HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY OF THE CROWN PRINCE IN FRANCE, Nov. 20, 1914 (UP) - "Undoubtedly this is the most stupid, senseless and unnecessary war of modern times. It is a war not wanted by Germany, I can assure you, but it was forced on us, and the fact that we were so effectually prepared to defend ourselves is now being used as an argument to convince the world that we desired conflict."
In the above words Frederick Wilhelm, crown prince of Germany and heir to the throne of the Kaiser, opened the first interview he has ever given to a foreign newspaper man. With these words he prefaced the first direct statement made to the press by any member of the German royal family since the outbreak of the war.
I arrived at the headquarters of the Fifth Germany army in an auto shortly before midnight. At daybreak I received a call from Maj. Elder Von Der Planitz, personal aide-de-camp to the crown prince, who stated that his imperial highness wanted to welcome me, but that he was leaving for the firing line and would see me a little later in the day.
When, some time later, the crown prince returned, I was presented. He greeted me cordially and without any of the stiffness or cool reserve that might have been expected.
"I am very pleased to see you here," he said, "and I hope that you will find plenty to interest you. I want you to feel at liberty to go wherever you like."
"I hope your imperial highness will pardon my Americanized German," I said, in stating to him some points in which I thought American readers would be chiefly interested.
"Then let us talk English if you feel that we can thus better express ourselves," was his quick reply. Acting on this suggestion, the crown prince of Germany proceeded to give this interview in English.
"I am a soldier and therefore cannot discuss politics," said the crown prince, "but it seems to me that this whole business, all of this action that you see around here, is senseless, unnecessary and uncalled for.
"But Germany was left no choice in the matter. From the lowest to the highest we all know that we are fighting for our existence. I know that soldiers of the other nations probably say and a great many of them probably think the same thing. This does not alter the fact, however, the we are actually fighting for our national life.
"Since we knew that the present war was to be forced on us, it became our highest duty to anticipate the struggle by every necessary and possible preparation for the defense of the fatherland against the iron rule which our enemies have for years been carefully and steadily welding about us.
"The fact that we foresaw and so far as possible forestalled the attempt to crush us within this ring, and the fact that we were prepared to defend ourselves, are now being used as an argument in an attempt to convince the world that we not only wanted this conflict, but that we are responsible for it.
"No power on earth will ever be able to convince our people that this war was not engineered solely and wholly with a view to crushing the German people, their government, their institutions and all that they hold dear. As a result, you will find the German people are one grand unit, imbued with a magnificent spirit of self-sacrifice."
The scene of our conversation was the drawing room of a small French villa, located a few miles directly back of the German firing line, and used by the crown prince as a headquarters for himself and his staff.
The crown prince entered accompanied by Maj. Von Der Planitz, who, after presenting me, withdrew. The young commander of the German forces was dressed simply, in the gray-green khaki of his troops, in a uniform devoid of any decorations save a very small insignia of his rank as lieutenant general and his recently acquired black and white ribbon of the order of the Iron Cross. He carried no sword, but toyed with a short swagger stick, similar to those carried by English cavalry officers.
Our conversation had been in progress but a short time when it became clear to me that the crown prince, like 99 per cent of the Germans I have met on the firing line and off of it, holds England responsible for the present war.
The thing that impressed me most, however, was the fact that despite the intensity of his convictions, he displayed none of the intense hatred or the bitterness toward the English which I have seen manifested constantly among people of all walks of life in Germany since the outbreak of the war. On the contrary, there was a note of regret and almost one of sadness as he discussed this phase of the great issue.
I quickly gained the impression that the crown prince is by no means the man he has been pictured in England and America. There is nothing of the fire-eater or uncompromising warrior about him. He gave no evidence of gaining pleasure from his military experience or delighting in the conflict.
It was obvious that the carnage he has already witnessed has made a deep imprint on his naturally impressionistic mind, and he referred frequently to the losses, of the suffering, not only of his own, but of the enemy's forces. He was exceedingly generous at all times in his praise of the enemy as he had come in contact with them.
If he was ever possessed of a reckless, daredevil, care-free personality, the last traces of it have apparently been removed by his work of the past few months.
Early in the conversation his imperial highness assumed the role of the interviewer and made evident his deep interest in the sentiment of America and Americans and his lack of understanding of the general attitude of our country toward Germany's position. Like a great majority of all Germans, he is unable exactly to understand why there is not more sympathy in the United States for Germany.
