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A Separate Peace with Russia? (November 19, 1914)

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All in all, one must consider the situation serious despite all confidence in success. Developments near Ypres are typical. Despite the great bravery of our troops, we have not achieved a decisive blow, but only a gradual advance, accompanied by partial failures and, in general, enormous losses.

I thus cannot ignore General von Falkenhayn’s repeated pressure for a separate arrangement with Russia. The possibilities have at least to be thought through to the end. I have until now seen no signs that Russia is ready for an accommodation. Even another victory by Hindenburg would not, in my view, suffice to make Russia willing. To this end, either we or Austria would probably have to occupy most of Poland. We would probably need this collateral in order to force Russia to pay an indemnity, most of which would then fall to Austria. For its part, the Dual Monarchy would also doubtless claim, in addition to such an indemnity, a part of Serbia and would want to give another part of Serbia to Bulgaria. What will happen to Turkey is not clear to me yet. It will probably end up being an agreement with Russia on the basis of the status quo.

If it were to remain unsuccessful, an initiative from us would be interpreted by the entire Triple Entente as a sign of weakness, and it would destroy any inclinations toward peace in France. General von Falkenhayn is inclined to minimize all these difficulties, although his desire to settle the war-guilt question in our favor probably plays a role.

Source: Aus dem Schreiben des Reichskanzlers Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg an den Unterstaatssekretär im Auswärtigen Amt Arthur Zimmermann vom 19. November 1914 über einen Separatfrieden mit Rußland als Voraussetzung für eine siegreiche Beendigung des Krieges [Excerpt from Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg’s Letter to the Undersecretary of State in the Foreign Office, Arthur Zimmermann, of November 19, 1914, concerning a Separate Peace with Russia as a Precondition for a Victorious Termination of the War], in André Scherer, et al., eds., L'Allemagne et les problèmes de la paix pendant la Première Guerre Mondiale. Documents extraits des archives de l'Office allemand des Affaires étrangères, publiés et annotés par André Scherer et Jacques Grunewald [Germany and the Country's Problems during WWI. Documents from the Archives of the German Office for Foreign Affairs. Published and annotated by André Scherer and Jacques Grunewald], 4 volumes, Paris, 1962-78, Vol. I: Des Origines a la déclaration de la guerre sous-marine a outrance (août 1914-31 janvier 1917) [The Origins of the Declaration of Unrestricted Submarine Warfare (August 1914 – January 31, 1917)], no. 13, p. 15ff.

Reprinted in Willibald Gutsche, Herrschaftsmethoden des deutschen Imperialismus 1897/8 bis 1917 [The Ruling Methods of German Imperialism, 1897/8 to 1917]. East Berlin, 1977, pp. 210-11.

Translation: Jeffrey Verhey and Roger Chickering

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