A STUDY OF THE KAISER
AN ADDRESS BY E. F. B. JOHNSTON, ESQ., K.C.
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto
March 22, 1917
MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,--A week Ago today I had the pleasure of hearing the very able and distinguished address by Mr. Justice Riddell on the subject, "The Prussian Mind." Unconsciously he almost laid the foundation of what I am to say to you along a different line, and I hope to present the case from such an angle that you will be able to view it from a different standpoint, when you come to review the whole matter.
What I am going to speak to you about is not the history of the War, but I want to explain in a simple, connected sort of way about the Kaiser, and why he acts as he does, and the manner of man he is and evidently shows himself to be.
I recall reading a number of years ago of a scene in which two royal personages stood upon the deck of a royal dreadnought at a great review of the English navy. One was King Edward, the other was the Kaiser, who saw, with that jealous eye that is always present with him, England's greatness spread out before him; and the report, for which I cannot vouch, but which illustrates the position of the two royal Emperors as well as anything I could say, was that, as the Kaiser saw those tremendous warships, almost innumerable, he asked the King, his own relative; "Are those instruments of war?" King Edward replied, "No, they are the guardians of peace, and they are the bulwarks of the world's freedom." The Kaiser returned to his own country, and from that day began the building of ships. He, of all people, devised or helped, through his staff and his assistants, to devise the main cruel engines of death; he tried to build a navy that would at least match, if not conquer, the British navy and the British ships. He began to build railways for merely military purposes, with no object whatever regarding internal trade and commerce. The map of Germany today looks like a spider's web with railways. In 1860 Great Britain had double the length of railways that Germany had; in 1900 that was reversed. It is charged by writers competent to judge that 70 percent of the railways of Germany have no object to serve apart from military purposes, and giving the various military bases in the Empire.
Now, they have had nearly three years of war. It began, perhaps, not with the overt act of the Kaiser or his superiors as a war action; perhaps more as a question of the unit we can trace it back to that period; but whether we must start some time in 194 as the beginning of the Kaiser's warlike tendency, there must have been tremendous preparations by the man, whether he was to blame or not, who was not looking for a continued peace; because for nearly three years the German Emperor and the German army, and to a great extent--notwithstanding the newspaper report--the German people have been provided for, within living capacity, at any rate. When you come to think of all that, and of the waste that must have taken place, you see what preparation must have been made by those people through the Kaiser and his advisers-men and munitions in abundance; no lack of bullets or guns; everything seems to have been piled up mountains high everywhere all over Germany for war purposes, and all apparently ready the moment when war was declared, showing that that preparation must have been going on for years.
We must not shut our eyes to the facts, no matter what our opinions may be, and we should give the devil his due--one of the greatest characteristics of the German Emperor is his efficiency. We lack that to some extent in Canada; we lacked it in Great Britain before the war, for we had only about 70,000 men of an army at that time while the German Emperor had over 800,000 trained soldiers with 4,000,000 of practically trained military people to take their place at the front. That was efficiency. War or no war, it shows the wonderful grasp and the wonderful efficiency of the German mind as symbolized by the German Emperor. Not only their preparations in regard to men, but in regard to guns--guns that were unheard of, that beat down the strongest fortresses in the world. The German Emperor believed that he had the means or could devise the means not only to blow up fortresses, but to blow up heaven and earth-reserving the other place for his home, if needs be.
