Read CHAPTER IV of What Germany Thinks The War as Germans see it, free online book, by Thomas F. A. Smith, on


“Munich. Evening after evening masses of people thronged the streets. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere weighed upon the spirit a leaden pressure which increased with every hour. Then came the stirring events on the evening of July 3ist, when the drums beat ‘general march’ on the Marienplatz, and a commissioner read the articles of war to a crowd numbered by thousands. Thirty drummers and commissioners in motors rushed through the streets of the city.

“On Saturday evening, August 1st, the general order for mobilization was proclaimed from the offices of the Muenchener Neuesten Nachrichten. A deep solemnity fell upon the masses of spectators and the crowd fell into rank to march to the Royal Palace, from a window of which King Ludwig spoke words of comfort and inspiration. Still singing the ’Wacht am Rhein,’ this river of humanity flowed on to the ‘Englischen Garten,’ at the corner of which stands the Austrian Legation. A gentleman addressed the representative of our beloved ally, who sounded in his reply the note of ‘faithfulness unto death.’

“And now from out the stifling depression of the leaden weight of the previous days there arose a terrible, united will, a single mighty thought. The whole of a great and powerful people was aroused, fired by one solemn resolve to act; advance on the enemy, and smash him to the earth!

“Dresden. I was sitting in the garden of a suburban restaurant; above me were the dark masses of chestnut trees, while before us, above the railway, was a long strip of bright, summer-night sky. There seemed to be something gloomy and uncanny in the air; the lamps blinked maliciously; a spirit of still expectation rested on the people; furtive glances were cast from time to time at the near embankment. Military trains were expected, and we listened nervously to the noises of the night. The first troop-transports; where were they going against Russia or to the French frontier? It was whispered that the troops would only be transported by night.

“At last a pounding thud came through the stillness of the night, and soon two colossal engines were silhouetted against the sky, like fire-spitting monsters. Their roar seemed more sinister than usual. Heavy forebodings rumbled out in the rocking and rolling of the endless coaches the clang of a future, pregnant with death and pain. Suddenly the tables were empty; everyone rushed towards the lighted compartments of the train, and a scene of indescribable jubilation followed as train after train of armed men rushed by into the night.

“Sometimes a troubled father was heard to exclaim: ’If only the first battles were fought and won!’ Yet calm confidence prevailed from the very beginning. But the sight of the quiet, machine-like completion of the mobilization strengthened our trust, even though a justifiable indignation and rage filled our hearts at Europe’s dastardly attack on the Central States. Hate flamed highest, however, when England declared war against us.

“There are several reasons for this. In the north of Germany, the Englishman is looked upon as the European who stands nearest the German, and with whom we have the most sympathy. His personal reliability and the manly firmness of his bearing, the culture of English social life, English art and style, have given Imperial Germany many points of contact and grounds for sympathy. Our historical interests have never collided. Then we suddenly became aware that this country, under the mask of friendship, had egged on the whole of Europe to attack us. Not because we had injured English feelings or interests, but solely to destroy a competitor and divide his coat of many colours.

“No political necessity compelled modern Carthage to declare war on us, but merely the avowed aim to do a good piece of business by the war. Without England’s intrigues Europe would never have dared to attack us. In our case, therefore, hate has sprung out of disappointed love. England has become our mortal enemy, just as Russia is Austria’s. In a word, the two Central Powers are inspired by moral superiority over their enemies, and are determined to wage war on them to the last drop of blood, and if fate permits it, to settle them off and settle up with them once for all.

“At the commencement of the mobilization the railway time-tables in force were cancelled; railway traffic ceased, and only slow local-trains ran, stopping at every station to pick up the men. During the nights a gigantic transport of troops went on to the frontiers. From that moment the sale of alcohol on the stations was prohibited. The publication of news concerning troop movements was suppressed, in order to veil our objective and to keep secret our strength on the various frontiers.

