Germany had a less aggressive past than her European neighbors from long before her nationhood. From the time of the dark ages, she was the principal participant in less than a quarter of the wars of England, Spain, Russia, or France, and she was associated more with music and poetry than conflict.
Germans were enjoying excellent educations. By 1913, Britain had 9,000 university students while Germany had 60,000. In the fields of science, mathematics and technology, Germany was annually producing over 3,000 graduate engineers a year compared to Britain’s 350. Germany was also leading in the sectors of physics and chemistry with one third of all Nobel Prizes going to German researchers and inventors.
Between German unification in 1871 and 1914, the Kaiserreich surpassed Britain’s economic growth rates as well. Germany’s industrial development showed consistent growth and her steel, engineering, chemical and armament industries were all prospering. Germany also led in motor engineering and technology and developed an early version of the automobile.
At a time when economic strength was in steel and coal, Germany had multiplied its steel production by 12 times within 30 years and her coal production by nearly five times. Her manufacturing grew by four times, her exports by three times, her export of chemicals by three times and her exports of machinery by five times! Second only to th US, Germany was the most powerful industrial nation in the world in 1914, her share in global trade having quadrupled within the previous thirty years. German manufacturers had begun to capture domestic markets from British imports, and she was tough competition to British interests abroad, particularly in the USA. On the continent, Germany became the dominant economic power and she was the second largest exporting nation in the world after the US.
Germany had the most efficient army in the world, the second largest navy and a fledgling Army Air Service. In 1910, although Germany’s empire was small compared to the avaricious British Empire, which had gobbled up almost a quarter of the world’s surface at one point, Germany followed the example of other European empires and invested heavily in three areas of Africa.
Because Germany still faced possible threats from historically hostile France to her west and from Russia in the east, Germany and Austria-Hungary agreed to form a Dual Alliance in 1879, becoming a Triple Alliance when joining with Italy in 1882.
There had been a well-established and highly respected German minority for generations in Britain. Hans Holbein and Georg Friedrich Händel were among the Germans who once made England their home, and there were 4,000 members of German Lutheran churches in London in 1750, a number which grew to 16,000 by the end of the century. From before the days of their mutual cooperation in defeating Napoleon through Bismarck’s era, friendship had thrived between Germany and Britain. Kaiser Wilhelm II was half English and the English monarchs were a good part German. A small amount of hostility emerged in the British press in 1896 after Kaiser Wilhelm congratulated President Kruger of the Transvaal for resisting British aggression. Then, in 1900, during the Second Boer War, a German barber in Tottenham was accused of pro-Boer sympathies and attacked, and in 1901, there were some random attacks on Germans travelling by train in east London.
If the situation around 1900 had been a garden show, Britain would have been nervously watching and hoping that their faded but lovely old Roses would never lose their coveted first place prize status to Germany’s large, spectacular new breed of Begonias. The dawn of the new century was a time of alliances, and the next decade saw revolutionary changes in Britain’s foreign policy as she began to, in some eyes, strengthen her defenses, or, alternatively, to prepare for war. Britain gained an alliance with Japan in 1902 and created a Committee of Imperial Defence in 1903, resulting in the Anglo-French Entente of 1904 and the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907. This led to the formation of the Triple Entente in 1907 by Britain, France and Russia.
This Entente encircled and thus threatened Germany and the Dual Monarchy, and in essence was formed to return and preserve the old European balance of power. All parties had an ax to grind with Germany’s growing power and economic success: Britain faced much stronger competition from Germany and would benefit from the destruction of Germany’s commerce; Revanchist France was still fuming over the Franco-Prussian War when she was forced to return the (originally German) areas of Alsace and Lorraine, Strasburg and Metz; Russia would benefit from the downfall of Austria-Hungary as she could then gain supremacy over all Slavic nations. By subsequent policies, British monarch Edward VII would indeed unite Pan-Slavic Russia, encourage Japan against Russia, incite the French and seduce Italy. This is seen by many as the immediate cause of World War One.
Probably the first thing that helped mold British minds to regard Germans with suspicion and dislike was an emerging literary genre called the “invasion novel.” Although these novels seem almost silly today, they actually ended up having a very serious impact on a public (who was more gullible than today’s more cynical audience) as they developed from “fun and fantasy” into actual fear-mongering.
The first British invasion novel of any consequence was a magazine short story called “The Battle of Dorking” by George T. Chesney in 1871, shortly after Germany brought France to its knees under Bismarck. It was a fictional account of an invasion of a small English town by Germans. Quite popular, the magazine re-printed Dorking six times and created a pamphlet version which was sold throughout the British Empire. All the same, “Dorking” was pretty much taken simply as entertainment in England. There were many spoofs on it, and at the time a common joke when someone had a minor injury was to ask, “Did you get that at the battle of Dorking?” Even the Germans published it and poked fun at it. The first installment of the German version of “Die Schlacht bei Dorking” appeared in May, 1871.
