When Britain went to war in 1914 many reasons were advanced for the tremendous step. The Primary cause of the War, or course, was the invasion of Belgium, whose integrity and independence we had been pledged to defend since the Belgian kingdom had come into existence. Of the tens of the thousands, the hundreds of thousands who stormed the doors of the recruiting stations in those early days of war twenty-five years ago, the great majority had left their homes and jobs because of their resolve to avenge the violation of an innocent little people by the Prussian bully.
Another reason was Anglo-German rivalry in the field of commerce and in the sphere of world politics. This rivalry was something more than a clash of interest; rather it was a conflict of principle. Even at the beginning of the War it was realised that Britain was fighting for Democracy against Autocracy in general and Prussian imperialistic militarism in particular. “We are fighting Germany,” wrote HG Wells in the first number of The War illustrated published on August 22, 1914. “But we are fighting without any hatred of the German people. We do not intend to destroy either their freedom or their unity. But we have to destroy an evil system of government and the mental and material corruption that has got hold of the German imagination and taken possession of German Life…..And also we have to learn from the failure of that victory to avoid a vindictive triumph.”
“Prussian Militarism,” continued Mr WElls, “is an intolerable nuisance in the earth. Ever since the crushing of the French in 1871 the evil thing has grown and cast it’s spreading shadow over Europe…..But now at last we shake ourselves free and turn upon this boasting wickedness to rid the world of it. And “Gott, Gott so perpetually invoked – Gott indeed must be very tired of it.”
If the world was tired of it in 1914, it was still more tired of it in 1918, after a struggle in which all the resources of the greatest nations had been exhausted in an orgy of destruction and, more appalling still, the blood of millions of the best and bravest had been poured out on the battlefield. When the “cease-fire” sounded on that Armistice Day in 1918, there was a little carefree jubilation, practically nothing of the nature of triumphing over a vanquished foe. In every nation there was one thought uppermost in the minds of the people – the thought that they were at least awaking from a nightmare of unrelieved horror. In all countries, too, it was said, and said with hard determination, that this evil thing which has come upon the world must and should be exorcised now and for evermore.
Was Prussianism Smashed?
And on the face of it, it seemed indeed that Prussian militarism had not only been defeated, but has been completely smashed. Kaiserism and all that it stood for was kicked into the gutter by the German troops and populous as they realised the bitterness of defeat and ensured the humiliations of the Peace. They had entered the war with the most confident hopes of glory and easy conquest; when it was ended theirs was a country through which stalked relentlessly the spectres of famine and revolution. Even the victorious powers were in little better plight. They had won – but at what a price!
So it was that in 1919 men of good will everywhere strove to build a new world from which the spirit of militarism and all those vileness which are best expressed by the world “prussianism” had been completely banished – and for ever. Gradually Europe and the world settled down from the strain and loss of the great war. The material losses were largely repaired, though alas, the gaps in the generations could never be filled. In Germany there were signs of the firm foundation of a new order – an order of true liberalism, of toleration, and enlightened peace-loving and peace-ensuring democracy.
>> Continue to Part Two Here <<
This article is an exact copy of the original in ‘The War Illustrated’ magazine September 16th 1939.