The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Lichnowsky Memorandum

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Lichnowsky Memorandum
Edition of 1920. See also Karl Max, Prince Lichnowsky on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LICHNOWSKY MEMORANDUM, a remarkable document and a valuable contribution to the pre-history of the European War, written in retirement of Prince Lichnowsky (q.v.), former German Ambassador in London. Under the title of ‘My Mission to London, 1912-1914’ and dated “Kuchelna (Prussia) August 1916,” the ex-Ambassador reviewed the course of German foreign policy and diplomatic relations, which, in his opinion, were directly responsible for the war. The document, it appears, was written by the prince for his private family archives as well as to explain and justify to his personal friends his position as the representative of Germany in England at the outbreak of the war, and the part he had played during the crisis. Its contents were of a kind which would normally not have been available till after many years, till the chief actors had passed away. At first only a few typewritten copies were made, one of which — by a breach of confidence — reached the German Foreign Office, while another copy appears to have fallen into the hands of the minority Socialist party in the Reichstag, by whom, in all probability, it was communicated to the Politiken, a Socialist newspaper in Stockholm, Sweden. Early in March 1918 that journal began to publish extracts from the memorandum, the omitted portions having been suppressed by the Swedish government. In April it transpired that a member of the German deputy general staff, Capt. Hans von Beerfelde, had had numerous copies made and had sent them to the Crown Prince and various military and political leaders. After the first partial publication by Politiken, the German government made strenuous efforts to prevent further disclosures, but by the end of March 1918 the whole document had become public property and caused a profound sensation. Reproduced all over Europe, as well as in Vorwärts, the German Socialist organ, the “revelations” of Prince Lichnowsky were formally debated by the Main Committee of the Reichstag on 16 March 1918. On that occasion the Vice-Chancellor, Herr von Payer, read a letter of apology, dated 5 March and addressed to the Imperial Chancellor by Prince Lichnowsky, in which the latter expressed his regret that the document had been made public against his wishes, and declared that it had leaked out in the summer of 1917, after the fall of Bethmann-Hollweg (q.v.). The prince resigned his rank as Minister and was placed under police surveillance on his estate. Criminal proceedings, on a charge of high treason, were ordered to be instituted against him. Captain Beerfelde was later arrested and charged, at first, with having taken part in promoting a peace strike in Berlin during January 1918. So far as could be gathered outside of Germany, no further steps had been taken in the matter up till the summer of 1918.

Although the memorandum contained much information that was already embedded in official and unofficial publications, there still remained certain gaps to be filled in the knowledge hitherto inaccessible — evidence which could only be supplied by the man who was the mouthpiece of the German government during the critical days immediately preceding the conflict, and who was the recipient of the proposals put forward by the British government. The general style of the document, with its small personal touches and certain unimportant inaccuracies, indicates that it was not intended for publication; in tone it is a clear and simple testimony to what really happened by one who played a prominent part in the events which he recalls. In effect it is an indictment of the whole policy of the German Foreign Office spread over many years, and a severe criticism of the cardinal point of that policy — the alliance with Austria-Hungary. That alliance, the author contends, has ever been a source of weakness to Germany, in that it ruined any hopes of an understanding with Russia, with the result that instead of being made subservient to German interests, Germany had eventually found herself in the position in which she was compelled to subordinate her own interests to those of a weak and decrepit ally. Prince Lichnowsky raises some great historical questions on which divergent views will always exist. These, however, are mainly of interest to Germany. By far the most important statements he makes are those in which he endeavors to fix the responsibility for the European War. He emphatically asserts that the British government, and particularly Sir Edward (now Viscount) Grey and Mr. Asquith, went to the very limit of what was possible in order to prevent the conflict. He ridicules the German theory that the war was treacherously plotted by “vengeful France, barbaric Russia and envious England” against a peace-loving fatherland. “I was treated like a departing sovereign. Thus ended my London mission. It was wrecked, not by the perfidy of the British, but by the perfidy of our policy . . . I had to support in London a policy which I knew to be fallacious.” In conclusion, Prince Lichnowsky prophesies that “the program of the great Rhodes, who saw the salvation of mankind in British expansion and British Imperialism, will be realized.” As a result of the war he believes that the world will belong to the English-speaking races, the Russians and the Japanese, while Germany “will remain alone with Austria and Hungary . . . The German appeared too late, and the World War has destroyed the last possibility of catching up the lost ground, and of founding a Colonial Empire.” See War, EuropeanIntroduction; Diplomatic History. Consult ‘Current History’ (New York, May-June 1918); New York Times of 21 April 1918; ‘Revelations of Prince Lichnowsky’ (pamphlet, New York 1918).

Henri F. Klein,
Editorial Staff of The Americana.