Sunday Chronicle (London), December 13, 1914
Transcribed from a reprint in The West Australian (Perth), February 5, 1915
THE AMAZING AMBASSADOR.
SOME REFLECTIONS ON “KULTUR.”
There are two wars now in progress. The first is the scuffle in Central Europe; the second, and more important, the campaign in Central New York, conducted personally by Count Von Bernstorff. Here, as always, the Occasion has produced the Man.
Of the Count's early life—beyond the certainty that at one period he must have been a “barker” outside a Coney Island side-show—little is known or surmised. But, whatever his early training, the fact is not to be disputed that now, in middle life, he has come into his own. In a land where the art of the Press agent has been brought to its highest pitch, Count Von Bernstorff is recognised as supreme.
Only yesterday one of the most prominent managers of professional pugilists in America said to me with tears of unwilling admiration in his eyes: “Mister, I’ve been managing fighters all my life, and I know something about it. I’ve boomed fellers as champions who hadn’t any right in the ring at all. I’ve told the Press for 20 years that when my man was knocked out he was just drawing the other fellow on; and when he hit the other feller a yard below the belt, he didn’t do nothing of the kind, and, if he did, he meant well; and, anyway, it was the other feller’s fault, and he had no right to have a belt. I thought I was pretty good at the game, but, believe me, I’m not in the same class with the Count.”
Coming from such a source this is high praise. Great men are ever modest, and the Count would, I am sure, be the first to acknowledge how much he owes to the German Official Wireless (via Sayville).
Three Sorts of Liars.
The finest chef is hopeless without his raw material; and there is no doubt that but for the German Official Wireless (via Sayville) Count Von Bernstorff would not have got some of his brightest ideas. As he genially puts it himself: “There are liars, d——d liars, and the German Official Wireless (via Sayville).” No tribute could be more generous.
Whatever harm the war may have done to the world at large, to Count Von Bernstorff it has brought fame and fortune. The ball is at his feet. It is the chief characteristic of the American business man that he is swift to recognise talent, and every day the Count is inundated with offers to join important firms at his own salary. The Chicago-Fetch-the-Undertaker-Brand Company, probably the largest dealers in diseased pork in the world, have offered him fabulous terms.
The Texas and Arizona Gold Brick Distribution Association Incorporated have forwarded him a contract for 10 years, himself to fill in the salary blank. Still more flattering is the strongly-worded request from One-Eyed Higgins that the Count appear in court and undertake his defence at the forthcoming proceedings before the Supreme Court of Justice. Mr. Higgins, as one who has stood his trial in the lower courts for the murder of his wife, seven small children, and a nephew, may be said to know what is what; and nothing could emphasise more strongly than his request the high esteem in which the Count’s talents in his particular line are held by those best qualified to judge.
But it is unlikely, at any rate for the present, that the Count will accept any of these offers, however lucrative. He has a steady job, which brings him in good money; and, unless the German Official Wireless (via Sayville) runs short of ideas or develops a conscience, it is improbable that he will be induced to leave it.
We deprecate strongly the attitude of the New York papers towards this great man. “There is a general impression gaining ground,” said the New York “Evening Telegram” recently, “that Count Von Bernstorff is talking too much. There should be some distinction between an Ambassador and a Press agent.” Could anything be more ungracious? In these black times it is something to enjoy the delightful whimsicality of two instances only—such interviews as that which the Count gave to the Press just before the battle of the Marne, beginning “the war is over, France is beaten to her knees,” or that other—in the best vein of farce—in which he showed that the action of Heligoland Bight was in reality a moral victory for the Fatherland.
But Bernstorff is too big a man to be crushed by the sneering of biassed critics. No newspaper can silence him. The only thing which could do that would be an affection of the larynx, and, the weather being still delightfully mild, there is little fear of such a disaster to the gaiety of nations happening at present. It would be a dark day for lovers of wholesome fun if Germany’s silver-voiced defender should ever be put out of action by frog-in-the-throat.
Of course, it is the Count’s German Kultur which gives him such a pull in his line of business. You can be a pretty fair liar without having German Kultur, and a good workaday murderer without having German Kultur; but it is the good old G.C. that gives real zip and snap to these lines of business.
That is the best thing the war has done: It has brought German Kultur into the limelight. Before the war began nobody had ever heard of German Kultur. Germans were merely a people who talked from somewhere at the back of their necks, forbade you to do things, and drank soup with a rather more reverberating noise than other nations.
What the War Has Done.
But the war was only a few days old when it became apparent to all concerned that here was a race whose middle name was Kultur. Everything they did showed Kultur. They were so deuced Kultured that one looked into one’s soul and said, ruefully, “Here have I been going along all these years thinking I was a fairly polished person; but, compared with these Germans, I am nothing but a common rough-neck.”
Of course, Europe is getting the benefit of the really best Kultur; but even where I write these lines, in New York, three thousand miles from the educational zone we have samples of it. We get ours for the most part in the correspondence columns of the American daily papers.
