Talking to the Peace Emperor

As usual, on New Year’s Day I placed a call over my 1918 telephone to my reporting senior, Kaiser Wilhelm II. I needed his wise guidance for another year in this mortal thicket, and it was also a convenient time to offer my felicitations for his coming birthday on January 27. It took me a while to get patched through, as His Majesty was at the Berlin Schloss rather than his usual residence in Potsdam. He didn’t used to care much for Berlin, and I was surprised to find him in so jovial a mood.

"Ach, you should have been here today, Herr Generalfeldmarschall. Count Zeppelen flew in in his latest airship, LS 10,000. What a sight she made circling over Berlin! She holds 16,000,000 cubic feet of hydrogen! I awarded him the Black Eagle."

"Please give the good Graf my heartiest congratulations," I replied. "He invented the only type of aircraft worth flying in. But I’m just slightly surprised to find you’re still using hydrogen rather than helium."

"Once you’re immortal, what’s the difference?" His Majesty replied.

"Good point," I said. "Was it Graf Zeppelin’s visit that drew you to Berlin?"

"Oh, I’m here quite a lot now. The heavenly Berlin is a far nicer place than the version you’ve got down there."

"Better weather, I take it?"

"That and the fact that there are no Socialists."

"Your Majesty, I would as always be grateful for your perspective. How does our situation look from up there?"

"All too familiar," the Kaiser said. "Your President Bush — we call him Woodrow II at our tabagiecollegia — has found what Nicky, Georgie, old Franz Josef and I also discovered, that it is easier to get into a war than get out of one. The difference is that none of us wanted war in 1914 and he did want a war with Iraq."

"What advice would you give President Bush if you could meet with him?" I enquired.

"Now there’s a thought," the Kaiser said, laughing. "I would be the Ghost of Wars Lost Past. Well, what I said to the Reichstag in 1888 comes to mind:

To foist on Germany the suffering of war, even a victorious one, when it was not necessary, I could not reconcile with the duties I have taken on as Emperor of the German people and my Christian beliefs."

"Contrary to Allied propaganda, Your Majesty was often derided within Germany as the u2018Peace Emperor,’" I reminded him.

"Indeed," responded His Majesty. "As one of my recent biographers, and one of the few fair ones, Giles MacDonough, wrote of the year 1909, u2018Every time Germany had drawn back from the brink of war in the previous twenty-one years, it had been under the influence of William.’ Your Colonel House, after a meeting with me, wrote to President Wilson in April, 1915, u2018It is clear to me that the Kaiser did not want war and did not actually expect it.’ That is accurate."

"Unfortunately, Hoheit, America is already in a war. What should President Bush do now?" I asked.

"Here’s what I wrote to Tsar Nicholas after it was clear he was losing the war with Japan," the Kaiser replied:

Is it compatible with the responsibility of a Ruler to continue to force a whole nation against its declared will to send its sons to be killed by hetacombs only for his sake? Only for his way of conception of national honour? After the people by their behavior have clearly shown their disapproval of a continuance of a war? Will not in time to come the life and blood of all uselessly sacrificed thousands be laid at the ruler’s door? . . .

"Would Your Majesty do me the favor of sharing his thoughts on the larger world situation?" I asked, knowing Kaiser Wilhelm was seldom shy of sharing his thoughts on anything.

"While your world looks very different on the surface from Europe before 1914, I think there is a larger similarity," His Majesty said. "Your international order, like the one I faced, is inherently unstable. Unfortunately, like us, your statesmen understand this intellectually but act as if it were not the case. They, like us, do not understand the risks they are running when they make bold moves. America’s ill-considered commitment to Taiwan is one example. It is very much like Russia’s commitment to Serbia; the tail can easily wag the dog. America needs to handle its relationship with a rising China the way Britain handled hers with a rising United States instead of the idiotic way she dealt with a rising Germany. What I wrote just before World War I applies now to you: u2018The British should be clear about this: war with Germany will mean the loss of India! And their position in the world with it.’ That’s just what happened."

"Indeed it did," I replied. "The British Empire now consists of St. Helena and the Falkland Islands. So Your Majesty’s advice to our statesmen would be?"

"When you are walking on eggs, walk softly. And now I am afraid I must run. The court theater is putting on a performance of one of my favourite works, The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and I don’t want to miss a bit of it. I think I’ll wear my uniform as a British Admiral of the Fleet, just in case Jackie Fisher’s there. Until next year, Hoch der Mittelmaechte!"

"Hoch der Mittelmaechte!" I replied as the Kaiser rang off. Someday, I thought, if I play my role well as the U.S. Marine Corp’s Liman von Sanders, perhaps I’ll walk the deck of a Mackensen with His Majesty. In the meantime, it’s a new year and the Turks are waiting at my door.

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