A Collective Suicide Note

Wilhelm Goes to War

h/t @Libroantiguo

So much to admire about this historical document, which came up yesterday on the excellent twitter feed of “Todo libro antiguo” (@Libroantiguo) with the following description: “Declaration of war from the German Empire 1914, starting WORLD WAR I. Signed by the German Kaiser Wilhelm II.”

Even without any German, we can read the contrast between “royal designs” and “modern realities,” filigree vs. typewriter. The locution “Wir Wilhelm” – “We Wilhelm” – immediately recalls the entire order of things largely eradicated, and consigned to the past, by the same war that is very officially being commenced. The full heading is: “We Wilhelm, by the Grace of God German Emperor, King of Prussia II.” The typed portion begins with “verordnen” – “order,” in the first person plural – then cites an article of the German Imperial constitution, re-affirms the document’s character as a statement in the name of the German Empire, and declares a state of war throughout the imperial territory including the Kingdom of Bavaria. The order, we are informed, takes force on the day of its announcement. Its import is confirmed by “our most personal and genuine” (“hoechsteigenhandigen”) signature and seal.

In lower left, beneath the imprint of the German imperial eagle, the document receives its title: “O R D E R , / concerning/ the declaration of state of war.” The word for “order,” “Verordnung,” appears in present-day German dictionaries as the word for a medical prescription. In this instance, it’s a prescription for the purpose of euthanizing the physician who wrote it along with the collective self he or royally they once represented.

 

 


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3 comments on “A Collective Suicide Note

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  1. Well wasn’t Austria, really at fault, but their empire had dissolved by war’s end, of course, Ferguson figures the better part of valor was to stay out ‘but that’s been his premise, since ‘Pity;

    • If the Austro-Hungarian Empire jumps off a cliff, does that mean you should?

      I don’t see judgments of the sort you attribute to Ferguson to be worth anything. It’s very much like suggesting that a particular individual would be better off if he or she was someone else – absurd.

      Norman Stone’s well-supported assertion, that the Germans at the time were looking for an excuse to act and found one, seems reasonable to me, but the origins of the German desperation – the idea that Germany’s national-imperial destiny was imperiled and that the alternative would be intolerable – were not simply or exclusively German. Nor was the idea simply wrong. The sequel to WWI – the German catastrophe all the way through the re-division of the state and its subordination to rising powers – resembled and effectively amounted to what the German grand strategists had hoped to avoid through victory, which would have meant destruction of Russia’s imperial potential and domination of the Eurasian landmass. In that sense the Germans weren’t wrong, in the sense of having a wrong estimation. The German predicament was wrong: The odds were against them, and they lost.

      It is quite conceivable that the same or parallel circumstances will recur, as far off and unlikely as that may appear to be right now, during an era in which the old dynamic has been sublimated as economic and financial “warfare,” and Germany satisfies itself with a kind of regional neo-imperialism.

  2. Yes, they wrong, they were bound by the treaty, but it’s too easy to
    judge them as wrong, when they weren’t the sole provocateurs,

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