Posts Tagged ‘containment’

(1815 – 1898)

The founder and first chancellor of the German Empire, was a political genius of the highest rank. At his best in foreign affairs, he was the principal architect of the age that gave Europe 26 years of Peace after the Congress of Berlin (1878). He was born on the 1st of April at Schönhausen, Brandenburg, former East Germany. After reading law Bismarck entered Prussian service and became a judicial administrator at Aachen; his conduct was unconventional and the criticism of his official superiors drove him to resign from service at the age of 24. In 1847 he became a member of the quasi-representative United Diet. Bismarck gained prominence in 1851 when he was chosen to represent Prussia in Federal Diet. In 1859 he was sent to St. Petersburg as ambassador only to be recalled in March 1862 and ‘sent as ambassador to Paris’. Finally, on September 22 he returned to Berlin to become Prime Minister devoting himself to the task of limiting Germany under Prussian leadership. In the war of 1866 he succeeded in defeating Austria and excluding it altogether from Germany.

He involved his country in the Franco-German War (1870-’71), a conflict that ended with Prussian success and a measure of unity. On March 21, 1871 Bismarck, now a hero, was created a Prince and appointed imperial chancellor. He initiated internal administrative reforms for the remainder of the decade, developing a common currency, a central bank and a single code of commercial and civil law for Germany. In foreign affairs he presided over the Congress of Berlin and this seemed to symbolize his paramount position as mediator between the great powers.
He was also the first statesman in Europe to devise a comprehensive scheme of social security, offering workers insurance against accident, sickness and old age. By 1890 his politics had begun to come under increasing attack, on March 18, 1890, two years after Wilhelm II’s ascension to the throne, Bismarck was forced to resign.
His last years were devoted to discrediting the Emperor and in composing his memoirs.

Bismarck’s most important legacy is the unification of Germany a task tried but failed since the formation of the Holy Roman Empire. Following unification, Germany became one of the most powerful nations in Europe. Bismarck’s astute, cautious, and pragmatic foreign policies allowed Germany to retain peacefully the powerful position which was however not possible as power was concentrated in the new emperor’s hands. Wilhelm I rarely challenged the Chancellor’s decisions; on several occasions, Bismarck obtained his monarch’s approval by threatening to resign. However, Wilhelm II intended to govern the country himself, making the ousting of Bismarck one of his first tasks as Kaiser. His Weltpolitik to secure the Reich’s future through expansion undid diplomatic feats of the Iron Chancellor. It would ultimately lead to World War I. It also made the Kaiser play into hands of the military whereas Bismarck’s policy was to deny them a dominant voice in foreign political decision-making. This was overturned by 1914 as Germany became an armed state; although the Emperor and his cabinet formally retained the power, military officers played an increasingly influential role in the Cabinet.
His Far-seeing vision
In February 1888, during a Bulgarian crisis, Bismarck addressed the Reichstag on the dangers of a European war.
He warned of the imminent possibility that Germany will have to fight on two fronts; he spoke of the desire for peace; then he set forth the Balkan case for war and demonstrated its futility: “Bulgaria, that little country between the Danube and the Balkans, is far from being an object of adequate importance… for which to plunge Europe from Moscow to the Pyrenees, and from the North Sea to Palermo, into a war whose issue no man can foresee. At the end of the conflict we should scarcely know why we had fought.”
Bismarck also repeated his emphatic warning against any German military involvement in Balkan disputes. Bismarck had first made this famous comment to the Reichstag in December 1876, when the Balkan revolts against the Ottoman Empire threatened to extend to a war between Austria and Russia.
Subsequently, Bismarck made this accurate prediction:
“Jena came twenty years after the death of Frederick the Great; the crash will come twenty years after my departure if things go on like this” ― a prophecy fulfilled almost to the month. ( ack:wikipedia)
(This a revised and expanded version of the pen portrait posted earlier.)

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