, however, that scattered over Germany were more of those wonderful “switch” or “shunting” yards, capable of entraining tens of thousands of soldiers in a few hours— yards where from ten to twenty passen-

ger trains could be drawn up at one time, and, oddly enough, some of these queer yards, all equipped with electric lighting plants, are out in places where there are not a dozen houses in sight. In some of these yards, located at central points for rural mobilization, one saw long trains of troop cars, dingy, empty, stodgily waiting for use in war, if one ever came. I was told of one test mobilization (in reply to my query as to why I had seen so many troops pass through a small place one evening), where twenty thousand men were assembled at ten o’clock one morning, made a camp complete, were reviewed, entrained, detrained, and just seven hours later there was nothing save debris and trampled grass to show that the place had ever been disturbed.

There were on every hand, this summer, signs of this super-excellence. At a mere “Tank-station” below Kriesingen, on June 12th, I saw probably seventy-five or a hundred locomotives (I had time to count more than seventy), most of which were of antiquated type, obsolete as far as the demands of up-to-date traffic are concerned, and of a kind that would have been “scrapped” in either England or America. Yet these were all being cared for and “doctored up.” A few engineers and stokers worked round them, and I saw them run one down a long track and bring it back to another, whereupon hostlers at once began drawing its fires, and the engineer and stoker crossed over and climbed into another cab.

“What do you suppose they are doing that for?” I asked one of the train men with whom I had struck up an acquaintance.

“Why,” replied he with perfect frankness, “those are war locomotives.”

Reading the look of bewilderment on my face, he added: “You see, those engines are no longer good enough for heavy or fast traffic, so as soon as they become obsolete we send them to the reserve. They are all of them good enough to move troop trains, and therefore are never destroyed. They are all frequently fired up and tested in regular turn. Those fellows out there do nothing else. That is their business, just, keeping those engines in order and fit for troop duty. There are dozens of such depots over Germany.”

“But how on earth could you man them in case of war?—where would you get the engineers for so many extras?”

He smiled pityingly at my ignorance.

“The headquarters know to the ton what each one of those can pull, how fast, where the troop cars are that it will pull; and every man that would ride behind one has the number of the car he would ride in, and for every so-many men there is waiting somewhere a reserve engineer and stoker. The best locomotives would be the first out of the reserve, and so on, down to the ones that can barely do fifteen kilometres per hour.”

Since that June day Germany has proved how faithfully those thousands of reserve locomotives over her domain have been nursed and cared for, and how quickly those who were to man and ride behind them could respond.

At this point, also as I write, I had something explained to me over which I have at time puzzled for months. On February 14th of this year, I was in Cologne, and blundered where I had no business, into what I learned was a military-stores yard. Among other curious things were tiny locomotives loaded on flats, which could be run off those cars by an ingenious contrivance of metals, or, as we call them in America, rails. Also there were other flats loaded with sections of tracks fastened on cup ties (sleepers that can be laid on the surface of the earth), and sections of miniature bridges on other flats. I saw how it was possible to lay a line of temporary railway, including bridges, almost anywhere in an incredibly short space of time, if one had the men. At one period of my life I was actively interested in railway construction, but had never before seen anything like this. Before I could conclude my examination I discovered that I was on Verboten ground, and had to leave; but the official who directed me out told me that what I had seen were construction outfits. The more I thought of those, afterwards, the more I was puzzled by the absence of dump cars, and that mass of smaller paraphernalia to which I had been accustomed in all the contracting work I had ever seen. Yet I had to remember with admiration the ingenuity of the outfit, and think of how quickly it could all be laid, transferred, re-shipped, or stored. Here before me, in the letter received from Holland but yesterday, and which comes from a Hollander who was a refugee in Germany, and on August 30th reached home after trying experiences, is the following:

