Alfred von Waldersee

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Alfred von Waldersee

Alfred Ludwig Heinrich Karl Graf von Waldersee (8 April 18325 March 1904) was a German field marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) who became Chief of the Imperial German General Staff.


  • Bismarck is the king's last mistress because only such a creature could have such power over an old man.
    • Waldersee c. 1887 [1]
  • A good many men will be killed, however, as long as no man can prove to me that a man can die more than once, I am not inclined to regard death for the individual as a misfortune.
    • Waldersee in November, 1877, as quoted by Gordon Alexander Craig, "Germany, 1866-1945" (Oxford University Press, 1978) p.133
  • Either we are tremendously clever or the French strategists dreadful bunglers.
  • A war is essentially the most dreadful and ruthless thing imaginable, therefore one's object should be so to conduct it as to bring it to an end at the earliest possible moment, and to this end one should give the enemy a distaste for it as quickly as one can; and it is more humane if I do this by burning down houses than by shooting down quite innocent soldiers.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 4 October 1870
  • I know ... only one peril, that of Socialism, and I hope that all the Christian Churches would find a common aim in fighting against it.
    • Waldersee in his diary, c. 1903
  • If at home there are people so innocent as to imagine that it is here a case of propaganda for Christian civilization and Christian ways, they would be disillusionized. Since the Thirty Years' War and the plundering campaigns of the French in the age of Louis XIV there has been nothing like it.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 12 November 1900, in Beijing
  • I hear I am being attacked both in Prussian and American papers for being too hard on the Chinese and thus delaying the conclusion of peace. This is the outcome of ill-will and ignorance of the conditions ... One can advance things here only by taking as strong and as relentless measures as possible.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 17 December 1900, in Beijing
  • Unfortunately I must state the fact that the rank and file will not return better men than they were when they started. They have seen too much of ruthlessness, brutality, robbery, executions etc., and have come into contact with altogether too many bad characters in the foreign contingents.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 20 March 1901, in Beijing
  • I see a future for us only in a Great War in which we lastingly cripple an opponent, France or Russia. Unless there should be a great war, the only way out of our dilemma will be through internal commotion, preferably revolutions in France or Russia.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 15 October 1885, quoted in Scott A. Silverstone, From Hitler's Germany to Saddam's Iraq
  • We have far too many enemies, the French, the Slavs, above all the Catholics, and then the entire little rabble of the dispossessed, with their supporters
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1885, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • Everywhere the masses are on the move, everywhere there is rebellion against authority, the negation of all religion, the generation of hatred and envy against those with wealth. We are probably facing major catastrophes.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1886, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • The ghost of socialism is beginning to show a very earnest face ... the Zentrum is a gang of hypocritical blackguards without a Fatherland, intent on the collapse of Germany and the destruction of Prussia.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1886, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • Germany is the foundation for the mainstay for the whole of Europe, but if we become weak, the entire old world will fall apart.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1886, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • "Democrat" is among officers simply a term denoting a bad lot.
    • Waldersee in his diary, quoted in Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945[2]
  • “How I despise the liberal gang that has captured the Chamber! They are prisoners of their own verbose unrealism, and are setting the country back further from year to year.
    • Waldersee in his diary, quoted in Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945[3]
  • Prince William is very keen on the idea of war and regrets that things seem now to look more pacific. He was pleased when I expressed to him my opinion that the enlargement of our army will soon set the stone rolling.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 15 February 1887
  • People are telling me that I am regarded by the Chancellor (and indeed in wider circles) as the leader of the so-called War Party, and by no means favorably, as the Chancellor is most anxious to avoid war. I shall soon begin myself to believe that I am a thoroughly bad man! What will be brought up against me next?
