Thursday, 10 July 2014

Countdown to War, day 13. 10 July: tensions between Germany and France, naval competition between Britain and Germany.

One hundred years ago today, on Friday 10 July 1914, our young Mancunian railwayman was surprised to see his Manchester Guardian reporting on an “Alsatian Attack on Germany.” 

An entire nation attacked by a dog?” spluttered one of Martins workmates.

“Spare us the anachronistic jokes,” said the Cynic, the dogs are German Shepherds and wont be called Alsatians for another four or five years yet.

The Alsatian in question was a native of Alsace, the disputed province claimed by France but seized by Germany, along with part of Lorraine, in the war of 1870-71.

The Franco-Prussian War. The last conflict between major European States. What a huge achievement the 40-year peace had been. The relegation of war in Europe to the dustbin of history had to be a tribute to the progress made by civilised states. The trick now was to make sure nothing upset it, which wasn
’t easy since the surface peace hid powerful underlying tensions.

Animosity was sustained in particular by those who protested against the dispensation the last war had created. None protested more loudly than the French over their lost provinces. It seemed that some of the citizens of those provinces bewailed their fate as loudly as the former mother country.

The Leipsic Imperial Court yesterday sentenced an Alsatian artist named Johann Waltz to a year’s imprisonment for inciting various classes of the populace to commit acts of violence and for insulting the gendarmery of Alsace and teachers trained in the Alsace Lorraine seminaries.

Waltz is Hansi, the well-known Alsatian caricaturist and etcher. He was brought before the Imperial Court... on a charge of high treason as well as libel based on his book “My Village”... which was written in French and represents the annexed provinces as groaning under the iron rule of their conquerors and looking with regret and longing towards France...

Hansi making a point:
he shows German visitors to Alsace as tourists 

though the province was ostensibly German 
As well as Franco-German hostility, one of the most painful factors of international politics for at least as long as Martin could remember, had been the protracted arms race between Britain and Germany. As an island, Britain had historically pursued overwhelming naval power; recently, however, she had been increasingly challenged by Germany. Now it seemed that this old, enormously expensive and wasteful race was under way again.

... a further important measure of Imperial taxation is to be expected in the coming Reichstag session [and] has given fresh impulse to the reports that money, in spite of all denials, is needed for armaments and this time for the navy ... rumours of an increase in the personnel of the navy and also in the number of armoured cruisers have been contradicted.

It was peacetime, for God’s sake. Why did the Germans need to spend so much on arms? And the British would be bound to respond: Winston Churchill was First Sea Lord, the Minister responsible for the Navy, and he was keen to preserve the British lead. If he didn’t, many would remind him of this duty, not least Admiral Beresford, MP for the naval city of Portsmouth and a leading spokesman on marine matters for the Opposition Conservative Party. 

It probably didn’t help that Churchill had begun his career as a Conservative himself and only later switched to the Liberals.

“For now,” said the Cynic, “watch him in action and you can’t help wondering whether he wouldn’t be happier back where he started. 

Building up such massive forces in Germany and Britain could only increase the danger of war, and not lessen it. That had to be particularly dangerous at a time when Germany was so prickly towards France. As the Hansi case showed.


Anonymous said...

"Spare us the anachronistic joke..."

"This prophecy Merlin shall make..."


David Beeson said...

Glad you enjoyed it...

Awoogamuffin said...

Love the Hansi picture. And this series!

David Beeson said...