Die Allgemeine Zeitung poked fun at the theme of good, pure English blood being tainted by German mongrels. The editor printed a special supplement in which he jokingly wrote, “A Special Message from John Michael Trutz-Baumwoll, Anglo-German politician of the future, to His Royal Highness, the German Emperor.” Five days, the Pall Mall Gazette in London wryly retorted in jest: “The idea of a German invasion of England as developed in ‘The Battle of Dorking’ has now been taken up by the German press.... Herr Trutz-Baumwoll says that, as a German, he warmly desires the extension of the German Empire and of the glories of his race, while as an English citizen he is no less mindful of the real interests of his adopted country, and that he is convinced that the two objects might both be attained by the same means.”
At this time, however, the majority of invasion novels still assumed that the enemy would be France (or even aliens as in H. G. Wells “The War of the Worlds” in 1898) rather than Germany. By 1914, the invasion genre would include over 400 books, many best-sellers as hundreds of authors, good, bad and mediocre, jumped on the band wagon, and by then almost all had a German villain.
Britian was prodded in the direction of actual war by other more powerful forces in the media, one of them being British supremacist Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, the son of an English barrister born near Dublin on July 15, 1865. By the time he was a young man, he was publishing numerous newspapers and magazines. In 1905, the year he bought The Times and the Sunday Observer, he was made the youngest peer of the realm in British history at age 40. One of the earliest example of a media mogul, Northcliffe, was bellicose when he wanted to be, fiercely independent, and he could not be bought, a trait which won him some political unpopularity.
It was later said of him: “Next to the Kaiser, Lord Northcliffe did more than any living man to bring about the war.” Northcliffe’s ‘Daily Mail’ tabloid, which he boasted stood “for the power, the supremacy and the greatness of the British Empire,” had been suckled and fattened by the public’s interest in the Boer War. Britain had suffered sporadic spasms of “invasion scares” since the time of Napoleon and these fears intensified in the 1890s with Germany’s rapidly advancing naval technology which was seen as a threat to Britain’s economic superiority at sea.
Northcliffe commissioned French-English author William Le Queux to write ‘The Great War in England’ (1897) which featured Germany, France and Russia joining forces and destroying Britain. It played upon fear and was a great success. But after Russia, Britain and France cozied up together in real life, he reduced the invader to Germany alone. In 1897, he sent war correspondent G. W. Steevens to Germany to produce a sixteen-part serial called “Under the Iron Heel” intended to produce fear of Germany, and Northcliffe wrote an editorial in the Daily Mail three years later predicting a war with Germany, a theme he consistently maintained.
Another fictional fear fantasy of this period was Author T. W. Offin’s book, “How the Germans Took London,” 1900, where he illustrated how “thousands of Teutons have, year by year, crept into our employ” and paved the way for a successful German invasion. Unfortunately, “year by year” more and more cheesy, second rate sensational fear stories actually did invade Britain.
Erskine Childers was another British “patriot” who detested the fact that an upstart German Empire had developed a superb navy. The enemy invader was more clearly defined as German rather than French or otherwise when Childers pooped out the German invasion novel, “The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service” in 1903, an espionage novel with a strong underlying theme of militarism. The hero was especially endearing to the British public, for he was an ordinary yachtsman whose paltry nautical skill saves England from the dreaded and inevitable German invasion: “We’re a maritime nation. We’ve grown by the sea and live by it; if we lose command of it we starve.” Childers called it “a story with a purpose” written from “a patriot’s natural sense of duty.” It predicted war with Germany and called for immediate British preparedness.
Winston Churchill later credited Childer’s “Riddle of the Sands” as a major reason why the Royal Navy developed new naval bases (Scapa Flow, Invergordon and Rosyth) on the North Sea coast (to prepare for possible war with Germany). Later, when war was declared, Churchill ordered Naval Intelligence to find Childers, whom he had once met, and offer him a government job.
In 1906, Northcliffe once again asked Le Queux for his help and the “The Invasion of 1910” was published as a lucrative scare serial. The story immediately increased the newspaper’s circulation. It was translated into twenty-seven languages, and over one million copies of the book edition were sold, making its author and the tabloid a lot of money. It also resulted in an intense atmosphere of fear, Germanophobia and mass hysteria. Le Queux claimed in his book that such an invasion was easily facilitated by the many “Germans who, having served in the army, had come over to England and obtained employment as waiters, clerks, bakers, hairdressers, and private servants, and being bound by their oath to the Fatherland had served their country as spies.”
