Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

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Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg

Theobald Theodor Friedrich Alfred von Bethmann-Hollweg (29 November 1856 – 1 January 1921) was a German politician who was the Chancellor of the German Empire from 1909 to 1917.

Quotes[edit]

  • Like you, I believe our most urgent task is a modus vivendi with England. In the last analysis even Morocco was intended to facilitate this. ... We should do everything our finances allow for our defenses on land and sea, but we must work as quietly as possible, not threaten boisterously. Only then can we improve our relations with London and prevent a new naval law from leading to war.
    • Letter to Eisendecher (26 December 1911), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 53
  • If war is forced upon us, we shall fight and, with God's help, not perish. But to conjure up a war ourselves without having our honor or vital interests imperiled, this I would consider a sin against Germany's destiny, even if human foresight would predict a total victory.
    • Letter to the Kaiser (6 March 1912), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), pp. 59–60
  • We must keep France in check through a cautious policy towards Russia and England. Naturally this does not please our chauvinists and is unpopular. But I see no alternative for Germany in the near future.
    • Letter to Eisendecher (23 March 1913), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 53
  • Political friendships are political business transactions and in political, as in economic life, business transactions are most easily and reliably concluded between strong parties The weakling always goes to the wall. A people that lacks a genuine sacrificial spirit or believes that it is not rich enough to keep its armaments in order thereby only betrays that it is played out. I beg you to bear one idea in mind through every difficulty. If anyone should threaten our homestead, we must be ready to the last man.
    • Speech to the Reichstag introducing the Military Bill (April 1913), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 28
  • [We are confronted with our] old dilemma at every Austrian action in the Balkans. If we encourage them, they say we pushed them into it. If we discourage them, they say we left them in the lurch. Then they will throw themselves into the open arms of the Western powers and we lose our last important ally. ... [My predicament is] worse than in 1912, because this time Austria is on the defensive against Serbo-Russian intrigues. ... An attack on Serbia can lead to world war. [Any general conflagration] however it ends [will lead] to a revolution of all existing conditions. ... The future belongs to Russia which grows and grows, looming above us as an increasingly terrifying nightmare. ... Perhaps the old Emperor [Francis Joseph] will prefer not to fight after all. If war comes from the east so that we have to fight for Austria-Hungary and not Austria-Hungary for us, we have a chance of winning. ... [I]f war does not break out, if the Tsar is unwilling or France, alarmed, counsels peace, we have the prospect of splitting the Entente.
    • Remarks recorded in Kurt Riezler's diary (8 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 58
  • If we succeed not only in keeping France itself quiet, but also in having it plead for peace in Petersburg, this turn of events will weaken the Franco-Russian alliance.
    • Letter to Rödern (15 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 62
  • We must maintain Austria proper. Were Russia to unleash the South Slavs, we would be lost. ... If the Serbian quarrel passes without Russian mobilization, we can safely come to an understanding with the Tsar, [who will be] disappointed in the Western powers, once Austria is satisfied.
    • Remarks recorded in Kurt Riezler's diary (23 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 62
  • Should war break out, it will result from Russian mobilization ab irato, before possible negotiations. In that case we could hardly sit and talk any longer, because we have to strike immediately in order to have any chance of winning at all.
    • Remarks recorded in Kurt Riezler's diary (23 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 63
  • It is improbable that England will immediately enter the fray.
    • Letter to the Kaiser (23 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 62
  • As long as Russia does not commit a hostile act, I believe that our stand, directed towards localization, must remain peaceful, too.
    • Letter to the Kaiser (26 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 63
  • Should they be confirmed, we would be forced to take countermeasures against our will. Even today we try to localize the conflict and keep peace in Europe. We therefore ask Sir Edward Grey to use his influence in Petersburg in this direction.
    • Letter to Lichnowsky (26 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 63
  • We are certainly ready to fulfill our obligations as ally but we clearly must refuse to be drawn lightly into a world conflagration by Vienna without consideration of our proposals.
    • Letter to Schoen, Pourtales, and Tschirschky (29 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 68
  • We can assure the English cabinet—presupposing its neutrality—that even in case of a victorious war, we will seek no territorial aggrandizement in Europe at the cost of France.
    • Note (29 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), pp. 68–69
  • Germany and England have undertaken all steps to avoid a European war. ... [W]e have lost control and the landslide has begun, As a political leader I am not abandoning my hope and my attempts to keep the peace as long as my démarche in Vienna has not been rejected.
    • Speech to the Prussian Ministry of State (30 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 69
  • This evening I have most energetically declared to the Viennese cabinet that Germany will not swim in Austria's wake in the Balkans. Should Vienna reply affirmatively I still do not despair for peace. Sad to say, through quasi-elemental forces and the persistent poisoning of relations among the cabinets, a war desired by no one might be unleashed.
    • Remarks to Lerchenfeld (30 July 1914), as recorded in Lerchenfled to Hertling (30 July 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 70
  • We are now in a position of self-defence, and necessity knows no law! (Cries of “Quite right.”) Our troops have occupied Luxembourg, perhaps they have already entered Belgium. (Loud applause.) That is a breach of international law. The French Government, it is true, had declared in Brussels that they would respect Belgian neutrality so long as their opponent respected it. But we knew that France stood ready to invade it. (Cries of indignation.)
    • Speech to the Reichstag (4 August 1914), Berliner Tageblatt (5 August 1914), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (1941), p. 84
  • All these attempts on which, as he well knew, I had worked incessantly, were wrested from me. And by whom? By England; and why? Because of Belgian neutrality! Can this neutrality which we violate only out of necessity, fighting for our very existence, and with the express assurance that we will repay any damage, if Belgium lets us march through—can this neutrality and the way in which it is threatened, really provide the reason for a world war? Compared to the disaster of such a holocaust does not the significance of this neutrality dwindle into a scrap of paper?
