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Berlin-Baghdad Railway - Pan-Germanism

Berlin to Baghdad mapAt first the Baghdad Railway was but the overland route to India. But in the days of the Siberian system and the Cape to Cairo scheme, the Power in possession of the Baghdad Railway could command the inter-communication of three continents. One of the big items in the deep-laid pre-war schemes of Germany for world-domination was the absorption of Asia Minor and the penetration into further Asia by means of the Berlin-Baghdad railway. The growth of German influence in Constantinople was one of the most remarkable political phenomena of the closing years of the nineteenth century. In Berlin, the Kaiser dropped the old pilot Bismarck in the 1890s, and was ruling as well as reigning, with figurehead chancellors. Germany was entitled to her place in the sun, but to his jaundiced eye Great Britain, France and even little Belgium and the Netherlands had pre-empted practically all strategic and desirable colonies. The dream of "Der Tag" must be realized.

The original Berlin-Baghdad Railway scheme, which owed its inception to the activities and enterprise of German merchants, was before long diverted to purely political purposes, while every possible course of German influence and aggression was used to the utmost in the Turk's Asian possessions. Long and careful were the preparations made. German colonies sprung up at various places in Palestine and Syria, particularly at Jaffa and Jerusalem. It is practically a straight line from London to India, and the completion of the railway scheme would place the shortest and quickest route from the North Sea to Karachi entirely under German control.

The Suez Canal connected the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. It was the water gate between Asia and Europe exactly as the line from Belgrade to Nish and Constantinople was the land gate between these two continents. British strategists feared that Germany's domination of the shortest and the best land route from Europe to Asia would be followed by an attempt to control the alternative gate, the water gate, as well. The small desert which separates Asia Minor from the Suez Canal can be overcome with railways. Germany's domination of Asia Minor and her organization of that country, the building of strategical railways through the Turkish dominions in the direction of Egypt and India, could make Egypt untenable and gravely threaten England's position in India.

Pan-Germans published books and maps depicting a Greater Germany stretching from Hamburg to the Persian Gulf, or even from Antwerp to Aden. German statesmen and scientists considered that thinly populated Asia Minor was the most desirable territory to acquire, not only because the country was exceedingly rich in natural resources of every kind, such as excellent harbors, a very fruitful soil, and enormous mineral deposits, but also because the Turks of Asia Minor could be converted into excellent soldiers, and because Asia Minor is a gigantic natural fortress which separates and connects the three continents of the Old World. It was a country whence three continents may be dominated.

After 1900 Germany had quietly started a process of peaceful penetration in Asia Minor, and her more outspoken politicians and professors were already assigning to her the guardianship and eventual inheritance of the Ottoman Empire. The opening up of a new overland road to India was the pleesant theme of publicists who laid stress on the weakness of England's position in Egypt and India, and exalted the Kaiser's role of protector of the whole Mohammedan world. The Berlin-Baghdad railway was already denominated the Berlin-Byzantitim-Baghdad Bahn; but Bengal and not Baghdad was to be the terminus, and Germany was indulging herself in something more than a dream of becoming mistress of India. The Kaiser might choose Morocco, at the other end of the Moslem world, for a spectacular display of strength; but the substantial danger lay in the East, where German merchants, missionaries, soldiers, and prospecting engineers were predicting the future of Prussia as an Asiatic power.

By 1908, conditions in the Middle East had undergone considerable change, but in nothing so much as in the relative positions held by Germany in Turkey and by Great Britain in Persia. The division of Persia between Russia and Great Britain was no longer one in which Great Britain can rely upon unfettered control of the sphere, which, historically, so long has belonged to her. By the clauses of the Anglo-Russian Convention Western Persia, which in many ways is identical with the region of the Persian Gulf, was withdrawn expressly from the control of Great Britain. Germany, whose presence in Persia had only just begun to make itself felt, would become far more significant when a German railway connects the Persian Gulf with the Bosphorus. It is only a question of time before the dual division, which had so long existed, gives way to a tripartite arrangement by which the Power that controlled the Persian Gulf terminus of the Baghdad Railway became the controlling factor in Western Persia.

Some thought that Germany was able to throw dust in British eyes by working on the Emperor's suggestion that nothing could be better for English policy in the long run than the extension of German interests in Asia Minor across the most dangerous line of Russian aggression. In this matter at least, the Government of India was wiser, but in 1908 Secretary Morley administered this snub to the Viceroy, Lord Mlnto, as part of a daily and intimate exchange of letters: "The other day I read over again a Memo, sent to me by your Foreign Department a year or more ago upon the Bagdad Railway. Really it was painfully wide of the mark. I am sure if you think of it, you will see that it could not be anything else." In 1910, when the British Government was prepared to withdraw all objection to the construction of the railway as far as Bassorah, Mr. Morley remarks to Lord Minto, "The same people and journals who raised, what I always thought, the fatal howl in 1903, will cry out louder than ever and perhaps with better reason."

Modern highroads and railways are constructed along the great highroads made by Nature. A glance at the map shows that the railroads from Berlin and Vienna towards Salonica and Constantinople follow the ancient river routes described above. Now as in former times broad river valleys are most important for the movement of armies. It is difficult to imagine any route from Central Europe to Constantinople alternative to that which was trodden by the Roman legions and by the Turkish hosts. The Berlin-Baghdad railway was not merely an economic undertaking, but it could be carried out only if Serbia, which holds the pass, could be incorporated in some form or other in the Austro-German combination.

The German project of a new Central European State, as outlined in Dr. Friedrich Naumann's book Mitteleuropa. The "Berlin to Baghdad" policy, the plan that the Central Powers shall draw their supplies of raw material, as far as possible, from Turkey-in-Asia —uninterrupted communication being assured to Germany and Austria through their control of the Balkan States — found enthusiastic advocates in the autumn of 1915, when the effects of the British blockade policy began to be very strongly felt by all classes in the Central Empires. Supplies of raw material showed signs of running short, and the Governments concerned found it necessary to take drastic steps to husband their joint resources. The Prussian Administration, as might be expected, saw to the organisation of its raw materials with greater efficiency than its slower ally, and, indeed, began to do so within a few weeks of the outbreak of war.

At first, however, it was not the economic side of the question to which the greatest attention was given. "Berlin to Baghdad" became a rallying-cry for individuals and groups whose emotional ideals it was seldom possible, even in theory, to reconcile with economic facts. (Britain had her own schools of emotionalists, to whom the same remark applies.) Dreamy professors, ignorant of economics, whose knowledge of political matters was confined to theorising in a study; fanatical agrarians, interested only in their East Prussian estates; military men of the older school, who objected to a large German navy; "race" cranks, like Houston Chamberlain, who raved about England's "treachery"; all these people seized upon the Central European and "Berlin to Baghdad" proposals because they firmly believed that only by some such means as this would it ever be possible for them to construct a homogeneous State and to render themselves independent of the sea.

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Page last modified: 15-11-2011 18:54:33 ZULU