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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From a Speech on the Military Bill
By Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898)
 
In the German Imperial Diet, February 6th, 1888

WHEN I say that we must constantly endeavor to be equal to all contingencies, I mean by that to claim that we must make greater exertions than other powers in order to attain the same result, because of our geographical position. We are situated in the middle of Europe. We have at least three fronts of attack. France has only its eastern frontier, Russia only its western frontier, on which it can be attacked. We are, moreover, in consequence of the whole development of the world’s history, in consequence of our geographical position, and perhaps in consequence of the slighter degree of internal cohesion which the German nation as compared with others has thus far possessed, more exposed than any other people to the risk of a coalition. God has placed us in a situation in which we are prevented by our neighbors from sinking into any sort of indolence or stagnation. He has set at our side the most warlike and the most restless of nations, the French; and he has permitted warlike inclinations, which in former centuries existed in no such degree, to grow strong in Russia. Thus we get a certain amount of spurring on both sides, and are forced into exertions which otherwise perhaps we should not make. The pikes in the European carp-pond prevent us from becoming carps, by letting us feel their prickles on both our flanks; they constrain us to exertions which perhaps we should not voluntarily make; they constrain us Germans also to a harmony among ourselves that is repugnant to our inmost nature: but for them, our tendency would rather be to separate. But the Franco-Russian press in which we are caught forces us to hold together, and by its pressure it will greatly increase our capacity for cohesion, so that we shall reach in the end that state of inseparableness which characterizes nearly all other nations, and which we still lack. But we must adapt ourselves to this decree of Providence by making ourselves so strong that the pikes can do no more than enliven us….  1
  The bill gives us an increase in troops trained to arms—a possible increase: if we do not need it, we need not call for it; we can leave it at home. But if we have this increase at our disposal, and if we have the weapons for it,… then this new law constitutes a reinforcement of the guarantees of peace, a reinforcement of the league of peace, that is precisely as strong as if a fourth great power with an army of 700,000 men—and this was formerly the greatest strength that existed—had joined the alliance. This powerful reinforcement will also, I believe, have a quieting effect upon our own countrymen, and lessen in some degree the nervousness of our public opinion, our stock-market, and our press. I hope it will act upon them as a sedative when they clearly comprehend that from the moment at which this law is signed and published the men are there. The armament too may be said to be ready, in the shape of what is absolutely necessary: but we must procure a better, for if we form an army of triarians of the best human material that we have,—of the men above thirty, the husbands and fathers,—we must have for them the best weapons there are. We must not send them into the fight with an outfit that we do not regard as good enough for our young troops of the line. The solid men, the heads of families, these stalwart figures that we can still remember from the time that they held the bridge of Versailles,—these men must have the best rifles on their shoulders, the completest armament, and the amplest clothing to protect them from wind and weather. We ought not to economize there.—But I hope it will tranquilize our fellow-citizens, if they are really thinking of the contingency (which I do not expect to occur) of our being attacked simultaneously on two sides,—of course, as I have pointed out in reviewing the events of the last forty years, there is always the possibility of any sort of coalition,—I hope it will tranquillize them to remember that if this happens, we can have a million good soldiers to defend each of our frontiers. At the same time we can keep in the rear reserves of half a million and more, of a million even, and we can push these forward as they are needed. I have been told, “That will only result in the others going still higher.” But they cannot. They have long ago reached their limits…. In numbers they have gone as high as we, but in quality they cannot compete with us. Bravery, of course, is equal among all civilized nations; the Russian and the Frenchman fight as bravely as the German: but our men, our 700,000 new men, have seen service; they are soldiers who have served their time, and who have not yet forgotten their training. Besides—and this is a point in which no people in the world can compete with us—we have the material for officers and under-officers to command this enormous army. It is here that competition is excluded, because it involves a peculiarly broad extension of popular culture, such as exists in Germany and in no other country….  2
  There is a further advantage that will result from the adoption of this law: the very strength at which we are aiming necessarily makes us peaceful. That sounds paradoxical, but it is true. With the powerful machine which we are making of the German army no aggression will be attempted. If I saw fit—assuming a different situation to exist from that which in my conviction does exist—to come before you here to-day and say to you, “We are seriously menaced by France and Russia; the prospect is that we shall be attacked: such at least is my conviction, as a diplomatist, on the basis of the military information that we have received; it is to our advantage to defend ourselves by anticipating the attack, and to strike at once; an offensive war is a better one for us to wage, and I accordingly ask the Imperial Diet for a credit of a milliard or half a milliard, in order to undertake to-day the war against our two neighbors,”—well, gentlemen, I do not know whether you would have such confidence in me as to grant such a request. I hope not. But if you did, it would not be enough for me. If we in Germany desire to wage a war with the full effect of our national power, it must be a war with which all who help to wage it, and all who make sacrifices for it—with which, in a word, all the nation—must be in sympathy. It must be a people’s war; it must be a war that is carried on with the same enthusiasm as that of 1870, when we were wickedly attacked. I remember still the joyful shouts that rang in our ears at the Cologne station; it was the same thing from Berlin to Cologne; it was the same thing here in Berlin. The waves of popular approval bore us into the war, whether we liked it or not. So it must be, if a national force like ours is to be brought fully into operation. It will be very difficult, however, to make it clear to the provinces, to the federal states and to their people, that a war is inevitable, that it must come. It will be asked: “Are you so sure of it? Who knows?” If we finally come to the point of making the attack, all the weight of the imponderables, which weigh much more than the material weights, will be on the side of our antagonist whom we have attacked. “Holy Russia” will be filled with indignation at the attack. France will glisten with weapons to the Pyrenees. The same thing will happen everywhere. A war into which we are not borne by the will of the people—such a war will of course be carried on, if in the last instance the established authorities consider and have declared it to be necessary. It will be carried on with energy and perhaps victoriously, as soon as the men come under fire and have seen blood; but there will not be back of it, from the start, the same dash and heat as in a war in which we are attacked….  3
  I do not believe—to sum up—that any disturbance of the peace is in immediate prospect; and I ask you to deal with the law that lies before you, independently of any such idea or apprehension, simply as a means for making the great force which God has lodged in the German nation completely available in the event of our needing it. If we do not need it, we shall not call for it. We seek to avoid the chance of our needing it. This effort on our part is still, in some degree, impeded by threatening newspaper articles from foreign countries; and I wish to address to foreign countries especially the admonition to discontinue these threats. They lead to nothing. The threat which we receive, not from the foreign government, but in the press, is really a piece of incredible stupidity, if you think what it means—that by a certain combination of words, by a certain threatening shape given to printer’s ink, a great and proud power like the German Empire is assumed to be capable of intimidation. This should be discontinued; and then it would be made easier for us to assume a more conciliatory and obliging attitude toward our two neighbors. Every country is responsible in the long run, somehow and at some time, for the windows broken by its press; the bill is presented some day or other, in the ill-humor of the other country. We can easily be influenced by love and good-will,—too easily perhaps,—but most assuredly not by threats. We Germans fear God, but nothing else in the world; and it is the fear of God that makes us love and cherish peace. But whoever, despite this, breaks it, will find that the warlike patriotism that in 1813, when Prussia was weak, small, and exhausted by plunder, brought her whole population under her banners, has to-day become the common heritage of the whole German nation; and whoever attacks the German nation will find it united in arms, and in every soldier’s heart the firm faith “God will be with us.”  4
 
 
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