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Madness

We have all, I suppose, read and marvelled at the wonderful German “song of hate.” This has been so much admired over the water that Prince Ruprecht of Bavaria (who had just stated his bitter hatred of us in a prose army order) distributed copies of the verses to his Bavarians as a stimulant in their long, unsuccessful tussle with our troops at Ypres. In case the reader has forgotten its flavour, I append a typical verse:


”We will never forgo our hate.

We have all but a single hate.

We love as one, we hate as one,

We have one foe and one alone—

England.”


This sort of thing is, it must be admitted, very painful and odious. It fills us with a mixture of pity and disgust, and we feel as if, instead of a man, we were really fighting with a furious, screaming woman. Germany used to be a very great nation, mentally and morally as well as in material ways, and many of us, even while we fight her, are honestly pained by the depths of degradation into which she has fallen. This shrill scream of hate and constant frenzied ranting against Great Britain may reach its highest note in this poem, but we know that it pervades the whole Press and every class of national thought. It is deliberately fed by lying journals, which publish bogus letters describing the imaginary sufferings of German prisoners, and also by the Government itself, which upon receiving a Socialist report partly favourable to Britain, excised those passages and circulated the rest as a complete document, so as to give the idea that it was wholly condemnatory. Wherever we touch Germany in its present phase, whether it be the Overlord himself with his megalomaniac messages, the princes with their looting of châteaux, the Foreign Office with its trick of stealing American passports for the use of German spies, the army with its absolute brutality, the navy with its tactics of mine-laying in neutral waters, the Press with its grotesque concoctions, the artists with their pictures, which are so base that the decent Germans have themselves at last rebelled against them, or the business men with their assertion that there is less economic disturbance in Germany than in Great Britain—wherever, I say, you touch them you come always upon what is odious and deceitful. A long century will have passed before Germany can wash her hands clean from murder, or purge from her spirit the shadow of this evil time.

If the words of one humble individual could reach across the seas, there are two things upon which I should wish to speak earnestly to a German: the one, our own character, the other, the future which he is deliberately preparing for the Fatherland which he loves. Our papers do get over there, even as theirs come over here, so one may hope it is not impossible that some German may give a thought to what I say, if he is not so bemused by the atmosphere of lies in which his Press has enveloped him that he cannot recognise cold truth when he sees it.

First as to ourselves: we have never been a nation who fought with hatred. It is our ideal to fight in a sporting spirit. It is not that we are less in earnest, but it is that the sporting spirit itself is a thing very largely evolved by us and is a natural expression of our character. We fight as hard as we can, and we like and admire those who fight hard against us so long as they keep within the rules of the game. Let me take an obvious example. One German has done us more harm than any other in this war. He is Captain von Müller of the Emden, whose depredations represent the cost of a battleship. Yet an honest sigh of relief went up from us all when we learned that he had not perished with his ship, and if he walked down Fleet Street to-day he would be cheered by the crowd from end to end. Why? Because almost alone among Germans he has played the game as it should be played. It is true that everything that he did was illegal. He had no right to burn uncondemned prizes, and a purist could claim that he was a pirate. But we recognised the practical difficulties of his position; we felt that under the circumstances he had acted like a gentleman, and we freely forgave him any harm that he had done us. With this example before you, my German reader, you cannot say that it is national hatred when we denounce your murderers and brigands in Belgium. If they, too, had acted as gentlemen, we should have felt towards them as to von Müller.

If you look back in British history, you will find that this absence of hatred has always been characteristic of us. When Soult came to London after the Napoleonic wars, he was cheered through the City. After the Boer War, Botha, de Wet, and Delarey had a magnificent reception. We did not know that one of them was destined to prove a despicable and perjured traitor. They had been good fighters, the fight was done, we had shaken hands—and we cheered them. All British prize-fights ended with the shaking of hands. Though the men could no longer see each other, they were led up and their hands were joined. When a combatant refuses to do this, it has always been looked upon as unmanly, and we say that bad blood has been left behind. So in war we have always wished to fight to a finish and then be friends, whether we had won or lost.

