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The road to war

What follows is an online version of an exhibition which was on display in the Upper Library exhibition cases from October 2012 until June 2013. 

All images are copyright The Queen's College and may not be reproduced without permission.

Introduction to the exhibition

As the centenary of the outbreak of World War I approaches we have been considering how best to mark the anniversary in Queen’s. The Library is fortunate in possessing an extensive collection of First World War material which covers both the war itself and the run up to the conflict. As our collection is so large we decided to hold two exhibitions, one now to explore what was happening in years immediately before the outbreak of war and one during the centenary of the war itself. Our collection enables us to have this two pronged approach as the rich and varied holdings shed an illuminating light on the period and, when viewed alongside each other, provide a unique overview to events both before and during the conflict.

A large proportion of our WWI holdings originally belonged to William Sanday, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Christ Church who became fascinated by the First World War and, on his death in 1920, donated his extensive collection to Queen’s together with his theological pamphlets.

The collection as a whole contains German, French, British and some American publications, both monograph and pamphlet. Most of the material was produced by the opposing sides during the war itself and some of it is graphic propaganda although there are also a number of very thoughtful essays on the origin of the war, several by Sanday himself.

When the First World War broke out in 1914 Sanday the theologian found a new subject for his writings. His political standpoint was rather conservative and the armed forces always had a curious fascination for him. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the business of a pamphleteer, publishing in 1914 The Deeper Causes of the War (displayed here); The Meaning of the War for Germany and Great Britain: an Attempted Synthesis (1915); In View of the End: a Retrospect and a Prospect (1916) and When Should the War End? (1917).

In addition to Sanday’s pamphlet items were chosen for the exhibition to illustrate a variety of perspectives and a range of different attitudes from the opposing powers to each other. They include works written by German, American and British authors. All the items on show were written no later than 1915 in order to keep the focus clearly on the road to war and the opening months of hostilities. As the war advanced perspectives and attitudes changed, a theme which will be developed in the subsequent exhibition.

Clüver, Philipp, 1580-1622. Germania Antiqua. 1631. Queen's 20.E.5

Philipp Clüver was born in Gdańsk and, after years spent as a soldier and traveller, became an important figure in the resurgence of geographic learning in the seventeenth century. He is considered to be the founder of historical geography.

This book on the geography of Ancient Germania is of particular interest to the current exhibition as it illustrates similarities between Clüver’s depiction of Germanic warriors and that of Raemaekers’ caricature in the book below, published more than 300 years later. Both representations are of an individual close to the traditional barbarian: dressed meagerly in animal fur, wielding clubs and possessing a hostile demeanor.

Germania antiqua
Raemaekers, Louis, 1869-1956. Germany’s Pledged Word. 1914. Queen's II.e.596/10.

Louis Raemaekers was a Dutch cartoonist who became internationally famous for his anti-German images. He first worked for the Amsterdam-based Telegraaf newspaper but left for England after he was put on trial by the Dutch authorities – under pressure from the German government – for endangering Dutch neutrality. The jury cleared him of the charge.

The cartoon featured focuses on the invasion of Belgium by Germany in August, 1914. As well as noting the quote from Von Jagow used as a biting caption, it’s interesting to compare this image of the Germans with that of Germany’s swelled head, below. Here, only the handlebar moustache marries up to the caricature on the cover of Reich’s book. Raemaekers’ take appears much closer to the Germanic warriors of Philip Clüver’s 17th century illustration above. The undisguised aggression on show in these images suggests the perception widely held amongst Germany’s opponents on the road to war: that the Kaiser, his officials and the nation were indulging in unrestrained militarism.

Reich, Emil, 1854-1910. Germany’s Swelled Head. 1907. Queen's II.e.344.

The perceived militarism of the German government before 1914 was one of the major concerns of most contemporary commentators. Seven years before the war began Emil Reich published his own condemnation of militarism in this provocatively titled volume. It became a bestseller on its reissue in 1914.

Born in Hungary, the author travelled extensively before settling in Britain in 1893 where he became known for his versatility and assurance as a writer, lecturer and coach of future civil servants. His self-confidence is borne out in these pages. The first lines read:

‘The Germans are afflicted with the severest attack of swelled-headedness known to modern history. The English are practically ignorant of this dangerous state of mind in their greatest rivals. These two statements are the burden of this book. The first of them can be made out as one can prove a mathematical truth’.

Coupled with the striking cover, the stereotype of the Germans here is clearly one of an arrogant, aggressive and sinister people – notice how, in an attempt to invest the Germans with a distinctive menace, gothic type is used for the title but not for the author’s name – and is, perhaps, an example of Reich’s tendency towards inaccuracy and omission of facts which, as W. B. Owen notes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, was a trait he often indulged in his wider work.

Cover from Germany's swelled head
Wile, Frederic William, 1873-1941. Men Around the Kaiser: The Makers of Modern Germany. 1913. Queen's II.e.392.

As well as the German policy of militarism, the individuals responsible for its implementation were of great interest to those outside Europe. Frederick William Wile, an American journalist who wrote for The New York Times, Chicago Daily News and was, by then, on the staff of the Daily Mail, enlightened his readers by writing these biographical sketches. He published them in book form in 1913.

Far from sounding anxious or disapproving, Wile spends much of his time praising many of the figures he here examines, especially, it is interesting to note, those who had a hand in promoting militarism in numerous forms. Prince Henry of Prussia, for example, possesses ‘diplomatic talent of a high order’ while keeping the ‘homogenous squadrons […] assembled in home waters as one great sledge-hammer entity, steam up and eager to deliver the decisive blow at the psychological moment’. The more complimentary tone of this book makes it a good example of the variety of viewpoints on the road to war.

