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(The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 – continued)

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The WAR to DECEMBER 1916 (4 of 11)

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Germans Choose more War: Truce Denied

Expectations that the war would be over and troops home by the Christmas of 1914 had proved wrong. On Christmas Day at places along the Western Front, German and Allied troops sang Christmas songs, heard the songs of their enemies and ventured across no man's land to visit and exchange friendship and gifts. It shocked the military commands, and the German, French and British commands issued orders against any further mingling with enemy soldiers.

Many people on the home fronts were less given to friendship with the enemy. They were disappointed that the quick victory they had expected had not occurred, but loss of this illusion did not move them to conclude that a mistake had been made and negotiations to end the war should begin. They continued to believe that the war was created by the enemy and that the perpetrators of the war should be defeated rather than negotiated with.

Germany had failed in the objectives it had set for itself, but it was the most successful militarily. A withdrawal to its borders would have done much to have inspired a negotiated settlement of the war. But this was not to be. Germany would like to have made a separate peace with Russia, but as compensation for its costs in going to war Germany wanted its settlement with Russia to include gains it had made in the east at Russia's expense, and the Russians were not about to agree. Kaiser Wilhelm's first cousin Nicholas meanwhile did not want to admit to his subjects that the war had been a mistake. To admit failure, cut his losses and negotiate a settlement with Germany was to him unthinkable. With enemy troops on Russian territory he was determined to keep his recent vow to fight until the invader was driven back. Nicholas still expected benefits from the war. He had seen nothing of the conditions at the front. His contact with his armies to this time had been on parade grounds, where he had been impressed by their splendid appearance.

As for the war between Germany and France, Kaiser Wilhelm's chancellor, Bethmann-Hollweg, preferred a negotiated settlement and a depressed Wilhelm wished for peace. Some German strategists preferred a separate peace with France, splitting France from the British, but the French were determined to drive the Germans from their soil, and Bethmann-Hollweg, under pressure from people around him and public opinion, was unwilling to negotiate a withdrawal of German troops from France or Belgium. The German public, press and military high command were opposed to what they called a rotten peace – a compromise settlement. They believed that German superiority would prevail. Believing that the war had been forced upon them, the German public favored war until the fatherland won a peace that offered it lasting protection against its enemies and a peace that justified the nearly 300,000 German soldiers that had already been killed. note11

The British also believed that the war should be fought to total victory. Like the Germans, they wanted the sacrifices that had already been made to account for something. From the British government came word that there could be no peace until German militarism was destroyed and Belgium restored. A member of Britain’s admiralty, Winston Churchill, looked on and in a secret memo predicted that the war would be ended "by the exhaustion of nations rather than the victory of armies." note12

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