Bismarck on War

Taylor Bismarck

It may seem paradoxical to describe Bismarck as having a deep sense of moral responsibility; and certainly it was of an unusual sort. Most statesmen seek to show that they have acted from high-minded motives, but have failed to live up to them. They do not plan wars; they drift into war and think it an adequate excuse to plead that this was unintentional. Bismarck aspired to control events. He would go to war only ‘when all other means were exhausted’ and then for ‘a prize worthy of the sacrifices which every war demands’. This may shock those who judge by motives instead of by results. But Bismarck’s planned wars killed thousands; the just wars of the twentieth century have killed millions. Moreover, Bismarck disliked war, though not primarily for the suffering that it involved. War was for him a clumsy way of settling international disputes. It deprived him of control and left the decision to generals whose ability he distrusted. A civilian to the core, he always wanted to back a certain winner; and Moltke, the greatest Prussian general, told him repeatedly that nothing was certain in war.


1. Taylor, A. J. P. Bismarck, the Man and the Statesman. New York: Knopf, 1955. Print.




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