"There is no use or no purpose to be served by our closing our eyes," he said, "to the fact that a very large part of the world is against us. But it surprises me that America, to which we are bound by ties of friendship and blood as to no other neutral country - America, where millions of our people have gone and carried the German tongue and German ideas of liberty and freedom - should be so totally unable to put themselves in our place.
"I would not be frank unless I admitted that it has been a surprise to me that Americans have not seen more clearly up to this time the position of Germany, entirely surrounded by jealous enemies, fighting for her existence; that they have not had a better understanding, which would necessarily mean a higher appreciation of the unexampled sacrifices and heroism of our people, making this gigantic struggle with no other objective than the saving of the fatherland."
He attributed the attitude of America almost wholly to England's control of the world's channels of communication. He frankly admitted that in the past Germany has failed to appreciate the important role played by the press in world politics and international affairs. He made it clear that Germany has learned a lesson in this respect and learned it at the price of being branded in the eyes of the neutral nations as a military menace to the world's peace.
"I have faith in the sense of justice of the American people," said his highness, "once we can get to them the actual facts and the actual truths back of this conflict.
"I know that up to this time it has been impossible for them to thoroughly understand our situation, but I believe that when the truth is known to them, the fairmindedness and the love of fair play which has always characterized the acts of your countrymen will result in a revulsion of sentiment in our favor.
"I had many friends in America. I believe I still have some there. I also have many friends in England - or rather, had," said the prince, with a rather rueful smile and a shake of his head. Then turning abruptly and looking me squarely in the eye, he said:
"I want you to tell me exactly what is said about me in America."
I hesitated a moment, trying to figure just how much frankness was compatible with discretion in discussing personalities with the crown prince of the German empire. Apparently reading my thoughts, his highness laughed good naturedly and prompted:
"I like frankness and can stand the truth. Go ahead, I really want to know."
"Well," I replied, "the fact is that your imperial highness has been very generally represented, or misrepresented, as one of the kriegshetzer, a war aviator, leader of the war party and exponent extraordinary of militarism."
"Yes, I know," said the crown prince, nodding his head in assent and giving no evidence of surprise. "And the English press says all that and much more. The English papers have stated I am a thief, and that I personally robbed and pillaged these French houses in which we have been forced to make our headquarters.
"Really - and I want you to tell me frankly - is it possible that intelligent people in American or even in England can honestly believe such things of me? Can it be possible that they believe me capable of stealing pictures or art treasures, or permitting the looting of French homes?"
I reminded him that in war times sane judgment often went by the board.
"I know," he said, "but it is simply incredible that people could believe what the English papers have printed about me personally, and about our side of the war. Let's see: how many times have I committed suicide or been wounded?"
I admitted that I had lost count.
"I am supposed recently to have been badly defeated on the Russian frontier," chuckled his highness. "But this whole business would be much more amusing," he added, in a more sober tone, "if I did not know that as a result of it the public in neutral countries is being misled.
"As to my being a war agitator, I am truly sorry that people do not know me better. There is no war party in Germany now, and there never has been. I cannot help believing it will soon dawn upon the world that so far as Germany is concerned, this conflict is not a war waged by some mythical party, but is a fight backed by the unity and solidarity of the German empire. This unity is the best answer to the charge with which England is endeavoring to terrify the world - that the war is being pushed by an ambitious military clique."
The young soldier laughed heartily when I told him the Russian press bureau had recently reported that their troops nearly captured the Kaiser during a recent engagement near Warsaw.
"I must tell father about that. I am sure it will be news to him, and that he will enjoy it," he said.
Switching to the subject of the enemy, the crown prince said:
"The French soldiers are surpassed by none for their bravery. They have fought splendidly. Individually the French soldier is equal in every respect to our own intelligence and in some things is quicker and more agile.
"But he is a defensive fighter and lacks the dogged determination and staying power of our troops when it comes to offensive work. Events have shown that French leadership has been excellent and it has commanded our admiration."
After a half hour's interview we were interrupted by an officer who reported to the crown prince that his staff was mounted and waiting outside. First inviting me to have dinner with him that evening, his highness excused himself, and, mounting his horse, galloped away to the scene of the day's fighting.