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Georg Brandes: Wars waged by governments fronting for financial oligarchies


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Georg Brandes: Selections on war


Georg Brandes
From The Conquest of Basra (1914)
Translated by Catherine D. Groth


The story of the Bagdad road is an example of the way in which the fate of nations depends on a few men — diplomats and ministers — who, in reality, are but the mouthpieces of the large banking and industrial concerns. The masses have not the slightest voice in directing the policy of their country, in making war or peace, and this is as true of a parliamentary country like England, a democratic country like France, as of Germany, Russia, or Turkey.

In olden days when nations lived by agriculture they went to war to gain territory, to wrest land away from their neighbours. Now that the nations have become industrial states and are in reality ruled by financial oligarchies even if they nominally appear to have emperors, kings, or presidents, the purpose of war is no longer to conquer land or peoples but markets. Each nation wants a wider outlet for its products, greater investment for its capital. The real character of war today is not a fight for ideals but a fight for concessions.

Japan made war on China in 1895 in order to dominate Korea; the United States fought Spain in 1898 to gain access to the riches of Cuba; England attacked the Boers in 1899 because of the Transvaal mines; the Powers stormed China in 1900 in order to force railways upon her; Japan declared war on Russia in 1904 to gain certain advantages in Manchuria. The conquest of territory was an incident; what the victor sought was railroads, loans, tariffs.

Now during the nineteenth century England controlled the industry of Europe by means of her coal and iron as well as by her spirit of enterprise and her unrivalled sea power. France alone was a feeble competitor and after the Fashoda incidents she dropped out of the race. But then a new rival suddenly appeared: Germany, which until 1870 had been an agricultural nation. She began to abound in foundries, mills, chemical works, and shipyards; she acquired new railroads, new canals, and even a budding navy.

At first Germany’s industrial attempts caused no uneasiness in England. But as the years passed and the Germans progressed, England discovered that many an article supposed to be of home manufacture was German in reality. And as German consuls and German salesmen were active in every part of the world, England and Germany soon began to conflict everywhere, in Brazil as well as in Asia Minor.


It seems as if the conquest of Basra is England’s first step to thwart Germany’s plans in Asia Minor. The outcome of the war alone will decide whether the Bagdad Railway is to be completed by Germany or the other Powers.

The Bagdad Railway — incidentally — is one of the many threads which, bound together, have forged the cable which brought on the war, — this war for business, for enriching bank directors and kings of industry. It rages madly while Europe’s unhappy and peace-loving peoples, artificially stirred by national hatred, believe they are fighting for ideals of liberty and justice.

The war for trade is costumed as a defense of the fatherland — of that fatherland which statesmen in every instance could have guarded, strengthened, enriched, and developed to the highest degree of civilisation without the use of a single torpedo, mine or grenade.

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