    • Waldersee in his diary, 15 May 1887
  • We are living although the majority of the people do not realize it, in the midst of an immense revolution. What is radically wrong with our condition lies in the harsh contrast between rich and poor. This cannot go on forever, as we are human beings with human differences. No use is being made of religion, the only way towards alleviation and compensation; on the contrary, attempts are being deliberately made to excite the masses into asserting their equality with the middle and upper classes. The State contents itself with attempts to improve the material circumstances of the workers, with the only result that their covetousness has been intensified. The possibility of acquiring great sums of money by speculation has developed a fondness for luxury and enjoyment which has taken hold of wide circles. German family life is going to the dogs. Unfortunate marriages, divorces, youthful corruption, pleasure-seeking, the anxiety to seem richer than one is–all this is increasing terribly. In the lower classes of the great cities the demoralization has already reached a high degree ... The unequal distribution of wealth with all its consequences must lead in the end to a catastrophe.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 9 November 1890
  • The Jewish question will always remain a difficult one. In this case also the State should not take up the role of prosecutor and should not tolerate attacks by Christians upon the Jews; but it should not give the Jews the kind of protection they demand in their newspapers. It would be the most effective way of combatting Jewish doctrine for Christians to worship the Golden Calf less and to become simpler in their habits and in their desires. We should not forget that many Christians are as bad as the Jews in their covetousness and that they despoil as pitilessly anyone who falls into their hands.
    • Waldersee in his diary, November 1890
  • In the cavalry sons of industrialists who have got rich quickly are pushing their way in and are ruining its simple customs.
    • Waldersee in his diary, quoted in Walter R. Pierce, Herr und Heer: The German Social Democrats and the Officer Corps, A Reappraisal
  • Prince Wilhelm seems to have a good deal of his grandfather about him. If his parents have aimed at training him to be a constitutional monarch ready to bow to the rule of a parliamentary majority they have failed.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 6 December 1883, quoted in Walter R. Pierce, Herr und Heer: The German Social Democrats and the Officer Corps, A Reappraisal
  • Prince Wilhelm justifies our very best hopes for the future. He will grow into the right man to maintaain Germany's power–perhaps to increase it.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 28 May 1884
  • Prince Wilhelm has taken up an attitude strongly against England, a quite natural reaction for the most part against the efforts of his mother to make Anglomaniacs of her children.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 26 December 1884
  • The Kaiser ... is not the right man to lead the Fatherland out of the many perils which threaten it.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 25 September 1890
  • The Social Democrats ... perhaps their view of the Kaiser is the truest.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 24 September 1890
  • [Liberals are] on the one hand, insolent beyond measure, but creeping along on their bellies in front of the Kaiser!
    • Waldersee in his diary, 19 January 1891
  • He wants to be his own Chief of Staff. God help our country!
    • Waldersee referring to the Kaiser in his diary, after being dismissed from the position of Chief of the General Staff, quoted in Walter Görlitz, History of the German General Staff, 1657-1945[4]
  • The Kaiser can be very friendly in his manner but he is utterly lacking in genuine goodwill. For this reason he will win no lasting affection.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 6 February 1891, after being dismissed from the position of Chief of the General Staff
  • [Adolphe Thiers's] wife and her sister [are] a couple of unattractive ladies, not at all pleasing representatives of the fair sex. I have on several occations seen Madame sleeping–in fact have heard her sleeping, for she snored loudly–at their soirées.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 24 August 1871
  • I say we have the duty to take advantage of every favorable opportunity that presents itself and bring about a war with France. Militarily speaking, we are definitely at anadvantage thanks to the new repeating rifle, and in other ways too. But if we do not make use of such opportunities, then politics has to provide us with better ones, although I see no prospect of this.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 1 November 1886
  • All the Progressive people with their supporters, the entire Judenschaft and most foreign countries, that is to say, taken together are formidable foes ... In view of the colossal influence which the Jews wiled by virtue of their wealth, through which they have secured the services of Christians in influential positions, even though they themselves are few in number, they are by far the most dangerous of our enemies.
