Gedanken and Erinnerungen

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Author: Otto von Bismarck  | Date: 1898

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Otto von Bismarck 3 Stuttgart 1898

Bismarck Restores Junker Appetites

[1870]

I invited Generals Moltke and Roon to have dinner with me on July 13th, and spoke to them concerning my views and intentions. During the dinner conversation it was reported to me that a code telegram had been received from Ems, and it was then in process of decoding. I then read it to my guests, who were so crushed that they refused to eat or drink.

All considerations, conscious or unconscious, strengthened my opinion that war could be avoided only at the cost of the honor of Prussia and of the national confidence in her.

Under this conviction I made use of the royal authority communicated to me through Abeken to publish the contents of the telegram. In the presence of my guests I reduced the telegram by deleting words, but without adding or altering a single word, to the following form:

"After the news of the renunciation of the hereditary prince of Hohenzollern had been officially communicated to the imperial government of France by the royal government of Spain, the French ambassador at Ems made an additional demand of his Majesty the king that he should authorize him to telegraph to Paris that his Majesty the king bound himself for all future time never again to give his consent if the Hohenzollerns renew that candidature. His Majesty the king thereupon decided not to receive the French envoy again, and informed him through the aide-de-camp on duty that his Majesty had nothing further to say to the ambassador."

The difference in the effect of the shortened text of the Eros telegram as compared with that of the original was not the result of stronger words, but of the form, which made the announcement appear decisive.

After I had read the condensed version to my two guests, Moltke said:

"Now it has a quite different ring. In its original form it sounded like a parley. Now it is like a flourish in answer to a challenge!"

I went on to explain:

"If, in execution of his Majesty’s order, I immediately communicate this text, which contains no changes in or additions to the telegram, not only to the newspapers, but also by wire to all our embassies, it will be known in Paris before midnight. Not only on account of its contents, but also because of the manner of its distribution, it will have the effect of a red flag on the Gallic bull.

"We must fight if we do not want to act the part of the defeated without a battle. However, success depends essentially upon the impression which the beginning of the war makes upon us and others. It is most important that we should be the ones attacked. Gallic insolence and sensitivity will bring this about if we announce before all Europe, as far as we can without the speaking tube of the Reichstag, that we are courageously meeting the public threats of France."

This explanation drew from both generals a metamorphosis into a more joyous mood, whose liveliness surprised me. They had suddenly recovered their desire to eat and drink and began to speak in a more cheerful tone.

Roon said: "Our God of old still lives, and will not let us die in disgrace."

Moltke relinquished his passive equanimity so much that, glancing up joyously to the ceiling and abandoning his usual punctiliousness of speech, he pounded his chest with his hand and exclaimed:

"If I may but live to lead our armies in such a war, then right afterwards let the devil come and haul away the old carcass." He was then more frail than later and had his doubts as to whether he could live through the fatigue of a field campaign.

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Chicago: Otto von Bismarck, "Bismarck Restores Junker Appetites," Gedanken and Erinnerungen, ed. Otto Von Bismarck in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed December 8, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=33ZWK76B3E6YIMX.

MLA: Bismarck, Otto von. "Bismarck Restores Junker Appetites." Gedanken and Erinnerungen, edited by Otto Von Bismarck, Vol. 3, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 8 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=33ZWK76B3E6YIMX.

Harvard: Bismarck, OV, 'Bismarck Restores Junker Appetites' in Gedanken and Erinnerungen, ed. . cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 8 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=33ZWK76B3E6YIMX.