from ‘Leslie's Illustrated Weekly Newspaper’, September 17, 1914
'The Race Question as a Cause of War'
by Dr. Ernst Richard

Confusing Race with Nationality


Editor's Note.— Dr. Ernst Richard, the writer of this article, is of German birth but a naturalized, citizen of the United States, and for more than thirty years has made his home in America. He is a prominent educator, at present Lecturer on German Civilization at Columbia University, and among his many activities for the public good is the founding of the New York Peace Society and the German-American Peace Society. He is the author of an important and authoritative work, "History of German Civilization," and had a book on the Germany of to-day ready for print when the war broke out. The views he sets forth here are those of a German-American obviously with a warm affection for the land of his birth. It is our purpose to publish the views of all sides in a spirit of complete neutrality.


It may seem curious to the average American reader, who has not interested himself sufficiently either in history or the game of international politics, that in a war where one Germanic, one Latin and one Slav nation —to confine myself only to the principals—are arrayed against one Germanic and one nation composed both of Germanic and Slav people, the race question is brought forth as an issue. If previous knowledge had not given foundation for this belief the fact that the masses gathered in Vienna in front of the bulletin boards bearing the announcement of the declaration of war against Servia spontaneously and like one man began singing "Die Wacht am Rhein" would have shown the presence of the race spirit. Sticklers for accuracy may take exception to the use of the word "race" altogether in this connection. Though when England is accused of race treachery the word is used in its most scientific and appropriate sense, for in this war it is she who calls her Mongolian ally of Japan to arms against her Caucasian rival, and nobody is able to say whether the yellow hand after striking against the white man twice in the West will not turn the weapon the next time towards the East.

We are compelled to use the expression "race" when we speak of ethnological differences for lack of a better word. What we usually call "race," meaning the nationality of one people as differentiated from another, is the result of three different influences: the physical constitution, largely influenced by geographical and climatic conditions, the common language, and the common traditions of institutions and customs which we might comprise under the name of culture. Where these three combine for a certain length of time a certain type, or, as we usually say, racial character, is developed, and in everyday language when we speak of a German or English race, this is what is meant by it.

The racial character of the German and English was developed during the 4,000 years or more their ancestors lived together in what is now central and northern Germany and southern Scandinavia. It is well known that the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons were German tribes, not simply members of the greater Germanic family comprising the Scandinavian and those splendid Eastern Germanic peoples who, joining their young and vigorous strength to the degenerating inhabitants of the Roman Empire, formed the so-called Latin nations. Much more than is generally supposed, not only the biological status of the senations, but also their institutions, were influenced by these Germanic accessions. This, together with Christianity, has been the foundation of our Western or European civilization. What is outside of the influence of the nations just described has been considered, at least during the last century and until now, more or less as un-European and half Asiatic.

Russia and the smaller Slav nations, not nearly as closely related to Russians as the English are to the Germans, have stood as a great, strange unit as against the advanced nations of the West. The upper strata of the population had indeed embraced Western civilization, but it was considered up to the time of this war to be a very thin and superficial varnish only. Now in this great struggle, which has been prophesied to Germany as unavoidable for forty-four years, we find the two leading nations of the Western civilization in alliance with the dominating power of the East. The fact that Austria-Hungary is Germanic only in part, the German language being spoken as the vernacular by somewhat over one-third of the population, does not change the general distribution of standards in this struggle. It has been considered the mission of Austria, well fulfilled for many centuries, to introduce her non- Germanic citizens into the Western type of civilization. It was for this reason that the Berlin Congress entrusted her with the administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, by the way, were provinces taken from Turkey, and not from Servia as one would be inclined to believe from the complaints of the Serbs and the expression of the daily papers. The Serbs comprise only forty per cent, of the population, many of them hating the Servians of the kingdom much more than do their fellow subjects of the Austrian crown.