German Kultur has taken quite a dislike to the American Press, and not without reason. The attitude of the Press here is intolerable. It cannot be made to see that the burning of Louvain, the shelling of Rheims Cathedral, the mutilation of the wounded, and the slaughter of non-combatants, are all part of the great scheme for spreading sweetness and light, and establishing German Kultur as an ideal for Humanity to strive after.
Instead of printing news of these events in its educational supplement, the New York newspaper puts them in the middle of the front page, and heads them “More Atrocities.” No wonder German Kultur is vexed, and seeks an outlet for its irritation in cultured letters to the Press.
In these letters the cultured tone is very marked. Here is one to the New York “Tribune”—a model of restraint:—“Sir, what a liar and jackass you are on war news.” And another to the same paper. “Sir, you English ——! What is your price?” And one more: “Sir, it is amazing that a supposedly self-respecting paper (as yours claims to be) should write such damnable rot and idiotic scribble as ‘The development of the Russian attack.’”
Just One More.
And shall we add just one? Very well. “Sir, I dare you to publish the address of ‘Mme. Jean Alcide Picard,’ whose story appears in this morning’s ‘Tribune.’ This woman does not exist. The story reads like a lot of trash, and the British dog who concocted it ought to lose his job.”
To this the editor in his tactless way appends the note that M. Jean Alcide Picard is connected with Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publishers, and his name and address may be found in the New York Directory; and that Mme. Picard, his wife, is serving in the hospital corps, and lives at 9 Rue Haute Feuille, Paris. What German Kultur will call that editor to-morrow one does not like to think.
As a matter of fact, however, German Kultur is not altogether novel to America. There have been pioneers of it already. Only then America did not know what it was, and called it something else.
Only recently a group of high-spirited citizens (since dead) hired a motor car and escaped in it after shooting a friend named Rosenthal to death. The late Lefty Louie and the late Gyp the Blood were among the party.
At the time New York looked on the performance as mere cold-blooded murder: but since the reports of German educational and uplifting methods at the front began to come in, people are beginning to see that they wronged Lefty Louie and did Gyp the Blood a grave injustice. It is realised now that they were in all probability earnest missionaries, faithfully upholding the best traditions of German Kultur.
But, in its blind barbarism, America could not receive the Message, and the lesson went unlearned.
Pioneers always have a bad time of it.
This article’s appearance in the West Australian was headed:
P. G. Wodehouse contributes the following article to the London “Sunday Chronicle” of December 13:—
After this reprint was transcribed and posted here, AK also found the London original publication. The two versions have very minor differences in punctuation and wording in a few places.
Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff (1862–1939) was the German ambassador to the United States from 1908 to 1917. He was born in London, where his father served as ambassador, and grew up in England until the age of eleven. His wife was an American of German descent. Although the specific quotes attributed here to him have not yet been found, he was certainly vocal in his rationalizations for German actions in the war, and was quoted nearly daily in the American press. As a sample of his comments, here is an excerpt from the New York Times, September 3, 1914:
Q: Is not the destruction of the historic edifices and the library at Louvain an act of vandalism?
A: To begin with, I doubt whether the historic edifices and library at Louvain have been destroyed. But if they should have been the responsibility rests solely with the population of Louvain, and the act of vandalism, if there has been one, has been perpetrated also solely by that population . . . In this special case, the German soldiers who were attacked by the people of Louvain were mutilated and treated with acts of bestial cruelty. If the returning troops with these facts before their eyes burnt down many houses of the city, I do not see how they can be blamed.
The German government broadcasting service built a radio transmitter in 1912 in Sayville, New York, on the south shore of Long Island, which operated until the United States entered World War I in 1917, when it was seized by the U.S. Marines in America’s first hostile action of the war.
The phrase “lies, damned lies, and statistics” was popularized by Mark Twain and attributed by him to Disraeli, but apparently the phrase originated with Leonard H. Courtney; see this article.
The meat-packing and gold-brick distributing companies are clearly fictitious names with a foundation in fact. The “By the Way” column edited by Wodehouse in the Globe newspaper often satirizes the Chicago meat packers’ denials of the abuses uncovered by Upton Sinclair and others. Successfully persuading someone to buy a nearly-worthless “gold brick” requires the ability to tell lies plausibly and stick to them. The name One-Eyed Higgins seems to have been invented by Wodehouse, but the usefulness of a good liar in a policy of “stout denial” should be obvious.
The first Battle of the Marne was fought September 5–12, 1914 and resulted in an Allied victory over the German army, which had attempted to enter Paris but was repulsed by French and British forces. The Battle of Heligoland Bight was a naval battle on August 28, 1914, in which the British navy inflicted serious damage on the German fleet, effectively bottling it up in port for some months afterward.
The German letters to the Tribune are accurately quoted from the issue of September 26, 1914, among other “samples of Teutonic criticism as it reaches this office.”
The Rosenthal murder case involved gangs from New York’s Lower East Side; among others convicted and executed in 1914 were gunmen Gyp the Blood (Harry Horowitz) and Lefty Louie (Louis Rosenberg).
—Article discovered by AK; transcription and notes by Neil Midkiff