and for all. And it is only in the light of this fact that we can understand how more than two million German men and youths voluntarily joined the colours, ready to shed the last drop of their blood for the cause.
For me these hours came as a deliverance from the distress that had weighed upon me during the days of my youth. I am not ashamed to acknowledge to-day that I was carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and that I sank down upon my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live in such a time.
The fight for freedom had broken out on an unparalleled scale in the history of the world. From the moment that Fate took the helm in hand the conviction grew among the mass of the people that now it was not a question of deciding the destinies of Austria or Serbia but that the very existence of the German nation itself was at stake.
At last, after many years of blindness, the people saw clearly into the future. Therefore, almost immediately after the gigantic struggle had begun, an excessive enthusiasm was replaced by a more earnest and more fitting undertone, because the exaltation of the popular spirit was not a mere passing frenzy. It was only too necessary that the gravity of the situation should be recognized. At that time there was, generally speaking, not the slightest presentiment or conception of how long the war might last. People dreamed of the soldiers being home by Christmas and that then they would resume their daily work in peace.
Whatever mankind desires, that it will hope for and believe in. The overwhelming majority of the people had long since grown weary of the perpetual insecurity in the general condition of public affairs. Hence it was only natural that no one believed that the Austro-Serbian conflict could be shelved. Therefore they looked forward to a radical settlement of accounts. I also belonged to the millions that desired this.
The moment the news of the Sarajevo outrage reached Munich two ideas came into my mind: First, that war was absolutely inevitable and, second, that the Habsburg State would now be forced to honour its signature to the alliance. For what I had feared most was that one day Germany herself, perhaps as a result of the Alliance, would become involved in a conflict the first direct cause of which did not affect Austria. In such a contingency, I feared that the Austrian State, for domestic political reasons, would find itself unable to decide in favour of its ally. But now this danger was removed. The old State was compelled to fight, whether it wished to do so or not.
My own attitude towards the conflict was equally simple and clear. I believed that it was not a case of Austria fighting to get satisfaction from Serbia but rather a case of Germany fighting for her own existence--the German nation for its own to-be-or-not-to-be, for its freedom and for its future. The work of Bismarck must now be carried on. Young Germany must show itself worthy of the blood shed by our fathers on so many heroic fields of battle, from Weissenburg to Sedan and Paris. And if this struggle should bring us victory our people will again rank foremost among the great nations. Only then could the German Empire assert itself as the mighty champion of peace, without the necessity of restricting the daily bread of its children for the sake of maintaining the peace.
As a boy and as a young man, I often longed for the occasion to prove that my national enthusiasm was not mere vapouring. Hurrahing sometimes seemed to me to be a kind of sinful indulgence, though I could not give any justification for that feeling; for, after all, who has the right to shout that triumphant word if he has not won the right to it there where there is no play-acting and where the hand of the Goddess of Destiny puts the truth and sincerity of nations and men through her inexorable test? Just as millions of others, I felt a proud joy in being permitted to go through this test. I had so often sung Deutschland über Alles and so often roared 'Heil' that I now thought it was as a kind of retro-active grace that I was granted the right of appearing before the Court of Eternal Justice to testify to the truth of those sentiments.