William II has willed it. The cannon must speak. The German Ambassador has decided to depart, tired of waiting in Paris for acts of violence which do not occur. Do you know the official reasons for his departure? It is that a French aviator is alleged to have thrown bombs on Nuremberg. In courteous language M. Viviani replied that this was an untruth, although it was only too true that a German troop had come into our territory and killed a French soldier; and the Ambassador, finding nothing to say, slipped away only to return a few minutes later to repair a slight omission. He had forgotten to deliver to the Minister a declaration of war. One cannot think of everything at once. . .
England, be it said to her honor, did not hesitate. Germany has had many friends, even in important places in the British Government, and she has not recoiled before any method of impressing public opinion in the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, the statesmen of England, and the English people themselves, have too clear a vision of their own interests, coinciding at every point with those of European civilization, for them to entertain the thought of taking miserable refuge in a waiting policy. This whole nation is composed of men who possess peculiarly that superior quality of knowing their own wills and of acting when once they have spoken. They do not give themselves up to enthusiasms, as sometime happens to us, but they advance carefully step by step and they are easier to kill than to drive back. Moreover it was impossible for them to do, in so little time, more than they have done in the time since all dissimulation disappeared from Germany's intentions.
With a prudence for which no one can reproach them they painfully exhausted the last chances of peace, without ever letting themselves be entrapped by the fallacious proposals of the German Ambassador. They carefully guarded their liberty of action in case of developments of which no one can calculate the consequences. But Germany has not left them the chance to preserve this liberty long, and they have quickly shown that their decision, once it was necessary, would not be delayed . . . .
Italy has issued her formal declaration of neutrality. By the way in which French opinion received it, our brothers beyond Piedmont can see that the absurd quarrels of governments insufficiently authoritative have left no trace in our hearts. They have often told us that the Triple Alliance could not act together, in whatever concerned the Italians, unless we were the aggressors and that they refused to believe that such would ever be the case, since our policy was wholly defensive. They have shown that they were wholly sincere. We cannot but be thankful to them for it.
It is for the Latin cause, for the independence of nationalities in Europe, that we are going to fight, for the greatest ideas that have honored the thought of mankind, ideas that have come to us from Athens and Rome and of which we have made the crowning work of that civilization which the Germany of Arminius pretends to monopolize, like those barbarians who melted into ingots the marvels of ancient art after the pillaging of Rome in order to make savage ornaments out of them.
Anticipating the time which possibly is near, I proclaim to the men who have revived Italy and who have had the glory to bring Rome back to her destiny that they have themselves marked out their place in this great struggle. I am not afraid to say that, without them, we shall conquer, because we are resolved to dare and endure anything, because a peace resulting from our defeat could not be made except over the corpses of all the men worthy of the name of French.
But what supreme joy would overflow our hearts if the name of the great Italy of history should be associated with ours in a heroic adventure in which the greatest men of Rome would have been proud to claim an important part. Whenever their sons wish it we shall be able to make a place of honor for them at our side. Behold Belgium in action, Holland with arms in hand, Russia pregnant with new purpose to revive our fatigued hopes, the peoples of the Balkans being born anew, the American republics, with the greatest in the lead, incapable by tradition of seconding a brutal attack upon liberty, all Europe indignant at monstrous treachery, and even Asia, in astonishment, speaking of lending her redoubtable legions to the cause.
Against what is this revolt of all, this rebellion of human conscience, this insurrection of ideas? Against a Teutonism delirious in megalomania, ambitious to realize what Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon could not accomplish: to impose upon a world that desires to be free the supremacy of steel. It is not a thing for our age; men have too much suffered from it. The modern idea is the right of all, and victory for us could not mean oppression, even for those who fought against us, since Germany has valiantly conquered, like so many other states, her rightful place in the world, and since, if we are fighting the arrogance of tyranny, it is not in order to embrace it in our turn.
And now to arms, all of us! I have seen weeping among those who cannot go first. Everyone's turn will come. There will not be a child of our land who will not have a part in the enormous struggle. To die is nothing. We must win. And for that we need all men's power. The weakest will have his share of glory. There come times, in the live of peoples, when there passes over them a tempest of heroic action.
Return to World War I Document Archive