The European War Symposium at Chautauqua was convened hastily, following the series of declarations of war issued, one upon the other, in late July and early August of 1914. The first lecture, “The European War from the German Point of View,” was given on Aug. 4 by Dr. Hans E. Gronow. There would be three more.
Gronow was a professor at the University of Chicago and head of the department of German in the Chautauqua Summer Schools. The Chautauquan Daily reported that he had been born in the Baltic Province, educated at German universities and served in the German army.
The Daily reported that Gronow addressed “a mammoth audience in the Hall,” and the number of people who attended the address was “evidence of the deep interest Chautauquans are taking in the war which threatens to disrupt all Europe.” Gronow, the paper said, had lived in the United States for so many years that he declared himself almost American in feeling: “Anyone who heard him Tuesday afternoon, however, would never doubt that the German blood within him runs just as strongly as ever.”
Gronow began his story in 1800 when “Germany was a mere geographical name consisting of many principalities, petty states and free cities.” He said there was no national feeling.
By erasing most of the states, in what Gronow called a “master stroke,” Napoleon simplified matters. In 1830, Prussia “took steps toward forming the unification of the North German States.” Then came Bismarck, supremacy over Austria, a war with France that brought together the South German States, and whammo, “at last Germany was united.”
As Germany grew, “she began to feel her strength.” Others felt it, too, and from that time, “European nations began to look upon Germany as an enemy, and the enmity has increased from year to year.” Gronow concluded that the war was not about acquiring territory, but it was about “Who shall be supreme, Slavs or Germans. It is not a question of a war between rulers, but it is the intense slowly-moving national feeling between two great nations.” Gronow said war could not have been averted, and he hoped it would be short and decisive.
On Aug. 6, Mr. Sanford Griffith lectured on “War Developments and the Balance of Power.” Griffith had spent three years on the study of “International Problems in Europe,” and he had in the past month given talks at Chautauqua on Alsace-Lorraine. The Daily reported that “Mr. Griffith will probably leave Chautauqua within a few days to act as a war correspondent.”
For Griffith, the whole thing seemed senseless. He quoted Winston Churchill and a Russian economist he referred to as a man named Block. In a nutshell, nations with powerful military want to use it, and all-out war would disrupt the economic and social organization such that “any nation at war would be likely to run short of food within three months.”
But there were “isms”: Pan-Germanism and Pan-Slavism — the first conceived of a vast German Empire with Prussia as a center; the second “would mean the spread of autocracy, the destruction of everything European,” resulting in the Germano-Celtic civilization being replaced by that of Byzantium.
The French point of view was delivered on Aug. 7 by Mr. Benedict Papot, “a native Frenchman well informed on French thought and purpose,” the Daily reported. He said, “France is ready. France has been watching — watching ever since 1871. That defeat was the best thing that could have happened to France,” he said, referring to the result of the Franco-Prussian War.
Papot said that France faced life or death. “It is a question of being crushed and reduced to the standing of a third-rate power if Germany conquers. What Germany wants is territory. Germany needs territory for its expansion, because the German people have outgrown their boundaries.” He, too, thought Napoleon dealt Germany a master stroke.
“It was the French that brought to Germany the spirit of liberty which resulted in a united Germany — a united Germany without adequate sea coast, without an outlet,” Papot said. He thought Germany was wrong. He hoped that Germany would get a “sound thrashing,” but he believed the German nation would rise again.
A greater threat, Papot said, came from the East. “We should all be on the same side — France and Spain and Italy and Germany, banded together to stem the tide of barbarians from the East. We — the European race — are going to be wiped out by this rising Slavic tide.”
Dr. William Seaman Bainbridge presented an English point of view. Bainbridge was a physician from New York City who kept a practice on Chautauqua grounds; he was a man who also enjoyed significant international experience. The Daily reported that he had “visited nearly all of the British Colonies, (gone) part way to Khartoum with Kitchener’s expedition, (been) on the Graeco-Turkish frontier during the war in the late ’90s and … traveled through the Balkans.”
Bainbridge said the world was in chaos. “From Europe, from Mexico, China, Japan and North Africa come rumors of wars. However, judgment must be suspended until authentic facts can be secured. We must remember that the daily press often gets the facts obscured.”
No one should have been surprised there was war. All the great nations had been expecting it. He said Napoleon had predicted it. “The English troops on their march up the Nile in 1896 talked about it. In Turkey, in the war of the Druses they looked for a war that would involve all Europe,” Bainbridge said.
England was prepared. England had men willing to fight. And no matter her attitude, the invasion of Belgium forced England into the fray. “She is obligated by treaty to maintain the neutrality of both Luxembourg and Belgium and proposes to keep her promise.”
Despite opinions to the contrary, England was united: “Into Ireland, where revolution threatened, thousands of rifles are being sent to arm men to fight for England.”
The farmers would stand with the artisans, the Welsh with the Boars — “From all parts of the empire, so vast that the sun never sets on it, thousands are volunteering. All stand as one man. All internal differences are forgotten,” Bainbridge said.
The war was to have been expected, and it would bring about a needed readjustment of the nations of Europe. “Count Okuma of Japan said, that to bring about a great peace, a great war was sometimes unavoidable.” Bainbridge said Great Britain is launched on a great war, “but for Britain it is a just war, and a war to enforce treaty obligations.”