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The Great German Plot

It will be a fascinating task for the historian of the immediate future to work out the various strands of evidence which seem to be independent and yet when followed up converge upon the central purpose of a prearranged war for the late summer of 1914—a war in which Germany should be the prime mover and instigator and Austria the dupe and catspaw.

Of course, there are some great facts patent to all the world. There is the sudden rapid acceleration of German preparations for the last two years, the great increase of the army with the colours, and the special emergency tax which was to bring in fifty millions of money. Looking back, we can see very clearly that these things were the run before the jump. Germany at the moment of declaring war had accumulated by processes extending over years all the money which by borrowing or taxation she could raise, and she cannot really expect the rest of the world to believe that it was a mere coincidence that a crisis came along at that particular and favourable moment. All the evidence tends to show that the long-planned outbreak—the “letting-go” as it was called in Germany—was carefully prepared for that particular date and that the Bosnian assassinations had nothing whatever to do with the matter. A pretext could very easily be found, as Bernhardi remarks, and if the Crown Prince of Austria were still alive and well we should none the less have found ourselves at death-grips with the Kaiser over the Belgian infraction.

There are a number of small indications which will have to be investigated and collated by the inquiring chronicler. There is, for example, the reception of guns for a merchant cruiser in a South American port which must have been sent off not later than July 10, three weeks before the crisis developed. There is the document of this same date, July 10, found upon a German officer, which is said to have censured him for not having answered some mobilisation form on that day. Then there is the abnormal quantity of grain ordered in Canada and America in May; and finally there is the receipt of mobilisation warnings by Austrian reservists in South Africa, advising them that they should return at a date which must place their issue from Vienna in the first week of July. All these small incidents show the absurdity of the German contention that at a moment of profound peace some sort of surprise was sprung upon them. There was, indeed, a surprise intended, but they were to be the surprisers—though, indeed, I think their machinations were too clumsy to succeed. They had retained the immorality but lost the ability for that sudden tiger pounce which Frederick, in a moment of profound peace, made upon Silesia.

I fancy that every Chancellery in Europe suspected that something was in the wind. It was surely not a mere coincidence that the grand Fleet lay ready for action at Spithead and that the First Army Corps was practising some very useful mobilisation exercises at Aldershot. After all, our British Administration is not so simple-minded as it sometimes seems. Indeed, that very simplicity may at times be its most deadly mask. At one time of my life I was much bruised in spirit over the ease with which foreigners were shown over our arsenals and yards. Happening to meet the head of the Naval Intelligence Department, I confided my trouble to him. It was at a public banquet where conversation was restricted, but he turned his head towards me, and his left eyelid flickered for an instant. Since then I have never needed any reassurance upon the subject.

But there is another matter which will insist on coming back into one’s thoughts when one reviews the events which preceded the war. I was in Canada in June, and the country was much disturbed by the fact that a shipload of Hindus had arrived at Vancouver, and had endeavoured to land in the face of the anti-Asiatic immigration laws. It struck me at the time as a most extraordinary incident, for these Indians were not the usual Bengalee pedlars, but were Sikhs of a proud and martial race. What could be their object in endeavouring to land in Canada, when the climate of that country would make it impossible for them to settle in it? It was a most unnatural incident, and yet a most painful one, for the British Government was placed in the terrible dilemma of either supporting Canada against India or India against Canada. Could anything be better calculated to start an agitation in one country or the other? The thing was inexplicable at the time, but now one would wish to know who paid for that ship and engineered the whole undertaking. I believe it was one more move on Germany’s world-wide board. [Two months later, according to The Times, official evidence of this was actually forthcoming.—A. C. D.]

