One

THE MAN AT MID-PASSAGE

AFEW WEEKS after the new century opened in 1900, Wilhelm II, King of Prussia and German Emperor, celebrated his forty-first birthday, an occasion that marked the halfway point in a long life that would finally come to an end in the summer of 1941. At forty-one, the Kaiser was not markedly different in personality or character from what he had been twenty years earlier, when, following his brief exposure to a university education at Bonn, he had begun his career in the Prussian army. Wilhelm proved immune to profiting from experience, and the strident, opinionated martinet of the I880s would be easily detected in the octogenarian of 1940. As a superannuated graybeard in his twilight of exile and obscurity, he was just as dilettantish and mean, and entirely unrepentant, as he had been as a young man, one in whom parents, teachers, and friends had bemoaned an idle immaturity and a hardness of heart. 1

Called early by destiny to a position of incomparable power, one that required wisdom and forbearance, the last Kaiser unfortunately stagnated into a sort of perpetual adolescence, confusing talk for thought, instantaneous opinion for genius, and remaining untouched by reflection, sentimentality, or hard work. Bluster, rhetoric, and martial swagger cloaked a profound emptiness, for ignorance and self-indulgence were his primary characteristics. These traits ensured that Wilhelm II would be a disaster as a monarch, leading his hapless subjects to a tragic end, one they could hardly have been able to foresee at the time he ascended the throne in I888. The last Kaiser's egomaniacal personality also resulted in his inability, in the course of eight decades of life, to forge enduring and happy relationships with other men and women, even among those relatives, other rulers, or aristocrats who might ordinarily have been expected to be the mainstays of his existence. Wilhelm's cool alienation from his fellow human beings throughout his life was remarkable, and as a result he had only a handful of friends. 2 The few men who somehow managed to retain the Kaiser's favor over the years functioned more as loyal officials than as intimates to whom he revealed his innermost self. Almost no one — per

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