MP Harmsworth: German miscalculations

Luton MP Cecil Harmsworth's Parliamentary Letter, printed in The Luton News on September 17th, 1914.

"France," said General von Bernhardi in the famous book to which I referred in a recent Parliamentary Letter, "must be so completely crushed that she can never again come across our path."

And France very nearly was "completely crushed". No one who has followed the developments of the present tremendous campaign in Belgium and France can doubt that, had it not been for Belgium and our Expeditionary Force, France as a first-class power would have ceased to exist and the first and most important of the prophesies of von Bernhardi and generally of the "men about the Kaiser" would have come true.

Now things are very different. We are not to shout before we out of the wood, but it is at least an enormous gain that the orderly retreat of the Allies has been replaced by a disorderly retreat of the enemy and that the Kaiser is for all practical purposes further from Paris than he was at the outbreak of hostilities. Meanwhile, the enormous armies of the Csar have broken the military strength of Austria and are now in a position to threaten the industrial province of Silesia even if they are still a great number of leagues from Berlin.

I do not dwell on the horrors of this frightful conflict as they are revealed to us day by day in the newspapers. Whatever the losses and however great our own sufferings we shall not desist, if good fortune is vouchsafed us, until the power responsible for the greatest tragedy in history is rendered impotent and the peace of Europe is secured for generations to come.

Among the many cardinal mistakes made by the Kaiser was his reliance on widespread disaffection in the British Empire. Our hands were to be tied by difficulties in Ireland, in India, in Egypt, and perhaps in South Africa. The Kaiser has been badly informed. All along he and his advisers have forgotten human nature. They have forgotten that our good-natured, tolerant methods of government have made warm friends for us in the most unexpected places.. So it is that we find the Government of South Africa rallying in splendid loyalty to the British cause and General Botha making energetic preparations for dislodging the German force that has had the temerity to cross from German S. W. Africa into Cape Colony.

Again we have had from India demonstrations of loyalty that go far to prove that the spirit of truth, justice and fair play that animates our dealings with the subject races of our greatest possession has won their trust and even their affection. Of all the wonderful events of these fateful weeks there has been nothing more inspiring than the recital in the House of Commons of the offer of services and men and money by the native rulers of India. It was on Monday last that Mr Charles Roberts, the Under Secretary for India, read to the House of Commons the now famous telegram of the Viceroy to the Secretary of State. The narrative was bald enough in some respects and no attempt has been made to give it a literary finish, but it fell on our ears more gratefully that the sublimest passage of poetry. On the loyalty and active co-operation of our fellow subjects in the self-governing dominions we have always been able to rely, but the most sanguine of us dared scarcely expect that the princes and nobles of India would place themselves, their troops and their riches at the disposal of the King Emperor.

I say that the Germans have left the vital element of human nature out of their calculations. The efficiency of their war machine has excited universal admiration. It is no secret now that it very nearly accomplished all that its inventors expected it to accomplish during the first stage of the war. In any case, however, human nature would have beaten it in the end.

Let me qualify my statement that France was on the verge of being "completely crushed", Taking a big view it is humanly speaking impossible to crush such a people as that of France. I would say that it is almost equally difficult to crush a little people like the Belgians. For ourselves we can claim that no tyrant ever has or ever will annihilate us. The power of human races to endure and to persist is one of the outstanding lessons of history. When Kaiser Wilhelm is given a moment for cool reflection he will see that his arrogant denial of so obvious and universal a truth is the main cause of all his colossal misfortunes.

We have not embarked on this war with any hope or intention of "crushing" the German people. We are, I trust, sensible enough not to entertain any foolish allusions on that. What we shall aim at effecting is the smashing of the German military and naval machines and the ridding of Europe of Prussian terrorism. Incidentally, we shall insist, if ultimate success is given us, on full compensation for Belgium and France so far as any sort of reparation can be made by Germany for the sufferings she has inflicted on our Allies. Lord Kitchener is right to ask for a million men. He shall have two million, or three, if he wants them. An unmilitary people we may be, slow to war and profoundly uninfluenced by the attractions of military glory, but once engaged in war it is our habit to hang on immovably until our object is attained.

In the House of Commons we are passing still more "emergency Bills" with the minimum of talk on either side. We meet in more cheerful mood after our short recess. We have a perfect confidence in our Government, and he patriotic helpfulness of the Opposition is a national asset that we Liberals warmly recognise. If the responsibility is with the Government, it goes without saying that the Opposition and, indeed, man of all parties in the State, have by their generous co-operation enormously strengthened the Government's hands.


House of Commons,

September 15th, 1914.