Whoever is inclined to doubt the German claims as to this race issue ought to read the Slav papers before and since the beginning of the war, which invariably refer to Austria-Hungary as the German enemy or oppressor. And if it needed an official confirmation this was furnished during the preparation of this article by the manifesto of the "Grand Duke Generalissimo" of the Russian army, published in a translation of its original text by the New York Times on August 15th and 16th of this year. In this he "desires every man under his command clearly to understand that the present war has been provoked by the enemies of the Slav people." If the French and the British people after this still fail to recognize in what fight they are supporting the Russians then there is no use of further argument. Russia has been counting on the disaffection of the Austrian Slavs all along and is now bidding for the good will of the Poles with a promise which it never intends to keep.

Before the beginning of this war nobody within the sphere of influence of Western civilization ever expressed any doubt as to the greed for conquest attributed to the Russians. For generations Russia had been considered a menace to India. Her successful designs on a large part of China are well known. Her attacks on Germany began as soon as the weakness of the old empire allowed them to go unpunished, and already in the times of Ivan the Terrible, the Baltic provinces were torn away from her. The conquest of Poland would have brought Russia within twenty miles of Berlin if Prussia had not taken its share in the division. All along the eastern boundary of the Slavic part of Europe a slow and continuous contest has been going on before our eyes both in Austria and Germany. The utterances of the Russian press and that of the other Slav nations could leave no doubt that the Slavs dreamt continually of a westward extension of their power. All this, I repeat, never was denied either in France or in England or in America before the two former nations saw it to their interest to engage the help of the great Slav giant in their efforts to crush Germany. They could not forgive the young empire that had demanded its "place in the sun;" that had disturbed their plans of the division of the world amongst themselves and demanded its share.

The Germans think that if any nation is entitled to a large share in the colonies of the globe, it is she who within her narrow boundaries of an area not as large as the State of Texas shelters 7,000,000 more white people than the whole of the British Empire, that is, Great Britain, Ireland and all the colonies. The incongruity of the vast colonial empire of France with her low rate of increase of population as compared with Germany with her annual increase of nearly a million is obvious. The Germans certainly could not understand why everybody should cry out against her when she, with her enormous density of population, tried to take hold of some colonial lands or even to find new markets for her manufactured goods in exchange for foodstuffs to feed her millions. Furthermore, the Germans could not understand why, compelled by France to enter into a war in order to be allowed to unite as a nation, she should not take back the provinces taken away by France. For even if they had forgotten their history the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle and other indelible traces as well as the inestimable works of art and scientific and literary documents of her own past history in the Paris museums and libraries, where they had LO go to study them if they wanted to know their own past, continually reminded them that France had invaded Germany not less than twenty times within one century.

With all this in mind, the Germans proceeded to make use of the opportunities offered by the long period of peace the young empire enjoyed. Not that war had not been threatened again and again, but Germany continually refrained from striking in spite of all provocations. I have no doubt that the leaders of the German nation honestly believed that by building up her army and navy into a most formidable instrument of defense and offense they could preserve the peace for all time; having given on again and again that she did not intend to use her powerful weapons in a war of conquest, although many a time she would have had the excuse to fight under most irritating challenges, Germany hoped that she might gain the confidence of her neighbors before it had come to a clash. Of course there was a war party in Germany all the time, formed in part by the militarists, in part, however, by men who sincerely and, as present developments show, justly believed that the theory of armament being a guarantee of peace was a fallacy.

When Russian greed of conquest and Slav hatred against the Germanic nations and the contrast between Asiatic and Western civilization were called to arms by the revengeful spite of France and the commercial envy of England, who treacherously had sold the interests of progressive humanity to further their selfish ends, they saw that the bloody decision on the battle-field had become unavoidable. Naturally the unreconcilable spirit of revenge on the part of the French was always considered the greatest menace no matter what the political constellation was.

Unless we reproach the German Empire for entering into its colonial policy, for which it certainly had more excuse than any of its rivals, nobody can rightfully assert that the Germans have not faithfully adhered to the programme in that birth certificate of the new Germany, when the first Emperor said on assuming the imperial crown: "We accept the imperial dignity, hoping that the German people will be allowed the reward of its enthusiasm and unselfish fight in a lasting peace and within the boundaries annihilated for centuries, against renewed attacks of France. But may God grant to us and our successors to be always the increasers of the German Empire, not by conquest of war, but by the blessings and the gifts of peace, in the fields of national welfare, peace and morality."

