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Frederick the Great, the arch-prophet of Prussianism, speaking in 1740, gave the keynote to all his successors:
The question of right is an affair of ministers. . . . It is time to consider it in secret, for the orders to my troops have been given.
And again, relative to the seizure of Silesia from Austria,
Take what you can; you are never wrong unless you are obliged to give back.
The Emperor's advice and admonition of July 27, 1900, to the German troops, just before they left to take part in the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in China :
As soon as you come to blows with the enemy he will be beaten. No mercy will be shown! No prisoners will be taken! As the Huns, under King Attila, made a name for themselves, which is still mighty in traditions and legends, may the name of German be so fixed in China by your deeds that no Chinese shall ever again dare even to look at a German askance. ... Open the way for Kultur once for all.
Against this set the words of the first president of the young American republic, speaking at a time when the nation was so weak that surely any kind of shifts could have been justified on the score of necessity.
Said George Washington in his first inaugural address (1789):
The foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world.
Or again, in his farewell address (1796):
Observe good faith and justice toward all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. . .. It will be worthy of a
free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
Breathing the same spirit of justice and mercy are the words of Lincoln spoken when the nation was in the midst of Civil War. His second inaugural closes thus: :
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphans, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The United States enters this war in the same spirit which actuated its founders and its greatest leaders. Our purpose in the war was clearly set forth by President Wilson in his message to Congress on April 2:
We are accepting this challenge of hostile purpose because we know that in such a Government, following such methods, we can never have a friend; and that in the presence of its organized power, always lying in wait to accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no assured security for the democratic Governments of the world.
We are now about to accept the gauge of battle with this natural foe to liberty, and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power.
We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretense about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included; for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience.
The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.
We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We
are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.
Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish objects, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for.
SOME IMPORTANT DATES
July 28, 1914: Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia.