Germany and the Next War
General Friedrich von Bernhardi
Prince Bismarck repeatedly declared before the German Reichstag that no one should ever take upon himself the immense responsibility of intentionally bringing about a war. It could not, he said, be foreseen what unexpected events might occur, which altered the whole situation, and made a war, with its attendant dangers and horrors, superfluous. In his “Thoughts and Reminiscences” he expresses himself to this effect: “Even victorious wars can only be justified when they are forced upon a nation, and we cannot see the cards held by providence so closely as to anticipate the historical development by personal calculation.”
We need not discuss whether Prince Bismarck wished this dictum to be regarded as a universally applicable principle, or whether he uttered it as a supplementary explanation of the peace policy which he carried out for so long. It is difficult to gauge its true import. The notion of forcing a war upon a nation bears various interpretations. We must not think merely of external foes who compel us to fight. A war may seem to be forced upon a statesman by the state of home affairs, or by the pressure of the whole political situation.
Prince Bismarck did not, however, always act according to the strict letter of that speech; it is his special claim to greatness that at the decisive moment he did not lack the boldness to begin a war on his own initiative. The thought which he expresses in his later utterances cannot, in my opinion, be shown to be a universally applicable principle of political conduct. If we wish to regard it as such, we shall not only run counter to the ideas of our greatest German Prince, but we exclude from politics that independence of action which is the true motive force.
The greatness of true statesmanship consists in a knowledge of the natural trend of affairs, and in a just appreciation of the value of the controlling forces, which it uses and guides in its own interest. It does not shrink from the conflicts, which under the given conditions are unavoidable, but decides them resolutely by war when a favourable position affords prospect of a successful issue. In this way statecraft becomes a tool of Providence, which employs the human will to attain its ends. “Men make history,” as Bismarck's actions clearly show.
No doubt the most strained political situation may unexpectedly admit of a peaceful solution. The death of some one man, the setting of some great ambition, the removal of some master-will, may be enough to change it fundamentally. But the great disputes in the life of a nation cannot be settled so simply. The man who wished to