From our foreign correspondent

For many of the authors of invasion-scare fiction, their commitment to the prospect of invasion was akin to a sense of martyrdom.  One illustrative example is Lord Roberts, the colonial military hero, who recorded his despair in his introduction to William Le Queux’s The Invasion of 1910, “of the country ever becoming alive to the danger of the unpreparedness of our present position until too late to prevent some fatal catastrophe.”[1]   Though attracting a significant core support during the Edwardian years, ‘invasion’ largely remained a chimera, just as its advocates continued to be dismissed as alarmists.  Even those who avidly read tales of future-war arguably sought the literary thrill of speculation, and not confirmation of shared invasion fears.  As the cartoon below suggests, contemporary commentators regularly treated such themes with satirical contempt.  Even the oft-fictional enemy questioned the British invasion preoccupation.  In 1908 one contributor to the German naval journal Marine Rundschau asserted that such a military operation was “contrary to the elementary principles of the efficient use of military power”[2].

WH0637

Such assurances, of course, were not readily accepted.  As Moon explains, “German denials only reinforced English apprehension.”[3]  Furthermore, Germany had been the source of several future war narratives of British collapse and, echoing the Kaiser’s drive for Weltpolitik, imperial reorganisation.  One of the earliest of these works was August Niemann’s Der Weltkrieg – Deutsche Träume (World War – German Dreams).   Niemann was more military analyst than author of fiction, with notable works including the vast military dictionary Militär-Handlexikon[4].  First published in Germany in 1904, Der Weltkrieg was in Clarke’s words “a highly optimistic and amateur attempt to rearrange the world to suit German pretensions.”[5]  In a period of increasingly delicate Anglo-German relations, Niemann’s tract was treated by some as evidence of Germany’s aggressive, anti-British intentions.  Published in Britain as The Coming Conquest of England, the translator’s note suggested that the book’s “meaning and…moral should be obvious and valuable.”[6]

The story hinges on the formation of the ‘Triple Alliance’ of France, Germany, and Russia.  Furious at shady British involvement in the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, a crisis is engineered by Russia in Afghanistan that forces the hand of British diplomacy.  Pouring troops through the Khyber Pass, Russian troops quickly overwhelm British resistance, aided by the mutiny of Indian troops.  With Lahore and Delhi both under Russian occupation, the narrative ends with Britain in open retreat down the subcontinent, facing total capitulation.  Meanwhile, naval defeat in the North Sea allows both France and Germany to land troops in Britain.  Ending with peace negotiations at Hampton Court, the victorious German General is given the final words, “His Majesty the Emperor will enter Loudon at the head of the allied armies. Peace is assured. God grant that it may be the last war which we shall have to wage for the future happiness of the German nation!”[7]

 

 

As with the majority of such fiction, the work received mixed reviews.  Asserting that “Imaginary wars are seldom satisfactory”, The Athenaeum wearily described Niemann’s story as “feeble” and “ridiculous”, directing particular ire at his assessment of Britain’s defensive capabilities at India’s North West frontier.[8]   Another writer in the Irish Times picked up on these inaccuracies, highlighting that for Russia to cross the Hindu-Kush would involve  ascending to 18,000 feet, and as such, would require “more camels or mules than could be obtained in the whole of the Russian possessions.”[9]  Yet as the same writer recognised, to dwell on inaccuracies was to miss the significance of The Coming Conquest of England, as “the main interest in the book lies in what they [Britain’s enemies] wish to do, and not in what they can do.”[10]  This principle was echoed by the neutral voice of the New York Times, “As a novel it hardly counts; as an indication of how some people in Germany look at things; as, in some sort, a warning to Great Britain of possible joints in her armour of defence, the story has undoubted value.”[11]   

How representative was Niemann’s rhetoric of German popular opinion?  In areas he certainly touches on issues of national interest and debate, such as colonial expansion, naval reform, and the idea of pan-Germanism.  Of course, Germany, as with Edwardian Britain, was a country riven by social and political divides, and could very rarely boast a truly united opinion or voice.  However, this episode seems less a question of actual German opinion than of British understanding of German ambitions.  Accurate or otherwise, The Coming Conquest of England caused sensation because it seemed to confirm alarmist interpretations of Germany’s aggressive ambition.  From our view as historians, it thus explains far more about British fears than it does about German intentions.

 


[1] Preface to William Le Queux, The Invasion of 1910, (London, 1906). 

[2]Clarke, Voices Prophesying War, p153.

[3] H. Moon, The Invasion of the United Kingdom: Public Controversy and Official Planning, unpublished PhD thesis, (University of London  1968), p388.

[4] E. Bleiler, Science Fiction: The Early Years, (Kent, OH: Kent State U. P. 1990), p546.

[5] Clarke, Voices Prophesying War, p143.

[6] A. Niemann, The Coming Conquest of England, (London, 1904), vii. See also I. F. Clarke, The Great War with Germany, 1890-1914, (Liverpool, 1997), p183.

[7] Ibid., p384.

[8] The Athenaeum 4016 (Oct 15, 1904): 515

[9] LONDON CORRESPONDENCE Weekly Irish Times (1876-1920) [Dublin, Ireland] 28 Jan 1905: 14.

[10] Ibid.

[11] New York Times (1857-1922) [New York, N.Y] 10 Dec 1904.

 

Images: 1. W. K. Haselden, ‘The Era of Panics’, Daily Mirror, 24th May 1909, accessed through the British Cartoon Archive, http://www.cartoons.ac.uk

2. ‘The German map of the world, Kladderadatsch, 14th March 1907, in I. F. Clarke, The Great War with Germany, p214.

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One Response to From our foreign correspondent

  1. Simon says:

    Interesting. Many of these fears, I think, reflect one of the perennial problems of peacetime military planning in Britain – how much money should be spent on national defence to prepare for the next war if, and when it comes about. Its amazing how these invasion scares repeat themselves, for example in the 1910s, 30s, 50s, 80s.

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