I would like to say a word or two on the question of democracy, because it has an intimate connection with the character of the Kaiser. The Kaiser could never be a representative of democracy. His whole temperament, his whole mind, his whole actions, his life, are all opposed to the principles of democracy. You have no doubt heard politicians talk of democracy as if it was a form of government or some kind of an institution. Democracy is opposed to militarism in every sense of the word; it is opposed to any doctrine which involves the question that might is right; it involves also a denial that the state under any circumstances, is supreme in the government of the country without reference to the people; it denies that the government is absolute or irresponsible; it is absolutely and utterly opposed to any one-man power. It is not a government at all, or an institution of any kind, but it is a spirit, or a high moral plane; it is a spirit of a just government; it is in harmony with all the moral forces of the world; it has its trust in the moral instincts of the people; and the moral instincts of the people have their trust and confidence in the rulers--if they do not have it, it is no longer a democracy. Democracy is an atmosphere, a faith and confidence in each other, between the rulers and the people. The main, cardinal element of democracy, and its main object, is the greatest good to the greatest number. It means that the government must be responsible to the people, and it may be the government of a democracy, whether it is Tory or Grit, whether it is Republican or Democrat; that is a matter of no moment. Democracy is a national feeling, and that national feeling is the life of the principles of democracy. National spirit and freedom go hand in hand with democracy. When the German people talk about a democracy in Germany, or when we talk about a democracy in this country or the United States, we overlook the fact that we are not dealing with a form or an institution, but with the high moral instinct that actuates all the people in the country, whereby each one desires to do to others as they would wish to be done by
I should like to show, in the first place, something about the power of the Kaiser, because no matter what a man's temper is or what his instincts may be, if he has not the power he is harmless. By a singular coincidence, the North German Confederation was formed on the 1st day of July, 1867, and the Confederation of Canada, under the British North America Act, took place on the same date in the same year. They were based upon the same principles, namely, the construction of a central federal government dealing with general affairs, provinces dealing with local affairs, with a local government to look after them. Standing here, I am willing to admit that both sides of politics in Canada, in framing the Confederation adopted at least some of the true principles of democracy. You would not hear them say that of each other, but I am willing to grant that that is so. The two Confederations developed practically the same scheme, the same form of government; in Germany they developed that through the sword, while in Canada we developed it through what we hope were more or less constitutional measures, and through the consideration and wisdom of our law-makers and law-givers. Today, see the difference. You only need to look at the two countries, which started out at the same moment with the same form of government in effect. Today you have in Canada the only country in the world that is absolutely free and open, in which a man's religion is guaranteed and his conscience protected, in which his life and liberty are guarded by every possible means that government can devise for that purpose; you have that in Canada as a result of what I have said. In Germany you have the terror of the sword hanging over the whole nation; you have the grinding heel of military despotism on the body of every Teuton, every German, every Hun, and everybody else who is a citizen of that country; you have the soldiers, even in times of peace, riding rough-shod over their fellow citizens; and you have the sorriest spectacle of a nation that has ever been exhibited to an astonished world. One is the result of a feeling of democracy and the principles of it; the other, the result of the reign of the sword.
In 1870 the German Confederation was increased, and the German Empire was more or less consolidated. They have now 26 states, of which 17 are Prussian; and I need not enlarge upon that, because Mr. Justice Riddell gave you full and ample and cogent grounds as to what your belief in the Prussian mind should be. Given, then, their power in representing 17 states out of 26, the President and War Lord of Prussia became merged in the German Empire. The Kaiser is not the Emperor of Germany by reason of any act or any parliament or any consent, or anything of the kind; he is Emperor of Germany because he is the King of Prussia; and therefore you have to deal with him to some extent along the lines that Mr. Justice Riddell mentioned-as King of Prussia, and not as German Emperor at all; that is his tribute, if tribute is the right word to express the feeling, which seems to be that the Kaiser is not a tribute at all, but a demon.
Before I deal with the Kaiser's personal character, let us see what he can do. As King of Prussia he controls at least 17 votes--he controls a great many more, because he has the power to control them. He appoints and dismisses his Imperial Chancellor, who has vast power, greater power, I believe, than perhaps any man in the world. He declares war, if he so desires; he may or may not consult his advisers. He controls the navy, its action, its composition and its magnitude. He makes treaties with other nations-and breaks them when it suits him. Through the Chancellor he controls, to the detriment of the State and of the
'Government. All officials are amenable to him, if he chooses to exercise the power that is vested in him by the Prussian Monarchy, and by his junior partner, the Almighty. He has a great deal to say, and practically may say all that is to be said with regard to legislation. But he does more than that; why, he does even more than the Honourable Adam could do-he controls the post office, the telegraphs, the railways, and all public utilities, including the Hydro-Electric System, if they have one. The people practically have no say whatever. Now, that is the democracy which he claims permeates the mind of the German. The military spirit has always had control. It has more control of late than it ever had. Judging from intimations made by Lord Grey and from what one reads, at the beginning the Kaiser was more or less inclined to peace just at that particular moment. He posed as the man of peace of Europe for a quarter of a century. No doubt, he has done a good deal towards establishing and maintaining peace-just the same kind of peace that a man would have before he stirred up a porcupine or some other animal of that description-because he knew there would be trouble. But whether that is so or not, there is one thing about the Kaiser, that along certain lines he had certain admirable qualities, but only during and under certain conditions. That is important to remember.