    • From a 1887 letter to Prince Wilhelm (the future Kaiser)
  • Too many people are under the influence of the Jews.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1888, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • [The Jews] are mostly fellows with no homeland, who have no interest in anything but making money, and who – wonder of wonders – mostly support the Progressives, and often even vote for Socialists at elections.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 5 March 1890, quoted in John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser's Personal Monarchy, 1889-1900
  • Never before has a ruler been so beloved by his own people, so highly esteemed by the whole world.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 16 March 1888, on the recently deceased Kaiser Wilhelm I
  • [Bismarck] asked me whether it would be desirable for us to march through Belgium, committing thereby a breach of neutrality. I explained that my advice must be against doing this whereas it seemed to me very much to be desired that France should operate through Belgium. The best thing for us, I maintained, would be that we should be at war with France and Russia simultaneously–the chances would be very good for us with Austria and Italy as our allies; whereas in a war with France alone Russia might be in a position to dictate to us the terms of peace. We were agreed that in the event of a war we must immediately take the offensive on the East, but not beyond Poland, and that we must then restore Poland.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 10 July 1888
  • [Bismarck] cannot leave because he is afraid of his successor and of the anger which will be unleashed in many whom he has oppressed, lied to and deceived ... he has a very bad character; he has not hesitated to disclaim his friends and those who have helped him most; lying has become a habit with him; he has made use of his official position to enrich himself on a colossal scale and has had his sons promoted with unbelievable ruthlessness although no one thinks them competent!
    • Waldersee in his diary, 5 March 1890[5]
  • I said to the Kaiser: "In spite of all this the Chancellor will not send in his resignation; he clings too firmly to office, hoping that if he can remain on he will again get the upper hand. In view of the whole intolerable situation, it would be best to force the Chancellor to resign–and as soon as possible–if he did not do so of his own accord."
    • Waldersee in his diary, 15 March 1890, five days before Bismarck's resignation.
  • What he is most lacking in are fixed aims and the faculty of persisting in the line he has taken up.
    • Waldersee on his diary, 16 March 1892, describing Kaiser Wilhelm II
  • How rare it is for a woman to support her husband aright in his position in the world, and for husband and wife to work together in complete harmony! During these last seven years Marie has won esteem and affection from high and low alike by her friendly bearing, her sincerity of character and her beneficence; spiritually she has exercised a stronger influence than have the clergy over many ladies and women.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 16 May 1898, referring to his wife Mary
  • There can be no doubt as to the measureless shamelessness of the English in combating our really modest colonial efforts.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 25 July 1890
  • If China revives again we could not wage war with her by ourselves.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1900
  • The amount of damage done to the country down to date by ravage and plunder will never be calculable, but it must be immense. It is only to be regretted that those who are most responsible for the war will be the ones least affected by it. Unfortunately, the looting has not failed to be attended by other excesses: outrages on women, barbarities of all descriptions, murder, wanton acts of incendiarism, etc.
    • Waldersee in one of his dispatches to the Kaiser from China, c. 1900
  • [The Americans] have been involved in looting affrays in the streets of Tien-tsin. When they are not with their regiments they must be regarded by the inhabitants as a scourge.
    • Waldersee in one of his dispatches to the Kaiser from China, c. 1900
  • We and the English are and must remain natural opponents. The world out to be big enough for both of us, but English covetousness oversteps all possible limits.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. 1900
  • Your Majesty may entertain the idea of partitioning China, but let it not be forgotten that ... it is still full of inexhaustible vitality. China has not completely lost its martial spirit, as may now be seen in the 'Boxer Movement'. Neither Japan nor any country in Europe or America is intellectually or militarily equipped to rule one quarter of mankind. Therefore it is actually an ill-advised policy to try dismemberment.
    • Waldersee to Kaiser Wilhelm II c. 1901, warning him againsgt partitioning China. [6]
  • It would doubtless be best for us to remain permanently on a good footing with England, even, if practicable, to be in alliance with her, but that is quite out of the question so long as this Power only wants to exploit us and in addition has the effrontery to make difficulties for us in our colonial policy everywhere. The astoundingly mean and shameless attacks made against the Kaiser by the English press will, one hopes, never be forgotten.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 12 January 1896
  • It is really a good thing that the English should be unmasked at last and that the world should see what miserable hypocrites they are.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 15 February 1902
  • England will soon show us her true face: It is a fight for existence between us. England wants to destroy Germany, her most serious rival in the world market, and, if not today or tomorrow, will do so soon, before the German fleet has been further strengthened. I do not believe that the matter will be taken so seriously in official circles with us. As in their way, the Liberal papers try to disguise the gravity of the situation; it is really too hard on them that their paragon, England, should want to break with free trade. A bitter revenge is now in store for those who have sought to turn Germany into an industrial country pure and simple.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 19 February 1904, shortly before his death.
