WANGENHEIM AND THE BETHLEHEM STEEL COMPANY—A HOLY WAR THAT WAS MADE IN GERMANY
Written by Henry Morgenthau and originally published in 1918
All this time I was increasing my knowledge of the modern German character, as illustrated in Wangenheim and his associates. In the early days of the war, the Germans showed their most ingratiating side to Americans; as time went on, however, and it became apparent that public opinion in the United States almost unanimously supported the Allies, and that the Washington Administration would not disregard the neutrality laws in order to promote Germany’s interest, this friendly attitude changed and became almost hostile.
The grievance to which the German Ambassador constantly returned with tiresome iteration was the old familiar one—the sale of American ammunition to the Allies. I hardly ever met him that he did not speak about it. He was constantly asking me to write to President Wilson, urging him to declare an embargo; of course, my contention that the commerce in munitions was entirely legitimate made no impression. As the struggle at the Dardanelles became more intense, Wangenheim’s insistence on the subject of American ammunition grew. He asserted that most of the shells used at the Dardanelles had been made in America and that the United States was really waging war on Turkey.
One day, more angry than usual, he brought me a piece of shell. On it clearly appeared the inscription “B.S.Co.”
“Look at that!” he said. “I suppose you know what ‘B.S.Co.’ means? That is the Bethlehem Steel Company! This will make the Turks furious. And remember that we are going to hold the United States responsible for it. We are getting more and more proof, and we are going to hold you to account for every death caused by American shells. If you would only write home and make them stop selling ammunition to our enemies, the war would be over very soon.”
I made the usual defense, and called Wangenheim’s attention to the fact that Germany had sold munitions to Spain in the Spanish War, but all this was to no purpose. All that Wangenheim saw was that American supplies formed an asset to his enemy; the legalities of the situation did not interest him. Of course I refused point blank to write to the President about the matter.
A few days afterward an article appeared in the Ikdam discussing Turkish and American relations. This contribution, for the greater part, was extremely complimentary to America; its real purpose, however, was to contrast the present with the past, and to point out that our action in furnishing ammunition to Turkey’s enemies was hardly in accordance with the historic friendship between the two countries. The whole thing was evidently written merely to get before the Turkish people a statement almost parenthetically included in the final paragraph. “According to the report of correspondents at the Dardanelles it appears that most of the shells fired by the British and French during the last bombardment were made in America.” At this time the German Embassy controlled the Ikdam, and was conducting it entirely in the interest of German propaganda. A statement of this sort, instilled into the minds of impressionable and fanatical Turks, might have the most deplorable consequences. I therefore took the matter up immediately with the man whom I regarded as chiefly responsible for the attack—the German Ambassador.
At first Wangenheim asserted his innocence; he was as bland as a child in protesting his ignorance of the whole affair. I called his attention to the fact that the statements in the Ikdam were almost identically the same as those which he had made to me a few days before; that the language in certain spots, indeed, was almost a repetition of his own conversation.
“Either you wrote that article yourself,” I said, “or you called in the reporter and gave him the leading ideas.”
Wangenheim saw that there was no use in further denying the authorship.
“Well,” he said, throwing back his head, “what are you going to do about it?”
This Tweed-like attitude rather nettled me and I resented it on the spot.
“I’ll tell you what I am going to do about it,” I replied, “and you know that I will be able to carry out my threats. Either you stop stirring up anti-American feeling in Turkey or I shall start a campaign of anti-German sentiment here.
“You know, Baron,” I added, “that you Germans are skating on very thin ice in this country. You know that the Turks don’t love you any too well. In fact, you know that Americans are more popular here than you are. Supposing that I go out, tell the Turks how you are simply using them for your own benefit—that you do not really regard them as your allies, but merely as pawns in the game which you are playing. Now, in stirring up anti-American feeling here you are touching my softest spot. You are exposing our educational and religious institutions to the attacks of the Turks. No one knows what they may do if they are persuaded that their relatives are being shot down by American bullets. You stop this at once, or in three weeks I will fill the whole of Turkey with animosity toward the Germans. It will be a battle between us, and I am ready for it.”
Wangenheim’s attitude changed at once. He turned around, put his arm on my shoulder, and assumed a most conciliatory, almost affectionate, manner.
“Come, let us be friends,” he said. “I see that you are right about this. I see that such attacks might injure your friends, the missionaries. I promise you that they will be stopped.”
