The value of war for the political and moral development of mankind has been criticized by large sections of the modern civilized world in a way which threatens to weaken the defensive powers of States by undermining the warlike spirit of the people. Such ideas are widely disseminated in Germany, and whole strata of our nation seem to have lost that ideal enthusiasm which constituted the greatness of its history. With the increase of wealth they live for the moment, they are incapable of sacrificing the enjoyment of the hour to the service of great conceptions, and close their eyes complacently to the duties of our future and to the pressing problems of international life which await a solution at the present time.
We have been capable of soaring upwards. Mighty deeds raised Germany from political disruption and feebleness to the forefront of European nations. But we do not seem willing to take up this inheritance, and to advance along the path of development in politics and culture. We tremble at our own greatness, and shirk the sacrifices it demands from us. Yet we do not wish to renounce the claim which we derive from our glorious past. How rightly Fichte once judged his countrymen when he said the German can never wish for a thing by itself; he must always wish for its contrary also.
The Germans were formerly the best fighting men and the most warlike nation of Europe. For a long time they have proved themselves to be the ruling people of the Continent by the power of their arms and the loftiness of their ideas. Germans have bled and conquered on countless battlefields in every part of the world, and in late years have shown that the heroism of their ancestors still lives in the descendants. In striking contrast to this military aptitude they have to-day become a peace-loving—an almost “too” peace-loving—nation. A rude shock is needed to awaken their warlike instincts, and compel them to show their military strength.
This strongly-marked love of peace is due to various causes.
It springs first from the good-natured character of the German people, which finds intense satisfaction in doctrinaire disputations and partisanship, but dislikes pushing things to an extreme. It is connected with another characteristic of the German nature. Our aim is to be just, and we strangely imagine that all other nations with whom we exchange relations share this aim. We are always ready to consider the peaceful assurances of foreign diplomacy and of the foreign Press to be no less genuine and true than our own ideas of peace, and we obstinately resist the view that the political world is only ruled by interests and never from ideal aims of philanthropy. “Justice,” Goethe says aptly, “is a quality and a phantom of the Germans.” We are always inclined to assume that disputes between States can find a peaceful solution on the basis of justice without clearly realizing what international justice is.