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Germany’s Industrial Leaders on War Aims (1915)

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The demands posed here naturally depend on the military situation. If they cannot be achieved militarily, one will have to do without them. It appears more important to the associations represented here that a goal be set forth for the eventuality of victory – a goal that signals to statesmen what can be achieved if we are victorious. That would certainly have an effect on the army’s morale.

After Privy Councilor Hugenburg spoke out along the same lines, emphasizing the standpoint of industry, Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg offered some extended remarks, which included the following: “He fully appreciates the significance of unity among the sectors of the German economy, which is expressed in the declaration presented to him. At the moment Germany faces a difficult political situation, which is in fact perhaps more difficult than at any time since the beginning of the war. We have to reckon with Italy’s joining Germany’s enemies; even the Balkan states of Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece may join them, too. He sees little hope that Italy in particular will remain neutral. Italy is presently ruled by the streets, although four-fifths of the senate is for Giolitti and peace. He [Bethmann Hollweg] has seen this development coming and for this reason believes that this is not an opportune moment to discuss war aims. He has no doubt that the German Empire will be able to protect its borders in the east and the west, even against this combined assault. The gentlemen can judge from the battles around Arras how difficult these defenses are to break. What will become of Austria-Hungary in this assault must remain an open question.

As far as war aims are concerned, the war has developed in a way that will make the idea of a peace of conciliation impossible. This is especially true of France’s relationship to Germany. France has to be cured of its megalomania. It goes without saying that he is for capitalizing thoroughly on a German war to this end. It is deplorable and wretched to entertain the idea that we will not want to make the most of victory. He is painfully and deeply disturbed that anyone could attribute such a view to him, to which he has never given public expression. He is also of the opinion that restoring Belgium is impossible, for Belgium would only be a vassal to France and England. The situation in the east is different. A separate peace in the east is certain, if Italy does not enter the war. But even if Italy does become involved, the moment may arise in certain circumstances when Russia is no longer willing to continue the war, and we can as a result conclude a separate agreement with Russia. It is doubtful in any case whether such a separate agreement will make possible the fulfillment of the wishes that have been expressed. All in all, the present situation recalls Prussia’s situation during the Seven-Years’ War. The [present] war has taken on the character of a coalition war. He is no pessimist with respect to the war’s outcome; he is filled with solemn optimism, but one cannot get around the fact that the situation has become difficult. Thus he does not know whether all the wishes expressed here are realizable. He asks the participants to remain convinced that, when the proper time comes, he will call on the sectors represented here to stand by his side with advice and aid in resolving the question of Germany’s future political and economic circumstances.”

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