8 SEPTEMBER 1939, Page 12


By HAROLD NICOLSON HAVING devoted much study to the causes of the First German War, I have always been perplexed by the importance attached by serious historians to the events of the twelve days which preceded August 4th, 1914. At such times there is an inevitable diplomatic scurry on the part of every belligerent to put the other side in the wrong and to render their own White Papers as white as possible. The true causes of war are not to be sought for amid these last-minute manceuvres, but must be traced back to the shiftings of international power, ambition and opportunity.; and interpreted in the light of national philosophies and traditions. I do not, for instance, believe that Germany was solely responsible for the last war, since I think that an even heavier weight of responsibility resis upon Austria and Russia. Nor have I ever ceased to regret that caddish phrase in the Treaty of Versailles which attributed to a whole people the guilt of a catastrophe for which, in many diverse ways, the whole human race was responsible.

Although, therefore, I do not attach undue importance to the curious chess-moves which we have witnessed during the last two w:cks, yet as a student of diplomacy I am enthralled by the ineptitude disp'ayed by the German Government. TI eir intention was to convince their own and world opinion that they had offered to Poland terms of peaceful settlement which would, by a large section of the human race, be regarded as reasonable. If they wished to appeal to world-reason it was essential to their case that they should be able to prove that the Polish Government had been afforded ample opportunity and time to consider these proposals. Yet in fact these terms were never communicated to the Polish Government, and the only communication of them that was made in any foreign quarter was a gabbled recitative executed by Herr von Ribbentrop in the presence of the British Ambassador. When the latter urged that such terms should immediately be ccmmunicated to the Polish Government, he was informed that it was now too late. It is a complicated task to convince the world, to say nothing of the future historian, that you have made a reasonable offer, when in fact you have made no offer at all.

This strange form of trickiness recalls to me a story which I was told, on very good authority, about Freiherr von Aehrenthal. In 1908 the Austrian Government made up their minds suddenly to annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before doing so it was necessary to square both Russia and Germany. The Russian Foreign Minister was therefore invited in September of that year to Count Berchtold's shooting box at Buchlau and was assured that if he would consent to the annexation he could count on Austria's support in his dream of securing the freedom of the Straits. The acquiescence of Germany was more difficult to obtain. Austria could scarcely embark upon so dangerous an adventure without previous consultation with the German Government, yet it was almost certain that if the German Government were consulted in advance they would restrain Austria from such reckless and provocative action. Baron Aehrenthal therefore devised a plan by which he could inform his ally of his intentions without arousing their anxiety or suspicions. Baron Aehrenthal took the German Ambassador aside and addressed to him the following proposition: "Nly dear Tschirschky," he said, "you loathe this sort (4. function as mach as I do, and I want a heart-to-heart talk. Let us both play truant next Sunday and escape to the Wiener Wald where I know of an excellent little restaurant. We shall lunch there quietly together and I shall sample with you some bottles of Brauneberger Auslese which I have just received." The Ambassador accepted this invitation and the following Sunday saw them sampling the Brauneberger among the pine trees. There were many bottles of that admirable vintage and before long Baron Aehrenthal began to manifest unmistakable and increasing symptoms of intoxication. The Ambassador was acutely embarrassed by these signs of self-indulgence on the part of the Foreign Secretary of his ally. Baron Aehrenthal began to rave and rant. "It is time," he shouted, "it is high time that we taught these Serbians a sharp lesson. My patience is exhausted. I warn you, my dear Tschirschky, that I am contemplating drastic methods, very drastic methods. I shall be driven to do something violent. I shall annex Bosnia-Herzegovina on October 6th, next. You mark my words, and don't say I didn't warn you."

Trusting that the waiters had not observed this strange cot: duct on the part of the Freiherr, the Ambassador helped him towards the car and they returned to Vienna. And when, on October 6th, Baron von Aehrenthal actually did annex the provinces, his notificat. o a to the German Government began with the words: "On October a last, in a confidential interview with the German Ambassador, I informed His Excellency that it was my intention . . ." I lerr von Tschirschky could neither deny that he had in fact received this information nor explain publicly how it came that he had attached no importance to it at the time and had in fact failed to pass it on to his Government. Such methods, although they enabled Freiherr von Aehrenthal to win a trick at the moment, did not conduce to the security or credit of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Unfortunate are those who have to contrive such stratagems. We have ourselves no need for falsification. Such errors as we have committed have been due to a refusal to believe that the intentions of others were as evil as they seemed. We may have erred in optimism; but we are not cynics. I trust those human values which (mistakenly perhaps) we have attributed to others, and for which we have now to fight, will not be forgotten in the stress and strain which we must now endure.

There are to-day living among us in Great Britain many exiled Germans and Austrians who have lost everything owing to their execration of the Nazi system and who now find themselves stranded in our midst. I can con • ceive no more terrible position. Whatever we have to endure will be shared by our own countrymen; we shall have many millions around us to support us in our sorrow as in our triumphs. For them there is no such consolation. They are unwanted at home and they know all too well that they are not wanted in the alien lands where they have sought refuge. If we really feel that our present combat is a fight for Christian ideals as against pagan doctrines, then let us show Christianity to the unhappy frightened aliens in our midst. It may well be that the Defence of the Realm will entail the segregation of many enemy subjects in internment camps. But let us treat them personally as the victims of terrible circumstance and not as responsible for the evil which has been done.