The Kaiser yielded to the army party; he yielded to the military people and to the Crown Prince. At first, it is said that he hesitated; but that, again, was the man, because he was apparently afraid of what the result might be. He did not want to take risks unnecessarily, and even at the sacrifice of his own military desires, or the desires of his friends and supporters, he was not willing to risk his place in the sun by the war.
Now, as to his personal character, many writers have given us an insight. He is a man of perhaps the most egotistical mind that exists in Europe today. You start off with his power, then get a man full of egotism; a man who is vain of his achievements or pretended achievements; a man who thinks that he and he only is the universe; ambitious beyond any question, but cautious enough to see his way fairly clear before risking the result of his ambition. There are two parallel lines in his character. One is highly emotional; that accounts for his somewhat refined tendencies and achievements; he paints; he is a great lover of art and a great patron of art; he is absolutely steeped to the lips in his love for music. He has the greatest delight in the world, so the writers say, in having his amusements with the children about his palace; nothing delighting him more than the ordinary harmless amusement of playing with his family and their relations and his children. Now, that is one side; that is his moral side.
But the Kaiser has the barbaric side; and one has just to think for a moment for what it is that operates on the man's mind. It is almost like an electric spark. If it touches the emotional, he is a man with, perhaps, a good many likeable traits in his character. If it touches the barbaric side, then look out. He loses control of himself; becomes probably an insane man, mad, mad with his egotism, his vanity, his ambition, and mad with his blood lust. Now, that is a disease. I cannot illustrate the Kaiser's composition in that respect better than by referring to the shepherd's dog -beautiful in every respect, kind and gentle with his flock, looking after the lambs as if he were a human being; but let him once taste the blood of the sheep and he becomes worse than a raging lion; he can then no longer be trusted; he becomes mad, and you can do nothing with him. That is the kind of blood lust that apparently affects the Kaiser. He is explosive--which is a bad nature to have, particularly to a man managing public affairs. And the Kaiser has the most peculiar and dangerous idea that any man can have; he firmly believes that he and the Almighty are in partnership, and that the Almighty is directing him, assisting him, and using him in carrying out the ideas of the Kaiser for the advancement of the world and for the glorification of God Himself.
Now, notwithstanding all that, notwithstanding all his power, his artistic temperament, his desire to become the world's emperor, there is one thing that strikes me very forcibly in regard to the Kaiser; he lacks perspective. He lacks judgment upon ordinary human affairs. Just look for one moment and see what he did. He not only mistook, but ignored and misapprehended the realities as they existed at the opening of the war; the realities that he had to contend against seem to have been overlooked and entirely ignored. The Germans were ignorant of the realities of Belgium and the heroic defence that the Belgians made against the hordes of Germans who overran them. They were ignorant of and did not consider the realities in regard to England; they believed that England would never enter the war, and if she did, they believed or thought that England was having a civil war through some gentlemen in Ireland; forgetting that the very men who were raising trouble in Ireland have always proved to be the most loyal subjects to Great Britain. Italy they discarded. In India they expected a rising of hundreds of millions of Mohammedans, whose disaffection with the British rule would inure to the benefit of the Germans; but the reverse has been the case, and perhaps the greatest cry of relief that has ever been uttered in Europe or Asia went up when Baghdad fell, and the races concerned felt that a great weight had been removed from their shoulders. The Kaiser believed also that the colonies could be manipulated; he did not know the kind of material from which the Canadian boys sprang. He did not realize the kind of people they breed out in' Australia; he did not for a moment consider the realities in regard to South Africa-the men who fought against Great Britain now fighting side by side against the German. He did not realize, and the Germans never can realize, and perhaps no other country besides ourselves and the British can realize how it is that, quarrel as we may amongst ourselves, we present a solid, undivided, unafraid front to the world at large.