  • He is a very weak man, without firm opinions and most unclear in his goals. Unfortunately he is biased in extreme liberal ideas and does not want to accept that in these times a sovereign with such principles quickly digs his own grave. What an upheaval would arise in such a circumstance.
    • Waldersee's impression of Crown Prince Frederick (the future Kaiser Frederick III) from his diary entry of 25 November 1883
  • He has an open head, a fresh mind, a great lust and energy to work, and a strongly developed Prussian feeling. Perhaps he is not excessively of much heart, but I believe that this is excellent for him and his future. In his outward behavior he is friendly and pleasant.
    • Waldersee's impression of Prince Wilhelm (the future Kaiser Wilhelm II) from his diary entry of 18 January 1885
  • To say I desire war is absurd. I only wish one thing: that our enemies renounce completely the idea of attacking us. I know too well what war is and am convinced that it is my duty as an honest man to wish that it be used only as a last resort, as much in the interests of my Fatherland as in the interests of the entire world.
    • Waldersee, quoted in the Le Petit Parisien newspaper, c. 1888
  • I think then it is my duty, if I believe it is possible to avoid [a war], to do everything in my power to arrive at this goal. If Providence, however, imposed on us a war, I will have every hope to succeed in the task which is entrusted in me. I am familiar with Germany’s spirit of sacrifice. I know with such confidence they will march behind their young emperor. I am familiar also with our army and I am certain of its superiority. The other nations can adopt our tactical formations and our weapons, but what they cannot imitate is the moral force which is the principal element of the strength of the German army.
    • Waldersee, quoted in the Le Petit Parisien newspaper, c. 1888
  • When the chancellor imagines I have the inclination to become his successor, he is mistaken tremendously. Right now, I wish that he continue holding his office and that he sees for himself how poorly he has operated recently. I consider anyone who wants to accept the succession to be very bold. When one or another successor has broken his neck, perhaps there is room for discussion.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 9 February 1889
  • I am not a politician. Once and for all, I beg you not to believe the absurdities which malicious people seem to be publishing about me. I am contented with my military calling and have no higher ambition than to do credit to the post with which my sovereign has entrusted me.
    • Waldersee in an interview to The New York Herald, 24 July 1892
  • It is wonderful that certain people and circles still believe I have the aspiration to become Chancellor and receive nightmares from this thought. How often I have declared that I would have to be a fool if I wanted to strive for this really unenviable position! I have already achieved some time ago everything a soldier can achieve, I hold a post that involves little work and no agitation or anger, and I know the position of a Chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm II only too well that I would have to be mad to desire it.
    • Waldersee in his diary c. December 1901
  • [Wilhelm II] fishes for ovations and – as of course follows from that – is very open to flattery. All this has developed so quickly that I am constantly surprised by what he does. As Prince Wilhelm he seemed to have many of the excellent qualities of his grandfather, he was modest and simple in his way of life, avoided attracting attention, did not like being escorted by adjutants and was very considerate towards old people. Now he loves splendor to an alarming degree and is beginning to behave like Louis XIV.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 11 August 1890
  • If he bears me a grudge because of his poor command of troops he shows that he lacks greatness of spirit and deserves to be treated as a little man. But if he has allowed himself to reflect calmly and to examine himself a little, he cannot but be grateful to me and tell himself that I acted without fear and did my duty. Then one could say: there is nobility in him after all.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 8 October 1890, commenting on the imperial field maneuvers of that year, when Waldersee defeated the formations commanded by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
  • [Wilhelm I’s] venerable personality, known throughout the world for the conscientiousness and devotion to duty he showed until his dying day, with all his past, and the fact that he never gave any reason for malicious tongues to wag, was for us a bulwark against the tide of revolution. The present Kaiser, on the other hand, positively cultivates Social Democrats.