“The trains in the Tyrol were decked with wreaths and flowers. They bore Germans from the most southerly corners of our neutral ally Italy. Members of the Wehrkraftverein (Boy Scouts) inspected the trains at every station, and it is said that a Serb was found bound fast underneath one of the carriages. Serbian scoundrels were found on all sides; if one of them had succeeded in destroying the Brenner line the whole plan of mobilization would have been disturbed. Therefore sentinels were placed along the whole line and strong guards protected every tunnel. At night all lights were put out and those on the engines covered up; even the stations were not illuminated everywhere darkness.

“Slowly feeling its way, the train crept over the Brenner it took twelve hours; in Innsbruck the station was crowded with Germans to welcome the warriors, and the ancient hills echoed again and again the ‘Wacht am Rhein.’ The solemnity which had marked the first days in Munich had given place to boisterous joy. Thousands of men in mountain costume had flocked into Munich to offer themselves as volunteers, and the streets and station rang with their jodeln! (the peculiar cry of Alpine herdsmen).

“Outside the station lay vast quantities of materials for the Flying Corps, and innumerable motor-cars. A regiment of artillery was just leaving, while a band was in the centre of the station; the rhythm of the kettle-drums rolled mightily, and the music clashed in the huge central hall; thousands of voices joined in, then helmets, hats, caps, rifles and swords were waved and the train moved off amid shouts: ’Go for them! Cut them down!’ (’Drauf auf die Kerle! Haut sie zusammen!’)"

“If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget these days. They are the greatest in our history. We never dreamed that anything so overwhelming could be experienced on earth. Only three weeks ago and we should have been quite incapable of imagining its like. The feeling that we have experienced something overpowering, something which we cannot utter, overwhelms us all. We see it in each other’s faces and feel it in the pressure of a hand. Words are too weak, so each is silent about what he feels. We are conscious of one thing alone: Germany’s heart has appeared to us!

“At last we see each other as we are, and that is the indescribable something the birth of this great time. Never have we been so earnest and never so glad. Every other thought, every other feeling has gone. What we have thought and felt before was all unreality, mere ghosts; day has dawned and they have fled. The whole land bristles with arms and every German heart is filled with trust. If we were always as we are to-day one heart and one voice then the whole world would have to bow before us. But we no longer knew ourselves, we had forgotten our real nature. We were so many and so divided, and each wanted only to be himself. How was it that such madness could have blinded us, and discord weakened us?

“Now we realize our strength and see what we can achieve, for in spite of all we have retained our integrity; we have suffered no injury to the soul. Germany’s soul had slept awhile and now awakes like a giant refreshed, and we can hardly recollect what it was all like only three weeks ago, when each lived for himself, when we were at best only parties, not a people. Each knew not the other, because he knew not himself. In unholy egoism everyone had forgotten his highest will. Now each has found his true will again, and that is proved for we have only one.

“In all German hearts flames the same holy wrath. A sacred wrath which sanctifies and heals. Every wound heals; we are again healthy and whole. Praise be to God for this war which delivered us on the first day from German quarrelsomeness! When the days of peace return we must prove that we deserve to have lived through this holy German war. Then no word must be spoken, no deed done on German soil which would be unworthy of these sublime days.

“Groups stand at the street corners reading the latest news. One counts aloud how many enemies we have: there are already six. A silence ensues, till someone says: ’Many enemies, great honour, and we shall win, for our cause is just!’ Such utterances can be heard every day. That is German faith; human might does not decide, but God’s justice! That is the Supreme blessing of this great time; we put our trust in the spirit. Modern Germans have never breathed before so pure an atmosphere, for Germany’s soul has appeared to us.

“I am going to pronounce a blessing on this war, the blessing which is on all lips, for we Germans, no matter in what part of the world we are, all bless, bless and bless again this world war. I do not intend to become lyrical. Lyric is so far from me that in all these three months I have not composed a single war poem. No, I shall endeavour to count up quite calmly, unlyrically, what we have seen during these three months: point for point, the whole list of surprises, for they have all been surprises, one after the other.

