My Four Years in Germany, by James W. Gerard
Five out of five stars
While the author has a clear bias in these memoirs, this is still a valuable input into the German nation at that time. Gerard was the American ambassador to Germany from 1913 until 1917, when diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany were severed. He of course interacted with the highest officials of the German government, so he has some insights into their thought processes as they moved towards what became the First World War and then how they acted during the time that the United States was officially neutral.
His insights into the structure of the German nation at that time are important, it was a collection of states with their own royal classes united under the Kaiser. With the exception of foreign affairs, each of the leaders of the individual states had a great deal of autonomy.
Once the war started, it was the responsibility of the American Embassy to oversee the lives of the American citizens still in Germany. Additional responsibilities were to provide what assistance they could to the nationals of powers fighting Germany as well as oversee the treatment of prisoners held by Germany. It was a difficult task, there was a great deal of popular opinion in Germany that the United States was tilting towards the side of the Allies in the war.
Perhaps the most revealing section deals with the American response to the announcement that Germany would once again resume unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. Right up to the breaking of diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany, which would certainly be followed by a declaration of war, high-ranking people in Germany were making speeches that President Wilson would never go to war against Germany. This is one more failure of the German leadership based on their inability to understand the point of view of others.
This book provides some significant insights into Germany in the year before the war as well as the first three years of World War I. Some of the Germans were hostile, yet there were many in the leadership that did what they could to maintain a civil relationship between Gerard and Germany. Despite their denial, they knew that American entry into the war would lead to a German defeat.