German Newspapers Beat the War Drums

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 106th installment in the series. 

March 2, 1914: German Newspapers Beat the War Drums

“Two years ago there was hesitation, but now it is said openly even in official military journals that Russia is arming itself for a war against Germany,” the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne Gazette) warned its readers in a hair-raising article, “Russia and Germany,” published on March 2, 1914. The inflammatory article sparked alarm across Europe, fueling fears in Russia, France, and Britain that the German government was preparing its public for war.

There was reason for fear: Many European newspapers were semiofficial mouthpieces, and it was widely known that the Kölnische Zeitung was often “inspired” by German officials, who either wrote articles under pseudonyms or provided sensitive information to publicists and journalists. In this case the article was supposedly written by the German military attaché in St. Petersburg, Oberleutnant Richard Ulrich, or perhaps a pan-German publicist with access to Ulrich.

Whoever wrote it, the article painted a terrifying picture of Russian military development, apparently on track to achieve superiority over Germany in the next few years thanks to the Great Military Program, expanding Russian land forces, artillery, and railroads to speed mobilization. According to the author, “the purely geographical deployment of these arms points to the western border, thus toward Germany.” The article also condemned anti-German agitation in Russia’s pan-Slav press and complained of Russian ingratitude for Germany’s efforts to restrain its ally Austria-Hungary during the recent Balkan crises. Summing up, the author warned that Germany had to prepare herself for conflict in the not-too-distant future, as Russia would be ready to attack in the fall of 1917.

Vast and backward, Russia was already a bogeyman across the German political spectrum. German liberals and socialists deplored Russia’s reactionary Tsarist regime, while the conservative aristocrats who ran the Second Reich feared Russian territorial designs in German East Prussia and the northeastern provinces of Austria-Hungary, where Slavs predominated. Many educated Germans also embraced social Darwinist views that held Germans superior to Slavs and forecast an impending “racial struggle” between them. In strategic terms the chief of the general staff, Helmut von Moltke, was concerned that Russian efforts to accelerate mobilization would upset the Schlieffen Plan, which allotted six weeks to deal with France on the assumption Russian forces would take at least that long to get ready.

Embarrassed by the controversy resulting from the article, the Imperial Government disavowed any connection with the Kölnische Zeitung—but archival evidence confirms that this was indeed the strategic outlook in the top echelons of the German government. When the German ambassador to St. Petersburg, Count Friedrich Pourtalès, wrote a report arguing the situation wasn’t as dire as the article suggested, Kaiser Wilhelm II scribbled in the margins, “then you are mistaken,” adding, “According to all my reports, I as a military man harbor not the slightest doubt that Russia is systematically preparing for war against us; and I direct my policy accordingly.”

Meanwhile a number of German newspapers, all sympathetic to the military, amplified the message with warnings of their own. On February 24, 1914, the Berliner Post called for a preemptive strike to break through the Triple Entente’s encirclement before it was too late: “At the moment the state of things is favorable for us. France is not yet ready for war. England has internal and colonial difficulties, and Russia recoils from the conflict because she fears revolution at home. Ought we to wait until our adversaries are ready?” Instead Germany should “prepare for the inevitable war with energy and foresight” and then “begin it under the most favorable conditions.” In early March another newspaper, Die Post, echoed the call for a preemptive war, and the usually moderate Berliner Tageblatt asserted “we wish to keep the peace as long as possible with our great neighbor, but that is no reason to why we should continue to yield before his arrogant pretensions.” Finally, on March 14, the ultranationalist Alldeutsche Blätter warned its readers: “We maintain, today more than ever, that Germany and Austria-Hungary, even with the most honorable desire for peace, can not avoid war with their eastern and western neighbors; that a frightful, decisive struggle will be forced upon them.”

Some historians have contended that European newspapers helped push the continent into war by pressuring their respective governments to take aggressive stances, but it was more likely the other way around, as governments used newspapers to whip up public support for confrontational policies. That’s certainly how it looked to Eyre Crowe, a veteran British diplomat, who wrote on March 16, 1914: “No German government, nor the Emperor, will be driven into war by popular clamour. On the contrary, the necessary popular clamour will be engineered by the German government if it wishes to go to war. Public opinion alone is of no account whatever.”

The Triple Entente were in no mood to be bullied: on March 12, 1914, Russian War Minister Sukhomlinov penned an anonymous response in the Birzhevye Vedmosti, a Russian financial newspaper, stating that Russia wanted peace—but was prepared for war. And the London Times opined: “If something were still necessary to pull the Triple Entente closer together, or to strengthen the decision of the French masses to maintain their three-years’ compulsory army service, nothing could be so effective as the articles that have been allowed to appear in the German press.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Pop Culture
Bea Arthur: Golden Girl, U.S. Marine
Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

When Bea Arthur joined the cast of The Golden Girls in 1985, she had already established an impressive career on stage and television. But one of her most important jobs predates her acting career—for 2.5 years, Arthur served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

According to the National World War II Museum, her service came at a time when women enlisting in the military was still an anomaly. The country had recently entered the Second World War, and the Marines began recruiting women as a way to free more men to fill combat roles. The Marines opened the Women's Reserve in 1943 after every other military branch had already started accepting female members.

