12/12/1916 Bethmann Hollweg’s peace initiative

Today in a speech to the Reichstag, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg reveals that he has just despatched a note to the Vatican, inviting Germany’s enemies to enter into negotiations to end the war. Noting that German forces have overrun Romania and continued to see off Russian and Franco-British offensives, Bethmann Hollweg presents his offer as the magnanimous gesture of an invincible power seeking to avoid senseless slaughter.

Bethman Hollweg does not outline German terms. His diplomatic effort is partly being made for internal consumption. The Social Democrats are still supporting the war but have grown suspicious that Germany’s leaders are engaged in a war of conquest. Bethmann Hollweg hopes that his offer of negotiations will reassure them that Germany remains a peace-loving nation that has been forced into conflict. He also hopes that if the Allies reject his offer then their populations might start to turn against their leaders for keeping the war going.

The United States of America looms large in the Chancellor’s thoughts. Relations with America have been fraught ever since the sinking of the Lusitania. With his peace initiative he hopes to improve Germany’s reputation in the United States. Above all else, Bethmann Hollweg fears a rupture with the Americans. Many senior figures in Germany are calling for a resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, which the Chancellor fears will bring the Americans into the war on the Allied side. With his peace initiative he hopes to delay the U-boat lobby from pressing the issue.

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