There were more problems as Germany was caught up in the unfamiliar waters of the imperial game of water polo. In October of 1904, Russia and Japan were warring and a Russian fleet mistook some British fishing vessels at Dogger Bank off the coast of England for Japanese warships and fired upon them, killing some British fishermen. It seemed possible that Britain and Japan might combine forces against Russia since Britain was loosely allied with Japan, therefore Kaiser Wilhelm II urged his cousin, the Russian Czar Nicholas II, to sign a mutual defensive treaty with Germany once Russia’s war with Japan ended. This was presented by the British press as “German support for Russia,” and the media quickly and vehemently denounced Germany, further inflaming British opinion against Germany with unsubstantiated accusations that Germany was “aiming toward world domination.”
Other relatively minor event were sensationalized and misconstrued to incur the wrath of the public, such as the first (and later the second) Moroccan Crisis. Britain’s First Sea Lord, Sir John Fischer, actually proposed sinking Germany’s navy, and Germany defensively brought its navy back to home waters. Alas, this action propelled the screaming British media to report that this meant that Germany might be “secretly preparing for war.” While this war scare subsided, it set the groundwork for even more savage scare stories often financed and pumped up by a special-interest fueled media.
Walter Wood’s 1906 novel “The Enemy in Our Midst” told the story of a German Invasion facilitated by German immigrants who moved to Merry old England and “infest(ed) the Metropolis until their very presence was a menace and a curse”... “spreadin’ all over the place like a plague.” British rag ‘John Bull’ generated hate, coined the term “Germ-huns” and questioned whether a German “was even a human.” Great suspicion and fear arose of anything German. Unrelenting, Harmsworth hired Socialist Robert Blatchford to visit Germany in 1909 and write a series of articles on the dangers that the Germans posed to Britain. Blatchford complied and told the wary public: “I believe that Germany is deliberately preparing to destroy the British Empire” and he warned that Britain needed to spend more money in defending itself. Germany was rather oblivious to the whole thing.
|Above left: Kaiser Wilhelm in the arms of his beloved grandmother, British Queen Victoria. The Invasion Novels; Right: Kaiser Wilhelm and his Family|
Erskine Childers published further works in 1911: “War and the Arme Blanche” and “German Influence on British Cavalry.” When he had written ‘Riddle,’ he had also contributed “factual” reports to The Times which warned of outdated British army tactics in the event of “conflicts of the future.” He developed this theme in these two novels.
Active long before hostilities broke out, British supremacist Rudyard Kipling had already published “scare” books about the German navy in 1898. He wrote in his poem “The Rowers” that Germans were “the breed that have wronged us most” and calls them “the shameless Hun.” Kipling repeatedly referred to Germans as beasts and stated “there are only two divisions in the world today: human beings and Germans” and further, that “the Germans do evil deliberately. It is their nature. It is the mark of their nationality. They are like microbes, wherever they abound; the evil develops and infects everything roundabout. Civilized nations must resort to the sterilizing process; they must put into force measures of international hygiene. Beware of the German microbe.” Hate-mongering Kipling also jumped on board the spy train in 1913 with his short story “The Edge of the Evening.”
“When William Came” (1913) by H. H. Munro (‘Saki’) was a creepy tale set in the gloomy future, after Germany won a fictional war with Great Britain and began its dastardly occupation. “William” is of course Wilhelm, as in Hohenzollern. The book depicts the horrible life facing Londoners after alien-like Germans invade. The British daily press began reporting such fictions as near realities and even started to regularly publish purported public sightings of German spies and saboteurs. Scottish-born ‘Saki’ later served in the war he helped fuel and was killed in action.
In 1914, Kipling returned with “For All We Have and Are” and uttered: “For all we have and are, For all our children’s fate, Stand up and take the war. The Hun is at the gate!” This was more of his arrogant, ceaseless efforts to fan British war fever against the Germans whom he pathologically detested.
Even though subsequent research has long since proved that no significant German espionage network existed in Britain at the time, and in spite of the fact that the total German community in Britain was then less than 44,000 people, claims about the scale of German invasion preparations imaginatively swelled the number of German spies to between 60,000 and 300,000, probably a bigger number than an entire actual army.
While the British were mixing up fiction with reality during this period, it is interesting to note that in the years 1911, 1912 and 1913, Germany’s military spending budget was smaller than that of Russia and France, and considerably less than Great Britain’s. Intense Germanophobia would soon sweep across Britain as the march to war hastened.