“Never, I believe, did a country so thoroughly get ready for war. I saw the oddest spectacle, the building of a railway behind a battlefield. They had diminutive little engines and rails in sections, so they could be bolted together, and even bridges that could be put across ravines in a twinkling. Flat cars that could be carried by hand and dropped on the rails,, great strings of them. Up to the nearest point of battle came, on the regular railway, this small one. At the point where we were, it came up against the soldiers. It seemed to me that hundreds of men had been trained for this task, for in a few minutes that small portable train was buzzing backward and forward on its own small portable rails, distributing food and supplies. It was great work, I can tell you. I’ve an idea that in time of battle it would be possible for those sturdy little trains to shift troops to critical or endangered points at the rate of twenty miles an hour, keep ammunition, batteries, etc., moving at the same rate and, of course, be of inestimable use in clearing off the wounded. A portable railway for a battlefield struck me as coming about as close to making war by machinery as anything I have ever heard of. I did not have a chance, however, to see it working under fire, for, being practically a prisoner, I was hurried onward and away from the scene.”

I know of nothing, more than this, com-

ing from one whom I know to be truthful, that so adequately shows how even ingenious details had been worked out for military perfection. We shall doubtless hear, after this war is over, how well those field trains performed their work when it came to shifting troops in times of fierce pressure on a threatened point, and how they added to German efficacy.

The evening of Sunday, June 28th, in Berlin was warm, somnolent and peaceful. With some friends I had been at Luna Park in Berlin, and we loitered slowly out of the gates and up the street before separating. Suddenly, as we approached the corner across the viaduct, we encountered small crowds collecting in front of the newspaper offices, and there saw bulletins announcing the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, in the streets of Sarajevo. We were shocked far more, I believe, than any of those stolid Germans who elbowed us to read the news. We Americans have, unfortunately, too much knowledge of what assassination in high places means. I am certain that the German people regarded it as none of their business, and passed it by. Days later came the news, in regular editions, that the Kaiser was hurrying homeward, and that regattas and friendly sea visits were being abandoned, or brought to a close. It was publicly announced that the reason of the Kaiser’s return was grief for a lost friend, and the stories, having a human note, aroused a sudden thrill of interest; but, strangely enough, he began a consultation with his war advisers. In the newspapers of the next few days the Austrian incident became subsidiary, and great stress was laid on the Ulster situation in Ireland, and editorial writers appeared to think that Great Britain was on the extreme brink of civil war. Then came the surprising news that Austria regarded the assassination of the heirs to the throne—in reality, as far as unbiassed observers can see the crime of a Bosnian schoolboy—as a great Servian plot. The world knows how Austria insisted on this and how, of a sudden, she made demands that would have forever ended Servia’s independence as a nation. The world also is well aware that it would have been possible for the Kaiser, grief-stricken, surrounded by his military advisers, with direct means of communication with Austria, to have personally urged that abrupt and uncompromising Austrian ultimatum. There is not the slightest doubt that, whether he forced that ultimatum or not, he was in constant communication. The newspapers tacitly said so.

Immediately after this came what should have been a plain warning that the Kaiser meant to go to war; for, of a sudden, and a most significant incident too, the streets of apathetic, pleasure-seeking Berlin were flooded with extra newspapers from the notoriously Kaiser-controlled press, working up sympathy for Austria, vaguely hinting that it was Germany’s business to support Austria in every way, and incidentally expressing grave fears that Russia might morally

support Servia. If Berlin had not taken sufficient interest before, she was now systematically aroused. These extras were passed out gratis, in frequent series, by tens of thousands. Men drove along the kerbs in automobiles and passed them out. The streets were littered with them. I asked for one, tried to pay for it, and was told it was free. It astonished me, because it was the first time I had ever witnessed such prodigal generosity, it having been my experience that it costs money to issue enormous editions of extras, and also hitherto I had supposed that extras were printed to be sold, not given away. I wonder who paid for them ! If no one did, there are newspaper proprietors in Berlin who merit monuments for philanthropy, after they are dead and the bankruptcy proceedings are concluded.

