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Harry Stuermer

TWO WAR YEARS IN CONSTANTINOPLE

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TWO WAR YEARS IN CONSTANTINOPLE

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COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

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TWO WAR YEARS IN CONSTANTINOPLE

CHAPTER I

At the outbreak of war in Germany—The German "World-politicians" (Weltpolitiker)—German and English mentality—The "place in the sun"—England's declaration of war—German methods in Belgium and Alsace-Lorraine—Prussian arrogance— Militaristic journalism.

Anyone who, like myself, set foot on German soil for the first time after years of sojourn in foreign lands, and more particularly in the colonies, just at the moment that Germany was mobilising for the great European war, must surely have been filled, as I was, with a certain feeling of melancholy, a slight uneasiness with regard to the state of mind of his fellow-countrymen as it showed itself in these dramatic days of August in conversations in the street, in cafés and restaurants, and in the

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articles appearing in the Press. We Germans have never learnt to think soundly on political subjects. Bismarck's political heritage, although set forth in most popular form in his Thoughts and Recollections, a book that anyone opposing this war from the point of view rather of prudence than of ethics might utilise as an unending source of propaganda, has not descended to our rulers in any sort of living form. But an unbounded political naïveté, an incredible lack of judgment and of understanding of the point of view of other peoples, who have their raison d'être just as much as we have, their vital interests, their standpoint of honour—have not prevented us from trying to carry on a grand system of Weltpolitik (world politics). The average everyday German has never really understood the English—either before or during the war; in the latter's colonial policy, which, according to pan-German ideas, has no other aim than to snatch from us our "place in the sun"; in their conception of liberty and civilisation, which has entailed such mighty sacrifices for them on behalf of their Allies; when we trod Belgian neutrality underfoot and thought England would stand and

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look on; at the time of the debates about universal service, when practically every German, even in the highest political circles, was ready to wager that there would be a revolution in England sooner than any general acceptance of Conscription; and coming down to more recent events, when the latest huge British war loan provided the only fit and proper answer to German frightfulness at sea.

Let me here say a word on the subject of colonial policy, on which I may perhaps be allowed to speak with a certain amount of authority after extended travel in the farthest corners of Africa, and from an intimate, personal knowledge of German as well as English and French colonies. Germany has less colonial territory than the older colonists, it is true. It is also true that the German struggle for the most widespread, the most intensive and lucrative employment of the energies and capabilities of our highly developed commercial land is justified. But at the risk of being dubbed as absolutely lacking in patriotism, I should like to point out that in the first place the resources we had at our disposal in our own colonial territory in tropical and sub-trop-

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ical Africa, little exploited as they then were, would have amply sufficed for our commercial needs and colonising capacities—though possibly not for our aspirations after world power! And secondly, the very liberal character of England's trade and colonial policy did not hinder us in any way from reaching the top of the commercial tree even in foreign colonies.

Anyone who knows English colonies knows that the British Government, wherever it has been possible to do so politically, that is, in all her colonies which are already properly organised and firmly established as British, has always met in a most generous and sympathetic way German, and indeed any foreign, trade or other enterprises. New firms, with German capital, were received with open arms, their excellence and value for the young country heartily recognised and ungrudgingly encouraged; not the slightest shadow of any jealousy of foreign undertakings could ever exist in a British colony, and every German could be as sure as an Englishman himself of being justly treated in every way and encouraged in the most generous fashion in his work.

Thousands of Germans otherwise thorough-

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ly embued with the national spirit make no secret of the fact that they would far rather live in a British than a German colony. Too often in the latter the newcomer was met at every point by an exaggerated bureaucracy and made to feel by some official that he was not a reserve officer, and consequently a social inferior. Hints were dropped to discourage him, and inquiries were even made as to whether he had enough money to book his passage back to where he came from!

Far be it from me to wish to depreciate by these words the value of our own colonial efforts. As pioneers in Africa we were working on the very best possible lines, but we should have been content to go on learning from the much superior British colonial methods, and should have finished and perfected our own domain instead of always shouting jealously about other people's. I am quite convinced that another ten years of undisturbed peaceful competition and Germany, with her own very considerable colonial possessions on the one hand, and the possibility on the other of pushing commercial enterprise on the highest scale not only in independent overseas states

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but under the beneficent protection of English rule with its true freedom and real furtherance of trade "uplift," would have reached her goal much better than by means of all the sword-rattling Weltpolitik of the Pan-Germans.

It is true that in territory not yet properly organised or guaranteed, politically still doubtful, and in quite new protectorates, especially along the routes to India, where vital English interests are at stake, and on the much-talked-of Persian Gulf, England could not, until her main object was firmly secured, meet in the same fair way German desires with regard to commercial activity. And there she has more than once learnt to her cost the true character of the German Weltpolitik.