To some extent the Kaiser was, perhaps, in the early stages dragged into the war. The Crown Prince has all the vices of the Hohenzollern, and none of his virtues. It may be that in the early stages of the war the Crown Prince was much to blame; but that is no excuse or palliation whatever for the conduct of the Kaiser since the war began. Well, we have got the war; the wolf tastes blood. We have the second vein, as it were, in the Kaiser's character, all aflame; we can hope for nothing from the emotional side. The war must go on until that flame is extinguished, until the whole system is destroyed and the world is once more set at rest and peace. We have had a war that no civilized country can approve of, a war of barbarians. We have a war in which the enemy has wielded the sword of the assassin and not the sword of the soldier. They have broken faith with everybody concerned. I am even told that some American gentlemen in diplomatic and official circles in Washington begin to think that there is a little broken faith, and a few pieces shattered upon the United States. We have a war in which there is no honour whatever. One could understand the dignity of war, the rules which ought to govern war in civilized countries; but none of those rules are observed; the innocent shall suffer with the men who are fighting; the unborn babe shall never be born, and those that are born meet death at the hands of those people. Yet they say that is war. Perhaps nothing will go down to posterity with greater force and illuminating power in regard to the Kaiser's character than the butchery of women and children. The sinking of the Lusitania was the logical result, not of the war, but of the line in the Kaiser's character which I have been endeavouring to portray--of the greed, of the desire for something startling and something striking, and the satisfaction of his, blood lust. So with the smoking ruins in Belgium and in France. That is not war.
Let me put it to you in this way: If I had a jury of the civilized world passing sentence upon this man, and I laid before them the plain facts of the case, without any discussion or any animus of any kind whatever; or to take it still further, if His Lordship here (Mr. Justice Riddell) were to declare to the jury, as a judge, what the facts were, without any bias one way or the other, but a plain, simple statement of the facts, and should arraign the Kaiser upon them before the civilized world, and it would be shown that all the crimes that are known have been committed by him or with his knowledge and consent, and that he was gloating over the so-called victories and the demolition of bodies, and of ships filled with harmless men, women and children who had no part or lot in the war at all, that jury, without leaving their box, would convict the Kaiser of almost every crime known to humanity. Not only so, but if we committed one-millionth part of what the Kaiser has done, we would meet our just deserts as individuals, and suffer perhaps the extreme penalty of the law. So that I say there is no alternative, no punishment for the Kaiser except death. It does not matter whether he is sane or insane; he is a man who is dangerous to be at large--not dangerous to you and me particularly, but dangerous to the whole civilized world, to the cause of Christianity and the cause of civilization. His proper place is the gallows, the same as any other criminal, and I should be very glad indeed if that were to take place, and relieve the world of a monster of this kind; and I should be very glad to repeat what I have said here today at his last funeral service. We can forgive a great deal at certain times, but we cannot forgive a man who makes himself a monster, who becomes a demon, who is going about the world and stirring up strife, as he is doing, with all the nations who are not concerned in this war at all.
Now let me say that, notwithstanding all this, Canada must be kept as a home and a refuge for national and personal freedom. Our young men must go to save their country, because a final German victory would mean that we would become mere serfs, and would live in a land of slavery. I say the young men must save their country by repetition again and again of the heroism which they have shown on the battlefield. The old men must sacrifice time and money to help through the war; and then, when we ourselves come to the Great Divide that separates time from eternity, may we all be able to look back and say that during this terrible crisis we all did our duty.
The Honourable Mr. Justice Riddell, seconded by Very Rev. Dean Harris, tendered the speaker a hearty vote of thanks, which was carried.