On War #133
September 8, 2005

In Defense of His Majesty

By William S. Lind

[The views expressed in this article are those of Mr. Lind, writing in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the opinions or policy positions of the Free Congress Foundation, its officers, board or employees, or those of Kettle Creek Corporation.]

As regular readers in this column know, my reporting senior and lawful sovereign is His Imperial Majesty Kaiser Wilhelm II. When I finally report in to that great Oberste Heeresleitung in the sky, I expect to do so as the Kaiser’s last soldier.

Why? Well, beyond Bestimmung, the unhappy fact is that Western civilization’s last chance of survival was probably a victory by the Central Powers in World War I. Their defeat let all the poisons of the French Revolution loose unchecked, which is the main reason that we now live in a moral and cultural cesspool.

History has not been kind to Kaiser Wilhelm, unfairly in my view (an assessment in which Martin van Creveld agrees with me). He may have been the brightest chief of state in early 20th century Europe. His chief fault was yielding too often to his advisors, when he in fact was right. Once he saw where events were headed in the summer of 1914, he desperately sought to avert war. I have seen the actual last telegram he sent to the Tsar (interestingly, it is in English). When war came, he wanted Germany to remain on the defensive in the west, abandoning the Schlieffen Plan, and take the offensive in the east, against Russia. Such a course would have kept England out of the war and almost certainly resulted in a German victory. His Chief of the General Staff, von Moltke the less, told him it could not be done (the plans were in the file). After the war, in exile in Holland, his response to the terms of the Versailles Treaty was prophetic; he said, “The war to end wars has given us a peace to end peace.” He was an implacable opponent of Hitler and the Nazis. When the Second World War came, Churchill, who has always admired the Kaiser, offered him refuge in England.

As a loyal subject of His Majesty, I was somewhat hurt to receive from a reader the impious question, “How can (you) think it is possible to esteem too little a dolt who ignited a naval arms race with the world’s predominant sea power merely because he wanted to dress up as an admiral?” Well. Such lese majestế from someone who signs himself, “Fahnrich, Koniglich-Bayerische Befreiungsarmee?” I suppose that’s what you get from a people who are drinking beer by ten o’clock in the morning.

Germany’s decision to build a great navy was a strategic error of the first rank. It put her in opposition to her historic ally, Britain, to the point where it drove the British into alliance with their traditional enemies, France and Russia. But the Kaiser was not solely responsible for this blunder. Navalism had become a vast force in German public opinion. Nor did he need a navy of his own to play admiral, since he was already an admiral in the British, Swedish and Norwegian navies. As in Washington today, there was no shortage of admirals’ uniforms, though real admirals were and are another matter.

The navalist idea which swept the world in the Kaiser’s time – that history turned on the outcome of great sea battles – came largely from one book: Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (America, too, now has a head of state who read a book). I first read Mahan in my teens, and to a teenager he speaks very convincingly. An adult reading gives a different impression. Despite the fact that Mahan is still worshipped by the United States Navy, which continues to build a fleet suitable for a great sea battle against Imperial Japan, his work is piffle when compared to Britain’s truly outstanding naval theorist, Sir Julian Corbett. While Corbett fully recognized the importance of seapower, he also understood that its most powerful influence was indirect.

Great sea battles were only a small part of a much more complex picture.

What does all this history say to our present time? It points out that simplistic ideas, like “democratic capitalism” and the “end of history,” can become intellectual fads that sweep important national capitals, with incalculable and often unfortunate results. Domestic lobbies can ride such fads to wealth and power, as they did navalism. But the complex realities of policy and grand strategy cannot be fit to such Procrustean beds. Those realities eventually triumph over the fad, and at a price.

The Kaiser payed the price of navalism in 1918. What price will America’s leaders pay for the fad of neo-conservatism? They, and we, are fated to find out.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Phyllis Hughes ()
Free Congress Foundation
717 Second St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
Phone 202-543-8474

The Free Congress Foundation, is a 28-year-old Washington, DC-based conservative educational foundation (think tank) that teaches people how to be effective in the political process, advocates judicial reform, promotes cultural conservatism, and works against the government encroachment of individual liberties.

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