wiser today

A man should never be ashamed to own that he is wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.

Fritz Fischer

War of Illusions

Moltke tried to put backbone into his sceptical colleague, by arguing that it was useless to hanker after the missed opportunity of 1908—9; they must start from the position as it was and look the facts squarely in the face if they wanted to meet the dangers of the situation.
The European atmosphere is undoubtedly so highly charged that there is bound to be an explosion.
There is a certain lack of consistency between this statement and Moltke's earlier emphasis of the absence of military preparedness and eagerness for war on the part of the Entente powers. The contradiction is resolved only if the 'highly charged atmosphere' existed somewhere other than in the Entente camp. This was why Moltke nevertheless expected the great war to start in the very near future: 'Let us hope that the outbreak of the thunderstorm finds the Triple Alliance firmly united.'

A few days before Conrad received this letter he had himself in conversation with his closest collaborator. Colonel Metzger, said openly what was only found between the lines of Moltke's letter: he had asked 'whether we should wait until France and Russia were ready to attack us together or whether it was not more desirable to settle the "inevitable" conflict earlier; the Slav question too was becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous' for Austria. Conrad feared, as he said repeatedly in this period, that it would become increasingly difficult to hold the Austro-Hungarian army together. The big internal threat for Austria-Hungary was that in a country in which two-thirds of the population were Slavs the army would soon no longer fight for Germans and Magyars.
The programme of France and Russia was clear; they were not ready yet and were waiting to be fully prepared. The Balkan states too are becoming stronger, above all Serbia. Why do we wait?
A few days later, on 16th March 1914, Conrad put this question about a preventive war also to the German ambassador, von Tschirschky. Unlike Moltke who did not believe the rumours that Russia was ready for war, Conrad mentioned (he only received Moltke's letter on 17th March) the growing number of reports about Russia's military measures and again asked 'whether an earlier settlement would not be more advantageous.' The ambassador apparently concurred completely but observed that the vital persons in Vienna and Berlin displayed a lack of enthusiasm for war: 'Two great men are the obstacles, your Archduke Franz Ferdinand and my Emperor.' In his view neither would decide on war until there was a fait accompli. 'The situation must be such that the only alternative is to "march."' Here at any rate Conrad could console the ambassador. He thought 'that complications which could create such a situation always threaten in the Balkans.'

In Berlin Moltke tried to put pressure on Wilhelm II. He called for an immediate further strengthening of the German army by making full use of conscription; this he did in an interview with the Emperor, without going through the Chancellor. He had put down the reasons for his demand in a memorandum to Bethmann Hollweg, but the Chancellor omitted to send this on and had merely made Moltke's points orally to the Emperor. As he had done many times in the past Moltke with even greater insistence now drew the Emperor's attention to the strengthening of the French and Russian armies: the introduction of three-year conscription in France—which the Emperor as early as November 1913 had described to King Albert as an intolerable provocation—enabled France to raise a new army corps; having introduced military service of three and a half and four and a half years Russia was now raising four or five new army corps and was moreover in the span of a few years raising the standard of the whole of its army in an undreamt-of manner. By about 1917 all the equipment of the Russian army would be modern and then it would be ready even in peacetime to cross the frontier at a moment's notice, possibly without first declaring war. The position of the Triple Alliance on the other hand had recently deteriorated considerably: as Rumania must now be considered to belong to the Triple Entente a future war would find Austria tied down in the Balkans in a manner which would prevent it from taking offensive action against Russia. Germany must therefore realise that the attack of the Russian army which had undergone a considerable strengthening in the span of a few years would be concentrated against its weak remaining forces in the east (thirteen divisions only). His evaluation of the situation led Moltke to the conclusion 'that we [must] train every able bodied German male for military service lest we shall one day face the devastating accusation that we failed to do everything for the preservation of the German Reich and the German race.' Because, and here Moltke completely agreed with his Austrian colleague, Conrad, 'there can hardly be any serious doubt that in a future war it will be a question of to be or not to be for the German people.' Germany must not delay the introduction of universal conscription without exemption until the next quinquennium which did not start until 1917 because by then Russia could put into the field an army which had been modernised and also strengthened in every respect. Therefore conscription must be introduced in October 1914 or at the latest in October 1915. The editor of this memorandum, Colonel (ret.) Th. von Schafer, the son of the Pan-German historian Dietrich Schafer from Berlin, believes that this document refutes Moltke's preventive war ideas because it refers only to 'long-term' schemes for rearming Germany 'so as not to fall behind the others.' But taken together with Moltke's many comments on the inevitability of a great war the memorandum's reflections and demands lead one to the compelling conclusion that he must have wanted to fight this war before 1917, i.e. before the other powers were so strong that a war offered no prospect of victory for Germany. What Moltke had summed up as long ago as 8th December 1912 in the formula 'The sooner there is a war the better' was all the more valid in 1914. Moltke's representations to the Emperor were obviously designed to prepare Wilhelm II psychologically for the war. The Emperor would judge from the range of measures which Moltke considered essential for Germany's rearmament how much anxiety there was about Russia's eventually overpowering strength. This would harden his basic preparedness for war into a decision to go to war.

The discussions which Moltke and Conrad had in May in Karlsbad show that it was not 'long-term' armaments that were being considered but very concrete and immediate action. Moltke was taking a cure in Karlsbad and Conrad paid him a visit. Moltke repeated his view 'that to wait meant to lessen our chances; it was impossible to compete with Russia as regards quantity.' At the same time he explained why no action had been taken so far, or rather why it was impossible to act at once:
Our people unfortunately still expect a declaration from Britain that it will not join in. This declaration Britain will never make.
'Our people' meant Bethmann Hollweg and the British lobby in the Foreign Office and also in the embassies in London and Lisbon.