Eleven

ONLY A SHADOW: WILHELM
AND HIS GENERALS

THROUGHOUT HIS long life, Wilhelm II tended to reduce all issues and problems to a matter of relations with other individuals, believing that he was capable of solving any problem if allowed to deal with a fellow sovereign. 1 No question was important enough to detach the Kaiser from his intensely personalized viewpoint, and thus much of the political history of imperial Germany involving the Kaiser is a chronicle of the attempts made by Wilhelm's advisers to ingratiate themselves so that he would endorse their ideas. Once captured, the Kaiser could then be exploited by feeding him only such information as would be convenient, by assuring him that in fact it was he who ruled Germany, and by demolishing the credibility of the opposition. Men of principle did not function well in such an environment, but courtiers replete with flattery and innuendo — Bernhard von Bülow was never eclipsed in this respect—usually succeeded in getting Wilhelm II to do what they wanted.

War did not change the Kaiser, and from 1914 to its disastrous conclusion in 1918 he continued to cling to people whom he liked, to be suspicious of others, and to be easily manipulated by almost all. The increasingly problematical situation in which Germany found itself after Europe exploded did not bring out in him a heightened sense of responsibility or a more deliberate judgment. Wilhelm identified the problems of a nation at arms with personalities and played favorites right down to the extinction of his empire, by which time he had become a cipher. The Kaiser's reduction even of war to a matter of prejudice was conspicuous in his attachment to General Erich von Falkenhayn, whom he had chosen in November 1914 to succeed the discredited General Helmuth von Moltke as chief of the General Staff and whom he had retained thereafter in spite of Falkenhayn's failure to shatter the Allied line in the west. At Christmas I9I5, Falkenhayn persuaded the Kaiser to approve the army's war plans

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