"Wait till the moment comes," he vows in 1901.
Most historians believe that the great nations of Europe stumbled and bumbled their way into World War I through miscalculations, errors and ineptitude, and that although Germany was clearly militaristic, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was no exception and was pushed by events into that catastrophe. This commonly-held attitude is...
Most historians believe that the great nations of Europe stumbled and bumbled their way into World War I through miscalculations, errors and ineptitude, and that although Germany was clearly militaristic, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941) was no exception and was pushed by events into that catastrophe. This commonly-held attitude is exemplified by one of the primary World War I sites on the internet, which states: “Misconception: The Kaiser was a war monger solely responsible for the First World War. The Kaiser did not start the war. The Kaiser did not want the war. ÔSaber rattling’ is one thing, a war with the other major European powers is something very different indeed!
The most that can be said is that the Kaiser did not do enough to try to control the actions of Austria-Hungary and prevent the outbreak of war. In the end he accepted war.” We can now show conclusively that this theory is untrue, and that he had planned a European war at least as early as 1901.
Autograph Manuscript, written in English in the margin of two folio sheets from his personal scrapbook, on which is mounted an English newspaper article about the superiority of England's navy and sailors over those of Germany. The article appeared in the October 1, 1901 issue of the Daily Express, and in it the author, A.G. Hales, writes that Germans make good soldiers, but not sailors. This angered Wilhelm, who was intent on German naval power. Near the top of the first page he has written "Adm. Tirpitz," perhaps meant as a note to send the article to Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz, whom he had placed in charge of the effort to give Germany a fleet with global capabilities. In the body of the first page, Wilhelm has marked off a paragraph of the news article reading, "…I prefer the sailor to the soldier in nearly every land I have been in, but not so in Germany…Even on board ship they [the Germans] look like soldiers rather badly trained and not like men o' war sailors. I remember being in a couple of fights in Africa with British bluejackets and the thing that impressed itself upon me most forcibly at that time was that, no matter how far inshore you took our tars, they were still sailors all the time…" Beside this Wilhelm has written "Why then did Admiral Seymour on his retreat from Peking order the Germans to the front? Does Mr. Hales forget this?"
On the second page Hales has written "The German sailor strikes me as being a man who would do a fair thing by his ship and his commander, but he would not attempt the seemingly impossible, and it is in the seemingly impossible that great sea victories lie…A German ship of war on the outside is as smart and trim as either an American or British ship of war…but clear the decks for action, and I think you would see a big difference, and the balance would not be in the favour of the Germans…" Beside this Wilhelm has written "Wait till the moment comes! Remember the Iltis." At the end of the page Wilhelm again writes "Germans to the front."
The Iltis, which leapt to his memory, was a small German ship which, during the Boxer revolt in China in 1900, performed so heroically that he awarded the entire crew the Pour le Merite order. All of the Kaiser’s writing is in pencil. Tirpitz and Wilhelm were determined for Germany to have a great navy, and in 1898, the Reichstag passed the first Navy Bill, calling for a fleet of 17 battleships and 35 cruisers designed for a possible war between Germany and Russia and/or France.
In 1900 a second Navy Bill was passed, conceived, as were subsequent bills, with England in mind. This scrapbook entry was made in the wake of the second bill, and indicates Wilhelm's thinking and his intentions behind the bills. Histories that take the position that Wilhelm didn't actually want World War I and hadn't planned to start it, but mishandled the crisis in July-August, 1914, were unaware of this startling and important private manuscript, never intended for publication. It clearly demonstrates that at least as early as 1901, Wilhelm was envisioning war with England, and, in effect, though unknown to England and the world, issuing a challenge held close to his chest: "Wait till the moment comes." No future history of the Great War can be written without reference to his document.
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