Mad as March Hares

House of Doorn,the Netherlands. Wilhelm II (1859-1941) died here in exile in 1941. Photo: Wikipedia.

On October 281908,  the Daily Telegraph published an interview with the German Emperor Wilhelm II, the grandson of Queen Victoria of England. “You English,” he said, “are mad, mad, mad as March hares. What has come over you that you are so completely given over to suspicions quite unworthy of a great nation? What more can I do than I have done? I declared with all the emphasis at my command, in my speech at Guildhall, that my heart is set upon peace, and that it is one of my dearest wishes to live on the best of terms with England. Have I ever been false to my word ? How can I convince a nation against its will ?”

“ Mad as March hares”  is a strong expression, not common in diplomatic circles. The interview worsened relations between England and Germany and led to the resignation of the German chancellor Bernhard von Büdow. The interview, one hundred years ago, puts this European crisis into perspective. Germany had chosen for a strong navy, a colonial policy and the Balkans were the European show place of German engagement on the continent. The history goes back to Berlin in the years 1878, when European powers agreed on a new division of the Balkans, and 1885, when Africa was divided. Germany just got the leftovers, Turkey lost the Balkans.

In 1908, this caused a new crisis when Turkey opposed the effectuation of the agreement and Russia, England and France (allies since 1890) supported Turkey. Germany supported the Habsburgian claim. The incident was solved diplomatically in 1909, but the trend towards a more belligerent attitude was set. The role of the emperor in the unfolding drama is the subject of research and numerous (recent) publications.

As it appears, the German General Staff did not take him too seriously as commander-in-chief. He was not born as a diplomat or politician neither. The German military filled the gap. The young and ambitious German Empire wanted its share of the (colonial and European) cake. The first half of the twentieth century was a long and destructive path to German adulthood.