Academic journal article The Historian

"Different Points of View?": The Daily Telegraph Affair as a Transnational Media Event

Academic journal article The Historian

"Different Points of View?": The Daily Telegraph Affair as a Transnational Media Event

Article excerpt

In the immediate excitement engendered by the publication of Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941)'s Daily Telegraph interview, a political cartoon appeared in the 'Westminster Gazette. Entitled "Different Points of View," it sought to explain why this particular story had dropped like a publicity bombshell in both countries. The cartoon portrayed two different Kaisers. On the one hand, there was William II, as the English saw him. This version of the German emperor appeared the very epitome of Prussian militarism: with a moustache curled up in two fine points and brows knit angrily as if inspecting the troops, he stood at attention, in a military uniform fully decked out with the requisite spiked helmet and dress sword. Juxtaposed against this view was a picture showing the Germans' own view of their ruler. Here the Kaiser seemed the perennial sporting gentleman: Wearing a top hat and fox-hunting gear, this William II was standing at ease with a riding whip in hand, pants tucked into riding boots, and a cigar whose fineness could only be outclassed by the obedient hound to his right. "The chief fault which the British find with the German Emperor," a caption explained, "is that he is so extremely German.... [T]he chief fault that the Germans find with him is that he is so extremely British." (1) Appearing in the Westminster Gazette, a Liberal paper that had often advocated better relations between the two countries, the unfortunate message was clear. Something was obviously lost in translation; the cultural divide had led to two entirely opposite interpretations of the exact same interview.

This view of the state of Anglo-German relations was common at the time and has dominated the historiography of the period. The Daily Telegraph Affair of 1908 is typical, for historians have mainly examined the episode from the perspective of its effect on either England or Germany in their respective national contexts. In the English case, for example, T.G. Otte has compellingly argued that the Daily Telegraph Affair had a major effect on the decisionmaking establishment in London; its increasingly pessimistic stance toward Germany increased as a function of the interview's apparent confirmation of the German peril. (2) For the history of the Kaiserreich, on the other hand, the traditional interpretation has viewed the Daily Telegraph Affair as important primarily at the domestic level for what it tells us about the particular nature of the German political system--even if no historian has as yet directly connected the dots between a backward monarchical government and Germany's oft-discussed "special path" (Sonderweg) to modernity. (3) Particularly with regard to the heated historiographical discussion surrounding the Kaiser's so-called "personal rule," (4) the general scholarly consensus sees the Daily Telegraph Affair as mostly confirming William II's position and power in relation to his "responsible" ministers. They were either powerless to impose constitutional limits on the monarchy, (5) self-emasculated by their "notorious submissiveness," (6) or deliberately instigated the crisis to rein in and humiliate the Kaiser, subsequently regaining control of Germany's foreign policy. (7)

Peter Winzen's in-depth treatment of the Daily Telegraph crisis, which is the most recent scholarly work to examine the episode in detail, points exactly to these two questions as the central themes highlighted by the dramatic events of 1908. He stresses the "stunning" foreign ramifications of the Kaiser's interview for inciting a fear in London that Germany would deflect the domestic storm "with an unprovoked military strike against England and France." (8) But Winzen pays even greater attention to the domestic cover-up engineered by Chancellor Bernhard von Bulow (1849-1929) and his advisors, who did everything they could to hide their own accountability and irresponsible actions prior to publication. Winzen meticulously argues not only that Bulow knew the entirety of the interview in advance and determinedly whitewashed the record of his foreknowledge, but also that he must have recognized better than anybody the manuscript for the "political dynamite" that it was. …

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