In connection with the date at which the long-expected German war was to break out, it is of interest now to remember some of the conversations to which I listened three years ago, when I was a competitor in the Anglo-German motor competition, called the Prince Henry Tour. It was a very singular experience, and was itself not without some political meaning, since it could hardly have been chance that a German gunboat should appear at Agadir at the very instant when the head of the German Navy was making himself agreeable (and he can be exceedingly agreeable) to a number of Britons, and a genial international atmosphere was being created by the nature of the contest, which sent the whole fleet of seventy or eighty cars on a tour of hospitality through both countries. I refuse to believe that it was chance, and it was a remarkable example of the detail to which the Germans can descend. By the rules of the competition a German officer had to be present in each British car and a British officer in each German one during the whole three weeks, so as to check the marks of the driver. It was certainly an interesting situation, since every car had its foreign body within it, which had to be assimilated somehow with the alternative of constant discomfort. Personally we were fortunate in having a Rittmeister of Breslau Cuirassiers, with whom we were able to form quite a friendship. Good luck to you, Count Carmer, and bad luck to your regiment! To you also, little Captain Türck, de Fregattencapitän am dienst, the best of luck, and ill betide your cruiser! We found pleasant friends among the Germans, though all were not equally fortunate, and I do not think that the net result helped much towards an international entente.

However, the point of my reminiscence is that on this tour I, being at that time a champion of Anglo-German friendship, heard continual discussions, chiefly on the side of British officers, several of whom were experts on German matters, as to when the impending war would be forced upon us. The date given was always 1914 or 1915. When I asked why this particular year, the answer was that the German preparations would be ready by then, and especially the widening of the Kiel Canal, by which the newer and larger battleships would be able to pass from the Baltic to the North Sea. It says something for the foresight of these officers that this widening was actually finished on June 24 of this year, and within six weeks the whole of Europe was at war. I am bound to admit that they saw deeper into the future than I did, and formed a truer estimate of our real relations with our fellow-voyagers. “Surely you feel more friendly to them now,” said I at the end to one distinguished officer. “All I want with them now is to fight them,” said he. We have all been forced to come round to his point of view.

Yes, it was a deep, deep plot, a plot against the liberties of Europe, extending over several years, planned out to the smallest detail in the days of peace, developed by hordes of spies, prepared for by every conceivable military, naval, and financial precaution, and finally sprung upon us on a pretext which was no more the real cause of war than any other excuse would have been which would serve their turn by having some superficial plausibility. The real cause of war was a universal national insanity infecting the whole German race, but derived originally from a Prussian caste who inoculated the others with their megalomania.

This insanity was based upon the universal supposition that the Germans were the Lord’s chosen people, that in the words of Buy, they were “the most cultured people, the best settlers, the best warriors”—the best everything. Having got that idea thoroughly infused into their very blood, the next step was clear. If they were infinitely the best people living amidst such tribes as “the barbarous Russians, the fickle French, the beastly Servians and Belgians,” to quote one of their recent papers, then why should they not have all the best things in the world? If they were really the most powerful, who could gainsay them? They need not do it all at once, but two great national efforts would give them the whole of unredeemed Germany, both shores of the Rhine down to the sea, the German cantons of Switzerland, and, in conjunction with Austria, the long road that leads to Salonica. All local causes and smaller details sink into nothing compared with this huge national ambition which was the real driving force at the back of this formidable project.

And it was a very formidable project. If such things could be settled by mere figures and time-tables without any reference to the spirit and soul of the nations, it might very well have succeeded. I think that we are not indulging too far in national complacency if we say that without the British army—that negligible factor—it would for the time at least have succeeded. Had the Germans accomplished their purpose of getting round the left wing of the French, it is difficult to see how a debacle could have been avoided, and it was our little army which stood in the pass and held it until that danger was past. It is certain now that the huge sweep of the German right had never been allowed for, that the French troops in that quarter were second-line troops, and that it was our great honour and good fortune to have dammed that raging torrent and stopped the rush which must have swept everything before it until it went roaring into Paris. And yet how many things might have prevented our presence at the right place at the right time, and how near we were to a glorious annihilation upon that dreadful day when the artillery of five German army corps—eight hundred and thirty guns in all—were concentrated upon Smith-Dorrien’s exhausted men. The success or failure of the great conspiracy hung upon the over-matched British covering batteries upon that one critical afternoon. It was the turning-point of the history of the world.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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