Quotations: the road to war

These World War I quotations about the failure of diplomacy in 1914 have been compiled by Alpha History authors. They feature statements from contemporary figures, political leaders, military commanders, service personnel, anti-war campaigners and historians of World War I. We will update this page with new quotes from time to time. If you would like to suggest a quotation, please contact us.

“The next great European war will probably come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”
Otto von Bismarck, German statesman, 1888

“Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.”
Otto von Bismarck, German statesman

“All treaties between great states cease to be binding when they come in conflict with the struggle for existence.”
Otto von Bismarck, German statesman

“Germany’s domestic politics owed its immaturity to Bismarck’s ‘dictatorial’ determination to prevent the growth of democratic institutions. German foreign policy owed its restless dynamic to the influence of a militarist spirit and the moral neutrality of Realpolitik... German society owed its willingness to discriminate against minorities… And German capitalism, despite its rapid flowering, served only the interests of employers’ groups, industrialists and agrarian interests.”
Gordon Martel, historian

“Called to the throne of my fathers, I have taken over the government, looking to the King of all kings, and have vowed to God, following the example of my father, to be a righteous and gentle prince, to foster piety and the fear of God, to maintain peace, to further the welfare of the country, to be a help to the poor and oppressed, and to be to the righteous man a true protector.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1888

“We want eight and we won’t wait!”
British Navy League slogan, calling for eight Dreadnoughts, 1889

“It is the soldier and the army, not parliamentary majorities and decisions, that have welded the German Empire together. I put my trust in the army.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1891

“I am not a man who believes that we Germans bled and conquered thirty years ago [to be] pushed aside when great international decisions are made. If that were to happen, the place of Germany as a world power would be gone forever. I am not prepared to let that happen.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1900

“Despite not having the fleet we should have, we have conquered for ourselves a place in the sun. It is now my task to see to it that this place in the sun shall remain our undisputed possession.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1901

“You English are like mad bulls… you see red everywhere! What on earth has come over you, to heap on us such suspicion as is unworthy of a great nation. I regard this as a personal insult… You make it uncommonly difficult for a man to remain friendly to England.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, 1908

“The first and foremost reason why we should have a supreme Navy is our island home [and] our food supply. We require annually at least 33 million quarters of wheat … and we only grow seven quarters ourselves.  Where would our country be in case of attack?  We should be starving in three weeks, if the supply of food should not come in.”
Samuel Roberts, British MP, 1909

“I see myself as an instrument of the Almighty and go on my way, regardless of transient opinions and views.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1910

“[There will be a] racial war, a war of Slavdom against Germandom… with the Anglo-Saxons with whom we are related by common ancestry, religion and civilisation building… The racial struggle cannot be avoided. It may not take place now but it will probably take place in one or two years.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1912

“The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible because it will make war ridiculous.”
Guglielmo Marconi, 1912

“I look upon the people and the nation, as handed on to me, as a responsibility conferred upon me by God. And I believe, as it is written in the Bible, that it is my duty to increase this heritage, for which one day I shall be called upon to give an account. Whoever tries to interfere with my task, I shall crush.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, 1913

“Kaiser Wilhelm II was a bafflingly complex person. The caricature of the sabre-rattling warrior, he broke down when war actually began. Endowed with high intelligence and an excellent memory, he was capable of the most crashing stupidities. Fascinated by the latest technology, thoroughly at home in a fast-moving modern world, Wilhelm clung to medieval notions of divine right. Enormously energetic and ambitious, he proved utterly unable to work hard. The contradictions were so numerous and startling that before Wilhelm had spent two years on the throne, people wondered if he were quite sane.”
Isabel V. Hull, historian

“Let me assure the Sultan and his 300 million Muslims… that the German Emperor will ever be their friend.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser

“The assassination at Sarajevo was certainly the crucial precedent of the European war that its conspirators had sought, but was not the historical cause … The assassination acted as a lever, prying the various powers into predictable paths.”
J. Bowyer Bell, historian

“His Majesty’s Government cannot for a moment entertain the [German] Chancellor’s proposal that they should bind themselves to neutrality on such terms … Such a proposal is unacceptable, for France could be so crushed as to lose her position as a Great Power, and become subordinate to German policy.”
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign minister

“The rubbish talked by this man Grey shows that he has absolutely no idea what he ought to do. Now we shall await England’s decision. I have just learned that England has cut the Emden cable. This is a war measure!”
Kaiser Wilhelm II

“The tsar [Nicholas II] is not treacherous but he is weak. Weakness is not treachery, but it fulfils all its functions.”
Kaiser Wilhelm II

“England must have the mask of Christian peaceableness [peacefulness] torn publicly from her face… Our consuls in Turkey and India, agents, etc. must inflame the whole Muslim world to wild revolt against this hateful, lying, conscienceless people of hagglers. For even if we are to be bled to death, at least England shall lose India.”
Wilhelm II, German Kaiser, July 30th 1914

“A great European war under modern conditions would be a catastrophe for which previous wars afforded no precedent. In old days, nations could collect only portions of their men and resources at a time and dribble them out by degrees. Under modern conditions, whole nations could be mobilized at once and their whole lifeblood and resources poured out in a torrent. Instead of a few hundreds of thousands of men meeting each other in war, millions would now meet – and modern weapons would multiply manifold the power of destruction. The financial strain and the expenditure of wealth would be incredible. I thought this must be obvious to everyone else, as it seemed obvious to me. And that if once it became apparent that we were on the edge, all the Great Powers would call a halt and recoil from the abyss.”
Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, recalling July 1914

“I look upon him as the greatest criminal known for having plunged the world into war.”
George V on his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1918


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