That is the real meaning, at any rate so far as colonial politics are concerned, of the German-English contest for a "place in the sun." No one who understands it aright could ever condone the outgrowths of our Weltpolitik, however much he might desire to assist German ability to find practical outlet in all suitable overseas territory, nor could he ever forget the wealth of wonderful deeds, wrought in the service of human civilisation and freedom,

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Englishmen can place to their credit years before we ever began. With such considerations of justice in view, we should have recognised that there was a limit to our efforts after expansion, and as a matter of fact we should have gone further and fared better—in a decade we should have probably been really wealthy —for the English in their open-handed way certainly left us a surprising amount of room for the free exercise of our commercial talents.

I have intentionally given an illustration only of the colonial side of the problem affecting German-English relations, so that I may avoid dealing with any subject I do not know from personal observation.

It was this English people, that, in spite of all their egoism, have really done something for civilisation, that the German of August 1914 accused of being nothing but a nation of shopkeepers with a cowardly, narrow-minded policy that was unprepared to make any sacrifice for others. It was this people that the German of August 1914—and his spokesman von Bethmann-Hollweg, who later thought it necessary to defend himself against the charge of "having brought too much ethics

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into politics"—expected to stand by and see Belgium overridden. It was this same England that we believed would hold back even when the Chancellor found it impossible to apply to French colonial possessions the guarantee he had given not to aim at any territorial conquests in the war with France!

And so it was with all the more grimness, with all the more gravity, that on that memorable night of August 4th the terrible blow fell. The English declaration of war entered into the very soul of the German people, who stood as a sacrifice to a political miscalculation that had its roots less in a lack of thought and experience than in a boundless arrogance.

About the same time I was a witness of those laughable scenes which took place on the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, where, in complete misjudgment of the whole political situation Japanese were carried shoulder high by the enthusiastic and worthy citizens of Berlin under the erroneous impression that these obvious archenemies of Russia would naturally be allies of Germany. Every German that was not blind to the trend of true "world-politics" must surely have shaken his head over this lament-

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able spectacle. A few days afterwards Japan sent its ultimatum against Kiao-Tchao!

It was the same incapability of thinking in terms of true world-politics that led us lately to believe that we might find supporters in Mexico and Japan of the piracy we indulged in as a result of America's intervention in the war, the same incapability that blinded us to the effect our methods must have on other neutrals such as China and the South American States. And although one admits the possibility of a miscalculation being made, yet a miscalculation with regard to England's attitude was not only the height of political stupidity, but showed an absence of moral sense. The moment England entered the war, Germany lost the war.

And while the world-politicians of Berlin, having recovered from their first dismay, were making jokes about the "nation of shopkeepers" and its little army which they would just "have arrested"; while a little later the military events up to St. Quentin and the Battle of the Marne seemed to justify the idle mockers who knew nothing of England and had never even ventured their noses out of Ger-

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many,—those who had lived in the colonies were uttering warnings against any kind of optimism, and some already felt the war would end badly for us.

I belonged to the latter group. I expressed my conviction in this direction as early as August 6th, 1914, in a letter which I wrote from Berlin for my father's birthday. In it I maintained that in spite of all our brilliant military successes, which would certainly not last, this war was a mistake and would assuredly end in failure for Germany. Littera scripta manet. Never from that moment have I believed in final victory for Germany. Slowly but surely then I veered round to the position that I could no longer even desire victory for Germany.

Naturally I did my military duty. I saw the fearful crime Germany was committing, yet I hurried to the front with the millions who believed that Germany was innocent and had been attacked without cause. There was nothing else to be done, and it must of course be remembered that my final rupture with Germany did not take place all of a sudden. After a few months of war in Masuria I was re-

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leased as unfit for active service as the result of a severe illness.

Of all the many episodes of my life at the front, none is so deeply impressed on my memory as the silent war of mutual hatred I waged with my immediately superior officer, a true prototype of his race, a true Prussian. I can still see him, a man of fifty-five or so, who, in spite of former active service, had only reached the rank of lieutenant, and who, as he told me himself right at the beginning, in very misplaced confidence, rushed into active service again because in this way he could get really good pay and would even have a prospect of further promotion.

This Lieutenant Stein told me too of the first weeks in Belgium, when he had been in command of a company, and I can still hear him boasting about his warlike propensities, and how his teacher had said about him when he was a boy "he was capable of stealing an altar-cloth and cutting it up to make breeches for himself."

"When we wanted to do any commandeering or to plunder a house," so he told me, "there was a very simple means. A man be-

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longing to my company would be ordered to throw a Belgian rifle through an open cellar window, the house would then be searched for weapons, and even if we found only one rifle we had orders to seize everything without mercy and to drive out the occupiers." I can still see the creature standing in front of me and relating this and many a similar tale in these first days before he knew me. I have never forgotten it; and I think I owe much to Lieutenant Stein. He helped me on the way I was predestined to go, for had I not just returned from the colonies and foreign lands, imbued with liberal ideas, and from the first torn by grave doubts?