The old Emperor's prayer was granted as long as he lived. When the present Emperor only a short time ago celebrated the silver jubilee of his reign, the whole world praised him as the preserver of peace, except those of his subjects who foresaw this war as unavoidable and blamed the Kaiser's love of peace as a weakness, and even a failure in duty since he allowed the enemies of the Fatherland to become too strong. Now, when he refused, in view of the open war preparations of Germany's enemies, to wait until his people were stricken, when his urgent efforts to stay the Czar's hand were in vain, the same papers and the same people who then praised him in a Byzantine exaggeration revile him as the Satan incarnate. Let me quote again, this time from a speech of the present Kaiser which forms, so to speak, the prelude to all the developments from the agreement with England which gave Morocco to the French, under breach of treaties and in defiance of German interests, to the breaking out of the present war.

It was before the Kaiser started for his usual spring cruise on the Mediterranean in 1905 when by merely interrupting his trip by a two hours' stop and landing in Tangiers he accomplished the recognition of Germany's claims in the premises. I never could understand why the incident thus begun was considered a German diplomatic defeat. The Kaiser had announced that he would not allow Germany's interests in Morocco to be treated as a negligible quantity and demanded a conference of the governments that were parties to the treaty, about to be violated by the Anglo-French agreement. As this agreement was the beginning of the famous entente it founded the new friendship on unrighteousness from the start. It is one of the things which the German mind cannot understand that at that time nothing of the inflated moral indignation was noticeable which the very people who committed this act of faithlessness now parade in view of a similar offense committed by Germany in self-defence. As a rule, if a man announces before hand what he wants, begins action and gets what he wants he is considered successful.

After France had acceded to Germany's demands and did not let England drive her into war, and as a compensation for Germany's cession of certain treaty rights had given up territory in Africa larger than the whole of European France, and had received in turn a small corner protruding into their land, we r ad the same story of German defeat all over again.

Although the Kaiser undertook to accomplish by the little diversion of his short visit what usually is done by a big naval demonstration, he was aware that it was a step which would make the world sit up. This is at least the only explanation I could find at the time for the extreme solemnity of his utterance, an explanation which came to me only after some days of puzzling when the picturesque landing had become known. This is the reason why I kept a record of what I consider the most significant passage of his speech, made before embarking at Bremen on March 22nd, 1905, and it came to my mind immediately when the present clash had become unavoidable. These are some of his words on that occasion: "I have vowed never to strive for a universal empire. The universal empire of which I have dreamt is to consist in this that the newly created German Empire shall enjoy from all sides absolute confidence as a quiet, honest and peaceful neighbor and that, if ever history should speak of a German universal empire or a universal rule of the Hohenzollern, it will have been founded not on conquests of the sword, but on mutual confidence of the nations, following the same aims, in short, as a great poet expresses: 'Limited outward, unlimited within': and as if to make his remarks even more momentous he addresses the youth of his nation: "What will be the duty of the growing generation?—to improve constantly, to avoid quarrel, hate, discord, and envy; to enjoy the German Fatherland as it is and not to strive for the impossible; to live up to the firm conviction that Providence never would have taken such great pains with our Fatherland if we were not preserved for something great. We are the salt of the earth, but we must be worthy of it. Therefore our youth must learn to resign and to refuse what will not be wholesome for them; to keep off what has been introduced from alien peoples, and to preserve morals, discipline and order, reverence and religion." These certainly are not the words of a lord who wants to rule over a nation of conquering warriors.

If I must answer the question, What is the cause of this war? what did "force the sword into the Emperor's hand"?—the only answer I can give is that given by the Emperor in his speech from the throne in which he said that the firm and honest conviction of the German people is that if they waited any longer they would be menaced not only in the peaceful working out of their mission but in the free possession of the soil which they had wrested in thousands of years of struggle from a hostile nature and which they had succeeded in raising to unheard-of prosperity. What proofs have been forthcoming that there was no such danger?


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