From that day the Turkish press never made the slightest unfriendly allusion to the United States. The abruptness with which the attacks ceased showed me that the Germans had evidently extended to Turkey one of the most cherished expedients of the Fatherland—absolute government control of the press. But when I think of the infamous plots which Wangenheim was instigating at that moment, his objection to the use of a few American shells by English battleships—if English battleships used any such shells, which I seriously doubt—seems almost grotesque. In the early days Wangenheim had explained to me one of Germany’s main purposes in forcing Turkey into the conflict. He made this explanation quietly and nonchalantly, as though it had been quite the most ordinary matter in the world. Sitting in his office, puffing away at his big black German cigar, he unfolded Germany’s scheme to arouse the whole fanatical Moslem world against the Christians. Germany had planned a real “holy war” as one means of destroying English and French influence in the world. “Turkey herself is not the really important matter,” said Wangenheim. “Her army is a small one, and we do not expect it to do very much. For the most part it will act on the defensive. But the big thing is the Moslem world. If we can stir the Mohammedans up against the English and Russians, we can force them to make peace.”
What Wangenheim evidently meant by the “Big thing” became apparent on November 13th, when the Sultan issued his declaration of war; this declaration was really an appeal for a Jihad, or a “Holy War” against the infidel. Soon afterward the Sheik-ul-Islam published his proclamation, summoning the whole Moslem world to arise and massacre their Christian oppressors. “Oh, Moslems!” concluded this document. “Ye who are smitten with happiness and are on the verge of sacrificing your life and your goods for the cause of right, and of braving perils, gather now around the Imperial throne, obey the commands of the Almighty, who, in the Koran, promises us bliss in this and in the next world; embrace ye the foot of the Caliph’s throne and know ye that the state is at war with Russia, England, France, and their Allies, and that these are the enemies of Islam. The Chief of the believers, the Caliph, invites you all as Moslems to join in the Holy War!”
The religious leaders read this proclamation to their assembled congregations in the mosques; all the newspapers printed it conspicuously; it was spread broadcast in all the countries which had large Mohammedan populations—India, China, Persia, Egypt, Algiers, Tripoli, Morocco, and the like; in all these places it was read to the assembled multitudes and the populace was exhorted to obey the mandate. The Ikdam, the Turkish newspaper which had passed into German ownership, was constantly inciting the masses. “The deeds of our enemies,” wrote this Turco-German editor, “have brought down the wrath of God. A gleam of hope has appeared. All Mohammedans, young and old, men, women, and children, must fulfil their duty so that the gleam may not fade away, but give light to us forever. How many great things can be accomplished by the arms of vigorous men, by the aid of others, of women and children!… The time for action has come. We shall all have to fight with all our strength, with all our soul, with teeth and nails, with all the sinews of our bodies and of our spirits. If we do it, the deliverance of the subjected Mohammedan kingdoms is assured. Then, if God so wills, we shall march unashamed by the side of our friends who send their greetings to the Crescent. Allah is our aid and the Prophet is our support.”
The Sultan’s proclamation was an official public document, and dealt with the proposed Holy War only in a general way, but about this same time a secret pamphlet appeared which gave instructions to the faithful in more specific terms. This paper was not read in the mosques; it was distributed stealthily in all Mohammedan countries—India, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, and many others; and it was significantly printed in Arabic, the language of the Koran. It was a lengthy document—the English translation contains 10,000 words—full of quotations from the Koran, and its style was frenzied in its appeal to racial and religious hatred. It described a detailed plan of operations for the assassination and extermination of all Christians—except those of German nationality. A few extracts will fairly portray its spirit: “O people of the faith and O beloved Moslems, consider, even though but for a brief moment, the present condition of the Islamic world. For if you consider this but for a little you will weep long. You will behold a bewildering state of affairs which will cause the tear to fall and the fire of grief to blaze. You see the great country of India, which contains hundreds of millions of Moslems, fallen, because of religious divisions and weaknesses, into the grasp of the enemies of God, the infidel English. You see forty millions of Moslems in Java shackled by the chains of captivity and of affliction under the rule of the Dutch, although these infidels are much fewer in number than the faithful and do not enjoy a much higher civilization. You see Egypt, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria, and the Sudan suffering the extremes of pain and groaning in the grasp of the enemies of God and his apostle. You see the vast country of Siberia and Turkestan and Khiva and Bokhara and the Caucasus and the Crimea and Kazan and Ezferhan and Kosahastan, whose Moslem peoples believe in the unity of God, ground under the feet of their oppressors, who are the enemies already of our religion. You behold Persia being prepared for partition and you see the