The Lieutenant may be an exception— granted; but he is an exception unfortunately but too often represented in that army of millions on its invading march into unhappy Belgium, among officers and non-commissioned officers, whom, at any rate so far as active service is concerned, everyone who has served in the German Army will agree with me in calling on the average thoroughly brutal. Lieutenant Stein gave me my first real deep disgust of war. He is a type that I have not in-

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vented, and he will easily be identified by the German military authorities from his signature on my military pass as one of those arch-Prussians who suddenly readopt a martial air, suddenly revive and come into their element again, although they may be sickly old valetudinarians—the kind of men who in civil life are probably enthusiastic members of the "German Colonial Society," the "Naval Union," and the "Pan-German Association," and ardent world-politicians of the ale-bench type.

I found his stories afterwards confirmed to the letter by one of the most famous German war-correspondents, Paul Schweder, the author of the four-volume work entitled At Imperial Headquarters. With a naïveté equal to Lieutenant Stein's, and trusting no doubt to my then official position as correspondent of a German paper, he gave me descriptions of Belgian atrocities committed by our soldiers and the results of our system of occupation that, in all their horrible nakedness, put everything that ever appeared in the Entente newspapers absolutely in the shade.

As early as the beginning of 1916 he told me the plain truth that we were practically

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starving Belgium and that the country was really only kept alive by the Relief Commission, and that we were attempting to ruin any Belgian industry which might compete with ours by a systematic removal of machinery to Germany. And that was before the time of the Deportations!

Schweder's descriptions dealt for the most part with the sexual morality of our soldiers in the trenches. In spite of severe punishments, so he assured me, thousands and thousands of cases occurred of women and young girls out of decent Belgian and French families being outraged. The soldier on short leave from the front, with the prospect of a speedy return to the first-line trenches and death staring him in the face, did not care what happened; the unhappy victims were for the most part silent about their shame, so that the cases of punishment were very few and far between.

While I was at the front I heard extraordinary things, for which I had again detailed confirmation from Schweder, who knew the whole of the Western Front well, about the German policy of persecution in Alsace-Lorraine.

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There the system was to punish with imprisonment not only actions but opinions. The authorities did not even scruple to imprison girls out of highly-respected houses who had perhaps made some harmless remark in youthful ignorance, and shut them up with common criminals and prostitutes to work out their long sentence. Such scandalous acts, which are a disgrace to humanity, Paul Schweder confirmed by the dozen or related at first-hand.

He was intelligent enough, too, as was evident from the many statements made by him in confidential circles, to see through the utter lack of foundation, the mendacity, the immorality of what he wrote in his books merely for the sake of filthy lucre; but when I tried one day to take on a bet with him that Verdun would not fall, he took his revenge by spreading the report in Constantinople that I was an Pro-Entente, and doing his utmost to intrigue against me. That is the German war-correspondent's idea of morality!

When I was released from the army in the beginning of 1915, I joined the editorial staff of the Kölnische Zeitung and remained for some weeks in Cologne. I have not retained

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any very special impressions of this period of my activity, except perhaps the recollection of the spirit of jingoistic Prussianism that I— being a Badener—had scarcely ever come across before in its full glory, and, from the many confidential communications and discussions among the editorial staff, the feeling that even then there was a certain nervousness and insecurity among those who, in their leading articles, informed the public daily of their absolute confidence in victory.

One curious thing at this time, perhaps worthy of mention, was the disdainful contempt with which these Prussians—even before the fall of Przemysl—regarded Austria. But the scornful and biting commentaries made behind the scenes in the editorial sanctum at the fall of this stronghold stood in most striking contrast to what the papers wrote about it.

Later, when I had already been a long time in Turkey, a humorous incident gave me renewed opportunity of seeing this Prussian spirit of unbounded exaggeration of self and depreciation of others. The incident is at the same time characteristic of the spirit of mili-

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tarism with which the representatives of the German Press are thoroughly imbued, in spite of the opportunities most of them have had through long visits to other countries of gaining a little more savoir faire.

One beautiful summer afternoon at a promenade concert in the "Petit Champs" at Pera I introduced an Austrian Lieutenant of Dragoons I knew, belonging to one of the best regiments, to our Balkan correspondent who happened to be staying in Constantinople: "Lieutenant N.; Herr von M." The correspondent sat down at the table and repeated very distinctly: "Lieutenant-Colonel von M. It turned out that he had been a second lieutenant in the Prussian Army, and had pushed himself up to this wonderful rank in the Bulgarian Army, instinctively combining journalism and militarism. My companion, however, with true Austrian calm, took not the slightest notice of the correction, did not spring up and greet him with an enthusiastic "Ah! my dear fellow-officer, etc.," but began an ordinary social conversation.

Would anyone believe that next day old Herr von M. took me roundly to task for sit-

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ting at the same table as an Austrian officer and appearing in public with him, and informed me quasi-officially that as a representative of the Kölnische Zeitung I should associate only with the German colony in Constantinople.

I wonder which is the most irritating characteristic of this type of mind—its overbearing attitude towards our Allies, its jingoistic "Imperial German" cant, or its wounded dignity as a militarist who forgets that he is a journalist and no longer an officer?

Acknowledgements:

Source: Stuermer, Harry. Two War Years in Constantinople. USA: George H. Doran Company, 1917.
Provided by: Aram Arkun, Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center
Scanned by: Karen Vrtanesyan
OCR: Lina Kamalyan

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