How some of those who were deeply responsible for the conduct of affairs tried to think in the anxious years before the war, and how they endeavored to apply their conclusions, is what I have endeavored to state in the course of what follows. They doubtless made mistakes and fell short of accomplishment in what they were aiming at. It is human so to do. But they tried what seemed to them the wisest course, and I have yet to learn that it was practicable to have followed any different course without a failure worse than any that occurred. After all, in the end the British Empire won, however hard it had to fight.
DIPLOMACY BEFORE THE WAR
If in this chapter I speak frequently in the first person and of my own part in the negotiations which it records, it is not from any desire to make prominent either my own personality or the part it fell to me to play. The reason is that I have endeavored to write of what I myself heard and saw, and that in consequence most of what follows is, for the sake of accuracy, largely transcribed from my personal diaries and records made at the time when the events to which they related took place. So frequent an employment of the personal pronoun as has been made in these pages would ordinarily be a blemish in taste, if not in style also, but in this case it seemed safer not to try to avoid it.
Many things that happened in the years just before 1914, as well as the events of the great war itself, are still too close to permit of our studying them in their full context. But before much time has passed the historians will have accumulated material that will overflow their libraries, and their hands will remain occupied for generations to come. At this moment all that safely can be attempted is that actual observers should set down what they have themselves observed. For there has rarely been a time when the juridical maxim that “hearsay is not evidence” ought to be more sternly insisted on.
If I now venture to set down what follows in these pages, it is because I had certain opportunities for forming a judgment at first hand for myself. I am not referring to the circumstance that for a brief period I once, long ago, lived the life of a student at a German University, or that I was frequently in Germany in the years that followed. Nor do I mean that I have tried to explore German habits of reflection, as they may be studied in the literature of Germany. Other people have done all these things more thoroughly and more extensively than I have. What I do mean is that from the end of 1905 to the summer of 1912 I had special chances for direct observation of quite another kind. During that period I was Secretary of State for War in Great Britain, and from the latter year to April, 1915, I was the holder of another office and a member of the British Cabinet.