    • Remarks to the British Ambassador, Edward Goschen (4 August 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 71. The "scrap of paper" was the Treaty of London of 1839 which guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium
  • It is a crime that Russia has forced war upon us while we are still mediating between Vienna and Petersburg, and a Franco-Russia war against Germany is enough of a disaster. ... This war turns into an unlimited world catastrophe only through England's participation. It was in London's hands to curb French revanchism and pan-Slav chauvinism. Whitehall has not done so, but rather repeatedly egged them on. Now England actively helps them. Germany, the Emperor, and the government are peace-loving. That the ambassador knows as well as I do. We enter the war with a clear conscience, but England's responsibility is monumental.
    • Remarks to the British Ambassador, Edward Goschen (4 August 1914), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 72
  • I repeat the words of the Kaiser: ‘We enter the struggle with a clear conscience!’ (Great enthusiasm.) We are fighting for the fruits of our labours in peace, for the heritage of a great past, and for our future. The fifty years are not yet ended within which Moltke said we should stand at arms to defend the heritage and the achievements of 1870. The hour of great trial has struck for our nation. But we look forward to it with absolute confidence. (Tremendous applause.) Our army is in the field, our fleet is ready, and behind them the entire German nation (roars of enthusiastic applause and hand-clapping in the whole House)—the whole German nation! (These words were accompanied by a gesture towards the Social Democrats.—Renewed outburst of applause, in which the Social Democrats also joined.)
    • Speech to the Reichstag (4 August 1914), Berliner Tageblatt (5 August 1914), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (1941), p. 85
  • When assessing the responsibility for this war—we have to confess honestly that we bear a share of the guilt. If I said this thought oppresses me, I would say too little—this thought never leaves me. I live in it.
    • Remarks to Theodor Wolff (5 February 1915), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 76
  • The Italian Government has now written her perfidy indelibly with letters of blood on the pages of history.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (28 May 1915), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (1941), p. 222
  • We will create real guarantees to ensure that Belgium shall not become a Franco-British vassal and shall not be used as a military and economic high road against Germany. Germany cannot abandon the so long enslaved Flemish people to Latinisation. We will, on the contrary, ensure for it a sound development corresponding to its resources and based on the Flemish language and character.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (5 April 1916), quoted in W. W. Coole (ed.), Thus Spake Germany (1941), p. 276
  • What I am able to say concerning the direction and aim of our terms, I have already said repeatedly. To put an end to the war with a durable peace that will compensate us for all the wrongs we have suffered and will safeguard the existence and future of a strong Germany—that is our aim.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (27 February 1917), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 91
  • My last speech before the assembled Reichstag on December 12, 1916, concerned the proposal of Germany and her Allies to enter into peace negotiations Our action found a lively echo in the neutral countries. But in the enemy countries the stubborn war lust of their rulers was stronger than the cry of the nations for peace. Our enemies alone bear the enormous guilt for the continued bloodshed. It was they who rejected the hand of understanding.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (27 February 1917), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 92
  • Of the sea blockade imposed by us jointly with Austria-Hungary on Britain, France and Italy, I spoke on January 31 before your Main Committee. To the Note announcing the blockade which was published at the tune, we have received from the neutrals replies with reservations and protests. We are by no means unaware of the great difficulties with which neutral shipping has become confronted, and are trying to mitigate them as far as possible. But we also know that these difficulties are ultimately due only to Britain's brutal sea tyranny. It is this enslavement by Britain of all non-British sea traffic that we want to and willl break. The freedom of the sea, for which we are fighting, will also be of benefit to the neutral countries.
    • Speech to the Reichstag (27 February 1917), quoted in W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest, 1913–1933 (1945), p. 92
  • This war torments me. Again and again I ask if it could have been avoided and what I should have done differently. ... [A]ll nations are guilty; Germany, too, bears a large part of the blame.
    • Remarks to Conrad Haussmann (24 February 1918), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 48
  • Lord yes, in a certain sense it was a preventive war, [motivated by] the constant threat of attack, the greater likelihood of its inevitability in the future, and by the military's claim: today war is still possible without defeat, but not in two years! Yes, the generals. It could only have been avoided by a rapprochement with England, that is still my conviction. But after we had decided for a [common] policy with Austria, we could not desert her in such danger.
    • Remarks to Conrad Haussmann (24 February 1918), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 48
  • We were severely handicapped by the war of [18]70-71 and by our geographical position. Since the coronation of Emperor [William II] we often did the opposite of that which would have lightened our burden. ... [But] surely imperialism would have triumphed even without our help, and it remains highly questionable if, even with the most reasonable policy, we could have prevented the natural French, Russian, and English opposition from uniting against us. We have become guilty but only universal and collective guilt has brought about the world catastrophe.
    • Letter to Eisendecher (12 July 1919), quoted in Konrad H. Jarauschl, ‘The Illusion of Limited War: Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg's Calculated Risk, July 1914’, Central European History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Mar., 1969), p. 53

Quotes about Bethmann-Hollweg[edit]

  • I would not have declared war on Russia and France on our part, for we thereby placed ex nexu foederis first Rumania, then Italy. That was very stupid on the part of Bethmann and Jagow. Even our friends in Italy, who excuse us by saying that in the summer of 1914 we sinned not from malice, but from simplicity, cannot explain this lourde bêtise. It is indeed difficult to explain, and always will be. Ballin has assured me that the reason Bethmann insisted that we should declare war on Russia was that he thought that the Social Democrats could only be brought into it that way, expecting that “Tsarism” (detested by the whole of our Left-Wing) would affect them as a red rag affects a certain quadruped.

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