8/29/13

On German Responsibility

“IF the German Emperor was not responsible for war, or if he is anyhow now responsible for government, the proper inference is plain enough—that we should turn our attention to those Germans who now are responsible for government, and consider how far they were formerly responsible for war…. It might be held that it was not so much William Hohenzollern as the Deutscher Kaiser who followed the armies across Belgium and waited in a white uniform at Nancy for the triumph that never came. But it was certainly Herr Scheidemann, as well as a mere member of the Reichstag, who followed the armies into Belgium to whitewash with hypocritical sophistries the most wicked oppression of modern history. It was certainly not necessary for an irresponsible professor of Socialism to go entirely out of his way to excuse and eulogise the chief act of Prussianism. He was not acting as a Socialist, and he was certainly not acting as a Pacifist. But, above all, if he was really acting as democrat, the fact is far from reassuring about the spirit and future of German democracy. If he was really representing those whom he was supposed to represent, we can only deduce that German popular feeling was then, and probably is now, as ambitious and aggressive as German autocratic or aristocratic feeling. If he does not trouble about representing anybody, it is useless to refer us to an improved popular sentiment which he is supposed to represent. The menace to mankind seems to remain the same, whether he was a democrat then or whether he is an oligarch now. But, in any case, I imagine nobody will say that Scheidemann was a medieval, or that he merely professed to be the voice of God. Scheidemann was a modern, and modestly professed to be the voice of Humanity. And the highly practical fact we have to face, if we are not to involve the world in another hideous calamity, is the very simple fact that it is just as easy to massacre men in the name of Man as to burn churches in the name of God. It is as feasible to decree inhumanity in humanitarian language as to decree sacrilege in sacred language. What the deeds of these men will be may remain to be seen. Since they thought such things as the invasion of Belgium consistent with Socialism in opposition, I cannot conceive why they should not think them consistent with Socialism in power.”

~G.K. Chesterton:  Illustrated London News, May 10, 1919.

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