    • Waldersee in his diary, 22 June 1893
  • The Emperor often lies to other people, but still more often to himself.
    • Waldersee to Prince Bernhard von Bülow, quoted in the latter's memoirs
  • It suited Fürst Bismarck well to make me appear a hypocrite, a supporter of Stoecker, a black reactionary, an instigator of war, etc., etc., so that the average philistine felt a shudder, whenever my name was mentioned. Herr von Caprivi was pleased to blow on the same horn, and under his regime my reputation has not improved.
    • Waldersee in October 1894, quoted in Maximilian Harden: Word portraits; character sketches of famous men and women[1]
  • Should I rise to higher rank, this happiness can never compare to that which I enjoy in possessing you. Everything else is vastly secondary to this one great happiness. You are the greatest gift which God has bestowed on me.
    • From Waldersee's letter to his wife Mary Lee, after being promoted to major-general, c. August 1876, quoted in Wade James Trosclair, Alfred von Waldersee, monarchist: his private life, public image, and the limits of his ambition, 1882-1891
  • I pray to God that I may not have to live through what I see coming.
    • The last entry in Waldersee's diary, dated 5 March 1904, the day of his death.

Quotes about Waldersee[edit]

  • Waldersee was a muddle-headed politician on whom no reliance was to be placed. He wanted war because he felt that he would be too old if peace lasted longer. His remark was of no importance. It was particularly stupid to believe that Waldersee could become Imperial Chancellor. Even as Chief of Staff he was unsatisfactory and Moltke had only preferred him to Caprivi and Häseler because he could do what he wanted with him. That was a bad turn which old Moltke had done the Army.
  • Another danger [to the new Kaiser] was Waldersee and his following. Waldersee was the opponent of Bismarck and considered himself capable of and fitted for everything. Who will guarantee...that these gentlemen will not begin the old game again and tell the Emperor ‘You are really nothing but a puppet. Bismarck reigns’?...Bismarck, therefore, wishes Waldersee’s removal and will even send him if he can to Strasbourg as General in Command.
    • Gerson von Bleichröder in his diary, 27 June 1888
  • The successor of Marshal von Moltke is a man of average size, a little older than 50. The hair is very thick, but with the whiteness of snow. His eyes are clear and placid, but his look is of an unusual fixedness. When the Count speaks, it is slow, and each word is pronounced clearly and vigorously. The attitude of the man, the manners, the voice and the gestures, or rather the complete absence of gestures, give an impression of cold determination that nothing would disturb.
    • Description of Waldersee in the Le Petit Parisien newspaper, c. 1888
  • Waldersee’s anxiety to fight was so great that he was indifferent in his choice of enemies. He grasped at any opportunity to develop a small event into a casus belli. In rapid succession he advocated preventive wars, now against France, now against Russia, against them both.
    • Isabel Hull, The Entourage of Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1888-1918
  • To read the original, unexpurgated diaries of this war-mongering, pietistic general is to cross the border into the realm of abnormal psychology. Waldersee seems to have suffered from some form of paranoid megalomania. He believed in a world conspiracy of the 'entirety' of international Jewry in league with all democratic forces at home and the majority of foreign Powers abroad to destroy the heroic aristocratic warrior monarchy of Prussia.
    • John C. G. Röhl, The Kaiser and his court : Wilhelm II and the government of Germany
  • As a military man he is an ace. A strong will, a clear eye, smartness, decisiveness, initiative. He is of the same stuff as were Frederick the Great’s soldiers, and Napoleon’s marshals. But I see two rocks ahead. He is excessively ambitious, both on the military and political sides, and inclined to intrigues. I believe that if ever he is Chancellor he will take a very drastic line against the two parties he hates so much, the Centre and the Social-Democrats.
    • Field Marshal Walter von Loë on Waldersee to Prince Bernhard von Bülow, quoted in Prince Von Bulow Memoirs 1849-1897[2]

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