A German writer on the Anglo-German relationship (1914)

In 1914, the German military writer General Friedrich von Bernhardi wrote about an imminent war. In this extract he describes the troubled Anglo-German relationship:

England has recently associated herself with the Franco-Russian Alliance. She has made an arrangement in Asia with Russia by which the spheres of influence of the two parties are delimited, while with France she has come to terms in the clear intention of suppressing Germany under all circumstances, if necessary by force of arms…

This policy of England is, on superficial examination, not very comprehensible. Of course, German industries and trade have lately made astounding progress, and the German navy is growing to a strength which commands respect. We are certainly a hindrance to the plans which England is prosecuting in Asiatic Turkey and Central Africa. This may well be distasteful to the English from economic as well as political and military aspects. but, on the other hand, the American competition in the domain of commercial politics is far keener than the German… Yet, in spite of all these considerations, the hostility of the English is primarily directed against us.

The hostility to Germany is also sufficiently evident in other matters. It has always been England’s object to maintain a certain balance of power between the continental nations of Europe, and to prevent any one of them attaining a pronounced supremacy. While these states crippled and hindered each other from playing any active part on the world’s stage, England acquired an opportunity of following out her own purposes undisturbed, and of founding that world Empire which she now holds. This policy she still continues, for so long as the Powers of Europe tie each other’s hands, her own supremacy is uncontested.

It follows directly from this that England’s aim must be to repress Germany, but strengthen France; for Germany at the present moment is the only European state which threatens to win a commanding position; but France is her born rival, and cannot keep on level terms with her stronger neighbour on the East, unless she adds to her forces and is helped by her allies. Thus the hostility to Germany, from this aspect also, is based on England’s most important interests, and we must treat it as axiomatic and self-evident.

Under these conditions the position of Germany is extraordinarily difficult. We not only require for the full material development of our nation, on a scale corresponding to its intellectual importance, an extended political basis, but, as explained in the previous chapter, we are compelled to obtain space for our increasing population and markets for our growing industries. But at every step which we take in this direction, England will resolutely oppose us. English policy may not yet have made the definite decision to attack us; but it doubtless wishes, by all and every means, even the most extreme, to hinder every further expansion of German international influence and of German maritime power.

The recognised political aims of England and the attitude of the English Government leave no doubt on this point. But if we were involved in a struggle with England, we can be quite sure that France would not neglect the opportunity of attacking our flank. Italy, with her extensive coast line, even if still a member of the Triple Alliance, will have to devote large forces to the defence of the coast to keep off the attacks of the Anglo-French Mediterranean Fleet, and would thus be only able to employ weaker forces against France. Austria would be paralysed by Russia; against the latter we should have to leave forces in the East. We should thus have to fight out the struggle against France and England practically alone with a part of our army, perhaps with some support from Italy.

It is in this double menace by sea and on the mainland of Europe that the grave danger to our political position lies, since all freedom of action is taken from us and all expansion barred.