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Arnold Brecht on the Final Weeks of the War (Retrospective Account, 1966)

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At the end of the session the logical thread of the Chancellor’s way of thinking became clear. He pointed out that even according to Ludendorff’s most far-reaching hopes—which Prince Max apparently did not share—the war could be continued for only a limited period, that in the meantime the defection of the two remaining allies must be reckoned with and that so the question arose: would matters be better or worse at the end than at present? Ludendorff held that there were no worse conditions.

LUDENDORFF: “I feel that before we accept conditions which are too hard we should say to the enemy: fight to gain them.”

THE CHANCELLOR: “And when he has won the fight for them, will he not present even worse ones?”

LUDENDORFF: “There are no worse ones.”

THE CHANCELLOR: “Oh yes, they may invade Germany and devastate the country.”

LUDENDORFF: “Things have not yet gone that far.”

The last words evaded the Chancellor’s logical point. For the possibility of resistance was uncertain even in the opinion of Ludendorff, and the question was precisely what the political situation would be after further vain resistance. The Chancellor manifestly proceeded from the realistic point of view that the enemy’s conditions could become even worse. True, from Wilson’s last note it was to be expected that the conditions of the armistice would be severe and offensive. Even this note, however, maintained the President’s points for the peace treaty. Should Germany be at all capable of continuing the war for a few more months, then after an unfortunate outcome present terms would be lost. Not only that, but death and misery would have continued to rage fearfully. Belgium and Northern France would be destroyed in battles on the retreat and then the devastation would be brought back home. France and Belgium also trembled at the thought of the destruction further advances would bring with them. Here the German government saw a strong point.

The German answer went out on October 20, this time in disagreement with the High Command, in particular in regard to the discontinuance of submarine warfare. In a conference with German representatives abroad the latter had unanimously declared themselves in favor of yielding to President Wilson’s demands in the question of submarines. Hope was expressed that no American passenger ship would be torpedoed at this time. But right at this moment the news that the “Leinster” had been torpedoed was received, aggravating the hostile mood in the United States.

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