Magazine article The Spectator

The Man Who Might Have Stopped Hilter

Magazine article The Spectator

The Man Who Might Have Stopped Hilter

Article excerpt

GUSTAV STRESEMANN: WEIMAR'S GREATEST STATESMAN by Jonathan Wright OUP, L25, pp. 525, ISBN 0198219490

When war broke out in 1914 Stresemann accused Britain of forging an alliance which had fallen on Germany `like a thief in the night'. To prevent this ever happening again, he called for the creation through vast annexations of a `greater Germany' which would dominate the Continent, with any future British attack deterred by turning Calais into a `German Gibraltar'. Stresemann supported his country's resort in 1917 to unrestricted submarine warfare and remained an annexationist until it became clear in the summer of 1918 that Germany's armies in the west had been defeated and must sue for peace.

Yet within a few years Stresemann had become the man who held the Weimar Republic together and as foreign minister promoted a successful policy of reconciliation with France. No wonder some of his contemporaries saw him as an opportunist and a charlatan, for on the face of it he had undergone a most extraordinary transformation, from warmonger to constructive statesman. Jonathan Wright's lucid and authoritative account of Stresemann's political career amounts to a powerful defence against the charge of insincerity. It reminds us that the reckless young National Liberal politician, who was debarred by ill health from military service, had already called, during the first world war, for Germany to become far more democratic. Stresemann warned the Reichstag in 1917 that Germany's political backwardness had made German ministers far less able than their British counterparts both to unite public opinion at home and to mobilise international support.

These were gifts which Stresemann proved himself, in the six years to his death in 1929, to possess in abundance. He was a great parliamentarian and a great negotiator, who played a weak hand - his country was in danger of disintegrating and his own party generally got about nine per cent of the vote - with courage and finesse. He understood how afraid the French were of German recovery, but argued that unless the Versailles treaty was revised Germany would collapse and `the whole of Europe will go up in flames together'. It followed that Germany and her former enemies had a common interest in German recovery. This could not be achieved by military means, which would simply `bring back to life an alliance of the whole world against Germany'. …

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