city of the Caliphate, which for ages has unceasingly fought breast to breast with the enemies of our religion, now become the target for oppression and violence. Thus wherever you look you see that the enemies of the true religion, particularly the English, the Russian, and the French, have oppressed Islam and invaded its rights in every possible way. We cannot enumerate the insults we have received at the hands of these nations who desire totally to destroy Islam and drive all Mohammedans off the face of the earth. This tyranny has passed all endurable limits; the cup of our oppression is full to overflowing…. In brief, the Moslems work and the infidels eat; the Moslems are hungry and suffer and the infidels gorge themselves and live in luxury. The world of Islam sinks down and goes backward, and the Christian world goes forward and is more and more exalted. The Moslems are enslaved and the infidels are the great rulers. This is all because the Moslems have abandoned the plan set forth in the Koran and ignored the Holy War which it commands…. But the time has now come for the Holy War, and by this the land of Islam shall be forever freed from the power of the infidels who oppress it. This holy war has now become a sacred duty. Know ye that the blood of infidels in the Islamic lands may be shed with impunity—except those to whom the Moslem power has promised security and who are allied with it. [Herein we find that Germans and Austrians are excepted from massacre.] The killing of infidels who rule over Islam has become a sacred duty, whether you do it secretly or openly, as the Koran has decreed: ‘Take them and kill them whenever you find them. Behold we have delivered them unto your hands and given you supreme power over them.’ He who kills even one unbeliever of those who rule over us, whether he does it secretly or openly, shall be rewarded by God. And let every Moslem, in whatever part of the world he may be, swear a solemn oath to kill at least three or four of the infidels who rule over him, for they are the enemies of God and of the faith. Let every Moslem know that his reward for doing so shall be doubled by the God who created heaven and earth. A Moslem who does this shall be saved from the terrors of the day of Judgment, of the resurrection of the dead. Who is the man who can refuse such a recompense for such a small deed?… Yet the time has come that we should rise up as the rising of one man, in one hand a sword, in the other a gun, in his pocket balls of fire and death-dealing missiles, and in his heart the light of the faith, and that we should lift up our voices, saying—India for the Indian Moslems, Java for the Javanese Moslems, Algeria for the Algerian Moslems, Morocco for the Moroccan Moslems, Tunis for the Tunisan Moslems, Egypt for the Egyptian Moslems, Iran for the Iranian Moslems, Turan for the Turanian Moslems, Bokhara for the Bokharan Moslems, Caucasus for the Caucasian Moslems, and the Ottoman Empire for the Ottoman Turks and Arabs.”
Specific instructions for carrying out this holy purpose follow. There shall be a “heart war”—every follower of the Prophet, that is, shall constantly nourish in his spirit a hatred of the infidel; a “speech war”—with tongue and pen every Moslem shall spread this same hatred wherever Mohammedans live; and a war of deed—fighting and killing the infidel wherever he shows his head. This latter conflict, says the pamphlet, is the “true war.” There is to be a “little holy war” and a “great holy war”; the first describes the battle which every Mohammedan is to wage in his community against his Christian neighbours, and the second is the great world struggle which united Islam, in India, Arabia, Turkey, Africa, and other countries is to wage against the infidel oppressors. “The Holy War,” says the pamphlet, “will be of three forms. First, the individual war, which consists of the individual personal deed. This may be carried on with cutting, killing instruments, like the holy war which one of the faithful made against Peter Galy, the infidel English governor, like the slaying of the English chief of police in India, and like the killing of one of the officials arriving in Mecca by Abi Busir (may God be pleased with him).” The document gives several other instances of assassination which the faithful are enjoined to imitate. Second, the believers are told to organize “bands,” and to go forth and slay Christians. The most useful are those organized and operating in secret. “It is hoped that the Islamic world of to-day will profit very greatly from such secret bands.” The third method is by “organized campaigns,” that is, by trained armies.
In all parts of this incentive to murder and assassination there are indications that a German hand has exercised an editorial supervision. Only those infidels are to be slain, “who rule over us”—that is, those who have Mohammedan subjects. As Germany has no such subjects, this saving clause was expected to protect Germans from assault. The Germans, with their usual interest in their own well-being and their usual disregard of their ally, evidently overlooked the fact that Austria had many Mohammedan subjects in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moslems are instructed that they should form armies, “even though it may be necessary to introduce some foreign elements”—that is, bring in German instructors and German officers. “You must remember”—this is evidently intended as a blanket protection to Germans everywhere—”that it is absolutely unlawful to oppose any of the peoples of other religions between whom and the Moslems there is a covenant or of those who have not manifested hostility to the seat of the Caliphate or those who have entered under the protection of the Moslems.”
