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The German blunders

The German blunders

In the spring of 1915, a party of twenty was leaving Constantinople on a dangerous mission. Led by German super-spy Oskar von Niedermayer and diplomat Werner Otto von Hentig, their goal was to survive a hazardous trip to Kabul without being intercepted and to convince the Emir to rally Afghanistan to the Central Powers’ side by attacking the British Raj in India1. Their mission was part of a larger World War I plan that the Germans pursued relentlessly, aiming to subvert British authority by calling for nothing less than a pan-Islamic jihad. Numerous efforts were made in this direction, including running a reeducation camp near Berlin for muslim POWs, where they were being taught to wage offensive jihad against Britain and France while living in relative luxury, to be then recruited into the German Army2.

While a state policy of promoting global jihad would seem appalling today, the Germans did it during the First World War, when the circumstances were different. But what ignited that war in the first place, and why did it become global? While the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo escalated tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, the war didn’t start immediately. Many were against a military conflict, and Emperor Franz Joseph didn’t want to rush to war without the support of Germany, fearing Russia. Intense diplomatic maneuvering lasted for about a month, but when the Austrian-Hungarian Foreign Minister finally met the German Emperor Wilhelm II, he was reassured that Germany would support any military offensive, that “there was no need to wait patiently before taking action,” and “Russia was not at all ready for war.”3 The Kaiser’s blank check led Austria-Hungary to effectively declare war against Serbia and predictably triggered the chain of alliances that drew dozens of countries, including all the world’s great powers, into what became the biggest conflict humans experienced by that time.

Little known German Secretary of State Arthur Zimmermann shaped the history of the twentieth century with his ideas and subversive plans that ended up having radical consequences. Advising the Kaiser to provide unconditional support to Austria-Hungary and sponsoring a global jihad were not his only contributions. In January 1917, he invited Mexico to join the war and attack the neutral United States, promising money and help in conquering Texas, New Mexico and Arizona4. When his telegram was intercepted, it pushed reluctant President Wilson to finally go to congress, asking for a declaration of war. Once in, the United States played a crucial role in the final offensive of the Allied forces against the Germans.

Six months after the telegram blunder, Zimmermann resigned. But during those months, he had time for one last plan: he sent Lenin, a Marxist fanatic exiled in Switzerland, in a railway car to Moscow, to weaken Russia by starting the Bolshevik Revolution5. The German government also sent “more than 50 million deutsche marks in gold” from 1917 to 1918 to help the Bolsheviks establish and hold power.6 This sparked the Red Holocaust, during which tens of millions were killed in the Soviet Union alone. The monstrous communist regimes spread like plague and killed more people than any other regime type, being responsible for a staggering 100 million victims7.

Just 20 years after the end of the First World War, the Second World War started. Europe was once again divided, and Germany took on the Soviet Union, the United States, and the British Empire. After horrific crimes and millions of victims, Germany lost the war again, was split in two, and half of its nation had to live for 45 years in an oppressive “socialist paradise” controlled by the very soviet communists that the German government helped raise to power.

It would be a gross oversimplification to state that Germany started by itself both world wars and triggered the rise of communism, but it did play instrumental roles on each occasion. What’s even more remarkable is that the populist, collectivist ideologies that are at the core of both national socialism and communism also emerged there. Everyone makes mistakes, and judging an entire nation based on the blunders of some leaders, uninspired philosophers, and criminal “revolutionaries” is of course not fair. However, whether it’s misjudging consequences or simply bad luck, Germany has an impressive track record of actions that were not only disastrous to other nations, but many times backfired horrifically against its own people.

My own country, Romania, suffered from both nazism and communism. And yet most Romanians, including me, hold Germany in high regard. We admire the proverbial work ethic and the perceived discipline and integrity of Germans, and we take their country as a model. Before communism, we had German kings whom we invited to rule us, and Romania did mostly well during their time. More recently, in 2014, we elected Klaus Johannis, a German, as our first President to come from an ethnic minority. His campaign was built on the idea of “getting things done the right way,” implicitly suggesting that his origins recommend him as a responsible President who will continue to support reforms, the rule of law, and the fight against corruption.

It seems, though, that even experienced, responsible leaders, ruling in their own culture of discipline and integrity, can make spectacular mistakes. Every now and then, the German leadership completely overlooks the dangerous side-effects of its actions. It always starts as something that arguably makes sense at the time, maybe even seems noble. But the triggered sequence of events leads to disastrous consequences and can end up hurting the very people the initial action is trying to help. Hopefully Germany is at least getting better at correcting its mistakes once they become obvious to everybody, and other nations learn something instead of repeating them.