“Only a few days ago a high State official said to me: ’Let us confess at once that in all Europe nobody believed in this war; everybody had prepared for it, but nobody thought it possible not even those who wanted war.’

“All thinking men considered that the interwoven economic dependence on each other among the nations, was so strong that none dare commit suicide by commencing a war. Thus we spoke to each other, and that seemed an axiom. Further, it seemed to be true that even if a madman let loose the dogs of war, then it would be all over in a fortnight. The man in the street imagined that it would be a kind of parade (Aufmarsch), a mobilization test, and the power which succeeded best would be the victor, for no country in the world was strong enough to stand the enormous cost for longer than three weeks.

“Now three months have gone, and we have stood the strain, and we can bear it for another three, six months, a year, or as many years as it must be. The calculation was wrong, all the calculations were wrong: the reality of this war surpasses everything which we had imagined, and it has been glorious to experience on so grand a scale that reality always surpasses the conception. Even that is not true which we learned in all the schools and read in all the books that every war is an awful misfortune. Even this war is horrible; yes, but our salvation. It seems so to us, and so it has appeared to us from the very first day onwards.

“That first day will remain in our memories for ever; never in all our lives had we experienced anything so grand, and we had never believed it possible to experience anything so magnificent. Word for word Bismarck’s prophecy (1888) has come true: ’It must be a war to which the whole nation gives its assent; it must be a national war, conducted with an enthusiasm like that of 1870, when we were ruthlessly attacked. Then all Germany from the Memel to Lake Constance will blaze up like a powder-mine and the whole land bristle with bayonets.’ The war which Bismarck prophesied was this war, and what he foretold came to pass, and we saw it with our eyes. We saw the German mobilization with eyes which since then have been consecrate.

“All enthusiasm is splendid, even in an individual, be he who he may and for whatever cause you like. In enthusiasm everything good in a man appears, while the common and vulgar in him sinks away. Any enthusiasm either of groups or societies in which the individual ego loses itself is grand, but the mighty enthusiasm of a powerful people is overwhelming. This was, however, an enthusiasm of a peculiar sort it was well disciplined, an enthusiasm combined with and controlled by the highest order.

“In this the fundamental secret of German power was revealed: to remain calm in enthusiasm, cold amidst fire and still obedient to duty in a tornado of passion. Then we were all inspired by the thought and feeling: ’Nobody can achieve that, for in order to be able to do it we have had to perform a huge intellectual and spiritual task. It is not alone the result of the last century and a half; no, that work has been going on for nearly a thousand years.’

“What is the spirit of our German mysticism, the spirit of Eckhart and Tauler, except: Drunkenness of the soul in a waking condition? The accepted law on which all great German deeds rest, is: to dovetail enthusiasm with discipline and order. From our Gothic, through German barock to Frederick the Great and Kant, on to the classical period what does all that mean if it is not the architecture of one huge feeling? The soul runs riot in its imaginings and therewith the intellect builds. The ravings of the soul provide the materials with which the mind builds.

“What is German music from Bach to Beethoven and from Beethoven to Wagner yes, even to Richard Strauss but enthusiasm with discipline? German music has been our mobilization; it has gone on just as in a partitur by Richard Wagner absolute rapture with perfect precision!

“Hence when we saw the miracle of this mobilization all Germany’s military manhood packed in railway trains, rolling through the land, day by day and night after night, never a minute late and never a question for which the right answer was not ready and waiting when we saw all this, we were not astonished, because it was no miracle; it was nothing other than a natural result of a thousand years of work and preparation; it was the net profit of the whole of German history.

“At the German mobilization not only our brave soldiers, reserves and militia (Landwehrmaenner und Landstuermler) entered the field, but the whole of Germany’s historic past marched with them. It was this which inspired the unshakable confidence which has endured from the first day of war. In truth, the dear Fatherland has every reason to be calm.