One of the program's first enrollees was a 20-year-old woman who was called Bernice Frankel at the time, and who's best known as Bea Arthur today. Prior to enlisting, she had attended Blackstone College in Virginia for a year, worked as a food analyst at the Phillips Packing Company, and volunteered as a civilian air-raid warden. As she later wrote in a letter, she joined the Marines on a whim: “I was supposed to start work yesterday, but heard last week that enlistments for women in the Marines were open, so [I] decided the only thing to do was to join.”

After attending the first Women Reservists school at Hunter College in New York, Arthur spent the remainder of her service at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina as a truck driver and typist. According to her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), she exhibited “meticulous good taste” and was "argumentative," "over aggressive," and “officious—but probably a good worker if she has her own way!”

Bea Arthur entered the Marines a private and had risen to staff sergeant by the time she was discharged. Her exit paperwork shows that she expressed interest in going to drama school after the military, foreshadowing a long career ahead.

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5 Things You Might Not Know About Henry Kissinger
Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

You probably know Henry Kissinger as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Let’s take a look at five things you might not know about the German-born political scientist and diplomat.


In 1973, Henry Kissinger was engaged in a discussion of trade with Mao Zedong when the chairman abruptly changed the subject by saying, “We [China] don't have much. What we have in excess is women. So if you want them we can give a few of those to you, some tens of thousands.”

Kissinger sidestepped this bizarre offer and changed the subject, but Mao later returned to the subject by jokingly asking, “Do you want our Chinese women? We can give you 10 million.”

This time Kissinger diplomatically replied, “It is such a novel proposition. We will have to study it.”

Other Chinese officials in the room pointed out that Mao’s attitudes toward women would cause quite a stir if the press got their hands on these quotes, so Mao apologized to his female interpreter and talked Kissinger into having the comments removed from the records of the meeting.


Here’s a riddle that’s been bugging film buffs for decades: who was the basis for the title character in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove? For years many observers thought that Kissinger might have inspired Peter Sellers’s memorable performance. Blame it on the accent and the glasses. Even though Kissinger was still a relatively obscure Harvard professor when the film premiered in 1964, the rumor that Kubrick modeled the character on him just wouldn't die.

Kubrick did what he could to dispel this notion before his death, saying, “I think this is slightly unfair to Kissinger ... It was unintentional. Neither Peter nor I had ever seen Kissinger before the film was shot.” Most observers now think that Dr. Strangelove was actually a distorted version of Herman Kahn, an eccentric nuclear strategist for the RAND Corporation.


Even in his youth, Kissinger didn’t quite fit the bill of a matinee idol, but he has always been a hit with the ladies. A 1972 poll of Playboy bunnies selected Kissinger as the man with whom Hef’s ladies would most like to go out on a date. He also had a string of celebrity girlfriends in his younger days, including Diane Sawyer, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Shirley Maclaine, and Liv Ullman, who called Kissinger, “the most interesting man I have ever met.”

Kissinger’s swinging bachelor days are long gone, though. He was married to Ann Fleischer from 1949 to 1964 then married philanthropist Nancy Maginnes in 1974—a union that at one point seemed so improbable that just a year before they tied the knot, Maginnes had called speculation that she and Kissinger would marry “outrageous.”


In 1985 former Secret Service agent Dennis McCarthy released the memoir Protecting the President—The Inside Story of a Secret Service Agent, in which he described being on Kissinger’s security detail as “a real pain.” McCarthy shared a funny anecdote about a 1977 trip to Acapulco with Kissinger and his wife. There were signs warning of sharks in the water, but Nancy wanted to go for a swim. Kissinger then told his security detail to get in the water to guard for sharks.

Personal protection is one thing, but McCarthy and his fellow agents drew the line at fighting off sharks. Instead, they made the reasonable point that if the Kissingers were afraid of sharks, they shouldn’t go swimming. Agent McCarthy did, however, offer a compromise; he told Kissinger, “If the sharks come up on this beach, my agents will fight them.”


Official portraits of government luminaries don’t usually become big news, but in 1978 the painting of Kissinger commissioned by the State Department for its gallery made headlines. Boston artist Gardner Cox had previously painted Secretaries of State Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk, so he got the $12,000 commission to paint Kissinger. The finished product didn’t earn rave reviews, though.

Some viewers at the State Department thought the painting lacked Kissinger’s dynamism and made him look “somewhat a dwarf.” Others felt the portrait was “a rogues' gallery thing." The State Department offered to let Cox fix the painting, but he said he didn’t see anything that need changing. He lost the commission but got $700 for his expenses.

Kissinger took the whole episode in stride, though. When Houston artist J. Anthony Wills painted a replacement, Kissinger declared it to be, “an excellent likeness, swelled head and all,” and called the unveiling "one of my most fulfilling moments. Until they do Mount Rushmore."


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