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Imperial Germany and Latin America

By 1900 it seemed that if Germany was ever seriously to emulate the Imperial career of Great Britain, it was not in Africa or in the Pacific or in China that she would have to look for the development of Greater Germany, but in South America and Asia Minor. Germany thought of her maritime expansion too late; there no longer remained free land to which conquest has left the great nations of the world indifferent.

Africa was permanently parcelled out, and Germany could no longer hope for territorial conquests in that part of the world. Besides, if one may judge from the part that Germany has played toward the colonies already possessed by her in the Dark Continent, new ones would be little to her advantage. Germany's holdings in Togoland, the Cameroons, and east and southwest Africa were not in any real sense colonies. They are merely trading stations, admirably administered in many ways, but incapable of receiving the surplus population of the Fatherland or of becoming an integral part of the Empire. Germany had not yet founded a single community of the type of the British self-governing colonies- a community, that is, which promised to maintain and spread German civilization, language, and law. Politically and strategically her scattered possessions in Africa and the Pacific were hostages to fortune.

It was only in South America that German colonisation developed to any great extent. These regions, which were in a perpetual state of revolution, might be able to furnish the sought-for occasion for intervention. By 1900 the number of German settlers in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico seemed to be not far short of 100,000. They were drawn from the trading, not the laboring classes, kept well in touch with the fatherland, and form a prosperous, influential, and clannish community. If the Germans had not done as much as the English to exploit South America, it was simply because they came there later. Since their arrival they have managed, as they always do, to get ahead of their rivals, and owned a very considerable share of the mining, railroad, and banking concessions, while more than one South American loan has been successfully floated in Berlin.

It was possible under these circumstances to imagine many things. South America was a land of upheavals. A spirit of revolutionary turbulence brooded over the entire continent from Patagonia to the Gulf of Panama; and it was well known how conveniently apt the property of the citizens of a country that is bent on expansion is to get damaged, and to need protection whenever there is the slightest disorder. Observers could imagine, for instance, the outbreak of such a revolution as plunged Paraguay into a welter of anarchy and savage warfare. Who could guarantee in such an event that the Kaiser might not think German interests sufficiently endangered to warrant some such intervention as wrested Kiao-Chou from China?

Or conceive 100,000 Germans settled in Brazil. How long would they be likely to remain satisfied with the mestizo attorneys and political adventurers in control of the government at Rio Janeiro? Or suppose, once more, a German warship destroyed in a South American port as the Maine was destroyed. The Kaiser, any Kaiser, would as soon think of abdicating as of hesitating to make war under such provocation, or, having made war, of shrinking from the only means of preventing such an occurrence in the future.

Reuters news agency is named for its founder, Julius Reuter, a native of Germany. His son Baron Herbert de Reuter succeeded him as managing director. The book Revelations Of A German Attache" by Emil Witte, first published in German in 1907 and then in English in the United States in 1916, tells a rather sensational story of German ambitioun in Latin America around 1900. Witte relates that Baron Herbert de Reuter had been able to procure a concession for a million, six hundred thousand acres of land in the United States of Colombia, for settlement purposes. He had been able to put the deal through with the assistance of the Colombian envoy to London, who had received for his share a very handsome tip, and now he was anxious to secure German colonists for the lands. Baron Herbert von Reuter would like to offer to the German Empire a protectorate over Colombia like that which England exercised over India. Though he was now an English citizen, Herr von Reuter had not forgotten his German origin and he would like to show his love for the land of his fathers by making this offer first and exclusively to the German Empire. He asked at the present no return, except that the German Empire should turn the tide of emigration which was Hawing into the USA at least partially toward Colombia, where a new Germania across the sea would appear under the sovereignty of the old Empire.

It seemed, at any rate, incredible that South America would remain for another fifty years as it was in 1900. Starting from that supposition and putting, on the one side, Germany's holdings and settlements in South America, the Kaiser's eagerness to acquire territory, and the sporadic unrest that might easily justify such acquisition, and, on the other side, the deep and determined loyalty of Americans to the Monroe Doctrine and their absolute refusal to share their continent with Europe - and one arrived at a situation which, if not immediately dangerous, had in it some fairly obvious elements of anxiety. Observers conceived that the South American question may yet vitally influence the relations of Germany and the United States.

By 1913 there were, by one estimate, half a million Germans in southern Brazil, a large colony in southern Chile, and some 25,000 connected with commercial enterprises in Argentina. Their influence in Central America before the World War was seen everywhere. Not only had they built up solid communit ies, which represent little Germanics, transplant ed root and branch, but in every colony in South America their separate schools were to be found, conducted entirely in German and subsidized directly by the Kaiser. The purpose of all this was only too plain.

American imperialism in Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth century was thus explained, at least in part, as a response to the threat posed by Germany in the region. But Nancy Mitchell argued that the German actions that raised American hackles then -- and have been held up ever since as evidence that Germany aimed to challenge the Monroe Doctrine -- were, on close inspection of German, US, and British archives, a potent mix of German bombast and American paranoia. Simply put, according to Mitchell, there was no German threat in Latin America. Mitchell's case hinged on the careful investigation of four important matters: the development of German and US war plans, Roosevelt's response to the Anglo-German blockade of Venezuela, the German presence in southern Brazil, and the evolution of Wilson's Mexican policy. Her analysis of German actions suggested a persistent US tendency to exaggerate the threat that Wilhelmine Germany posed to Latin America. Mitchell argued that Germany's ambitions, recklessly proclaimed but never translated into policy, allowed the United States to disguise its interventions in Latin America as the protection of the region from rapacious Europeans, rather than the imperialism of a rising power.[SOURCE]

"U.S. intervention in Central America and the Caribbean has traditionally been excused as a necessary evil in a heroic struggle against a budding German empire. This rationalization undergirds the legend of American exceptionalism, which insists that the United States was unique in world history because it did not practice imperialism out of self-interest. ... The German navy, which multiplied into a world-class fleet by the end of the late nineteenth century, concocted daring plans to invade the Caribbean and assault New York City. German ambitions of conquering the Western Hemisphere, however, soon proved unrealistic.... despite much bluffing, Germany never seriously contested the Monroe Doctrine. The German threat did, however, conveniently allow the United States to portray itself as the saviour of Latin America while justifying the extension of U.S. hegemony into the region." [SOURCE]

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:00 ZULU