Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859–1941), who ascended the throne of Prussia (head of the German empire) in 1888, was possibly the most arrogant person the West produced in the late 19th century.
At the Hague Conference of 1899, and later in 1907, the chairman of the conference said, “With the weapons now in our hands the effectiveness of fire presents the possibility of total mutual annihilation. Therefore, war is unthinkable.” That was said seven years before the greatest bloodbath in history, at least until the Second World War. In reality, war was not unthinkable because it took only one madman to make war. The madman existed: the Kaiser of Germany.
In his speeches to his soldiers he said that “the German army should be modeled on that of Attila the Hun” and insisted that there would be “no quarter given and no prisoners taken.”
The Kaiser unleashed German industry and made it possible for the Krupp Iron Works in Germany to build artillery that could fire shells 25 to 30 miles. He created a canon called “Big Bertha,” irreverently named after his wife, which was so large that it could only be transported on a railroad car. It was the ballistic missile of its day and hailed as the guarantor of peace.
Germany armed and rearmed and drew up plans for war – all in the name of peace.
The Kaiser was paranoid to the extreme. He was extraordinarily sensitive to insult – whether real or perceived; whether to him, his wife or Germany. Anything that happened could be understood by him as an insult to Germany, something that he swore to avenge.
He was pompous beyond pompous. At one time he owned more than 150 dress uniforms – and he loved to parade in them. He designed the uniforms for the German army, including the impractical great spiked helmets and long, gray coats that did not allow soldiers proper mobility, with tunics and pants which itched terribly in the summer heat and yet did not keep the wearer warm in the winter snows. But he liked the style.
Arguably, the height of his pomposity took place the time he visited Jerusalem in 1898. All the gates of the city have actual gates except for Jaffa Gate. It is open; there is no gate-door. It had a gate-door before the Kaiser came to Jerusalem. However, he was a tall man who rode a tall horse, to go along with the enormous spiked helmet on his head. This made it impossible for him to ride under the gate of Jaffa into the city without bending his prodigious head. Since that would be insulting to him, he prevailed upon his Turkish hosts to take the gate down – the gate that was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century, one of the great pieces of architecture. They complied.
The Kaiser was extremely bigoted. The Japanese, he said, “are little, short-tailed monkeys that have no future.” He despised the Jews, calling them derogatory, anti-Semitic slurs, and saying things like, “The problem with the English is that they have too many Jews in their midst.”
He dreamed of German world domination a generation before Hitler.
The First World War would destroy the Jewish community in Eastern Europe and change the face of the Jewish world forever. We look at the Second World War as the watershed. In reality, that was the annihilation of European Jewry. The destruction of European Jewry was a result of the First World War. All of the great centers of Jewish population and learning – whatever stability the Jewish world had – was unhinged in the First World War.
And the First World War hinged on the ego of a man who made them take down an ancient gate in the city of Jerusalem so he could fit his prodigious head through it…