Men around the Kaiser - cover
Titius, Arthur, 1864-1936. Unser Krieg: Etische Betrachtungen (Our War: Ethical Considerations). 1915. Queen's II.e.589/2.

Another item that demonstrates that opponents can be admired is this series of lectures by the German theologian, Dr Arthur Titius. The publisher’s target audience was the Christian German public who may have been concerned with the ethical issues stirred up by the War. In an interesting section on ‘Germany and Humanity’, Titius informs us that he is not afraid of going to war with England, since ‘Germans will continue to benefit from the aspects of English culture and national outlook that support German spiritual development even in a relationship of combat’. Specifically, the ‘common sense’ of the English, he argued, would continue to be a positive influence on the German modus operandi.

It is not all so friendly, however. In the very next lecture, Titius claims that ‘England’ and ‘morality’ are incompatible words, only ‘immorality’ being fit for the English, while also attacking the ‘proverbial perfidy’ of England’s cultural politics.

Unser Kreig cover
Goldmann, Nahum, 1895-1982. Der Deutsche Krieg: Der Geist des Militarismus (The German War: The Spirit of Militarism). 1915. Queen's II.e.615/3.

The militarism that occupied so many Allied commentators on the approach to War was a subject viewed through a slightly different lens in Germany. This pamphlet argues against the existence of a warmongering spirit whilst accepting that there was such a thing as German militarism. Crucially, this is not portrayed as a bad thing, and here differs drastically with the views expressed in some of the other items on display.

It was written by Nahum Goldmann, a man with whom the foreword acquaints us:

‘This text is of especial importance given the identity of its author. N. Goldmann was a Russian Jew, born in Vishnevo in 1894 as the son of a writer. He came to Germany in early youth and has become so good a German in his way of thinking and feeling that he has been able to write this beautiful piece in Germany’s honour’.

In an amusing admission, within this pamphlet which is written almost entirely in support of German strategy, Goldmann, like Titius, acknowledges that English ‘common sense’ is undeniably a virtue.

Der deutsche kreig cover
Sladen, Douglas, 1856-1947. Germany’s Great Lie: The Official German Justification of the War. 1914. Queen's II.e.364.

As well as the snipes and barbs aimed at each other, both sides attempted to influence the views of neutrals before, and during, the fighting. America was especially targeted, with both German and Allied publications circulated in an attempt to mould perceptions.

This is an example of such material from the German side, analyzed by Douglas Sladen, a British writer. The original text is presented alongside comments about ‘the deliberate misstatements and ridiculous errors which crowd every page of the book’. This, therefore, is a rare instance of a single item illustrating conflicting perspectives. The initial text portrays a Germany that ‘wishes to lead a quiet and industrial life’ whose ‘love of peace is so strong that it is not regarded by us in the light of a virtue’. Sladen’s commentary, however, vigorously disagrees. He claims, for example, that ‘we have plenty of reasons for knowing that Germany not only wanted war, but meant to have it’.

Germany's great lie - title page
Doyle, Arthur Conan, 1859-1930. The German War. 1914. Queen's II.e.278.

This volume is a collection of essays that Conan Doyle wrote on ‘the wonderful world-drama which has made our lifetime memorable’. They appeared in a number of publications at various times before November 1914.

One particularly interesting article is the first in the book. ‘The Causes of the War’ states the British case and, as well as being utilised as a recruiting pamphlet in Britain, was also used abroad ‘as a simple explanation which would enable neutrals to understand the true facts’. Published by fifty leading journals in the United States, it is an example of the Allies producing similar material to that showcased in Germany’s Great Lie. Here, the perspective pushed is of Germany harbouring a long, simmering dislike for Britain:

‘[T]hey have no shadow of a grievance against us. And yet they hated us with a most bitter hatred, a hatred which long antedates the days when we were compelled to take a definite stand against them’.

Childers, Erskine, 1870-1922. The Riddle of the Sands. 1903. Private collection.

Erskine Childers was another novelist who found inspiration in the state of Europe. Unlike Doyle, he stuck to the fictional form and, in 1903, produced a book that would come to be seen as hugely prescient and intensely relevant to contemporary issues. Childers himself described the work in a letter to a friend in 1902:

‘It is a yachting story, with a purpose, suggested by a cruise I once took in German Waters. I discover a scheme of invasion directed against England. I find it horribly difficult, as being in the nature of a detective story, there is no sensation, only what is meant to be convincing fact’.

The reception was extraordinary, the Scotsman venturing that ‘one hesitates to class this book as fiction’ and The News Chronicle stating that the ‘serious purpose is to point out to his fellow countrymen a peril to England which lurks in the shallow estuaries and river mouths, masked effectively by any number of islands, on that portion of the German coast which is washed by the North Sea’.

Riddle of the sands - frontis and title page
Sanday, William, 1843-1920. The Deeper Causes of the War. 1914. Queen's II.e.609/5.

It is from the collection of William Sanday that the majority of items in this exhibition are drawn. Amongst this assortment are a small number of pamphlets that he wrote on the war, detailing his views and opinions on the subject. This was the first of them. Published by the OUP in 1914, the eleven pages leave little doubt as to the theologian’s view of why fighting broke out:

‘The gospel of Militarism and of Force has been preached without intermission. It has converted some, and silenced others, and with or without their real assent, carried away all […] The fact is that, when all disguises are stripped away, this Prussianized Germany stands upon the old naked doctrine that Might is Right. Never in the history of the world has this doctrine been applied in such a systematically logical way’.

Sanday's The deeper causes of war - cover