In a steady, well-defined, and constant crescendo the journals made references to the duties of the Fatherland, and to her naval and military strength, with now and then an adroit paragraph relative to bounden duty of the German to cling closely to his Austrian brother, lest the latter be bruised and crushed beneath a threatening Slavic heel. From apathy the German awoke to keen interest. There can be not the slightest doubt that those extras, so benevolently passed out, kindled a war-flame in Berlin, and non-partisan observers are convinced that their issuance and distribution and influence emanated from the Palace itself. Nobody familiar with Austria, and having knowledge of that weary, peace-desiring old man, Franz-Josef, believes for one moment that Austria either sought, or would have gone to, war with Servia on such a slight investigation of the assassinations, had not some one influenced, or perhaps forced, him to such issue.

The fact is certain that war talk had become common in Berlin when, on July 9th, I went to Hamburg; yet this was fourteen days prior to the Austrian ultimatum to Servia. I was there for seven days, and the only expressions I heard were apprehensive and regretful. The people of Hamburg wanted no war. They are a fine people, those Hamburgers, industrious, sober, hospitable, and filled with civic pride. Unlike the Berliner, already lashed to emotional martialism, they had no wish to interfere; but in Hamburg again the newspapers were being filled with articles that could scarcely be regarded as pacifying. Whether “influenced” or not, the truth of which we shall probably never know, already they too were strumming the harsh song of war, in unison with all the press of Prussia.

On Saturday, July 18th, suffering from an attack of hay fever, I went to Swinemunde, a fortified point on the Baltic, and found it filled with restless, excited people, who talked of nothing but a prospective big war. That same night, July 18th, the offing filled with torpedo boats and destroyers, ostensibly for a mimic attack on the fortifications, that had already been closed to the public, and all night long the flash-lights played and the guns banged in rest-disturbing volume. On Sunday there was great activity at

the wharves leading up the channel that is one of the water highways to Stettin. Sentries kept the over anxious from encroaching on the scene of activities, but I saw men working at the torpedo tubes. War aeroplanes appeared and made trial flights over the city and harbor. I sometimes carry with me a sketch-book, although I am no artist and, while merely drawing an old lighthouse on the end of one of the moles, found a man looking over my shoulder and, reading menace in his attitude, tore it up and walked away. I remembered, later, that he sauntered after me to my hotel. “A certain person” that night came to my hotel, in civilian garb, and said, “Take my advice, but don’t ask questions that I cannot answer. You go back to Berlin in the morning, pack your grips and get out of Germany while there is time.”

“Those sketches?” I laughed.

But he had heard nothing of my movements, and said, “No, not on that account; but get away from Germany.”

It is needles to say that I was in Berlin and packing on the following day, that immediately after I did go to Switzerland, and that still there was no open declaration of war on Germany’s part. I stopped at Basle for a while, interested in that fine frontier station, and one day was amused by the extremely expressive swearing of a man who I found out was a “switchman” in the yards. He was complaining of over-work.

“One might have an idea,” he growled, “that Germany was going to war, from the way the German railways are ordering all their empty trucks returned from everywhere. Nothing but empties going home, and if anybody makes a mistake or overlooks one, there’s the devil to pay!” I have since learned that this inflow of

empty German carriages and trucks was so observable at other frontier stations that two weeks before war was declared the German yards were swamped with this excess.

On Tuesday, July 28th, the day when Austria declared war on Servia, German officers stopping at Swiss hotels received peremptory telegrams ordering them to cut their vacations then and there, and return home at once.

What I personally know can be summarized as a number of events, insignificant when taken singly, but, in the cumulative, to me at least impressive.

1. That not until this very year were German military and naval preparations complete.

2. That the Zabern “incident” was, in effectTand perhaps intentionally so—a challenge to France.

3. That the establishment of “operatives” in friendly foreign countries disproved any peaceful intention.

4. That the Austro-Servia imbroglio was not in itself sufficient cause for Germany to go to war had she not been prepared and eager.

5. That it was well known in inner and upper circles that the military clique hoped for war, and wanted nothing more than a pretext.

6. That the war spirit was kindled and stimulated, by freely distributed newspapers.

7. That Germany was making ready for war days before the situation warranted the supposition that she was in any wise involved.

8. That days before such situation arrived many of her trusted officials had been quietly warned that war was coming.

—Contemporary Review.