Now, this is just what we should wish to do with Germany, and it is what Germany is rapidly making impossible. She has, in our opinion, fought a brave but a thoroughly foul fight. And now she uses every means to excite a bitter hatred which shall survive the war. The Briton is tolerant and easy-going in times of peace—too careless, perhaps, of the opinion of other nations. But at present he is in a most alert and receptive mood, noting and remembering very carefully every word that comes to him as to the temper of the German people and the prospects of the future. He is by no means disposed to pass over all these announcements of permanent hatred. On the contrary, he is evidently beginning, for the first time since Napoleon’s era, to show something approaching to hatred in return. He—and “he” stands for every Briton across the seas as well as for the men of the Islands—makes a practical note of it all, and it will not be forgotten, but will certainly bear very definite fruits. The national thoughts do not come forth in wild poems of hate, but they none the less are gloomy and resentful, with the deep, steady resentment of a nation which is slow to anger.

And now, my problematical German reader, I want you to realise what this is going to mean to you after the war. Whether you win or lose—and we have our own very certain opinion as to which it will be—Germany will still remain as a great independent State. She may be a little trimmed at the edges, and she may also find herself with some awkward liabilities; but none the less she will be a great kingdom or republic—as the Fates may will. She will turn her hand to trade and try to build up her fortunes once more—for even if we suppose her to be the victor, she still cannot live for ever on plunder, and must turn herself to honest trade, while if she loses her trade will be more precious to her than ever. But what will her position be when that time has come?

It will be appalling. No other word can express it. No legislation will be needed to keep German goods out of the whole British Empire, which means more than a quarter of the globe. Anything with that mark might as well have a visible cholera bacillus upon it for the chance it will have of being handled after this war. That is already certain, and it is the direct outcome of the madness which has possessed Germany in her frantic outcry of hatred. What chance they have of business with France, Russia, or Japan they know best themselves; but the British Empire, with that wide trade toleration which has long been her policy (and for which she has had so little gratitude), would have speedily forgiven Germany and opened her markets to her. Now it is not for many a long year that this can be so—not on account of the war, but on account of the bitterness which Germany has gone out of her way to import into the contest. It is idle to say that in that case we should lose our exports to Germany. Even if it were so, it would not in the least affect the sentiments of the retail sellers and buyers in this country, whose demands regulate the wholesale trade. But as a matter of fact, what Germany buys from the British Empire is the coal, wool, etc., which are the raw materials of her industry, with which she cannot possibly dispense.

But the pity of it all! We might have had a straight, honest fight, and at the end of it we might have conceded that the German people had been innocently misled, by their military caste and their Press, into the idea that their country was being attacked, and so were themselves guiltless in the matter. They, on their side, might at last have understood that Britain had been placed in such a position by her guarantees to Belgium that it was absolutely impossible that she could stand out of the war. With these mutual concessions, some sort of friendship could possibly have been restored, for it is no one’s interest, and least of all ours, that the keystone should be knocked right out of the European arch. But all this has been rendered impossible by these hysterical screamers of hate, and by those methods of murder on land, sea, and in air with which the war has been conducted. Hate is a very catching emotion, and when it translates itself into action it soon glows on either side of the North Sea. With neither race, to use Carlyle’s simile, does it blaze like the quick-flaming stubble, but with both it will smoulder like the slow red peat. Are there not even now strong, sane men in Germany who can tell these madmen what they are sowing for the next generation and the one that comes after it? It is not that we ask them to abate the resistance of their country. It is understood that this is a fight to the end. That is what we desire. But let them stand up and fight without reviling; let them give punishment without malice and receive it without wincing; let their press cease from lying, and their prophets from preaching hatred—then, lose or win, there may still be some chance for their future. But, alas! the mischief is already, I fear, too deep. When the seeds are sown, it is hard to check the harvest. Let the impartial critic consider von Müller of the Emden, and then, having surveyed our Press and that of Germany, let him say with whom lies the blame.

Arthur Conan Doyle

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