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England and the German Fleet: Alfred von Tirpitz looks back on the Naval Race (1920)
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3.

Many believe that in our time the German Empire could have pursued an open, honest relationship with England, and that these prospects were ruined solely by the failures of German statesmanship and, in particular, the construction of a fleet. If this view becomes anchored in the German consciousness, it will positively confirm the truism that history is written by victors. In this case, the vanquished would be falsifying history in order to pay tribute to Anglo-Saxon world domination.

The British now deny wanting go to war against us. Hence all those in Germany who believe that the fleet construction program was responsible for the war cannot even identify an opponent. The self-incrimination follows the wrong lead: the historical truth can sooner be found in one of Bismarck’s last statements, made in 1898, when we did not even have a navy. He regretted that “the relations between Germany and England are not better than they are.” Unfortunately, he did not have a solution for this, since the only means known to him—bridling German industry—was not readily practicable.

We would not have been able to gain England as a friend and patron without returning to the rank of a poor agricultural country. Yet there was one means to significantly improve relations with the English: the creation of a German fleet that made any attack on German trade a riskier proposition than at the time of Bismarck’s statement. In this sense, the German navy continued to perform its duty up to July 1914, despite the various failures of German politics, and it is not the fault of the navy that it was not able to serve its purpose as a peacekeeper more effectively or for a longer period of time. It is incomprehensible to me that Herr v. Bethmann Hollweg continues to pin the blame on the so-called naval policy, for which he himself was responsible for eight years as chancellor. It is all the more incomprehensible since, like Lichnowsky and other experts at the Foreign Office, he himself perceived a tangible détente in Anglo-German relations and acknowledged that our fleet construction program, as it drew closer to completion, did not stand in the way of improving our relations with England. The outbreak of war was not caused by a deterioration in Anglo-German relations: an especially tragic twist is that Germany and England were closer in 1914 than in 1896, when Germany had no navy—and even in 1904 when it had a weak navy and Prince Bülow succeeded in bridging this dangerous period. The German navy protected the peace in keeping with its specific function. Interested parties are attempting to alter this clear fact even today. Added to this is the self-destructive streak in the character of Germans, who always love to believe the worst, and who will ridicule as foolish the very thing that they found most sensible the previous day.

Before the war, Bethmann Hollweg seemed to agree with me that the Naval Law, the basis of all our prospects in international politics, had to be preserved without any tampering. For my part, I concurred with the chancellor that we had to do our best to improve relations with England. From his first days in office, I supported the chancellor in his efforts to accommodate the English in the matters suggested by him. In particular, I influenced the Kaiser in this area and did everything I could to keep the negotiations on a naval agreement initiated in 1908 on track.

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