Even though I had not had Wangenheim’s personal statement that the Germans intended to arouse the Mohammedans everywhere against England, France, and Russia, these interpolations would clearly enough have indicated the real inspiration of this amazing document. At the time Wangenheim discussed the matter with me, his chief idea seemed to be that a “holy war” of this sort would be the quickest means of forcing England to make peace. According to this point of view, it was really a great peace offensive. At that time Wangenheim reflected the conviction, which was prevalent in all official circles, that Germany had made a mistake in bringing England into the conflict, and it was evidently his idea now that if back fires could be started against England in India, Egypt, the Sudan, and other places, the British Empire would withdraw. Even if British Mohammedans refused to rise, Wangenheim believed that the mere threat of such an uprising would induce England to abandon Belgium and France to their fate. The danger of spreading such incendiary literature among a wildly fanatical people is apparent. I was not the only neutral diplomat who feared the most serious consequences. M. Tocheff, the Bulgarian Minister, one of the ablest members of the diplomatic corps, was much disturbed. At that time Bulgaria was neutral, and M. Tocheff used to tell me that his country hoped to maintain this neutrality. Each side, he said, expected that Bulgaria would become its ally, and it was Bulgaria’s policy to keep each side in this expectant frame of mind. Should Germany succeed in starting a “Holy War” and should massacres result, Bulgaria, added M. Tocheff, would certainly join forces with the Entente.
We arranged that he should call upon Wangenheim and repeat this statement, and that I should bring similar pressure to bear upon Enver. From the first, however, the Holy War proved a failure. The Mohammedans of such countries as India, Egypt, Algiers, and Morocco knew that they were getting far better treatment than they could obtain under any other conceivable conditions. Moreover, the simple-minded Mohammedans could not understand why they should prosecute a holy war against Christians and at the same time have Christian nations, such as Germany and Austria, as their partners. This association made the whole proposition ridiculous. The Koran, it is true, commands the slaughter of Christians, but that sacred volume makes no exception in favour of the Germans and, in the mind of the fanatical Mohammedan, a German rayah is as much Christian dirt as an Englishman or a Frenchman, and his massacre is just as meritorious an act. The fine distinctions necessitated by European diplomacy he understands about as completely as he understands the law of gravitation or the nebular hypothesis. The German failure to take this into account is only another evidence of the fundamental German clumsiness and real ignorance of racial psychology. The only tangible fact that stands out clearly is the Kaiser’s desire to let loose 300,000,000 Mohammedans in a gigantic St. Bartholomew massacre of Christians.
Was there then no “holy war” at all? Did Wangenheim’s “Big Thing” really fail? Whenever I think of this burlesque Jihad a particular scene in the American Embassy comes to my mind. On one side of the table sits Enver, most peacefully sipping tea and eating cakes, and on the other side is myself, engaged in the same unwarlike occupation. It is November 14th, the day after the Sultan has declared his holy war; there have been meetings at the mosques and other places, at which the declaration has been read and fiery speeches made. Enver now assures me that absolutely no harm will come to Americans; in fact, that there will be no massacres anyway. While he is talking, one of my secretaries comes in and tells me that a little mob is making demonstrations against certain foreign establishments. It has assailed an Austrian shop which has unwisely kept up its sign saying that it has “English clothes” for sale. I ask Enver what this means; he answers that it is all a mistake; there is no intention of attacking anybody. A little while after he leaves I am informed that the mob has attacked the Bon Marché, a French dry-goods store, and is heading directly for the British Embassy. I at once call Enver on the telephone; it is all right, he says, nothing will happen to the embassy. A minute or two after, the mob immediately wheels about and starts for Tokatlian’s, the most important restaurant in Constantinople. The fact that this is conducted by an Armenian makes it fair game. Six men who have poles, with hooks at the end, break all the mirrors and windows, others take the marble tops of the tables and smash them to bits. In a few minutes the place has been completely gutted.
This demonstration comprised the “Holy War,” so far as Constantinople understood it. Such was the inglorious end of Germany’s attempt to arouse 300,000,000 Mohammedans against the Christian world! Only one definite result did the Kaiser accomplish by spreading this inciting literature. It aroused in the Mohammedan soul all that intense animosity toward the Christian which is the fundamental fact in his strange emotional nature, and thus started passions aflame that afterward spent themselves in the massacres of the Armenians and other subject peoples.