“In the meantime something more has happened: all in a moment we became Germans! We held our breaths when the Kaiser uttered these words. This too arose out of the deepest depths of Germany’s yearnings; it sounded like an eagle-cry of our most ancient longings. Germany’s soul has long pined to tear itself from its narrow confines (verwerden, as Eckhart, or sich entselbsten, as Goethe put it), to lay aside self-will and sacrifice itself, to be absorbed in the whole, and yet still to serve (Wagner). And this eternal German yearning had never reached fulfilment, but self-interest and egoism have always been stronger; every German has been at war with all the others. ‘For every man to go his own way,’ said Goethe, ’is the peculiar characteristic of the German race. I have never seen them united except in their hate for Napoleon. I am curious to see what they will do when he is banished to the other side of the Rhine.’ And Goethe was right: no sooner was the land freed from the oppressor, than each began again to think and act only for himself. Hence, when we first learned of the Kaiser’s words we felt almost a joyous fear. If it were only true that now there were only Germans! But on the very next day our eyes saw and our ears heard that at last there were only Germans, and with that, all pain and fear was forgotten. If war is awful, even a just war, a holy war even for the victor too, we will endure all that, for it is as nothing; no sacrifice is too great for this prize that we are all only Germans.

“Since the Emperor spoke those words three months have passed, and there have only been Germans in the land. These three months have brought much sorrow to German hearts, for there is hardly a home which does not lament a father, a son, or a brother. Nevertheless, one may say that since our existence as a nation, Germany has never been more joyous, in the best sense of the word, than in this time of suffering. Through our tears the noblest joy has shone; not alone at the success of our arms; it is not from pride at fighting against a world of enemies; it is not the fact that we are now assured of a future which in July last we could not have imagined; it is not the feeling of power, of which even we ourselves did not know. That shining joy springs from deeper reasons. We are glad because we have found each other; we did not know each other before. Indeed, no one knew himself. Now we know each other, and above all, each knows himself.

“It was Bismarck who uttered these terrible words: ’When the unoccupied German must give up the struggle and strife which has become dear to him, and offer the hand of reconciliation, then he loses all joy in life. Civil war is always the most terrible thing which any land can have. But with us Germans it is still more terrible, because it is fought out by us with more love for the strife than any other war.’

“Does it not sound truly horrible for the greatest benefactor of a nation, which has to thank him for having realized its century-old dream of unity, to say in all calm and as something quite obvious, that his own nation engages in a civil war ‘with more love’ than any other war? And wherever we look in Bismarck’s speeches, the same complaint is found which had been the eternal lamentation of Goethe the lament over the lack of faith and will of the Germans.

“How will it be this time? Will it be as after the Seven Years’ War, after the War of Liberation, after 1870? Will it be again all in vain? As soon as the Fatherland is secure, will every German once again cease to be a German in order to become some kind of -crat or -ist or -er? This time it will be more difficult, for from this war he will return no more into the same Fatherland. It will have expanded; the German Fatherland will be greater. Arndt’s poems must be written over again: no longer merely ‘as far as the German tongue is spoken.’ Germany will stretch beyond that limit, and in it the German will have work to do.

“In his speech Bismarck spoke of the ‘unoccupied’; but in all probability after this war, for years to come, there will be no ‘unoccupied’ Germans. They will be fully occupied with the new organization. What the sword has won, we shall keep. ’The pike in the European carp-pond,’ said Bismarck once, ’prevent us from becoming carp. They compel us to exertions which voluntarily we should hardly be willing to make. They compel us to hold together, which is in direct contradiction to our innermost nature.’

“As we cannot change our nature, it will be good if we take over for good and all a number a very considerable number, of these European pike. That will occupy the German peasant and give an outlet to his superfluous energies. There will be no leisure-energy to discharge itself in party strife. Further, we must build Europe up again. It stood on rotten foundations, and now it has fallen to pieces. We shall erect it again on a German basis, and there will be work enough."