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Words that have shaped History. How wrong words can lead to war. The Ems despatch, and the Balfour declaration.


In History, sometimes, words can kill.

When the wrong words from history led to a war.

"The Balfour Declaration". Words from history that led to the Middle East conflict.

Conclusion. Statesmen, who use the wrong words, shape history in the wrong way.

The Iron Chancellor.

The Iron Chancellor.

 Arthur Balfour. The author of The Balfour Declaration.

Arthur Balfour. The author of The Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration.

In History, sometimes, words can kill.

It is one of the stranger things in history how sometimes the very smallest of occurrences can have the most momentous consequences. Words can be said that give offence to the wrong ears, and the result can be the fall of empires, or the wiping away of complete nations. The words that get written down are most frequently the ones that cause the most trouble, as the written word provides a more permanent record than just the utterances that come from the mouth. Sentiments that find their way onto official correspondence are the ones that have the most fatal effects as official declarations can bind governments for good or ill, and are less easy to rescind without loss of national face, or diminution of national honour.

In this article I want to remind my readers of two documents that have had very serious consequences in the history of our race in the last one hundred and fifty years. Indeed the second of my examples is exercising a malign influence on world affairs even as I write this. The first set up such an intensity of bitterness between two respected European countries as to lead to two world wars.

When the wrong words from history led to a war.

Two of the greatest powers in Europe in the year 1870 were the Kingdom of Prussia and The Empire of France. There was no great love lost between those two countries, probably a result of the earlier depredations of the French during the Napoleonic wars, and France under Napoleon III was particularly sensitive to the notion that the rise to power of Prussia might threaten what it regarded as it's leading place in European power politics.

At this delicate time in international relations a vacancy occurred for the throne of Spain and the German prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was invited to become king of that country. This alarmed the French as they felt that this could result in their being surrounded by governments that were sympathetic to the Prussian cause.

Prince Leopold withdrew his candidature. This was regarded in Prussia as a diplomatic defeat. The French were however not completely satisfied and they sought assurances from the Prussian government that no German candidate would be put forward in future.

King William I of Prussia was a pleasant and courteous old gentleman. On the morning of 13th July 1870 he was taking a morning stroll in the spa town of Ems when he was approached by the French ambassador Count Benedetti.

This was not in order to give him some Ferrero Rocher. On the contrary he presented the king with a demand from the French government that a Hohenzollern prince would never again be presented as candidate for the throne of Spain.

The king refused to give a categorical assurance of policy in the indefinite future, and the two men parted rather coolly. King William authorised his secretary to send a despatch to the Prussian chancellor Bismarck with an account of the meeting. He also authorised the chancellor to publish the account.

This is the text of the king’s despatch.

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"Count Benedetti intercepted me on the promenade and ended by demanding of me in a very importunate manner that I should authorize him to telegraph at once that I bound myself in perpetuity never again to give my consent if the Hohenzollerns renewed their candidature. I rejected this demand somewhat sternly as it is neither right nor possible to undertake engagements of this kind [for ever and ever]. Naturally I told him that I had not yet received any news and since he had been better informed via Paris and Madrid than I was, he must surely see that my government was not concerned in the matter".

Otto Von Bismarck who was the Chancellor of Prussia was a very wily politician more than capable of manipulating events to gain what he saw as advantage for his policies. He was known as The Iron Chancellor. Right now he believed that a short victorious war with France would be "Just what the doctor ordered". However he wanted to have the French start it, so they really had to be provoked beyond what they felt their national honour could endure. With the object of "Waving a very red rag at the French bull" he made some alterations to the telegram before submitting it for publication.

This is the text of the telegram that was published.

"After the news of the renunciation of the Prince von Hohenzollern had been communicated to the Imperial French government by the Royal Spanish government, the French Ambassador in Ems made a further demand on His Majesty the King that he should authorize him to telegraph to Paris that His Majesty the King undertook for all time never again to give his assent should the Hohenzollerns once more take up their candidature. His Majesty the King thereupon refused to receive the Ambassador again and had the latter informed by the Adjutant of the day that His Majesty had no further communication to make to the Ambassador".

The change in the wording of the despatch had the desired effect, as it gave the impression that the king had insulted the ambassador by refusing to see him again, and furthermore the French took exception to what they regarded as the serious affront offered to their representative by sending a "mere adjutant" to convey the King's message.

The result was that there were demonstrations in France demanding war, which Napoleon III rather foolishly declared. France was roundly defeated. The German Empire was declared in The Chateau of Versailles. Alsace and Lorraine were annexed to Germany. The resultant resentment against Germany contributed greatly to the tensions that lead to the First World War.

"The Balfour Declaration". Words from history that led to the Middle East conflict.

In the First World War one of the allies of Germany was the Ottoman Empire, which at the time ruled large swathes of the Middle East which included the country now known as Saudi Arabia and the territory then known as Palestine, but now more generally known as the state of Israel. The defeat of the Ottoman Turks was considered to be an essential war aim of Britain and her allies. To this end it was believed that an alliance with the Arab people who occupied the greater part of that land would be very advantageous. Negotiations were begun between the British and Hussein, The Sharif of Mecca, and a great leader among the Arabian people. It was understood by the Arabs that if Britain won the war that an Arab kingdom would be set up that included Palestine. The Balfour Declaration scuppered that idea.

The Jewish people who had occupied Palestine in antiquity now amounted to about ten per cent of its entire population, but there had been a movement among a minority of Jews agitating for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a bit like the idea that the Welsh, who are descendants of the Ancient Britons, might demand a welsh homeland in England. The Welsh were pushed out of England by The Anglo Saxons around the same time as The Jews were displaced from Palestine. Anyway it was decided at the highest levels of The British Government that it was essential to keep the Jewish financiers behind the war effort also, even if that meant doing the dirty on the Arabs. This policy was based on the erroneous, and somewhat anti-Semitic belief that the Jews controlled the purse strings of the world.

The result was The Balfour Declaration issued on November 2nd 1917, the text is reproduced below. It was issued in the form of a letter between British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and Lord Rothschild to be communicated to the leaders of The Zionist Movement.

"Foreign Office,

November 2nd, 1917.

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country".

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely

Arthur James Balfour"

Seldom before or since has such a short letter had such baleful consequences for world history. It encouraged mass emigration of Jews to Palestine during the period between the world wars. This resulted in the displacement of a large proportion of the indigenous Arab population, and the eventual establishment of The State of Israel, (the definitive Cuckoo Country).

Further to these consequences it has embittered relations between the west, and particularly Britain, and the Arab world ever since.

What it meant was that a country that had no right to a territory promised occupancy of it to another people who had no right to it, against the wishes and the interests of the people who actually lived in that territory.

You couldn’t make it up. But that is what happened.

Conclusion. Statesmen, who use the wrong words, shape history in the wrong way.

To conclude my article, as I said at the beginning, in history sometimes the most trivial seeming circumstances can have momentous consequences. We are all still suffering from the results of Count Bismarck's editing and Arthur Balfour's secretary's keyboard tapping. If the current generation of "Statesmen" manage to undo some of the damage that has been done to our world by their predecessors’ misjudgements let us hope that in future they will think before they express themselves publicly.

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