Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Kaiser's Enthusiasms


My friend, historian and novelist Thomas Fleming, once pointed out that at his desk, the Kaiser sat in a saddle because it made him feel like a warrior. In this prewar photo that perfectly captures the Kaiser's militaristic enthusiasms, he is inspecting a Guards detachment, probably at Potsdam. As Wilhelm marches past, each of the soldier's heads snaps forward from the "eyes-right" position. Like their British equivalents, the "Old Contemptibles," most of these men were probably killed or wounded in the coming war. 


In November 1908, British foreign minister Sir Edward Grey perfectly captured in words this same disposition of Germany's ruler and foresaw its consequences:

[The Kaiser] is like a battleship with steam up and screws going, but with no rudder, and he will run into something some day and cause a catastrophe. He has the strongest army in the world and the Germans don't like being laughed at and are looking for somebody on whom to vent their temper and use their strength...Now it is 38 years since Germany had her last war, and she is very strong and very restless, like a person whose boots are too small for him. I don't think there will be war at present, but it will be difficult to keep the peace of Europe for another five years.

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